He had been hiding in a bin for most of the half-hour storytelling session.

Then, with just a few minutes remaining, Granville Public Library children’s department manager Betsy Wernert cut him loose.

“Woah,” an audience of roughly a dozen preschoolers gasped, in unison.

Clyde was back.

Clyde, a coyote often misconstrued as a puppet, howled lyrics to the “Coyote Song” from Wernert’s hand in unison with the children. Wernert and the kids counted down verses in the song using the fingers on their hands.

Clyde is a regular at the library. As the kids grow through the different storytime age classifications – “Baby Time” on Tuesdays, “Toddler Time” on Wednesdays and “Preschool Time” on Thursdays – Clyde grows with them. The library has employed him since 2016. Before that, he worked with Wernert in Cincinnati.

The self-described “Waffletarian” (one who only eats waffles) loves the library so much that he lives there full-time, usually hanging out in Wernert’s office amongst a group of puppets. Again, though, Clyde himself is not a puppet. He’s a coyote.

“Some people – you might be surprised – think I am a puppet, but I am not,” Clyde told me, sitting on Wernert’s hand. “I get upset when people call me a puppet. Not the first time, but the second time and afterward.”

His stuffed animal roommates, though? Are they living creatures too?

“No,” he said. “Those are puppets.”

Though Clyde’s livelihood is up for debate, the significance of his work is not. 

He makes children in Granville smile whenever he encounters them. And he is to credit for the fact that another big-time community builder, Wernert, is here.

“She knew she wouldn’t get the job without me,” Clyde said, referring to the days they spent together in Cincinnati. “Same with this job. That’s the truth.”

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With the help of her four programming assistants at the library, Wernert is a creative engineer who finds ways to help kids get excited about reading and interacting with each other. In addition to storytimes, she hosts arts and crafts programs for kids, matches kids to books they will enjoy, provides school aid and makes take-home projects called “Little Library Learners Kits” and “DIY Fun Take Home Kits.”

Beyond those programs, she and her teammates seek unconventional ways to engage their kid clients. For instance, at a “Dramatic Play Scenario” in November, kids got to pretend they were veterinarians caring for animals.

One commonality amongst all of these activities is that they are designed to be more than just fun for the kids. There are developmental benefits to all of them. Take storytime, for instance.

“People who don’t have kids that have been in a storytime have this conception that it’s just a bunch of kids sitting and listening to you read a book, but storytime is more interactive,” Wernert said. “You break it up with movements, and songs, and fingerplays, and that kind of thing.”

In addition to programming work, Wernert also takes care of collection development for the children’s section of the library.

“As you can imagine, there’s a wide variety of things to buy,” she said. “There are board books for babies and toddlers, and picture books, which are for everybody. Nonfiction for all the different age groups, early chapter books and novels, and of course, beginning readers.”

In doing all of this work, Wernert is helping tons of people around town. She’s helping teachers by getting their students interested in reading. She’s helping parents by giving them breaks from serving the role of primary child entertainers. And, of course, she’s helping kids. She’s giving them events to look forward to, she’s helping them learn and she’s actually improving their motor skills (think counting down fingers during the “Coyote Song”).

Rewarding as this work is, it’s also hard sometimes.

Clyde can attest. His complicated identity as a puppet coyote makes life hard for him, and not just for the fact that he is physically incapable of filling out a payroll timesheet.

Since he appears exactly as a puppet would, he gets treated like one sometimes.

“You would not believe how many times I’ve gotten punched in the face by a five year old,” he said.

Jack Nimesheim writes for TheReportingProject.org, the nonprofit news organization of Denison University’s Journalism program, which is supported by generous donations from readers. Sign up for The Reporting Project newsletter here.