Friday, November 24, 2017

Food, Glorious Food! - Preschool Storytime

The week of Thanksgiving seemed to be the perfect time for a round of "Food"-themed storytimes, since food is such an important part of the holiday tradition, as well as for many holidays in general. My book selection was kind of a mish-mash without any real focus, but all had something to do with food: cooking, eating, sharing, table manners, etc.

Each storytime started with a brief introduction which included letting the kids each share what one of their favorite foods is, our letter of the day ("Ff"), and our story song. Though it varied with the group, we generally read 2-3 books and did 1 or 2 additional songs/rhymes.

The Books 

Food Storytime

  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle is a classic, and while many may already know it, there are still those that don't. I use the opportunity to point out that he got a tummy ache from eating all the junk food, when he should have been eating leaves.
  • Worms for Lunch by Leonid Gore has various characters with lift-a-flaps for guessing what each one eats, and figuring out who eats worms.
  • The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli has a silly crocodile who loves watermelon, but when he accidentally swallows a seed fears that it will grow inside him.
  • What's for Lunch? by Ann Garrett, Gene-Michael Higney, & Stephanie Peterson features lift-a-flaps and a rhyming text to show what different animals like to eat. They also produced a companion book, What's for Dinner?
  • Yummy, Yucky by Leslie Patricelli is a board book intended to help teach babies and toddlers what they should and shouldn't eat, but preschoolers still enjoy saying whether things are "yummy" or "yucky".
  • Sam's Sandwich by David Pelham is a book that looks like a sandwich. Sam offers to make his sister a sandwich, but sneaks in some rather distasteful ingredients among the others. Kids love being grossed out by this one.
  • The Wolf's Chicken Stew by Keiko Kaska has an unexpected ending, though most of the preschoolers don't quite get it.
  • How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? by Jane Yolen & Mark Teague is a fun book for addressing appropriate table manners.
  • Cookiesaurus Rex by Amy Fellner Dominy, Nate Evans, & AG Ford is a really fun
    book about a dinosaur cookie that learns it doesn't pay to be demanding and selfish.
  • Is That Wise Pig? by Jan Thomas (inadvertently omitted from collage above) has humor, counting, and making soup, though the ingredients Pig suggests are pretty questionable.


We talked about our favorite foods and identified fruits and vegetables using the set of plush props I had as visuals:

Food Storytime

We also had a great song about making soup to complement Is That Wise Pig?, and let each child have a turn suggesting an ingredient to add:

"Stir, Stir, Stir the Soup"
(to the tune of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat")

Stir, stir, stir the soup;
Stir it all day long.
Add some   (ingredient) ,
Take a taste (SLURRRP!)
Soup will make us strong! 

[Act out stirring, adding ingredient, tasting from spoon, and show muscles, 
repeat for as many ingredients as desired.]

As you might expect, we did get some rather unusual ingredients, and they outnumbered the typical soup ingredients. Even after reading Is That Wise, Pig? and seeing ingredients like onions, tomatoes, green beans, potatoes, etc., they tended to choose fruits, or silly things, like cookies, cakes, and ice cream.

How It Went 

Even though I think our book selection needs a little improvement (I really hope to find something about healthy food vs. junk food that is engaging), the kids seemed to enjoy the theme, and talking about what they liked and didn't like. Some of the books they seemed to like best were Is That Wise, Pig?, Worms For Lunch, How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food, and my newest favorite, Cookiesaurus Rex.

They had a lot of fun with the "Soup" song, though the ingredients they came up with were for the most part definitely not standard soup ingredients. A few did say things like carrots, tomatoes, rice, or noodles; but I also got a lot of fruits, ice cream, and cookies. They did have fun with it, though.
Paper Bag Drumstick, Food Storytime
One group was absolutely beside themselves with excitement as they presented us with "drumsticks" that their teacher had made, obstensibly with their help. They were made of paper bags and had candy inside. It was very sweet of her to do, and so cute how excited the kids were to give to us (the "us" being myself, the Storytime Bus driver, and the volunteer assistant). 

One little boy in that class, that I have noticed really seems to enjoy the stories, asked if we had the "scary carrot book" because he really wanted to read that one again. I realized he was talking about Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown's Creepy Carrots that we had read to them last month. Unfortunately I didn't have a copy of it with me this time, but it's always nice to see when a book makes that much of an impression on them that they remember it and ask for it later.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Fearless Storytime

10 Things You Should Not Be Afraid To Do In Storytime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 10, 2017

Being Thankful (and Thankful When It Was Over!)

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

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

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

Thank You

We are thankful for the food we eat.

We are thankful for the friends we meet.

We are thankful for the golden sun,

the trees, the birds, and everyone!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Review of Cookiesaurus Rex

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

Cookiesaurus Rex Review
Cookiesaurus Rex

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

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

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

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

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

Cookiesaurus Rex Review

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

Cookiesaurus Rex Review

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

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

*Spoiler Alert!*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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