Category Archives: Storytime

Happy September

I actually love the month of September – even though we’re busy at the library after school with kids coming over from the elementary, middle, and high schools, the mornings are lovely and quiet and I get tons done.

Sometimes my storytime regulars ask why I take a couple of weeks off from storytimes in September, and I always reply, “So I can get some ordering done after the summer!”  Summers at the library are almost relentlessly busy, and it’s difficult to focus on reading book reviews in The Horn Book Magazine and Kirkus when kids are coming up to the desk every few minutes to redeem summer prizes or ask for summer reading book suggestions.  I need these next few weeks to pay some careful attention to ordering, and to make sure our shelves are fully stocked with the latest and greatest as winter comes around the corner.

But there’s another reason I take a couple of weeks off from storytimes in September: it’s vitally important to take a little time off from them so that I get refreshed and revitalized.  Yes, I could keep plugging along at the usual stiff storytime pace that I keep up the rest of the year (five or so storytimes a week), but we all benefit from me having just a few weeks off.  I actually love that I get nervous and edgy before my first September storytime, because it means that I’m coming back to storytimes with a fresh perspective.  If I’m nervous, then I’m fully engaged, and if I’m fully engaged, then storytimes are soooo much more fun for everyone.

One of my greatest fears is getting stale in my job, which is why I’m always pushing myself to do more and to try new and different things.  And by stepping back and taking a break, I can look at my storytimes from a bit of a distance and evaluate what I’m doing well and what I need to do better.  I’ll never go so far as to film myself doing a storytime, because that would destroy my self-confidence, but I’m very capable of being objective about my own performance.  I know that I overuse certain phrases, and I’m aiming to not say those phrases coming up in September.  I know that I’m a little afraid of using parent tips in my storytimes, but I need to get over that hump and start incorporating those tips more regularly.  And I know that by the end of the summer I was a bit tired and worn out, and I’m glad to take this breather and regain my enthusiasm.

So the next few weeks will be devoted to freshening my storytime perspective, and spending some intense time doing my absolute favorite part of my job: ordering books.  Yay!  Happy September, everyone!

Best art project ever…

Well, ok, maybe it’s not the *best* art project ever (how could I pick a favorite, really?), but today’s process art project was phenomenally fun, and also a great example of the cool things that you can do with art in a preschool storytime.

I’ve never been a fan of craft projects as part of storytime, since it pains me to limit the imagination of those beautiful four and five year old minds: one predetermined “right” final product teaches kids early on that there is a right way and wrong way with art.  How dismally depressing for the child who struggles to achieve the perfect final result while others are creating exactly what the teacher/librarian/adult prescribed.  And how limiting for those who are more dextrous, those who have the fine motor skills to really push their artistic bounds.

And so I’ve gone with process art projects, which have been incredibly fun and satisfying for everyone, adults and kids.  [Thanks, as usual, to Mary Ann Kohl and her book Preschool Art for providing the projects and the inspiration.]  Today we went with more of a group project than usual and made salad spinner art – page 217 in Kohl’s book – and I have to admit I was a little worried before storytime by how this project would work.  I never know exactly how many kids will be at the preschool storytime (today we had five), and it can be hard for kids of this age to work together and have patience while everyone has a turn creating.  But I also felt that it was important to try, and so we all shared one salad spinner to make our art.

It was fantastic.  Truly fantastic.  All five kids were great about taking turns, and everyone was fully involved in the process of each piece of art.  How would those two colors work put next to each other like that?  How would the super fast turning of the salad spinner by the child in charge affect the end result?  What about the child who chose to turn it slowly – would the paint look different than the super fast turning?  And, best of all, the questions about why the paint was doing what it was doing – moving us into a gentle discussion of force and motion.

It was so much fun, in fact, that even the adults were anxious to take a turn after the kids were finished.  One adult discovered the magic of turning the spinner first one way, then the next, which gave a completely different look to the paint on the paper.  Which then drove some of the kids to ask to make just one more, please, in which they experimented with alternating rotation and also with more bold placement of color on the page.  So we talked not just about art, but also about science and color mixing (I got out the color paddles from the STEM kit) and we also learned how to use an eye dropper.*

We kept at it for a full forty-five minutes, and I think many of the families will be going home and finding an old salad spinner to experiment with on their own.  It was awesome.

*  N.B.:  the eye droppers were the one change I made from Kohl’s directions in the book; we have eye droppers on hand, and I thought it would be cool to introduce the kids to using them.  And it worked!

Spring is coming…and thanks

I have absolute proof that spring is coming, despite the snow currently fluffing through the air:  at Monday morning’s storytime, several of my regular attendees – kids who are always attentive – were practically bouncing off the walls.  Some of these usually docile children even had to be taken out the story room by their grownups.  Spring is definitely coming.

And thank you to all of you who left such sweet comments about my last post on the loss of our dear Ophy.  I appreciate your love and support.  I’m slowly getting used to the idea that Ophy isn’t around anymore, and I keep reminding myself that she was terribly sick and ready to move on.  I’ve never had to make that decision before, and now I fully appreciate what our wonderful vet told me: while putting a beloved pet to sleep is very difficult, it is also one’s obligation as a caring pet owner to make that decision when the time comes.  And hopefully Ophy is cavorting in the great beyond with her best feline pal, Rudy.

Still here…

Yes, I’m still here – but I’m finding that my still-healing broken foot is limiting my evening creativity.  While at work, I think of things that would be awesome blog post topics: a very young child who says or does something charming, a book group that takes the book discussion to a new level, an idea for a new program.  But I can’t write blog posts at work, and by the time I get home I’m a bit cooked, mentally and physically, after stumping around at the library all day with the walking boot on my foot.

So here’s a quick summary of what I’ve been up to for the last couple of weeks:

  • Lots of storytimes, which have been especially crowded now that the gloom of winter and cabin fever has set in for everyone.  Last week there were forty-one adults and kids at the Thursday storytime, which is about the limit of what we can fit into the story room.  But it’s such a nice group of attendees, all of whom participate enthusiastically.  There was a wonderful moment at one recent storytime where every single adult in the room was belting out (in harmony, of course!) “Where is Thumbkin?”.  Very very cool.
  • Lots of great book groups.  Of course I’ve waited too long to write up coherent retellings of each book group discussion, so I’ll just sum up each one quickly.  The 5th grade group read Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, and eleven out of twelve kids disliked the book because it was “too slow.”  The teen book group read The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan, and while talking about what kind of book it is I discovered that most of the group had never heard of caviar, creme brulee, or Agatha Christie.  The 4th grade group discussed Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, and they unanimously loved it.  (They were also happy to hear that a book they read earlier this year, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, was the winner of this year’s Newbery award.)  And the 6th grade group discussed Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, which they mostly loved; it interested me that they were all surprised to find out that Brian Selznick both wrote and illustrated the book – the group members thought that he was only the author.
  • And then there are the random things: sweet moments at the art portion of the storytime for 4’s & 5’s (a five year old discovering that he can “erase” his painting and start fresh, thus prolonging the creative experience); an eighteen month old finding his dancing legs and grinning ecstatically while bobbing up and down to some Zydeco; two sweet girls at the Create a Valentine program surprising me with Valentine cards (one said “Feel Better!” and the other – launched at my back – was emblazoned with “Guess Who???”…the artist finally came over and told me she had made it, since I was clearly confused); and the daily niceties of working in a small town filled with caring people.

Hopefully my foot will be fully healed soon (eight weeks and counting right now, this is a loooooooong process), but until then please forgive me if I have lapses of blog entries.  I’m still here!

Ah, I wish…

At this morning’s storytime, one mom told me that she was watching Downton Abbey yesterday, and she talked with her young daughter a bit about the show.  As the credits were rolling, the daughter asked her mom if that was where Abby the librarian lived. 

Ah, I wish…

Little Books

I’ve written many times before about my success stories using projects from MaryAnn Kohl’s book Preschool Art: It’s the Process, Not the Product – enough times that I’ve felt a bit redundant in my praise of Kohl and her book – but yesterday’s experience at storytime was good enough to warrant yet another post on the topic.

With my broken foot, I’ve struggled with how to continue with art projects in the weekly Art & Stories for 4’s & 5’s storytime.  Last week, I was still on crutches, so I thought long and hard and finally decided to go with an old standard project: rolls of paper laid out on the floor, kids lie on the paper, adults trace the outline of each child, and then the kids color in their tracings.  Huge success!  No set up for me – no tables, no stress, the parents did the tracings of the kids – and the kids kept going for forty-five minutes with their artwork.  (Of course, this makes total sense, since four and five year olds are still quite self-focused, and working on a self-portrait at that age completely fits their developmental level.)

So last week’s art project was terrific, and I was feeling the pressure yesterday to come up with a similarly awesome project.  But I’m still pretty gimpy: off the crutches, but hobbling around on a walking boot that comes up almost to my knee.  I knew I would be able to drag some tables out of the closet, but I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to sort through our stacks and stacks of awesome art supplies in order to set up a complex project.  What to do??!?!

A paper-only project seemed in order (especially since my coworker Carol, a recently retired teacher, had just donated three grocery bags full of the most gorgeous construction paper I have ever seen), so I opened up Kohl’s book, flipped to January’s projects as a starting point, and ka-bam.  There it was:  Little Books.  The only prep necessary was to use the paper cutter to cut some white copy paper down to half size, and also to cut some sheets of construction paper down to half size, and then I dug out pencils, markers, and some staplers.  The idea (without giving away Kohl’s project instructions – you REALLY should buy her book if you don’t already own it!) was to have the kids and their grownups work together to construct a little book.  Then the grownups stepped back and let the kids create the insides of the books.

Before we started on the project, I talked to the group about the process they would be going through.  One wise little boy, upon hearing that he would be creating a book, said, “But I don’t know how to write words!!!!”  And so I talked about how there are many wonderful books that tell their stories only with pictures, no words.  Perhaps, I suggested, if the kids knew how to write their names, they could do that, but otherwise they could just fill up the pages with pictures.

And they did.  And they kept going and going and going.  Some kids talked out loud as they created, telling anyone who would listen what their book was about, while other kids hunched over their creations so that no one could spy on their artwork as it was in process.  We started the project at 2:25, and several kids were still going strong at 3:15…and they would have kept going for quite a while if it hadn’t been time to pick up their older siblings at the elementary school.  Only a reassurance that there were markers and pencils at home to use kept these last artists from having a meltdown at having to step away from their book before it was finished.

Another huge success.  Now to find another project for next week that meets the criteria of helping a gimpy librarian run a great art project.  Thankfully, I have the resource to find that awesome project!

Tooting my own horn

One of my storytime regulars said the nicest things to me today – so nice that I just had to share them, though I know it comes close to blatant self-promotion…

This storytime regular (who drives in from another town) has been coming to my storytimes for a few years now, first with just her oldest son, then with both of her sons once the younger was born.  Their family has come to my Mother Goose on the Loose storytimes for a long time, and then the oldest son grew older and they also started coming to my Storytime for 2’s & 3’s.  And today they tried out my Art & Stories for 4’s & 5’s for the first time.  As the kids in the group settled in to their art project, this mom came up to me and said, “Abby, you are phenomenal.  You’re good with all the ages – some people are only good with one age, but you’re good with them all.  You’re phenomenal.”  She went on to say some other really nice things, all of which made me feel appreciated and understood in a way that I haven’t in a long while.

And then later we were chatting again as I rinsed out paint-filled Chobani containers and messy paintbrushes.  I mentioned that my mother had been a teacher, and that she had always wanted me to be a teacher, too, grooming me from an early age; Mom even brought me with her to work when she was a preschool teacher and I was ten or eleven, putting me to work with the kids and talking me through how to work with them.  “The sad thing is,” I said, “my mother never lived to see me in this job.  Which is a shame.”  And this lovely storytime regular said to me – bringing tears to my eyes then and now – “I bet your mom knows exactly what you’re doing, and that she’s watching and smiling down on you.”  And then she went on to say, “It’s definitely in your blood, teaching.  You’re a teacher-librarian, that’s what you are.”

So here I am tooting my own horn, but also expressing gratitude to someone who did what we all should do more often, but don’t: telling another person that you value and appreciate them.  It’s such a great feeling to know that you’re making a difference in the world, because I know that there are many days that go by where I’m not sure if what I’m doing is having any impact.  Today, happily, is not one of those days.  Today I am reassured that what I do every day is worth doing.  Thank you!!!

Storytime progress

It’s been slow – rather tedious – and at times torturous – but I’ve made significant progress on my goal to add new storytime lesson plans to my repertoire.  I realized recently that my goal for this fiscal year stated that I would add sixteen lesson plans to reach a total of sixty-seven in my storytime bank…but that actually I would be adding twenty-three new lesson plans, not sixteen, to reach that total of sixty-seven.  Silly me, I forgot that I had made files for some lesson plans that I had not yet created; so I thought that I had fifty plans already on file, but really some of those plans did not yet exist.  But I’m committed to reaching sixty-seven total, and I’m ALMOST THERE!  Only five left!!

Tomorrow’s storytime is on Sickness and Health, with two fun featured stories:  Llama, Llama, Home with Mama by Anna Dewdney and Guess Who, Baby Duck! by Amy Hest.  None of the books I pulled for this week would work in a feltboard format (feltboard stories can’t be forced, I’ve learned), so I’ve decided instead to have a bear puppet come visit storytime.  The poor little bear isn’t feeling well – he has the sniffles and the sneezes and his throat is sore – so we’ll tuck him up in bed (an Ikea plastic bin with a pillowcase folded to be a pillow and another pillowcase as a blanket), feel his forehead to see if he has a fever, and put a box of tissues by his side.  Then we’ll distract the sick bear puppet with some fingerplays and stories and see if he feels better by the end of storytime.

And, meanwhile, just to add verisimilitude, I’m fighting a cold of my own.  Bah humbug.  Lots of echinacea today!  And hopefully a very fun storytime tomorrow…

New lesson plans update

I’ve been completely and totally neglecting my blog lately, but for good reason:  one of my four work goals for this fiscal year was to create new lesson plans for the Storytime for 2’s & 3’s.  Here is my official goal, as submitted at the beginning of the fiscal year:

Create 16 more lesson plans to add to the curriculum for Storytime for 2’s and 3’s.  Lesson plan creation includes selecting 20 to 30 book titles for each theme, creating weekly handouts, choosing fingerplays, rhymes, and songs, and creating feltboard materials (which is done at home on my own time).  This will bring the total number of lesson plans up to 67, which is enough to get through two full years (including summers) with repetition only occurring a few times in those two years (Halloween/Fall, Winter, Spring, Valentine’s Day, Summer, etc.).  Though two and three year olds actually love repetition, parents are never as keen on it, so it is important to  have enough lesson plans to cover the entire period that a child is registered for this storytime.

I knew that this goal, along with my usual reading-done-at-home for the five book groups that meet each month, would seriously impact my ability to write blog posts.  But I didn’t anticipate that it would mean no blog posts for a huge span of time!  But, I am very pleased with how these new storytime lesson plans are turning out, and very happy that I will have enough plans to cover two full years; good for me as the presenter, good for the folks who attend.

One reason these plans have been taking longer than expected is that I have moved beyond my original source for plans, Storytimes for Two Year Olds by Judy Nichols, and am creating everything from scratch.  In her book Nichols provides fifty themes, with suggested book titles for each theme, as well as suggested fingerplays and songs, follow-up activities, craft activities, suggestions on which books to turn into feltboard stories, and so on.  While I’ve always viewed Nichols’ book as a starting point for me, since I am my own person and like to put my creative stamp on my storytimes, having that starting point was absolutely invaluable.  I’ve been totally on my own for these new lesson plans, and thus bring much of the planning work home (in addition to the feltboard work), since creating from scratch takes soooooooo much longer than using someone else’s template.  And my theme ideas haven’t always worked out, meaning that I’ve had to regroup many times…

I’ve had to trash several ideas for themes that seemed good when I chose them, but turned out to have insufficient books available for this age group.  I gave up on “Dragons and Unicorns” after spending a great deal of time searching for and reading picturebooks on these two mythical creatures; fewer picturebooks exist on them than I thought, and those that I found were far too complex and long for my target age group.

Another theme that I thought would be terrific, but didn’t work out at all, was “Royalty.”  Queens, kings, princesses, princes, knights – surely that would be a great topic, right?  Not so much.  I found a few books, but ultimately gave up and completely nixed the theme after deciding that the books I had found (both in my library and other libraries) were either too long or too dull or both.

And “Snakes.”  Great idea, especially since we have a couple of terrific snake puppets that I’ve been dying to use.  But a total washout in terms of books that are available.  I finally had the great idea to take the snake idea and broaden it out to “Pets.”  The snake puppets still got used, and I found a tremendous number of great books.

Why so many books, you ask?  Partly to include in the weekly handout, which I know many parents use as a source for age-appropriate books for their children.  Partly so that there is a stack of books available for checkout by the kids and their parents on the day of the storytime (which many families love).  And partly so that there are thirty or so books on display in a ring around the carpet squares in the room; these books are there for the Quiet Time section of the storytime, as recommended by Nichols.  I’ve grown quite fond of the Quiet Time section, and love seeing the caregivers each reading to their children – it’s a terrific way to take the reading skills learned during the storytime and bring them back to their everyday one-on-one at home usage.

And on that note, I think that I had better get to work on the handout and lesson plan for Monday’s storytime, theme of Spring…wish me luck!

Three quick things

Thing number 1:  I really enjoyed Silverfin by Charlie Higson.  I had expected it to be purely an action story, but Higson takes the time to establish the character of James Bond at age 13.  He also gives us a good sense of what it would have been like to be a student at Eton in the 1930’s.  And then, of course, the story moves away from Eton and into some good fun Bondish action.  Definitely a good book for any of you James Bond fans.

Thing number two:  yesterday’s Book Gobblers program was interesting for me.  Usually we have fourth and fifth graders who attend this read aloud program for older kids, and they have really enjoyed hearing selections from Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories.  Given that past history, yesterday I decided that I would read “The Cat That Walked By Himself” to them.  But there was a little change in demographics yesterday, with mostly second graders attending.  They mostly liked the story, but they didn’t love Kipling’s language like the older kids have; the older kids have literally sat in rapt attention, almost devouring Kipling’s words as I read them.  But the younger ones looked slightly puzzled at times.  The second story I read them, though, was a huge hit:  Ghost Hands by T.A. Barron.  As you may remember, T.A. Barron spent the early years of his life in the town in which I work, so I always love sharing his books with kids at my programs.  And Ghost Hands, which provides an imagined reason for paintings of hands in a real cave in Patagonia, really grabbed their attention – total focus from the group as I read, and lots of great questions and discussion after the story was done.  I’ll definitely be reading this book to kids at the school when I do summer reading visits in June.

Thing number 3:  Last but very definitely not least, the third grade book group had an exciting and wonderful meeting on Monday as we had a Skype visit with author Sara Pennypacker.  I will be writing a full post on this visit over the weekend to do it full justice, but wanted to mention it here in brief to whet your appetite.  Ms. Pennypacker is an incredibly generous, kind, open, and engaging speaker, and I believe that this Skype visit was a really transformative moment for several of the kids in the group.  More on this visit in a day or two…and now it’s time to get ready for work!