North Logan puppet maker helps entertain kids with Quacker Jack
Rachelle Draney is not the ventriloquist.
"I'm Sue's assistant," she cheerfully says, not ashamed of her official job title. Draney helps ventriloquist Sue Randelman with North Logan Library's Story Time, but she doesn't do puppet shows on her own.
Instead, she makes the puppets. In fact, the star of the show, Quacker Jack, a happy yellow duck, was handmade by Draney.
She's quick to point out that Quacker Jack wasn't one she created herself. Randelman has been using him for years, starting with a store bought puppet. Later someone else remade him, and Draney used that pattern to make Randelman a brand new duck.
She makes most of her own patterns for puppets, as well as dolls, teddy bears, and other critters. The library has a few tools, but for the most part Draney makes the toys with her own equipment.
The puppets are usually fabric and felt, but a few are wooden. Some of the puppets are paper, but since it's not very durable, Draney tries to stick with fabric.
She has considered opening a business making patterns.
"But I haven't ever pursued it," she said.
Draney has been creating things for as long as she can remember.
"I think I got my first sewing machine when I was in third grade," she says as she stacks books onto a cart in the back room of the library.
Her mom tells stories of Rachelle following her around saying "Mom, help me sew this," while her older sister would say, "Mommy read this to me."
Draney made the Three Little Pigs, complete with a red felt bandana and yellow buttons on one little boy pig puppet. A shimmery blue ball decorates curly golden hair of the female pig puppet, who even has lush black eyelashes made of fabric.
She created the pattern and finished all three puppets in three hours. Teddy bears take a bit longer than puppets though. And Quacker Jack?
"He took quite a while," Draney said. "I had to get the mouth just right so it was comfortable for Sue's hand. I had to do the bill over and over."
Draney has worked for North Logan's library for two years. She hasn't graduated from college yet, and isn't sure if she plans on it. She went to BYU, took a few years off, and then came to Utah State where she studied family human development.
"I don't think there's a major I'm crazy enough to go into debt for," she said. She says she is happy working at the library.
"It's a fun, fun job," she said. "Maybe that's one of the reasons I stopped going to school. I have good benefits here and I really enjoy what I do."
When she worked at Cache Valley Craft for three years before North Logan's library opened, Draney received some interesting requests from customers. People even asked for help decorating their Christmas trees.
Draney hasn't ever sold any of the toys she makes, although she does sometimes give them away as gifts to her nieces and nephews, for instance. But according to Jamie Sorenson, the library clerk, Draney's puppets can more than compete with their commercial counterparts.
"You can't tell the difference between what she has made and what's bought--well, except hers do look better," Sorenson said. You can notice things wrong with a lot of the ones they bought, but not Rachelle's, she explained.
Draney makes clothing and decorations, does flower arrangements, and even makes posters around the library. A duck cut from bright yellow paper with a large orange beak on a green background invites visitors to Storytime.
Randelman knew Draney made crafts, but didn't realize she made puppets.
"It was kind of a bonus to know that I actually love to make toys--that's one of my first loves," Draney said.
Making the toys saves the library a substantial amount of money. Searching the Internet for the perfect puppet, one might begin to feel overwhelmed. Plush animals range in price from $10 to $40, depending on how long you look and what luck you have. Toys R Us has Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, and Eeyore for just $6.99 apiece, but that's a rarity. Folkmanis Puppets have the cheapest Three Little Pigs puppets, at $11.95. But Draney said she never spends over $5.
Racks of puppets fill a separate room in the library, along with bags of flannel shapes made by Draney and Randelman.
"There's a little white duck, sitting in the water," Draney sings in a chipper voice as she holds up a cut out white duck glued onto flannel. They use the cut outs on a flannel board in their shows, to help kids follow along to the songs.
Educators around the country use puppets to help children sharpen their listening and comprehension skills Kathy Kalmar, the principle of Armada Elementary School in Michigan, in a report published in the Detroit News.
Story Time is held in the library every Friday at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., free of charge.