The Snowy Day to Knuffle Bunny: Caldecott Winners to Enjoy with Your Kids

I’ve always been a reader. Some of my life’s crazy historical obsessions started with a children’s one-volume encyclopedia I received as a gift when I was ten, and today I probably own 2,000 books. To me books are the best possible means for “walking in someone else’s shoes.” As book buyer for Audrey’s Museum Store, I’m glad to see some of our visitors go home with books like The Snowy Day, pictured above (with me peeping out from behind!).

I’ve always been a reader. Some of my life’s crazy historical obsessions started with a children’s one-volume encyclopedia I received as a gift when I was ten, and today I probably own 2,000 books. To me books are the best possible means for “walking in someone else’s shoes.” As book buyer for Audrey’s Museum Store, I’m glad to see some of our visitors go home with books like The Snowy Day, pictured above (with me peeping out from behind!).

Summer’s here, which means families with kids across the southland are in summer break mode (even if yours aren’t quite school-age yet). Let your kids travel to new worlds and meet new people between the covers of some first-rate children’s literature! One of the best ways to put together a top-notch book list for the littlest ones in your family is, of course, to ask for recommendations from a librarian. Even better, get recommendations from a whole bunch of librarians by checking out the work of current and past winners of the Caldecott Medal.

The Caldecott Medal is awarded annually by the American Library Association to the most distinguished illustrated children’s book published that year. The exhibition The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats—on view at the Skirball through September 7—afforded us the wonderful opportunity to highlight one of the recipients of this special award (The Snowy Day received the medal in 1963).

Here are a few Caldecott honorees we chose to feature in Audrey’s Museum Store along with all of Keats’s in-print books:

noahs ark_skirball_caldecott winner

 

Noah’s Ark, by Peter Spier

With amazingly detailed pictures, Spier tells the Noah story with almost no words.  Perfect for a family who wants to create their own take on this classic story.

 

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Architect Moshe Safdie Likes Legos (Breaking Bad Fans Do, Too)

Here’s my attempt to build Habitat ’67 out of Legos like Moshe Safdie once did. My preschooler wanted her Duplo® back… and I longed for stronger spatial skills.

Here’s my attempt to build Habitat ’67 out of Legos like Moshe Safdie once did. My preschooler wanted her Duplo® back… and I longed for stronger spatial skills.

If you’re a parent of a young child, like I am, you likely have LEGO® in your house. With some relief—since Legos are a fairly wholesome, harmless distraction—and maybe even pride, you’ve watched your kid stack and lock those distinctive bricks of plastic for hours on end. You’ve probably gotten down on the floor to join the fun. [Less fun: stepping on a Lego.]

Lately it feels like I encounter Legos in more places than my living room. In early summer, I kept hearing about an exhibition, The Art of the Brick®, on view at a surprising venue: Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. At its hilltop museum, my family and I eyed thirty awe-inspiring sculptures by “brick artist” Nathan Sawaya, who used thousands of Legos to handcraft each work. A few weeks later, two separate groups of friends reported that the new hotel at LEGOLAND was actually pretty cool. In mid-July, I stumbled upon a story on NPR.org probing why the Danish toy company had launched a product line specifically for girls. The reporter concluded with the right question: “Would it be so hard to develop—even market—toys for girls and boys to enjoy together?” On his “Thinking Brickly” blog, David Pickett studies the Lego gender gap more closely.

As summer waned, Legos continued to pop up in my life. Lost in a Breaking Bad internet vortex as the series finale drew near, I learned that a Lego imitator, Citizen Brick, quickly sold out of its controversial “Superlab Playset,” featuring “minifigs” of Walt (in yellow lab suit), Gus (in Los Pollos Hermanos button-down), and Mike (sporting grey stubble but looking far less hard-boiled as on TV).

Walter White and Jesse Pinkman’s underground “office” = totally disturbing plaything

Walter White and Jesse Pinkman’s underground “office” = totally disturbing plaything

Eventually Legos became a topic of conversation at work, as we geared up for our fall exhibition, Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie, opening October 22. As it turns out, the renowned architect, who has designed and built our Skirball campus in four phases over thirty years, used to toy around with Legos early in his career. In his book The City After the Automobile: An Architect’s Vision (Westview, 1998), Safdie describes how he began to develop a new concept for urban housing:

I began constructing large models out of Lego, stacking plastic blocks representing houses one on top of the other, each one forming a roof garden for the unit above…. This would lead two years later to Habitat, a project I designed and constructed as part of the 1967 world’s fair in Montreal.

Each of the units kinda does look like a Lego, huh? Habitat’67. Construction view. Image courtesy of Safdie Architects.

Each of the units kinda looks like a Lego, huh? Habitat ’67. Construction view. Image courtesy of Safdie Architects.

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Rhythm Is Gonna Get You

The mission of music group Rhythm Child has always been to get people of all ages up and moving. For the past six years Rhythm Child founder, Norm Jones, has been inspiring young drummers and their families to get up and move as part of the Skirball’s Family Amphitheater Performances series. If you’ve been to any of the group’s last six performances, you know that once Jones passes out his instruments and lays down a beat, the Amphitheater comes thumping to life! I’ve always loved the energy and enthusiasm of Rhythm Child, so I thought it would be interesting to find out more about this fun and feisty musical collective as they plan for their Amphitheater performance on July 21st.

How did you get started in performance?
I grew up being inspired by the performance of others (my brother’s band, choirs in church, supper club shows that my mom took me to). I watched how these singers moved the audience with style, humor, and emotion. For years I practiced at the mirror in my basement before I ever took the stage and performed for people.

What part of performing for live audiences do you enjoy the most?
I love the immediate feedback that you get from a live audience. There is an exchange of energy that is unquestionable. There is a feeling of being out there on the edge without much of a safety net and usually the audience is open and willing to go for the ride. What I hope for is that everyone walks away feeling connected and inspired.

What is the most memorable moment from your career?
I must say that performing at the White House was pretty cool. I got to have my family with me on stage for one of the greatest days of my career.

What music or artist inspires you? Continue reading

Hanukkah Family Festival through a Photographer’s Lens

Come rain, come shine, the Skirball’s annual Hanukkah family festival always draws a crowd of diverse generations, backgrounds, and smiles. Photographer and first-time festival attendee BeBe Jacobs was impressed with this year’s Hanukkah festival, Americana Hanukkah, which took inspiration from our campus-wide “Democracy Matters” initiative to celebrate the Jewish holiday. “No matter what activity [people] were doing,” she told me, as we looked over the images she shot that day, “the fact that families were spending time together made all the difference.”

For both of us, the Hanukkah festival not only brought families together but also brought out creativity that visitors did not realize they had. There was plenty to do all day, like watch Marcus Shelby and his quintet perform beautiful freedom songs… or hear Story Pirates act out original Hanukkah tales on stage… or join a tour focusing on the Skirball’s collection of Hanukkah lamps (the last couple of these Lights of Hanukkah Family Tours take place today and tomorrow, so be sure to swing by this weekend). But it was at the hands-on art workshops where people got a chance to create something themselves.

Here, BeBe shares ten of her favorite photos from that fun-filled day with reflections on the people and moments that made them so special.

BeBe was amazed at how each visitor could create beautiful art pieces out of plain materials. Here, a visitor displays a menorah he made out of plastic tubes, colorful tape, and stickers.

BeBe was amazed at how each visitor could create beautiful art pieces out of plain materials. Here, a young visitor displays a menorah he made out of plastic tubes, colorful tape, and stickers.

BeBe found this young girl patiently waiting as her brother worked on an art project of his own. BeBe placed a tiny menorah on the glue stick in front of the girl. Immediately she looked down and started to blow out the “candles” in the menorah.

This young girl patiently waited as her brother finished his art project. In a moment of silliness, Bebe placed a tiny menorah on the glue stick in front of the girl. Immediately she looked down and started to blow out the “candles”.

According to BeBe, this young visitor was very proud of the Hanukkah pin she crafted. Her glee shines through in this photo!

This young visitor was very proud of the Hanukkah pin she crafted. The glee that shines through in this photo makes it an easy favorite!

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Two Benjamins

Military uniform (jacket, epaulets, waistcoat, breeches, tricorn hat, and wig) and leather satchel of Jonathan Bancroft of Massachusetts, 1777-ca. 1789. From the collection of Dr. Gary Milan

Military uniform (jacket, epaulets, waistcoat, breeches, tricorn hat, and wig) and leather satchel of Jonathan Bancroft of Massachusetts, 1777-ca. 1789. From the collection of Dr. Gary Milan.

The day I planned to bring my eleven-year-old son, Benjamin, to Creating the United States, I called my dad. My parents still live in the house I grew up in, just a few towns over from where the shot heard ‘round the world rang out (this is how Schoolhouse Rocks memorialized that event, remember?) and only a short trip from where Paul Revere rode his famous ride. Dad, who grew up in Lexington, MA, is a man who has always been surrounded by—and fascinated with—history.

In fact, it was my dad whom I thought most about when I first walked through Creating the United States. I looked closely at the old documents, the artifacts, and the photographs, and took a journey through the American Revolution. As I stood in front of the uniform of a Continental Army officer (which also caught the eye of The Family Savvy, in this enthusiastic write-up), I thought of Dad and the stories he told about Revolutionary War muskets that our family once housed as part of a collection.

A historical artifact from my family’s own American story: Danforth Maxcy's canteen.

A historical artifact from my family’s own American story: Danforth Maxcy's canteen.

The old satchel displayed alongside the uniform reminded me of things that men carried to war, like the Civil War−era canteen that still sits in my parents’ living room. It once belonged to Danforth Maxcy (my great-great-great-great-uncle), who was injured at the Battle of Gettysburg and died on the train ride back home to Maine. He was twenty-one. Continue reading

Step Right Up for Family Fun

I can’t believe it’s Labor Day Weekend! There hasn’t been a dull moment here in Family Programs all summer long. What has been so wonderful is to see families come in for one of our Family Amphitheater Performances, check out the Family Art Studio, pop over to our archaeological dig site, and play games as part of our Game On! program….all in one afternoon. One day, there was a family from Miami who had never been to the Skirball. When they arrived at the art studio, their eldest daughter (there were three kids total, and I’m guessing the eldest was around eleven) was feeling a bit grumpy. She just didn’t want to be there (there was even some tears). But by the time they left, the whole family was all smiles. The mom let me know how grateful she was that they had visited such a wonderful and special place. That’s music to my ears!

Just one more weekend to enjoy summer family fun at the Skirball. To get you excited about coming over, check out some highlights that I (along with a few from photographer friends) captured from the past few weeks.

“Yay, puppets!” squeals one toddler named Azalea, who came to see marionette artist Scott Land perform in the amphitheater!

“Yay, puppets!” proclaims one toddler named Azalea, who came to see marionette artist Scott Land perform in the amphitheater!

Scott Land's traditional marionettes wait patiently before taking center stage.

Scott Land's traditional marionettes wait patiently before taking center stage.

Scott Land does a synchronized dance using a pair of matching skeleton puppets, which leaves the crowd in stitches!

Scott Land does a synchronized dance using a pair of matching skeleton puppets, which leaves the crowd in stitches!

How’d he do that? Scott Land's clown puppet blows up a balloon before everyone’s eyes.

How’d he do that? Scott Land's clown puppet blows up a balloon before everyone’s eyes.

Filipino dance and music ensemble Kayamanan Ng Lahi captivates audiences with graceful moves and colorful costumes.

Filipino dance and music ensemble Kayamanan Ng Lahi captivates audiences with graceful moves and colorful costumes.

Kayamanan Ng Lahi features more than a dozen children, who were all crowd favorites.

Kayamanan Ng Lahi features more than a dozen children, who were all crowd favorites.

Volunteer teen Carla helps a young visitor create a shadow puppet. Throughout the summer, these dedicated teens have been a fixture in our Family Art Studio, working one on one with children.

Volunteer teen Carla helps a young visitor create a shadow puppet. Throughout the summer, these dedicated teens have been a fixture in our Family Art Studio, working one on one with children.

Kids and grown-ups delighted in seeing their creations come to life. Many families who didn't know each other performed little plays for one another.

Kids and grown-ups delighted in seeing their creations come to life. Many families who didn't know each other performed little plays for one another.

All summer long, visitors could play oversized board games as part of our “Game On!” family program. These teens invented their own version of giant checkers.

All summer long, visitors could play oversized board games as part of our “Game On!” family program. These teens invented their own version of giant checkers.

Connect Four is a board game classic. Better yet if it’s a jumbo version like this one!

Connect Four is a board game classic. Better yet if it’s a jumbo version like this one!

This little visitor was proud of her skills in the toss game. She wanted me to see how well she could toss.

This little visitor was proud of her skills in the toss game. She wanted me to see how well she could toss.

A dad and his daughters spend a relaxing afternoon doing this puzzle at the Skirball’s archaeological dig site.

A dad and his daughters spend a relaxing afternoon doing this puzzle at the Skirball’s archaeological dig site.

Young archaeologists discover something hidden in the sand… and wonder what it is!

Young archaeologists discover something hidden in the sand… and wonder what it is!

Happy visitors grooves to the folk tunes of musician Melissa Green.

Happy visitors grooves to the folk tunes of musician Melissa Green.

This music fan couldn’t help but get up and dance to Melissa Green

This music fan couldn’t help but get up and dance to Melissa Green.

Melissa Green performs a rousing rendition of “Monkeys Jumping on the Bed”… this little visitor bumps her head every time!

And when Melissa Green performs a rousing rendition of “Monkeys Jumping on the Bed”… this little visitor bumps her head every time!

Between songs—“Jewish music with a twist”—the ensemble Mostly Kosher cracked up the audience with their family-friendly jokes. They also taught a few Yiddish phrases!

Between songs—“Jewish music with a twist”—the ensemble Mostly Kosher cracked up the audience with their family-friendly jokes. They also taught a few Yiddish phrases!

Mostly Kosher’s lively songs featured wonderful strings.

Mostly Kosher’s lively songs featured wonderful strings.

In between their comedic interludes, Mostly Kosher's female vocalist sang a gorgeous song in Hebrew

In between their comedic interludes, Mostly Kosher's female vocalist sang a gorgeous song in Hebrew.

Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam band had no trouble getting kids to jam right along with them.

Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam band had no trouble getting kids to jam right along with them.

It’s been a hot summer, so our rainbow mist arbor was a popular attraction. These kids even brought their own swimsuits!

It’s been a hot summer, so our rainbow mist arbor was a popular attraction. These kids even brought their own swimsuits! Photo by Peter Turman.

A little girl named Astrid gets a lift from her dad. This was her first venture into the rainbow mist and won’t be her last!

A little girl named Astrid gets a lift from her dad. This was her first venture into the rainbow mist and won’t be her last! Photo by Bonnie Perkinson.

“Yay, puppets!” squeals one toddler named Azalea, who came to see marionette artist Scott Land perform in the amphitheater!Scott Land's traditional marionettes wait patiently before taking center stage.Scott Land does a synchronized dance using a pair of matching skeleton puppets, which leaves the crowd in stitches!How’d he do that? Scott Land's clown puppet blows up a balloon before everyone’s eyes.Filipino dance and music ensemble Kayamanan Ng Lahi captivates audiences with graceful moves and colorful costumes.Kayamanan Ng Lahi features more than a dozen children, who were all crowd favorites.Volunteer teen Carla helps a young visitor create a shadow puppet. Throughout the summer, these dedicated teens have been a fixture in our Family Art Studio, working one on one with children.Kids and grown-ups delighted in seeing their creations come to life. Many families who didn't know each other performed little plays for one another.All summer long, visitors could play oversized board games as part of our “Game On!” family program. These teens invented their own version of giant checkers.Connect Four is a board game classic. Better yet if it’s a jumbo version like this one!This little visitor was proud of her skills in the toss game. She wanted me to see how well she could toss.A dad and his daughters spend a relaxing afternoon doing this puzzle at the Skirball’s archaeological dig site.Young archaeologists discover something hidden in the sand… and wonder what it is!Happy visitors grooves to the folk tunes of musician Melissa Green.This music fan couldn’t help but get up and dance to Melissa GreenMelissa Green performs a rousing rendition of “Monkeys Jumping on the Bed”… this little visitor bumps her head every time!Between songs—“Jewish music with a twist”—the ensemble Mostly Kosher cracked up the audience with their family-friendly jokes. They also taught a few Yiddish phrases!Mostly Kosher’s lively songs featured wonderful strings.In between their comedic interludes, Mostly Kosher's female vocalist sang a gorgeous song in HebrewLucky Diaz and the Family Jam band had no trouble getting kids to jam right along with them.It’s been a hot summer, so our rainbow mist arbor was a popular attraction. These kids even brought their own swimsuits!A little girl named Astrid gets a lift from her dad. This was her first venture into the rainbow mist and won’t be her last!

Conversations and Connections: A Teenager in his Native Habitat and at the Skirball

My son Arlen, standing at the entrance of the Women Hold Up Half the Sky exhibition, which he called “actually pretty cool.”

My son Arlen, standing at the entrance of the Women Hold Up Half the Sky exhibition, which he called “actually pretty cool.”

Living with my fifteen-year-old son, Arlen, is like living with a wild animal. A non-verbalizing, hedonistically hibernating, ragingly ravenous animal. The palate craves only that which is smothered in cheese. The wild mop of hair has been known to cause strangers on the street to nag (or, to my dismay, compliment and rave). The clothing is monochromatic. The vocabulary is monosyllabic. Parenting a teen is like living with a beast whose sole mission in life seems to be to eat more groceries than I can afford and to thwart my efforts at planning quality family time.

According to a great article I recently read in National Geographic, my son’s qualities could probably be attributed to the intense brain reorganization that kids his age experience. Nonetheless, I desire more connection with him, and I’m willing to try almost anything. Since many of my conversations with Arlen involve overwrought pop psychology on my part, and a series of grunts and somewhat base gestures on his, it has come as a huge relief to find things to do at the Skirball that inspire genuine communication. The Skirball is well known for our programs for young families (I am itching to sleep overnight inside Noah’s Ark at the Skirball), dynamic adult education, and thought-provoking and beautiful exhibitions. But did you know that there is a mélange of meaningful moments to be had at the Skirball with that favorite teen animal/angel in your life? I am so happy to trumpet to you all that there is. THERE IS!

I spent my first six months working here as a timid observer, wondering if my son would like our offerings—or if he could be coerced into showering for any of them. Then, I signed up for the Skirball’s Teen Parenting Seminar, hoping it would give me techniques to foster open communication. The seminar was full of eager parents and brave new ideas—and the most simple yet profound of these zapped my brain like a laser: do new things with your teenager.

So, we tried doing a few things. We went to the Huntington Gardens, but my own mom and I enjoyed their gorgeous rose gardens a teensy bit more than my son—although he did get in some quality texting time. We have now been to Disneyland more times than

probably anyone you know, and frankly we are both bored of the “happiest place on earth” (how much is there actually to say about Space Mountain?).

This conversation may have been slightly altered to serve my parental bias. Mental note: Discuss the concept of artistic license with son.

This conversation may have been slightly altered to serve my parental bias. Mental note: Discuss the concept of artistic license with son.

It took me a while to realize that some of the Skirball’s offerings might suit my son very well indeed. So, I signed us up for a Skirball Member preview of a documentary film called Bully that has been at the center of much media attention. It was a stealth invitation, meaning that I just texted him that I had scheduled an activity. I didn’t give him any details. This turned out to be a brilliant plan on my part: I hadn’t given him any information, so there was nearly nothing to which he could object.

After watching Bully together, something incredible happened: we really talked afterwards. We talked and talked for over an hour about the film, as well as my son’s own experiences with bullying. For the first time in a long time, we had an organic, genuine conversation. The experience was transformative, and I mean that in the truest sense of the word. We were transformed from a mother and son who barely recounted the banal happenings of our day to each other… into two people who felt substantially closer to one another. And the best part is that we now have a way to keep that closeness going. Continue reading

My Top 10 Puppet Festival Moments

I was among the many excited visitors and staff who were at the Puppet Festival on Sunday, April 1. It was a joyous day. During the daylong program, I worked with a terrific photographer, Peter Turman, to capture the day in pictures, meeting many Puppet Festival attendees along the way and catching countless special moments. Here are just ten memorable moments caught on camera that give a sense of what the Puppet Festival was all about: an array of puppets throughout the day and fun for the whole family.

Rene’s Marionettes were a huge hit! The Founder’s Courtyard was full of animated audience members, and I felt transported to what I imagine a Vaudeville-era puppet show would have been like. This dancing skeleton marionette was my favorite among the marionettes.

Rene’s Marionettes were a huge hit! The Founder’s Courtyard was full of animated audience members, and I felt transported to what I imagine a Vaudeville-era puppet show would have been like. This dancing skeleton marionette was my favorite among the marionettes.

I am convinced that the Noah's Ark ostrich puppet is a favorite among the toddler crowd. Something about the smiling beak leaning down towards them puts an instant look of glee on their faces, as exhibited by this little girl. I bet that that same happy look continued for the rest of the day. After this photo was taken, she and I played a short game of peek-a-boo.

I am convinced that the Noah's Ark ostrich puppet is a favorite among the toddler crowd. Something about the smiling beak leaning down towards them puts an instant look of glee on their faces, as exhibited by this little girl. I bet that that same happy look continued for the rest of the day. After this photo was taken, she and I played a short game of peek-a-boo.

Another enchanting ostrich moment: This little girl was entranced by the puppet. She kept putting her hand out and every time the beak would touch her open palm, she would laugh and smile at her dad. Their delight was contagious: I couldn’t help but laugh and grin, too.

Another enchanting ostrich moment: This little girl was entranced by the puppet. She kept putting her hand out and every time the beak would touch her open palm, she would laugh and smile at her dad. Their delight was contagious: I couldn’t help but laugh and grin, too.

Hunter, the incredibly realistic-looking Juvenile Tyrannosaurus Rex puppet from the Natural History Museum, made a few appearances throughout the day. Crowds of visitors closely surrounded him all day, waiting with anticipation for something scary to happen. Here, Hunter appears docile, almost like he’s smiling for pictures. But the next minute....

Hunter, the incredibly realistic-looking Juvenile Tyrannosaurus Rex puppet from the Natural History Museum, made a few appearances throughout the day. Crowds of visitors closely surrounded him all day, waiting with anticipation for something scary to happen. Here, Hunter appears docile, almost like he's smiling for pictures. But the next minute....

… he roars ferociously and unexpectedly! Visitors jump and scream out of fright, then laugh, reminding themselves that he’s just a puppet!

… he roars ferociously and unexpectedly! Visitors jump and scream out of fright, then laugh, reminding themselves that he’s just a puppet!

This young girl was enamored with the Noah's Ark snow leopard puppet. She ran into this puppet as her mother was getting ready for them to go home. Her mom patiently tried many times to get her to say goodbye to the puppet, but it was as if this girl and the snow leopard were in their own little world. She would not budge. The young visitor finally left with a longing look, after giving her new friend one last snuggle and pat on the head.

This young girl was enamored with the Noah's Ark snow leopard puppet. She ran into this puppet as her mother was getting ready for them to go home. Her mom patiently tried many times to get her to say goodbye to the puppet, but it was as if this girl and the snow leopard were in their own little world. She would not budge. The young visitor finally left with a longing look, after giving her new friend one last snuggle and pat on the head.

It was amazing to see the level of creativity and work that went into many of the homemade puppets made by children and their parents at our puppet-making stations. This purple-clad girl crafted her dog puppet with her mom. She first came up to me making barking sounds. I peered down and saw her boisterous puppy coming to see me. It was by far the most “high-tech” and realistic visitor-made puppet that I saw during the festival. To the girl’s delight, I gave her dog a few pats. Then she told me all about how she and her mother made this amazing puppet. She was very proud.

It was amazing to see the level of creativity and work that went into many of the homemade puppets made by children and their parents at our puppet-making stations. This purple-clad girl crafted her dog puppet with her mom. She first came up to me making barking sounds. I peered down and saw her boisterous puppy coming to see me. It was by far the most “high-tech” and realistic visitor-made puppet that I saw during the festival. To the girl’s delight, I gave her dog a few pats. Then she told me all about how she and her mother made this amazing puppet. She was very proud.

This girl and her grandmother are putting the finishing touches on the giraffe puppet they were making together. The puppet festival was truly inter-generational!

This girl and her grandmother are putting the finishing touches on the giraffe puppet they were making together. The puppet festival was truly inter-generational!

This particular show seemed to be an audience favorite, as it was musical and invited lots of audience participation. As families watched Zomo, The Trickster Rabbit—A West African Folk Tale, children helped tell the story by playing drums, clapping, and repeating words after the storyteller. I love how engaged each of the kids looks in this photo. It also shows the variety in puppet shows presented at the festival: some were staged in dark theater-like settings meant for visitors to sit back and take in, while others, like this one, were in brightly lit rooms in which the visitors themselves became part of the story.

This particular show seemed to be an audience favorite, as it was musical and invited lots of audience participation. As families watched Zomo, The Trickster Rabbit—A West African Folk Tale, children helped tell the story by playing drums, clapping, and repeating words after the storyteller. I love how engaged each of the kids looks in this photo. It also shows the variety in puppet shows presented at the festival: some were staged in dark theater-like settings meant for visitors to sit back and take in, while others, like this one, were in brightly lit rooms in which the visitors themselves became part of the story.

Even with puppets and activities continuing throughout the day, there was plenty of room for families to just relax and enjoy the Skirball grounds and architecture. After dancing in a circle while their parents finished lunch, these three girls took a moment to look at the beautiful pond in the Taper Courtyard. After a long day of puppet interaction and performances, the trio shows what we love to see at the Skirball: a celebration of family, friends, and community while experiencing new things together.

Even with puppets and activities continuing throughout the day, there was plenty of room for families to just relax and enjoy the Skirball grounds and architecture. After dancing in a circle while their parents finished lunch, these three girls took a moment to look at the beautiful pond in the Taper Courtyard. After a long day of puppet interaction and performances, the trio shows what we love to see at the Skirball: a celebration of family, friends, and community while experiencing new things together.

Rene’s Marionettes were a huge hit! The Founder’s Courtyard was full of animated audience members, and I felt transported to what I imagine a Vaudeville-era puppet show would have been like. This dancing skeleton marionette was my favorite among the marionettes.I am convinced that the Noah's Ark ostrich puppet is a favorite among the toddler crowd. Something about the smiling beak leaning down towards them puts an instant look of glee on their faces, as exhibited by this little girl. I bet that that same happy look continued for the rest of the day. After this photo was taken, she and I played a short game of peek-a-boo.Another enchanting ostrich moment: This little girl was entranced by the puppet. She kept putting her hand out and every time the beak would touch her open palm, she would laugh and smile at her dad. Their delight was contagious: I couldn’t help but laugh and grin, too.Hunter, the incredibly realistic-looking Juvenile Tyrannosaurus Rex puppet from the Natural History Museum, made a few appearances throughout the day. Crowds of visitors closely surrounded him all day, waiting with anticipation for something scary to happen. Here, Hunter appears docile, almost like he’s smiling for pictures. But the next minute....… he roars ferociously and unexpectedly! Visitors jump and scream out of fright, then laugh, reminding themselves that he’s just a puppet!This young girl was enamored with the Noah's Ark snow leopard puppet. She ran into this puppet as her mother was getting ready for them to go home. Her mom patiently tried many times to get her to say goodbye to the puppet, but it was as if this girl and the snow leopard were in their own little world. She would not budge. The young visitor finally left with a longing look, after giving her new friend one last snuggle and pat on the head.It was amazing to see the level of creativity and work that went into many of the homemade puppets made by children and their parents at our puppet-making stations. This purple-clad girl crafted her dog puppet with her mom. She first came up to me making barking sounds. I peered down and saw her boisterous puppy coming to see me. It was by far the most “high-tech” and realistic visitor-made puppet that I saw during the festival. To the girl’s delight, I gave her dog a few pats. Then she told me all about how she and her mother made this amazing puppet. She was very proud.This girl and her grandmother are putting the finishing touches on the giraffe puppet they were making together. The puppet festival was truly inter-generational!This particular show seemed to be an audience favorite, as it was musical and invited lots of audience participation. As families watched Zomo, The Trickster Rabbit—A West African Folk Tale, children helped tell the story by playing drums, clapping, and repeating words after the storyteller. I love how engaged each of the kids looks in this photo. It also shows the variety in puppet shows presented at the festival: some were staged in dark theater-like settings meant for visitors to sit back and take in, while others, like this one, were in brightly lit rooms in which the visitors themselves became part of the story.Even with puppets and activities continuing throughout the day, there was plenty of room for families to just relax and enjoy the Skirball grounds and architecture. After dancing in a circle while their parents finished lunch, these three girls took a moment to look at the beautiful pond in the Taper Courtyard. After a long day of puppet interaction and performances, the trio shows what we love to see at the Skirball: a celebration of family, friends, and community while experiencing new things together.

From X the Owl to Snow Leopards to Frog Belly Rat Bone

The Rogue Artists Ensemble will perform The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone this Sunday at the Skirball's Puppet Festival. Another step in my short but ongoing journey knowing puppets.

The Rogue Artists Ensemble will perform The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone this Sunday at the Skirball's Puppet Festival. Another step in my short but ongoing journey knowing puppets.

So the early history of me and puppets is probably not dissimilar from yours if you were born in the early seventies. It goes something like this:

When I was really little, King Friday and Queen Sara Saturday ruled a kingdom of hand puppets on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Cornflake S. Pecially manufactured rocking chairs, X the Owl admired Ben Franklin from inside an oak tree, and Lady Elaine Fairchilde lived in a Museum-Go-Round, a design concept that would either delight or nauseate (or both), but give architecture critics plenty to chew on.

Daniel Stripèd Tiger inhabited a grandmother clock in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

Daniel Stripèd Tiger inhabited a grandmother clock on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Courtesy of Photofest.

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Bunking Up Aboard the Ark

I’m no camper. The platform wedges that I wear religiously and the complete absence of sweatshirts from my wardrobe give me away. So you can imagine that I was a little uneasy about the prospect of spending a night “camping” at the Skirball with my seven-year-old daughter, Georgia, as an attendee at one of the first Skirball family sleepovers.

Noah's Ark Sleepover bed setup

With folk-art Noah’s Arks “sailing” above them, my daughter, Georgia (left), and her good friend Gillian (in sparkly hat) get ready to say good night at a Skirball family sleepover. You don’t have to rough it if sleeping bags aren’t your thing. Airbeds welcome!

More accurately, I was ambivalent about it. While the idea of shimmying into my jammies in a setting far, far more public than the comfort of my own home gave me the willies, I was genuinely excited to experience Noah’s Ark at the Skirball from the perspective of a nighttime inhabitant. As project director for Noah’s Ark, I’d been closely involved in bringing it to life, and I love it on a visceral level (insofar as one can feel that way about a museum space). The thought of taking part in a nocturnal Noah’s Ark experience with my own daughter, who came into this world as the project itself was being born, was a thrilling prospect.

I’ll confess that Georgia and I didn’t start off as model campers. Soon after checking in, we trundled off to choose our sleeping quarters on the ark along with other families. Spotting what we agreed was the perfect spot—a cozy corner beneath a display of Skirball folk-art ark vessels from around the world—we unpacked our gear and set up camp. Minutes after I’d inflated our air mattress (yes, of course I brought one), Georgia happily flopped back onto it, shouting, “This is the life!” But then, with panic and dismay, I watched our bed deflate pitifully… with Georgia still lying on top. We were forced to sleep directly on the gallery’s wooden floorboards that night, which gave me a new understanding of the term Not a happy camper (though my daughter slept like a baby). Continue reading