The world of make-believe came alive yesterday for a group of Old Mill Middle South students who used puppets they made themselves with the help of an internationally known puppeteer to tell the story of a peddler trying to sell caps no one could afford.

In "Caps for Sale," a tale by Esphyr Slobodkina, the children's puppets, made of wooden spoons and tennis balls, became townspeople while Shirley Johannesen Levine's puppet was the peddler, who wandered from door-to-door, caps stacked high on his head, trying to make a sale.

"Oh, I have no money. Go next door," the townspeople told him repeatedly.

The peddler wandered away sadly, fell asleep under a tree and awoke to find his caps had been stolen by a gang of monkeys, played by finger puppets Ms. Levine made, who mimicked his every move. He got his caps back when, in frustration, he threw his own cap on the ground and the monkeys mimicked him.

DeVale Green, 14, a special education student, gave Ms. Levine a smile and thumbs-ups sign after the show. He said he "loved" performing the tale with Jason, his puppet.

jTC This is the second year that Ms. Levine, who owns Puppet Dance Productions, has put on a puppet workshop at Old Mill. She works as an artist-in-residence, paid for by matching grants of $585 each from the school's PTA and the Cultural Arts Foundation of Anne Arundel County.

Yesterday, Ms. Levine, 55, who lives in Columbia, finished the last of five workshops with a group of special needs and sixth-grade students interested in puppetry.

About 55 students participated in the workshops and made puppets, with yarn for hair, beads for eyes and bamboo skewers for arms.

The students will continue rehearsing the skits they have been working on with Ms. Levine to present at the school's Showcase Night in May.

Yesterday, Ms. Levine, a puppeteer for 26 years, met with three groups of students for about an hour each, showing them staging, how to use a shadow screen, voice and movement to lend each puppet personality.

"Three things bring a puppet to life -- movement, voice, and that includes accents, and imagination," she said.

Ms. Levine helped one group of students work on a modern-day version of "Rumpelstiltskin" in which he spins compact discs instead of gold. With another group, she worked on "The Robbers," a tale about a house burglary.

The children were enchanted.

"It's creative. It lets you open up your imagination," said Amanda Lyons, 11.

"You learn how to make a puppet come alive," said Eric Williams, 12.

To help the students learn, Ms. Levine performs in front of them, rather than from behind the stage.

"They can see everything I am doing," she explained.

In addition to learning the skills of a puppeteer, the workshops help children develop their writing and learning skills, Ms. Levine said.

Judylee Meade, the school's enrichment teacher, said the students also become less inhibited. "If you use the puppet, you let them talk through the puppet."

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