Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Lessons Learned from Baby Storytime

When I started as a brand, spanking-new librarian, fresh out of my MLIS program, I inherited the baby storytime (for children under 2). No one, I got the feeling, particularly enjoyed doing it, so I volunteered to take it over. I did it for two sessions (summer and fall). To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing in the summer and sort of faked my way through it, but I had pretty lofty ambitions for the fall session.  I made weekly handouts with early literacy tips, book suggestions, and words to the rhymes and fingerplays I was doing. We did lots of nursery rhymes for their early literacy value. We ended every session with bubbles. And we had a small but dedicated group of attendees.

In the winter session, we switched up our staffing and I inherited the preschool storytime. Another librarian took the baby storytime and really moved it into a wonderful new direction. The program is just so much more successful now, by any measure: the attendance has exploded and the attendees are clearly having a great time.  I have given the program using the new outline about four times now, when schedule changes required me to cover the program, and I've learned a lot about what I was doing wrong (and yes, right) before.

1. Get your parents to advertise for you. 

Part of the explosion in attendance is due to a large group of moms who clearly know each other from outside the storytime. They all show up for storytime and then hang out and play together in the children's room afterwards. What I suspect is that one or two of them started to attend the program and then recruited other friends to join them, turning it into a weekly social event.

Ask parents to tell their friends with similar-aged children about the program. Perhaps even host a "Bring a Friend to Storytime" day. You can also reach out to your local mothers' club. Most communities have one, and they're always looking for events to put on their calendar. You might offer to host a special storytime for their group at the library as a one-time event and encourage those who show up to start attending your regular storytimes.

2. Channel your inner cartoon character (or You Can Never Be Too Animated)

Of course, I read with a lot of expression in my preschool storytime, but I realize that I often go for a sort of deadpan humor. It goes over great with the preschoolers, but it's way too subtle for babies. After hearing another librarian read a book to the babies at storytime, I realized that, duh, I need to read the stories to the babies in the same high-pitched, sing-songy voice that I used to talk to my kids when they were babies (watch any TV show aimed at very young children if you don't know what I'm talking about).

Now when I read books to this crowds, I do it in a much higher register, with so much expression it seems over-the-top. I also get up and walk around the room a lot, holding the book and showing the pictures to the  children.  I'll get my whole body into it -- if the word "swooping" is on the page, I'll literally swoop the book. The kids are much more engaged and can really pay attention to me this way.

3. Interactive elements are key.

Kids this age are not going to be able to sit there and listen to you read stories and do flannel stories for 30 minutes. They're just not developmentally able to do that yet. I know some libraries limit their baby storytimes to 20 minutes, but I found that for our customers, 20 minutes was just too short. I know firsthand that it can be difficult to get out of the house with a baby, and our patrons made it clear that for them, it wasn't really worth the effort to do so for a 20-minute program. They were looking for sometime a little longer and more substantive.  So to stretch it out for 30 minutes, you're going to have to have a box of tricks.

We now incorporate maracas and egg shakers into just about every baby storytime. We do a variety of things with them. Sometimes we shake them in time to songs, sometimes I'll go to each child and shake the number of syllables in their name, and sometimes we practice vocabulary (shaking fast, slow on top of our heads, behind our backs, high, and low). The kids really look forward to this, and so far, there are been few tears when we've had to put them away. There were a few times when the noise from all the shakers was too much for our smallest attendees, and if I noticed an infant or two getting fussy, I'd cut the shaker session short.

We have also incorporated props like a parachute into the storytime. The kids really do enjoy these, and I think they motivate parents to keep coming back. And you can never go wrong with bubbles.  Scarves would be another great one to try.

4. Repetition is key, but you don't need to overdo it

When I did the program, we did a lot of repetition. We did pretty much every rhyme, fingerplay, and song twice in a row, to the point where it felt stilted and scripted. After all, repetition is key for this age group, right? Babies learn best by hearing things multiple times.  Well, I did it to the point of insanity. The babies might have enjoyed it, but it was way too much for their caregivers. I could feel the energy lag whenever we repeated something.

Now, there's still a lot of repetition, but it feels more organic.  We use the same song to open and close the storytime each week, "Wiggles and Giggles" off the Diaper Gym CD. The song repeats itself twice, so in effect, the parents are hearing the same thing four times every week, week after week.  Now this level of repetition is great. They all know the song and activities by heart, so they can really jump in and participate.

The song we use to introduce the bubbles also has a lot of internal repetition, and I usually have them sing that two or three times because it's so short. It builds anticipation for the bubbles, there are natural motions that go along with it, and the caregivers are comfortable singing it and doing the motions without me leading it, which leaves my hands free to prepare my bubble machine for blowing.

We also have a relatively small number of songs and fingerplays that we draw from every week, so they're repeated often throughout the session, but we no longer repeat absolutely everything twice within the storytime itself.

5. Have fun!

The best advice I ever received about leading storytimes was not to do something just because other people enjoyed doing it: you should only do the things that you yourself enjoy doing, because if it's clear you don't like it, your audience won't like it either. There are a lot of great librarians and bloggers out there who do their storytime a certain way because it's what they enjoy and what showcases their strengths as a performer. But just because it works for them, doesn't mean that you have to do the same thing.

For instance, I tried to make nursery rhymes happen with the baby storytime. I believe in their importance for early literacy, I really, really do... but the audience was not really that into it, at least the way I was presenting them (which was mainly via flannel board that previous librarians had created). But to be honest, I didn't think they were very fun, I just thought it was important to do them. I didn't get the sense that the kids or caregivers loved them, probably because I didn't love presenting them that way.

If I were to incorporate more nursery rhymes into the baby storytime again, I'd find some other way to do it. We often shake our shakers to simple songs like "Baa Baa Black Sheep," but we could also do them to short nursery rhymes.  We could also turn them into opportunities for some gross motor activity.  I love the way that Jason from the Webster Public Library does "Jack Be Nimble" (in fact, I think I may start doing a gross motor nursery rhyme with my preschool storytime every week):

These lessons may already have been familiar to you, but I guess I had to learn them the hard way. I'd love to know, though: what are some of your hard-earned storytime lessons? What did you start out doing that you no longer do?

Preschool Fish Storytime

Our storytime theme this week was fish. We had a sort of "red in tooth and claw" thing going on this week -- a lot of fish songs and books are about small fish getting eaten by larger fish.  Who knew?

The Birthday Fish by Dan Yaccarino

A very cute book about a girl who wants a pet pony, but receives a fish instead. I introduced this by asking if any of the kids watched the TV show Oswald. There were some who did, so I pointed out that the author and illustrator of this book, Dan Yaccarino, also created the show Oswald and that the pictures might look familiar. The parents were excited to learn this, and it was a good reminder to me that it's never too early to point out these connections to the kids. I could have done it, for instance, when I read Knuffle Bunny last week, since we'd read another Mo Willems book earlier in the session. 

"Five Little Fishies" Flannel

I took five felt fish from an existing flannel board set and printed out a clip-art shark onto cardstock.  We sang a variation of "Teasing Mrs. Kitty"

"Five little fishies, swimming in the sea
Teasing Mr. Shark, 'You can't catch me!'
Along came Mr. Shark, quiet as can be...
Then.... SNAP!"

I had the kids hold their palms parallel to each other like big fish jaws and clap them shut when I yelled, "SNAP!" I had a lot of fun making them anticipate it.  I would have preferred to have a shark hand puppet, but I just held the cardstock shark in one hand and grabbed the fish with my other hand hidden behind it. Worked well enough!

Where's the Fish by Taro Gomi

On each page, the book asks the reader to spot a hiding pink fish -- he's in a flowerpot, in a jar of candies, in a room full of toys... and he keeps getting harder to spot! I knew my preschoolers would really enjoy this book, although I had worries about how I would share it with a larger audience. I told them upfront that the pictures were small, and it was hard to spot the fish, so that I would be walking around the room and let anyone who was seated have a chance to look at the picture up close.  I showed about four pictures -- not the whole book -- and I alternated which side of the room I started on.  Everyone was patient, and the kids really enjoyed looking for the fish. 

A giant squid is bigger than clams, than shrimp, than an octopus! He thinks he's the biggest thing in the ocean..., but is he? I love this book, and the illustrations are great for sharing. I let the kids shout out which ocean creature was on each page. I was impressed by their vocabulary... thank you, Finding Nemo!  This lead very nicely into our next song....

Check out this pretty adorable video for a demonstration of kids singing the song "Slippery Fish." I did this one a cappella. We did this in the winter session, so some of the kids remembered it, but we did a quick recap of the motions for everyone.

Swimmy by Leo Lionni

I introduced this one to the kids by unfolding the book, showing them the entire cover, and saying, "This is a book about a group of fish, and one of them in particular. His name is Swimmy. He's this one right here." The kids immediately picked up that Swimmy was black, and the other fish were red, which hooked them right into the story. I was  little worried that Swimmy was too quiet and subtle for my group, but they really liked it. Again, they got to show off their ocean vocabulary as Swimmy explored the ocean and we said the word "anemone" a lot because it's so funny.

We finished out with a round of "If You're a Fish and You Know It" (we swam around and went "blub blub.")

Our craft was a paper plate fish, with a triangle wedge cut out and stapled on for its tail, like so. I thought it was adorable, but the kids did not seem to spend so much time coloring and decorating this one as they do with other crafts. I wonder if the plate was hard to color -- maybe markers would have worked better?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Bunny Storytime

I'm several weeks behind on my storytime write-ups because it's been a busy, busy month. But it had some great professional news... more on that when it's public.

This week, we did a bunny-themed storytime.  It was a weird storytime in that my supplemental activities all were big hits, but some of my books were just ho-hum.

I began with my typical welcome song and the Mystery Bag. Because we're doing another "b" word theme later in the session, I used "r" words for "rabbit." I was a bit rushed this week, so I used pictures instead of physical objects, and the kids didn't seem to mind at all. They threw out a lot of great "R" words!

I was very excited to read one of my very favorite books...

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems

I felt very confident about how I would read this aloud, and I just adore this book... but it didn't get the response I'd hoped for.  We had a very large audience, so I wonder if perhaps the illustrations weren't the best for sharing with a big group.  Or maybe my Trixie impression isn't just as funny as I'd like to think. It wasn't a flop or anything... they definitely listened... but no one was laughing or responding to the book.  I also think that maybe I should have pointed out that Knuffle Bunny was in the washing machine when they left the laundromat.  Rookie librarian mistake.  One of the best things about doing storytime is that I really do learn how to improve each week. I'm so much more confident than I was when I started 11 months ago.

If You're Hoppy by April Pulley Sayre

This was a huge hit. I like incorporating "song books" into storytime -- I feel like I'm a mom sneaking in vegetables into dessert, since it feels like I can sneak an extra book into storytime -- and this one went over very well. Parents and kids alike had fun guessing what animal would be on the next page.  They especially liked growling for the growly animals.  I am definitely going to bring this one to preschool outreach.

B-U-N-N-Y (Bingo)

I took large letters made of EZ Felt and placed them on the board spelling B-U-N-N-Y. Or at least that's what I meant to do... somehow the Y fell out of my basket on my way into storytime. So I made the kids pretend a Y was there, and we all drew a Y in the air with our fingers, and then I said we were going to sing the song Bingo, but instead of B-I-N-G-O, we'd spell Bunny. And since my Y was already missing, I said we'd do something extra tricky, and take the letters away from the end of the word first instead of the beginning. This was actually very fun, and I'd recommend trying it for a round of regular ol' Bingo. Everyone had to pay attention a little bit more, and the song sounded a little different with the claps in different places. A good reminder that it's fun to play around with the classics.

Forest Friends Flannel Story

I improvised a story based off some flannel pieces we had in a folder and based off an outline another librarian at my library gave me. I don't tell flannel stories like this very often, but I enjoyed it, and maybe I'll incorporate more of this into my storytimes.  My story went something like this....

"Once upon a time there lived three friends in a forest: a bunny, a bird, and a duck. Each of them had a very special home in the forest. The duck lived in a pond, where he could swim and catch fish to eat; the bird lived in a big tree where she could see the entire forest; and the bunny lived in a a hole underneath a big bush, where he was safe and warm. One day the three friends wanted to play together. "Come to my pond," said the duck. "We will dive and swim!" But the bird and the rabbit said, "We cannot come to your pond. We do not know how to swim." So the bird said, "Come to my tree! You can see the whole forest from the highest branch!" But the duck and rabbit did not know how to climb a tree. "Come join me in my bush," said the rabbit! But the bush was full of prickly brambles, and the duck and bird did not want to get scratched. So they thought about what they could do together, and they thought and they thought and they thought..." And the rabbit said, "I know! We can read a book together!" So that's exactly what they did.

Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld

This also went over really well.  I held up the cover of the book, but covered up the title and asked people what it was a picture of.  Most kids shouted, "Rabbit!" I then asked if anyone thought it looked like something else.  A few parents said, "A bird!"  The entire audience was really engaged with the whole book, and it was a very interactive experience. I like it when books engage the parents as much as the kids. This is another one I'm going to bring to preschool outreach.

I Think I'm a Bunny by Todd McHatton

This was my grand experiment... which was an utter failure. My kids love the song I Think I'm a Bunny. We have sung it on many a car trip to much giggling. I really wanted to incorporate the accompanying video into the bunny storytime somehow. I debated doing it as a puppet show, with a kid puppet and a purple monster puppet, but, well, I didn't have either of those things. I ended up just decided to hold up my iPad and play the video, but first I held up a picture of the monster and asked the kids what they thought he was.  It actually paralleled nicely with the previous book.  The kids were pretty sure it was a monster, not a bunny.  So I played the video, and... some kids stood up, but then the kids behind them couldn't see, so I paused the video, had all the kids come sit right in front of me, restarted the video... and radio silence. No real response to it -- no one thought it was funny (at least no one was laughing), no parent or child seemed engaged. Well, actually the kids WERE watching it, but they had that glazed-over screen time look.  I stopped it about halfway through the song.

I knew going into it that it was a risk, but I just couldn't help myself.  I am definitely interested in incorporating my iPad into more storytimes, but only in an interactive way, not in a, "Hey, let's watch this video" way, no matter how awesome it is.

(But you should watch it, because it really is awesome.)

So then I went onto my final book.... which also fell kind of flat, sadly.

Bunny Money by Rosemary Wells

I love the Max and Ruby books, and I thought that a lot of the kids would be familiar with them from the Nick Jr. TV show. (I was right about this.) I also thought the kids and their families might not know that the series originated as books. (I was right about that, too.)  But this didn't garner quite the reaction I was hoping for. I think maybe it would be better suited for one on one telling rather than reading it to a large group.

To finish, we did the Bunny Hokey Pokey, where we put our right paws (our right foot and hand), left paws, bunny ears (index fingers on the tops of our heads), and bunny tails in and out and shook them all about.

The craft was a rabbit hat made out of construction paper. It was very cute, and we had a lot of bunnies hopping around the department post-storytime.

Friday, April 12, 2013

KidLit Pilgrimage: Klickitat Street

Me on Klickitat Street, 2001 (Excuse the bad fashion..)
Today is Drop Everything and Read Day, in honor of Beverly Cleary's birthday, and today's KidLit Pilgrimage is also in honor of Ms. Cleary. She was my favorite author growing up and is probably a huge part of why I became a children's librarian.

My husband was a consultant for many years, which meant that he's worked in lots of different cities. Pre-kids, I always enjoyed spending a weekend or two where he was staffed and getting to explore a new city. One of my fondest memories is when he was staffed in Maryland, and we spent a morning getting library cards to allow us access to the Library of Congress. Swoon.

He worked off and on outside Portland, Oregon for a number of years, the first time in 2001.  And the first time I went out there to visit him, I had one thing on my mind: visiting Beverly Cleary's Portland. 

I didn't know a lot about Portland as a kid growing up in suburban Chicago, but I did know that you could see Mount Hood on clear days. And that Ramona lived in Klickitat Street. And... that's about it.  I didn't even know if Klickitat Street was even real, but I was excited to learn that it was. So I printed up directions from the hotel we were staying at to Klickitat Street (this was long before smartphones or GPS, back when the concept of Google Maps was amazing. Actually, it was probably Mapquest back then... Anyway...)

Cleary, I believe, never lived on Klickitat Street, but she lived close by and she'd always loved that particular name, so when she started out writing the adventures of Henry Huggins, she set his house on Klickitat. Cleary's books, I think, have a very real time and place. As a kid, I really had no idea what Ramona's neighborhood looked like -- my worldview at that point didn't expand much past "1970s planned suburban subdivision" -- but as soon as I started walking around Klickitat Street and the surrounding neighborhood, I knew I was walking where Ramona lived. I could just recognize the landscape from Cleary's familiar words.

The city of Portland has erected a beautiful sculpture garden in the neighborhood park.  There's a neighborhood map that points out local landmarks and their significance in Cleary's books, and there's also sculptures of Ramona, Henry, and Beezus.  It's just perfect.  I've been back to Portland many times since then, but I've not made a pilgrimage back to the garden.  I'll have to take my kids there the next time I go.


Henry Huggins

Neighborhood map

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Elephant Storytime

Week two of our spring storytime session brings... elephants!

I did my usual welcome song, "Welcome Welcome Everyone," and dove right into the mystery bag. (When I brought all my props into the programming room, some eagle-eyed preschoolers were quick to remind me I had forgotten the mystery bag!)

Everything in the bag began with E this week, which turned out to be a hard one.  There was an elephant, of course, and an egg (left over from Easter), a ball that looked like Earth, an eraser, and an envelope.  We had a great vocabulary discussion about the envelope -- kids got Earth right away, but no one knew the word envelope, guessing instead "letter' or "mail."  One of my storytime kids had a name that began with E, and the audience also shouted out "ear" and "elevator."

The Ant and the Elephant by Bill Peet

A series of jungle animals refuse to help each other, but a humble ant and a mighty elephant prove you're never too big or small to help someone. I selected this beforehand, but was a little worried about it because of its length.  And it turns out I was right on both counts. It was really much too long for my audience today, so I ended up paraphrasing and telling the story in my own words rather than read the text.  In retrospect, this would have probably made a great flannel story, although I do love Bill Peet's illustrations.The kids and parents, however, did really like the story and responded to its message.  I was able to demonstrate dialogic reading, by asking the kids to predict what each animal would do, and also we worked on narrative skills, by asking the kids to recall what each animal's problem was.

Five Elephants in a Bathtub Flannel

I saw a couple references to this online, but I did not have the time to make my own elephants, so I used the printable template provided by Sunflower Storytime. The kids really loved this, too.  I'm usually not a huge fan of the storytime standby Five Little Whatsits, in which the presenter puts five little elephants or birds or monkeys on the board and recites a cute little poem... mainly because I don't think I'm very good at presenting them and my audience seems bored. I do love ones like this, though, where the kids are as much a part of the rhyme as I am. 

Big Little Action Rhyme

I came up with this idea minutes before storytime and decided to run with it.  I was glad I did because it was big hit.  I started out by saying in our last book, we read about an elephant who was very very big (and here I made myself as physically big as possible and spoke in a big voice) and a very little ant (and here, I crouched down into a tiny ball and squeaked my words).  I asked them to think of other things that were big and little, and started out by asking everyone to pretend they were trees and whether or not they were big or little.  After we were big tall trees, I asked them to think of something that was little, kind of thinking along the lines of a flower or something, but someone yelled, "A worm!" so worms we were.  The kids made great contributions to this one, and I followed their lead as to what big and small things we pretended to be.  We were little mice and birds and big dinosaurs and ostriches, and it led very nicely into the next book which was...

Big and Little by John Stadler

Told by a mouse circus leader, this lift-the-flap book follows Ellie the Elephant as she climbs a ladder and dares to dive into a little glass of water.  This one begs to be read aloud to an audience, and mine enjoyed the cute twist ending.  This was a short read, and I love adding quick little books like this to my storytimes. I almost overlooked it thinking it was too young for my audience, but I'm glad I didn't.

"You're an Elephant," Geof Johnson off the Exercise Party CD

I've made a conscious effort to include recorded music in my storytimes, especially as a way to work on gross motor skills and give the active kids a chance to move their bodies.  This one was perfect -- there's a repeated part where you have to stomp your feet, wave your ears, and swing your trunk like an elephant.  The rest of the time, we just free-formed danced pretending we were elephants.  A welcome break and a great lead-in into my final book which was....

Let's Go For a Drive by Mo Willems

Oh, how could you do an elephant storytime without an Elephant and Piggie book?  I thought this one was especially fun to read aloud because there's a repeated refrain of "Drive-drive-drivey-drive-drive." I got the kids to sing along with me, and again, it was a great way to demonstrate dialogic reading as I asked the kids to predict what items would need on their drive to protect them from the sun and the rain.  This one got giggles from kids and parents alike.

To finish it out, we closed, as I always try to, with a version of "If You're Happy and You Know It." We were elephants, and we knew it, so we stomped our feet, waved our ears, and shook our tails.  (The kids really liked shaking their tails!!)

For our craft, we had a patchwork elephant -- very Elmer-esque, if you ask me.  Kids got an outline of an elephant on white paper that was divided up into little puzzle segments and construction paper in different colors that had been cut to match the puzzle segments. This was a challenge for the kids in a good way, and a lot of the caregivers were vocally appreciative of this craft.

There were a lot of other great elephant books, and I had planned to read What to Do If An Elephant Stands On Your Foot, but... I ran out of time. Oh well!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Sheep/Lamb Storytime

March roars in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, so what better theme to kick off our spring storytime session with than lambs?  (I took the liberty of extending the theme to sheep in general, not just those of the baby variety.)

I presented this storytime three times this week with alterations to each group: once to my regular preschool storytime crowd at the library, and twice at a local preschool as part of our outreach program. At the preschool, I presented to a group of two year olds and to a group of three and four year olds.

With both preschool groups, I opened (as I always do) with my Mystery Bag. I shamelessly stole this concept from the a post on the ALSC Blog last fall, and have been using it to great success this year. (The Mystery Bag deserves an entire post of its own!)  The Mystery Bag gets filled with items that start with the same letter as the theme for that week. I show the kids the letter and demonstrate the sound it makes and ask them to guess what might be in my bag that starts with that sound.  I decided to get a little bit tricky this week and go with things that started with the sound "SH" for sheep. In my bag, I had a shirt, a shoe, a shovel, a pair of shorts, and, of course, a sheep.  This one was a little bit tricky for the kids: the abundance of clothes threw them off and made them think of other items of clothing, and I think the consonant blend may have been a bit too sophisticated. Nevertheless, everyone enjoyed it for sure.

Books I used for this storytime were:

Sneaky Sheep by Chris Monroe
I read this to both groups of preschoolers, and they really loved it. Two sheep want to explore a dangerous meadow high atop a mountain, but are thwarted at every turn by the loyal sheepdog who guards their flock.Not only was it hilarious, but it turned out to be a great one for dialogic reading. I asked the kids before the book started why the thought the sheep would be sneaky, or what the dangers to sheep might be, or how the sheep might get out of an especially tough situation.

The Sheep Fairy: When Wishes Have Wings by Ruth Louise Symes
I also read this to both groups of preschoolers. A sheep rescues a fairy, who grants her one wish as thanks. Sweet and funny.

Three Bags Full by Ragnhild Scamell
A generous sheep gives her woolly coat away to help other animals stay warm, but what is she to do when winter comes to the farm? Mrs. Farmer come to the rescue! I thought this book was very sweet, but it wasn't a smash hit with my first group of preschoolers, so I didn't read it to my second. I think this would be better in a smaller group or one on one.

Where Is the Green Sheep by Mem Fox
A classic for a reason. I read this to all three groups, who all adored it and really engaged with it. I don't think any of the adults were familiar with it, so I was pleased to introduce it to everyone. It was a lot of fun to read the book to different groups on the same day and see how they became more sophisticated at guessing some of the sheep ("brave sheep," "clown sheep") as they got older.

Wee Little Lamb by Lauren Thompson
The two-year-old group I read this to was perhaps the quietest and best-behaved group of twos I've ever presented to, and boy, did they love this sweet book about a little lamb who is too shy to go play with the other creatures in the field but instead wants to stay close to his mama. It was adorable and would be great for one year olds as well.

Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy Shaw
A hit with the two-year-old group as well. We had a lot of fun continuing to say "Beep beep!" throughout the story, even though it was only written on the first page. A nice introduction to rhyming words.

We sang "Baa Baa Black Sheep," of course, and my other main storytime activity this week was my color lambs.  I cribbed the idea from 1234 More Storytimes.

I put up a white lamb and had everyone sing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" with its fleece as white as snow, but then I said, "You probably didn't know that Mary had a lot of other lambs, too, who were all sorts of colors!" With my younger kids, who were just learning their colors, I put up the lambs one by one, named the color, and put up the object that was that color. Then we sang the song again, e.g. "Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was as red as an apple."  With my older kids, I put all the lambs out at once at the top half of the board, and all my objects at the bottom of the board, and asked them to match them up. We also named different things that were each color.  This was a huge hit with all groups. It took a very long time, so I didn't get to a lot of my other flannels or songs this week. I had an idea of doing baby animal vocabulary -- sheep/lamb, horse/foal, cow/calf -- which I still think would be great, but I just ran out of time. I'll have to save it for another storytime...

For the craft, the kids made a lamb puppet out of a brown paper bag, some paper cut-outs, and a cotton ball.

Monday, April 1, 2013

You Say Goodbye...and I Say Hello

When I started doing storytime last year, I had a mix of babies to toddlers to preschoolers.  My department tried to standardize the welcome song as "The More We'll Get Together" as our welcome song and "The Wheels on the Bus" as the goodbye song.

And for some reason, well, I just wasn't feeling these.  I don't know why -- they're perfectly good choices -- but I didn't love them. And as I quickly learned out, if you don't love something at storytime, if you are only doing it half-hearted, your audience response will be half-hearted.... at best.

I tried a lot of different hello and goodbye songs, but this is what ended up working for me.

For my hello song, for all ages, I do:

(to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star)
Welcome, welcome everyone
Now you're here, let's have some fun
First we'll clap our hands like so
Now reach down and touch your toes
Welcome, welcome everyone
Now you're here, let's have some fun.

If you've ever attended a Gymboree class, this is probably familiar to you. At least, it's where I learned it, with my kids.  I love it for a few reasons:
  • The tune is simple and familiar, so kids and caregivers catch on quickly
  • It immediately invites children to listen and interact with me
  • It's appropriate for all ages, so I only have to remember one song. For babies, the parents can clap their hands and touch their toes, and for my preschoolers, I can try to trick them by saying things like "touch your nose" or "tickle your toes."
And for my goodbye song, I try to make up a theme-specific version of If' You're Happy and You Know It (e.g. "If you're a bear and you know it, show your claws" or "If you're an owl and you know it, go Hooo-hooo.")  To me, it's the perfect compromise between the old and the new.  Everyone knows the song, so kids and caregivers can immediately jump right in and participate.  But because it's slightly different every week, the kids get really excited. I often throw it out to my audience and ask them beforehand what we could do as owls or bears or fish or whatever we are that week.  The kids come up with some great suggestions! And for weeks when I just don't think we can make up a theme-specific version, we just sing the regular ol' version, and everyone's happy.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Music in Storytime

The fabulous Melissa over Mel's Desk posted recently about the question of music in storytimes, specifically a cappella vs. CDs. I found myself writing an epic comment in response and figured I had enough to say to warrant a post of my own.

So: music is an essential part of storytime. I really can't imagine a storytime without it.  Do you use primarily precorded music (e.g. play tracks off an MP3 player or a CD), or do you sing a cappella with the kids and familes in your group--that is, sing without a prerecorded track? (That being said, the use of the term a cappella is totally appropriate here, but I have to admit that as a former collegiate a cappella singer, it makes me laugh to imagine my preschoolers singing Old McDonald in a highly stylized, choreographed, beat-boxed a cappella arrangement a la Warblers.)

When I started doing my storytimes about a year ago, I didn't use any sort of recorded music in my storytimes. Singing without a track gives you a lot more flexibility -- you can set the tempo and the key.  You can stop mid-song to explain something to the participants. You can incorporate suggestions from the audience. I find often like to repeat a song three times -- slow, then regular, then fast. I often get a request from the kids to go "SUPER FAST," which I'm always willing to oblige.  Kids--heck, everyone--learn from repetition, and doing the same song over and over helps them master it.

I also like to make up new verses or words to songs everyone knows and model for parents as something they can do with their kids. It's something I love doing with my own kids. Not only can it be a great way to build vocabulary, but it also shows families that playing with words and language can be a lot of fun. In my last storytime session, I tried to end as many storytimes as I could with a version of "If You're Happy and You Know It" customized to that week's theme (e.g. "If you're a bear and you know it, show your claws.") To me, this struck the perfect balance of the familiar and the novel. Because the families were so familiar with the original song, it was easy for everyone to jump in and participate right away, but because it was slightly different every week, it really held the kids' attention and was something fun to look forward to at the end of every storytime.

However, in my last session, I also made a conscious decision to incorporate more prerecorded music into my storytimes. When I did the baby storytime at my library, I didn't use any prerecorded music at all, and sometimes I found it a big struggle to get the caregivers to sing along with me. One week, though, towards the end of my last session, I threw a song from the Diaper Gym CD and it went over very well--it was probably the most animated the caregivers were the entire session. I mentioned this to the librarian who took over the baby storytime, and she started to use the "Wiggles and Giggles" track as both the hello and goodbye song which is fabulous at encouraging participation.  I think everyone felt a little less self-conscious singing along to the track, and I think the repetition of the song, twice a storytime, week after week, really helped the caregivers learn the song quickly.

I also found that I wanted to incorporate more gross motor activities into my preschool storytimes. I have two boys who were and are very wiggly and energetic, so I'm always extra conscious of the need for preschoolers to get up and move! I thought that prerecorded tracks would be a great way to incorporate movement breaks in between quieter activities.

I like using songs like that, where there are very specific motions and music cues for what we're supposed to do--I think it helps encourage everyone, including parents, to participate less self-consciously. I think the single most successful thing I've ever done in storytime -- and I've shared this with at least eight different groups so far -- was play "We're Going on a Bear Hunt" off the album Kids in Action by Greg and Steve.  It's a little longer, so you need to set aside enough time for it, but it flies by, and the kids just get giddy from the sheer pleasure of it.

In our winter session, I largely tried to find a song that matched that week's theme. This may have been a bit too ambitious, but happened largely because our first theme was "Bears" and I was really excited to use "Bear Hunt." In my cat storytime a few weeks ago, I played Laurie Berkner's "The Cat Came Back" and had everyone pretend to move like cats.  (I think I cut that one short -- we did about two verses and choruses, and I felt it had run its course.)  Another cute one was a little dance we made up to "Doing the Penguin" from Sesame Street during our penguin week.

One downside to switching up the songs every week, though, was that I learned that some of these movement songs ones really benefit from repetition. I've done a few that have just fallen flat because I think the kids would have needed to do it a few weeks in a row to really get the hang of it.

I think in my next session, I'm going to try to find a movement song or two that we can use every week regardless of the theme. I am really looking forward to sharing Dr. Jean's "Tooty Ta" with my preschoolers this spring. I can hear the laughter already! But I'd love suggestions if anyone has ideas for another!

I do a monthly Sensory Storytime for preschoolers with special needs, and I use totally different music in a totally different way for that storytime. That's worth a separate post of its own....

KidLit Pilgrimage: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

My kids are on spring break this week, and we're having a little staycation.  They've recently discovered the Percy Jackson series and have developed an interest in Greek mythology. We've lived in New Jersey for almost three years now, and we've gone to many of the local museums, but I'd never taken the kids to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I asked if they might be interested in going to check out some of the Greek and Roman antiquities, and I got a resounding YES!

We had a wonderful time, and I was very pleased that the museum offered a guide for kids based on the Percy Jackson books.  It led us through three galleries (Greek, Roman, and European sculpture) and pointed out works that would be appealing to kids.  We had a lot of fun entering the galleries and looking for the pieces spotlighted in the brochure.  Three cheers for the people who put that together!

The Met always loomed large in my mind as a child, even as a Midwesterner who'd never been to New York City, because it's featured in so many children's books.  The most obvious, of course, is the beloved and wonderful From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg.

It's still the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of the Met, and I was thrilled to see the museum acknowledge it with a museum guide for kids based on the novel.  I haven't introduced this book to my kids yet, but when I do, I'm sure we'll be up for another field trip.

Then, of course, there's Olivia the pig, with some pointed commentary on the works of Jackson Pollock.

We didn't make it upstairs to the Modern & Contemporary Art wing on this visit, but when I went with my mother last year, we did take a picture of this and email it to my niece, a big Olivia fan.

The last stop we made at the Met was the amazing Temple of Dendur, an ancient Egyptian temple that was moved brick by brick and rebuilt in the Sackler wing, in an amazing room that is full of natural light.

(Photo by Ana Lopez)

The Temple of Dendur features prominently in the YA classic Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden, and when I first visited the Met as a teenager, I was so excited to recognize something I'd read about.  (I still haven't been to the Cloisters yet, which I will admit I was first introduced to by the Baby-Sitters Club Super Special where they visit New York.)

The Met is such an icon that I'm sure I'm missing some other classic kids books that feature it or its artwork. Tell me: what did I omit?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Book Review: Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

Vanderpool, Clare. Navigating Early. 320 p. Delacorte Books. 2013. Hardcover $16.99. ISBN 0385742096

I think this is going to be on a lot of major Best of 2013 lists, and deservedly so. It's a beautifully written, extremely literary children's novel.  Clare Vanderpool novel Moon Over Manifest won the Newbery, and though I haven't read it yet, I'm not surprised. This novel screams Newbery to me.

Jack Baker's life has been upturned at the end of WWII. His mother died suddenly, while his father, a career military man, was in Europe fighting.  His father uproots Jack from his native Kansas and enrolls him in an elite boarding school in Maine, near a base where he'll be stationed.  Jack has a hard time fitting in, but he befriends an odd boy named Early Auden (who'd surely have a diagnosis of Asperger's today.) Early's obsessed with tracking down a great black bear that's been sighted along the Appalachian Trail, and the two boys sneak away from school and embark on a quest to find the bear.

Navigating Early read like an Odyssey story for me; on their quest, they meet a cast of characters, whose stories and lives intertwine in strange and wonderfully unexpected ways.  Even though many of these characters are larger than life, there's something emotionally true about them, and they're going to stick with me for a long, long time.

Early has a theory that the digits in the number pi tell a story about a boy named Pi, and the story of Pi is interwoven in the book, in between the chapters about Jack and Early. Pi's story mirrors and foreshadows the boys' quest, and again, it's beautifully written. I must confess, though, that I never like this literary technique and always find myself skimming and skipping ahead to the main action. It's totally my own private pet peeve, and intellectually I understand and appreciate why Vanderpool did it, but as a reader, it bugged me.

Even though I loved this book, I'm not sure to whom I would recommend it, except to other librarians or to adults who enjoy thoughtful literary juvenile fiction. It's one of THOSE kinds of books. Our copy has been sitting out on display for a few weeks, and no one has picked it up. I think it's a book that's going to have to be hand sold.  It's absolutely worth reading, though.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Preschool Outreach Storytime March 2013

As part of  my job, I do monthly or bimonthly storytimes at local preschools as part of our outreach efforts. Usually I do two storytimes at each school: one for a group of 2s and young 3s, and one for a group of 4s and 5s. The school I visit most often is theme-based and asked me to match my storytimes to the theme that was being presented that week.  These weren't generic preschool themes like "bears," either: these were things like "health and hygiene." At first, I was happy to oblige, but it started to get tricky.  In January, my theme was diversity. There are a few really great books for preschoolers on that topic...  and when I brought out my basket of materials to read to the older group, the teacher admitted that she'd read the class all the books I'd brought with me already.  I kicked myself for not bringing any back-up books, but the teacher handed me some books she hadn't read the class yet, and it was fine.

In February, the topic was "America." For some reason, I really struggled with finding books for this topic, especially for the younger kids. I think I would have had an easier time for "4th of July," but this was more "President's Day."  Anyway, I brought lots of books and created lots of activities to do in between the stories... and they all fell totally flat. I don't know if it was me, or the materials, or just a bad day for the kids, or a combination, but it was a disaster. Definitely the worst storytime experience I've had to date. The teacher spent most of the time yelling at the kids to sit down and be quiet, and I felt awful.  Storytime is supposed to be fun; I really am trying to teach kids to love books and words, and I don't want them to associate my visits with getting yelled at.

After that experience, I spoke with the director of the preschool and we mutually decided that it would be better if I just created my own storytimes and didn't try to work around their themes. This is a lot less work for me, since I can work from the storytimes I've planned for my in-house preschool group in the previous month, but more importantly, I can choose books and activities that I know will go over well with this age group, rather than ones that fit a theme.

This March was the first time I presented a "themeless" storytime for the preschool, and instead of presenting one of the storytimes I'd done previously, I decided to do a "greatest hits" storytime with some of my very favorite readalouds. I really wanted the kids to have fun.

Some of the books I read were:

Caps for Sale  by Esphyr Slobodkina

The kids LOVED this. I mean, I knew it would be a hit, but I was surprised at how immediately it held their attention. They really got into pretending to be the monkeys, saying Tsz, tsz, tsz! I sometimes feel like I have to drag out audience participation in my stories, but immediately the kids all chimed in. I love any story that provides an opportunity for some gross motor movement, and this one definitely does.

It Looked Like Spilt Milk by Charles G. Shaw
I read this to the older kids, and again, it was a huge hit.  They had never read it before and had no idea what "it" was.  They really got into shouting out what each shape was, and I liked some of their suggestions better than what was in the book.  They thought the angel was a dragonfly, for instance.  A classic for a reason.

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes  by Eric Litwin, ill. James Dean

This was the biggest hit of all, but no surprise there. Pete's just brilliant.  I read this to both groups, and it went over equally well with both.  I'd be happy to read this one to first graders, too -- honestly, is there any age that wouldn't love Pete?  The older group REALLY loved Pete, and at the end, instead of singing "If You're Happy and You Know It" (which is how I usually close out my storytimes), they wanted to sing the Pete song some more.  So we all got up and danced around and made up a song for the whole rainbow "Oh no! Pete stepped in a pumpkin patch. What color are his shoes now?") This was a TON of fun -- and totally organic and spontaneous.

My Car by Byron Barton

I read this to the younger kids; it's one of my favorite reads for younger kids. The illustrations are so vivid and simplistic, which makes it perfect to share with a group. The text is also simple, but there's a cute twist at the end, and what little kid doesn't love cars?

Mr. Gumpy's Outing by John Burningham

I shared this with the younger group, and it also went over well.  The kids enjoyed shaking their fingers and repeating Mr. Gumpy's admonitions to the riders on his boat.

I also brought our "Color Bears," which are die-cut bears in red, green, blue, and yellow cardstock glued onto craft sticks.  We use them in conjuction with the Hap Palmer song "Colors," which instructs the kids to stand up and sit down at various times depending on the color of their stick.  You can get the jist of this here:

Both groups really enjoyed it, although they both had trouble following directions. I wasn't so surprised that the younger group struggled a bit, although I was surprised that the older group didn't quite catch on either. I suspect that if I brought this with me several months in a row, they'd be old pros.

Anyway, this storytime was a ton, a ton of fun. The kids absolutely loved it, and I was so happy to share some really excellent books with them.