Friday, August 25, 2017

The Start of a New School Year - Easing Anxiety, Encouraging Engagement

Currently, all my storytimes are outreach storytimes done at preschools and daycares, either with the Storytime Bus as part of our Storytime-To-Go program, or what I refer to my "regular" storytime where I go in the classroom that is not part of the STG program. Just as summertime brings new challenges with the changes in routine, less structure, staff changes, distractions, etc., the beginning of the new school year has its own challenges.

This is when kids move to different classes, start daycare/preschool for the first time, or return to daycare/preschool after being home all summer. So we are often dealing with separation anxiety, some tears, and all the little bumps and hiccups with scheduling that are bound to happen. Also, we are starting with a new crop of 3 year olds that don't know the routine and may have not ever had storytime before.

So, I usually keep things short and sweet, and while I generally like to use storytime to introduce new books and authors, for the first storytime of the school year I generally use books I expect them to be very familiar with, for a couple of reasons. For one, having something familiar provides a little bit of comfort, and hopefully helps ease their apprehension (particularly when getting on the Storytime Bus for the first time), and already knowing the words and story encourages participation and keeps them engaged. I also do songs they will already know, or activities I know will be particularly fun and engaging.

So, for the last two weeks I picked a simple, straightforward theme of "Colors", knowing that most of them already know at least some colors, and they typically love identifying them and talking about their favorites.

The Books
Color themed storytime, books about colors
(Click on image to view larger version)

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin & James Dean. By now, most kids are familiar with Pete the Cat, and I know from when we had the song on our listening station in the library that kids LOVE singing his song. This book packs a lot into a short, simple story: colorful illustrations, making predictions, identifying colors, singing the song and saying repeated lines, and teaches as lesson about not letting every little thing upset you.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr. & Eric Carle. This is an old favorite for generations that many kids know by heart and love reciting with you. I've seen many nervous little faces light up when I pull this out and they see something familiar. It has great rhyme and rhythm, and of course Carle's wonderful illustrations, and the kids can see themselves in the diverse children's faces at the end.

Snappy Little Colors by Dugald Steer is a bright, and color ful pop-up book with different animals, my favorite being the shark. You can never go wrong with a pop-up book!

Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh, and Monsters Love Colors by Mike Austen (and I just realized I have the British book cover in my collage, whoops!) are both fun books that introduce the idea of primary and secondary colors (though not using those terms). Each book shows how to make new colors by combining the primary colors. I usually save these for the older kids because the brand new 3's generally don't quite grasp the concept yet, and Mouse Paint in particular is a bit longish. All the kids giggle at the end of Monsters Love Colors, when the last little monster wants to be "super mega tropical rainbow with raspberry swirl on top!".

I did occasionally use a couple of other books, but these were by far the ones I used the most, particularly Pete and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, which I used for my brand new class of 3-year olds at my "regular" storytime.

Songs & Activities

Little Mouse Flannel, Mouse House, Colors Storytime
Little Mouse, Little Mouse

This flannel board activity is probably my absolute favorite because we have so much fun with it. I inherited this set, and have since added two more colored houses, as well as a cookie and an apple. I usually hide the mouse in the very last house, behind the apple, and build suspense as we look behind each house, saying "Little mouse, little mouse, are you in the  (color)  house?" I really ham it up, and by the end they know he has to be in the last house. But then I remove the house and reveal the apple, and play dumb when they say they see the mouse. They get so excited when the see his little ears and feet peaking out!

Colors Storytime, Colors flannel board activity, little mouse, mouse house

I also used the song "If You're Wearing  (Color)  Today", first telling them to stand up, then once they were all standing, I'd call different colors and ask them to sit down until everyone was seated again. I saved this for the older kids because the young ones seem to have too much trouble following the directions and understanding what's going on.

For my brand new class of 3-year olds, I stuck with a few songs I knew they would know, like the "ABC's" (kids always want to sing that), "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star", and "Itsy Bitsy Spider", which encouraged participation and made them feel like they knew what was going on. I also introduced our welcome song, story song, and closing song.

How It Went

Overall, the first round of storytimes for the new school year went very well. There were a few hiccups with scheduling and and the youngest kids that don't know the routine yet are always a little harder to keep engaged, which is why I just plan on shorter sessions at first, so we end on a positive note. I was pleasantly surprised that there were no tears this year, though some new kids were a little nervous about getting on the Storytime Bus. It seems like they are always either afraid that we are going to take them somewhere, or disappointed that we don't. But I am happy to report that one of the kids that was very apprehensive his first time last year, is now one of my most enthusiastic fans!

It was a little sad for me, as it was the first round without the kids who had left to start kindergarten, and I would find myself missing their familiar little faces, particularly the ones who were always very ethusiastic participants. But, I have lots of new faces to get to know, and they will be seasoned veterans in no time.

And for your entertainment, a baby being thoroughly entertained by a very enthusiastic reading of Brown Bear, Brown Bear:

Monday, August 21, 2017

Fearless Storytime

10 Things You Should Not Be Afraid To Do In Storytime

*For an updated and slightly expanded version of this article, go to "Fearless Storytime Redux", written 5 years after the original.

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, August 18, 2017

Review of "Creepy Pair of Underwear!"

Creepy Pair of Underwear!
Creepy Pair of Underwear!  
Aaron Reynolds (author) & Peter Brown (illustrator)
Released August 15, 2017
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
48 pages, ages 4 - 8 

Jasper Rabbit returns, but he is not a little bunny anymore! His mother takes him shopping for new underwear, and Jasper insists he is old enough to choose his own underwear now that he is a big rabbit. No more tidy whities for him! He chooses some cool looking underwear with a scary face on them, despite his mother's misgivings. 

That night, he decides to wear his new underwear to bed, and of course he doesn't need a nightlight or the door cracked, because he is a big rabbit now. But, when the lights go out, he makes an unexpected, and unpleasant, discovery. His new underwear glows in the dark - a horrible, ghoulish, green glow!

Spooky picture books that don't mention Halloween
(Click on any image to see it larger)

The creepy glow keeps Jasper from sleeping, no matter how hard he tries, so finally he takes them off and stuffs them down in the very bottom of his clothes hamper. Finally, he can sleep!

Scary picture books that are not about Halloween

But, the next morning when he wakes up, Jasper is suprised and frightened to discover......he is WEARING the underwear! What? How?? Now things really are creepy!

Scary, funny picture books

Then he tries throwing them in the garbage can outside, but when he comes home from school they're back in his drawer! He tries shipping them to China, but they come back.....with souvenirs! 😱😠😧

Funny, scary pictures books

No matter what he tries, they keep coming back! Will Jasper be haunted by the creepy underwear for the rest of his life?

My Thoughts 
The creative team that brough us Creepy Carrots has done it again! I predict this will be a huge hit, and I can't wait to use it! I LOVE this, and it had me laughing out loud more than once as I read it, especially when the underwear not only returned from China, but also brought souvenirs! While anything that mentions underwear is guaranteed to get laughs from the kids, this story has it all: clever humor, suspense, an age-appropriate level of creepiness, and Peter Brown's wonderful illustrations really set the mood. Another Caldecott nod, perhaps?

I particularly appreciated it because it reminded me of a somewhat similar incident that happened with my daughter when she was younger. Her grandmother had given her a black t-shirt covered with glow-in-the-dark stars that made up the face of Albert Einstein, like the one pictured here. She loved the shirt, and one night decided to wear it to bed. When she woke up in the middle of the night and saw the glow, it freaked her out for a minute, until she woke up enough to remember what it was. 😂

I think this book would appeal to all kids from the ages of 3 or 4 to maybe 8 or 9, and some adults as well. I think this could be another good selection, along with it's predecessor, for a somewhat creepy-scary story to read around Halloween without actually being about Halloween if that's something you need or prefer to avoid. Of course it would be fun any time of the year! But if you have adults who don't appreciate underwear humor, it might not go over as well with them, so know your audience.

One other thing worth mentioning is the homage to Creepy Carrots; as Jasper goes far from home to try get rid of the creepy underpants, he passes by the fenced-off carrot patch:

Creepy Carrots

And now for your entertainment, the author performing in a Kid Lit vs YA Lit lip synch battle at the Texas Library Association conference:

Friday, August 11, 2017

No Rest For The Weary - Trying to Recharge After the Bittersweet Ending to a Busy Summer

The last three months have been a whirlwind! First, I took a very intense 3-week class on multicultural youth literature in May that was very worthwhile, but also a very grueling pace. Then, as soon as that was over, it was time for summer. For those who work in schools, summer means a break, but for those of us who work in public libraries, that is the busiest time of the year! 

First, when I have breaks from my MLIS program, I try to read and review as many books as possible, then there's distributing summer reading logs to all the daycares and preschools I visit, and explaining how the program works. And of course I have my usual gig of going around to all these places and doing multiple storytimes for their preschool-aged kids 3-4 days a week, but the facilities are more disorganized and the kids are less attentive during the summer because there is less structure and often changes in staffing for the summer.

STEAM, STEM programs, DNA extraction for kidsThis year I also had the opportunity to do a number of school-aged STEAM programs, which was great! For one, I tend to get a little bored doing the same thing all the time, so I love it when I have an opportunity to do something other than preschool storytime (even though that is my favorite thing to do), and expand my repertoire. For another, my background is actually in science education and research, so I *really* love getting the chance to do science programs. 

But, as a part-time employee, it was very challenging to find the time to plan, prepare, and present these extra programs! I am allowed to go a little over my usual hours, but I had to be careful not to go over by too much. I've lost count, but I think I did 8-10 STEAM programs over the summer, with four different themes: Illusions and Effects Using Mirrors, DoodleBots, DNA Extraction, and Paper Circuits. Of course I had help prepping and conducting the programs, but I took on most of the planning and design, being the resident science nerd.

Then at the end of the summer is the part I have a love-hate relationship with: delivering summer reading program prize books to all the kids at the daycares I serve. I LOVE seeing how excited the kids are when they realize they are getting a book to keep, and watching their faces light up when the find just the right one. It's funny to see how some are so decisive, and walk right up and grab a book and others will take forever, walk away with a book, then have second thoughts and put it back and take another. 

While this part is so gratifying, it is also physically a lot of work, selecting the books, loading bins into the car, taking them in to the daycares, bringing back the leftovers, etc. Since we want them to have plenty to choose from to accomodate all reading levels and interests, we bring a lot of books. Plus it's hot and humid and miserable outside, it is inevitably raining half the time, and the scheduling is always difficult, too. So it gets to be somewhat of an ordeal, with upwards of 200-300 kids at our larger facilities, and 50 at the smallest. 

So I was glad when I finally made my last delivery this week, but it was bittersweet. There was a little boy at this daycare that was the most excited of any kid I've seen about getting a book of his own last year, and asked me several times after that in storytime if I had more books to give them that day. He has also asked to read Froggy books at storytime, so I made sure to have three different Froggy books in the selection I brought to his class, only to find out when I got there that he had moved. The teacher said he was supposed to come visit one last time to say goodbye, so I gave her a couple of them to give him if he did. I was so sad that I missed him.

That was on Monday morning, marking the end of summer reading duties, which gave me a week to to try to recoup before next week when my next MLIS class starts. It turned out to be a rough week for personal reasons, so I'm feeling more rundown rather than recharged! Also, the last two weeks marked the last time I would see the kids that were moving on to kindergarten, which is always sad after knowing them for 2-3 years. That's one of the real disadvantages to doing outreach storytimes. If you work in the library, then when the kids outgrow storytime you still get to occasionally see them when they come in to get books and for summer programs, but in outreach, once they move on I generally don't see them again.

Hopefully this weekend will prove to be a peaceful, relaxing one! Looking forward to vacation in October, though I will still have schoolwork to do.

How do you recharge after the summer if you aren't able to take vacation right away?

Oh, and I hear you're giving away eclipse glasses.... 😎 😂 😭

Friday, August 4, 2017

Storytime Goes to the Zoo, and Summer Reading Prizes

This week I've been doing Zoo-themed storytimes with our Storytime-To-Go program, and when pulling one of my favorite books to use, Wild About Books, I discovered one by the same creative team that the kids liked even better, Zoozical. I decided to use both of these, along with a book with photographs of animals today for my regular storytime.

We started with our welcome song, then I gave them clues about what our theme was for the day, and they soon guessed it. We all shared what our favorite animal at the zoo was, then we sang our story song to help us settle down and get ready for our first book, Wild About Books by Judy Sierra and Marc Brown.

This is a really cute story about a librarian who drives the bookmobile to the zoo mistake, and soon has the animals all reading books. They like reading so much that they decide to try writing their own stories. Soon they have enough books to build their own zoobrary. This is great for older kids and/or family storytime as there are several inside jokes and puns that add humor, and it is written is Seussian rhyme as an homage to Dr. Seuss.

After that, we needed to burn off some energy, so we did several verses of "If You're A Zoo Animal And You Know It", so the kids could imitate animal sounds and movements. Some of the verses we did were:

If you're a lion and you know it, give a roar...

If you're a bear and you know it, give a growl....

If you're a penguin and you know it, give a waddle....

If you're a snake and you know it, give a hiss....

If you're an alligator and you know it, snap your jaws....

If you're a monkey and you know it, say "Oooh, ooooh; eeee, eeeee"

For our second book I chose one with photographs of real animals, Z for Zoo by Roger Priddy. This book is a large board book with short, simple text and a couple of flaps to lift, so it is very good for younger kids, and I thought would give a nice break betweeen the two longer books in Suessian rhyme.

We ended up not really reading the text, but letting the kids identify each animal, and then I'd tell them one or two interesting facts.

Since our final book incorporates several typical storytime songs, I didn't stop to do an activity, but went on to the last book, Zoozical, also by Judy Sierra and Marc Brown and clearly inspired by the musical Seussical. In this fun story, the animals are all bored and grumpy because it's wintertime and no one is coming to see them, and it's too cold to be outside. A young hippo and kangaroo start hopping around dancing and soon all the other animals are drawn by the hip-hop beat. They are having so much fun, the animals decide to put on a musical show, a "Zoozical". The animals all sing familiar songs, changing some of the words slightly to fit them.

After that, we sang our closing song and passed out stickers, then I got to do one of my favorite things, give the kids books that they get to keep and take home as part of our summer reading program! At the beginning of the summer, we pass out reading logs to each class, and they check off boxes for every time they read for 20 minutes or visit the library, with a goal of 30 for the summer. Then at the end of the summer, we deliver prize books to everyone that participated as a reward. 

We have board books for babies and toddlers, picture books from preschool through kindergarten, and early readers and beginning chapter books for any school aged kids. I bring a large selection and spread them out on a table so the children can look over them and pick out one they like. Some are very decisive, some agonize over picking the perfect book, and the little ones are a bit overwhelmed and don't quite understand, so the teachers have to guide them, or choose for them most of the time, but everyone gets a book!

How It Went
When I arrived, the kid were all sitting on the floor waiting for me, so still and quiet it was almost eerie; that didn't last long, LOL! Though they were enthusiastic about the topic, Wild About Books didn't seem to hold their interest at all. I think it was just a little bit too sophisticated for them, but groups with just slightly older kids have really enjoyed it in the past. Zoozical fared a bit better, since it had snippets of a number of songs they were familiar with and they sang along with some of them. The first group I read this book to on Wednesday actually applauded at the end, cheering "Bravo, bravo!". They did really like the photographs in Z is for Zoo and getting to imitate animals with the song we did.

They were very excited about getting to pick out their very own book to keep, and the staff was very appreciative as well. It is so rewarding to see their faces light up when they find the right book. This group was so engrossed in looking at their books, I had a hard time getting them to look up at the camera and hold them up!