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Crankie Scrolls

Smiling adults and children sit at tables creating objects with various material provided.

Participants at MCA Family Day, April 13, 2019.

Photo: Grace Duval, © MCA Chicago

by Myra Su

with text by Grace Needlman


With our work and classes moving online—not to mention all the shows and videos we were watching before the arrival of COVID-19—this shutdown brings with it a big uptick in screen time. If you want to get yourself and your little ones off the screen, take a look back into history. How did families enjoy stories together before smartphones, computers, and television?

In sixth-century India, artists travelled from town to town singing stories painted on large banners or rolls of fabric. Artists across Japan, Indonesia, China, Spain, and Italy told stories this way too. In the United States today, lots of artists call this type of storytelling by its Italian name, “cantastoria.” But it’s important to remember that people all over the world were telling stories this way before it ever reached Europe. In the 18th and 19th centuries, European families bought or made paper-toy theaters, which they used to reenact their favorite plays from the comfort of their own living rooms.

Contemporary artists like Myra Su are inventing new ways of using these ancient technologies. By creating scrolls of paper that are manually cranked to advance the narrative, these artists bring this time-honored method of storytelling into the present day.

Check out Myra's work and follow these simple instructions to make a crankie-scroll puppet show. Animate and bring your drawings and painting to life through the art of crankie puppetry. (For an even more in-depth guide, visit Myra’s website!)



- Cardboard box

- Two dowels, chopsticks, pencils, or other sticks that are taller than your box

- Boxcutter

- Paper

- Tape

- Scissors

- A sharp pencil, or other tool for poking holes

- Markers, crayons, colored pencils, or other drawing tools


An illustrated guide shows twelve steps to creating crankie scrolls.

Courtesy of Myra Su

1. Cut off the back of the box.

2. Cut out a window in the front of the box and trim any inside flaps.

3. Poke holes in the top and bottom of the box.

4. Poke pencils or chopsticks through the holes.

5. Cut strips of paper to the same width as the height of the window.

6. Tape the paper together to make a long scroll.

7. Draw a story on the paper scroll.

8. Tape one end of the paper roll to one of the sticks.

9. Roll the paper up onto the stick.

10. Tape the paper to the other stick.

11. Roll the sticks back and forth to make your pictures move!