Shape up to drama

29th November 2002 at 00:00
Shadow puppetry from the Far East can play a great role in advancing children's multicultural understanding, as Michael Thorn discovers

Franzeska Ewart, a part-time teacher of English as an additional language at Glendale Primary School, south Glasgow, has a fascination with shadow puppetry which began on a visit to Amsterdam when she came across a puppet from the Far East.

She has used shadow theatre in language development widely in schools and in the community, and now confines her freelance activities to providing writing workshops for adults and author talks for all ages, in which shadow puppets regularly feature.

Her advocacy of shadow puppetry is based partly on the contribution it can make to children's multicultural education. The recognition that, in some cultures, shadow puppets are sacred objects is a powerful one to bring home to children, she believes. This is why she particularly likes the large ornate puppets, often made of leather, from countries such as Indonesia (see pictures).

It was her book for teachers, Let the Shadows Speak (Trentham), a brilliantly practical and inspiring guide to the use of shadow puppet theatre in the classroom, that led her to write a children's book, Shadowflight (Egmont). Now Ewart has written a book for younger readers, Speak Up, Spike!, one of three launch titles for Go Bananas, a new strand in the well-established and highly popular Bananas series.

Another aspect of her enthusiasm for shadow theatre is that it allows participation in a performance by those who might otherwise be reluctant to play prominent roles in traditional live productions. Shadow puppetry, she says, is"drama for intrverts".

In this regard, it can be agreat strength-giver and liberator. In Speak Up, Spike!, Spike starts out as a timid soul, intimidated by the hugeness and the loudness of his surroundings. His voice is the merest whisper, and he is frightened by his own shadow. When his teacher shows him a shadow puppet of the hero Rama, "All the spit in his mouth dried up, so his tongue stuck to his teeth."

As the time of the shadow performance draws closer, Spike learns more about how shadows are formed and how to play with his own shadow rather than being scared of it. In the performance, the kindly teacher Mrs Pugh manages to cajole him into speaking out the climactic line, in a big powerful voice.

This is a book about finding one's voice, and its publication could be said to be establishing Ewart as a significant voice in children's books. In 2003, she will have two titles published by Scholastic in the Young Hippo series, and she is now working on a teenage novel which is also about puppets.

Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm Primary School, East Sussex Go Bananas has been conceived to provide overt links to popular subjects in the National Curriculum. As well as a brightly illustrated story, each book includes a rear section with facts and activities. Speak Up, Spike! by Franzeska G Ewart, illustrated by Mark Oliver, is aimed at the lower end of key stage 2. The two other titles are both for key stage 1. Spinderella, by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Liz Pichon, is a counting and halving story about a football-playing spider. Fire Cat, by Pippa Goodhart, illustrated by Philip Hurst, is history-based. Set in the year of the Great Fire of London and told in diary form by a boy named John, it features that great diarist of the time, Samuel Pepys. Egmont pound;3.99 eachFranzeska Ewart's website: www.alchemywebsite.comfranzeskaewart

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