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Sesquicentennial puppet show teaches County Library history

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - Gabby the Librarian is the host of the Library Sesquicentennial Celebration, aided by puppeteer Penny Walter, seen here at the Sellwood Branch Library.Teaching youngsters about the Multnomah County Library system’s “sesquicentennial” is as difficult to say as it is to explain.

So, Penny Walter – of Penny’s Puppet Productions – simplified the topic, on a spring afternoon, she explained as she was setting up for her presentation at the Sellwood Branch Library.

“Instead of talking about the library’s Sesquicentennial Celebration, we just say we’re having a ‘birthday party’ for the library. Everyone, no matter how young, can understand that!”

The library system commissioned Walter to write and produce the show that she, and her cast of hand, rod, and marionette puppets are presenting to audiences at a dozen branch libraries this year.

“We talk about William Ladd, a banker and supporter of having a public library,” Walter told THE BEE. “They also learn about the first head librarian of the Library Association of Portland, Mary Frances Isom – we call her ‘Miss Isom’ – who transformed what is now the Multnomah County Library system into a major community asset.”

Even though she has to carry in and set up a full puppet “stage” for every show, Walter said she enjoys her work. “My favorite part is being with the kids, and laughing. It’s all about having a fun time with the families, and inspiring young people.”

At the start of the program, she “warms up” her audience using a colorful marionette, acquainting the youngsters with the idea that “creatures” will be coming out to talk and play with them.

She launches into her little history lesson, wrapped up like a birthday party, and soon the kids are singing, dancing, and celebrating along with Walter and her zany characters.