Puppets are another category of toys that has been around for centuries and that entertain both children and adults. Design ranges all the way from the minimalist to the baroque. Motion of the puppet’s body, head and limbs can be simple full-body movements to the actual mimicking of arms, hands and even fingers.
You can make a puppet with nothing but your hand — remember Senor Wences? Add a little red crayon and black marker for eyebrows and you’ve got a little face. Teach this “special effect” to a little child and he or she will be amused for hours — they likely will not be able to wait to show off their new talent to their friends.
Finger puppets are the next variant of puppetry. A hollow cylinder fits over a finger and the outside is decorated to resemble an animal or a character. There are no moving parts, aside from the child’s own finger, so a finger puppet is a wonderful way to stimulate a child’s imagination. Adults can use finger puppets too, especially for telling stories to pre-schoolers.
Sock puppets are the next step — the simplest one is made just by pulling a sock over your hand and creating a crease with your fingers for the mouth. Using a patterned socks may even create the rudiments of a face. Or little eyes, ears, mouths and wigs can be bought at the pocket money counter to fasten to the sock to create an actual little creature. Both children and adults enjoy the play-acting that goes along with a sock puppet. They’re perfect for bedtimes too, with socks being so readily available as a raw material for those good-night rituals. Look around stores for Sockettes, knitted puppets with wild eyes, bright hair and squeakers in their mouths.
Next, we come to the first type of crafted puppets, the hand puppet. As the name implies, your hand fits inside the puppet like a glove. The thumb and the little finger slide into arms and the middle three fingers hold up the head. Some more complex hand puppets may have tiny manual controls within the head to move the eyes and mouth, but most hand puppets get by with a head that nods as the fingers move. This type of puppet is usually not much larger than your hand, though some may be large enough to have bodies and legs that hang down over your arm. Hand puppets are perfect for the child who is getting interested in playacting and in trying out how many different voices they can create.
Finally, there’s the full-scale puppets with fully articulated bodies, with the strings that attach to the overhead control stick. These types can be expensive and may be frightening to some young children. But, older children who are becoming interested in theater may enjoy learning the stagecraft and the skill of real puppetry.
Now that we’ve gotten though all the types, let’s mention the characters portrayed as puppets. Birds and animals are always a favorite with children, whether the intent is to be realistic or cartoonish. Characters from children’s stories are also popular, from the fairy tales of centuries past and from the animated features in the theatres. Punch and Judy, of course, are a great set of puppets that have a history dating back centuries in the British Isles. Monsters, both ancient creatures and brand-new ghouls, are great for kids who enjoy acting out an action story, with, a hero or heroine puppet to save the day.
And what would a puppet show be without a puppet theatre? Most are small and portable and can be set up anywhere. Again, a child interested in the theater or acting would love to have a stage of their own on which to set their puppet plays.