Puppet Power, Part Two: Books About Puppets and Puppet-Making at the Library

This guest post by Jacqueline Coleburn, Librarian in the Rare Materials Section of the Acquisitions and Bibliographic Access Directorate. It is the second in a three-part series that offers ideas for families on creating your own puppet shows with Library collections. The series is inspired by the annual puppet show that had been held at the Library’s Young Readers Center the day after Thanksgiving since 2013. 

The puppet shows and puppet-making workshops in the Young Readers Center every November continue a time-honored tradition of puppetry in our creative and cultural lives. The Library of Congress holds hundreds of books with stories about puppets, instructions on how to make many kinds of puppets, and scripts for puppet plays.  Here are a few of our favorites from the rare book collections at the Library:

Image from Pinocchio showing a tent with a sign that reads "The Great Puppet Show"

Pinocchio, the tale of a puppet, by C. Collodi, illustrated by Alice Carsey (Racine, 1917)

Pinocchio, the wooden puppet who dreamed of being a real boy, is probably the most famous puppet in the world. The Adventures of Pinocchio, by Carlo Collodi, was originally written in Italian and first published in 1883. When modern readers think of that puppet, whose nose grew whenever he told a lie, we often conjure up images from the Walt Disney animated movie version released in 1940 (which, by the way, was placed in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1994). Several beautiful illustrated print versions of Pinocchio have been published before and after the Disney production and offer their own interpretations of the puppet and his companions. Pinocchio, the tale of a puppet, by C. Collodi, illustrated by Alice Carsey (Racine, 1917) is a particularly beautiful edition.

Punch and Judy puppet shows were originally performed before adult audiences. The first performance in England was in 1662.  The characters, types of puppets employed, and target audiences all evolved with time, but the slapstick comedy and general silliness continue to entertain people today. Here is one version designed for children: Tragical acts or comical tragedies of Punch and Judy, by Prof. W.J. Judd (New York, 1879). You will enjoy the black and white illustrations throughout the script reproduced from designs by George Cruikshank.  Cruikshank is most famous for his political caricatures and illustrations for stories by Charles Dickens. This edition of Punch and Judy includes a brief history of the puppet play, instructions on constructing a theater, and how to manipulate the puppets.

Tony Sarg’s Book for children from six to sixty (New York, 1924) has on its cover a puppet theater complete with an accompanying orchestra conducted by a well-dressed rabbit. Embedded in the text of the amusing stories are small, almost word-sized, color illustrations. Puppet fans will want to see the second story “Little Anne takes her marionettes to Buckingham Palace.”

Image showing how to make a marionette

Instructions for making a marionette from Puppet Plays for Children by F.M. Everson (Chicago, 1929)

The Library also has books of puppet plays written by children. The plays in Puppet plays for children, five little plays for marionettes, puppets, and shadows, by F.M. Everson (Chicago, 1929) were written by 4th and 5th graders as a project in their English classes. All of the dialogue is in verse. Take a look and you will see what they have done with Cinderella, The Three Bears, and Jack and the Beanstalk.  The Health Brownies is a performance that includes characters named Washee Muchee and Brawny Brownie who encourage good hygiene and exercise. The final play, Santa’s magic, is a shadow play.

How to make and operate marionettes, by John C. Faustman (1934) is a booklet on the fundamentals of puppetry. The author describes himself as the manager of the Pixie Marionettes. He offers instruction in the fundamentals of puppetry, hints to new puppeteers, and “teaching the marionettes to walk.”

While we will not be gathering in the Young Readers Center to enjoy a puppet show together this year, I hope that these books will inspire you to imagine and create puppet plays yourselves.

To read more about the history of puppets and puppetry, see this post on the Library’s Folklife Today blog, Puppets: A Story of Magical Actors by Stephanie Hall.