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 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. But I just wish the book had been written and illustrated a little differently, so the overbearing, clingy, stalkery mother image was avoided.

*Update 10-27-2020 - I recently heard a new version of this book will be released without the creepier stalker elements.

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!

Friday, October 20, 2017

A Long Day of Conference-ing

Today I attended my first official library-related conference; a small, local youth literature conference hosted by the LIS program at the local university. Though I've worked in library world almost five years, this was the first time there was something local that didn't conflict with my storytime schedule and had a low enough cost that I felt like I would not be out of line requesting it through work, and that I could do on my own time & dime if it was denied. Part-time staff aren't really encouraged to seek professional development in my system, so I've always felt funny about asking, and have only done things on my own up to this point.

But, I figured it was not an unreasonable request and worth a shot, and it was approved! While I would love to go to one of the bigger conferences, I was still looking forward to the chance to attend and hopefully learn something new, not to mention getting to hang out with my "people" and meet some authors. They had a couple of big names coming, Avi and Michael Hall, as well as one I was unfamiliar with, Ashley Hope Perez. I particularly wanted to get Avi to sign a copy of his book Iron Thunder for my nephew, the civil war obsessed reluctant reader. I had given him a copy of this book a year or two ago, and he actually read it and liked it.

So, did it live up to my expectations?

I'd say it did. I didn't expect anything earth-shattering and knew individual presentations would be hit-and-miss: some would be good, some would kinda suck, and most would just be okay. Just like every book can't appeal to every reader, every presentation isn't going to suit the interest or experience level of every attendee. I attended a great presentation by the teen librarian from a neighboring system in which she reviewed 40 YA books in 45 minutes, and was very entertaining while doing so. While this doesn't directly relate to my current position, it does help me be more familiar with YA literature, which is probably my weakest area, as I just don't have time to read everything. I do work the service desk 1 day a week and I'm taking a YA Lit class in the spring, so that info may very well come in handy at some point.

There was a presentation on passive programming I liked as well. Though the library I work at has done several of the things they presented, this is a relatively new thing for us and I still enjoyed seeing what others have done. There was also a presentation on LBGTQ+ manga that helped give me a little bit better understanding of manga in general, and that genre in particular. One presentation that was titled as having to do with reluctant readers turned out not to be at all what I expected, but I did learn about a line of seriously cool "Photicular" books that have optical effects that make the photos appear animated (see the video below). Only one presentation was one I would call a total dud.

Now to the authors! The one that I was unfamiliar with turned out to be the most personable and give the best presentation. Ashley Hope Perez described how the high school students she taught greatly inspired and shaped her writing career, starting with one student challenging her to stop talking about writing and start doing it, and another reluctant student telling her that her manuscript was the first book he ever read because he wanted to. She also told the very interesting backstory of the true tragic historical event that inspired her most recent story, Out of Darkness, and by coincidence was related to my husband's career as a natural gas pipline engineer. 

Michael Hall's presentation was interesting because he showed us many early renditions of his work, unpublished stories, and some of his other graphic design work (logos). He explained his thought processes, why he drew things the way he did, and how they evolved from early concepts to the final product. I was surprised to learn we had something in common, as he had first had a career in science as well, which we chatted about afterward while I got him to sign a copy of his Little i. I was hoping to get a copy of a picture he had showed in his presentation of a double helix made up of cat figures resembling DNA, but alas, he said it was unavailble 😢 

Avi was not quite as personable as the other two, and I did not get to see his presentation, but he did graciously sign my copy of Iron Thunder.

All in all, it was a good day, and I think worthwhile. While I wish I could attend YALSA which is happening just an hour away next month, since I don't work with teens I really can't justify the expense, and only a very select few full-time professional staff get to attend the big out-of-state conferences, so PLA is out next year as I can't afford it on my own. But, the ALSC conference will be held only about an hour and a half away next fall, so I really hope I can go to that, and the next PLA in 2020 will be only 3-1/2 hours away, so no plane tickets required, so I should be able to afford that on my own.

What conferences have you found the most worthwhile to attend?

Friday, October 13, 2017

Hitting A Wall

So, my recent vacation unfortunately wasn't quite the cure for my funk that I had hoped. I just can't quite shake this feeling of being stuck, in more ways that one. Not only am I just feeling restless in general, what I'm most frustrated with is I seem to be having a creative dry spell and fresh ideas for storytime just aren't as forthcoming as they used to be. While the kids don't care if I recycle themes, even using the same books and activities, because they often aren't the same kids who heard it before, it bothers me. It makes me feel like I'm coasting, which is okay once in a while, but I expect more of myself.

I know some of it is inevitable, as no one can continuously produce 100% brand new content all the time, and I have a lot more going on right now and less planning time than I used to have. Plus as I realized today when I did a Fall-themed storytime, which happened to be the theme of my very first storytime ever, that I have been doing storytime for 3 years now, and the last two of them have been at the rate of 12-15 storytimes a week! So I guess it's not suprising I've hit a bit of a creative wall and I should cut myself a little slack as I try to take a step back, clear my head, and hope inspiration will soon return. I am looking forward to our winter break from storytime in December, that will not only give me a break, but let me devote some needed attention to our storytime collection, and hopefully look at STEAM programs for the summer.

One thing I'm a little excited about is I will be going to a youth literature conference next week that I'm hoping will help renew my creative juices and enthusiasm. It's just a small, local conference, but I've never gotten to go to any kind of library conference before, so I'm looking forward to the opportunity to hear ideas from and talk to people from other library systems and meet some authors. One thing I have to be sure to do is get Avi to sign a copy of Iron Thunder for my nephew! My nephew is a serious reluctant reader, but he is also obsessed with the Civil War, so I got him a paperback copy a couple of years ago, and he actually read and liked it! I asked him if he liked it enough to want a signed copy, and he said yes, so now I have a hardback with library binding to get signed for him. 

I really would like to go to more conferences, and get the chance to interact with other library/literacy professionals. I think that kind of exchange of ideas and intellectual stimulation is what I'm missing, as working in outreach does tend to be isolating and limits the opportunities for interacting with colleagues, as opposed to when you work in the library building. This one will be a good start, and there's another small, local one in the spring I hope to go to, particularly since Aaron Reynolds of Creepy Carrots  and Creepy Pair of Underwear will be there, and I hear he is quite entertaining! Just look:

Friday, October 6, 2017

Gone To The Dogs - Preschool Storytime

Last week our theme on the Storytime Bus was "Dogs", which is a pretty specific theme to do over and over, but luckily there are quite a few good dog books, and with the popularity of the Paw Patrol television show, dogs are hot with the preschool set. I started off each session with an introduction, letter of the day ("Dd"), and our story song, then read 2-3 books and did 1-2 additional activites.

The Books

I'm going to highlight the books I really liked and used the most, and just list the others:

dog storytime
The Doghouse by Jan Thomas was one of my favorite books for this theme. Cow and Pig and Duck and Mouse are playing kickball, but Cow kicks the ball so hard that it goes over their heads and into the doghouse. Yikes! Who will go and get it? One by one they each go into the doghouse, BUT they don't come out! 

I like to make this one very melodramatic (unless I know I have more sensitive kids in the bunch), and it tickles me to death to see their shocked faces mirror Mouse's when Dog says he is having Duck for dinner! I do love dark humor, but you can always tone it done for the more sensitive ones.

dog storytimeThe Dog Who Cried Wolf by Keiko Kasza was another fun one, partly because the audience gets to howl like wolves, which is *almost* as fun as roaring like a lion. Little Moka and his owner Michelle are best friends and life is great, until one day they read a book about wolves, and Moka starts to think his life as a house pet is pathetic in comparison. So he decides to run away and live in the wild like a wolf. But he finds out life in the wild is not so great.

The kids are always shocked when Moka runs away, and relieved when he and Michelle are reunited. They don't all get the twist in the ending, but those that do find it quite funny.

dog storytime, counting story, color storytime
Dog's Colorful Day is a great book that does double duty; not only does it work on colors as the title indicates, it also works on counting from 1 to 10, and has a cute story to go along with the counting.

Dog is a white dog, with just one black spot on his left ear. But one day when dog goes out, he gets into all kinds of messes, which stain his white coat, and he returns home with not one, but ten spots of all different colors! At the end when it goes over all the colors of the spots one last time, I like to test the kids and see if they can remember what caused each spot.

dog storytimeBark, George! by Jules Feiffer just so happens to be the book I read at my interview for my current position, unknowingly choosing one of my manager's favorites, as luck would have it. It is a great book for a fairly good age range. The simple, bold illustrations, simple text, and opportunities to make animal sounds make it a great book for the younger kids, and the humor and surprise ending make it work for the older kids. Not everyone gets the ending, but even if they don't, they still enjoy the book

dog storytime
Widget by Lyn & Jim McFarland is the story of a poor little stray dog in search of a home. He spies a cozy looking house, but when he enters, he finds it is occupied by a very sweet old lady and six cats, who are not big fans of dogs. Widget cleverly starts acting like a cat, and eventually he wins the girls over and he is allowed to stay.

One day, there is an accident, and they all learn that while cats are nice, sometimes it is very good to have a dog around.

Some others I used occasionally were:

  • A Dog's Life by Caroline Sherman
  • Dogs by Emily Gravette
  • What Puppies Do Best by Laura Numeroff
  • A Dog Needs A Bone! by Audrey Wood
  • Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion
  • Spot's First Walk by Eric Hill

The Activities

The one I used most was the traditional song "B-I-N-G-O", with a slight twist. After the first verse, we would omit a letter and instead of clapping in its place, we would bark. I had the letters B, I, N, G, & O to put on the magnet board, as well as pictures of dogs to put up in their places.


There was a farmer who had a dog, 
and "BINGO" was his name-oh.
B - I - N - G - O
B - I - N - G - O
B - I - N - G - O
and "BINGO" was his name-oh!

[on each subsequent verse, remove one letter and replace with dog and bark instead]

We also did variations on "If You're Happy And You Know It":

If You're A Dog & You Know It

If you're a dog and know it, give a bark....

If you're a dog and know it, wag your tail....

If you're a dog and you know it, sit up and beg....

If you're a dog and you know it, dig a hole....

If you're a dog and you know it, sit please!

And this fingerplay:

Digging in the Dirt

Ten little doggies went out one day
(hold up ten fingers)
To dig in the dirt and play, play, play. 
(Pretend to dig with both hands)
Five were spotted dogs, and five were not.
(Hold up one hand at a time)
And at dinner time, they ate a lot!
(pretend to eat) 

How It Went

I was afraid the theme might be way too specific to work for multiple storytimes on multiples days, but it actually worked really well. I especially had fun with The Doghouse, though I almost lost it a couple of times at the kids' perfectly shocked reactions to Dog having Duck for dinner (no one was upset), though they didn't always completely get the ending and how it was a play on words, they did understand that no one got eaten!