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Lessons lurk in shadows as puppeteer spins tales

To the sounds of an African beat, Stephanie Haymond told a tale of aboastful crab created by the woman god Nzambi Mpungu. But Ms. Haymond did not tell the story alone. Helping her were a bunch of cardboard figures.

As 34 children listened to the African folk tale, Ms. Haymond furiously practiced the art of shadow puppetry earlier this week at the Lutz branch of the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library.

The puppets, about four inches across and glued to long, thin wooden sticks, were made of cut-out pieces of cardboard shaped like animals, among them a lizard, crab and lion. Ms. Haymond moved the puppets across the face of a screen lit by an overhead projector.

The trek through the world of African folklore is part of the library's celebration of Black History Month. Ms. Haymond, the youth specialist at the College Hill branch, has taken her puppets on the road to other libraries as well.

The story she tells is called "Why the Crab Has No Head." The story teaches children about conceit.

Shadow puppets come from China and India. They first appeared about 2,000 years ago.

"Just reading the story, I wouldn't reach preschool children," said Ms. Haymond, who recently joined the Suncoast Puppetry Guild. "It wouldn't hold their interest.

"It's the movement; it's the color. It's like a television."

Children scooted about on the floor trying to get a look at Ms. Haymond, who sat behind the screen.

"Kids can relate to this because all kids like to make little shadows on the wall," Ms. Haymond said. "I think it's a natural thing for kids to like."

Ms. Haymond said she wants to teach black children about African folk tales. "I think a lot of people when they think of folklore think of Hansel and Gretel or the famous European folk tales . . . not the ones from Africa."

She also wants children to read more about the subject.

"I think this is a good way of exposing the whole populous to what America's about - a melting pot," Ms. Haymond said.