Mixed Feelings: a Virtual Storytime about Emotions

Today was my last virtual storytime, at least for a while. As our libraries have been reopening in different capacities, first just for walk-up at the door and curbside pick-up of holds, and now for in person browsing and computer use a few days a week, we’ve gradually scaled back our virtual storytimes to once a week. These were shared among different staff across our system, so I was only doing one a month, and we are taking a break for the summer.

It was a bittersweet feeling, preparing for this morning’s storytime. It’s been a long and interesting journey, moving storytimes online. At first, I absolutely hated it. Since we were still trying to work out the technical and legal details of doing interactive kids programs (which are complicated by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act), for a long time we were only offering pre-recorded programs on YouTube, which made me feel completely isolated and weird.

After several months of recorded storytimes, our library system decided that what kids were really missing was the chance to see other kids, so we switched to interactive storytimes over Zoom. This was SO much better, because I could see the kids again, and they could see me. I’ve always incorporated a lot of back and forth with the audience into my storytimes, asking kids for suggestions, and I could do all of that again. Still, it’s never felt completely natural, and I’ve always worried about lots of issues that would never come up in real life: my Internet crashing, the ebook not loading, sending out the wrong Zoom link by accident, or even losing track of time and forgetting to start the program.

Still, there will be some things I will miss if we drop the virtual storytimes altogether, once we go back to in-person events again. It’s nice to see kids from all over our county, or even outside of it. Also there’s something weirdly intimate about Zoom: we can all see a little slice of each other’s homes and pets and families, which is something the kids seem to enjoy. They love it when my cat unexpectedly bites my leg mid-story, because she has dragged her toy across the room and is waiting for me to play. They love to show their favorite toys, or an ukulele of their own that they might not allowed to bring to the library. And the virtual programs do provide more flexibility for families and preschools who might not be able to come to the library in person. Plus, sharing the e-books on screen makes it much easier for the kids to see the illustrations. I can even share the link to the ebook, so they can check it out after the storytime, especially if it’s on Hoopla, which has unlimited copies.

Given all these feelings, I guess it was appropriate that I did a storytime about emotions. Here’s what I did:

OPENING SONG: Do As I’m Doing

A really easy, fun song that allows the kids to suggest different actions. Today we jumped, ran in place, made funny faces, and wiggled our fingers, and waved our arms in the air.

[C] Do as I’m doing, follow, follow [G7] me.

[C] Do as I’m doing, follow, [G7] follow [C] me.

[C] Follow, [G7] follow, [F] follow [C] me.

[F] Follow, [C] follow, [G7] follow [C] me.

Follow, [G7] follow, [F] follow [C] me,

[F] Follow, [C] follow, [G7] follow [C] me.

SONG: The Handwashing Song

Our library has a grant to help share information about COVID-19 resources, so we have been asked to highlight our webpage for that and do a song for kids about handwashing. My favorite one is The Handwashing Song from JBrary (click on the link to hear the tune and see the motions). I usually ask the kids to pretend we’ve put our hands in something sticky, so now we need to wash them. Today they suggested applesauce and honey.

SONG: If You’re Happy And You Know It

I think most people know the tune to this already, but if you don’t, here’s a video from Barefoot Songs.

To introduce the topic of feelings, I printed out this page of faces, cut them out, and put them in a paper bag. Each time we sang the song, I pulled a face out the bag, held it up to the camera, and asked the kids to name the feeling. Then we sang about it.

Our verses were:

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands…

If you’re angry and you know it, say “I’m mad”… (and stomp your feet)

If you’re scared/shy and you know it, hide your face… (I had told the kids to find a cloth or tissue at the beginning of the storytime, so they could put the cloth in front of their face and then pull it away quickly and say, “Peek-a-boo!”)

If you’re sad and you know it, cry “Boo hoo!”…

If you’re silly and you know it, make a face…

If you’re happy and you know it, shout “Hooray!”…

The chords are:

[C] If you’re happy and you know it, clap your [G7] hands.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your [C] hands.

If you’re [F] happy and you know it, and you [C] really want to show it.

If you’re [G7] happy and you know it, clap your [C] hands.

BOOK: The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

I love this book about a little boy named Taylor whose tower is unexpectedly destroyed by a flock of birds. While he sits in the wreckage, different animals come by with suggestions. The chicken wants to talk about it, the bear wants to shout about it, the elephant wants to remember how the tower was built, the ostrich wants to hide, and the snake wants to ruin someone else’s tower. But Taylor doesn’t want to do any of those things. He is miserable until the rabbit comes along and just sits close for a while, and then listens while Taylor talks and shouts and remembers and plots revenge, and then finally decides to build a new tower. It’s such a beautiful lesson for grown-ups, as well as kids. (I’ve been plenty guilty myself of just trying to jump to the solution to my kids’ problems, instead of just listening and supporting them). I shared this book on Overdrive, and held a rabbit puppet up the camera when the rabbit appeared.

SONG: Did You Ever See a Rabbit?

To the tune of Did You Ever See a Lassie (again this is a familiar nursery song, but if you don’t know the tune, here’s a video from Rock N Learn).

I used my rabbit puppet for this, and had the kids copy the motions with the cloth or tissue they found, or with their hands. Here are the lyrics:

Did you ever see a rabbit, a rabbit, a rabbit?

Did you ever see a rabbit go this way and that?

Go this way, and that way,

Go this way, and that way,

Did you ever see a rabbit, go this way and that?

We had our cloths/rabbits move from side to side, up and down, up in the air and down, and round and round in either direction.

BOOK: Crunch the Shy Dinosaur by Cirocco Dunlap; illustrated by Greg Pizzoli

This is a fun interactive story, about a dinosaur who is frightened by the audience. The book prompts the kids to say hello in different ways, sing Happy Birthday, shout their names, and say “Good night!” Although the kids were mostly muted, a few unmuted themselves for the prompts, and it was gratifying to hear them playing along. This one was also on Overdrive.

SONG: We Are the Dinosaurs by Laurie Berkner

As usual, I ended with a playalong, asking the kids to make noise with whatever they had on hand (a paper cup, a shaker, their hands or feet, etc.). Here’s a link to the chords and lyrics (the chord charts here are for guitar, but I played it on ukulele).

ENDING SONG: You Are My Sunshine by Jimmie Davis & Charles Mitchell (or possibly by Oliver Hood)

[C] You are my sunshine,

My only sunshine [C7]

You make me [F] happy

When skies are [C] gray.

You’ll never [F] know, dear,

How much I [C] love you [Am].

Please don’t [C] take my [G7] sunshine a- [C] way.

If you’ve been performing or attending virtual storytimes or other programs, what are your thoughts about them? Is it something that libraries should continue offering even when in-person programs resume? Please share your comments below.

A Song for Calvin and Hobbes

The Hobbes I made for one of my kids years ago. It’s based on this Instructables pattern, which is pretty easy to follow.

I’ve written other posts about how grateful I am for comic books, which motivated both of my own kids to start reading on their own. Since then, graphic novels, the extended version of comic books, have really taken off. We have whole sections of the library dedicated to them, both fiction and nonfiction, and geared for every age group. My daughter’s own bookshelf is overflowing with the rebooted Babysitter’s Club series, and books by Raina Telgemeier and Svetlana Chmakova. And lately my husband has been reading the science fiction graphic novel series Aldebaran in French, as a fun way to learn new French vocabulary. (The ESL book club I co-lead is planning to read a graphic novel soon for the same reason. It’s a great way to learn common idioms and spoken language, without a lot of overwhelming descriptive text).

But in addition to graphic novels, we have an enormous collection of comic strip books, including Garfield, Fox Trot, and Baby Blues. These are books that my kids both pored over as they learned to read, and still can’t bear to part with. My tween still happily brings them along for car rides, and laughs just as hard at them as she did when she was 8 or 9. Among them are most of the Calvin and Hobbes books, which my husband and I bought for ourselves as adults, and which we love every bit as much as our kids do.

There’s something so timeless and universal about Calvin and Hobbes. It’s humbling to read the strips as an adult (and especially as a parent), because Bill Watterson shines such a painfully bright light on how dull the world of grown-ups can be, compared to the limitless and ever-questioning world of childhood, with all of its many terrors, injustices, and adventures.

So I wrote this song in honor of Calvin and Hobbes. I hope you enjoy it.

Me and the Tiger

We pack every day,

With questions and battles,

Adventures and play.





And all of of the grown-ups

They can’t understand,

That life’s so much more

Than the routines they’ve planned.



They just see a toy

And they think it’s pretend.

They don’t know the magic

You find with a friend.





But me and the Tiger

We make our own rules,

Our world’s more than homework,

And bedtime, and schools.


And when we don’t like things,

We simply defy them,

Or build new inventions

To transmogrify them.


My Mom and Dad think

That it’s all in my head,

They can’t see the monster

That’s under my bed.


But I will sleep soundly,

My best friend beside me,

To laugh with, and argue,

And comfort, and guide me


Through all the adventures

And wonders we’ll see,

When a new day arrives

For my Tiger and me.


What books do you and your family treasure? Please let me know in the comments.

Uke Can Play (Virtually)

Musician Julie Stepanek, who offers a variety of ukulele programs online

One of the many casualties of the pandemic was my drop-in ukulele class for adults, which I held on the first Monday evening of each month at the Sanchez Library. We had a small, but dedicated group of regulars, who were always welcoming of newcomers, even though it meant going back to playing the one and two chord songs they had played so many times before. I always looked forward to seeing and playing with them, and I thought about them a lot during the early days of the shut-down. Our library system was still in the process of figuring out how to offer virtual programs, with storytimes being the first priority, but I wished there were a way to offer a virtual ukulele class.

So I was thrilled to see a Facebook post from the Jones Library in Amherst, Massachusetts (the place where I had my first library job) about a virtual ukulele play-along. I tried it out, and was immediately hooked.

The instructor, Julie Stepanek, led the play-along over Zoom, with Powerpoint slides that clearly displayed the song lyrics and chord charts for each song. Since playing or singing in sync over Zoom is difficult, all of the participants were muted. The beauty of this was that you really felt like you were playing with a group, and you were, but nobody could hear any mistakes that you or anyone else were making. You could even turn off your video. It was a wonderful way to make music with people, with absolutely no pressure, and I learned so many new songs that soon became favorites. Even now, when I hear those songs, they instantly bring me back to those eerie early days of the pandemic, and how it felt to be isolated with my family in my own house, while sharing this musical experience with people on the other side of the country.

At the time, Julie was actually offering free play-alongs every day of the week, and twice on Sundays, and I started tuning in whenever I could. I emailed all of the regulars from my own ukulele group, and soon there they were on the Zoom with me. It was funny to be connected with them online via a program from Massachusetts, when we were all just miles away from each other in our houses in Pacifica, California, but it was so great to see and play with them again. As our libraries reopened for curbside pick-up and other services, I could only attend occasionally, but whenever I did, my regulars were still there, having a great time.

We recently booked Julie for a series of ukulele workshops for the San Mateo County Library system, and she has done a wonderful job of guiding our participants through all of the basics of playing: tuning, reading a chord chart, understanding tablature, basic chord progressions, and standard strumming patterns. Patrons can borrow ukuleles from our libraries so it was natural fit for our library system, and the response has been very enthusiastic. One participant wrote “Great opportunity to learn a musical instrument, and even better to be able to borrow one too! Fantastic.”

I don’t usually write plugs for performers, but I wanted to write a post about this program because I had never considered the benefits of teaching ukulele (or any other instrument) over Zoom. It really makes a lot of sense. One of the greatest hesitations many people have about taking music lessons (especially in a group setting), is having to perform or sing in front of others, but this format takes all of that stress away. Even a virtual play-along, like the ones that Julie still offers weekly out of libraries in Massachusetts and Connecticut, allows new players to learn at their own pace. They might start out only playing the C chords, and then add in others as they get more used to them, but they still get the thrill of playing and singing with a group, which is addictive!

If you’d like to check out one of Julie’s classes, either to learn ukulele yourself, attend a play-along, get an idea of how to lead music lessons online, or book her for a program, you can visit her web site at: https://calamine.com/ukulele She also has a YouTube video of Absolute Basics for ukulele, and some other tutorials.

Have you attended or hosted any virtual programs this past year that you thought were especially impactful? Please share them in the comments below.

Library Lessons from the Pandemic

Two staff members from the San Carlos Library demonstrating social distancing with book carts.

Yesterday, as I sat on the floor of our empty library, stuffing handfuls of pom-poms into paper bags to go out on our curbside table for Art Break Day, I found myself thinking back to the events of a year ago, when I first became aware that “the virus” was about to have a serious impact on my life, and my job.

At the time, we were just starting to cancel library programs with large audiences, like storytimes, along with visits to schools and preschools. Since those made up most of my job, that was already a shocking change, but then the whole world (or at least the whole Bay Area) shut down on March 13, and my whole profession was transformed almost overnight.

What is a Librarian Without a Library?

Although popular culture has librarians armed with angry shushing fingers, forever stationed at large wooden desks guarding giant rooms of books, for years the bulk of my job has taken place outside of the library building. Before the pandemic, I was visiting 11 to 12 preschool classes a month, to perform storytimes for kids who couldn’t ordinarily come to the ones at the branch. I also led book clubs at several different middle schools, and played and sang songs at a rehabilitation center for seniors, where one of my coworkers regularly brought books and movies for patients. My coworkers all performed similar outreach services, bringing library materials to our local Senior Center, leading science classes after school at the Boys and Girls club, and leading book clubs at the County juvenile hall. So having our library buildings closed due to the new health order was not as jarring as you might think.

What was jarring was not having books. Not physical ones anyway. While we had several wonderful e-book collections, including Overdrive, Axis 360, and Hoopla, a lot of our patrons had never used them. The library staff from all 12 of our branches were reorganized into different types of services, including live tech help (one-on-one appointments offered over Zoom), email reference, text reference, and a Customer Care line that operated like a call center, but over Zoom phone. The volume of calls, texts, and emails from all over the county was overwhelming at first, and the vast majority of questions were about how to access e-books, and e-audiobooks. This was especially challenging, given that there might be an issue with their library account (expired card, forgotten PIN), the particular e-book database (Overdrive, Hoopla, etc.), their device (smartphone, iPad, Kindle, PC), or their Internet.

For the first time, I had to learn how to use e-books for storytime, and how to read them on Zoom, which was another new challenge. But we quickly discovered that physical books did not show up as well on the camera as reading an e-book on Share Screen (one mom actually said that it was the first time her son had ever really been able to see the pictures in a book at storytime, since usually the kids sit several feet away). The problem was that searching through e-book collections for picture books is a whole lot slower than flipping through a stack of physical books. Plus, with everyone suddenly relying on our databases, it was also hard to find e-books that weren’t already checked out. I quickly came to love Hoopla, for the simple reason that everything on it is always available.

What is a Librarian Without Library Patrons?

What was even more jarring than not having books was not seeing people. Although books were what first drew me into my first library job in college, what has kept me in libraries are the human connections: talking to patrons about new books they enjoyed; helping people apply for jobs online; seeing parents who met at storytime sharing advice and tips on local preschools with other families; watching middle schoolers patiently teaching second graders how to play Super Smash Bros. at our Afterschool Hangout; singing with adults in our Ukulele Play-Alongs; hearing the kids at the preschools I visited yell “the libarium is here!” All of that was suddenly gone.

Helping with the new reference services helped some, especially talking to people on the Zoom phone, where sometimes I’d even take a call from one of our regulars. For the first time, I also got to know and (virtually) work with staff from all of the libraries in our system, which are scattered over a very large area. But pre-recording storytimes (which we relied on until we found ways to offer interactive programs for kids that didn’t violate COPPA rules) was depressing. I even started asking local families on Facebook if anyone wanted a shout-out for their kids in the video, just so I could feel like I was talking to actual kids instead of just my bedroom wall. (An unexpected plus was that over the summer my daughter started helping me with storytimes and other video programs, and we both had a wonderful time).

Once we did work out the legalities and technical challenges of offering virtual programs, they became an unexpected joy. Although I still miss my in-person storytimes and preschool visits, and can’t wait to get back to doing those, it’s been fun to have the chance to interact with kids in their own homes, where they delight in showing off their favorite toys or their pets. And I love my two virtual book clubs, which allow me to “meet” people from all over the Bay Area, and even outside of our county. Several of the adults in the ESL Book Club have said that they hope these types of programs continue, since several of them have young children or other commitments that make it hard to attend library programs in person. Many of them also regularly attend our weekly English Conversation Clubs, giving them the chance to practice their English and meet other people in a very low-pressure environment. In addition, our library system has been able to offer webinars featuring authors and illustrators we never could have afforded to bring to our libraries in person, and to open their presentations to audiences of 1,000 people (well beyond the capacity of any of our buildings).

The ability to offer interactive programs remotely also allows us to provide short, personalized experiences, like mock job interviews, personalized resume assistance, and personalized tech help, valuable experiences that people can easy fit into their schedules because they don’t have to leave home. We can also offer programs outside of our normal operating hours, like the High Low Movie Club, an 8pm program where patrons could watch either a “high brow” or “low brow” movie together online and share their thoughts. It’s been amazing to see all of the different experiences my coworkers from across our library system have used this new format to bring entertainment, interaction, and valuable life skills to our patrons.

Bridging the Digital Divide

Among the many disparities brought to light by the pandemic, the one that I felt most acutely in terms of my job was the tremendous gap in what services were available to people with high-speed Internet and computer access versus those without. For years, our libraries had been circulating laptop combos and Internet hotspots, which people could check out for a week at a time on a first-come, first-serve basis. But the public computers and laptops in our libraries buildings were still in constant demand, and many of our patrons relied on them for all of the services the world now expects you to access via the Internet. That includes job applications, forms to apply for government benefits, and even applications for low-income housing! Knowing we had only a limited supply of laptop combos and hotspots, our library administration decided to give the ones we had to local agencies who could hopefully get them into the hands of the families who needed them most, especially students.

But I still worried about our regular Internet patrons, who were now completely cut off. We tried to direct them to services offering Internet access at a reduced cost, but most of them had strict guidelines about who was eligible. In the meantime, with our buildings closed, and all of our services being announced online, we had no way of even communicating with many of our patrons to let them know when we started offering walk-up service, where they could ask for books and DVDs at the library door, or about the free lunches and snacks provided for low-income families at one of our libraries. Now, with most people relying on the Internet to find and schedule appointments to get the vaccine, it’s even clearer how much of an impact the digital divide can have on a person’s health.

The Future of Libraries

As our libraries prepare to reopen in person (possibly sometime in April), I can’t help but wonder what impact the past year will have on our services going forward. I hope that we can continue offering virtual programs, for people who aren’t able to come to the library in person, and to provide opportunities to “meet” authors and other presenters from around the world. But I also hope that eventually people who can visit our buildings will come back to rediscover the human connections and sense of community that I still miss from before the pandemic. And I hope our libraries can find new ways to help bridge the digital divide, both by offering more opportunities to borrow computers and hotspots, along with services to help them learn how to use them, but also by finding new and creative ways to reach people who may not know about our services, and bringing the library to them.

What have you learned from the past year, and what changes, if any, do you hope will continue? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Virtual Book Clubs (For Kids, and Adult ESL Learners)

This past year has brought unimaginable changes to almost every aspect of my job, especially library programs. Although the interactive virtual storytimes over Zoom at least allow me to see and hear the kids I’m reading to, it’s definitely not the same as being in the same room with them. I also miss my Family Book Club, comprised of a small group of kids in grades 3-5, along with their parents. We would meet once a month to discuss a book, while eating a snack related whatever we were reading (carrots for Anne of Green Gables, Lemon Jello for Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, etc).

But the switch to virtual programming has had a few bright spots. Lately, I’ve been working with another librarian on a virtual book club for kids in grades 3-5, and one wonderful feature of that is that I get to discuss books with kids from all over the county. I also was asked to help lead an ESL (English as a Second Language) book club for adults, and that has been an entirely new, but extremely rewarding adventure. Here’s a brief overview of both of those programs.

VIRTUAL BOOK CLUB FOR KIDS

As I mentioned above, the book club I’m involved in is for kids in grades 3-5. We meet once a month over Zoom to discuss a particular book.

Most of the books we are using are available on Hoopla (https://www.hoopladigital.com). I’m embarrassed to admit that I had never actually used Hoopla before the pandemic, and now it is my favorite library e-resource. The beauty of it is that, unlike our other e-book collections, everything is always available for checkout, so you don’t have to worry about not having enough copies. It’s also wonderfully easy to use, and offers a broad range of titles, including a large selection of graphic novels.

For our first book club meeting, we discussed From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks, a novel about a 12 year-old girl who receives a letter from her father in prison, and learns that he might be innocent. It’s a remarkable book that deftly touches on racial bias in the criminal justice system, but also highlights the efforts of the Innocence Project, offering hope for positive change. Although Zoe’s quest to discover the truth about her father’s conviction is the main focus of the book, Zoe herself is a relatable, multi-faceted character, who is trying to invent a recipe to audition for a kids’ baking show, navigate changing middle school friendships, and develop a relationship with the father she never knew. Our book discussion touched on all of these topics, although the kids’ favorite question was coming up with their own original cupcake recipe (one mom emailed me to say that her son had been reluctant to participate in the first meeting, but not only did he love the book, he was also inspired to bake his own cupcakes).

One beauty of meeting online is that it’s so easy to share other types of media, including an interview with the author, the Innocence Project web site, videos of the many songs referenced in the story, and a recipe for Froot Loop cupcakes. There are a lot of great resources on the author’s web site: http://www.janaemarks.com/, including discussion questions. And meeting over Zoom also gives shyer kids a chance to share their thoughts in the chat (although we ended up changing the chat settings so that all of their comments go only to me, which cut down on some of the chat hijinks).

Other books we are reading are The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger, Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo, and Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan.

It’s been exciting to discuss books with a whole new group of kids, and to hear about the books they are currently enjoying. If you have any questions about running a virtual book club, or any book recommendations, please let me know in the comments.

ESL BOOK CLUB FOR ADULTS

I have to admit, when I was asked to help with this program, I was a little intimidated, having no idea what to expect. The program had sprung out of an English Conversation Club that our library system had been offering for several months, and a lot of the initial planning was done by library staff who had been reassigned to other projects (part of the ever-changing landscape of this past year).

Unlike a regular book club, where you lead a discussion of a book everyone has read in advance, ESL Book Clubs usually involve reading the book aloud together. Choosing a book for this type of group is especially challenging. Luckily, one of my coworkers had come up with three “Rapid Reads” titles on Hoopla for our participants to vote on at our first meeting. They ended up choosing the book Tiny House, Big Fix by Gail Anderson-Dargatz, a short novel about a single mother facing eviction from her rental house, who decides to build a tiny house of her own.

We originally intended to meet every other week to see how things went, but have since moved to weekly meetings. So far, we usually have a small group (around 6 participants), which we divide into breakout rooms so everyone has more chances to read aloud. Our participants are all fairly fluent English speakers, who can follow the basic plot of the book without difficulty, but we stop after each page to discuss any questions about vocabulary or idioms. It’s often challenging to explain words and phrases on the spot, but I love these discussions, because they really bring home the craziness of the English language. In our first meeting, there were a number of questions about contractions, like I’d and we’d, and I ended up explaining that the words I’ll, isle, and aisle all mean completely different things, even though they sound exactly the same.

As with the kids’ book club, we have been using books available on Hoopla, which are easy to share on the screen during the meetings. Hoopla also allows you to adjust the size and style of the font, which makes it great for older readers, and also to click on individual words to see the definition.

After we finished the first book (Tiny House, Big Fix), I was hard-pressed to find something that would work as well for our group. I looked through lots of collections of short stories and essays, but the writing was usually too challenging. I did suggest the book War Dances by Sherman Alexie, a collection of short stories and poems, along with the children’s novel in verse, Inside Out and Back Again by Thannha Lai, and a Rapid Reads mystery called The Spider Bites by Medora Style. In the end though, the group voted to read another book by Gail Anderson-Dargatz called No Return Address, which one of the members raved about. We also had a member request that we read news articles, so I’m hoping to figure out a way to incorporate those into our meetings as well.

I actually wrote to Gail Dargatz-Anderson to let her know how much my group is enjoying her books. I told her that her novels were the perfect blend of a relatable story with a clear, readable text, and just enough common colloquialisms and modern lingo to challenge our participants and help them pick up new conversational phrases. She was grateful for the feedback, especially because books like Tiny House, Big Fix are part of a recent initiative in Canada to provide books for adult literacy learners that look and read like commercial bestsellers. She said they are a challenge to write, and I can see why!

Anyway, although I was nervous about taking on the responsibility of running the ESL Book Club, it’s one of my new favorite parts of my job. I am so impressed by the participants, who are already so much more fluent in English than I will ever be in another language, and who are brave enough to jump in and read aloud with strangers once a week, asking questions about the words they don’t know. It’s been humbling and inspiring, and I’ve learned a lot.

If you have any questions about running an ESL Book Club, or any tips or experiences you would like to share, I would love to read about them in the comments.

Virtual Thanksgiving Storytime

My coworker Angela and I had a fun Thanksgiving-themed Interactive storytime this morning, with families and two preschools logging in via Zoom. Here’s what we did:

Introduction:

We opened by talking about Thanksgiving, and sharing this funny list of things that kids are thankful for from the Huffington Post, which includes gas, ceiling fans, and “Mommy wiping my poop”: 21 Things Kids Are Thankful For That Will Make You Laugh by Hollis Miller.

OPENING SONG: Do As I’m Doing

As usual, we asked the kids to find a cloth of some kind to wave the first time we sang this song. Then we asked for suggestions to do for the next few times we sang it. We ended up jumping (always a favorite), twirling, saying “I Love You” in sign language, and smiling.

[C] Do as I’m doing, follow, follow [G7] me.

[C] Do as I’m doing, follow, [G7] follow [C] me.

[C] Follow, [G7] follow, [F] follow [C] me.

[F] Follow, [C] follow, [G7] follow [C] me.

Follow, [G7] follow, [F] follow [C] me,

[F] Follow, [C] follow, [G7] follow [C] me.

SONG: The Turkey Jerky

So many Thanksgiving books are about unfortunate turkeys trying to escape ending up on the dinner table. I do enjoy some of them, especially Sometimes It’s Turkey, Sometimes It’s Feathers by Lorna and Lecia Balian, but they are sometimes a bit depressing. This time, we mostly avoided the turkey theme, but I couldn’t resist including this song, because it’s so much fun.

(To the tune of The Hokey Pokey)

You put your right wing in,

You put your right wing out,

You put your right wing in,

And you shake it all about.

You do the turkey jerky and you turn yourself around.

That’s what it’s all about!

Repeat with your left wing, your right drumstick (right foot), left drumstick, waddle (your chin, or a cloth hanging from your chin), and tail feathers!

BOOK: Benjamin Bear Says Thank you by Claire Freedman, illustrated by Steve Smallman

Angela read this cute story about a bear who always forgets to say “thank you.” We showed the kids how to say “Thank you” in American Sign Language. This book is available through both Hoopla and Overdrive.

SONG: If You’re Happy and You Know It

We taught the kids the sign for Happy in American Sign Language. Then we sang the song, but added in different emotions. Angela had several paper plates with faces depicting different emotions on them, so she up a different one for each verse. We sang:

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands…

If you’re sad and you know it, cry “Boo hoo!”…

If you’re sleepy and you know it, yawn and stretch…

If you’re surprised and you know it, give a big gasp!…

If you’re angry and you know it, say “I’m mad!”…

If you’re happy and you know it, shout, “Hooray!”

BOOK: You Are My Happy by Hoda Kotb; illustrated by Suzie Mason

Short, sweet story with adorable illustrations, about a baby bear and his mother, sharing the things that make them happy. It made for a great read-aloud for toddlers and preschoolers because there were lots of opportunities for them to make the sign for Happy, as well as blowing kisses, giving themselves a hug, and other simple motions.

SONG: I Am Thankful

I couldn’t think of a good song for the theme, so I wrote this one. Feel free to use it however you like, or add in your own verses. We did it as a play-along, encouraging the kids to play whatever instruments or noisemakers they had on hand, or just clap or dance along.

[C] I am thankful for

The [F] colors that I see,

For [C] friends who play with me,

And for my [G7] loving family.


[C] I am thankful for [F] rainbows in the sky,

For the [C] taste of pumpkin pie,

And for a [G7] warm hug when I cry.


I’m thankful [F] for the sky above

I’m thankful [C] for the ones I love,

[D] My cozy bed at night,

And for [G] the summer sun so bright.

[C] I am thankful for the [F] monkeys at the zoo

But [C] most of all I’m [G7] thankful for [C] YOU!


[C] I am thankful for [F] bubbles in the air,

For a [C] cool breeze in my hair,

And for my [G7] snuggly teddy bear.

[C] I am thankful for [F] yummy things to eat,

For [C] ice cream cones so sweet,

And for a [G7] special birthday treat.


I’m thankful [F] for the sky above

I’m thankful [C] for the ones I love,

[D] My cozy bed at night,

And for [G] the summer sun so bright.

[C] I am thankful for the [F] monkeys at the zoo

But [C] most of all I’m [G7] thankful,

[C] I am so very [F] thankful!

[C] Most of all I’m [G7] thankful for [C] YOU!

CLOSING SONG: You Are My Sunshine by Jimmie Davis & Charles Mitchell (or possibly by Oliver Hood)

All in all it was a fun program! Some of kids held up favorite toys or books, and we talked about them here and there. One challenge with Zoom is that, while we muted the kids while we were reading or singing (because unfortunately music doesn’t sync well over Zoom), the kids can unmute themselves by hitting the space bar, which of course is the biggest button on the keyboard, so we did have to occasionally mute certain kids (even though they were adorable!). Luckily, we had another coworker, Kelly, managing the tech side of the program. Highly recommended if you have enough staff!

What are your favorite Thanksgiving books or songs? Please share them in the comments.

Storytime for National Native American Heritage Month

Last week, my coworker Angela and I did an Interactive Musical Storytime featuring books by and about Native Americans in honor of National Native American Heritage Month. While we were planning it, I checked with a friend of mine, Laverne Pilcher-Villalobos, who is a member of the Omaha tribe. As a school librarian, she is also a passionate advocate for accurate representation of Native Americans in children’s books. She has recently compiled this wonderful virtual library of books, curriculum, and web sites for students and teachers: November American Indian Heritage Month Virtual Library

As with all of our programs right now, the storytime was held over Zoom, with families registering in advance. Here is what we did:

OPENING SONG: Do As I’m Doing

This has been our regular opening song for our Interactive Storytimes. It’s great because it allows the kids to suggest actions they would like to do. As usual, we had asked them to find a cloth or blanket to wave around, so for one verse, we waved the cloths. We also did a couple of verses when we jumped up and down (always a favorite!), and one where we danced. Here are the lyrics and chords, and a link to video if you would like the tune:

[C] Do as I’m doing, follow, follow [G7] me.

[C] Do as I’m doing, follow, [G7] follow [C] me.

[C] Follow, [G7] follow, [F] follow [C] me.

[F] Follow, [C] follow, [G7] follow [C] me.

Follow, [G7] follow, [F] follow [C] me,

[F] Follow, [C] follow, [G7] follow [C] me.

After our opening song, we talked briefly about Native American Heritage Month. I had originally asked Laverne if she had any songs she would recommend, but she was concerned that sharing a song from any one tribe might give the audience the impression that it was representative of all tribes and tribal languages. She emphasized that there are 574 federally recognized tribes in the United States, each with their own distinct language and culture. Instead, she shared this video of representatives from different tribes saying “I Love You” in their language, so I played a short clip for the kids:

I also shared the map of historic tribal lands from Native-Land.ca, which is an excellent visual of the sheer number of different tribes who have lived, and are currently living, in the United States: https://native-land.ca/

SONG: If All the Raindrops Were Lemon drops and Gumdrops

Since our first book was about food, we set the tone with one of my favorite food songs. We had the kids throw their cloths in the air and let them fall like raindrops, and suggest different foods to sing about. We had pizza, and strawberries, and strawberries with ketchup (!). As I mention in this video, it’s one of the easiest songs to play on the ukulele, because you only use two chords (C and G7):

[C] If all the raindrops were [G7] lemon drops and [C] gum drops,

Oh, what a rain it would [G7] be.

[C] I’d stand out- [G7] side with my [C] mouth open [G7] wide,

[C] “Ah, Ah, Ah, [G7] Ah, Ah, Ah, [C] Ah, Ah, Ah, [G7] Ah!”

[C] If all the raindrops were [G7] lemon drops and [C] gum drops,

Oh, what a [G7] rain it would [C] be!

BOOK: Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Maillard; illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

We shared this ebook from Overdrive. Luckily, there were two copies available in library system, allowing both Angela and I to borrow one in case one of us lost our Internet connection (which happened before).

The book is a series of short sensory descriptions of a simple, but delicious food made and enjoyed by a number of different tribes, which also serves as a symbol of their adaptability and resilience. The author, Kevin Maillard, is a registered member of the Seminole Nation. This book was the perfect length for our audience (mostly toddlers and preschoolers), especially because it gives the kids the opportunity to mime the mixing, rolling, and flattening of the dough.

SONG: Five Days Old by Laurie Berkner

This is such a fun and lively song, and was a perfect segway for our next book:

[C] I’m sitting here, I’m [F] one day old, and [C] I’m sitting here I’m [F] two [G7] days [C] old.

[C] I’m sitting here, I’m [F] three days old, and [C] I’m sitting here I’m [F] four [G7] days [C] old.

[F] One [C] day, I’ll [F] be a [C] year, then [F] I’ll be [C] two, then [G7] three, then four.

[C] As for now I’m [F] sitting here, I’m [C] five days old and [F] no [G7] days [C] more!

I’m jumping up, I’m one day old…

I’m clapping my hands, I’m one day old…

I’m kicking my legs, I’m one day old…

Getting really tired, I’m one day old…

I’m jumping up, I’m one day old..

Book: First Laugh, Welcome Baby! By Rose Tahe and Nancy Bo Flood; illustrated by Jonathan Nelson

Angela read this sweet book (also available on Overdrive) honoring the First Laugh Celebration practiced by the Navajo (Diné) tribe. The story follows a family and all of their attempts to make their new baby laugh, so that he may be welcomed into the tribe. This is a wonderful book that portrays experiences all kids and families can relate to, while also demonstrating language and cultural elements unique to the Navajo.

SONG: Circle of the Sun by Sally Rogers

This was one of our two “play-along” songs, so we asked the kids to play something from around their house (pot lid and spoon, cereal box, etc.) or simply clap along. We also asked them for suggestions of things that children or babies might do for the first time. We had “Babies laugh their first laugh,” “Children all go dancing” and “Children all go jumping.” Here’s a recording of the original song:

[C] Babies are born in a circle of the sun,

Circle of the sun on their [G7] birthing [C] day.

[C] Babies are born in a circle of the sun,

Circle of the sun on their [G7] birthing [C] day.

CHORUS

[C] Clouds to the North, Clouds to the South,

[F] Wind and [C] rain to the [F] East and the [G7] West,

[C] Babies are born in a circle of the sun,

Circle of the sun on their [G7] birthing [C] day.

ENDING SONG: You Are My Sunshine by Jimmie Davis & Charles Mitchell (or possibly by Oliver Hood)

Incidentally, I noticed that Laverne Pilcher-Villalobos uses the term “American Indian” instead of “Native American,” and I asked her which term was preferred. Here’s what she said:

First, not all American Indians think alike and some don’t care how they are addressed or about stereotypes. However, those of us in the education or libraries do care and a lot. If someone mentions their native background to you, the best way to address them is by asking “what tribe or what nation are you from?” There are approximately 600 federally recognized tribes and each one has its own language and culture… To clump everyone together would be equivalent to saying “European” instead of Italian, Irish, Spanish, French, Swedish or what have you. Using Native American or American Indian is appropriate but the better way to use generic terms is using “Indigenous” to America.

Laverne Pilcher-Villalobos

Do you have favorite books by Native American authors? Please share them in the comments.

Click or Treat! Two Virtual Halloween Storytimes

Happy Halloween! Since my last post, my coworker Angela and I have done two more Interactive Musical Storytimes via Zoom. It’s been wonderful to see the kids again, even just on the computer, and we invited them to come in costume, which was adorable.

This time we did sign-ups with a Microsoft Form, instead of using the Zoom registration. This gave us a little more flexibility in the kinds of questions we could include, including a checkbox to acknowledge that the person registering was over 13 years of age, and that any kids under 13 would be accompanied by an adult. This has been our workaround for the COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) rules, which would otherwise prevent from doing any interactive programs for kids under 13. (Click here to see the form we used). The downside to this method was that I had to send participants the Zoom link over email, because unlike registering through Zoom, they wouldn’t receive an automated email confirmation when they filled out the form.

Like last time, we had a coworker managing the chat, and muting and unmuting the kids at different times. We mostly muted everyone during the songs and stories, and unmuted them to ask for suggestions at different points. The books we used were all from Open Library. We did have one major technical glitch in the middle of one of the books. Angela’s Internet suddenly went down, and since she was the one who had the book checked out, I had to improvise for a few minutes until she logged back in. After that, the book wouldn’t load for some reason, so she had to quickly return it, and have me check it out instead. Luckily, the crowd was very patient.

Here’s what we did:

STORYTIME 1: PUMPKINS

Intro: As usual, we asked the kids to find a piece of cloth to wave, and something to make noise with (drum, pot and spoon, etc). We took a few minutes to admire everyone’s costumes, and let them talk if they wanted to, and we explained how to switch from Gallery view (where they could see everyone) to Speaker view (where they could see Angela and I in a larger window). Zoom actually now lets you “spotlight” multiple speakers, which is supposed to make those speakers larger for everyone, but it doesn’t always seem to work.

OPENING SONG: Do As I’m Doing

We asked the kids for action ideas: spinning their cloth, throwing it in the air, jumping up and down, etc. Here are the chords and lyrics:

[C] Do as I’m doing, follow, follow [G7] me.

[C] Do as I’m doing, follow, [G7] follow [C] me.

[C] Follow, [G7] follow, [F] follow [C] me.

[F] Follow, [C] follow, [G7] follow [C] me.

Follow, [G7] follow, [F] follow [C] me,

[F] Follow, [C] follow, [G7] follow [C] me.

RHYME: Five Little Pumpkins

This is a classic Halloween rhyme that most of the kids already new. My daughter made me five paper pumpkins that I stuck on my fingers with tape.

Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate.

The first one said, “Oh my! It’s getting late!

The second one said, “There are witches in the air!”

The third one said, “But WE don’t care!”

The fourth one said, “Let’s run and run and run!” (run in place)

The five one said, “This is Halloween fun!”

Then, “OOOH” went the wind, and OUT (clap!) went the light!

And the five little pumpkins rolled (roll your hands) out of sight.

BOOK: The Pumpkin House by Roger Vaughan Carr; illustrated by Julie Davey: https://openlibrary.org/works/OL4794526W/The_Pumpkin_House?edition=pumpkinhouse00carr

An adorable story about a mouse who decides to carve herself out of a pumpkin, only to eat so much of the pumpkin that she soon outgrows it.

RHYME: Pumpkin Patch

I learned this rhyme from an Orth Music teacher years ago, so I don’t know who wrote it, but it’s a fun one to do with a group.

Pumpkin Patch, Pumpkin Patch,

Walking all around in my pumpkin patch.

Here is a pumpkin, nice and fat (spread arms wide),

Turns into a jack-o-lantern, just like that! (make a scary face!)

We did this one a few times, taking a minute or two to comment on all the scary faces on the screen. The kids loved it!

BOOK: This is NOT a Pumpkin by Bob Staake: https://openlibrary.org/books/OL8458611M/This_Is_NOT_a_Pumpkin

Cute, simple book with large illustrations which show something that clearly looks like a pumpkin, but turns out to be a Jack-O-Lantern.

SONG: Jack-O-Lantern

I loved this song as a child, although I have no idea where it came from. We had the kids play their homemade instruments while I sang and played on the ukulele.

[C] Jack-O-Lantern, Jack-O- [G7] Lantern, you are such a spooky [C]sight,

As you sit there in the window looking out [G7] at the [C] night.

You were once a pretty [G7] pumpkin, growing on a pretty [C] vine,

Now you are a Jack-O-Lantern, let your can- [G7] dlelight [C] shine.

ENDING SONG: You Are My Sunshine by Jimmie Davis & Charles Mitchell (or possibly by Oliver Hood)

STORYTIME 2: MONSTERS

OPENING SONG: Do As I’m Doing (see above)

RHYME: Five Little Monsters

Angela did this one with an adorable felt board of five little monsters, partially covered by a blanket.

Five little monsters sleeping in my bed,

One crawled out from under my spread.

I called to Mama (call “Mama!”)

And Mama said, “No more monsters sleeping in the bed!”

Four little monsters sleeping in my bed…

BOOK: Leonardo, the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems: https://archive.org/details/yourpalmowillems00will

You can’t go wrong with Mo Willems, so I’m grateful that he has given us a book perfect for Halloween. Leonardo is a terrible monster, who simply can’t scare anyone, until he meets Sam. Angela read the narration and Leonardo, and I got to do Sam’s long tearful rant.

SONG: We Are Scary Ghosts

I learned this song from an Orth Music curriculum, where it was originally called Scary Skeletons. We had the kids put their cloths over their heads to be ghosts, and sang it through a couple of times. Then we asked for other things to be. We were scary witches, monsters, vampires (with the cloth as a cape), bees, and pretty butterflies.

We are scary ghosts floating down the street,

Floating down the street,

Floating down the street.

We are scary ghosts floating down the street,

We’ll scare you…BOO! (pull the scarf off and yell, “BOO!”)

BOOK: Skeleton Hiccups by Margery Cuyler and S.D. Schindler: https://openlibrary.org/works/OL166479W/Skeleton_Hiccups?edition=skeletonhiccups00cuyl (There are two editions of this on Open Library)

Simple story about a skeleton with hiccups, and the hilarious way his friend Ghost finds to help him. Angela read the narration and I provided the hiccups all the way through.

SONG: On Halloween

Our first play-along song, where we asked the kids to pull out their drums or other noise-makers. We asked for suggestions of scary things they might find in the house. We had cats in the house saying, “Meow, Meow, Meow!”; spiders in the house going creep, creep, creep; monsters in the house going stomp, stomp, stomp; witches in the house saying “Hee, Hee, Hee!”; and children at the door saying “Trick or Treat!”

To the Tune of The Wheels on the Bus

[C]The ghosts in the house say, “Boo! Boo! Boo!”

[G7]“Boo! Boo! Boo! C] Boo! Boo! Boo!”

The ghosts in the house say “Boo! Boo! Boo!”

[G7]On Hallo- [C]ween!

ENDING SONG: You Are My Sunshine by Jimmie Davis & Charles Mitchell (or possibly by Oliver Hood)

Do you have favorite Halloween songs or books (either e-books or print ones)? Please share them in the comments.

The New Frontier: Interactive Virtual Storytimes

Last week, my coworker Angela and I performed our first “live” interactive virtual storytime via Zoom.

For the first time since March, we could actually see the kids and they could see us.

I was surprisingly nervous, even though prior to the shutdown, I used to regularly perform six or more live storytimes a week. But technology adds a whole new level of unpredictability. Now, on top of my recurring nightmare of being faced with a large crowd of toddlers with nothing to read but The Grapes of Wrath, I now had to worry about Zoom bombers, Internet outages, glitches with our ebook databases, and any number of other problems completely out of our control.

But thankfully the Internet gods were kind, and we had a wonderful coworker (Darren) managing all of the nitty gritty techical challenges of muting and unmuting, and monitoring the chat. We had a large and enthusiastic audience of kids, and we all had a blast.

Here’s how we did it:

In order to reduce the risk of Zoom bombers, and also to comply with COPPA (the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act), we required participants to register in advance, and verify that children under the age of 13 would be participating with an adult. Advertising went out over social media (Facebook and Instagram) a week in advance, although it was really the email newsletter that went out to our patrons that brought in the most sign-ups.

On the morning of the program, we logged on to our Zoom meeting about an hour in advance to make sure all of our ebooks were loading properly, run through songs, adjust the lighting, and gather props. We kept everyone in the Zoom waiting room until the program started, although I sent a message to them saying that they could rename themselves if they didn’t want their full name or their child’s full name on the screen.

Once we let the audience in to the meeting, we spent a few minutes explaining to the families how to mute and unmute, and how to set the Zoom meeting to Speaker view, so the kids could see me or Angela when we were talking. Mostly Darren managed muting throughout the storytime, which was a bit of a challenge, since muting everyone meant that Angela and I were temporarily muted too, but only for few seconds.

We also asked the kids to find some kind of cloth (dish towel, small blanket, wash cloth, etc.) and something to make noise with (paper cups, pots and pans, keys, etc.) to use in different parts of the storytime.

We kept the kids muted while we read the books and sang the songs, but we would unmute them in between. For many of the songs, we asked for suggestions of motions we could do, or animals to sing about. These were the books and songs we used:

Opening Song: Do As I’m Doing

This is a really simple action song, which worked well in the virtual setting. We asked the kids to suggest different motions (twirling, jumping, etc.), which they demonstrated on video. Some of the actions involved the cloth that we asked the kids to gather at the beginning (twirling the cloth, throwing it in the air, etc., basically the same kinds of things we used to do with play scarves in our regular storytimes). I played it on the ukulele, while Angela demonstrated the motions. Here are the chords and lyrics.

[C] Do as I’m doing, follow, follow [G7] me.

[C] Do as I’m doing, follow, [G7] follow [C] me.

[C] Follow, [G7] follow, [F] follow [C] me.

[F] Follow, [C] follow, [G7] follow [C] me.

Follow, [G7] follow, [F] follow [C] me,

[F] Follow, [C] follow, [G7] follow [C] me.

Song: If You’re Happy and You Know It

We added verses for different emotions: If you’re sad and you know it, cry boo-hoo!… If you’re angry and you know it, say “I’m mad!”… If you’re sleepy and you know it yawn and stretch… If you’re nervous and you know it, hide your face (we used the cloth, and then did a big “Peek-a-boo!” at the end of each line). Angela had paper plates with different faces (happy, sad, angry) on them that she held up at the beginning of each verse.

eBook: Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang; illustrated by Max Lang

When Jim Panzee, the monkey, wakes up in a bad mood, all of the other animals try to cheer him up. We read this one from Overdrive, using the Share Screen, so the kids could see the illustrations up close. Angela read the narration and the voice of Jim Panzee, and I did all the other animal voices. This is such a great book for 2020, when everyone feels a little grumpy sometimes. One mom emailed me later to say that her toddler retold the story to every member of their family, so I think it was a hit!

Song: Old McDonald Had a Farm

Angela had a bunch of puppets prepared to hold up, so we could sing about the different animals, but we didn’t end up needing them. The kids (adorably) were all eager to hold up their own stuffed animals, or suggest a favorite animal and the sound it made (unicorns apparently say “neigh!”). This ended up being one of my favorite parts of the storytime.

eBook: There is a Bird on Your Head by Mo Williems

Gerald the Elephant is unhappy when two birds build a nest on his head. This book is available for 1 Hour Borrowing from Open Library. Angela and I each read a character, and I held a bird stuffed animal on my head (in retrospect, I wish I had asked the kids to pretend their cloths were birds and had them put them on their heads). The simplicity and humor of these books make them perfect for almost any age group, and sharing the ebook on screen made it really easy for the kids to enjoy the illustrations.

Song: Five Little Ducks

There are LOTS of different versions of this song, but the tune I usually sing is the Raffi one). Angela had a Monkey Mitt with the 5 Little Ducks velcroed on, so she held it up while I sang and played the song on the ukulele.

Closing Song: You Are My Sunshine by Jimmie Davis & Charles Mitchell (or possibly by Oliver Hood)

We had unmuted the kids temporarily while we talked about this being our last song, but before we could mute them again, one little boy sang the whole song through all by himself and it was adorable! We asked the kids to play along on the noisemakers (pots and pans, etc.) that they gathered at the beginning of storytime. Angela and I always used to end our regular Musical Storytimes with this song, so it felt almost like old times.

REACTIONS AND TAKE-AWAYS

All in all, Angela and I felt that the storytime went really well. It was wonderful for us to actually see our audience, after months of performing pre-recorded storytimes in an empty room, and wonderful for the kids to see us and each other.

After the storytime, I emailed all of our participants with the registration link for the next Interactive Storytime (which was led by a different librarian). One mom emailed me back to say that in some ways she almost preferred this format to the live storytimes in the library. She said that sharing the ebooks on screen made it easier for her toddler to see the illsutrations and follow the story, and muting the kids during the story meant he wasn’t distracted by the usual noises of the audience. He also bragged to his older brother, who is doing At Home Learning, that he too got to be in a big class with lots of kids on Zoom.

This feedback made me wonder if there might be ways to incorporate some elements of virtual programming into in-person storytimes in the future. For example, I might try displaying the illustrations on a screen while I read from the physical book (so the kids still get the sense of how physical books “work”, but can still see the illustrations clearly. Or I might try to use more “big books,” although I have a hard time turning the pages. In any case, it’s definitely something I will be thinking about when I finally go back to doing in-person storytimes.

Have you performed or attended any virtual storytimes? If so, what worked well, or not so well, for you? Please share any thoughts in the comments.

Virtually Normal: Reinventing Storytime Online

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Photo from one of my favorite storytime families

Well, here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we are in our seventh week of Sheltering in Place, and my job has changed in ways I never imagined. Last week I did my first Virtual Storytime, goofing around in front of a webcam in the corner of my bedroom, with no way of knowing who was watching or what their reaction might be. I think I was more nervous than I was the first time I did a live storytime, even though I had been practicing with coworkers for several weeks. Here are a few things I’ve learned so far:

Virtual Storytime is much more tiring than live programs.  Usually when I do programs in the library, I feel energized by seeing the kids and parents singing along or enjoying the books. For this type of program, all of the energy has to come from you. Whenever I finish a virtual storytime, I’m left feeling both jittery and exhausted, and also with an unsettled feeling of not knowing how the program was received.

Anything and everything can go wrong. I think the scariest aspect of virtual programs is that so much is out of your control: your Internet can fail, software can crash, ebooks can refuse to load, the sound can be distorted, cats or kids can run through your programming space.  During my first virtual storytime, I somehow clicked on the cover page of the ebook I was reading in some magical way that opened a new tab with a .jpg of the cover. It took me what felt like hours (but was really only about two minutes) to figure out what had happened, and how to get back to the book.

After watching lots of other virtual programs lately though, I know that everyone is in the same boat, and in some ways it’s these kinds of unexpected, frustrating glitches that are the most humanizing and endearing.  It’s definitely not always easy to remember that in the moment. But I’m trying to make a habit of writing down a few song ideas and having a back-up book in case I run into problems with our ebook databases. For the other problems, I just have to be prepared to laugh them off and keep going.

Doing a trial run with a remote audience is key. Before I was given the green light to do my first virtual storytime, I had to do what felt like dozens of practices over Zoom in front of other library staff. This was hard for me, but it helped so much in terms of getting used to the technology, and identifying problems I never would have known about otherwise.

I learned that if I played my ukulele at my usual volume, Zoom would prioritize the strumming over the sound of my voice, making it hard for people to hear the words to the song. I learned that the lighting was better if I put the laptop next to my bedroom window, and that sounds like jiggling keys or tapping pan lids to demonstrate some homemade instrument options were painfully loud to my online audience.

The practices also taught me that ebooks showed up better on the screen than holding up physical picture books (where the illustrations sometimes looked washed out, or obscured by light glaring off the page), and that using F11 to make the pages full screen was helpful for hiding the tabs at top of my web browser, but sometimes made it harder to turn the pages when I was sharing my screen over Zoom. I’m incredibly grateful for all of the feedback I got from fellow librarians who took the time to watch my practices and give advice.

The needs of our storytime families have changed. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, especially after watching this webinar from Reaching Across Illinois Library System: https://www.railslibraries.info/events/181406.  In it, Ann Santori from Lincolnwood Library talks about the importance of having a purpose behind each of the songs or activities she does. One of the things she has been doing is creating a video series called Give Me a Break, featuring easy free play activities that parents can provide to keep their young children occupied, so that they can have a few minutes to do something for themselves. So now I’m trying to incorporate something similar into my virtual storytimes. In my most recent one, I took two minutes towards the end of the program to demonstrate Flower Painting, one of my favorite process art activities, where kids can squish flowers or leaves on paper to create natural paintings without the mess of using actual paint.  (Here’s a great description from No Time for Flash Cards).

The other thing to consider is that while our storytimes in the library provided parents and caregivers a chance to bond with their kids, I suspect many parents are using the virtual storytimes as a way to occupy their kids for a few minutes while they squeeze in a few uninterrupted minutes of work, or make dinner. So a lot of the cuddly, tickly, lapsit songs and rhymes I love probably won’t work for them right now.

I’m trying to focus instead on songs the kids can learn and sing and adapt for their own families (I talk about how, instead of singing about the people on the bus, they can sing about the people in their house, or the toys in their closet, etc.). I do also try to highlight our ebook collections and other resources families can use while the libraries are closed. And I try to find ways to incorporate things families have at home, to stand in for some of the things we use in storytime (wash cloths for play scarves, a cereal box for a shaker).

There are still ways to connect. The weirdest part of virtual programs is the isolated nature of them. As the weeks drag on, I miss my regular storytime families more and more, and it’s really hard to feel connected to them when I’m all alone with my laptop. But one nice thing about doing programs online is the ability to reach more and different people. Knowing my niece and nephew were watching my first storytime from Ohio, I used my last song, Freight Train by Elizabeth Cotten (with revised lyrics by Elizabeth Mitchell) to ride my imaginary train to their house. That gave me the idea of posting on one of our local parent Facebook groups to ask if anyone would like me to do a shout-out to their kids in an upcoming storytime. I’ve already gotten a few responses, both from regular and new families. It will make it much easier to stand in front of the web cam, imagining the kids’ surprise at hearing their own names, and thinking of some of my favorite families watching from home.

Those are just my preliminary thoughts, after a week of virtual storytimes. Please share any ideas, suggestions, experiences or questions you have about virtual programs in the comments.  In the meantime, stay safe (and sane!).