Books Come to Carnival!

Books on Parade  is one of the most exciting projects that we have worked on.

During the Summer of 2016, we met with Commissioner of Education of the US Virgin Islands, Dr. Sharon McCollum to discuss an idea of hers.

Since the Department of Education already had the very popular and successful Governor’s Summer Reading Challenge (GSRC), where children from kindergarten to 5th grade received free books for the summer (written and illustrated by Caribbean writers and artists), why not combine carnival and the books from the GSRC? The project would bring the books to life and connect literacy with culture in a fun, community-wide and organic way?

Working in coordination with the Department of Education, we presented several ideas based on characters from the books, considering the possibilities of turning them into moving, dancing puppets to parade down the carnival route.

The Virgin Islands celebrates one carnival on each of the three main islands so the puppets had to travel from St. Croix carnival (January), to St. Thomas’ (May) and finally to St. John’s (July). 

Finding a puppeter

Once the project had shape the next step was to find a puppeteer capable of turning the vision into reality. There were time and budget factors to be considered as well.

Several master puppeteers were considered and their work evaluated.
The criteria included, beside quality work, the puppeteer's willingness to give a two to three week workshop for art teachers and students on St. Croix, on the art of papier-mâché puppet making while also building four to five large puppets to be featured in the January 6 children’s parade. Materials would, ideally, be purchased locally, and as much of it as possible should be recyclable and/or reusable.

A puppet theater company from North Carolina, Hand Puppet Intervention, and its founder and director Mr. Donovan Zimmerman were the perfect match since they were already doing the type of work envisioned by Commissioner McCollum.

Samples of the selected books and characters were sent to Mr. Zimmerman with ideas as to which ones the Dept. of Education felt would work best on a large scale, and also which images the kids would be most familiar with.  Books for different age ranges and grades were selected so that all students would recognize if not all, most of the characters.  

During a three week intensive workshop, supervised by Ms. Valrica Bryson and conducted by Mr. Donovan with assistance from art instructor Danica David, the giant puppets were built at St. Croix’s Educational Complex. Several classes helped and learned many aspects of the art of puppetry. The students were also in charge of bringing their creations to life during the parades.

The final selection included Broo ‘Nansi or Anansi the Spider from Broo ‘Nansi and theTar Baby,  the Rooster from the book Moon Rooster, , Granny from the book Kallaloo!, the Crab from Fun, Fun, One Crab on the Run and a giant Brown Pelican from the book by the same title.

Secondary characters were created as well, including the Litter Monsters, the Plastic Bag Monster, and Squeaky, the anti-litter mascot from the Dept. of Education who made its debut during the parade. Banners and posters with book covers based on the Governor’s Summer Reading challenge titles were also part of the parade.

For the St. Thomas carnival a giant green sea turtle with moving flippers and eyes was added as a preview to the book Sea Turtles of the Virgin Islands.

The final result was a huge success with the parents, teachers, children. and the community at large.  A beautiful, impressive and never seen before blend of music, dancing, fun carnival characters and literacy!


Mario Picayo