For as long as I can remember, shadow puppets have always captured my imagination. When I was a child, my family lived in Indonesia, a country where shadow theater, known as wayang kulit in Indonesian, plays an integral role in the culture.
As a kid, I remember seeing shadow puppet broadcasts on TV, and learning about them in school. To this day, I still have a deep fascination with shadow puppet theater.
Shadow puppets trace their roots to China, India, and Nepal, but more recently has been popular in countries like Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia. In these countries, shadow puppet theater can be used as a means to pass on traditional stories to the next generation. They can also be used to subtly present social commentary to an audience, especially in places where media messages are highly regulated.
In Indonesia, a shadow puppet play is a community event, with performances lasting all night long. Music, singing, and dance are incorporated into the show, and even kids take part in the fun. I remember attending a shadow puppet performance in Bali once and seeing kids running around, even though it was close to 10 pm!
I’ve always wanted to pass on this appreciation for shadow puppets to my kids. So when Montana Toy Company sent me their latest book to review, Black Forest Theater Presents – Dinosaurs, I was over the moon to be able to expose the world of shadow puppet theater to my kids.
As the name suggests, Montana Toy Company is toy company based out of Wibaux, Montana, and primarily creates stick horse toys for kids. They recently branched out into books, with their first one focused on the art of shadow play. The book is an original story, written and illustrated by Montana Toy Company owner, Carmen Neuens.
When we got our package in the mail, my kids were anxious to tear into it and get playing right away, but I wanted to take some time to admire the design of the book. It’s quite beautiful, with its dramatic black silhouettes and simple presentation.
Inside the book, we found die-cut silhouettes of four different dinosaurs, along with plastic sticks and Velcro to attach to the sticks. Also included was an LED light, a storybook to act out, and the cover itself, which doubled as a backdrop to the shadow play.
We found these puppets to be well-crafted and beautiful. The designs reminded me of the intricate patterns found on the wayang kulit puppets that I loved as a kid in Indonesia. We also found the story to be cute and entertaining, and my kids had a great time reading the book out loud and acting out the story with the puppets. We even made up stories of our own!
I also loved having a back drop that also served as a cover to keep all the puppets contained when not in use. After we were done playing, it was so easy to stack the book, puppets, and light all together, close up the cover and put it back in the box.
One major drawback that I found was that in order to attach the plastic sticks to the dinosaur puppets, we were provided small Velcro stickers. While the Velcro help up well during play, it did make me concerned that continually taking the sticks on and off the dinosaur puppets would end up ripping the dinosaur puppets.
I also had trouble keeping the LED light stand from tipping over. I think I would have preferred something a bit sturdier, or easier to stand on its own.
All in all, though, we had a lot of fun playing with these dinosaur shadow puppets. It brought back many positive memories from my childhood, and I’m so happy that I was able to share the shadow puppet experience with my own kids. For any kid that loves to use their imagination to tell stories, I think this book would make a great interactive gift. Montana Toy Company sells Black Forest Theater Presents – Dinosaurs for $29.99 on their website, and I think that’s a great value.
I can’t wait to play with these shadow puppets again with my kids!
Disclosure: I received a free product from Montana Toy Company to review. However, the opinions in this post are completely my own.
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