The New Frontier: Interactive Virtual Storytimes

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

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

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

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

Here’s how we did it:

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

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

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

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

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

Opening Song: Do As I’m Doing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song: If You’re Happy and You Know It

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

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

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

Song: Old McDonald Had a Farm

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

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

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

Song: Five Little Ducks

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

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

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

REACTIONS AND TAKE-AWAYS

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

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

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

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

Shell-ebrate! Books about Eggs

Pom-Pom Chick by Olivia

Pom-Pom Chick by Olivia

In honor of Easter, Spring, and my daughter’s newfound obsession with eggs, I did an egg theme this week.  And boy, are there a lot of fun books about eggs.  It’s Spring Break this week, so I was expecting a small turn-out, but after the first few minutes a big crowd arrived, and it ended up being a wonderful large group with a wide variety of ages.  Here’s what we read:

: owen

Owen’s Marshmallow Chick by Kevin Henkes (Amazon.com link)

I hadn’t originally planned to read this, but at the beginning of storytime I only had two families, both with very young kids.  This board book worked perfectly for them.  Owen eagerly gobbles down all of the candy in his Easter basket, until he gets to the yellow marshmallow chick, which is the same color as his fuzzy yellow blanket. Will he eat it too?

except

Except If by Jim Averbeck (Amazon.com link)

A fun book to read aloud, especially because the kids get to join in on the repeated line “Except If,” which is usually set apart on its own page.  The older kids caught on quickly, and eagerly shouted it out each time they spotted it.   “An egg is not a baby bird, but it will become one, except if…it becomes a baby snake.”  Each page shows a different possible outcome: the egg might actually hold a lizard, or a dinosaur.  Except if…it actually becomes a baby bird.

bird

There is a Bird on Your Head! by Mo Willems (Amazon.com link)

Another great Gerald and Piggie book.  In this one, Gerald is disturbed to discover that he has a bird on his head, and even more disturbed when another bird arrives, followed by a nest, and three eggs.  This book got lots of laughs, even from kids who had clearly heard it before.

flap

Flap Your Wings by P. D. Eastman (Amazon.com link)

The first time I checked this book out, my daughter demanded to hear it three times in a row.  And when I had it in my stack at storytime, one of the Kindergartners pulled it out and said, “Oh!  Read this one!”  It is a fun story, with hilarious illustrations.  When a boy finds an egg lying in the middle of a path near a pond, he puts it in an empty nest in a nearby tree.  Mr. and Mrs. Bird are surprised to find it there, but kindly decide to care for it, even though the baby that eventually hatches from it is like no bird they’ve ever seen (he’s an alligator).  Thankfully he doesn’t eat his adoptive parents, who keep him well fed until it’s time for him to fly from the nest…  This one was quickly snatched up at the end.

SONGS:

Three Baby Birds

I had a puppet with three baby birds in a nest that I held out for the kids to “feed.”  I made this song up using the tune to Shortnin’ Bread (click on the triangle to hear the first verse):

Three baby birds were sitting in a tree,
Crying to the Mama Bird, “Feed me! Feed me!”
One little bird got a wormy from his mum.
Gulp it up! Slurp it down!
Yum! Yum! Yum! (Repeat with two little birds, and then one).

Two Little Blackbirds

 Two Little Blackbirds (The kids love this song, especially the quiet/loud and early/late verses.  Click on the triangle to hear the tune.)

Two little blackbirds sitting on a hill (hold up two thumbs)
One named Jack and the other named Jill.
Fly away Jack (put one thumb behind back), fly away Jill (put other thumb behind back).
Come back, Jack (bring thumb out in front), come back, Jill (bring other thumb out in front).

Two little blackbirds sitting on a cloud, One was quiet (whisper), and the other was loud (yell)…

Two little blackbirds sitting in the snow, One was fast and the other w…a…s…s…l…o…w…

Two little blackbirds sitting on a gate, One was early, and the other was… (pause)…late….  (I really exaggerate the pause, until all the kids are shouting out “LATE!”)

INSTRUMENT PLAY-ALONG WITH A CD: Red Red Robin by Rosie Flores from Sing Along With Putumayo (Amazon.com link)

CRAFT: Pom-Pom Chicks

Pom-Pom Chick by Jonas

Pom-Pom Chick by Jonas

My son did this craft in preschool many years ago, and it’s always been one of my favorites. I cut diamond shaped beaks out of orange paper, and little feet (these were triangles with the point cut off, and tiny triangles cut in the wide end to make a W shape).  Then I gave them to the kids along with pom-poms, wiggly eyes, glue and glue sticks, feathers, and plastic Easter eggs.  (The feathers make it harder to fit the finished chick inside the egg, but they are very cute).  One girl asked for stickers to decorate her egg, so I brought some of those out as well.  The glue sticks worked pretty well for holding things on, but you have to rub them hard against the pom-pom.

Pom-Pom Chick by Liat

Pom-Pom Chick by Liat

OTHER EGG BOOKS:

An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Aston; illustrated by Sylvia Long (Amazon.com link)

I meant to read this nonfiction book, because it is beautiful.  Every page shows different types of eggs, all in brilliant colors, while describing various characteristics of eggs: eggs are quiet, eggs are colorful, eggs are shapely.  It also includes a brief description of the parts of an egg, and how the protect and feed the embryo inside.  The last page shows all of the different creatures who hatched out of the eggs.  The illustrations in this book are so striking that when I read it to my daughter, she wouldn’t let me turn the page until we had talked about every single egg.

The Golden Egg Book by Margaret Wise Brown and Leonard Weisgard (Amazon.com link)

A fun, simple story by Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Moon), that is perfect for Easter because it includes an egg and a bunny.  When a bunny finds an egg, he tries everything he can think of to make it hatch: kicking it, jumping on it, and rolling it down the hill.  He is so worn out from his efforts that he falls asleep…and the egg hatches.

Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones by Ruth Heller (Amazon.com link)

Another great nonfiction title that is simple enough for preschoolers.  This book describes, in rhymed verse, all of the different creatures that hatch from eggs.

Daniel’s Mystery Egg by Alma Flor Ada; illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Amazon.com link)

A cute easy reader that also works well for storytime.  When Daniel finds an egg, all of his friends take turns guessing what kind of animal will come out of it: a duck? an ostrich? an alligator?  But they are all in for a surprise.

An Extraordinary Egg by Leo Lionni (Amazon.com link)

My daughter loved this story about a frog named Jessica who finds an extraordinary pebble.  Her friend insists that it is a chicken egg, so when it hatches, Jessica and her friends assume the new baby is a chicken.  They become close friends with the new baby, until the chicken finds her mother.  The frogs all find it very funny that the chicken’s mother calls her “my little alligator.”

What are your favorite books about eggs?