Marionettes, small figures of humans, animals, and beasts, operated from above with strings by a puppeteer, have been a popular form of performance for since 2000 BC when ancient Egyptians used the figures to enact religious rituals and ceremonies. The philosophers of ancient Greece also wrote of puppets, especially Plato. Classical epics like "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" were performed using puppetry. The Christian church offered morality plays performed by puppets, and some historians believe the term "marionette," which first appeared around 1600, referred to the Virgin Mary, the most pious character in many religious stories. Puppeteers moved their marionettes outside the churches, set up their theaters in the market square, and introduced slapstick comedy and ribald humor into their public performances. Even William Shakespeare's plays were performed with marionettes in place of actors, and composers like Gluck, Haydn, and Respighi created operas specifically for marionette productions. In the 20th century, public performances of traditional children's stories such as "The Nutcracker" and "The Magic Flute" made the medium popular for children. When the "Howdy Doody" TV series featured a marionette as the star of the show, puppetry became an activity for kids to DO, not simply watch. The technology of marionettes allowed the mass production of celebrated characters and popular figures for millions of young puppeteers to manipulate and master; but elaborately made hand-crafted figures by expert puppet makers also produced creations of the highest artistic quality. Both--the artist-made and the manufactured puppets--empower kids to create fantastic stories and wondrous adventures with their very own hands.