Balloon Meister Mark Myer (above) instructs a group of 9- and 10-year-olds how to create a dog out of a balloon at Tuesday’s Summer Reading Program event. Below, an elephant balloon creation sits among a pile that included a killer whale, lobster and penguin.
By CHRIS JACKETT
Sunday Times Newspapers
ALLEN PARK – Although school is out for the summer, children still have plenty of opportunities to get together and learn interesting lessons — like how to make a dog out of a 60-inch-long balloon.
Two dozen fourth- and fifth-graders gathered Tuesday at the Allen Park Public Library, 8100 Allen Road, for an hour with the Balloon Meister, otherwise known as 50-year-old Brownstown Township resident Mark Myer.
Armed with thousands of balloons, Myer taught the group how to make balloon creations of their own.
“I go around all over the state doing shows and workshops for teens and tweens.” Myer said. “I teach the basics first with a dog, then move on to something else.”
The lesson started off with a safety precaution about the balloons, which contain chemicals that shouldn’t be inhaled, so using an inexpensive 1950s ketchup bottle-shaped pump is the fastest and safest route of balloon inflation.
After handing out balloons and pumps to all the children, Myer walked the group through the step-by-step process of making a dog. It’s one of the simpler creations, although Myer said he has created four or five new ones per week since he took up the art of balloon twisting as a hobby eight years ago. He now has nearly 1,000 different creations in his arsenal and tries to simplify the process so he can teach them to others.
“I slid into this through the back door, hanging out with Downriver fixture Jack the Balloon Man, and he taught me the basics,” Myer said. “Someone convinced me to do a birthday party a while back. When I handed a kid a balloon and saw that smile, I was hooked.”
Myer is a former information technology management consultant who has handled the business side of his wife’s job as The Music Lady for the past 15 years.
“Her worst day was better than my best day,” Myer said of his decision for a career change. “We both love what we do. We’re both fortunate enough to pay our bills. We get to say we get to work (as opposed to have to work).”
The Balloon Meister’s appearance is one of several events featured by the library’s Summer Reading Program, which began June 21.
“Everyone seems to enjoy our programs. They start asking us in April when they can sign up,” said Karen Smith, teens services librarian. “There seems like there’s a lot involved, but we’ve been doing it so many years that it all runs smoothly. Luckily, I have a great staff and everyone pitches in and helps out.”
The Summer Reading Program offers a series of events for children ages 3 to 10 and also has a different series for ages 11 to 17.
“We like to split our programs up by age so the 3-year olds aren’t with the 10-year olds,” Smith said. “As the kids get older, they tend to get a little less interested in what’s going on.”
In addition to Balloon Meister and The Music Lady, the library brings in Canadian-based entertainment group Smudge Fundaes, the Baffling Bill Magic Show/Workshop, storyteller Yvonne Healy and Science Alive!, which is similar to an educational show and tell of animals ranging from a chinchilla, to a kangaroo, turtle or alligator, but always includes a Burmese python and a bird.
“The kids look forward to them every year and what they do,” Smith said. “They explain about the animals and their eating habits and if they’re nocturnal. They get to hold and feel the animals.”
The Summer Reading Program, which has an ongoing registration free to both residents and nonresidents, is on pace for more participants than last summer.
The tween program for ages 9 and 10 is in its third year, with about 70 kids signed up. There were just 20 before the tween program was created. The Balloon Meister is also a newer act, giving lessons last week for just the second year.
“Things have changed a little bit; performers move away and sometimes you try out new performers,” Smith said. “We are right on par from what we were last year.”
The one thing Smith would like to improve on for this summer is gaining members for the Teen Advisory Board. Anyone interested can contact her at (313) 381-2425 or [email protected].
A full list of the program events is available at www.allen-park.lib.mi.us. Most events last between 45 and 60 minutes.
(Contact Chris Jackett at [email protected])