Pantomime is a participatory form of theater. (Apologies if you are British and I might just as well be explaining to you what tea is.) Pantomime requires your participation for it to work. The audience is expected to sing along with certain parts of the music and shout out phrases to the performers. (Help! Are we now to have a Pantomime Lecture? you cry. No. It’s interesting.
Really. It is.) Pantomime is peculiarly British and quite ancient and every Christmas in Britain you find pantomimes all over the land. We grew up going to them. You go even as a grown up. (At my first job, I had a part in writing one for Oxford University Press.) So it really is as British as tea is. It’s in our blood. The most typical pantomime moment is when a clueless character on stage is standing there and behind them is a bear or something frightful. The audience desperately tries to warn the character on stage, shouting, “BEHIND YOU!” The actor turns around but of course the bear has moved to the other side. This goes on and on and gets sillier and sillier. In POOR DOREEN, I was inspired by pantomime. The narrator shouts out panicky warnings throughout, trying to get the oblivious Doreen to realize the danger she’s in— encouraging the child to join in. My three-year old little friend AE said, “she’s silly” after we read POOR DOREEN once. When we read it a second time (and every time since) AE has joined in, shouting out the warnings (unprompted), “IT’S NOT A DRAGON FLY IT’S A HOOK!” The child loves being in on the joke, loves knowing better that the silly little round fish. The child is part of making the story come alive—not just in her imagination, but in the drama of reading the book together. Picture books, like pantomimes, are a participatory form of theater. SLJ. POOR DOREEN: A FISHY TALE illustrated by Alexandra Boiger, (Schwartz & Wade/Random House) is available here.