Saturday, November 28, 2015

To Holiday, Or Not To Holiday

Sanitized storytimes, holiday storytimes, Christmas storytime
I'm going to take a bit of a departure from my usual storytime summaries and picture book reviews with a bit of commentary about a subject that has been on my mind of late.  This is just my opinion and does not reflect the opinions of my co-workers or employer.  I know some will not agree, but I hope you will at least try to read this with an open mind, and we may have to just agree to disagree, and that's ok.

If you ask a group of children's librarians and other youth services professionals about holiday storytimes (or other holiday programs) you will get a range of answers, and some very vehement opinions.  This has apparently become something of a hot-button issue in our field, and sadly divisive.  [While I will refer specifically to Christmas, it could be any other culturally based theme.]

There are a number of people who strongly believe that all library programming should be sanitized of anything that is remotely rooted in religion or culture in the name of "inclusiveness".  Their argument is that libraries are supposed to be inclusive and welcoming to people of all ethnicities, religions, and culture (which of course I agree with); and, therefore, we should never have any programs that might have components someone would object to and not want to participate in.  Some of the people in this group are very vocal in their opinions, as well as their criticism and judgment of those who choose to offer certain programs, particularly Christmas.  This is where I begin to disagree with my well-intentioned colleagues.

First off, it is completely unrealistic to think that every program you offer is going to include everyone.  That program about urban chicken farming is not going to appeal to everyone, and may even offend strict vegans or animal rights activists.  So do you not offer it?  Of course not!  Those who are interested come, and those who are not, don't.  The library community is typically very supportive of the LGBQT community, but I can guarantee at least some of your patrons will be offended by that LGBQT display.  So do you not put it up?  Of course not!  Some people are offended by words such as "butt", "underwear", "stupid", etc.  So do we never read stories in storytime that have those words?  Of course not!  As a meme I saw the other day says, "A good library has something to offend everyone".  And that's very true!

Second, what's wrong with exposing people from other countries, religions, or cultures to some of our traditions?  So what if they're rooted in Christianity (besides, if you took the time to learn the history, these holidays are actually an amalgam of traditions from several cultures and religions).  When I went to another country I wanted to learn about their culture and traditions even though they were rooted in a religion I do not practice and don't necessarily agree with.  I attended worship services and other events to learn about them, and enrich my experience.  I found it interesting, not offensive.  And of course I could simply chose not to attend if I did have an issue with it.  When I meet people from other cultures, I enjoy learning about them.  Why wouldn't the reverse be true?

Third, libraries are supposed to meet the needs of the community around them.  Guess what?  My community is likely very different from yours.  Obviously if you are in a community with a very diverse population you will need more diversity and sensitivity in your programming.  But if you are in a small town in the Bible belt, not only is no one going to bat an eye at a Christmas program, the community expects it, and would complain if you didn't have it.  So, please keep this in mind before you jump to criticize those who offer Christmas programs.  You don't know them, you don't know their community, so you don't get to judge them or their level of professionalism.  We are here to serve the community, not to try to bend them to our social ideals. 

As for me personally, I am not religious, and would probably fall somewhere between agnostic and atheist.   I am very anti-organized religion for many reasons.  But, my community is mostly Christian (though slowly becoming more diverse).  I visit 11 different daycares and preschools, some are church-sponsored, some are privately owned, and some are corporate franchises.  Some have a very diverse clientele; some do not.  So we asked them how they felt about possible themes such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.  And guess what?  No one objected to Halloween or Thanksgiving, and only one objected to Christmas (because of corporate rules).  In fact, most specifically requested the holiday themes.  For Thanksgiving, I just talk about generally being thankful, family, and food.  For Christmas I avoid the religious aspects, and just include Santa, reindeer, sharing and giving, etc.  For the one location who opted out, I do a winter theme instead.  And guess what, no one is offended, no one feels left out, and the world does not end, but 300+ kids enjoy some holiday fun that reinforces the idea that reading is a good thing.  And that serves my community.  As the community changes, so will my programming.

As long as people are informed in advance, have the chance to opt out, and there are plenty of other non-Christmas programs to choose from, I see nothing wrong with having a Christmas program if the majority of your community wants it.  If enough people want a Hanukah or Diwali program, then by all means, offer it.  But if we stripped everything that might offend or not include someone from our collection or our programs, we'd be left with nothing.  Do we really want libraries to be boring, sterile, bland places??  Every program cannot possibly appeal to every person, so why try to apply an impossible standard?  Especially when that impossible standard is only applied when it furthers your personal agenda. 

So, have a Christmas program or not, but don't be so quick to condemn those who do.  Remember, we are supposed to be serving the needs of our communities, not our personal ideologies.  Sometimes we are lucky and those two things align, but if they conflict, we must put our personal opinions aside and serve our community.  And always remember, your community is likely very different from mine, and we all have different opinions and ways of doing things to serve our respective communities, so let's try to respect that.  If we were all exactly the same, the world would be a very boring place!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

And Even More Thanksgiving Stories....

During the two-week rotation on the Storytime Bus, I tried many different Thanksgiving books, but found I ended up using the same 3 or 4 because the others just didn't work as well.  There is definitely a shortage of good Thanksgiving books that work well as a group read-aloud, and I really found myself needing shorter books for the younger kids in particular. 

 I avoid the whole history and origins of Thanksgiving; for one, it's too complicated to try to explain to 3-year olds in a 20-minute storytime, and for another, there really aren't any good children's books that address it in anything close to an accurate and balanced way.  I focus on just being thankful for what we have in general, as that can work for any culture or religion, and the big dinner with family, food, and turkey.  With any given group, I read 2 or 3 books and did 1 or 2 songs/rhymes, in addition to our introduction, letter-of-the-day (Tt), and story song.  These are the books I used at some time during the two weeks (approximately 29 classes altogether):

Turkey Trouble by Wendi Silvano was my go-to book; it's not too long, very funny, cute pictures, and works well with a broad range of ages.  Everyone loved it!  In this story, poor Turkey is trying to avoid becoming Thanksgiving dinner and attempts a variety of animal disguises, with limited success.  But in the end he comes up with a great idea and manages to make in through Thanksgiving in one piece. 

10 Fat Turkeys by Tony Johnston was my other go-to book, especially for my younger, more wiggly groups since it is not too long and is repetitive and very silly.  Count down from 10 as the fat (and very goofy) turkeys fall off the fence one by one due to their crazy hijinks.  It has rhyming verses with the repeating line, "Gobble, gobble; wibble, wobble" and bold, cute illustrations that keep the kids engaged.

This Is The Turkey by Abby Levine tells the story of a family's big Thanksgiving feast with rhyming verses in the style of This Is The House That Jack Built.  It has a funny twist in the middle when the mother trips and the turkey goes flying off the platter into the fish tank, but Max learns that the most important part of Thanksgiving is spending it together with family and friends.

Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson is a sweet, simple story about sharing and saying thanks.  Bears friends arrive one by one with treats to share, and the gather for a picnic feast.  At first Bear is upset because he has no food to share, but his friends remind him that he has stories and friendship to share.  Jane Chapman's illustrations are beautiful.  This book works with quieter groups, but is not engaging enough for some.

I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Pie by Alison Jackson puts a Thanksgiving twist on the old "There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly" song.  It has a fair amount of text, but the rhyme and rhythm help keep the kids engaged, and the kids love the how it grows it absurdity with each verse, and how big she gets at the end.  Many of them don't get the part about her being made into a parade float, since many have never seen one, but it isn't necessary.  I also change the line "perhaps she'll die" to "perhaps she'll cry" for the younger ones, and the kids like joining in. 

The Great Thanksgiving Escape by Mark Fearing is a good, funny story best for slightly older kids, who will appreciate things like the importance of escaping all the hugging and cheek-pinching from the older relatives as Gavin and Rhonda attempt to sneak out to the backyard to play.

I love 'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey, which tells the story of a class of kids on a field trip trying to save the doomed turkeys in the style of the famous Christmas poem by Clement Moore.  I also liked that some of the illustrations are reminiscent of Van Gough's A Starry Night, which is my favorite work of art.  This is a little long, so better for the older kids.

In Sometimes It's Turkey; Sometimes It's Feathers by Lorna Balian, Mrs. Gumm is thrilled to find a turkey egg, and plans on fattening it up in time for Thanksgiving dinner.  But, in the end he turns out to be a guest instead of the main course.  A little long for the younger/wigglier groups.

Thank You, Thanksgiving by David Milgrim is a simple book with little text that shows a little girl being thankful for various things on Thanksgiving day as she walks to the store to buy whipping cream to go with the pumpkin pie. This was the only other short book I had that I hoped would be good for the younger kids, but it was a little too boring for most.

I am a huge fan of the Snappy Little... pop-up books and they are usually a guaranteed hit, but the Snappy Little Thanksgiving fell flat and just wasn't as good or engaging as all the others I've used.  The pop-up pictures just didn't excite the kids like usual, and the text was a little blah.  I think Thanksgiving is just a difficult subject to make exciting.

For activities, we did the rhyme "The Turkey" and the songs "If You're Thankful And You Know It", "The Turkey-Lurkey", and "I'm A Little Turkey":

                                                         I'm a little turkey,
                                                         My name is Ted.
                                                         Here are my feathers,
                                                         Here is my head.
                                                         Gobble, gobble, gobble
                                                         Is all I say.
                                                         Quick, RUN; It's Thanksgiving Day!

How It Went
I'm not sure what it was, but almost everyone seemed more restless and wiggly during the two weeks for this theme.  I don't know if it was the theme or what; I know Thanksgiving isn't as exciting as Halloween or Monsters, but I really tried to pull some fun books and songs.  Maybe there was just something in the air...  I was pleasantly surprised by several kids saying they were thankful for their brothers and sisters;  I certainly wasn't thankful for my siblings when I was that age!  There were also a number of kids who didn't know what a turkey was (thought it was a duck or chicken) and a couple of classes with kids from other cultures who weren't really familiar with Thanksgiving.  One class surprised me with a performance of "Over The River and Through The Woods", complete with actions, and they did a great job.

I was once again made aware of how hard it is to find books related to Thanksgiving that are engaging and aren't too long, and especially books short enough for the 2-3 year olds.  I definitely need to find a couple more short ones before next year.  Turkey Trouble and 10 Fat Turkeys were by far the biggest hits and worked for all ages.  This Is The Turkey and I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Pie were also pretty well received.  I was disappointed that Bear Says Thanks didn't go over better as I think it is a sweet story and I love the pictures.  The Great Thanksgiving Escape and "Twas The Night Before Thanksgiving are really good, but geared more for ages 5-8, so I only used them with 1 or 2 groups.  Since I ended up relying heavily on the same 3 or 4 books, I did find I was getting a bit burned out by the last day or two. 

Although the songs and rhyme I used worked well, I did get a little bored of them as well, so I plan to add a couple of new activities by next year.  I was working on a cute felt board story that I had seen on another blog that would have been a great complement to Turkey Trouble (and can be said as a rhyme or sung to the tune of "My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean"), but it proved to be more time-consuming than I expected and I couldn't get it finished it time, so I will have to save it for next year.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Gobble, Gobble, Wibble, Wobble - Thanksgiving Storytime

I struggled a little with deciding which books to take for my Thanksgiving storytime today.  There are not a whole lot of good Thanksgiving books suitable for storytime, and the ones I like best are a little on the longer side.  I also didn't want to do exactly the same thing as I did last year.  After this group was so out of control the last time, I wasn't sure what to expect today.  I took several books home with me, and went back and forth before finally making a decision.

Of course we started with the usual welcome song, and then talked a little about what Thanksgiving is all about.  It is really hard to get younger kids to focus on Thanksgiving; they will invariable start talking about what they dressed up as for Halloween and the candy they got, or jump ahead and start talking about Christmas and Santa and presents.  I would have liked to talk a little more about the meaning and traditions of Thanksgiving, but I could sense I was about to lose them, so we quickly moved to a song.

Since our "story song" and "If You're Thankful And You Know It" are both based on the classic "If You're Happy And You Know It", I just combined them into one long medley.  For the first part, we sang:

          If you're thankful and you know it, clap your hands.
          If you're thankful and you know it, clap your hands.
          If you're thankful and you know it, then your face will surely show it.
          If you're thankful and you know it, clap your hands.

           ....stomp your feet.....say "I am"......"do all three"

Then went right into:

          If you want to hear a story, have a seat.
          If you want to hear a story, have a seat.
          If you want to hear a story, a Thanksgiving story,
          If you want to hear a story, have a seat.

          ....clap your hands.....say "gobble, gobble"......flap your wings......
          ....tap your knees........say "shhhhh".....

After that, they seemed pretty ready for a story, and I reminded them how they were expected to behave (sit on bottom criss-cross applesauce, ears listening, eyes looking up front, hands in lap, lips zipped) and warned them (gently) that if they couldn't listen I would not keep reading and they would miss out on the stories.

We started with one that was just a little long, but I hoped would keep them engaged with it's silly fun.  Wendi Silvano's Turkey Trouble begins with Turkey having a nightmare about being Thanksgiving dinner, followed by him trying to disguise himself as different farm animals, with only moderate success.  The kids like picking him out on each page, and love the surprise ending.  You can also let them name the different animals and say their sounds, if you like.  This is a fun book that everyone seems to like.  The cover art really hooks them, with the poor turkey's freaked out, scared expression.

They did so well with that story, and still seem pretty settled, I decided to just go straight into the next story, 10 Fat Turkeys by Tony Johnston, since it was fairly short and also fun and silly.  This is a repeat from last year, but I really needed a short book, and could not find one as good or better.  I like that this book is fun, has rhyming verses, and counts down rather than up, which is trickier for kids this age.  I also like that it has a repeating line of "Gobble, gobble, wibble, wobble" the kids can say along with you. 
After that, it was definitely time for a song with lots of movement,
and this time of year that could only mean "The Turkey-Lurkey":
          You put your wattle in,        (head)
          You put your wattle out.         
          You put your wattle in, 
          And you shake it all about.
          You do the turkey-lurkey
          And you turn yourself around,
          That's what it's all about.        (clap on each beat)

          Other verses:  wings (arms), drumsticks (legs), tail feathers (bottom),
                                 stuffing (stomach), & whole turkey (whole body).

Since they had been doing pretty well, I though they might be able to handle a third book this time, so I asked them if they thought they could sit still and listen to one more story, or were they done.  The majority said they wanted another story, so I proceeded with This Is The Turkey by Abby Levine.  It tells the story of a family's Thanksgiving dinner with rhyming verses and a rhythm similar to This Is The House That Jack Built.  It is a little long in text on a couple of pages, but the repetition and rhythm helps keep them engaged, plus the funny twist in the middle.  I like that this story has humor, but has the message that having everyone together is the most important part of Thanksgiving dinner, and it can be a great day even if the turkey has an unfortunate mishap.f

Then we finished with our closing song, and turkey stamps.

How It Went
Today went much better than last time!  I was pleasantly surprised to find them already sitting in the floor waiting for me when I got there.  Though I still had a few individuals who I had to keep redirecting because they couldn't sit still, were turning around, bothering their neighbors, overall the group did much better as a whole and I felt like I was able to maintain control this time.

They all loved Turkey Trouble, and finding Turkey on each page and critiquing his disguise, and they really loved the ending.  This is a really cute, fun book that seems to work for everyone, from as young as 3 on up.  The also liked the incredibly silly and goofy turkeys in 10 Fat Turkeys.  While they weren't as exuberant about This Is A Turkey, because it is a calmer story to begin with, but they seemed to be listening, and though they started drifting in the middle, the dropped turkey flying off the platter and into the fish tank definitely regained their attention.  They really had fun with "The Turkey-Lurkey" song and all the movement.

I only had one real negative experience today.  They have gotten spoiled by me giving them either hand stamps or stickers at the end, and often interrupt during storytime to ask about them (sometimes I wish I hadn't ever started it!).  Today, after the second story, one little girl jumped up and rushed up to me and demanded "Now give me my sticker"!  I've never seen any of them act like that, and was quite honestly very shocked at her rudeness, and so was her teacher!  I told her sternly, "Victoria!  That was not nice at all," and her teacher immediately called her over and told her how rude that was, then at the end when it was time to give out stickers she had to wait until everyone else got theirs first.  

Thursday, November 12, 2015

TBT Thanksgiving

This is my Thanksgiving storytime from a year ago, before I started my blog, and only my second storytime ever.  Since the kids weren't used to me yet, and we hadn't had a chance to establish a regular routine, I kept it short and sweet.

After my first storytime I realized the importance of a beginning routine with repeating elements that the kids can recognize as cues to settle down and get ready for stories, so I planned a routine, with a welcome song (which we sang twice), then introductions of both myself and the theme, followed by what we have come to call our "story song", which is based on the song "If You're Happy And You Know It".  I like this song because you can add as many verses as you need, and change up the actions or included theme-related actions; I start with bigger motions and work down to much quieter ones, always ending with them seated.  Then we went over the rules of storytime, like sitting "criss-cross applesauce", ears should be listening, eyes up front, hand in our laps, and lips zipped.

For the first book, I chose Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson.  While this is not a Thanksgiving book per se, it certainly shows the Thanksgiving spirit with all of Bear's friends bringing food for them all to share.  I wanted to be sure to have at least one book that focused on being thankful, without incorporating any religion.  This is a sweet, simple story with loveable characters and absolutely beautiful painted illustrations by Jane Chapman. 

After that, a couple of action rhymes for a little movement (doing each twice).  The first uses ASL signs for the motions.  There are several sites online for ASL that will not only describe the sign, but show video, which makes it much easier to learn.

                                                        "We Are Thankful"

          We are thankful for the food we eat.            (make sign for thank you & eat)
          We are thankful for the friends we meet.     (make sign for thank you & friends)
          We are thankful for the golden sun,             (make sign for thank you & sun)
          the trees, the birds, and everyone.              (make sing for tree, bird, and everyone)

                                                      "The Turkey"

          The turkey is a funny bird,
          His head goes wobble, wobble.          (wobble head from side to side)
          All he knows is just one word,             (hold up 1 finger)
          "Gobble, gobble, gobble." 

 After that, we were ready to settle back down for our second story, this time a silly turkey story.  I thought it best to stick with stories about turkeys, family, and generally being thankful.  There are not a lot of good Thanksgiving books suitable for preschool storytime, but 10 Fat Turkeys by Tony Johnston is mercifully short, silly enough to entertain the kids, has counting down from 10, rhyming verses, and a repeating line for the kids to say along.  The illustrations are really funny and cute.  (For even younger ones, Salina Yoon has a somewhat similar Five Silly Turkeys board book.)

Then we closed with a rousing round of "The Turkey-Lurkey":

You put your wattle [head] in, you put your wattle out.
You put your wattle in, and you shake it all about.
You do the turkey-lurkey and you turn yourself around,
That's what it's all about.        (clap on each beat)

Other verses:  wings (arms), drumsticks (legs), tail feathers (bottom), stuffing (stomach), & whole turkey (whole body).

Though I had brought another book (The Night Before Thanksgiving by Natasha Wing), I decided not to bother with it, and we ended with our closing song.

How It Went
I had about 10-12 kids, and it went really well this time, better than the first time.  Most of the kids did a great job listening this time, and there was no jumping up.  I think having the opening routine, especially the "story song", really helped get them more settled and ready to listen.

The kids really enjoyed the songs and rhymes, asking to do the welcome song again and participating really well with the signs and motions.  They liked the stories, especially the silly turkeys in 10 Fat Turkeys and enjoyed counting them.  The one thing that surprised me is I thought they would really get into saying the "Gobble, gobble; wibble, wobble" line that repeats in each verse, but they didn't. 

Of course they LOVED doing the "Turkey-Lurkey" with it's silly turkey names for body parts and all the movement. They asked for another story, but we were out of time and I wasn't sure they could really handle another one.  Always better to leave them wanting more, rather than extend it past their attention span, right? 

Friday, November 6, 2015

My Very First Storytime & What I've Learned Since

Exactly one year ago today I did my first storytime ever, starting as a volunteer at a local daycare every other week, with no formal training but lots of "mom" experience and casual observation of co-workers' storytimes.  I have learned a lot since then!  After about 9 months, my volunteer experience helped me land a promotion at the library to a position where I am now paid to do storytimes in our "Storytime-to-Go" outreach program.  I went from doing 2 storytimes a month to doing an average of 50 storytimes a month!  So, being in a reflective mood, I thought I'd present that very first storytime, and what I learned from it, and since.

In The Beginning
I did not have much time to plan my first storytime, as the daycare didn't give me much notice of when I could start volunteering.  As they had asked me to do seasonal themes, I decided to start with "Fall" then do "Thanksgiving" the next time.

So when I got there, I introduced myself and explained I would be coming every other week to read them stories, and had them tell me their names.  I started off by talking about what season it was, and all the different things that happen in fall, like harvesting apples and pumpkins, the leaves turning colors and falling off, animals preparing for winter by eating or storing extra food, etc.

Then, I led off with an activity incorporating movement and imagination: taking an imaginary trip to the farm and acting out all the motions.  So first we pretended to be sitting on the bus, fastened our seatbelts, then drove out of town, past the library and other downtown buildings, past the suburbs, up hills and around curves, and into the country where we saw cows and horses.  We arrived at the farm, walked off the bus and greeted the farmer.  Next we walked to the orchard and picked baskets of apples, and sampled a few.  After that we walked to the pumpkin patch and tried to see who could pick the biggest pumpkin.  Then the farmer asked us to help rake the leaves, and gave us apple cider to drink while we sat on the ground and relaxed and listened to a story.

For the first book, I chose Lois Ehlert's Leaf Man.  Although the text leaves a little to be desired, the creativity of the illustrations more than make up for it.  I love fall, and fall leaves in particular, with all their beautiful colors and the crunch, crunch as you walk through them.  Ehlert uses photographs of real leaves to make creative collages, starting with one that looks like a man.  I love the imagination and creativity of this book.  If I had the opportunity and location, I would love to plan a whole program around this book, starting with talking about fall and reading this book, then going on a nature walk to collect leaves, and finally an art project making collages with the leaves they collected.

I pointed out the squirrels in the book, and used that to segue into talking about squirrels gathering nuts for the winter and a cute little action rhyme, "Five Little Acorns": 

     Five little acorns, laying on the ground.                (hold up 5 fingers, then gesture to floor)
     The first one said, "My, I'm getting round."           (hold up 1 finger, then hold arms in circle)
     The second one said "I think I'm fat."                   (hold up 2 fingers, then arms out at sides)
     The third one said "I have a nice hat."                  (hold up 3 fingers, pretend to adjust hat)
     The fourth one said "I see a squirrel up there!"    (hold up 4 fingers, point up, act scared)
     The fifth one said, "I don't care."                           (hold up 5 fingers, shrug, shake head)
     Down climbed the squirrel                                    (make climbing motions down)
     And took them all away,                                       (pretend to grab acorns)
     Back up to his nest for a cold winter day.             (make climbing motions back up)

We did this at least twice, until they were able to join in with saying the words as well as making the motions.

For the second and last book, I wanted to close with something that would be a sure hit.  My co-worker had recently read Marty Kelley's Fall Is Not Easy to three different groups, getting huge laughs each time, so I decided to us it.  At first glace, this book looks like a typical, if slightly boring, book about seasons, with sweet illustrations. But then, you turn the page and see all kinds of silly pictures as the poor tree tries and tries to get his fall colors right, but ends up with all kinds of crazy patterns, like cow print, rainbow stripes, a smiley face, and more.  By the time the tree finally gets it right, its almost winter and all the leaves fall off.

After that, we did the closing song that I still use:

          Hands go up, and hands go down.          (raise hands, then touch toes)
          I can turn myself around.                         (turn around)
          I can jump upon two shoes.                     (jump)
          I can clap, and so can you.                      (clap hands)
          I can wave, I'll show you how.                 (wave)
          Storytime is done for now.                       (hold hands outstretched)

How It Went
I had about 14 three-year olds that first morning that were excited to have me there, but did not have well-developed listening skills.  Some kids could not stay engaged, while some kids were "overly engaged":  jumping up in front of the book to point at things, interrupting, talking over me about the book, etc.  But some listened fairly well. 

They really liked the pictures in Leaf Man, but I really wish the text was more engaging.  It just doesn't quite come together with a good rhythm.  If it had a rhyming text with a nice cadence, I think the kids would have been more engaged.  They particularly liked the pictures that were supposed to be chickens and a turkey, and how the Leaf Man appeared again at the end of the book.  One unexpected result was that they found Leaf Man to be hysterically funny, but Fall Is Not Easy did not get the big laughs I expected, though they still liked it.  They really enjoyed the pretend trip to the farm, the action rhyme, and the closing song, and participated well in all of them.

At the end, they all rushed me in a big mob hug, and I was hooked!

What I Learned
I realized after this that they really needed more songs and rhymes, and a regular beginning routine with repeating elements that they could predict and would help cue them to settle down, so after this first storytime, I developed a regular beginning routine that I still do with my regular storytimes, and over time I gradually lengthened it from a 20 minute storytime with 2 books, to a 30-minute storytime with 3 books as they matured and got used to the routine.  Of course, I had to start over when they moved up to the next class in August and I got a new crop of very chatty 3-year olds.

I have taken what I have learned with this group and applied it to my new job running the Storytime-to-Go program. I have introduced an abbreviated version of my beginning routine to provide more consistency that was desperately needed, and am working on adding more age appropriate books to the collection, as many are just too long for preschoolers.  I think I have gotten really good at reading aloud with gestures, sounds, movements, questions, etc., to get the kids really engaged in the story, and a good feel for what books will work well for a preschool storytime.  I probably still could stand to improve my "classroom" management skills a bit, but I have learned not to be afraid of cutting in short if it just isn't working, or changing books/activities in the middle.  Previously, I liked to plan every detail way in advance, but with my new job, I have learned to wing it and to adjust my plan on the fly because we never know what groups we're going to get, what ages they will be, or how they will be behaving on any given day.  So I've learned to be more flexible and not let things faze me, and that's a good thing!

I love doing preschool storytime, but I would like to eventually get some experience with baby, toddler, and kindergarten storytimes and other programs, even tween and teen programing.   I have a lot that I still want to accomplish in my current position, but my long-term goal is a position where I would be back in the library providing customer service, as well as more varied programming, such as a Children's Associate or Youth Services Programmer position.  I really prefer to do a little bit of everything and work with all ages.  But until then, you can find me on the Storytime Bus!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

More Monster Fun!

With our Storytime-To-Go outreach program, we normally do each theme for 2 weeks.  We actually started the "Monster" theme back in early October, but had to interrupt it so we could get in the "Halloween" theme at all locations before Halloween, so we finished up the second week of "Monsters" this week, and this was such a fun theme!

Go Away, Big Green Monster! by Ed Emberley was definitely my go-to book for many reasons.  It is fun, can be made very interactive (I let the kids say the name of each part, then repeat all the "Go Away"s), and I also like that it empowers kids to face down their fears and tell the monster to go away, and take him apart piece by piece.  

I also like the little brother to this book, Nighty Night, Little Green Monster.  This is very similar to GABGM, except that it features a cute little baby monster being put to bed, rather than banished.  This book is good to use with the younger kids, or kids who are really sensitive and fearful, and would make a good bedtime read as well.

Natalie Marshall's Monster, Be Good! is another book that empowers kids by putting them in charge of the monsters, as well as reinforcing good behaviors in general (I particularly like how it modeled walking away from a bully rather than engaging).  It has great illustrations, and can be participatory by having the kids repeat the re-directions, ending with blowing the monster a kiss and saying "Good Night".

Even Monsters... by A J Smith is a fun book, showing how monsters do many of the same things the kids do, like getting dressed, going to school, brushing teeth, etc., as the kids, though just a bit differently.  Some of the details in the illustration are quite humorous, like a snake used for dental floss, and there is opportunity for the kids to make various monster sounds (snarl, growl, roar, howl...).

Some Monsters Are Different by David Milgrim has cute illustrations and demonstrates contrasting terms, like "same-different," and ends with the great message that while some monsters are different, all of them are wonderful and special in their own, unique way.

 If You're A Monster And You Know It, also by monster-master Ed Emberley, is a fun twist on the classic song, "If You're Happy And You Know It".  You can read it like a story, but it is much more fun to sing it and perform all the actions together as a group.  It has lots of fun sounds/actions and I highly recommend when you need something with movement!

Mo Willems' poor little Leonardo the Terrible Monster is a monster who can't seem to scare anyone, no matter how hard he tries.  He finally finds the biggest scaredy-cat in the world, gives it everything he has, and thinks he finally succeeded, only to find out the boy is crying because he's had a really bad week, not because he's scared.  This a cute story; I just wish the illustrations were a little bolder.

My Monster Mama Loves Me So by Laura Leuck is a sweet story with really great illustrations, showing how the little monster's mother loves him and takes care of him, ending with her putting him to bed.  This is a nice quiet, calming story, good to end storytime with or for a bedtime read.

Little Puppy and the Big Green Monster by Mike Wahnoutka is an adorably funny story about a little puppy who wants to play, but everyone is too busy or too tired.  He finally happens upon a monster, who wants nothing to do with him.  But, the puppy misinterprets all of the monsters attempts to ignore or get rid of him as play. 

Horror writer R L Stine and Arthur creator Marc Brown teamed up to bring us The Little Shop of Monsters, just published this summer.  A funny story about a couple of kids visiting a shop with all kinds of fearsome monsters. This is a great book, but a little on the long side and probably better for older kids, like older 4's or 5's and up.

I used the version of  the "If You're A Monster And You Know It" song from the Ed Emberley book above with nearly every class to get in plenty of movement:

               If you're a monster and you know it, snort and growl.
               If you're a monster and you know it, snort and growl.
               If you're a monster and you know it, and you really want to show it,
               If you're a monster and you know it, snort and growl.

               Additional verses:  smack your claws (clap hands), stomp your paws, twitch your
               tail, wiggle your warts [you'll need to explain this first], give a roar, do them all.

We also have a great storytelling puppet for Go Away, Big Green Monster that I sometimes used to let the kids re-tell the story after I read it to work on narrative skills and sequencing.  I would give different kids each a piece of the monster, then let the group help tell the story, and when we would get to each piece of the monster, the child with that piece would bring them up and put them on.  Then those who didn't get to put pieces on got to take a turn taking them off until the monster was gone.

In addition, we have really cool Build-A-Monster puppet that comes with a bare puppet and a huge assortment of parts:  eyes, ears, horns, noses, teeth, hair, and arms.  There were more than enough pieces to let each child have one, then I would call them up one at a time to put their piece on the puppet, however they wanted [I like activities that give me a chance to interact with each child individually].  When they were done, we would choose a name for their monster and interact with it a little bit.  Needless to say, each group's monster turned out completely different.  Here are just a few:

We decided the one in the center must be a Mommy monster,
since she has eyes in the back of her head

An action rhyme that was used occasionally when we need something quick with just a little movement was "Monster, Monster":

                    Monster, monster turn around.
                    Monster, monster touch the ground.
                    Monster, monster reach up high,
                    Monster, monster touch the sky.

                    Monster, monster reach down low,
                    Monster, monster touch your toes.
                    Monster, monster touch your knees,
                    Monster, monster sit down please.

                     *I like how this ends with them sitting, ready for the next story.

And our final activity involved comparing, sorting, and matching.  We have about 12 different monsters printed out and laminated, with magnets on the back.   Each child is given one, then one is asked to bring theirs up and put it on the board.  We discuss it's features and characteristics, then choose one to focus on.  For example, the first monster may have one eye, and then anyone else with a one-eyed monster brings their monster up to put on the board, and discuss the similarities and differences.  Then we may note one has a tail, for example, and ask anyone else with a monster that has a tail to bring it up, and so on.  This is a very versatile activity that uses math and science skills of observation, counting, and grouping.

How It Went
I have to say this has been one of the most fun storytime themes I've done; right up there with "Dinosaurs" and "Sharks"!  There are so many fun monster books out there, I didn't come close to using them all.  All the ones I used were well-received, but if I had to pick favorites I'd have to say Go Away, Big Green Monster! and Even Monsters... because they were fun, interactive, and appealed to almost all ages (I see 3- to 5-year olds), with Monster, Be Good! right up there with them.  I would use any of the above again, though the Little Shop of Monsters is probably better suited to slightly older kids as it is long, I would say mature 4-year old's and up.

Our letter-of-the-day was "M".  We talked out it being the first letter of the word "monster", what sound it makes, other "M" words, and upper- verses lower-case.  Some already knew it, but many didn't, and a few understandably confused it with the letter "W".

All the activities were a hit, it was hard to choose just the 1 or 2 for each group we had time for; I would love to do a longer "Monster" program and use them all some day!  Each one had value in developing different skills:  the song and rhyme were great for movement and following directions, the GABGM puppet worked on narrative skills, the build-a-monster puppet encourages creativity and imagination (plus is just awesome fun!), and the monster sorting was great for pre-math and science skills.  All were enjoyed, but I think the build-a-monster was probably the biggest hit.  The kids really got a kick out of being able to put their pieces any where they wanted and not having to worry about doing it "right" and knowing their class's monster was unique and not like any other group's.  They all loved how crazy their monster turned out.  I just wish I had thought to take a picture of all of them.