A Little Chat With Little Red

"Last night I thought that I had hair, and this morning I did!," a four year old speaks for her puppet-in-progress. Our Little Red Riding Hood puppets were made of the simplest materials, but the results were magical.

Last fall we were given a big trash bag full of small fake fruit that had been used in party decorations for a big event. I was delighted with the gift, but then began to wonder if my mental apple tree was full of nutty squirrels. What was I going to do with all those itty-bitty apples and pears? If you are yelling, "Just take them to the dumpster!," then you aren't an art teacher. Art teachers live by a code, much the way Disney pirates do. Art teachers don't say, "Arrgh," all that much, but they say, "I'm sure we could use that for something," several times a day.

My counselor used to tell me that anger was my best friend when I was going through my divorce. "Don't stuff it down; that anger is your motivator! It's there to push you to change your life!" She was right. You can't just keep putting that anger into black garbage bags and stuffing it into a closet forever. Closets get really full.

As an art teacher, the closet is my motivator. When the supply closet gets too full of boxes and bags of weird materials like miniature fake fruit, I am pushed to create uses for all that stuff. And so, the recipe for creativity is similar to applesauce made in a pressure cooker.

If you put one miniature fruit in a very small brown paper bag, then twist the rest of the sack tightly, you have created a living character for a small child. Even before the child draws a face, the puppet begins to talk. It's like having a conversation with a Tootsie Pop. The Tootsie Pop is both your microphone and a little character talking back to you.

Magic is Danny Kaye playing Hans Christian Andersen singing "Thumbelina." Magic is a child talking to a styrofoam apple in a bag about wanting long brown yarn hair. Magic is making pipe cleaner arms hold a basket of goodies, illustrated with ice cream cones and strawberries. Little Red Riding Hood better go quick if she's taking ice cream cones to Grandma in that basket.

One small child had drawn fruits and vegetables on her paper basket. "Do you think it would be okay to take chocolate to Grandma?," she asked me. Dang skippy! Grandma is going to be mighty disappointed if you don't take chocolate! Don't these kids know what "goodies" means???

The magic continued when we gave the Little Red puppets hooded capes made of end-of-the-bolt bargain "cherry red prom taffeta". We won't get into the deep psychological origins of the Little Red Cap folktale that I had to study in a college English class three decades ago! Taffeta just has that magic tactile quality for kids like the binding on their special security blankies.

Pretty soon the puppets were conversing with other puppets, as well as with their creators. They were not discussing Grimm concerns. They were discussing afternoon playdates, birthday parties, and swim lessons.

I'm glad I've learned a recipe for the other bag of fake fruits! And now I'm going to listen to "A Little Duet for Zoot and Chet." That would be Chet Baker and Zoot Simms, and I'll probably wish I was wearing a cherry red taffeta prom dress!

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