‘Tis the Season: A Holiday Storytime

We’ve often cancelled storytime the last two weeks of December, but this year, we decided to keep it going. I’m always a little conflicted about how to approach the holidays. My storytime audiences include families from all different backgrounds, and while I want to acknowledge Christmas and Hanukkah for those who celebrate, I also want to be mindful of those who don’t, so those kids don’t end up feeling excluded. Also, it’s not always easy to find good holiday books (for any major holiday) that work well for very young kids. In the end, I decided to focus on the shared experiences of the holidays (decorations, food, gifts, and families), while sharing a Hanukkah song and a Christmas story.

Here’s what we did:

Books:

The Joyful Book by Todd Parr

I was so happy to discover this book, which does a wonderful job of describing all of the things people enjoying doing during the holidays, no matter which holiday they celebrate: storytelling, being with family, etc. Every page describes something that is “joyful,” like “Lighting candles is joyful,” “Playing outside is joyful,” etc. It includes imagery from Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa, as well as the Lunar New Year, and we talked a little bit about those traditions as we read. I told the kids to cheer and clap whenever I said the word “Joyful,” and they got really into it. Plus, I always love Todd Parr’s bright, colorful, whimsical illustrations.

Llama Llama, Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney

Part of the adorable, rhyming Llama Llama series, this book captures the frustration of waiting for the holidays to come, while everyone is busy shopping, baking, and decorating. It describes Christmas and Hanukkah traditions like gingerbread cookies, latkes, dreidels, and Christmas lights. Plus, it’s a sweet reminder for families to slow down and enjoy being together. The ending got lots of “Awwww’s.”

Merry Christmas, Big Hungry Bear by Don & Audrey Wood

In this sequel to the Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, & the Big Hungry Bear, the little mouse is happily preparing for Christmas, when the narrator reminds him about the Big Hungry Bear, who loves Christmas presents more than anything, but never gets any. The mouse goes from being scared of the bear taking his presents, to feeling sorry for the bear, and trekking through the snow to leave a present outside the bear’s cave. Much to his surprise, the bear has left a present for him too. This book got lots of “Awww’s” at the end too.

Songs:

If You’re Joyful and You Know It

We did this version of If You’re Happy and You Know It as a follow-up to The Joyful Book:

[C] If you’re joyful and you know it, clap your [G7] hands (clap, clap)

If you’re joyful and you know it, clap your [C] hands (clap, clap)

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

If you’re [G7] joyful and you know it, clap your [C] hands! (clap, clap)

If you’re joyful and you know it, do a dance…

If you’re joyful and you know it, spin around…

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

I Have a Little Dreidel

For my preschool visits this month, I’ve been reading (or singing) the book I Have a Little Dreidel by Maxie Baum, which does a wonderful job of describing the celebration of Hanukkah using the classic Dreidel song. But someone asked to check out my copy of the book after Toddler Storytime yesterday, so I reluctantly let it go. Instead, I held up a paper dreidel and explained a little about how the game is played. Then we sang the song, and spun around like dreidels during the Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel part. We also fell down on the word “drop,” which the kids liked a lot. Here’s a Kiboomers video of the song, in case you don’t know the tune.

I have a little dreidel,

I made it out of clay.

And when it’s dry and ready,

Then dreidel I shall play.

Oh, Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel, (spin around)

I made it out of clay,

Oh, Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel,

With dreidel I shall play!

It has a lovely body,

With leg so short and thin.

Oh, Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel,

It DROPS and then I win! (drop to the ground)

Oh, Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel, (spin around)

With leg so short and thin,

Oh, Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel,

It DROPS and then I win! (drop to the ground)

In the Holidays

A holiday version of The Wheels on the Bus:

The lights on the house go blink, blink, blink, (open and close your hands)

Blink, blink, blink,

Blink, blink, blink,

The lights on the house, go blink, blink, blink,

In the holidays!

The candles in the house go flicker, flicker, flicker… (wiggle your fingers)

The presents in the house go rattle, rattle, rattle… (shake an imaginary present)…

The children in the house say, “Yay! Yay! Yay!”…

Jingle Bells by James Lord Pierpont

We sang this as our instrument play-along at the end:

[C] Dashing through the snow,
In a one-horse open [F] sleigh,
[Dm] O’er the fields we [G7] go,
Laughing all the [C] way.
[C] Bells on bobtails ring,
Making spirits[F] bright,
What [Dm] fun it is to [G] ride and sing
A [G7] sleighing song [C] tonight!

Oh! [C] Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle [F] all the [C] way.
[F] Oh! What fun it [C] is to ride
In a [D7] one-horse open [G7] sleigh, hey!
[C] Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle [F] all the [C] way.
Oh! [F] What fun it [C] is to ride
In a [G7] one-horse open [C] sleigh!

Stay & Play: Jingle Bell Bracelets

I had originally planned to do a paper box craft, where the kids could decorate a paper box template and then assemble the box with gluesticks. I was going to give them each a jingle bell to put inside the box. But I was afraid that the box assembly might be too complicated, so I decided to just have them make jingle bell bracelets instead.

I put out pipe cleaners, jingle bells, and also some red string with scissors, so they had a choice of what to string their bells on. I was worried that this might not give them much of an opportunity to be creative, but they all made different things: necklaces, bracelets, and even crowns. They were all different, and they were soon making jingle bell jewelry for other family members, and taking materials home to make more.

Happy Holidays! If you have favorite holiday books, please share them in the comments below.

Monkeying Around: A Storytime About Monkeys

Among the little known celebrations I’ve discovered while trying to come up with themes for storytime is World Monkey Day, a celebration of all things monkey on December 14. So today we did stories and songs about monkeys. Here’s what we did:

Books:

Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

This is a longer story than I typically read for my toddler-heavy storytime crowd, but it worked because of all of the motions. It’s a classic story about a peddler, who takes a nap under a tree, and wakes to find that all of his caps have been stolen by monkeys. At this point I asked the kids if they were ready to be monkeys, and had them act out all of the monkey motions: shaking one fist, shaking both hands, stamping one foot, etc., all while saying “tsz tsz tsz!” They loved it! Sometimes I’ve done this one with play scarves, and had the kids pretend the scarves were caps.

Count the Monkeys by Mac Barnett and Kevin Cornell

Another fun, interactive book, with large colorful illustrations. In this one, the narrator is ready to count the monkeys, but they keep getting scared away by different animals: one king cobra, two mongooses, etc. The kids are asked to help out by yelling, “scram!”, moving their hands in a zig-zag, and other silly motions. The asides (like wondering about the plural of mongoose) are hilarious. Always a hit!

Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett

This simple rhyming book was one of my daughter’s absolute favorites as a toddler. The repeated chant goes “Monkey and me, Monkey and me, Monkey and me, we went to see, we went to see some…” and then reveals a different animal (penguins, kangaroos, bats, elephants, etc.). The kids loved shouting out the different animals each time.

Songs:

Monkey See and Monkey Do

I don’t remember where I learned this song, but it’s one I’ve been doing for years.

When you clap, clap, clap your hands,

The monkey clap, clap, claps his hands,

Monkey see, and monkey do,

The monkey does the same as you!

Repeat with other motions: when you jump up and down; make a funny face; turn yourself around; and sit back on the ground.

No More Monkeys by Asheba

Claire held up the Monkey Mitt, while I sang this joyful adaptation of the traditional Five Little Monkeys rhyme by Caribbean singer-songwriter Asheba.

Here’s a video of Asheba’s version:

[C] Five monkeys were playing on the bed.
One fell off and bumped his [G7] head.
Mama called the doctor, and [F] the doctor said,
[C] “No more monkeys [G7] jumping on the [C] bed!”

[C] “No more monkeys jumping on the bed!
No more monkeys [G7] jumping on the bed!
[C] No more monkeys [F] jumping on the bed!”
[C] That is what the [G7] doctor [C] said.

Four monkeys were jumping on the bed…

(Repeat, counting down to one…)

One monkey was playing on the bed,
She fell off and bumped her head.
Mama called the children, and the children said,
“YES! More monkeys jumping on the bed!”

“Yes! More monkeys jumping on the bed!
Yes! More monkeys jumping on the bed!
Yes! More monkeys jumping on the bed!”
That is what the children said.

Going to the Zoo by Tom Paxton

We did this song as our instrument play-along at the end. Here’s the tune:

Daddy’s taking us to the zoo tomorrow (C)
Zoo tomorrow, Zoo tomorrow. (G7)
Daddy’s taking us to the zoo tomorrow, (C)
And we can stay all day. (C  G7)

CHORUS:
We’re going to the zoo, zoo, zoo!  (F)
How about you, you, you? (C)
You can come too, too, too! (G7)
We’re going to the zoo, zoo, zoo! (C G7 C)

See the elephants with the long trunk swinging,
Great big ears and a long trunk swinging.
Snuffing up peanuts with the long trunk swinging,
And we can stay all day!

CHORUS

See all the monkeys, they’re scritch, scritch, scratchin’.
Jumping all around and scritch, scritch, scratchin’.
Hanging by the long tails scritch, scritch, scratchin’,
And we can stay all day!

CHORUS

Well, we stayed all day, and I’m getting sleepy,
Sitting in the car getting sleep, sleep, sleepy.
Home already and I’m sleep, sleep, sleepy,
‘Cause we have stayed all day!

We’ve been to the zoo, zoo, zoo!
So have you, you, you!
You came too, too, too!
We’ve been to the zoo, zoo, zoo!

But Mommy’s taking us to the zoo tomorrow
Zoo tomorrow, Zoo tomorrow.
Mommy’s taking us to the zoo tomorrow,
And we can stay all day!

CHORUS

Stay & Play: Jungle Collage

This was a really simple activity, but the kids got really into it. I printed and cut out pictures of two different types of monkeys: an emperor tamarin and a macaque. For the Stay & Play, I put out green card stock, glue sticks, the monkey pictures, markers, and some leaves and small plants (mostly oxalis) from my yard.

The kids enjoyed gluing the monkey pictures to the paper, and then sticking the plants around and on top of them to make a kind of jungle scene, and decorating with markers. As a funny aside, I mentioned that the emperor tamarin is one of my very favorite animals, and I used to love watching them at the San Francisco Zoo. And then one of the Moms said that she used to work with the emperor tamarins there, before they got rid of that exhibit a few years ago. I was so excited to talk to her about them, especially since she said they were a lot of fun to work with.

What are your favorite books and songs about monkeys? Please share them in the comments below.

By the Book: What Are Libraries For?

On Wednesday afternoon, I arrived at work to see a rare sight: actual high school students hanging out in the library. Lately, we’ve been getting a regular group of middle school boys, who like to play Roblox games on our laptops, but sometimes settle in for a game of Monopoly from our board game collection.  They were at the library too that day, along with several elementary school kids, who had come to do a painting project we were hosting in our Community Room. There were families with toddlers and preschoolers browsing for books in the picture book area, and our regular older adults using the Internet on our computers. There were even several adults in their twenties or thirties who came in to check out books and use the copier.

After the pandemic had left our building mostly empty for several months after we reopened, I was thrilled to see the whole place full of people of all different ages, all coming to the library for different reasons. So, when a man came up to the desk to complain about the library becoming “a hangout for kids,” it was like being doused with a bucket of ice water.

Not that this complaint was anything new. My coworkers and I have often been confronted by people who have a very specific idea of what libraries should be: silent mausoleums of books overseen by somber, shushing librarians.

I get it. For someone who looks to the library as a quiet place to study and read, it can be upsetting to be distracted by middle schoolers joking around at a nearby table. But the reality is that very few of the people we serve have the time to sit and read during the day. And some of the people who hold this unchanged vision of libraries are the ones who don’t value them at all, like the man who posted on our local NextDoor years ago, arguing that our town didn’t need a new library because “you can buy all of your books on Amazon.”

Adapt or Die

Although the two library branches I work in are older one-room buildings designed largely around shelving for books, most of the newer libraries in our system have been designed to provide separate spaces for different needs: computer rooms, study rooms, teen areas, maker spaces, children’s rooms, etc. But it can be hard to convince people why these changes are necessary.

In spite of the fixed view of libraries and librarians that still appear in TV shows and movies, libraries have always had to adapt to the times. In all of my years working in different libraries, I’ve never once been asked for a scroll or a cuneiform tablet. I can’t help but wonder if there was an uproar when the first newfangled paper books appeared on library shelves.

Over the past few decades, libraries have had to cope with an astounding number of changes in media, going from vinyl records to cassette tapes to CDs, and from VHS tapes to DVDs, and all of it giving way to digital music, videos, and books, most of which can now be accessed from anywhere on a computer or smartphone with your library card. This digital revolution sometimes raises the question of why we need the actual library buildings at all, but it has come at the cost of leaving a lot of people behind.

Bridging the Digital Divide

Even though my main focus has always been on youth services, a lot of my time at work is spent helping people who don’t have the training or resources to deal with a world that is moving more and more online by the day. Recently, one of my regular patrons, a woman in her eighties, asked for my help setting up a Venmo account. The craft fair that she has always participated in as a vendor was suddenly telling everyone they needed to offer mobile payment options. When she told the organizer that she wasn’t familiar with those, she was told, “Maybe you should stay home.”

To people who use a smartphone everyday, learning to use Venmo may seem easy, but for this patron, it was a huge ordeal. In order to be able to access the money she hoped to get from the sale, she had to connect her bank account to her new Venmo account. But she had never used online banking, so she didn’t have a login to easily make the connection. I helped her set up her bank login, but it still wouldn’t connect to Venmo, because the bank used multifactor authentication (that annoying business with the one-time codes sent to your phone). Instead she had to enter her account info into Venmo and then wait a day or two to watch for two small deposits, (so actually the online banking login came in handy after all). After we finally got through all of that, I helped her learn to send and receive payments, and print out her QR code for people to scan at the sale. She was persistent and eager to learn, but the whole process was just another reminder of how wide the digital divide has become, and how each new innovation assumes that everyone has already adapted to the ones that came before.

Providing computer help and training takes a lot of time and patience, but I consider it one of the most important parts of my job, and so do my coworkers. To me it’s no different from helping someone find a book or article on a particular topic. They need information to help them with a problem, and we have the training and resources to help them. And unless you have tech-savvy friends or family, there are very few options for people who are faced with a task that requires a daunting online process they’ve never dealt with before.

Aside from tech help, our libraries also provide free access to computers, printers, copiers, scanners and the Internet, all of which are in constant use throughout the day. We also offer 3D Printing, which has become hugely popular. Some of our newer libraries have makerspaces with laser cutters, recording equipment, and sewing machines. Again, some people would argue that this is getting away from their idyllic book-focused vision of the library, but these spaces are offering free access to the media tools of the day, which has always been the main purpose of libraries.

Books Are Still Important

With all of this focus on new technologies, it may sound like I’m saying that books no longer matter, which is absolutely not the case. I became a librarian because I loved helping people find books, and encouraging kids to love reading is still my favorite part of the job. It’s also tremendously important. Numerous studies have shown that kids who are read to regularly in early childhood are more likely to develop language and cognitive skills that will help them be successful in school later on. But books, especially picture books, are expensive. So providing free access to books for kids of all ages and reading levels is still, and hopefully will always be, an essential part of the library.

And, in spite of all the doom and gloom about Americans not reading books, I still see a lot of adults enthusiastically checking out books every day. We also offer book clubs, which have always been popular, and a great way to bring people with different viewpoints together for a friendly discussion (something that’s increasingly rare in our polarized society).

Community Spaces

The other need that libraries serve is providing a space that’s free and welcoming to everyone, and helps build a sense of belonging to a community. Libraries have always offered events and programs to bring people together, whether it’s for a musical performance, a painting workshop, or an author talk, and spaces for local groups to get together. After the pandemic, which left many people even more isolated than before, this has become even more essential.

Balancing the Needs of our Communities

One of the biggest challenges libraries face is providing space and resources for everyone, no matter what their personal beliefs, age, or background. There have always been people who have tried to dictate what types of books their libraries should or should not offer, something that has recently come to a head in a lot of communities. We also run into people, like the man I mentioned above, who feel that certain types of people, like kids, or people experiencing homelessness, should not be allowed in the library. Some of the hardest situations are when library patrons get into disputes with each other (we once had an actual fist fight in the nonfiction section). With all of the different types of people and needs that we serve, it’s also hard to know what to prioritize in terms of staff time and resources.

Being a shared space for everyone can make working in the library unpredictable in ways that can be stressful and contentious. But it’s that same unpredictability that also makes the job so refreshing and rewarding. It’s a constantly shifting landscape of people and services, and that’s one of the reasons that I love it.

As for the grumpy man complaining about the kids, I told him that usually the library is very quiet before 3pm and after 5pm, and that seemed to appease him. Another unspoken function of the library: helping people learn to share.

Rockin’ Robin: A Storytime About Birds

It was a wet and chilly day today, and I wasn’t sure anyone would come to Outdoor Musical Storytime, but a few brave families ventured out (some of them said the kids were getting stir crazy indoors). I had just learned about the Christmas Bird Count, which the Audubon Society runs from December 14 to January 5, so I did a storytime about birds.

Most of my storytime participants are too young to take part in the Bird Count itself, but I found out that the Golden Gate Audubon Society allows people to register as Feeder Watchers (by registering for one of their Bird Count events, and putting Feeder Watcher in the comments field). I handed out information about how to participate, along with a list of the Most Common Birds of San Francisco from iNaturalist. We also demonstrated the American Sign Language sign for Bird, and how to say “Bird” in other languages (grown-ups in my group told us how to say it in Spanish, French, Russian, and Cantonese). One of my favorite things about the Bay Area is the diversity of languages and cultures, and I love to give people a chance to share words in their native language whenever I can.

Here are the books and songs that we did:

Books:

The Baby BeeBee Bird by Debbie Redfield Massie; illustrated by Stephen Kellogg

This is one of my all-time favorite books, about a little bird who arrives at the zoo, and keeps all of the other animals awake all night with her singing. I read the part of the little bird, and Claire read the narration and the other animals. The kids loved joining in on the animal noises and the “BeeBee Bobbi’s.” The large illustrations make it perfect for storytime too.

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell; illustrated by Patrick Benson

Another of my all-time favorites, this one about three baby owls who wake up to find that their mother is gone. They grow increasingly worried, but when they close their eyes and wish for their mother to come back, she comes swooping back. Such a sweet relatable story with adorable owl pictures. The kids loved the repeated “I want my Mommy!” line.

Birds by Kevin Henkes; illustrated by Laura Dronzek

This book provided a great way to talk about the different types of birds: owls, flamingos, black birds, robins, etc., and I love the whimsical ideas and illustrations. The kids especially liked the description of how when a flock of birds flies out of a tree all of a sudden, it’s like the tree yelled, “Surprise!”

Songs & Rhymes:

Baby Bumblebee

We did this as a follow-up to The Baby BeeBee Bird (mostly because they sound so similar). I asked the kids what animals they would like to bring home, and then tried to come up with rhymes. We had snake, turtle, kitty, duck, and dinosaur. Here’s a video of the Raffi version, which is the one I usually use. (Full disclosure: I once had a woman complain that she didn’t like that all of the animals in the song bit or scratched, but I was puzzled because I think it’s meant to be a cautionary tale about why you shouldn’t bring home wild animals!).


I’m [C] bringing home a [F] baby [C]bumblebee.
[G7] Won’t my mommy be so proud of me?
‘Cause I’m [C] bringing home a [F] baby [C] bumblebee.
[G7] Ouch! It stung me!

I’m a Wide-Eyed Owl

I actually have a little tune for this one that I learned from a friend, but I don’t have a recording of it. You can make up your own, or just chant it as a rhyme:

I’m a wide-eyed owl (make circles with your fingers to look like eyes)

With a pointed nose (make a V with your index fingers and hold it up to your nose),

I have pointed ears (hold your index fingers up on either side of your head),

And claws for toes (wiggle your fingers like claws).

I live in a tree,

And I’m looking at you (point your finger).

When I flap my wings (flap arms),

I say, “Whoooo! Whooo!”

Two Little Black Birds

We handed out play scarves before we sang this one, and had the kids pretend the scarves were birds. We changed the color of the bird each time:

Two little blackbirds sitting on a hill, (Hold up both thumbs)
One named Jack, and the other named Jill.
Fly away, Jack! (Put one thumb behind your back)
Fly away, Jill! (Put the other thumb behind your back)
Come back, Jack! (Bring the first thumb out in front).
Come back, Jill! (Bring the second thumb out in the front).

Two little blackbirds sitting on a cloud,
One was quiet, and the other was loud (I make my voice as loud and obnoxious as possible each time I sing the word “Loud!”)
Fly away, Quiet!
Fly away, Loud!
Come back, Quiet!
Come back, Loud!

Two little blackbirds sitting in the snow.
One flew high!
And the other flew low!…

Two little blackbirds sitting on a gate.
One was early,
And the other was…late!…  (I like to drag the pauses out as long as possible before saying “Late!” until the kids are all yelling it out.)

Little Bird

We did this one with the play scarves as well, and “flew” them around like birds.

C
Little Bird, Little Bird,
C
Fly through my window.
G7
Little Bird, Little Bird,
G7
Fly through my window.
C
Little Bird, Little Bird,
C
Fly through my window.
G7                       C
Find molasses candy.

Chorus:
G7
Fly through my window, my sugar lump!
C                            G7            C
Fly through my window, my sugar lump!
G7                        C
Find molasses candy!

Black Bird, Black Bird, Fly through my window…

Rockin’ Robin by Jimmie Thomas

We did this as our instrument play-along. The original version by Bobby Day has a LOT of verses, but I just did the ones below.

Here’s a link to the original song:

Tweedily deedily [Am] dee, [D] Tweedily deedily dee.
Tweedily deedily [Am] dee, [D] Tweedily deedily dee.
Tweedily deedily [Am] dee, [D] Tweedily deedily dee.
[G] Tweet, tweet, tweet tweet.

[G7] He rocks in the [G] treetops all day long,
[G7] Hoppin’ and a-boppin’ and [G] a-singin’ his song.
[G7] All the little birds on [G] J-Bird Street,
Love to hear the robin go [G7] tweet, tweet, tweet.

Rockin’ [C] robin (tweet, tweet, tweet);
Rockin’ [G] robin (tweet, tweedle-dee);
[D] Blow rockin’ robin, cause we’re [C] really gonna [G] rock tonight. (Tweet, tweedle-dee!)

[G7] Every little swallow, [G] every chickadee,
[G7] Every little bird in the [G] tall oak tree,
The [G7] wise old owl, the [G] big black crow,
[G] Flappin’ their wings [G7] singin’ go bird, go.

Rockin’ [C] robin (tweet, tweet, tweet).
Rockin’ [G] robin (tweet, tweedle-dee);
[D] Blow rockin’ robin, cause we’re [C] really gonna [G] rock tonight. (Tweet, tweedle-dee!)

Tweedily deedily [Am] dee, [D] Tweedily deedily dee.
Tweedily deedily [Am] dee, [D] Tweedily deedily dee.
Tweedily deedily [Am] dee, [D] Tweedily deedily dee.
[G] Tweet, tweet, tweet tweet.

Stay & Play: Feather Painted Owls

I found this adorable craft on The Pinterested Parent. I precut circles out of yellow and black paper for the eyes, and little triangles for the nose. For the Stay & Play today, I put out white cardstock, colored feathers, paper plates with a squirt of three different colors of tempura paint, the precut paper shapes, and gluesticks.

To be honest, I think the feather painting itself would have been enough of a craft, and made some really cool designs. But the owls turned out to be really cute too!

What are your favorite books or songs about birds? Please share them in the comments below.