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Puppets With A Purpose Libraries Put Puppets To Work Bringing Fun To Reading Message

A reformed wolf hunts for vegetarian recipes, a chubby dinosaur - sounding a lot like John Wayne - wants a video, and a “kindness-impaired” gal in a black pointy hat needs a spell from boredom.

Not your ordinary library patrons, you say? Check it out for yourself at puppet shows over the next two weeks, sponsored by the Spokane County Library District. The pint-sized performances put a little punch and perhaps a few Judys into the Everybody Reads summer reading program.

“The puppet shows are a different way to experience a story and character development, and all the things you look for when you’re learning how to enjoy reading,” said Susan Creed, the library district’s youth services supervisor for the east region. “You can do things with puppets that you can’t do as a live actor - fly through the air, shrink … or maybe say things that you can’t say in real life.”

In the case of the Everybody Reads’ nine-puppet cast, tongue-in-cheek remarks fly through the air with the greatest of ease. Some zoom over younger heads in the audience, but are caught quickly by attentive adults.

“A book on reversing Gypsy curses?” asks perky M. Poppins, the diminutive librarian. “No, police chief, I’m sorry to say we don’t have one of those!”

Another character suggests that M. Poppins screen the incoming romance books for Fabio covers. Later in the program, the Wicked Witch of the Southeast explained she’d once consumed the milk of human kindness, but promptly discovered her lactose-intolerance.

Conversely, plenty of lines crack up only the kids, and they giggle in crescendos over Baby Bob’s naughty behaviors, references to Legos, and M. Poppin’s caution to Wolf against huffing and puffing in the stacks.

“You have to write for both adult and child levels,” said puppeteer Kate Lasswell Meisfjord, whose background includes theater, library work and motherhood.

“If you don’t include some lines intended for grown-ups, you get a ‘Barney’ production - and most of the adults I know would bang their heads against a wall after 15 minutes of that.”

She and partner Eric Meisfjord try out the scripts on their three kids before taking the show on the road. “We get mixed reviews,” smiled Eric, “but part of the reason is that they’ve seen it so many times, they know all the punch lines in advance.”

Fun stuff is serious business in the Meisfjord mob, where 9-year-old Thomas considers the motivation of a puppet character before designing its features. Toddler Sam critiques performances with damp smooches of approval for his favorite puppets. Their 5-year-old sister Emmie pops in from bike rides for updates on script revisions.

Eric, who agrees he somewhat resembles a large, rusty-bearded Muppet, credits master puppeteer Jim Henson with conditioning today’s kids to expect a message in the performances.

“Kids can relate because of ‘The Muppet Show’ and ‘Sesame Street’ - using an entertainment format to put across a lesson or idea,” said Eric, the editor of the region’s Catholic newspaper, the Inland Register. “It makes your brain work harder, so you invest more so the reward is greater.”

Librarian Creed feels that the puppet shows not only convey the Everybody Reads message, they also involve family members in a happy time together, and puts them in an excellent venue for expanding their literary experience. Attendance at each performance averages 100 children and adults.

“I think that the experiences of literacy begin before school (age),” said Creed, “and the most important people who start those experiences are parents.

“My favorite time in the library is when a parent comes up and tells me something about their child’s likes and dislikes - and then I can get them into some authors that they may not have been aware of. We really know the literature, so we can choose the material with more ease than a parent can with their limited time and many responsibilities.”

The Spokane County Library District of nine libraries has 465,000 items to check out: 363,000 books, 16,000 cassette tapes (many with companion books) and 11,600 videos.

At the puppet performances, Creed’s staff will display books they recommend for fun and informational reading. Brochures and sign-up forms for the summer reading program also are available.

“We choose the materials to reflect the diversity of the community,” Creed explained. “It’s my opinion that people really do need to have choices … and it’s the parent’s responsibility to guide their children’s choices.

“We hope that people keep coming back to the library, and see it as a welcoming place that has a place in their family life. We can help them find books that fit their family.”

“Our audiences sit down for a puppet show … knowing they’ll have a good time - sort of on a bubble of expectation,” said Kate Meisfjord, “and they leave floating.

“And we certainly enjoy having a hand or two in the experience.”

MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. CATCH THE SHOWS Eric and Kate Meisfjord will present puppet shows at the following Spokane County library branches: Tuesday, 2 p.m., Fairfield Library. Wednesday, 2 p.m., Cheney Library. Thursday, 10:30 a.m., Airway Heights Library; 1 p.m., Argonne Library. Monday, July 7, 1 p.m., Deer Park Library; 7 p.m., North Spokane Library. Tuesday, July 8, 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., North Spokane Library (1 p.m. show has interpreter for deaf). Tuesday, July 15, 1 p.m., Medical Lake Library.

2. IDEAS FOR MAKING YOUR OWN PUPPET Suzanne Pate Correspondent All your world is stage! The edge of a table or a chair back works just fine for the youngest puppeteers. Older kids can create a more elaborate set from a cardboard box that has flaps. Or put a tension rod waist-high across a doorway and hang a sheet over the rod. Make puppets from stuff you find around your house, but be sure to explain to your parent what your idea is before you take it, cut it, mark it, or otherwise change it forever. Here are some tips: Color a face on a paper lunch bag; add yarn or string “hair.” Sew two big buttons on a sock; add curly ribbon for hair; borrow a pair of mom’s earrings (ask her first!). Glue face drawings onto a wooden spoon or popsicle stick. Recycle a lone glove or mitten and decorate it with sequins and laundry marker lips. Mark a black dot on each of two big wooden beads and slide them onto a fuzzy pipe cleaner; wrap the wire under your middle finger and adjust the beads to become the eyes of your hand-y creature. Tie a hankie over a pingpong ball or wad of dryer lint and draw a face on it.

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. CATCH THE SHOWS Eric and Kate Meisfjord will present puppet shows at the following Spokane County library branches: Tuesday, 2 p.m., Fairfield Library. Wednesday, 2 p.m., Cheney Library. Thursday, 10:30 a.m., Airway Heights Library; 1 p.m., Argonne Library. Monday, July 7, 1 p.m., Deer Park Library; 7 p.m., North Spokane Library. Tuesday, July 8, 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., North Spokane Library (1 p.m. show has interpreter for deaf). Tuesday, July 15, 1 p.m., Medical Lake Library.

2. IDEAS FOR MAKING YOUR OWN PUPPET Suzanne Pate Correspondent All your world is stage! The edge of a table or a chair back works just fine for the youngest puppeteers. Older kids can create a more elaborate set from a cardboard box that has flaps. Or put a tension rod waist-high across a doorway and hang a sheet over the rod. Make puppets from stuff you find around your house, but be sure to explain to your parent what your idea is before you take it, cut it, mark it, or otherwise change it forever. Here are some tips: Color a face on a paper lunch bag; add yarn or string “hair.” Sew two big buttons on a sock; add curly ribbon for hair; borrow a pair of mom’s earrings (ask her first!). Glue face drawings onto a wooden spoon or popsicle stick. Recycle a lone glove or mitten and decorate it with sequins and laundry marker lips. Mark a black dot on each of two big wooden beads and slide them onto a fuzzy pipe cleaner; wrap the wire under your middle finger and adjust the beads to become the eyes of your hand-y creature. Tie a hankie over a pingpong ball or wad of dryer lint and draw a face on it.


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