Tag Archives: puppets

Quilting for literacy

Quilting meets literacy at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, where a lovely little children’s library lives on the second floor. It’s currently home to a touring exhibit of cheerful quilts including squares created by beloved children’s book illustrators.

The literacy quilts were designed by retired NYC school librarian Muriel Feldshuh, who began writing letters to children’s book illustrators in 1997, asking them to create works for a quilt celebrating the millenium. After 26 of the illustrators decorated muslin squares as requested, the project grew to include six different quilts — including one that’s Brooklyn-based, and features the artwork of Mo Williams, Melissa Iwai, Ezra Jack Keats and others.

Feldshuh is now a library consultant, and serves on the child literacy and author board for Books for Kids, an organization that promotes literacy among all children with a special emphasis on low-income and at-risk preschool-aged children — creating libraries, donating books and partnering with literacy programs to “develop the critical early foundation and skills which young children need to be successful in life.”

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Here in the Valley, folks are gearing up for “Love to Read AZ,” a celebration of reading sponsored by Bookmans and Friends of the Phoenix Public Library at the Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix.

The Sat, March 24 event (11am-2pm) promoting literacy features story times, crafts, music, face painting, puppets, mini-train rides and all sorts of activities for children and families.

Think performances by the Great Arizona Puppet Theater. Family photos in the Bookmans Story Time Photo Booth. Casual BYOC (bring your own camera) photo opps with Curious George and other book-related characters. Even a musical intrument parade.

A dozen or so organizations, including Raising Arizona Kids Magazine, will be on hand to chat with parents. Many will share tips and strategies for fostering a family love for reading. Click here to see a lovely list from Bookmans.

Books make for wonderful explorations both locally and on the road. Visit community libraries and museums when traveling with your children. But don’t forget the treasures all around us right here at home.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn about the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, here for details about the Tucson Children’s Museum and here for information on a special museums roundup from The New York Times that includes Arizona’s own Heard Museum.

Coming up: Last chance for love, Exploring the very first children’s museum

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Ode to squishy things

Seems artist Peter Goldlust spends “a lot of time looking under rocks for squirmy things” with his wife Melanie Germond and their two sons. Goldlust describes Bisbee, their current home, as a “small artist community.”

He’s been spending a great deal of time in Phoenix, readying the “Someplace” exhibit that opened just a few days ago at the Children’s Museum of Phoenix. I’m told that the inspiration for “Someplace” came from turning over rocks.

I chatted with Goldlust during the installation process and learned that about 80% of the stuff used to build “Someplace” consists of recycled materials — tires, barrels, clothing and such. Even hundreds of pairs of jeans, including some given to the museum by families who heeded the call for fabric donations.

Bisbee father and artist Peter Goldlust takes a break from installing "Someplace" at the Children's Museum of Phoenix (Photo: Dan Friedman)

Folks who see the exhibit now will scarcely believe the transformation of materials wrought by Goldlust. I suspect the secret lies in the “many hundreds of rivets” used during the process, but the rivets aren’t talking.

If it’s sound you seek, check out the exhibit’s “sound pods” — giant tubs that looked like upside down yellow planters the day I checked out Goldlust’s “work in progress” with Raising Arizona Kids writer and photographer Daniel Friedman.

Now that they’re completed, young visitors can actually go inside the pods to experience “soundscapes composed from the calls and noises of imaginary creatures.” Some were created via the “Bisbee Youth Radio Project,” which I find strangely comforting. I’d hate to think that Goldlust hooked eensy teensy mics up to all those creatures discovered under rocks.

The “Someplace” exhibit is populated by “make-believe creations” that live only in children’s imaginations. Beware the “Giant Pantslug” when you go. I’m told he made a bold escape attempt on route to the museum in Goldlust’s pick up truck — and that retrieving the errant slug from Hwy. 10 set the artist back about $200.

Never fear if squishy things aren’t your vibe. I’m more of a word kind of a gal, and was overjoyed to see that “Someplace” includes dozens of fabric words stuck to 30 feet of Velcro-covered walls like pieces of a giant Magnetic Poetry set. How lovely to experience such a whimsical art/literacy combo.

Peter Goldlust at the Children's Museum of Phoenix (Photo: Dan Friedman)

Before we left Goldlust to his squishy things, I spent some time with a wall covered in strips of stuff with differing textures. Think fur so thick you can write your name in it. And bumpy copper that makes a fun noise when you run your fingers over it. It’s a slice of child development heaven.

I’ll be heading back to the museum soon to check out a few of the elements that weren’t yet in place the day of our visit — a small “Baby Zone” and a collection of puppets rumored to have body parts perfect for mix and match play. Think wings, fins, eyes and more. There’s even a puppet theater for creatures with a bit of a performance bent.

Look for “Someplace” on the third floor of the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, right behind the “Noodle Forest” (now black and teal) suspended from the ceiling. And give a little shout out to the Hearst Foundation and Phoenix Suns Charities for funding this, the museum’s first artist-in-residence program.

— Lynn

Coming up: A bevy of book reviews, Gingerbread tales, What’s new in art classes?

“Being Elmo”

The film Being Elmo is currently playing at the Harkins Valley Art Theatre in Tempe

Kevin Clash began building puppets at the tender age of ten, and was often teased by classmates for “playing with dolls.” His sister, who enjoyed playing with Barbie dolls, couldn’t understand why their mother gave the puppets more attention. One day she threw Kevin’s puppets out of the window onto the snowy street below. Soon her cosmetics met a similar fate. Seems even the man who operates Elmo, one of the sweetest characters on Sesame Street, knows a thing or two about sibling rivalry.

Clash’s mom reveals, in the film titled “Being Elmo,” that she was never bothered by her son’s fascination with puppets. She knew that building puppets and bringing them to life was his gift and his passion. Once Clash landed a local television gig, kids at his Baltimore school decided he was cool — but that was never his goal. Clash merely wanted to do what he loved, and use his puppets to make others happy.

His earliest audience consisted of kids from the day care center his mom ran in their home. Soon Clash was performing at hospitals and other community settings, where he noticed the special affinity of kids with special needs for his playful puppet characters. Several “Being Elmo” scenes show Clash, and Elmo, interacting with children from the Make-a-Wish Foundation and other children’s charities.

Being Elmo features the journey of puppeteer Kevin Clash

Clash was thrown, quite literally, into the world of Elmo after another puppeteer couldn’t decide what to make of the furry red creature. Elmo’s original voice, much deeper than the voice Clash developed for Elmo, wasn’t resonating. Clash followed the advice of a mentor who’d once told him that every character needs a hook — one unique, defining characteristic.

As Clash watched the children around him, he noticed something they all seemed to need and appreciate — a hug. So Elmo — with his high, exuberant voice — became the Muppet who loved to kiss and hug. Elmo, like Clash, is all about making others happy. Toys like Tickle Me Elmo don’t gel with Clash, who says Elmo would never use the word “me.”

Folks who see “Being Elmo,” a documentary about Clash’s puppeteering journey, hear tales of his first trip to New York City and his first glimpse at the famous porch steps on Sesame Street. Also home movies from the day his daughter’s mother, once his wife, went into labor. Seems she didn’t take kindly to Elmo’s narration of the event.  

Several scenes show Clash working in the Jim Henson workshop, pulling out wide drawers filled with assorted plastic eyeballs and brightly colored facial hair. But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Clash is well into the journey before realizing that he’s spent much of his daughter’s childhood entertaining other people’s children.

The film captures his attempts to right the wrong with a very special sweet 16 party. And other bittersweet moments too — including a gathering of puppeteers, and puppets, at the memorial held after Jim Henson’s death. As the film draws to a close, we see Clash opening the beloved eyeball drawer as he delights in the excitement beaming through a young puppet builder’s eyes. That’s the nature of “Being Elmo.”

— Lynn

Note: “Being Elmo” is currently playing, along with another documentary titled “We Were Here,” at the Harkins Valley Art Theatre in Tempe’s Mill Avenue District. Click here for details and showtimes.

Coming up: Black Friday — Main Street style

From Tevye to Tintin

My daughter Lizabeth discovered, after heading to Times Square in New York to see the movie “Paranormal Activity 3” the night it opened, that there were no more tickets to be had.

It’s just as well from a mother’s perspective since there are plenty of other good films these days that won’t scare the bejeebers out of you — including the Julianne Hough dancefest called “Footloose,” a remake of the 1984 film that many of today’s parents enjoyed during their teens.

Also “Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness” — an intriguing documentary with special appeal for folks interested in the lives of writers, immigration history, modern Jewish identity or a work of musical theater called “Fiddler on the Roof.” 

Seems Aleihem is the writer behind the character we all know as “Tevye,” a man with several daughters who faced countless challenges to his fervent love of tradition.

Fans of Sesame Street should take note — next month’s Loft Film Fest in Tucson includes a screening of the film “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey” — which offers a behind-the-scenes look at Sesame Street, the Jim Henson Workshop, and the work of puppeteer and father Kevin Clash.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part I” also opens next month, though it’ll be a bit easier to find — coming to not one Arizona theater but to nearly all of them. Fans of the “Twilight” series have long had the date Nov. 18 circled, in red, on their calendars.

Legendary storyteller and filmmaker Steven Spielberg, once a student at Arcadia High School in Phoenix, has two films being released this fall — the “The Adventures of Tintin” (coming Dec. 21) and “War Horse” (coming Dec. 25). Both promise to be visual feasts that bring some of the world’s best storytelling to life.

As we all gear up for the holiday season we allow so often to become all too hectic, we should remember the power of movies to deliver us from everyday worries, to create cherished memories with family and friends, and to inspire both dreams and wonder.

— Lynn

Note: Always consult movie websites to check film ratings and age recommendations before talking children to the movies.

Coming up: Spielberg tales

Art meets Audubon

It's the perfect day to try a bit of bird-related art in honor of John James Audubon

John James Audubon, a naturalist and artist known best for his work with birds, was born April 26, 1785.

Hence today’s Google doodle with the beautiful bird theme.

If you’re feeling inspired to honor Audubon’s contributions to the worlds of art and science, consider making a bit of bird art with your children this week.

A few ideas…

  • Build a birdhouse — from scratch or using a kit.
  • Paint a bird at your local pottery painting joint.
  • Write poems about some of your favorite birds.
  • Take a walk to look for birds in your neighborhood.
  • Cut bird pictures out of old magazines, then use them to create a collage on canvas or poster board.
  • Use stencils to create whimsical bird designs along a wall in your child’s bedroom.
  • Plant a bird friendly plant in your garden.
  • Draw birds you see on exhibit at the Phoenix Zoo.
  • Look for birds in art exhibited at the Phoenix Art Museum or Heard Museum.
  • Take a sketchpad and pens/pencils along to draw birds you see at the Desert Botanical Garden or Rio Solado Audubon Society.
  • Make bird designs by tracing your child’s spread out palm (a favorite with kids at Thanksgiving time).
  • Sew simple birds using felt and embroidery floss, then use them to create a hanging mobile.
  • Fold paper to make origami birds.
  • Use bird puppets or plush (like those from the Audubon Society or Folkmanis Puppets) to create puppet shows full of birds.
  • Read books about birds, then write your own bird stories.
  • Draw birds that start with thumbprints made using colorful ink pads.
  • Take photos of birds in your neighborhood or natural settings.
  • Observe different birds, then make up dances that mirror their movements.

If you’ve got an idea for a bird-related craft or activity, please comment below to let our readers know. Or send photos of some of your family’s bird-related artwork so I can add them to this post for others to enjoy.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about the Rio Salado Audubon Center in Phoenix — which offers summer camps for children, as well as other programs for children and adults. Learn more about John James Audubon from PBS and the National Gallery of Art — and the National Audubon Society.

Coming up: Memphis meets movie theater

Update: The Arboretum at Flagstaff will hold “Saturday Morning Birdwalks” led by bird experts from local chapters of the Audubon Society during May, June and July. Admission is free and all ages are welcome. Learn more at www.thearb.org.

Get a Q!

When the morning news turned too vitriolic last week, I knew just who to turn to — Elmo. The furry little puppet with the ever-happy face never fails to cheer.

But I’ll be enjoying puppets of another sort today as Lizabeth and I head out to see Phoenix Theatre’s production of “Avenue Q” — a Broadway musical with mature content and “full puppet nudity” you might not want to share with your little ones.

There are tons of competing activities out there this weekend — from the Scottsdale Arts Festival to the Ostrich Festival in Chandler. I’m making my choice about what to hit based on where the teen taxi takes me.

Lizabeth has a volunteer gig with “QSpeak” this afternoon, so I’ll be taking her there before heading out for a few art adventures of my own. Then we’ll meet back at Phoenix Theatre for the matinee performance of “Avenue Q.”

I’ll need to be quick, however, because there are quite a few things I’m eager to experience — including today’s “Devoured” event at the Phoenix Art Museum, just a short stroll from Phoenix Theatre.

Then I’m off to enjoy the quaint and quiet grounds of the Japanese Friendship Garden, where I’ll take some photos to share with you later as I preview their upcoming events — including the “Children’s Day Kite Festival” and “Zen Garden Music and Art Festival.”

Next I’ll experience some quintessential Irish fare at the Arizona Irish Festival, also taking place downtown. Think Irish food, music, dance and all-around merriment — plus another opportunity to whip out my camera.

If I haven’t yet inspired you to get out and enjoy the Arizona sunshine, perhaps you’ll find something else that strikes your fancy by browsing through today’s family-friendly events listed in the online calendar from Raising Arizona Kids magazine.

I suppose I should quit now and get on with my plans — quixotic though they may be. I certainly don’t want to quibble with my teenage daughter over whether or not the teen taxi will be running on time today.

— Lynn

Note: I came home with lots of photos, some of which are included in a slide show at the end of this post (“Avenue Q” logo courtesy of Phoenix Theatre). Watch for another post coming soon with some of the many adorable children who attended this year’s Arizona Irish Festival — as well as a future post with more highlights from the Japanese Friendship Garden.

Coming up: Charlie Sheen “is only for now”

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Alice (and Phoebe) in Wonderland

Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix presents "Alice in Wonderland" in downtown Phoenix

Lizabeth came downstairs one morning after watching a movie she’d rented online. She was eager to tell me about this tale of a family living with a young girl who is “different” — and who becomes involved with the world of theater.

The film, a 2008 ThinkFilm production, is titled “Phoebe in Wonderland.” It’s made the film festival rounds and earned accolades including a Heartland “Truly Moving Picture Award.”

It reminded me that our own Valley Youth Theatre, whose alumni include Emma Stone (recent nominee for a “best actress” Golden Globe Award), will perform “Alice in Wonderland” Feb 4-20 at the VYT theater in downtown Phoenix. Update: Show extended through Feb 27.

I was delighted to see familiar youth on the cast list, including Nathan Naimark (Footman/Executioner) — whose mom Dana Wolfe Naimark was the subject of a recent “Stage Mom” post.

While the young Naimark is readying for opening night, his mother — the head of Children’s Action Alliance — is contending with budget cuts that impact Arizona children in all sorts of ways.

I suspect she’ll be experiencing a few of her own “Tweedledee” and “Tweedledum” moments in the coming weeks and months.

But back to the fabulous cast of VYT’s “Alice in Wonderland” — which includes Maddy Rathbun (Alice), Alex Acosta (Mad Hatter), and Lindsey Brown (Queen of Hearts).

Couple VYT's non-musical "Alice in Wonderland" with a tea party, arts & crafts or puppet play

Were my girls a decade or so younger, I’d be working to put together an “Alice in Wonderland” weekend of sorts — having friends over to explore the Lewis Carroll tale via movies, books, puppet theater and the live VYT performance (which is a non-musical).

Kids can get some serious arts and crafts projects out of “Alice in Wonderland” characters and themes — objects changing size, roses painted different colors, playing cards that come to life.

Even a tea party at home, in the park or a charming Valley venue — such as the Teeter House at Heritage Square in downtown Phoenix — would be fun.

I suspect that the sets and costumes for VYT’s “Alice in Wonderland” will inspire hours of imaginative play. And who knows, your own son or daughter might discover that live theater is most wonderful wonderland of all.

— Lynn

Note: Heartland Truly Moving Movies is a non-profit organization whose work includes an annual film competition for works by high school students. Entries for the 2011 Heartland High School Film Competition are being accepted through June 1, 2011. Those who enter before April 15 pay no submission fee, and will be considered for a scholarship to attend “Prodigy Camp.”

Coming up: Other youth theater works coming to Valley stages, Arizona Girlchoir offerings, Musings on art and rock ‘n’ roll, Nuclear weapons take center stage, Summer camp meets glee club