COLUMBIANA Storyteller's puppets keep kids mesmerized

The local storyteller gives life to a menagerie of nearly 200 puppets.
COLUMBIANA -- Meet Gabby the Gator, an alligator who can zip his lips, literally, when it's time to be quiet.
And Merlin, the magic bunny, and Shazaam, a wizard with a magic bag of surprises. Those are just a few of the nearly 200 puppet animals in Melinda Dannemiller's menagerie.
Dannemiller and her puppets visited Joshua Dixon Elementary pupils Friday to tell stories about friendship and honesty. She topped off the program by teaching the pupils sign language to the song "What a Wonderful World".
She and her puppets praised the Joshua Dixon pupils for being attentive and quiet, and rewarded them with stickers from Shazaam's magic bag.
She explained to the pupils that she is a storyteller who uses hand puppets, not a puppeteer. A puppeteer uses puppets with strings, she said.
How it started: A resident of Canton, Dannemiller collected 150 animal puppets during 30 years of teaching first- and third-graders in the Kent City Schools. Switching to a career as a traveling storyteller was a natural progression, she said.
"I loved using puppets in my classroom," she said. "Then I had a chance to learn from [international storyteller] Rafe Martin."
Besides visiting schools, Dannemiller conducts workshops for teachers and libraries, and performs for senior citizens groups. She also volunteers at Akron Children's Hospital and Quail Hollow State Park.
She said she incorporates sign language into her program because she always had hearing-impaired pupils and sign language interpreters in her classrooms.
Dannemiller is a Jennings Scholar Award recipient and a member of the National Storytelling Conference, and the National and Western Reserve Associations for the Preservation and Perpetuation of Storytelling.

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