Writing a post about music was hard and I’m not sure why. I’m a musical person. My storytimes are pretty musical and I’ve even, once or twice, done too much music which I could tell from the expressions on the faces of little people that said, “I’m not shaking or wiggling one. more. thing!” Poor things were just exhausted! Here’s the thing: I’m picky about my storytime music. It needs to be uptempo, singable by a group and have actions, preferably. Consequently, once I find a song I like it becomes an almost permanent addition to the repertoire. Case in point, I’ve been singing the same goodbye song for about four years now. Time for some new tunes! Continue reading
There’s a song I saw on Sesame Street as a child and I’ve never forgotten it. “A rock is not alive, no no no no no!” Trust me, it’s a catchy tune. So when trying to decide on a theme for last week’s storytime I thought, “Alive, not alive!” Yes yes yes yes yes. We talked about what makes a thing living or non living. We talked about living and non living things that we saw in the storytime room. And one little girl talked about the time her pet went from being living to non living. A good time was had by all the live ones.
Theme: Living/Not Living Ages: 0-6 Early Literacy Focus: Talk and Read
Songs & Rhymes
Shake Your Sillies Out-Wiggles
Finger Poppin–Georgiana Stewart
12345 Fish Alive
Big Fat Spider–Sharon Lois and Bram
There was so much rich conversation about living and nonliving things happening around these stations!
This is it, what storytime is all about. The success or failure of the storytime hinges on…..the books you read! Ok, maybe it’s not quite as drastic as all that, but since books are the focus, often the element everything else revolves around, it is important that you choose wisely. How do you choose when there are so many books? And half of them are about bears? (Why are so many of them about bears?)
Here, in no certain order, gleaned over many years and, by my rough estimate 2,546 storytimes, my tips for choosing good books.
- Choose books that you like and are comfortable reading.
Don’t force yourself to read a book that you can’t stand. It makes for a painfully awkward experience for you as the reader. Let me tell you, you do not want to be sitting in front a bunch of kids and parents working your way through a book you don’t like wishing it were over. You won’t be able to read that book fast enough! One little caveat: do step out of your comfort zone and try something different from your normal. Choose a book by an author you’ve never read, pick a book in a different format (Wordless books in storytime? Yes!) or a genre/type you don’t normally read. Try new things. That’s how you’ll find the books you love and the ones you don’t.
Recent favorites: Lion Lessons and Hooray for Hat!
2. Choose books with great art.
I feel like this one is obvious. And, of course, there are exceptions (Book With No Pictures). Are the pictures colorful, clear and easy to see? Is it easy to figure out what’s happening in the illustrations or is it cluttered and busy? Do the illustrations match the text? This is one kids will notice and ask questions about. It may confuse them. This can open the door for good discussion about why an illustrator made the choices they did; however, you don’t want kids being confused about a story every time you read.
Suggestions: Jane Cabrera, Oliver Jeffers, Marla Frazee
3. Choose books that rhyme or have a steady rhythm.
When you don’t know what else to do, when you’re stumped for themes or when you’re reading to a new group of children, books with rhythm and rhyme are the way to go. These are going to work for you 98.7% of the time guaranteed. Even if the story isn’t all that good kids still like a good rhyme. Read them before-hand so you know where the beats are, how it flows and where the rhyme breaks up.
Suggestions: 10 Little Ninjas, What’s an Apple, Rattletrap Car-an oldie but a goodie!
4. Choose books without large chunks of text.
Generally, they don’t work for the storytime audience because they’re too long and you will lose them. If it works to shorten, feel free to do that. Nothing wrong that. Otherwise, save them for the times you’re reading to school-aged kids who will understand and appreciate them.
5. Choose books that have an interactive element.
That interactive element could come from the format as it does with Press Here by Hervé Tullet. It may come from the story itself. Is there a word or phrase repeated throughout the story? Is the book a song that you could sing? Are there action words of things you could do while reading? If the answer to any of those questions was yes, then you have an interactive story! Once you understand this, nearly every book can be interactive. Use it to your advantage.
Suggestions: It’s a Tiger!, Who Broke the Teapot?!, I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More
6. Choose books with an engaging story.
Some books aren’t a story as much as they’re a recitation or a list of information. There have been books that I wanted to like but when I read them they flopped. What those books had in common was that they lacked a story. They’re non-stories. Story structure matters even in picture books. A good story has a beginning, middle and end. Something has to happen even in picture books! Kids are savvy. While they probably can’t tell you all that, they will notice when those elements are missing and then you’re back to awkward read aloud. See Vincent Paints His House for an example of a non-story. I’ve read that book several times now and it flopped with every single group.
Suggestions: Nanette’s Baguette, Jon Klassen, Goatilocks and the Three Bears
7. Choose books that are well-suited to group reading.
Some books are better suited to one-on-one readings like You Belong Here. Some work better in a group setting like Bark George. Read alouds combine a number of the elements mentioned above. Sometimes it’s hard to determine whether a book works as a read aloud. If you’re unsure, read it aloud to yourself or a coworker. Usually, if it doesn’t work as a read aloud that is going to become apparent right away.
Check out my Best of the Year list here. Read on and prosper, Friends!
Am I overselling it a bit? Eh, who cares! Go big or go home, right? Let’s rock out storytimes!
There are several elements that are common and essential to storytimes:
These are the basics, the big things that we’re all doing. Everything else is extra. Over the next few weeks, I’ll break each of these down and talk about them more in detail but for now, just the big picture.
I bet we’ve all observed a storytime that felt routine or even totally dullsville. Ugh, those are the worst! Put me out of my misery with a swiftly thrown shaker egg to the head! What is it about those storytimes that makes you want to poke your eyes out with the rhythm sticks? What they have in common is a low level of energy. As in none.
The first thing that every storytime needs is an enthusiastic leader. There are different levels of this from low-key cool to bouncing off the walls perky. I’m usually closer to the bouncing off the walls end of the spectrum. Either way, you have to some amount of energy. A storytime really is like a performance for which you have to be ‘on.’ The more enthusiastic you are the more enthusiastic your audience will be because upbeat, positive energy is contagious.
Another common pitfall is a total lack of awareness. A successful storytime needs a leader with keen awareness of the group. Have you ever watched someone do a readaloud that wasn’t going over well but they kept going despite having lost the attention of the audience? Awareness is recognizing the book isn’t going over well and not being afraid to stop and move on. Awareness of when to change directions or move on is crucial because once you’ve lost a storytime audience it can be really hard to get them back.
Recently, someone on the Storytime Underground Facebook group asked, “What’s the one thing about storytimes you wish you knew when starting out?” So here’s my last piece of advice. Don’t take yourself or your storytime too seriously. We want to promote literacy, diversity, STEM, play, school readiness and a host of other developmental skills at every storytime. Those are wonderful things to promote and aim for. But sometimes. Sometimes no matter how good your lesson/activities/crafts are, how prepared you are, the takeaway is just going to be that they had a good time at the library. And no one had a meltdown. When you work with small children this is its own success! This is ok. You kept a group of young children entertained for 30 whole minutes! You’re awesome!
But maybe you didn’t. Maybe there were meltdowns. Maybe the books you chose flopped. Maybe the craft was an epic fail. (It worked when I tried it the day before!) Maybe you forgot the words to a song you’ve sung 574 times. (This gal right here.) Maybe you went through a whole storytime with blue paint down the front of your white pants and didn’t know it. (Yep, that happened. No one said a word!) This is also ok. Because here’s the thing, it doesn’t matter. The kids won’t care and you and the parents will have a good side laugh together. And even the worst storytime ever will quickly be forgotten by other perfectly good storytimes (thank you very much!). You’re still awesome.
Now go show that storytime who’s boss.
We’re taking August off from storytimes so as one last hurrah we did a unicorn theme. There are some really cute, readable unicorn books out there! We talked about the letter U and other things that start with that letter. Here’s what else we did…..
Theme: Unicorns! Ages: 0-6 Early Literacy Focus: Letter Knowledge
Songs & Rhymes
Finger Poppin-Georgiana Stewart
Shake Your Sillies Out-The Wiggles
One and Two-Ella Jenkins
If You’re Happy and You Know It
5 Little Unicorns- adapted an idea I found here
We made unicorns based on this craft I saw on Pinterest.
A few parents freaked out about the mess of glitter. But you can’t do a unicorn storytime and not have glitter! Unicorns = glitter! I ain’t afraid of a mess!
I started this blog partly as a way to keep track of the storytimes I did and to share what I’d learned in almost 15 years of doing storytimes. It’s hard to get good photos of a storytime in action with littles moving all about! Anywho, enjoy these random shots from my most recent storytimes along with the answers to a couple of FAQs.
How do you setup storytime?
Like this. All the books that I might read. Our Ipad with my storytime playlist and a Beats Pill. Storytime stickers. Bins with scarves, ribbons and shaker eggs. My song cube. And a couple of props. Everything I need is in reach. I don’t have problems with anyone removing things from my table. Once in awhile kids want to get the Ipad or the buckets so I sit them at the back out of reach.
What do you in storytime?
STEM activities like fizzy concoctions.
Art/messy play like painting with shaving cream.
Large motor play.
I have never seen kids working as hard at play as I did with this sensory table setup. Cardboard boxes I cut up and tubes crisscrossing through them. Kids surrounded this the entire time. Heads down, scooping, digging, pouring, figuring out what was happening to the beans they poured down a tube, catching the beans as they spilled out. The kids played easily with each other, sharing cups and space. I could’ve used a bigger table!
What do you do in storytime?
Until next time…….
It was our first week of summer storytimes and we had a full house and loads of fun! Kids, even the older ones, seemed to have a good time with this theme. Looking for more books? Check out my Construction/Building booklist.
Theme: Construction/Building Ages: 0-6 Early Literacy Focus: Vocabulary
I’m going to try to include a visual element in every storytime so I made a magnet set of the vehicles in “Macdonald” and plopped them on a magnet board as I read the story. After stories, parents and kids talked about and played with the pieces again. Double bonus!
Songs & Rhymes
“Shake Your Sillies Out” by the Wiggles
“The Elevator Song”
“The More We Get Together
The most popular stations were the craft stick houses on foam core and the bean table. If I were doing it again I’d do a second table for the craft stick houses and make an even longer streamer/bubble wrap tunnel.
Got a favorite construction-themed readaloud or activity? Share it in the comments!
Until next time, Book Lovers!