Sign of the Times: A Storytime for International Day of Sign Languages

Last Friday, September 23, was International Day of Sign Languages. I try to incorporate basic ASL signs (more, bird, thank you, etc.) into my storytimes when I can, because I know firsthand that they can be really helpful for families with young children. So I was happy to have the opportunity to highlight signing with kids.

A few weeks ago we were approached by one of our regular storytime parents who happens to be fluent in American Sign Language, and she offered to provide sign language translation whenever we liked. She helped us out today by signing along to the book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, which the kids found mesmerizing. She had also suggested sticking to one main sign for the audience to focus on, so we chose the word “bear.”

I started out by asking the kids to guess what animal I had in a paper bag, and giving them some clues (“It’s furry! It has claws! It growls!”). Once they guessed, I pulled out a teddy bear, and taught them the sign for bear. We repeated the sign whenever the word appeared in one of our songs or books.

Here’s what we did:


Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle

Coincidentally, last week was Banned Books Week, and I learned that this book was accidentally banned by the Texas Education Board in 2011, because they confused its author for another Bill Martin. As I mentioned above, we had a parent sign the entire book while I read it aloud. The kids enjoyed shouting out the colors and animals on each page, and joining in on the familiar rhyme.

The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Audrey Wood and Don Wood

The classic book about a little mouse who finds the perfect red, ripe, strawberry, only to be told (by a tricky narrator) that he needs to watch out for the Big Hungry Bear. The illustrations are absolutely stunning and hilarious, and we were lucky enough to have a big book version to read from, so that the kids could see them more clearly.

Thank You, Bear by Greg Foley

Adorable, simple book about a bear who finds a box. When he looks inside, he knows he has found the perfect gift for his friend, Mouse. But none of the other animals he meets think it’s anything special. Luckily, Mouse thinks the box, which turns out to be empty, is the perfect place to curl up and go to sleep. Claire held up an empty box as a prop, and we also taught the sign for thank you.

Rhymes & Songs:

Going on a Bear Hunt

This was one of my favorite activities as a kid. I ask the kids to repeat each line after me, and I really ham it up: pretending to have a grasshopper in my shirt, scraping mud off my shoes, shaking dry after the swim in the lake, and RUNNING away from the cave with the bear.

We’re going on a bear hunt!
(We’re going on a bear hunt!)
It’s a beautiful day!
(It’s a beautiful day!)
We’re not scared!
(We’re not scared!)

We’re coming to some grass.
(We’re coming to some grass).
Can’t go over it.
(Can’t go over it.)
Can’t go under it.
(Can’t go under it.)
Have to go through it.
(Have to go through it.)
Swish! Swish! Swish! Swish! (Rubbing hands together)

We’re coming to some mud.
(We’re coming to some mud.)
Can’t go over it.
(Can’t go over it.)
Can’t go under it.
(Can’t go under it.)
Have to go through it.
(Have to go through it).
Squilch! Squelch! Squilch! Squelch! (Clapping hands together).

We’re coming to a lake.
(We’re coming to a lake.)
Can’t go over it.
(Can’t go over it.)
Can’t go under it.
(Can’t go under it.)
Have to swim across it.
(Have to swim across it.)
Splish! Splash! Splish! Splash!

We’re coming to a cave.
(We’re coming to a cave.)
Can’t go over it.
(Can’t go over it.)
Can’t go under it.
(Can’t go under it.)
Have to go inside.
(Have to go inside.)
It’s dark in here…
(It’s dark in here…)
It’s cold in here…
(It’s cold in here…)
Two yellow eyes…it’s a bear!

Swim across the lake!
Run through the mud!
Run through the grass!
Into the house!
Slam the door!
Lock it!
We’re never going on a bear hunt again!

The Bears Go Marching In

The kids loved this variation of The Saints Go Marching In. We did lots of spinning, and jumping, and clapping.

[C] Oh, when the bears go marching in,

Oh, when the bears go marching [G7] in,

Oh, [C7] how I want to be in that [F] number,

When the [C] bears go [G7] marching [C] in!

Repeat with other actions, like:

Oh, when the bears go clapping in…

Oh, when the bears go stomping in… etc.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear

There are several versions of this song, but the tune I use is closest to the one in this video from Kiboomers. Claire held up my teddy bear to demonstrate the motions along with me.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear,

Turn around.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear,

Touch the ground.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear,

Tie your shoe.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear,

I love you!

I’m a Gummy Bear by Gummibär

I couldn’t resist doing this one, even though it is a terrible earworm. I just sang the English lyrics. Here’s a video of the Just Dance version (I apologize in advance for getting it stuck in your head!):

[Am] Oh I’m a gummy bear.
Yes I’m a [C] gummy bear.
Oh I’m a [G] yummy tummy funny lucky gummy [F] bear
I’m a [Am] jelly bear.
Cause I´m a [C] gummy bear.
Oh I’m a [G] movin’ groovin’ jammin’ singing [F] gummy bear.
Oh yeaoooh.

[Am] Ba Ba Bidubidubi Yum Yum,
[C] Ba Ba Bidubidubi Yum Yum,
[G] Ba Ba Bidubidubi Yum Yum,
[F] Three times you can bite me.

[Am] Ba Ba Bidubidubi Yum Yum,
[C] Ba Ba Bidubidubi Yum Yum,
[G] Ba Ba Bidubidubi Yum Yum,
[F] Three times you can bite me.

Stay & Play: Bear Masks

Full disclosure: the prep work for this project (cutting eye holes in the plates, and precutting noses and ears) was a bit of a pain. But it was totally worth it because the kids had such a great time wearing their masks and pretending to be bears! A couple of kids made dinosaurs instead. Lots of fun (and roaring and growling!) was had by all.

Other than the precutting, I just put out craft sticks, tape (for the craft sticks), glue sticks, and markers, so the project itself was fairly simple.

Happy International Day of Sign Languages!


You’re Welcome! A Storytime for Welcoming Week

This week, all of our libraries have been offering special storytimes for Welcoming Week, a week that celebrates welcoming people, especially immigrants, into our communities.

Here is what we did:


Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

All of our library storytimes featured either Dreamers or What Is a Refugee? by Elise Gravel. Dreamers tells the story of author-illustrator Yuyi Morales’ arrival in the United States with her infant son, and how, although she made many mistakes, she found wonder and acceptance at the public library. Some of the vocabulary was a little advanced for my audience of mostly toddlers, but the kids enjoyed the beautiful illustrations, which feature lots of colorful books, butterflies, and flowers. It also provided a good opportunity to explain the word “immigrant.” It’s a gorgeous book, and an inspirational story.

The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates; illustrated by Juniper Bates

This is a simple book about a friendly, red umbrella, which is magically large enough to provide shelter to absolutely anyone who needs it. It was the perfect metaphor for Welcoming Week. I introduced it by showing the kids an umbrella. I also shared the story of how once, as a visitor in Tokyo, Japan, my two young kids and I were out sight-seeing when we got caught in a sudden rainstorm. A man rushed up to me, and before I could even react, he put his umbrella in my hand and hurried away. I’ve always remembered that as a moment of remarkable kindness and generosity, and yes, welcome!

Ways to Welcome by Linda Ashmann; illustrated by Joey Chou

Sweet, colorful rhyming book about different ways to welcome people and animals, including gifts, food, friendly words, smiles, flowers, and more. We had given out play scarves for a rhyme before we read this one, and the kids enjoyed waving them or pretending they were the lost hat in one part of the book.


Put Your Finger in the Air

This is my regular opening song, but I thought I would include it in this post because we spent even more time than usual counting to three in different languages. I always ask for volunteers to share how they count to three, and it’s often amazing how many responses we get. Today we counted in Spanish, French, Ukrainian, Mandarin, Portuguese, and German.

Here’s a link to a version performed by Miss Nina, which uses different lyrics, but the same tune. These are the lyrics I use:

[C] Put your finger in the air, in the air,
Put your finger in the air, in the [G7] air,
Put your [C] finger in the air,
And now [F] hide it in your hair,
[C] Put your finger in the [G7] air, in the [C] air.

Put your finger on your nose…
And now see how long it grows!…(mime making your nose grow long, and then short again)

Put your finger on your knee…
And now can you count to three?…1,2,3 (uno, dos, tres; un, deux, trois, etc.)

Put your fingers all together, all together… (clap your hands in time to the beat)
We will all be friends forever!

These Are My Glasses by Laurie Berkner

The kids always love this song, and it worked really well as a follow-up to the book Dreamers. Here’s Laurie Berkner’s video with the tune and the motions:

The lyrics are:

These are my glasses,

This is my book.

I put on my glasses,

And open up my book.

Then I read, read, read,

And I look, look, look.

I put down my glasses and whoop! close up the book.

Making a Rain Storm

This is such a simple activity, but always fun, and it was a great follow-up to The Big Umbrella.  I ask the kids to copy what I’m doing in order to make a rainstorm.  First we rub our hands together, then click our tongues (to sound like drops of rain), then clap our hands, then slap our knees, then stomp our feet.  Finally I have them all stand up, and we all jump at the same time to make a thunderclap, and then we do all of the actions in reverse to make the rain “stop.” Claire added thunder effects by shaking a thunder tube

Down Come the Rain Drops

We handed out play scarves before we did this rhyme, which I got from Let’s Play Kids Music.

Down come the rain drops, SPLASH! SPLASH! SPLASH! (stamp feet on the splashes, or throw scarf in the air)

Let’s run for cover, DASH! DASH! DASH! (run in place)

Pitter patter, pitter patter, DRIP! DRIP! DROP! (clap hands or shake scarf in rhythm)

I’m under my umbrella till the raindrops STOP! (put up pretend umbrella, or hold scarf over your head)

No One Like You by Andrea Willis Muhoberac:

We did this song as our instrument play-along, after handing out the shakers. Here’s a recording we made years ago for a Musical Storytime CD we made to give out to families:

I like your [C] eyes.

I like your [F] nose.

I like your [G] mouth.

Your ears, your hands, your [C] toes.

I like your face.

It’s really [F] you.

I [Dm] like the things you say and [G] do.

There’s not a [F] single [G] soul

Who [C] sees the [Am] skies

The [G] way you see them.

Through your [C] eyes.

[F] And aren’t you [G] glad.

[E]You should be [Am] glad.

There’s [C] no one, [G] no one

Exactly like [C] you.

Stay & Play: Coffee Filter Umbrellas

To go along with the book The Big Umbrella, we made umbrellas out of coffee filters and pipe cleaners. Before the storytime, I cut the coffee filters in half and scalloped the edge to look like the base of an umbrella. I also cut the pipe cleaners in half.

For the Stay & Play, I put out blue cardstock, markers, dot markers, glue sticks, and Scotch tape for the pipe cleaners (for those who were having trouble getting the glue to hold). Kids always love using the dot markers!

For more about Welcoming Week, visit Welcoming America.

Favorite Read-Alouds for Second Grade

Every week during the school year, I read to all of the second grade classes at a local elementary school. It’s usually the highlight of my week. The kids are so happy to have a break from their normal routine, and they are old enough to point out aspects of the story or the illustrations that even I hadn’t noticed.

Stretches for Elementary School

I usually read for half an hour, so I try to build in a couple of easy activities to help the kids refocus between books. Here are two of my favorites, which I learned from a Library Explorers camp we offered two summers ago:

The Bubble

Tell the kids to close their eyes, and take a deep breath in, stretching their arms out to either side and then up over their heads. As they raise their arms, they should imagine a big bubble around their heads that is filled with their favorite color. When their arms are just above their heads, tell them to clap their hands together, and imagine the color spilling down all over them. Repeat two or three times.

The Elevator

Tell the kids to pretend they are an elevator inside a tall building. Squat down low to the ground (say “first floor”), then slowly stand up, announcing each “floor” of the building as you go. When you get to the tenth floor, stretch your arms up high, and stand on your tiptoes. Then call out different floor numbers at random, moving up or down to demonstrate each one. The kids always love rapid changes, like moving from the tenth floor to the first floor. If you have time, it’s really fun to have the kids take turns calling out the floor numbers (in the camp, the kids loved to come up with challenging floor numbers, like “negative fifth floor” or “one millionth floor”).

The Rollercoaster

This one isn’t a stretch, but it is a nice mindfulness activity to help the kids refocus. You start by asking the kids to hold out their left hands, and tell them you are going to make a little rollercoaster for your index finger. Then you demonstrate running your right index finger up the right side of your left thumb while breathing in. When your finger reaches the tip of your thumb, you hold your breath and count to three. Then breathe out while running your index finger down the left side of your thumb.

Repeat for each finger of your left hand, breathing in each time you run your index finger up the right side, holding your breath for three counts (or longer if you like), then breathing out as your run your index finger down the left side. If you want to extend the activity, you can switch hands.

Favorite Books to Read-Aloud

This week was my first time reading to this particular second grade, so I started with some of my all-time favorite picture books for that age group. I’ll add more of my favorites to this list throughout the year, so watch for updates.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

Hilarious story about a T-Rex named Penelope who discovers that it’s hard to make new friends at school, because she keeps eating her classmates (luckily, the teacher always makes her spit them out). But when she tries to befriend the class goldfish, she learns firsthand what it’s like when someone tries to eat you.

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett; illustrated by Jon Klassen

This story about Annabelle and her magical box of yarn always holds the kids spellbound. They also love the illustrations, especially as Annabelle’s sweaters gradually cover everything in the town.

Claude, the White Alligator by Emma Bland Smith; illustrated by Jennifer Potter

This book always generates lots of excitement in our area, because many of the kids have seen Claude in person at the California Academy of Sciences. Even if they haven’t, they are usually excited to learn that the story is true, and to see the photograph of Claude at the end. I often use this book to discuss the difference between fiction and nonfiction, and to introduce the idea of a biography. If you aren’t familiar with Claude, he is an albino alligator, who lived in a zoo in Florida before being moved to the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. The book describes how the biologists originally tried putting him with another alligator named Bonnie, but she bit Claude so badly that he lost his pinkie toe. But afterwards, he made friends with the five snapping turtles who share his enclosure.

The Book With No Pictures by B. J. Novak

If I had to name one surefire hit to read to an elementary school class, it would be this one, which always gets the whole class laughing hysterically, and begging for me to read it again. As the book explains, even though it may seem like no fun having someone read you a book with no pictures, the rules of reading mean that whatever the book says, the person reading the book has to say. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Guess Again by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex

Second graders are the perfect audience for this book, which asks the kids to guess the answer to a rhyming riddle, accompanied by the silhouette of the person or thing in question. At first, the riddles seem so easy that even a preschooler could guess them, but the answers are always surprising, and hilarious!

Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein

This one is so much fun to read aloud, especially if you like to do different voices for the characters. It’s bedtime for the Little Red Chicken, but every time Papa tries to read her a classic fairytale, like Hansel and Gretel, she interrupts the story to give it a better ending. The kids always laugh when the little chicken says, “I’ll be good!”

What About Worms by Ryan T. Higgins

Most of the second graders are very familiar with the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems. So I like to share some of the Elephant and Piggie Like Reading books, which are written by other popular authors. In this one, a tiger explains that he’s not afraid of anything…except WORMS! In fact, his fear of worms leads him to break a flower pot, throw away an apple, and leave a book on the ground that looks like it might be about worms (but is really about tigers!). This one always gets big laughs.

Sun: One in a Billion by Stacy McAnulty; illustrated by Stevie Lewis

This is the second book in the Our Universe nonfiction series. In it, the Sun provides facts about himself, using kid friendly analogies and descriptions, and large, bright illustrations. This generated a lot of discussion about why Pluto isn’t a planet any more, and other bits of space trivia that the kids were eager to share.

Stay tuned for more favorite read-alouds for second grade. In the meantime, please share any of your favorites in the comments below.

Misunderstood Shark by Ame Dyckman; illustrated by Scott Magoon

When Bob the jellyfish and his crew of squid film a television special about sharks, they are shocked when Shark appears to be about to eat a fish “in front of the people!” But, Shark says, they misunderstood, he was only showing the fish his new tooth. Several other “misunderstandings” occur, including a group of beachgoers running from the beach thinking Shark is planning to eat them. But, Bob says, “you are far more likely to be bitten by another person than bitten by a shark.” I love the way this book folds facts about sharks seamlessly into the story, and the kids always laugh at Shark’s explanations.

Earth: My First 4.54 Billion Years by Stacy McAnulty; illustrated by David Litchfield

Like Sun! One in a Billion, this conversational picture book with simple facts about the Earth generated lots of questions and comments, especially about dinosaurs and how the continents split apart. I love the timeline of Earth’s history, and the subtle environmental message at the end, followed by a hopeful message. This series does such a great job of conveying basic information in a fun, readable, kid-friendly way.

King and Kayla and the Case of the Missing Dog Treats by Dori Hillestad Butler; illustrated by Nancy Meyers

I love to introduce second graders to beginning chapter books and series they may not be familiar with, and I always have fun reading this one aloud. In this mystery, King, the dog, is upset when Kayla assumes that he ate three of the freshly baked peanut butter dog treats that she made for her friend Jillian’s new puppy, Thor. Luckily, Kayla figures out that it couldn’t have been King because his breath doesn’t smell like peanut butter. But who did take the treats? And why does King smell an intruder in the house? The kids love the way King declares everything he eats to be “my favorite food!”

Rabbit’s Snow Dance by Joseph and James Bruchac; illustrated by Jeff Newman

One of my favorite types of books to share and talk about with second graders are folk tales. We discuss how folk tales are stories that are so old that no one knows who originally created them, and how people create their own versions over time. In this fun retelling of an Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) folk tale, Rabbit decides to make it snow in the summertime by playing his magic drum, and singing his snow song. The kids love to join in on the chanting and singing.

Child’s Play: A Storytime about Toys

Today at the park, we did a storytime about stuffed animals and other toys, which ended up being a lot of fun.

Here’s what we did:


Three Grumpy Trucks by Todd Tarpley; illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees

I love a picture book with lots of sound effects for the kids to join in on. This one offers lots of opportunities to “Whirrr!” and “Chomp!” A rhyming story about three toy trucks who are too busy to go home, and keep asking to stay a few minutes more. Both the kids and the grown-ups could relate to the story, and the colorful illustrations are adorable.

Where’s My Teddy? by Jez Alborough

This is an old favorite of mine, about a boy searching for his lost teddy bear in the woods, who stumbles upon a giant teddy bear…and its even bigger owner!

Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems

The classic story about a toddler’s efforts to tell her father about her missing stuffed animal. This book is so much fun to read, and always a hit with both kids and their parents.


Construction Song

I found this song on Step By Step Childcare, and it made a great follow-up to Three Grumpy Trucks. It’s to the tune of The Farmer in the Dell:

The backhoe scoops the dirt,

The backhoe scoops the dirt,

Hey-ho, look at them go!

The backhoe scoops the dirt.

The crane goes up and down…

The cement mixer stirs…

The dump truck bumps away…

The Jack-in-the-Box

Since we were doing a toy theme, I brought a Jack-in-the-Box to show the kids. It was hilarious to see the kids’ expressions whenever the toy popped out. I followed it up with this song:

The Jack-in-the-Box jumps up (squat down and then jump up)

The Jack-in-the-Box goes flop (lean over)

The Jack-in-the-Box goes round and round (spin around in circle, or move your arms in a circle)

The lid comes down with a PLOP. (crouch down and clap hands)

Here’s a video of a slightly different version of the song from Maple Leaf Learning:

The Bears Go Marching In

Fun variation of The Saints Go Marching In:

[C] Oh, when the bears go marching in,

Oh, when the bears go marching [G7] in,

Oh, [C7] how I want to be in that [F] number,

When the [C] bears go [G7] marching [C] in!

Repeat with other actions, like:

Oh, when the bears go clapping in…

Oh, when the bears go stomping in… etc.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear

There are LOTS of different versions of this song, but the tune I use is closest to the one in this video from Kiboomers:

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear,

Turn around.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear,

Touch the ground.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear,

Tie your shoe.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear,

I love you!

Teddy Bear’s Picnic

This is great song by John Walter Bratton, with lyrics by Jimmy Kennedy.  The best ukulele version I’ve found is on Doctor Uke (  My favorite cover of it by far is this slightly creepy one by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman, which you can listen to here: 

Stay & Play: Teddy Bear Collage

For this simple craft, I printed out a blank teddy bear template on card stock, and cut up pieces of colored tissue paper. For the Stay & Play, I put out plates of tissue paper pieces, along with markers, Googly Eyes, pom-poms, and glue sticks. It was fun to see the variety of bears they created.

What are your favorite picture books about toys? Please share them in the comments below.