Have you ever used just your hand, a light and a wall to make a shadow figure? Perhaps it was a dog or maybe a rabbit? If so, you’ve already had some experience with shadow puppets!

Shadow puppetry — also called shadow play — got its start thousands of years ago in China and India. This unique form of storytelling is the oldest type of puppetry in the world.

Shadow puppets are figures that are placed between a light and a screen. Moving them creates the illusion of moving images on the screen. An experienced puppeteer can make figures appear to walk, talk, fight and dance.

Shadow puppetry is a popular form of entertainment in countries all over the world. China, India, Indonesia and Turkey have been especially important in the development of this art form over time.

The types of stories told with shadow puppetry vary from country to country. For example, in China, shadow plays are usually based upon Chinese legends and folk tales. Shadow plays often reflect important themes from Chinese operas.

In Indonesia, shadow plays tend to be based upon religious stories of good vs. evil. These plays help to reinforce traditional values of native culture. Turkish shadow plays, on the other hand, are more lighthearted. They often use humor to tell stories based upon the events of everyday life.

The first shadow puppets were likely made out of animal hides. Since they were strong and flexible, they allowed the puppeteer to move the puppet easily to create the desired effects on the screen. Leather is still a popular material used to make shadow puppets today.

Shadow puppets can be made from a wide variety of materials, though. Today, you might see shadow puppets made out of paper, plastic, wood or cloth. There’s really no end to how creative puppeteers can be when making their puppets.

Shadow puppets are usually constructed in separate pieces that are then put together with strings or wires. The strings or wires are usually attached to long rods that the puppeteer will use to control the movement of the puppet.

Although shadow puppets can be very creative and elaborate, they also can be very simple. Basic shadow puppets can be made by students. With little or no experience, a classroom can put on a simple shadow play with little expense and just a little time.


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    • We’re really glad you liked it, Rahul! We thought it was SUPER cool how the people and their shadows made those awesome shapes! The penguins were our favorite! :-)

  1. No! :( I was wrong. Today’s wonder of the day is not about weather changing. However, I loved today’s wonder! :D I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day is about eggs.

    I won’t be leaving another comment on Wonderopolis until Saturday, May 5, 2012 (Cinco de Mayo) because I have school once again.

    Goodbye, Wonderopolis until Cinco de Mayo! :)


    • We can’t wait to talk to you again on Cinco de Mayo, TJ! Thanks so much for visiting Wonderopolis and learning right along with us on the weekends…you are a WONDERful Wonder Friend! :-)

  2. Hi guys! I actually saw a Chinese movie that had shadow puppets in it and it was so cool! Also at an art museum there was a Japanese guy who came and showed them and did a little show!
    It was amazing!

    • Thanks so much for sharing your personal connection to this Wonder of the Day®, Kayla! It must have been super cool to see two shadow puppet shows…one in a movie and one in real life! Thanks for this GREAT comment! :-)

  3. That was an awesome video. I think tomorrow’s wonder is about flowers, because it is spring. I hope you have a WONDERful day!

    • We’re glad you thought today’s Wonder of the Day® was AWESOME, Pandakin! Thanks for letting us know that! We also like your guess about tomorrow’s Wonder…we love springtime! :-)

    • Hello, Mr. Smith! Thanks so much for leaving us a comment to let us know you liked exploring today’s Wonder! We’re glad you liked the video, too! :-)

  4. Hi! I’m from Mr. Draper’s class. I really like the video it was cool! It was cool. I like to make shadow puppets. I think tomorrow’s wonder is about fries…is it?

    • Hi there, Shayla! Thanks for letting us know you are in Mr. Draper’s class AND that you thought the video for today’s Wonder was cool…we really liked watching it, too! We’re not sure what tomorrow’s Wonder will be about. We like to be surprised with a new Wonder each day in Wonderopolis, too! We do have a past Wonder with think you might like, though! Check out this TASTY Wonder:

      Wonder #24 – Do French Fries Really Come From France? http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/belgian-fries/. :-)

    • What a FANTASTIC comment you left for us, Seth! It makes us super happy to hear that you love exploring and learning in Wonderopolis! Keep on WONDERing WONDERful things, OK? :-)

    • Thanks for letting us know you thought this Wonder was AWESOME, Caelah! We think YOU are an AWESOME Wonder Friend for stopping by this Wonder of the Day® today and leaving us another GREAT comment! :-)

    • We agree, buglover! It was neat how the artists rolled into place and stood up and…presto! Their shadows made something AWESOME! Thanks for sharing your comment with us today! :-)

    • We appreciate hearing that, Caleb! We think the video is really awesome, too! Thanks for letting us know you and Maegan stopped by this Wonder of the Day® today! :-)

    • We’re glad you enjoyed this Wonder about shadow puppets, Beyza! Thank so much for letting us know! :-)

    • Hello, Mushkale! We’re WONDERing about shadow puppets here in Wonderopolis today! What’s up with you? :-)

    • Thanks for sharing about a time YOU made a shadow puppet bunny, Olivia! We liked hearing about that! We hope you have a happy WONDERing day, too! :-)

  5. Wow I have seen many talented and wonderful acts but this has to be one of my favorites. I loved the penguins!!!

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What are shadow puppets?
  • How long has shadow puppetry been around?
  • Where was shadow puppetry developed?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Ready to try some shadow play? True shadow puppets can take a lot of time to make. Did you realize that you can perform your own shadow plays with just your hands, though? It’s true!

With a light, a wall and your hands, you can learn to make a wide variety of different shadows. Get a friend to learn alongside of you and you can put on your own shadow play in no time.

For help learning how to use your hands to make shadow figures, jump online to check out Learn How To Do Hand Shadow Puppets. You can learn how to make birds, camels, deer, dogs, rabbits, pigs and many more!

If you want some inspiration while learning how to make hand shadow puppets, check out these amazing videos of true masters of hand shadow puppetry in action:


Still Wondering

Want to learn even more about shadow puppets? Check out ArtsEdge’s Playing with Shadows: An Introduction to Shadow Puppets lesson to learn even more about the ancient art of shadow puppetry and find out how to create your own shadow puppet.


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