Props and display materials

Sue Whiting bought over 100 plastic rats from a party wholesaler and uses them for decoration and prizes when talking about her book Battle of the Rats.

‘I also used one for dramatic effect during my reading of the book. I now use a fantastic rat puppet to introduce the topic of rats, and to ‘help’ tell my story behind the story. I also use a galah puppet for The Hairy Legs Heist and an elephant puppet for Elephant Dance. I use them mainly during storytelling and to get the kids involved. For Hairy Legs, I invite kids to use the puppet to hurl insults a la Hairy Legs (the cheeky galah character) and for Elephant Dance the kids use the puppet while ‘dancing’ along with the story. I’m no puppeteer, but they do add interest, colour and fun to the presentations. The puppets I use are Folkmanis puppets, and I’ve picked them up at a variety of places — novelty stores, markets.
‘I also use a variety of dress-ups (for younger kids) when I’m telling/reading stories and for older kids I use a mixing bowl and spoon, etc to demonstrate how I cook up a story brew.’

Jeni Mawter is another author who likes to use toys and props, especially in writing workshops, to create story ideas, for example put a dinosaur and a baby together and see what ideas for a story you can come up with.

James Roy describes his approach:

‘I tend not to use too many props, because I like to travel light. I usually take my latest couple of books, plus a few that I use to illustrate particular points. For my workshops, I also have a pile of laminated stimulus photos which I can use at random, hand out or leave lying on a table for when we start doing some free writing. I also have some CD back covers which I use (song titles make great story-starters.) I also take a tea towel (I do a cheap trick with it which illustrates a point about stories being simpler than we think)… I like knowing that when I walk in with my bag, I can be set up and ready to go in about two minutes. This gives an impression of efficiency and confidence and also means that you’re flexible and able to present in several different classrooms in a day, rather than being tied down to one room or hall ...

Dressing up is not something that appeals to everyone but Anna Ciddor uses it very effectively to create impact and grab the attention of her audience.

‘As soon as I walk in, I want students to know this session is going to be special, intriguing, exciting, and different. One thing that works for me is to arrive in costume, but I am sure there are lots of other tricks that can be used. (I have seen another author arrive with a live duck in a cage.
‘Of course, I have to live up to this grand entrance — so from the moment I start writing a new book, I begin to collect a bagful of show-and-tell items and hands-on activities that I can work into my talk. These can include rough drafts, editors’ corrections, and photos of places I have used in the story.
‘I enlarge these so they are big enough for my audience to see — and invite students to hold them up as a way of giving them the fun of participating. I also search for activities in the story that can be re-enacted in the session.’

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antique sketch of a range of theatre props

Above: Prop designs for the world premiere performance of La Bohème 1893 (public domain image)