Storybox Theatre is wonderful way to present illustrated stories to youngsters in classrooms and libraries. Storybox is the American name we have given to the Japanese storytelling tradition called kamishibai. (Kami = paper; shibai = theatre). A storyteller stands behind a little wooden theatre and reveals a series of illustrations as he narrates a story, doing all the characters’ voices and the many sound effects.
Write Out Loud is providing StoryBox Theatre in libraries and pre-school through 6th grade classrooms throughout the county. This free programming is made possible through the generosity of the County of San Diego, Kinder Morgan and the Rancho Bernardo Community Foundation.
To bring this program to your school or library please contact Veronica Murphy at
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 619-297-8953
KAMISHIBAI: Ancient Yet Unique
Kamishibai is a teaching tradition that originated in Japan about a thousand years ago as a story-telling technique that combined live story telling with painted pictures and selected written words. In the 1920’s, during a time of severe economic hardship in Japan and elsewhere, kamishibai experienced a significant revival as it provided desperately needed income to many storytellers and artists as well as a learning-laden diversion to millions of children.
The storyteller rode from village to village on a bicycle. Hearing the kamishibai-man clap his hand-held wooden clapper to announce his arrival,. neighborhood children would rush to hear his stories. Those who purchased his candy typically sat in the front row, whence the income. The stories were free.
Once his audience was settled in front of the tiny proscenium arch mounted on his bicycle’s rear fender, the storyteller would tell several stories using a set of illustrated boards. He would remove the exposed “story board” to reveal the next one, thus moving his stories forward. The stories were often serials and new episodes were eagerly awaited at each stop on the kamishibai-teller’s route.
During and after World War II, kamishibai became an even more important form of entertainment as it could be transported easily even into bomb-shelters and devastated neighborhoods. Under such circumstances, it was entertainment as much for adults as for children.
Kamishibai remained a vibrant through the 1950’s when television was introduced. In fact, early television in Japan it was called denki-kamishibai (or “electric kamishibai”). Despite the prevalence of television, kamishibai did not disappear altogether. It can still be found today in libraries and classroom where it has proven to be an effective tool for teaching children to read.
KAMISHIBAI AS A TEACHING TOOL
Kamishibai story-telling combines oral, visual, and print literacies. Stories are experienced primarily in a group setting. The stories rely on lively dialogue and highly dramatic situations that engage youngsters both emotionally and intellectually. The large illustration boards make it possible for an entire class to see the images (and experience the story-teller) at the same time. Reading learners can comprehend vocabulary and language presented in this way at a higher level than that which they can understand while reading silently independently.
Dr. Barbara Ruch, Director of the Institute for Medieval Japanese Studies at Columbia University places kambishibai in a global perspective:
“Telling stories that you can watch is a practice thousands of years old and loved by all ages, and one that historians have found all over our world, from Japan to Indonesia, to India, the near east and throughout Europe. What more wonderful way to enrapture children than to enthrall both eyes and ears at once – with Kamishibai – Japan’s special refinement of the art of storytelling, especially for children.”
Mary Tigner-Rasanen, who teaches at the Kellogg Middle School in Rochester, Minnesota writes this about students’ response to kamishibai:
“I work with 7th and 8th grade at-risk readers. When we began our folktale unit,I told a story using the kamishibai cards. As I began, a hush fell over the room of normally rambunctious kids. They listened with total attention and applauded when the story was finished. Later I gave groups of students the opportunity to use the cards to tell stories to the class. They were able to do this very well! Although they rehearsed the story, the fact that it was printed on the backs of the cards meant that they wouldn’t forget their lines. In addition, having the “prop” of the cards diminished their anxiety about speaking in front of their classmates and also helped focus the attention of the listeners. The discussions were lively and prompted the students to think about things in new ways.”
Francine Fallick of Primary School/Middle School #195 in the Bronx, New York City, reports this experience with kamishibai:
“I am an art teacher. I have 19 different classes from kindergarten through 6th grade, including bi-lingual and special ed. Whenever I use the kamishibai, the children’s reactions are amazing; they sit, they listen, they connect with the story – it’s a miracle! Also, the children love being authors and illustrators of their own kamishibai. Besides their stunning visual qualities, they are a great literacy tool!”