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By Gabe Stern
Hometown Weekly Intern
By 7:30 in the evening, most parents of young children take their first crack at winding down their kids and getting them ready for bed. That didn’t seem to affect a crowd of nearly 50 excited kids and parents on Monday night from flooding into the Walpole Library to see “Jungle” Jim Manning’s Minecraft balloon performance.
“Oh, we’re gonna have fun tonight,” Jim told his audience moments after the doors were opened.
Unlike most entertainers, Jim’s performance was by no means solo - in fact, it was entirely dependent upon crowd participation, which raised the energy level in the room dramatically.
“Who wants to volunteer tonight?” Jim asked his audience as nearly every child’s hand shot up. Kids ranging in age from three to 11 were brought up to the center of the room to compete in balloon basketball (yes, even the hoops were made from balloons), hold Minecraft-inspired tools that were blown up on the spot, and witness various types of balloon-based magic tricks.This was all a build-up for the grand finale, during which Jungle Jim stuck himself completely inside a 6 foot tall balloon with just his head sticking out. His goal for the night was to stimulate the kids’ imaginations not only through the balloons, but by interacting with his young audience. “When we talk about what you can use with your imagination, sometimes there’s a lightbulb that goes off in a kids eyes … getting that lightbulb moment with the children is the most rewarding part of the job,” Manning privately explained before his performance.
Manning has seen this “lightbulb moment” time and again through his 2,000-plus performances over 13 years of balloon twisting. He started the Jungle Jim company shortly after he got laid off from his job in Boston and won a six month trip to Australia. It was there that he met children who had never seen a balloon twisted before, so naturally he did what he said he was “born to do”: entertain. After helping build a balloon house shortly after coming back from his trip, he realized just how much he can do with balloons. “That’s why they’re such a prevalent part of the show”.
Over the course of his career, Jungle Jim’s performances have included costume characters and birthday parties, but now he “almost exclusively” performs at libraries. “It’s so important for children to come and experience the library and recognize that it isn’t just a place to get a book. There’s activities, there’s support, there’s a lot of tools that they can bring with them to life.”
Through the eyes of his young audience, Jungle Jim’s act may seem on the spot, impulsive and light-hearted, but Jim Manning has a deeper implicit message that he hopes catches on with the kids.
“My focus is one goal: to inspire and motivate children to make the library their own magical place.”