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Puppets, Party Close Out Successful Summer
Youngsters in Escalon wrapped up the popular 'Summer Reading Club' with a final program in the series on Thursday, enjoying the performance of a puppet theater.

It was the final show in a number of hugely successful and well-attended offerings for kids at the library over the past couple of months.

Using blacklight and a portable 'stage,' Art Grueneberger and Rachel Malin of Puppet Art Theater presented Goldilocks and the Three Sharks.

Much like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the tale followed the mischievous Goldilocks - who in this show was a mermaid - on her day of playing hooky from school to find adventure. Among the creatures she encountered were an octopus, a worm on a fish hook, seahorses and, of course, the sharks whose home she entered while they were gone and feasted on their dinner.

The performers also, through the puppets, encouraged audience participation, the youngsters helping the sharks learn which way Goldilocks went when she left their home.

"We have 14 different shows," Grueneberger said of the performing company, based in Sacramento and in operation since 1993. "Only two are blacklight, the rest are traditional."

Most of the puppets used were large, such as Goldilocks, manipulated by Malin, and the sharks that covered most of the performers' arms.

"I started doing shows behind the couch when I was six or seven," Grueneberger said of getting an early start in the field.

The puppeteer had been to Escalon before, but not in the past few years. He said the blacklight puppet show is something a little different, with the performers wearing black as well so they are hidden within the stage area, allowing only the puppets to come to life.

"It's just something people have never seen before," he said of bringing the blacklight show to Escalon.

All of the puppets were constructed by the Theatre company staff, with about 20 hours required for putting the toughest ones together. Grueneberger and Malin voiced all the puppets in the show.

"The worm on the hook," Grueneberger said of which character he enjoyed portraying the most. "I get to do a bad French accent."

Malin said it does take a lot of practice to learn to manipulate the puppets, as well as rehearsing the show and keeping lines straight, especially when you have a puppet on each hand.

Her favorite part of the work is "interacting with the kids," she said, and the spontaneity of the live show.

Library assistant Michael Saul said along with enjoying the programs, children could also take part in the Summer Reading Club for a chance to win prizes and attend a party. This year featured 'Bingo' type cards, with three required to be completed over the course of the summer to finish the program.

Each card had a variety of activities to do and Saul said of the 14 that completed all requirements for the program, most did more than what was actually needed.

There were many participants that completed a portion of the requirements and age groups showed 16 signed up for the birth to five-year-old category, 27 in the 6- to 12-year-old group and three in the teen group, with a couple of people in the adult reading club.

"There were a number of choices on each card, you could memorize a poem, for the younger kids they could learn the ABC song or write their name, there was a variety, not just reading books," Saul said.

A pizza party will be hosted at the library on Saturday, Aug. 14 at 1 p.m. for all those that completed the summer reading club. Officials said those that did complete it but haven't turned in the forms yet still have time to do that this week.

"The Friends of the Library are paying for the pizza party," Saul said.

The organization also financed the various summer programs, which included magic, music, puppetry and more.

Saul said even though they didn't have as high a participation rate in the reading club as they'd hoped, the scheduled programs always drew a large, appreciative crowd.