Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
Meghan Casey went on an adventure Thursday morning aboard the USS Self Discovery cruise ship, accompanied by Aidan, a 4-year-old dinosaur.
Unfortunately, the ship, under the watch of a dog named Capt. Shooster, got beached on some rocks and Meghan and Aidan were marooned on an island where they met other puppet friends who had previously been stranded.
It all turned out well after Lenny, a shark wearing a floatie on his tail, swam out into the ocean to alert a passing vessel so everybody could be rescued.
Also along for the “cruise” were about 60 small children and their moms who had gathered at the Lomas Tramway Library as part of the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Public Library system’s Summer Reading Program.
The program, which goes through the end of July, gives kids an opportunity to earn prizes for reading over the summer. Libraries across the metro area are also featuring live entertainment and music, movies, crafts, science activities and other events – all of which are sponsored by the Friends of the Public Library.
This year’s theme is “Oceans of Discovery,” and Casey’s 45-minute island adventure fit in nicely as she introduced the audience to her menagerie, which also included Phil the hamster, Crush the turtle, who sometimes wears a lion’s mane as a “disguise,” a nameless banana-stealing monkey, and a kangaroo named Cassie, whose pouch stores a Rubik’s Cube and a large wooden clothespin that she can clip to her nose “so that I don’t smell anymore.”
The children voiced their approval throughout the program with smiles and laughter, while the parents appreciated the bigger picture.
“I love it. I think it’s great to have a free, safe, fun educational thing to do, and my kids look forward to coming so they can get new books,” said Anna Wallin, who was there with children Kyrie, 7, and Cash, 4. “All of the shows that we’ve been to have been really good.”
Tina Se, with her kids, Vincent, 5, and Adora, 3, said, “I think it’s awesome. It’s very entertaining and really enriching, and my kids love it. We have a lot of fun.”
Kristy Palombo had her hands full with children Imogen, 4, Stevic, 2, and baby Rylynn, 6 weeks.
“We loved the show and the (older) kids were laughing the whole time. I didn’t have to entertain them at all,” she said.
“We come just about every week and we also do the toddler story time and the reading program as well. Imogen has been learning her sounds and it’s been very motivating for her and Stevic. So this has been really good for us as a family, to do something that’s educational, but also fun.”
And that’s largely the intention behind the summer reading program, said branch children’s librarian, Cheryl Mugleston.
“We’re using a theme that’s part of a national program, with libraries all over the country using the same theme. But the whole idea, of course, is to encourage kids to keep reading all summer long and visit the library,” she said.
With programs for young children, tweens, teens and adults, libraries are very busy places during the summer, Mugleston said.
Ventriloquist Casey is also quite busy this summer, performing in about 280 shows between late May and mid-August.
The 27-year-old native of Denver is a veteran of her craft, having started at age 5. Her father, an insurance agent, was a part-time ventriloquist who used puppets when reading to her as a child.
“Then one day I saw his lips move and I was, like ‘Hey, you’re making them talk.’ He denied it, but I told him, ‘Yeah, you are, and I want to learn how to do it,'” Casey said.
She began practicing, watching videos, reading books and took an online course in ventriloquism. By age 6, Casey was allowed to accompany her father to a national ventriloquists convention in Cincinnati, where she performed for the first time before an audience of 600 people.
Today, she performs about 1,000 shows a year as part of her business, Rocky Mountain Puppets, has a following of nearly 3 million people on TikTok, and makes a pretty good living. “I paid my way through college doing this,” earning a degree in psychology from Colorado State University, she said.
“My goal is to one day have a TV show, using puppets to teach kids about health, safety, fitness and nutrition,” Casey said.
And while conjuring up different voices and speaking through puppets is second nature to her, not everyone gets it.
Her current boyfriend understands, but she recalls that when she was dating, “it was always a mixed reaction,” she said. “It was either, ‘Oh, that’s cool,’ or ‘wow, that’s weird.'”