Thursday, November 16, 2017

Fearless Storytime

10 Things You Should Not Be Afraid To Do In Storytime

This is a somewhat random compilation of things, in no particular order, I have learned thus far in my 3 years of doing storytime. Feel free to add your own in the comments!

Don't be afraid to:
  1. Sing! 🎶-- I have often heard people talk about not being comfortable singing in storytime because they feel they can't sing well. But, guess what? The kids DO NOT CARE! I promise. (In fact, most of them don't sing well, either.) I'm a lousy singer, but not one of the hundreds of kids I've had in storytime has ever noticed.

  2. Be silly.💃 -- Kids love to see adults acting silly, so get up and dance with them, use silly voices, be goofy. Don't be afraid of silly books, either. Even ones that mention underwear, butts, or poop 💩 can be used to develop early literacy skills, and it teaches kids that books are fun!

  3. Learn as you go. 🏫 -- You don't have to know everything in the beginning, and you don't have to use every technique at first. Observe a few storytimes by different people, read up on child development and early literacy, follow a few blogs; but the best way to learn is by doing! Start with what you are comfortable with, then gradually expand your repertoire and comfort zone as you continue to learn.

  4. Fail. 😓 -- Don't let a fear of failure keep you from experimenting and trying new things, or you will stagnate. Mix it up! Give it a try! Some things won't work, and that's okay. Some say we learn more from our failures than our successes, and one less than spectacular storytime isn't going to kill anyone. But, you might discover something wonderful as well!

  5. Take advantage of others' knowledge & experience. 💻 -- There are so many online resources available to use today, so take advantage of them! We all share and borrow ideas from each other, and it's okay to copy part or even all of someone else's storytime in a pinch (just be sure to give credit to your sources). It's also okay to repeat part or all of your own storytimes if your audience is different. We don't have to always reinvent the wheel.

  6. Set Boundaries! 📵 -- This is not only necessary for your sanity, but for a successful storytime. Be sure your expectations of the children are developmentally appropriate, but never be afraid to ask the two chatty moms in the back to wait until after storytime, or to ask that child care worker to please put their phone away and stop texting. I will admit dealing with adult behavior is the one that is the most awkward and difficult for me.

  7. Change gears in the middle. -- If whatever you're doing just isn't working that day, don't be afraid to quit, even right in the middle of a book or activity, and move on to something else. Not every book/activity suits every group. Maybe they just need a different book, maybe they just need something more active right then to get some energy out. They may not be able to sit and listen to stories at all that day, but they might do fine with songs, dancing, or something else. As a very wise former manager once told me, "Sometimes it's just a hokey-pokey day."

  8. Cut it short. ✂ -- Some days nothing is going to work, and no matter what you try the kids are melting down or climbing the walls. Maybe their schedule is off, or something special is going on at school that day, or it just started snowing. It could be you have a group of brand new 3 year olds that just aren't quite ready for a full-length storytime. Don't be afraid to just cut it short, with a pleasant "Well, I think that's enough for today, we'll try again next time." It's better to quit before everyone gets too frustrated, and keep it positive.

  9. Find your own style. -- No two people will present a book the same way. For that matter, we don't all like the same books. So don't feel like you have to use a book because it's an award winner or every other person you knows loves it; use books that you genuinely like. No two people do storytime the same, either. There are many different formats and styles, so experiment and figure out what works best for you and your audience.

  10. Accept hugs.💕 -- Not everyone would agree, but I refuse to accept a world where we are afraid to show young children affection. One caveat - I never *initiate* any physical contact with a child (other than for safety), but I will gladly accept all the hugs and high-fives they want to give. Some of the kids I see in outreach are desperate for adult attention and approval, and who knows, that hug from you may be the only one they get that day.

    [Of course, if your employer or the facility you're visiting has rules against showing physical affection, you should follow them. Perhaps high-five's or fist-bumps could be an acceptable alternative?]

Feel free to add your thoughts and suggestions in the comments!

I have been toying with the idea of using this topic as a presentation for one of the smaller local or state conferences, but I fear it may be too basic and only of interest to beginners. What do you think? Common knowledge and boring to those with some storytime experience, or would it be suitable for a mixed audience and lead to some good discussion?

Friday, November 10, 2017

Being Thankful (and Thankful When It Was Over!)

Thanksgiving as a holiday all too often gets glossed over, and since it doesn't involve candy or presents, it doesn't make a big impression in the minds of young children. On top of that, the real purpose of Thanksgiving often gets lost amid the parades, football games, and tons of food, even though it's right there in the name. So I decided to try focusing more on that aspect, since we should all take time to appreciate all the good things and people in our lives. Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way.

We started with our welcome song, then talked a little about Thanksgiving traditions and being thankful, then sang our story song. For our first book I chose Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson & Jane Chapman because it shows all the friends getting together and sharing food in a big dinner party, much like Thanksgiving. I also like that it shows everyone contributes according to ability, as Bear was unable to contribute a dish due to being out of groceries, but he could share stories. Jane Chapman's artwork is just beautiful in this series, and the audience can fill in saying the "Thanks!" each time, as well as identifying animals and counting Badger's fish.

I followed that with a rhyme about being thankful, accompanied with using ASL signs for "thank you", "food", "friend", "sun", "tree", and "birds" which I looked up online.

Thank You

We are thankful for the food we eat.

We are thankful for the friends we meet.

We are thankful for the golden sun,

the trees, the birds, and everyone!

For the next book I chose Todd Parr's The Thankful Book. I wanted to mix things up a little with his bold, bright, primitive illustrations that are very eye-catching, and I like how this alludes to Thanksgiving, but doesn't mention it specifically, so it is not only more inclusive, but more versatile. In the book different children say something they are thankful for, and the audience is encouraged to think about something they are thankful for every day. (Another book along the same lines, but with very charming, realistic illustrations that I also recommend is Thanks for Thanksgiving  by Julie Marks & Doris Barrette.)

I was ready to call it a day after that, so we did our closing song and passed out stickers.

How It Went
To be honest, this storytime was an abysmal failure. OK, maybe it wasn't quite abysmal, but it definitely did not go well. I was tempted not to even write it up, but as "they" say, you learn more from your failures than your successes, so maybe someone else can learn from mine, as well.

The Bear book was absolutely the wrong choice for this group, and I should have known that. I LOVE the Bear books so much for the gentle rhyme and rhythm, the sweet friendships, and most of all, Jane Chapman's gorgeous artwork. But, they are just not engaging enough for storytime in many cases. I keep trying, but it's very hit-and-miss, and today was definitely a miss. 

This particular group is very wiggly and inattention, with some it's just immaturity, but there are definitely some developmental issues and possible ADHD I think, and they ONLY do well with VERY interactive, highly engaging books that are dramatic and/or funny. Bear Says Thanks is just too sweet and gentle for them. They were moving all over the place, talking, making noises, and complaining.

The same goes for the rhyme I used. Other groups have done fine with it, but this group was not the least bit engaged; they needed something with more excitement and large movements. They did do better with Todd Parr's book, and seemed to respond to the bright simplistic artwork and raising their hand or commenting in agreement to each thing someone was shown being thankful for.

I did get really frustrated today, which I usually don't, but the fault was mostly mine. The reason I chose such a "quiet" and gentle theme was that I somehow hurt my back a couple of days ago, and have been in a fair amount of pain. Not constant, but when I move a certain way it is pretty bad. So I was not up to doing anything with a lot of excitment and movement, but I forgot that's what this particular group has to have to stay engaged. I also thought once I was up and going my back would be better, but the pain just got worse. In retrospect, I really should have just canceled and rescheduled for next week instead. Live and learn!

So, the moral of this story is (1) know your audience, and (2) sometimes it really is better to cancel/reschedule rather than trying to power through.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Review of Cookiesaurus Rex

My manager showed this book to me yesterday, and I wanted to share it with all of you!

Cookiesaurus Rex Review
Cookiesaurus Rex

Amy Felllner Dominy & Nate Evans (authors)
AG Ford (illustrator)
Released September 26, 2017
ISBN 1484767446, 978148476443
40 pages
Ages 5-6 (I would expand to ages 4-8)

Someone (we never really see who) has baked some yummy cookies! Right away, the dinosaur cookie tries to take charge, asserting that he is "King of All Cookies" and should be frosted first, and the baker obliges.

At first he is happy with his simple green glaze, but when he sees the other cookies getting different embellishments like sprinkles and gumdrops, he feels slighted and demands a do-over:

Cookiesaurus Rex Review
(click on any image to view larger)

So the baker is happy to add additional embellishments, turning him into a ballerina in a pink tu-tu and tiara:

Cookiesaurus Rex Review

Cookiesaurus Rex has not learned his lesson, and continues to rudely whine and complain, demanding another re-do, so the baker gives him a new look to match his tantrum:

Cookiesaurus Rex Review

(Just wait until you see how the baker uses the chocolate chips! 😄😆😂)

Then the Cookiesaurus decides to take matters into his own tiny hands, and makes himself into a superhero, and he and the baker go back and forth, until finally, Cookiesaurus Rex has had enough and thinks he has finally won by using ALL the decorations to turn himself into a king with a bejeweled crown, sceptor, and rich robes. Aa-ha! Now he has surely outsmarted the baker and brags that now the baker can't do anything:

*Spoiler Alert!*

My Thoughts
My boss knew I would love this book because (1) I love dinosaurs, (2) I used to be a professional cake/cookie decorator, and (3) I love funny books. It's not likely to win any awards because it's not the kind of high-brow thing award committees look for, but it is pure fun!

I think the humor in this book is very clever, but very relateable. It reminds me a little of Kelly DiPucchio's books Everyone Loves Bacon and Everyone Loves Cupcake, but it has more dialog and the humor will be easily understood by kids, whereas the humor in DiPucchio's books is more subtle, relying on clever puns and such, and seems meant more for adults. And if you need more meaning or some kind of lesson, it definitely shows the consequences of being rude, demanding, bratty, and selfish can be unpleasant.

I love the illustrations in this book, they are rich and detailed, without being too distracting, and strike a perfect balance between being realistic and cartoonish. I like that the focus is always on Cookiesaurus Rex, and we only see glimpses of the hands (and mouth!) of the person decorating him, though it is obvious they belong to a child. 

The endpapers are a nice touch as well; in the beginning they show an orderly scene with all the decorating supplies and cookie cutters neatly laid out, and in the end we see the aftermath! The illustrator clearly has experience decorating cookies. There are also dinosaur footprints left in icing across the title, verso, and acknowledgements pages; another nice detail.

I can't wait to use this book in storytime! It could go with several themes: dinosaurs, cooking, cookies, etc., but of course you could go always go with a theme of "Great New Books". If you have any cookie-decorating programs coming up, it would be a great complement to that. I already have a general "Food" theme planned for the two-week rotation between "Thanksgiving" and "Christmas", so I plan to use it then. I can't wait; I know the kids are going to love it!

The more I think about it, the more I would LOVE to re-tell this story using real decorated cookies, then leading into a cookie decorating program. I'll have to see if I can make that happen, either as an inclusive, neutral cookie-decorating party that is near a certain winter holiday, or maybe as a summer school-aged program.

I came across an interview with the authors and illustrator where they talk about the creative process, where the original idea came from, and their favorite parts of the story at The Children's Book Review.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Spooky Storytime

While today is Halloween, and I do some outreach Halloween programs, sometimes it may be preferable or necessary to avoid books that specifically mention Halloween, and/or certain elements such magic or witches. For example, you may be doing an outreach storytime at a church-sponsored daycare that prohibits such themes because of their religious beliefs, or a corporate chain preschool that prohibits all holidays. You might live in a community of mostly conservative Christians, or a very diverse community with patrons of many different religions and beliefs. Or you may just make the choice to always avoid specific holidays in the interest of inclusion.

But does that mean kids have to miss out on all the scary fun? No! You can still have a Spooky Storytime! There are a number of good read-alouds that can fill this niche without specifically having to do with Halloween, witches, or magic. There are lots of books about monsters (some are downright cute), stories where you can build up suspense, and other stories that have creepy or spooky things going on. Here are a few that come to mind that I have used (and links to more books & activities):

Little Shop of Monsters by R. L. Stine and Marc Brown. This book by a somewhat suprising creative team features many fearsome, and sometime gross, creatures. Not really scary, but it is a bit creepier than many other monster stories I've used. A little on the longer side, so better for the older kids. 

For more monster stories and some great monster activities, see my previous "Monster" storytime. Most of these are on the shorter and cuter side, so a great Halloween alternative for younger kids. Emberley's Go Away Big Green Monster is great for letting kids get a sense of having control over their fears, too.

I Want to Eat Your Books by Karen Lefrank and Tyler Parker is a *great* zombie book for kids, with a zombie that is interested in eating books, not brains. Peanut Butter & Jelly Brains by Joe McGee & Charles Santoso is another book that features a zombie who doesn't want to eat people, and converts all the other zombies so that zombies and humans can live together in peace.

For more zombie books and activities, see my "Zombies!!" storytime.

Most of us love Jan Thomas, and her books are usually great storytime books! The Doghouse is a really great book to introduce suspense to the younger ones. The suspense builds as one by one the animals disappear into the doghouse -- and don't come back out! Mouse is the only one left, and when he hears Dog say that Duck can't come out because he is having Duck for dinner, we all assume the worst. You can be more or less dramatic as needed, and since it is a short book, they don't have to suffer the suspense for long, and of course there's a happy ending.

Wolf's Coming! by Joe Kulka is another really great book that relies on suspense and darker illustrations to create a scary mood. All the animals beginning frantically calling and warning the others that "Wolf's coming!". They scramble to hide as he gets closer....and closer. Then, he comes inside and......they all jump out and say "Happy Birthday"! 

I love to be really dramatic, and the kids get all caught up in the suspense, then crack up when they realize the animals weren't hiding to avoid being eaten, but to surprise Wolf for his birthday.

These next two are from the creative team of Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown, and both feature Jasper Rabbit as the protagonist. In Creepy Carrots we are first introduced to Jasper and his love of the carrots that grow wild in Crackenhopper Field. Until one day, Jasper begins to suspect the carrots are following him. Soon he is seeing creepy carrots everywhere! Is it just his imagination? The artwork in both of these really helps set a spooky mood.

In Creepy Pair of Underwear, Jasper needs new underwear and convinces his mother to let him pick out some cool looking underwear, not just plain tidy-whities, since he is NOT a little bunny anymore. He thinks his new underwear is so cool that he wears them to bed that very night.

But, it turns out the underwear glow in the dark, which freaks Jasper out. He takes them off and hides them in the bottom of his hamper, but the next morning when he wakes up, he discovers he is wearing them! No matter what he tries, the creepy underwear keep coming back. The creepy carrots also make a cameo appearance. 

See my review for more details, and a hilarious video of Aaron Reynolds.

And my all-time favorite, The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams & Megan Lloyd, which I also included last week in my Halloween storytime round-up. I LOVE this book! It is so much fun, with the audience participation, movement, suspense, and yelling "Boo!" 

While most people think of this as a classic Halloween story, it actually does not ever mention Halloween at all, nor does it have witches, monsters, or an overt mention of magic. Simply the animated components of what become a scarecrow in the end, so I think it works for a non-Halloween spooky storytime as well.

I have used all of the above in storytime, and they work well and the kids love them!


And just for fun, here's a couple of children's books that I find creepy, even though they weren't intended to be and many people love them.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. Along with Twilight and the book below, this book stands out as the one of the most unhealthy relationships depicted in popular youth literature, in my opinion. That poor damn tree just gives, and gives, and gives, until it has nothing left. 

Many view this with nostaligia, thinking it represents a parent's love for their child. Well, as a mother I take a bit of offense to the idea that we have to give and give until we cease to exist. Of course I would give my life to protect my children in a true life or death situation, but I don't think children should suck the life out of you as a normal course of living. But perhaps I'm a bit sensitive; I'm currently parenting my second, very difficult, teenager.

Love You Forever by Robert Munsch & Sheila McGraw shows a mother-child relationship that seems just as unhealthy in a different way. It's starts out fine, but then devolves into a mother stalking her grown son to the point of breaking in his home and holding him in his sleep. It has the makings of a really bad Lifetime movie.

Now, before you lecture me, it wasn't until many years after I first saw this book that I learned the backstory behind it, and by then my impression had long been ingrained. If you look at the book in the context of the true story of Munsch's mother, it is easier to see it as a touching story about a son giving back and taking care of his ailing mother, just as she cared for him as a baby. I just wish he had written the book a little differently, so the overbearing, clingy, stalkery mother image was avoided.

I'm sure there are several other books that would fit a spooky or scary storytime theme, while avoiding the concepts of Halloween, witches, or magic. Do you know of a great one? Please share in the comments!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Good Scary Fun! - Halloween Storytime

Ok, I have a confession. I LOVE scaring the crap out of little kids 😈! But not the kind of scare that *really* scares them and can make them cry, but the kind of scare that just startles them and may make them jump, but is followed by lots of giggles. So, it should be no suprise that I love reading spooky, "scary", and suspenseful stories, and that Halloween is one of my favorite storytime themes. Knock on wood, I have never made a child cry, so I think I'm pretty good at adjusting the fright level for the age and sensitivity of any given group and knowing when to tone it down and when I can go all out.

I've been doing Halloween storytimes all week, and having a blast! I have a mixture of books that may specifically mention Halloween, some that do not, some that are really spooky, and some that are not, so I have something that works with all ages and sensitivities. I used an assortment of books, mostly the same as I used last year, shown below, and I'll just highlight my favorites:

Halloween Storytime

Snappy Little Halloween by Dugald Steer & Derek Matthews is a good all-around book that works with a range of ages. First of all, it has pop-ups! Then it shows a good variety of Halloween icons: witch, black cat, ghosts, skeletons, bats, monsters, and a smiling jack o'lantern, but they are presented in a very non-scary way, with bright colors, cartoonish illustrations, and most are smiling. But, those who enjoy a fright will have fun pretending to be scared and squealing each time a new monster pops out at them.

I have to mention The Hallo-Wiener by Dav Pilkey because not only is it my boss's favorite, it was also my daughter's favorite. This is a really good one for a family storytime that has parents and older siblings who will get and appreciate all the puns and jokes, like "feeling frank", "hero sandwich", etc. Younger kids won't get all the jokes, but they still seem to like it, and it's a good opportunity to talk about how it's not nice to tease someone. 

Big Pumpkin by Erika Silverman & S. D. Schindler is another classic that is also a favorite of one of our volunteers. This can be made very interactive, with the kids identifiying each creature/monster that comes along, joining in with the many repeated lines, and predicting whether each one will be able to pick the pumpkin or not. And of course there is the added bonus lesson not only in working together and sharing both the work and reward, but a good segue into talking about how pumpkins grow from a seed. It is a bit text-heavy, so you may have to do a little editing and condensing for younger, more wiggly crowds.

And now, my ALL TIME favorite Halloween read-aloud:

Halloween Storytime

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid Of Anything by Linda Williams & Megan Lloyd. I'm sure most of you are already familiar with this book, as it has become a classic and is loved by many. I fell in love with this book the first time I heard my co-worker read it several years ago, and it is one book that I can read over and over, and still not get tired of doing (which says a lot, because I do tend to get bored). 

I love this book for so many reasons: the rhythm and cadence, the repetition that encourages audience participation AND incorporates movement, the suspense, the chance to "scare" the audience when the pumpkin head first appears and says "Boo!", and the happy ending. It is just so much fun to do, and pretty easy to adapt to your audience's sensitivity. Of course I like to really be dramatic and spooky, and build up the suspense, and really startle the kids by yelling "BOO!", which makes them jump, then dissolve into giggles. But, if I have a younger crowd, or one that I'm unsure of, I can tone it down quite a bit and make it more light-hearted. I really wish I had a Big Book version of it, too.

I also like that while it shows a jack o'lantern, it never uses the word "Halloween" or mentions magic, witches, monsters, etc., so it could also be used when it is preferable or necessary to avoid these things and do a more generally spooky/scary storytime (I have a few other books that fill this niche I will talk about next week).

How It Went

I'm sure it's no suprise that this is a favorite theme among children as well. They love talking about trick-or-treating and sharing what costumes they will be wearing, and they love pretending to be scared, and it's my belief that most kids don't get scared that easily, unless they've inadvertently been conditioned to be fearful by being too sheltered and having their fears reinforced rather than being reassured that they don't need to be scared (when there really isn't anything to be scared of). "Scary" books and pretend play are great ways for children to learn how to work through their fears, and learn to distinguish what really is something to be afraid of and what is not.

As much as I love these books, they've all been around a while, and it's getting more and more frequent that the children have already heard them at school, daycare, or home, and may even own some of them. So I really need some newer titles to incorporate, and while I've kept an eye out, I just haven't seen anything that really "wow-ed" me.

So, any suggestions for other really great Halloween or generally spooky read-alouds that I've overlooked? Or some songs/activities the kids really love? I find I keep doing "Five Little Pumpkins" and "Little Ghost" because the kids really seem to enjoy them, but I'd like to have a little more variety.

Happy Halloween!