Authored by Carlye Mazzucco
When the COVID-19 outbreak forced everything to shut down in 2020, libraries converted programs to online venues, such as Zoom. In an effort to improve their Zoom programs, Head Children’s Librarian of the North Haven Memorial Library Emily Jenkins and her assistant Joe DeFrancesco participated in Connecticut Library Association’s “Magic Square Workshop.”
DeFrancesco explained that “the workshop taught us how to become better children’s librarians through Zoom by inspiring us to create and let our inner child out” (DeFrancesco, March 15, 2021, personal communication). In one “creation session,” the instructors asked the librarians to take fifteen minutes to build a puppet (Jenkins, March 15, 2021, pers. comm.). Jenkins grabbed a fluffy material and pom-poms while DeFrancesco found a green pool noodle. The two “merged [their] piles together and [their] greatest creation was born…NoodleMan” (Jenkins, 2021, pers. comm.).
The instructors of the workshop taught DeFrancesco—the voice of NoodleMan—how to use the small box in Zoom’s gallery view to engage the children in creative ways (DeFrancesco, 2021, pers. comm.). The most effective way is surprising them with a guest appearance by NoodleMan. Preschool and elementary aged children have different developmental characteristics than adults, and “the learning processes of this age group are significantly enhanced by intensive visual components” (Faurot 2009, 2). Puppets are a successful visual component in children’s programs because they “grab the audience’s attention and keep it” (Faurot 2009, 5).
Zoom is a challenging venue for keeping a child’s attention due to the detached nature of computers. However, including puppets makes the program more engaging because “it is in the child’s mind that the gap between fantasy and reality is bridged—their imagination makes the puppet come alive” (Schwalb 1978, 27). Puppets like NoodleMan imitate aliveness; therefore, when puppeteers “believe in and value the illusion [they] are creating and concentrate on building that illusion for [their] audience, they will enthusiastically join [them] in the effort” (Faurot 2009, 19). Children are more likely to believe in puppets like NoodleMan, and “even when the storyteller’s hand and moving lips are clearly visible, children take it for granted that the puppet has a life of its own” (Schwalb 1978, 29). This explains how NoodleMan became so popular. He provides “a liveliness that makes a library’s Zoom more engaging than the structured classroom that children have come to expect from Zoom” (Jenkins, 2021, pers. comm.).
With children familiar with NoodleMan, the staff use him to promote other services, such as the Winter Reading (Jenkins, 2021, pers. comm.). He grabs children’s attention, a difficult accomplishment when families are physically trapped inside their homes because of COVID-19. The Vincentian mission encourages us to “provide excellent education for all people, especially those lacking economic, physical, or social advantages” (St. John’s University 2015). COVID-19 put everyone in a physical and social disadvantage; NoodleMan carries on the Vincentian mission by helping us break through these barriers to provide educational services in this time of social distancing. He will continue to serve, even after the pandemic.
Emily Jenkins, March 15, 2021, personal communications
Faurot, Kimberly K. 2009. Storytimes with Puppets and Props. Chicago: American Library Association.
Faurot, Kimberly K. 2009. Storytimes with Stick and Rod Puppets. Chicago: American Library Association.
Joe DeFrancesco, March 15, 2021, personal communications
North Haven Memorial Library. 2021. “NHML Winter Reading Unboxing!.” Vimeo, January 25, 2021, 4:27 p.m. https://vimeo.com/503565564?fbclid=IwAR29bHQSRcpOlMKDRmP1AtpEc_Sw5gj-DxDuy8HGqv4vxXI4-dTARXWTXfE.
Schwalb, A.W. 1978. “Puppets for Loan.” School Library Journal 24 (February): 27-29. https://web-a-ebscohost-com.jerome.stjohns.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=2&sid=1e4d77d2-5b80-4b7a-98e3-fe725a230421%40sdc-v-sessmgr01
St. John’s University. 2015. “Our Mission.” Last Modified October 2015. https://www.stjohns.edu/about/our-mission.