Nicole Koester and Leanna Hunsaker are moms on a mission.
The Ahwatukee mothers, who between them have eight children ages 2 through 15, readily admit their new business venture, Scripture Shadows, is “a mission to bring children unto Christ.”
And as moms and educated women, they know that children learn better with hands-on activities and through fun experiences.
That is where Scripture Shadows hits the mark.
The women’s venture began when Koester was tucking her three children into bed and reading them a Bible story, as is their usual bedtime routine.
“After we closed the book, we'd often made hand shadow images on ceiling,” Koester explained. “I thought to myself, how cool would it be if there were shadow puppets that resembled the people in the Bible.
“I knew my kids would love acting out the stories instead of simply listening to me read each night,” she added.
That thought morphed into more when she met local artist, mother and fellow Christian Leanna Hunsaker.
With both mothers desiring to make Bible stories more vivid to their children, they began brainstorming about creating shadow puppets that would teach children in a captivating manner.
Hunsaker used her artistic talents to draw Biblical stories such as Daniel and Lions’ Den, Jonah and the Whale, and David and Goliath.
Koester, a part-time Arizona State University journalism professor and former television reporter, wrote the kid-friendly scripts.
This was the birth of Scripture Shadows. Their research and development included their own children as their ideal demographics test market.
“We quickly learned traditional paper shadow puppets weren't durable enough to survive the hands of our toddlers,” said Koester.
“We decided to make the puppets out of wood. Fortunately,” she added, “we found an Ahwatukee laser cutting and engraving business, Engrave My Memories, to help us take our paper puppets and turn them into wood.”
The project moved forward and in May, Scripture Shadow hosted its first community puppet show.
“We had dozens of local families try out and take home our Scripture Shadows,” said Koester. “After receiving positive feedback, we've expanded our vision to include local schools and churches.”
Last Friday, students at God’s Garden Preschool in Ahwatukee were hands-on puppeteers at a special presentation featuring three separate performance stations.
School director Michelle Rhodes said the children were entranced by the Scripture Shadows show—no easy accomplishment with preschoolers ages 3 and 4.
“All of the children got to touch and work with the puppets and they really enjoyed that,” said Rhodes. “They were very engaged.”
The various Scripture Shadows Bible-themed sets, ranging in price from $19.95 to $59.95, are sold online at ScriptureShadows.com. The most expensive is a 12-piece Nativity set.
A promo video, and an example of the Daniel and the Lion’s Den shadow show, written by Koester and narrated by her 8-year-old son Conner, are available on YouTube.
Ahwatukee parents Joan and Brandon Koplin found that their first experience presenting the Scripture Shadows’ “Jonah and the Whale” story to their four sons to be an eyeopener.
"I bought one initially because I was unsure how my boys would receive the shadow puppets,” Joan said. “I knew I enjoyed them, the quality of each piece and the detail of the characters so I was anxious to see how my boys would respond to them.”
“The moment I projected Jonah’s shadow on the dining room wall, the boys let out a simultaneous gasp. It was as if I lit a firework and held it up in front of them,” Joan continued, adding:
“Each one of my boys, from my 2-year-old to my 11-year-old, were completely engaged and listened intently as I told the story while holding up the appropriate characters. My boys each begged to have a turn holding up the puppets and acting out their own version of the scene in the story.”
The Koplins expect to purchase more sets for Christmas presents. For co-creator, artist and mother-of-five Leanna Hunsaker, Scripture Shadows has been a rewarding venture.
“I have a portrait business on the side, but this is so much more far-reaching,” said Husaker. “I love that my children can learn Bible stories in an interactive way, and Scripture Shadows makes it easier for families who want to teach their children these stories, but want to make it more interesting. This is a good place for people to start.”
The women entrepreneurs are currently at work on an Easter story set that will be released after the upcoming holiday season.
“We feel very blessed to be sharing our talents with the community and helping children know more about the Bible’s amazing stories,” said Koester.