The Jumbo Book of Drama

by Deborah Dunleavy

illustrated by Jane Kurisu

Published by Kids Can Press

208 pages, 2004




From Junior Drama Queens... and Kings

Reviewed by Monica Stark


Children understand drama. It's in the way they're made. Every tent is a wilderness cave, every house cat has the potential to be a mountain lion or a tiger, depending on the needs of the moment. A broom becomes a light saber with very little planning on the part of the player. The family car? A spaceship. The kitchen table? An underground passageway on Mars. Kids find drama in the most innocuous things. So it stands to reason that with the least bit of encouragement, this inherent drama can be channeled in a way that can enhance learning and foster a lot of communal fun.

Deborah Dunleavy, a musician and performer who has been working with teachers for a couple of decades, helps kids channel that creative energy in The Jumbo Book of Drama. In her introduction, Dunleavy meets the mind meld from make-believe to drama head on:

Drama takes you into the wonderful world of make believe where anything is possible. You can travel to different times and places and step into someone else's shoes for a while. Explore the jungle or join the circus. Turn yourself into a hero or a villain. Fly by the seat of your pants pr battle a fire-breathing dragon.

Dunleavy's approach is entirely holistic. She incorporates play into drama and drama into play. In ACT I: Make Your Move -- the first part of the book -- explores basic movement techniques, including elements of mime, clowning and dance. In ACT II: Sound Advice, "you get to be an invisible actor" with elements of storytelling, puppetry (including some making of puppets and puppet theaters) and radio plays. In ACT III: Getting Your Act Together, Dunleavy has young readers put skills learned in the previous parts together in various aspects of melodrama, comedy and tragedy. This section also deals with characterization, improvisation and includes several performable scripts of varying lengths. The title of ACT IV: On With the Show is fairly self-explanatory: here readers are given the nuts and bolts of putting together a performance including directing, special effects, costumes, scenery, props and lighting.

It's worth mentioning that The Jumbo Book of Drama is not intended to be a primer for the child interested in some aspect of show business. There's nothing her, for instance, on finding an agent or how to behave on a television set. Rather this is drama as an aid to play. Every section of the book includes activities that can be managed by one child or several and one can imagine very entertaining family performances emerging from this book.

As Dunleavy reminds us:

People around the world and all through the ages have used drama to express their beliefs and tell their stories.

The Jumbo Book of Drama will help children hone their inner thespian. Now break a leg. | September 2004


Monica Stark is a freelance writer and editor.