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!).

 

 

Shhh! Librarian Secrets

Our jobs are not as quiet as you think…

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Last week, I was asked to represent the library at a local middle school career fair. I was excited to have an opportunity to talk about my job, which people tend to have a lot of misconceptions about. In typical librarian fashion, I even made a handout.

The problem was the kids didn’t even come to my table, except for the few who hoped to score a free pen. It didn’t help that I was right in front of two police officers and a mother-daughter auto mechanic team. Yeah, I wouldn’t have chosen my table either.

Since I didn’t get to answer any questions at the career fair, here are some I wish I had been asked:

Do you read books all day? I wish. Seriously. Other than picture books, which I read constantly to prepare for storytimes, and middle grade books, which I have to read for the three book clubs I run, the only time I get to read for myself is at 3am when I have insomnia. So, while I do sometimes read books all night, I don’t get to sit at a quiet desk and read books by the hour, while shushing anyone who happens to speak above a whisper.

Do you shush people? Never! Actually, that’s not entirely true. When I do storytimes, I sometimes ask the kids to “make the sound of a waterfall.” But technically, they are shushing themselves.

What DO you do all day, since you’re not reading or shushing people? Ever so many things. This week, I have: read to three classes of second and third graders; taught a drop-in ukulele class for adults (in the library!); performed storytimes at three preschools and an infant daycare; led two book club meetings (one for middle schoolers, and one for parents and kids); taught a parenting class on the importance of talking, reading, and singing with your baby; and led two library storytimes (one for babies, and one for all ages). And it’s only Wednesday. When I am at the desk, I am mostly planning storytimes, in between helping patrons find books, or helping them find information on the Internet, print resumes or tax forms, fill out job applications, or download an ebook or audiobook. I should also mention that I am only part time, so some of my coworkers do a whole lot more.

5. What do you like about being a public librarian? The endless variety. Because I work with the public, especially kids, every day is completely new and different. When I’m at the library, I literally never know who is going to walk through the door of the library, or what questions or needs they will have. I get to work with people of all ages, from babies to seniors, and as libraries have evolved into centers of lifelong learning, all of the jobs in the library have evolved too. I have coworkers who lead or organize classes on painting, gardening, and cooking, as well as science workshops for kids, 3D printing classes, mental health programs, and community discussions on important local issues. We all also do a lot of outreach, bringing library services like storytimes, books, Internet instruction, and music, to local daycares, youth detention facilities, schools, senior facilities, and even beaches.

Also, showing up at a preschool and being mobbed by a bunch of four year-olds screaming, “The liberium is here!” is pretty awesome too.

6. What is the most challenging part of your job? Although working with the public does bring all of the variety I mentioned above, some of that variety includes some difficult personalities and behaviors. The vast majority of our patrons are wonderful (some of them even bring us cookies!), but occasionally we work with people who are struggling with mental illness (although most of these are more frightened than frightening), or people who are frustrated and wanting to lash out, or people who are just abusive and mean, or creepy. Very rarely, we even have to call the police.

Oh, and also, there’s the weeding, the real dirty little secret of libraries, especially small ones: we simply don’t have enough room on the shelves for every book, so some of them have to go. Some days, I can channel my inner Marie Kondo and callously pull dozens of books that are out-of-date, disgusting, or haven’t been checked out (much less sparked joy) since the last century. But I’ll admit that in the past, I have secretly checked out a book I liked, just to increase its circulation numbers and save it from execution.

Are libraries dying out? Not at all. They are evolving. Libraries have always been places where the information and media of the day is housed and shared, whether that be in the form of papyrus scrolls, like the lost Library of Alexandria (sigh), or downloadable ebooks and Internet hotspots (yes, we circulate those, as well as laptops).

The traditional idea of libraries as an equalizer, where people of all backgrounds and income levels can access resources for education and advancement, is still true. It’s just that now the resources include computers and high speed Internet. Even though a man once literally scoffed at me for saying that not everyone has Internet access in their home, our library computers are always occupied. And we are in the tech-saturated Bay Area. In rural areas, libraries are often the only place where people have access to high speed Internet. The FCC recently claimed that 24.7 million Americans live where broadband is unavailable. An independent study by Microsoft concluded that number was closer to 163 million. Yet, in a world where most job listings and applications are online (not to mention resources and tools for homework, and applications for affordable housing and federal benefits), not having access to the Internet can have a huge impact on your life.

Luckily, libraries around the country are working hard to bridge the gap between the digital haves and have-nots. They are also giving people the ability to check out more than ever before: tools, and ukuleles, and video games; prom dresses, cooking utensils, toys, and Halloween costumes. Many libraries let you borrow e-books and audiobooks, or print tickets to museums, without even leaving your house.

It’s an exciting time to be a librarian, and I’m thrilled to be along for the ride.

Hungry for Stories: A Food Themed Storytime

It’s been a while since I’ve written up a food-themed storytime, so I thought I’d do an updated one. I’ve actually done three different storytimes this week, with the same theme but for different age groups, so these are some of the highlights:

caterpillar

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

I had to include this classic, of course, especially for my toddler groups. Lately, I’ve been trying to add an interactive element into one or two of the books I read, so, since I read this one after doing a song with play scarves, I asked the kids to pretend that their scarf was a caterpillar while I read. We made munching noises and pretended the scarf caterpillars were eating the foods on each page, and when the caterpillar went into his cocoon, we stuffed the scarves into our fists, then had them emerge as “butterflies.”

food fight

Food Fight Fiesta by Tracey Kyle; illustrated by Ana Gomez

This rhyming book is so much fun, especially since it is based on an actual celebration in Buñol, Spain, where the whole town has a huge tomato fight. Once again, we used the scarves, only this time we pretended they were tomatoes, which we threw into the air whenever the story called for it. The kids loved it!

pea

Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal; illustrated by Jen Corace

One of my all-time favorites, this hilarious story about a pea who hates to eat candy is always a hit.

peeling

How Are You Peeling by Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers

This is another fun book to share. The kids love shouting out the names of the vegetables and fruits in each photo, as well as answering the questions posed by the text about feelings.

sausages

Sausages by Jessica Souhami

This is a wonderful, funny, simple adaptation of the classic Three Wishes folk tale, where a couple are granted three wishes, and accidentally waste them on a string of sausages, which get stuck to the man’s nose.

water

The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli

Adorable and hilarious story about a crocodile who accidentally swallows a watermelon seed, and imagines that a watermelon vine is growing in his stomach. The kids loved repeating the “Chomp! Chomp! Chomp!” lines.

SONGS:

If You’re Happy and You Know ItI sang this one after reading How Are You Peeling? For the past few years I’ve changed it to add in different emotions, and the kids love it. Here’s what we sing (with ukulele or guitar chords):

 

C                                                           G
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands, (Clap, Clap)
G                                                           C
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands, (Clap, Clap)
F                                                           C
If you’re happy and you know it, and you really want to show it,
G                                                           C
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands. (Clap, Clap)

 

If you’re sad and you know it, cry Boo Hoo! (“Boo Hoo!”)…

If you’re angry and you know it, say, “I’m mad!” (Stomp your feet while saying, “I’m Mad!”)…

If you’re sleepy and you know it, yawn and stretch (Yawn! Stretch!)…

If you’re shy and you know it, hide your face (cover your eyes, then uncover them and say “Peek-a-boo!”)…

If you’re happy and you know it, shout hooray! (Hooray!)

 

If All the Raindrops

I use this song all the time, with a wide range of age groups. The lyrics below are the “real” version, but usually when I sing it for storytime, I just do the first verse, then have the kids suggest other foods for the next few verses. Click on the arrow to hear the tune:


C
If all the raindrops
G                             C
Were lemondrops and gumdrops
C                                               G
Oh, what a rain that would be!
C                    G                            C                     G
I’d stand outside, with my mouth open wide
C               G               C                C
Ah Ah Ah Ah Ah Ah Ah Ah Ah Ah!
C                                         G                             C
If all the raindrops were lemondrops and gumdrops,
C                   G                    C
Oh, what a rain it would be!

If all the snowflakes
Were candy bars and milkshakes…

If all the sunbeams
Were bubblegum and ice cream…

Candy Corn for Dinner: I wrote this song several years ago for an Ice Cream Storytime, and it’s a fun one to have the kids play along to with maracas and egg shakers. Click on the arrow to hear a recording:

C                                                                     G7                   C
My mom and dad put me in charge of our dinner tonight.
C                                                                                G7
They said I could make anything as long as we ate right.
C                                                        G7                   C
I had to serve some vegetables, a salad, and a stew.
C                                                                        G7               C
I thought a while and cooked a bit, and here is my menu.

F                                                     C
We’re having candy corn for dinner
G7                             C
With a side of chocolate stew.
F                               C
A three jelly bean salad,
G7                                                C
And an ice cream sandwich too.

I don’t know why Mom and Dad say cooking’s such a chore,
‘Cause I had such a great time going to the grocery store.
My mom said we were out of milk, so I bought a big milkshake,
And since my dad likes cheese so much, I got him a cheesecake.

We’re having candy corn for dinner
With a side of chocolate stew.
A three jelly bean salad,
And an ice cream sandwich too.

CRAFT: SPICE PAINTING

This week, I ended up doing Playdough for craft time, but one of my all-time favorite art activities is spice painting, which I did a few months ago. Basically, you just mix different spices with water (turmeric, cinnamon, paprika, etc.) and give the kids paper and brushes to paint. The kids loved the different colors and smells.  There’s a description with pictures on Mama.Papa.Bubba: https://mamapapabubba.com/2014/02/19/spice-painting/

OTHER BOOKS ABOUT FOOD: 

martha

How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans by David LaRochelle; illustrated by Mark Fearing

I love this story, although it works better for older preschool and early elementary school kids. Martha has always hated eating green beans, but when they kidnap her parents, there is only one way for her to rescue them.

rude

Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins

This hilariously quirky book describes how cakes who never say please or thank you get their comeuppance when they encounter a cyclops who likes to wear cakes as hats. Delightfully random and very funny.

What are your favorite picture books about food?

Just the Facts: Internet Research Skills for Elementary School

My coworker Jessica Ormonde and I were recently asked to visit two fifth grade classes and a fourth/fifth combo class at a local elementary school to talk about Internet research skills, especially how to determine if a web site was a good source of information or not.

I searched online for any existing presentations or handouts, but most of them seemed to be directed more toward older students. Most of the ones I found used the CRAAP test for evaluating web sites. The CRAAP test was developed by Sarah Blakeslee and other librarians at California State University in Chico, and uses the acronym CRAAP, which stands for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose. I liked the mnemonic, which is certainly memorable and apt, but I didn’t think words like currency and authority would resonate with fifth graders.

I ended up creating my own Powerpoint presentation, framing the challenge of finding good information as being an “Internet detective.” Instead of the terms used by the CRAAP test, I used “Who, What, When, Where, and Why.” I tried to include a lot of examples of both good and bad web pages, as well as a discussion of the pros and cons of Wikipedia, and what to look for and avoid when doing a Google search.

The three class presentations were a lot of fun. I was pleasantly surprised by how much the kids already knew about the risks of using the Internet for research (viruses, misinformation, people collecting their personal information, clickbait, etc.). They actually seemed more informed and cautious than many adult patrons I’ve worked with at the library!

Here is a link to my presentation: Just the Facts.pptx Feel free to use or adapt it. Here is a basic handout as well, which includes a guide to our local library resources on the second page: Just the Facts.docx

If you have ideas for other topics it would be good to cover, or any related resources to share, please let me know in the comments.

Knotty Tales: A Storytime about Knitting

I haven’t done a storytime write-up in a while, but the kids really enjoyed this one. There have been a number of fun picture books about knitting and yarn published over the past few years, and, with my Family Storytime group now including several elementary school-aged kids, I thought I would give them a try. Here’s what we read:

cat knit

Cat Knit by Jacob Grant

This is a simple, but adorable story about a cat whose owner brings home a new “friend,” named Yarn. Cat enjoys playing with Yarn very much, until one day his owner transforms Yarn into an unpleasant new shape, a sweater she expects Cat to wear. The illustrations made the kids laugh out loud.

extra yarn

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett; illustrated by Jon Klassen

This is one of my favorite books to read aloud, because the kids are always held spellbound by the story. When Annabelle finds a box of yarn, she knits sweaters for everyone in her family, her class, and her entire town, but mysteriously still has extra yarn, until a devious archduke steals her magic yarn box. The colorful illustrations by Jon Klassen are whimsical and funny, and the text builds suspense until the end.

penguin in love

Penguin in Love by Salina Yoon

Sweet story about two penguins looking for love, until their animal friends hatch a plan to help them find their missing yarn, and each others. The kids got a kick out of the illustrations, especially the whale in a sweater.

farmer brown

Farmer Brown Shears His Sheep by Teri Sloat; illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott

A funny, rhyming book about a herd of sheep who go looking for the wool Farmer Brown has taken from them, and are shocked at the various ways it gets transformed. This is a clever way to teach kids the steps involved in turning wool into yarn, with hilarious illustrations. The kids loved the illustration of the sheep in their colorful sweaters.

CRAFT: Pulled String Art/Finger Knitting

I had planned to have the kids do Pulled String Art, based on this post from Artful Parent: https://artfulparent.com/pulled-string-art-is-mesmerizing-and-addictive/ . But since I’ve been having some second and third graders at my Family Storytimes lately, I thought I would also demonstrate some Finger Knitting, a favorite activity of my daughter’s (there are lots of online videos and instructions, but this one simplifies it a bit: https://www.thecrafttrain.com/finger-knitting-for-kids/). To my surprise, all the kids except for one toddler wanted to try their hand (literally) at finger knitting, with varying degrees of success. The all LOVED trying though, even if their finished product looked more like a ball than a scarf. I think I’ll bring the Pulled String Art back another time though, because it is also a lot of fun, if a lot messier than finger knitting.

OTHER BOOKS ABOUT KNITTING:

The Red Wolf by Margaret Shannon

Deliciously wry and beautifully illustrated story of a princess whose father keeps her locked away in a tower to keep her safe. When she is given a mysterious box of yarn for her birthday, she knits herself a red wolf suit and transforms into a red wolf herself, bursting from the castle to have a wide time out in the world. But when the suit unravels, she is captured and returned to her tower, where she knits her father a pair of rather mousy pajamas. Reminiscent of Maurice Sendak, but with a style all its own.

The Mitten by Jan Brett

I couldn’t get by without mentioning this classic picture book by Jan Brett, about a lost mitten that serves as a shelter for an astounding variety of animals of different sizes. Kids love the pictures along the side, revealing which animal will appear on the next page. Jan Brett also has a wonderful web site (http://www.janbrett.com/index.html), full of activities and information for kids.

Do you have any other favorite books about knitting? Please share them in the comments.

My New Favorite Storytime Song

Well, it’s been ages since I’ve posted anything, but I wanted to share a song I learned a few months ago that’s been a big hit at all of my storytimes, from babies to preschoolers. It’s called We Bounce and We Bounce and We Stop. The kids love to jump up and down, and they giggle every time we stop.

The lyrics are really simple and adaptable, and it’s super easy to do with ukulele although if you’re going to bounce up and down while you do it, you will definitely want to invest in a ukulele strap (I have a Uku’Lei Sling that has been a lifesaver!). I slap the strings on the word stop to make it more dramatic.

Here are the lyrics and chords (click on the triangle to hear a recording):

 

C

We bounce and we bounce and we stop!

C

We bounce and we bounce and we stop!

C

We bounce and we bounce and we bounce and we bounce,

C                                          G7                       C

And we bounce and we bounce and we stop!

 

I usually repeat this at least twice, and then sing it again with different motions: We clap and we clap and we stop; we wiggle and we wiggle and we stop, etc. With babies I’ve used motions for parents (we tickle and we tickle and we stop; or we lean and we lean and we stop). With older kids I add stomping and turning, or ask them for other motions or even sounds they’d like to do. It’s a great way to give the kids a chance to move around, and re-engage any wandering toddlers. And it can be as long or as short as you like.

I learned the lyrics from a collection of nursery rhymes and songs on a set of signs at the Burlingame Library, and, not knowing how the song went, I used the tune to A Hunting We Will Go.  I’ve since found this other, slower version that sounds more like Skip to My Lou on a YouTube video from Jbrary, which looks great for baby storytime: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcKGbUk54ns

What are your go-to songs for storytime? Please leave them in the comments.

 

 

Let It Snow: A Storytime About Winter

 

Salt Snowflake

Salt Snowflake

 

It’s been a while since I posted one of my storytimes, but I had a good time doing this one last week at Family Storytime. I have a new group of families who have been coming with their 2 year-olds, so I’ve had to skew my book choices a bit younger. Here is what we read:

minerva

A Hat for Minerva Louise by Janet Morgan Stoeke

This book has always held a special place in my heart. Years ago, I had a preschool class who used to come regularly to storytime. There was always one boy in the class I could never seem to engage…until I brought out Minerva Louise. Something about this confused chicken, who thinks a flowerpot is a hat, and a garden hose is a scarf, struck him as the funniest thing ever. He laughed and laughed, and for weeks later, everything I saw him, he said, “Remember that chicken book?” The kids at this week’s storytime laughed at Minerva Louise too. She is just that kind of chicken.

Froggy-Gets-Dressed

Froggy Gets Dressed by Jonathan London; illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz

I read this book earlier in the week at a local preschool for special needs kids. It was a longer story than I usually share with them, but they LOVED it! Like all of the Froggy books, it has the usual refrain of “FROGGY!” (something I always point out and have the kids say with me), but this one has lots of other sound effects, as Froggy pulls on his boots (“zup!”), puts on his hat (“zat!”), etc. The kids at the preschool echoed all of these sounds, laughing all the way through, in a way I had never seen them respond to a book before. It was amazing! It made me want to seek out other books with simple sounds for them to repeat. My family storytime kids loved the book too, especially when Froggy forgets his underwear!

jack

Here Comes Jack Frost by Kazuno Koharo

I love Kazuno Koharo’s books, with their whimsical artwork and simple, imaginative stories. In this one, a boy befriends Jack Frost, and plays with him all winter, until he accidentally mentions that spring is coming. It reminds me of Frosty the Snowman. The storytime kids were captivated.

fruitcake

If Snowflakes Tasted Like Fruitcake by Stacey Previn

A survey of the kids revealed that none of them had ever tried fruitcake, or were familiar with its reputation, so the book’s punchline (“If snowflakes tasted like fruitcake, we would give them all away.”) was a bit lost on them, but they still enjoyed the other ideas: “if snowflakes tasted like oatmeal, they would get me out of bed;” “if snowflakes tasted like cocoa, they would warm me to my toes.” A warm and simple, rhyming book that appealed to the toddlers as well as the older kids.

SONGS:

Five Little Snowmen Standing in a Row

One of my favorite wintertime songs is “Five Little Snowmen.” The kids love the part where we “melt” to the floor, and I always have them count to three and pop up for the next verse. Click on the triangle for the tune I use. I’ve found other versions of this song on Youtube, but I wish I knew who wrote the version I heard originally.

Five little snowmen standing in a row, (hold up five fingers)
Each with a hat (touch head), and a brightly colored bow (adjust imaginary bowtie).
Five little snowmen dressed up all for show.
Now they are ready,`
Where will they go?

Wait! (hold out hands in a “Stop!” motion) Till the sun shines. (move hands in a circle)
Wait! Till the sun shines.
Then they will go
Down through the fields
With the melting, melting snow (“melt” all the way down to the floor, then pop up for the next four snowmen).

SCARF PLAY:

For the past year or so, I’ve been adding in a scarf play time to my family storytime. The kids always look forward to it. You can find some of my regular songs on this post. For my winter theme, I had the kids sing the first verse of “Let it Snow.”

Let It Snow

Oh, the weather outside is frightful (put scarf around back of neck like a winter scarf)
But the fire is so delightful (hold scarf in hand and bounce it lightly so it looks like a fire).
And since we’ve no place to go
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow! (throw scarf in the air and let it fall to the ground).

CRAFT: Salt Snowflakes

Lately, given my younger audience, I’ve been switching to more process art-oriented crafts, rather than having the kids replicate a specific project. It cuts down on the frustration for the toddlers, and allows the older kids to get creative. They had a lot of fun making designs on black paper with glue sticks, and sprinkling salt on top. I also put out some chalk in case they wanted to add some color. The only challenge was keeping the kids from eating copious amounts of salt! My sample snowflake is at the top of this post. Here’s some other salt art the kids came up with:

Salt Art by Jade

Salt Art by Jade

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Salt and Chalk Christmas Tree by Jordan (and his dad)

OTHER PICTURE BOOKS ABOUT SNOW:

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

The timeless classic (and one of my own favorites from childhood) about a boy’s adventures on a snowy day.

Snow by Uri Shulevitz

Another favorite of mine, and great for even the youngest toddlers. This is a simple story about a boy’s hope for snow in spite of all of the grouchy adults who insist it will never come.

The Mitten by Jan Brett

Another classic, although a bit too long for the toddlers, about a boy whose lost mitten serves as a shelter for a number of animals.

What are your favorite books about snow? Please share them in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

True Confessions: Why I Hate Arranging Forced Book Marriages

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There’s a sad but predictable ritual I go through at least once a week at the library. It usually goes like this: a parent (usually a mom) drags a kid to my desk and says, “Can you recommend some books for my child?”

Usually the kid in question is staring fixedly at the floor.  I try to be cheerful. “What kinds of books do you like?” I’ll ask. Or “What’s a book you enjoyed recently?”

The kid usually gives me a deer-in-the-headlights look, as if he’s never heard of a book before, much less read one. The mom will often supply an answer, “You liked that Percy Jackson book, remember?” The kid will nod obediently. And then we’ll all trudge over to the shelves, where I’ll do my best to talk up several other books that might appeal to a Percy Jackson fan.

Usually the kid will show little interest in any of my recommendations. He never signed up for this embarrassing public matchmaking service, and even though he liked Percy Jackson, none of these books ARE Percy Jackson. They may have shiny covers and nice personalities, but they are all total strangers and so am I.

On the rare occasion that a book does catch the poor kid’s fancy, often his mom will disapprove. “I’d rather he read a ‘real book,'” she’ll say, pursing her lips at the graphic novel I just put in his hands. Or, “That one looks too easy.”

One time, I managed to hook a boy with a nonfiction book about a zoo veterinarian, only to have his mom say, “I think he’d prefer a novel.” Another time, a mom told me she wanted her daughter to “fall in love with a book,” then spent the next twenty minutes criticizing every book her daughter opened, while yelling “Hurry up!” and “You can only take one!” I’ve never actually hit someone over the head with a library book before, but I can’t say I’ve never been tempted.

Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE recommending books to people, especially kids. But it’s a very different situation when a child or a teen comes to me of their own volition to ask for a suggestion. Those usually lead to amazing conversations: their faces light up as they share their favorite reading adventures, and they eagerly accept my shiny new books as if I had just handed them a big box of chocolates.

Arranged book marriages, on the other hand, are a depressing enterprise for everyone involved. That’s why I was thrilled to hear Young Adult author Kwame Alexander say in a recent interview, “Books are like amusement parks, and sometimes you gotta let kids choose the rides.” Although he admitted his own daughter threw that quote back at him when he tried to dictate her reading choices on vacation. (You can read the full story here: http://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2017/06/28/kwame-alexander-summer-reading)

I get it: I have two kids of my own, and I want them to love books the same way that I love them, and even to love the same books that I do.  For the most part, they do, although I have more luck with the books I read aloud to them.  Otherwise, my only hope is to keep bringing books home and leaving them in places where they might be discovered (I find that the backseat of the car is one of the best locations for a bored kid to meet a lonely but fascinating library book).

And that’s my main advice to parents of reluctant readers (or even avid readers who are caught in that mourning period between series): please, yes, ask librarians, teachers, friends, and book lovers of all kinds for recommendations, but do it on your own.  Then bring two or three books home and leave them–no pressure–for your kids to stumble upon, open, and hopefully, if all goes well, find a match. Or ask them if they’ve heard of any books they might be interested in.

Above all, let your kids choose the ride. When I was in library school, I did a survey of kids who read above grade level to see if there were any trends in the kinds of books they read. The only thing they had in common: they all read voraciously, both above and below their reading level.  They might read Tolkien one day, and Dr. Seuss the next.  Being a book lover does not mean that you only read challenging, educational books. And encouraging your child to love books means letting them choose what books to love, even if those books seem silly or gross or “too easy,” or if they just want to read the same one over and over again.

Also, embrace other reading experiences. One of the best new publishing trends is the boom in graphic novels and audiobooks. Not only are graphic novels and comic books more appealing and less intimidating for many reluctant readers, they often feature harder, less familiar vocabulary than regular books, while providing illustrations to help kids decipher the new words.  And studies on the science of reading have concluded that listening to a book on audio involves most of the same processes in the brain as physically reading it.

For some kids, ebooks are less daunting: they can adjust the font-size and easily look up unfamiliar words.  They are also perfect for reading late at night without having to turn the light on, or hunt for where you left off (I became a Kindle convert as an adult when I developed chronic insomnia).

And, the number one piece of parenting advice I will offer (while usually forgetting to follow it myself) is stay calmSadly, nagging and obsessing over how much or what your kids reads is probably going to put reading in the same category as liver and turnips: something they know may be good for them, but they’ll never choose it voluntarily. Your best bet, after leaving books lying temptingly around the house, is to curl up with a good book yourself and just relax.

 

 

 

Thinking Outside the Box: A Storytime About Boxes

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Paper Box by Kylie

I had a group of mostly young toddlers this week, which was the perfect age group for these picture books about boxes.

thankyoubear

Thank You, Bear by Greg Foley

Very sweet picture book about a bear who opens a box and decides that he has found a perfect gift for his friend Mouse.  But the other animals who look inside are not impressed.  Spoiler alert: The box is actually empty, but it turns out to be exactly the right size to be a cozy spot for Mouse.  This one got lots of “Awww’s” from the group (especially the parents).

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Special Delivery by B. Weninger

Sadly this book appears to be out of print, which is a shame because it has a lot of kid appeal.  After her new vacuum arrives, Mom receives a new delivery on the doorstep, with something very special inside.  The book features large flaps for kids to open as the contents of the box are slowly revealed.  I love this book because my daughter used to love to hide inside boxes to surprise me.

pigfox

A Pig, A Fox, and a Box by Jonathan Fenske

This is actually an easy reader, but one that works well as a read-aloud.  The tricks Fox plays on his good friend Pig all end up back-firing in painful ways.  A funny book, told in rhymed verse.

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Not a Box by Antoinette Portis

The companion to Not a Stick, this picture-driven book shows all of the different ways a box is transformed by a rabbit’s imagination.  The kids always like guessing what the box will turn into next: a rocket, a pirate’s ship, a mountain, etc.

CRAFT: Paper Box

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Paper Box by Brandon

There are lots of templates online for making paper boxes.  I used this one from Pinterest.  I cut the template out ahead of time and gave the kids markers to decorate them before gluing them together with glue sticks (the parents helped with assembly).  The kids were really happy to have their own little boxes.

OTHER BOOKS ABOUT BOXES:

Inside Outside Upside Down by Stan and Jan Berenstain

This was one of my favorite books as a child: a rhyming story featuring Brother of the Berenstain Bears, and his adventures inside a box.

Too Many Toys by David Shannon

When Spencer’s Mom orders him to get rid of some of his many, many toys, they are both in for a long day of negotiations.  But then Spencer discovers the best toy of all…

I Miss You Every Day by Simms Taback

I’m sad that this book is out of print, because it’s always been a hit with my storytime families.  A young girl wishes she could package herself up and send herself to her loved one who is far away.  Sweet, rhyming book with beautiful illustrations.

What are your favorite books about boxes?

 

Lions and Tigers (But No Bears)! Oh My!

 

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Fork-Painted Lion by Maia

It’s been a while since I wrote a post about one of my storytimes, but last night’s was particularly fun, and the kids loved all of the books.  Here’s what we read:

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Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T. Smith

This book has been nominated for the Irma Black Award, and I had a blast reading it to two classes of second graders last week.  The storytime crowd loved it too.  When Little Red’s Auntie Rosie develops a bad case of spots, Little Red sets out through the jungle to bring her some spot medicine.  On the way, she meets a sneaky lion, who plots to shove Auntie Rosie in a cabinet and disguise himself in her clothes.  Unfortunately for the lion, Little Red is not fooled.  Before the lion has a chance to react, Little Red has given him a fashionable (and hilarious!) new hairdo, made him brush his disgusting teeth, and changed him into a lovely pink dress.  The kids laughed out loud at the illustrations!

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It’s a Tiger! by David LaRochelle; illustrated by Jeremy Tankard

I had the kids stand up and mime the motions to this one, because it takes the reader on a journey through the jungle, where the tiger pops up unexpectedly among vines, under leaves, and even in the uniform of a boat captain.  The kids loved spotting the tiger hidden in the illustrations, and running in place whenever I said, “It’s a Tiger!”

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Lion Lessons by Jon Agee

I’m a big fan of Jon Agee, especially since he gave a wonderful presentation at my son’s school a few years ago.  This book was fun for the kids to act out as well, since they got to stretch, and roar, and pounce.  It’s the story of a boy’s effort to earn his “Lion Diploma” from a very hard-to-please instructor.

 

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Naughty Kitty by Adam Stower

Another hidden tiger book.  This is a cute story about a girl named Lily, who blames her adorable gray kitten for some very destructive behavior.  The kids enjoyed spotting the tiger on each page, and the feeling of knowing more than the main character.  The surprise ending made them laugh too.

SONGS AND RHYMES:

We’re Going on a Tiger Hunt

Instead of the usual bear hunt, we went on a tiger hunt.  This is a great way to give the kids a chance to move around in between books.  I like to ham it up by pretending to get a grasshopper stuck in my shirt, wiping the mud off my feet, and shaking myself dry from the lake.  There are lots of variations, but this the script I use, with the kids repeating every line:

We’re going on a tiger hunt!
(We’re going on a tiger 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.)
Tiptoe…tiptoe…tiptoe…tiptoe…
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 tiger!

Run!
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 tiger hunt again!

Fun with Scarves

Something I’ve been meaning to blog about is my recent addition of scarves to my storytimes.  Our library recently received a set of play scarves, and I found some fun, easy songs that we do each week with them.  It’s a part of storytime, along with the instrument play at the end, that the kids look forward to each week.  Here are the two songs I do most often:

Popcorn Kernels
To the Tune of Frere Jacques (Are You Sleeping?)

Popcorn Kernels, (hold scarf bunched up in one hand)
Popcorn Kernels,
In the Pot,
In the Pot.
Shake ’em, shake ’em, shake ’em, (shake hand)
Shake ’em, shake ’em, shake ’em.
Till they POP! (throw scarf in the air)
Till they POP!

Icky Sticky Sticky Bubblegum

(Click on the triangle to hear the tune)

Icky Sticky Sticky Bubblegum (stretching scarf between hands)
Bubblegum, Bubblegum.
Icky Sticky Sticky Bubblegum,
Sticking my hand to my nose. (put one end of the scarf on your nose)
1-2-3 UNSTUCK! (throw scarf in the air).

Repeat, sticking the scarf to different body parts: belly button, eyebrow, etc.

CRAFT: Fork Painted Lion

I found this fun and easy craft on CraftyMorning.com.  I put out plates with orange paint (along with other paint options for kids who wanted to do something different), along with googly eyes, markers, and plastic forks.  Some of the kids smeared the paint to make the fork prints less obvious.

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Fork-Painted Lion by Jade

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Fork-Painted Lion by Kiley

MORE BOOKS ABOUT LIONS AND TIGERS:

The Lion and the Little Red Bird by Elisa Kleven

This is one of my all-time favorite picture books.  A little red bird wonders why a lion has a bright green tail.  She follows him for the day, until he disappears into his cave, but the next day his tail is orange!  The reason for the lion’s colorful tail is a mystery until one stormy night when the lion rescues the bird, and brings her into his cave.  A sweet story with beautiful illustrations.

The Hungry Lion or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Another nominee for the Irma Black Award this year, this funny book lists a wide assortment of animals sitting next to a hungry lion.  On each page, there are fewer animals, although the reason for their disappearance will come as a surprise.

The Tawny Scrawny Lion by Kathryn Jackson; illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren

One of my favorite Little Golden books, this is the story of a lion who terrorizes all of the other animals, until a rabbit brings him home to enjoy some carrot stew with his large and entertaining family.  I used to read this book over and over when I was a kid, and I love it still.

What are your favorite books about lions and tigers?