Category Archives: Storytime

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!

New storytimes

I’ve been working on adding some new lesson plans to my collection for the Storytime for 2’s & 3’s, and have been very happy with the three I’ve just added.  A couple of weeks ago I added a singing theme lesson plan, and it went over very well; I was pleased by how many books I was able to find that are either songs turned into picture books, or picture books that feature classic nursery rhymes, or picture books that can easily be either read or sung.  The three books that I used with the group were The Wheels on the Bus by Paul O. Zelinsky, Boom Bah! by Phil Cummings, and Today is Monday by Eric Carle.  In addition, of course, there were twenty-plus other books that I pulled and placed around the room for the quiet time (when each adult shares a book with their child).

Then last week I debuted my Monster storytime, which was a huge hit.  I was very careful in planning this one, and especially in picking the books that would be featured, because I didn’t want to create a fear in these kids that didn’t already exist, since these kids are so young and impressionable.  Best of all for the Monster storytime were the two Folkmanis puppets that inspired it:  Blueper and Twickety.   The kids absolutely LOVED the puppets, and came up and gave them hugs and gentle pats on the head – and asked to have the monsters taste their fingers instead of our usual Zebra puppet fingertaster.  The two books that I read aloud were Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems (one of my all-time favorites), and Jeremy Draws a Monster by Peter McCarty.  Both are just the right combination of silly and didactic – yes, there’s a lesson in each, but it doesn’t hit you over the head, and the humor in each keeps the lesson from being cloying.

Tomorrow I’ll be debuting my new Mouse theme storytime, using two mouse puppets from Folkmanis.  This afternoon I’ll be making some feltboard pieces for the story All For Pie, Pie For All by Valeri Gorbachev; there will also be another book – no feltboard pieces – that will precede it: Inside Mouse, Outside Mouse by Lindsay Barrett George (I like that George’s book features mice that live in the wild and mice that live in our walls).  And each child will taste like a different kind of cheese when Zebra tastes their fingers at the end.

It’s a lot of work to add these new storytimes to my repetoire, most of which work is done at home, but it is so fun to have some fresh new material and new themes.  Storytimes are only as good as the level of excitement brought by the presenter, and I’m always more jazzed about something new and fresh than something I’ve done too many times before.  At some point, though, I’ll run out themes and ideas…but that’s ok, the older storytimes will then seem fresh again.  And now I’d best get going on those feltboard pieces:  a cat family, a mouse family, an ant family, and a rapidly disappearing divided pie.

Wednesday was another day

So Monday’s storytime was a bit rough…but then I did the exact same storytime lesson plan on Wednesday, with a group of similar composition (i.e., ages and number of children), and it went very well.  Though the two stories I read were long, this group was able to stay attentive; though there are a fair number of newbies in the group, the group dynamic was focused for most of the twenty minutes.  This was good, since it reassured me that I’m not crazy and this lesson plan on hats can be used successfully with this group, but it also made me think that I should have changed tactics a bit more midway through the Monday storytime.  If I had stopped and deliberately encouraged everyone to stick it out, rather than keep rolling as if there weren’t a problem, if I had addressed the unraveling of the group directly, then perhaps the entire storytime could have been resurrected.  I did think about doing this, but I didn’t want any one parent to feel self-conscious or singled out, so I decided to just keep on going.

What is the best solution?  Stop and talk about the meltdown when it’s happening, or keep going and give the parents and caregivers time and freedom to address inattention without feeling singled out?  The “keep going” option has always, always worked for me before…but perhaps there are just times when it’s not the way to go.

A bad day for storytime

We had a less than stellar storytime today.  The two’s and three’s were not in synch with each other or their parents or me this morning, and my well-planned and usually popular storytime on Hats went over like a sinking lead balloon, going down, down, down.  By the halfway point of the storytime, half of the kids and their caretakers had left the room, leaving the other half rather confused and distracted and definitely not attentive.  I soldiered on, determined to finish the storytime – which I did – even if it wasn’t going to be my best ever.  It’s a challenge to work with this age group, since they can be very attentive and devoted, but they are also so easily distracted and taken off course.  One too many distractions, and it’s all over, storytime lady!  But it’s still my very favorite age group, and even in the midst of chaos on days like today, it’s a lot of fun.  And by next Monday I’ll have come up with a succinct peptalk for the adults in the room to encourage them to try to stick it out for the whole twenty minutes of storytime; perhaps if we can all make it through one entire storytime together, we’ll be able to grow as a group and have an easier time the week after that.  At least, that’s the plan…

A better year

For various reasons, today is my own personal New Year’s Day, and I have a bunch of resolutions for this coming year:

–  I’m going to attend my first highschool reunion, which makes me simultaneously cringe and wonder at the possibilities.  Maybe I’ll reconnect with some cool people.  Maybe.  And hopefully there will be good food.

–  I’m going to step outside my comfort zone (I hate that term, but it does describe the feeling well) and get trained in the “Every Child Ready to Read” program from the American Library Association, with the intention of presenting the program to parents in a series of seminars.

–  I want to, and need to, add some new lesson plans to my repertoire for the Storytime for 2’s and 3’s.  I already have a list of themes that I want to develop, and I’ve already ordered some cool puppets to supplement those themes.  Now to just put in the time to create and develop…

–  I’m looking forward to exploring some additional afterschool programs for the library.  I’ve already got a lot of ideas, so the thought is to schedule these programs and see how they run.  (And no, I’m not going to preview these ideas here first!  But I will let you know how they do…if they’re a success.)

–  I’m looking forward to spending some more time making jewelry.  If only the price of silver would cooperate with my plans and drop to a reasonable level.

–  For this year’s book groups, I’m going to insist that the kids of the older groups trust my judgement and let me pick half of the books (they get to pick and vote on the other half).  I feel like we haven’t been reading enough new fiction lately, and our reading has also been far too fantasy-heavy.  Time for some different genres.

–  And maybe this year will be the year that we “finish” work on our house.  We’re sooooo close, and I really think that we can do it.  It would be nice to transition into maintenance mode from renovation mode.  (And even nicer to have guests over without feeling like we need to apologize for all of our unfinished projects.)

–  Oh, and yeah, I’d like to write a best-selling novel, first in a series, that will enable Jim and me to live in the manner in which we’d like to be accustomed.

Happy New Year!

Weekend update

I’m not feeling too possessed by the writing bug this weekend, due to YET ANOTHER oral surgery on Friday (don’t even get me started – this has been a pretty miserable experience), but thought I’d update on a couple of things I’ve written about recently:

Pippa is a happy girl, now that she’s back on regular food.  She does drink a lot of water, and she does sleep more than she used to, but she’s enjoying all the extra lap time and morning brushing sessions.  Hopefully she’ll be around for a long time yet.

The mouse is dead, finally.  And I have learned that my perfectionism doesn’t work well when setting mouse traps; I was so focused on making the traps look good that they were virtually impossible to spring.  The mouse enjoyed many snacks of spreadable cheese and peanut butter off of my traps, in absolute safety and comfort.  But then Jim set a trap, and that was the end of mousey.  Mouse did leave us one parting gift, though – he climbed into the sub-woofer for our (thankfully) inexpensive surround sound system, and it would seem that he munched through some wires while he was in there.  Now when we try to use the surround sound we get horrible loud sounds and the system goes into “protect” mode.  And yes, I have unplugged it.  Time to save our pennies for a new system…

Work on the bathroom continues on, slowly but surely.  Jim laid down the remainder of the tiles this morning, all those fussy little pieces that require cutting and fitting and delicate maneuvering into small spaces.  One step closer, one step closer.

So that’s the weekend update for today.  And one plea for those of you who will be attending my storytimes this week: remember that I’ve got another open wound in my mouth, and that I can’t talk very loud, and I’ll probably cut down the length of each storytime this week to spare myself some misery.  And, most importantly, the swelling and bruises on my face are NOT from my wonderful husband!!

No storytime today

I’ve come down with a yucky cold, and have decided that I should keep myself home this morning instead of infecting my coworkers and the storytime children.  So no storytime today, my apologies; but I’m guessing everyone would rather miss one storytime than get a cold in the midst of this already miserable winter.

I will be in for this afternoon’s Skype visit with Ellen Potter, being very careful not to spread my germs to the fifth graders in the book group.  (Luckily, the author won’t be susceptible to my germs!)  Until then, though, I think I’d better take a nice long nap.  Achoo.  Hack hack hack.  Sound of kleenex being used.  I hate colds.

Saturday Storytimes

For several years now we have had teen volunteers running weekly storytimes at the library on Saturday mornings.  The teens are all excellent storytellers, brimming with joy and enthusiasm, and for most of those several years, there has been good attendance at the storytimes.  And then this year, the year of the Unseen Preschooler, hit.  My Thursday afternoon preschool storytime, formerly an in-demand event, has been so quiet that you can hear crickets – so quiet that I’ve gotten rid of this Thursday afternoon storytime and replaced it with a couple of preschool storytimes scattered through the month on various experimental days and times.  And the Saturday Storytimes?  No preschoolers have been showing up, not for a couple of months now, leaving the teen volunteers to read to each other. 

So Jennifer had a great idea, which we instituted as of this month:  one or two special themed Saturday Storytimes each month.  This month, the teens will be doing a Dr. Seuss storytime on January 15, and a Princess storytime on January 29.  I’ve printed out some colorful posters and mailed them to all the preschools and placed them all over the children’s room, and parents are noticing.  I’ll be picking up some crowns for the teens to wear at the Princess storytime, and M. promises that she’ll wear her rainbow socks to read at the Dr. Seuss storytime – and if Lisa finds her Cat in the Hat hat, then one teen can wear that, too.

With any luck, we’ll have some excited listeners for these terrific teen readers on the 15th and 29th – if you’re reading this post and have a preschooler, please do come to one or both storytimes!  And remember…someday your preschooler will be a teen, and that teen will be wanting an audience for their volunteer gig reading at the library…and you’ll be wishing that some preschoolers will show…it’s all cyclical, after all.

Mini baby boom

Last year, the Infant Storytimes were full to bursting, with up to 40 adults and kids attending each of three separate storytimes each week.  In a very small town, mind you.  The Storytime for 2’s & 3’s, on the other hand, was small to miniscule, with sometimes frustratingly low enrollment. 

This year, the Infant Storytime has calmed down significantly, but the Storytime for 2’s & 3’s keeps growing…and growing…and growing.  In a great example of how libraries must always be fluid and flexible with their programming, I’ve decided to eliminate the Wednesday morning Infant Storytime and replace it with at least one (perhaps two, we’ll see) Storytime for 2’s & 3’s, which will be in addition to the 2 sessions of 2 & 3 year old storytime that is already taking place on Monday mornings.

One challenge in dealing with this mini baby boom of mostly two year olds is that the format of the Infant Storytime is significantly different from the format of the 2 & 3 year old storytime.  The younger storytime is a drop-in format, and quite active and loose in terms of behavior expectations.  No child under the age of two can be expected to sit completely still for a whole forty five minutes, and thus the only behavior rule in that storytime is that children cannot cross the once invisible, now visible (long story) line that runs across in front of me and my storytime supplies.  Gradually, as they get older, the kids in this youngest storytime learn how to be in a group, and by the time they reach the age of two they’re ready for a new challenge.

Which is why the struture of the Storytime for 2’s & 3’s is very different.  It is theme-based, and much more instructional and storyteller-focused.  The kids are expected to stay in the laps of their caregivers, and to be attentive to the stories and fingerplays.  There are still many interactive segments, and the kids do get to have some activity mid-way through the storytime, but in general this storytime feels much more like a class, and, indeed, I’m trying to accomplish more direct teaching of concepts in this storytime.  Obviously, this storytime is much shorter than the infant storytime, since the demands are higher on the children, and this storytime is only twenty to twenty-five minutes.

In order for the Storytime for 2’s & 3’s to succeed, though, I do require pre-registration, and I do limit the number of pre-registrants to twelve children per session.  Ideally, the number would be only ten, but it’s unrealistic to expect perfect attendance from all families each week, so I bumped the number up to twelve.  Only one problem this fall:  we ended up with sixteen children in the first session and fourteen in the second.  Yikes.  It’s incredible the difference that those extra bodies have made in the room.  With more bodies crammed (yes, indeed, crammed) into the story room, the children are much more distracted and much less at ease than they tend to be in a smaller group.  I haven’t been able to do many of the coolest parts of my lesson plans, because there are simply too many children and the cumulative attention level is far lower than I would like.

So, the solution is:  add one more, or perhaps two more sessions of this storytime (I know there are a lot more children who are on the cusp of turning two and will be eligible for this storytime come January).  I’ll ask for volunteers to switch to the new time(s), and if that doesn’t work, I’ll hold a totally democratic lottery.  I think that once the group size has been diminished, the parents attending will be truly astonished at the difference in their children’s attention span and at how much their children are able to take away from each storytime.  And, of course, I’ll have much more fun presenting the storytime, too.  My boss has asked if it’s too much on my plate to be doing this, and I keep reassuring her that it’s not – that I’ll enjoy the process infinitely more if the groups are smaller.  And there’s also a lot to be said for me repeating the presentation of a storytime, since practice does make perfect, and no practice is better than the practice in front of an actual group.  (Which is a good reason to switch to the Wednesday group!)

The official time slot request papers will be available starting on the morning of December 13 at that day’s Storytime for 2’s & 3’s.  Once all papers have been submitted, I’ll review them and see how the groups work out, and whether we will need to resort to a lottery.  I have a feeling that it will all be ok, though, and that the groups will form naturally and happily via the time slot request sheets…

On puppets

While watching The Muppet Movie last night, I was reminded of how great an influence Jim Henson and his compatriots have had on me.  I learned all of my puppet skills from them – and from my older brother and sister – and those skills are one of the most important tools in my children’s librarian toolbox.  Not something you’d think to put on a resume (“Puppet skills: Consistently and competently emulate the Muppets when using puppets”), nor ask about when interviewing a candidate for a children’s librarian position (“That’s great that you have an MLS and ten years of experience, but can you use puppets???”), yet those puppet skills are completely and totally essential to the success of any children’s librarian.  If you can’t use puppets well in a storytime, it means that you’re maintaining too much of your adult ego, and you’re not really living in the moment and letting go – letting things flow.

Which is not to say that I’m perfect at it, because I’m definitely not.  But there are those days, or even just moments, when I bring out a puppet in storytime and forget about Abby and simply focus on the puppet, like I would if I were horsing around with my brother and sister and puppets.  In those moments, something magical truly does happen.  I can see out of the corner of my eyes that the adults, as well as the kids, are transfixed and amused and caught up in the puppet performance.  The irony, of course, is that as soon as I am aware of the audience’s reaction – then I lose the moment.  It’s much like meditation:  you’ll be going along great, meditating really well, and then you realize, “Hey, I’m doing this meditation thing great today!  I’ve totally forgotten about everything else!!!”, and guess what?  You’re not meditating anymore.

But I’m hoping that with more practice I’ll reach that perfect level…puppet nirvana, maybe…and that I’ll be able to sustain my puppeteering for longer periods of time, while being truly conscious of the performance.  That would be awesome.  For now, I’m just happy that I’ve been using puppets more in the Mother Goose on the Loose Storytime.  Instead of using only stuffed animals for the song “When the [hen] gets up in the morning, she always says [cluck],” I’ve started using a rotating selection of puppets, too, and it’s been incredibly cool.  The stuffed animals are very cute, but also static.  The puppets, on the other hand, are animated and engaging: the moms who are chatting at the back of the room stop chatting, and the children who are getting wiggly stop wiggling.  Everyone looks at the goat puppet as I sing to him, and everyone maaas along with him, with some happy giggles here and there in the room.  Best of all are the Folkmanis stage puppets, which have truly malleable faces like Muppets; my favorite stage puppet is the horse, which has quarts of personality, but the lion and the sheep are a close second.

And all this thinking about puppets has inspired me to learn a story to tell with puppets for Thursday’s Preschool Storytime.  It’s not often that I have the time available to memorize a story to tell with puppets, but this week I’m going to make the time (at home, I’m afraid – there’s never the time to do this at work) and Thursday’s storytime is going to be fun.  Puppets rule!!