Saturday, June 26, 2021

Polar Bears - Family Storytime

I was first inspired to plan a polar bear theme by Mac Barnett's new book, A Polar Bear In the Snow, but at the last minute decided not to use it because I wasn't sure the pictures would be visible and clear enough to everyone, with us having storytime outdoors and being all spread out.

We started with a "Hello" song, then introductions followed by a warm-up song, "Hello, Everybody". I brought out a non-fiction book to share a few pictures and interesting facts about polar bears and where they live, then led into our first book with our "story song".

polar bear storytime
I started with a silly book guaranteed to get their attention and lots of laughs, Polar Bear's Underwear by the creative team collectively known as Tupera Tupera. Polar Bear fears he has lost his underwear, and his friend Mouse kindly helps him search for them. They find several different pairs of underwear, but none are his. When Polar Bear finally finds his underwear, it turns out they were never really lost at all.

Kids love guessing whether each pair of underwear is Polar Bear's, and if not, who they might belong to, with the patterns of each pair giving a hint as to their owner. For example, the striped underwear belongs to Zebra, the underwear with carrots on them belong to Rabbit (who is wearing them on his head), and the tiny pair with flowers on them belong to Butterfly. This book is a lot of fun, but also encourages critical thinking in making predictions and introduces the concept of camouflage.

Next we did a counting down rhyme, accompanied by clip-art on my magnetic board:

Polar bear counting rhyme

"Five Little Polar Bears"

Five little polar bears, playing near the shore.
One tumbled in, and then there were  (four) .

Four little polar bears, swimming in the sea.
Once chased a seal, and then there were  (three) .

Three little polar bears, what shall we do?
One went swimming and then there were  (two) .

Two little polar bears playing in the sun.
One took a nap and then there was  (one).

One little polar bear, not very old.
Where's my mom? I'm hungry and cold!

Polar bear storytime
Our second book, What If....? Then We.... by Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Fred Koehler, encourages both imaginative and positive thinking. I introduced the book by telling them that asking "what if" questions is not only a great way to learn about things, asking "what if" is also a great way to begin a story using our imagination, just as the two polar bear friends do in this story. Through a series of "shorter than ever possibilities" the two friends propose a potentially negative situation, such as, "What happens if all the words in the universe disappear", and come up with a positive solution "We would invent our own language", and show that friends can help each other face tough or scary situations. 

I followed this with a song about several different kinds of bears, including polar bears, sung to the tune of "Mary Had a Little Lamb":

"Polar Bears"

Polar Bears are soft and white,
Soft and white, soft and white.
Polar bears are soft and white,
And live where it's cold.

Grizzly bears are big and brown,
Big and brown, big and brown.
Grizzly bears are big and brown,
And live in the woods.

Panda bears are white and black,
White and black, white and black.
Panda bears are white and black,
And like to eat bamboo.

Teddy bears are just my size,
Just my size, just my size.
Teddy bears are just the size,
To cuddle with at night.

Polar bear storytime
I finished with a classic, Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Can You Hear? by Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle. I love this series for the simple, repetitive rhyming text that invites children to join in repeating, and Eric Carle's bright, bold illustrations that invite the children to identify the animals. While Brown Bear, Brown Bear also encourages color recognition and Panda Bear, Panda Bear focuses on actions, Polar Bear, Polar Bear focuses on animal sounds and encourages the reader/audience to imitate them, which helps develop phonological awareness.

After I read the book to them, I mentioned the other two books in the series and showed them another unique trait they all have, which is in addition to reading them aloud, they can also be sung to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"! I didn't sing the whole book, but demonstrated with the first few pages. I explained finding multiple ways to share or explore a favorite book helps children engage in a new way and calls attention to the words and rhythm in a different way, also helping to develop phonological awareness and language.

Polar bear craft, polar bear storytime
I ended by showing them the simple take-home craft, a polar bear finger-puppet make from cardstock circles, googly eyes, a small black pom-pom for the nose, and a white one for the tail. I also let them know about our Bubble Party the next day, and invited them back for storytime next week. Then we said and sang our goodbyes.

How It Went

I was a little concerned that some people wouldn't come back this week due to the heat, as it had been uncomfortably warm even in the shade last week, and when only one family was there just before starting time it seemed my fears were being realized. But, several others soon showed up and a few more arrived a little bit late, so that I ended up with an even larger audience than the previous weeks with a total of 27 people (12 kids & 15 adults). Fortunately, even though the temperature was just as high this week, there was a bit of a breeze so that it was quite comfortable in the shade.

Everyone loved Polar Bear's Underwear and Polar Bear, Polar Bear (which they recognized as being related to the Brown Bear, Brown Bear they were already familiar with), but I don't think they were as engaged with What If....? Then We.... That one might be better for a one-on-one read. The best thing is that everyone stayed for the whole time, except for one toddler who got too fussy, which is a nice change from the strange Saturday storytime phenomenon I used to experience at my old library where half the audience would get up and leave en masse after the first story (because they didn't come specifically for storytime, just happened to be there and had other things to do and places to be). Doing a regular weekly storytime with a regular crowd is much better!

I am so relieved to be doing in-person storytimes again! They are so much more rewarding than doing virtual programs and take-home kits. I really thrive on the interactions with the kids, the audience feedback, and building relationships with the families. It's still just a tiny bit awkward getting back into the swing of things, I feel like my transitions are quite as smooth as they used to be and I keep forgetting to work in my literacy tips, but I think by the end of the summer I'll be back to 100%.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Wolves - Family Storytime

Since the CLSP summer reading theme this year is "Tails and Tales", I am using animal themes for all my storytimes. This week I focused on wolves, and I wanted to avoid the typical "big bad wolf" story that paints wolves in a negative light since conservationists and wildlife biologists are working very hard in our state to re-establish wolf populations and educate people on their necessity for a healthy ecosystem. Just a few days before storytime, I saw a news report that a litter of wild-born wolf pups had been spotted here for the first time in over 80 years. [I am holding storytime outdoors on the lawn for the time being.]

I introduced myself and asked all the kids' names, then started with a "Hello" song, going over expectations, followed by "Hello, Everybody" for a warm-up. I talked a little about wolves, how they almost became extinct in our country, but that while they are a dangerous apex predator they are also important to the ecosystem. I showed them some pictures of grey wolves to show all the color variations besides grey, pack size, and some adorable little pups. Then it was time for our first story, which I led into with "If You're Ready for a Story".

Wolf storytime
Little Wolf's Song by Britta Teckentrup is a sweet story about a little wolf pup who can't yet sing, or as humans would call it, howl. His siblings can all howl and they tease the poor little cub, causing him to wander off during a snow shower, becoming lost. When the moon comes out, Little Wolf finally finds his song, letting out a long, beautiful howl that leads his father to him. 

This story provides opportunities to talk about several important things that kids can relate to: wanting to be able to do things they aren't quite developmentally able to do, teasing and being teased, and what to do if they should be come lost (stay where they are and yell for their parents, just like Little Wolf did). I also was glad to find a story that featured a wolf in a more natural light, rather than being a "Big, Bad Wolf" or being anthropomorphized.

Next we did a "Five Little Wolf Pups" counting rhyme accompanied by clip art on my magnet board:

Wolf storytime, wolf rhyme

Five Little Wolf Pups

Five little wolf pups were playing in the sun.
The first one saw a rabbit, and he began to run.

The second one saw a butterfly, and he began to race.
The third one saw a squirrel, and he began to chase.

The fourth one tried to catch his tail, and he went round and round.
The fifth one was so quiet, he never made a sound.

We followed that with a song that let us move around a little and pretend to be wolves:

If You're a Wolf and You Know It

If you're a wolf and you know it, howl at the moon!
If you're a wolf and you know it, howl at the moon!
If you're a wolf and you know it, then your howl will surely show it.
If you're a wolf and you know it, howl at the moon.

If you're a wolf and you know it, growl at night....

If you're a wolf and you know it, scratch your fleas....

If you're a wolf and you know it, do all three....

Wolf storytime
Unfortunately, the only other wolf story I could find in our collection that showed wolves in a natural and positive way that wasn't too long was also about a little pup having trouble learning to howl (a new one by Joseph Bruchac with lovely art), so I had no choice but to use a story with anthropomorphized animals and fell back on one of my favorites, Wolf's Coming by Joe Kulka. 

I love this story, how it builds suspense with the urgent warnings of "Wolf's coming!" and dark illustrations, leading the audience to think the animals are running away in fear that Wolf is going to eat them, but then ends with the wonderful surprise twist that they are actually throwing Wolf a surprise birthday party!

Of course, we then had to sing "Happy Birthday" to Wolf, and count the candles on his cake to see how old he was.

Then I showed them the materials in the take-home craft kit and examples of what they would make. The packet included a sheet of interesting wolf facts, a color-cut-and-fold wolf, and the materials for a paper bag puppet. Then we closed with a good-bye song, announcements, and I thanked them for coming.

How It Went

I was very happy to see my audience had grown from 10 people the week before to 18 people this time, though 3 did leave shortly after we began due to an older child that really didn't want to be there. Everyone else stuck through until the end, despite the near 100 degree heat! Though we were in the shade and the humidity is very low here, it was somewhat uncomfortable, so I was impressed the rest stuck it out.

Everything went well, most of the kids were really engaged and seemed to enjoy everything. One of the little ones wandered a little, but of course that's to be expected and perfectly okay as long as they aren't bothering anyone else, in the way of the book, or headed toward the road or parking lot. And, as proof that toddlers are paying attention even when they seem not to be, his mother later told me that he kept saying "wolf" over and over the rest of the day.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Movement Family Storytime - IRL!

This week was a momentous occasion - after more than 15 months, I was finally able to do a real storytime, in person, with REAL LIVE KIDS! 

My last regular storytime was on February 22, 2020. That seems like a lifetime ago, so much has changed since then. It was a Yeti-themed storytime that included a hunt to find little stuffed yetis and was so much fun. Little did we know that day how our world was about to change. Within 3 weeks the library shut down and didn't reopen for several months, during which time I finished my MLIS but lost my job, along with 100 other part-time employees. My life was turned upside down as I was forced into a desperate job hunt, resulting in relocating across the country where I had to quickly adapt to a new world of virtual programming, take-home kits, and curbside service.

Though caregivers and kids really liked the take-home kits, and I was proud of what I was able to come up with and put together, I found them incredibly time-consuming and expensive, much more so than in-person programming. I found virtual programming to be very unsatisfying without the face-to-face interactions, and with little to no engagement in the virtual environment it didn't seem as if anyone was really watching and felt rather pointless. But, I figured doing virtual storytimes at least kept me in practice.

Finally, this summer I felt like it was time to start transitioning back to normal programming. I had been vaccinated, state and local restrictions were lifted, and the library I worked for dropped all restrictions as well, including masks. But, since children still cannot get the vaccine I was not quite ready to have them crowded together in a closed room and opted to plan on having storytime outdoors. We have a nice greenspace in front of the library with large shade trees that makes a very nice spot for storytime, aside from some road noise.

Since it would be the first storytime in a very long time for some, and the first ever for others, and no one would be used to sitting and listening quietly I decided an active storytime would be best for the first one and focused on books that would lots of opportunities for kids to move around and act things out.

I started by introducing myself and thanking them for coming and telling them how happy I was that we were finally able to start having storytime together again. We sang a quick "Hello" song, followed by a warm-up song that had some actions and identifying body parts ("Hello Everybody"), then led to the first book by singing "If You're Ready for a Story".

Movement storytime
For the first book I chose one of my favorite movement books, Can You Make a Scary Face? by Jan Thomas. Though the adults might get a little annoyed by all the stand up-sit down silliness as the lady bug leads the audience in a game of pretending, the kids always love it. This story has wiggling, dancing, pretending, and more. 

I also love Jan Thomas's illustration style. Her illustrations are simple, big, bold, and bright with heavy black outlines that work really well for storytime and for younger kids in general.

I followed that with a nice wiggly bug/animal themed song:

Can You Move Like Me?

Can you wiggle like a worm?
Can you squiggle can you squirm?

Can you flutter, can you fly,
Like a gentle butterfly?

Can you crawl upon the ground,
Like a beetle that is round?
Can you move like me?

Can you flip? Can you flop?
Can you give a little hop?

Can you slither like a snake?
Can you give a little shake?

Can you dance like a bee
That is buzzing 'round a tree?

Can you move like me?

Movement storytime
Next was another favorite movement book, Everybunny Dance by Ellie Sandall. This is such a fun book that allows the kids to dance, play pretend instruments, and sing along with all the bunnies, until a fox shows up and the bunnies have to run and hide. 

But, as it turns out, the fox enjoys dancing, singing, and making music as much as the bunnies, but he is very lonely. In the end they all dance and play together, with one group of bunnies forming a line and presumably doing the "Bunny Hop" dance.

Of course after that we had to dance the Bunny Hop ourselves!

I finished with a quieter activity, a bunny counting rhyme accompanied by a flannel board:

Five Little Bunnies

One little bunny, wondering what to do,
another bunny came along, then there were two.

Two little bunnies, hopping like me (Hop)
Another bunny came along, then there were three.

Three little bunnies, jumping around outdoors,
Another bunny joined them and then there were four.

Four little bunnies, so fluffy and alive,
Another bunny joined them, then there were five.

Five little bunnies, ready for some fun,
Hopped away in the warm, spring sun.

I decided to leave it at two books for the first storytime. Always better to leave them wanting more, right? I thanked them for coming, passed out a take-home "craft" packet with a printable on cardstock to color and cut out to make a bunny ear headband, a fox and bunny coloring sheet, and a ladybug counting activity sheet, then we sang a good-bye song.

How It Went

I had four families show up, for a total of 4 moms and 6 kids ranging in age from 2 to 6, which I was very happy with after being afraid no one would show. I'm hoping it will grow a little over time; I think 12-15 kids is about the perfect size.

Everything went well, and all the kids participated and seemed to have a good time, and I can't wait for the next one! I know the take-home craft was a bit lame, but I wanted to keep it simple since I had no idea how many kids to expect and I had no time due to being understaffed and overwhelmed with the beginning of a chaotic summer reading program (that I had no part in planning). 

Also, I must admit, I don't care for storytime crafts. It's so hard to come up with something simple enough for the younger kids to do in a relatively short time that isn't totally lame, the parents often take over, and they typically involve little creativity. I'd prefer just to have an after-storytime activity or play time and save arts and crafts for a separate program, but this community seems to really want crafts. I hope I can slowly wean them away from them.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Announcement RE: E-mail Subscriptions

Unfortunately, Feedburner will no longer support the e-mail subscription service this blog has used after June 2021.

What this means is that if you have previously subscribed to the automated e-mails of new content from this blog, this will be the last month you will receive them.

I am looking into alternatives, but it may take a while since I am in the middle of a very chaotic summer reading program! I welcome any suggestions.

In the meantime, you can also keep up with new content by following my Facebook page at

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

True Confessions...


So, I have something to confess that might be shocking to some, though I am sure there are those who are secretly in agreement with me. Now hold on to your cardigans folks, but the truth is.... I hate summer reading! 

I know that must seem downright blasphemous coming from a children's librarian who is dedicated to promoting literacy and lifelong reading, but it's true. Ok, maybe not 100% true; I guess it's really more of a love-hate relationship. I do love seeing all the kids and families in the library more often during the summer, catching up with former storytime regulars who are now in elementary school, talking books with teens, and doing fun programs, and I am very passionate about promoting reading and lifelong learning. However, that mission seems to have gotten lost in the stressful circus that summer reading programs have become, and that is what I truly hate. 

Summer reading programs were started in order to fight the supposed "summer slide". Aside from recent studies and re-examination of the original research casting doubt on whether the summer slide actually exists, promoting reading as mental exercise to keep the brain active over the summer is certainly a laudable goal. However, we seem to have completely lost sight of that original goal. I fondly remember the summer reading program at my local library. We made a weekly trip to the library where I checked out a huge stack of books that wouldn't quite last me until the next trip. I faithfully recorded the titles I read, and at the end exchanged my list for a coupon for a free ice cream cone from Dairy Queen and I was happy. It was simple, low-key, and effective. The focus was on celebrating the joy of reading; the worlds, adventures, and information we could find in a book, not prizes, not numbers, not publicity.

These days the mission of promoting reading has been lost in the pursuit of numbers. Every year we push for greater numbers, which we hope to get by being bigger and better than the year before. More programs, more publicity, more prizes, more money.....more, more, more. I've seen this lead to very un-healthy competition among staff as administration subtly pitted locations against each other, trying to outdo each other for numbers of participants. Those in the branches with extremely high numbers often patted themselves on the back and looked down at other locations, forgetting that much of their "success" was simply due to the different demographics of the respective locations. But yet, these numbers led to prejudices that extended well-beyond a little "friendly" summer competition and affected hiring decisions and career advancement for many staff.

In the endless chase for ever increasing numbers, staff are frequently pushed to the breaking point by the push for more programs, bigger programs, flashier, sexier programs, without the needed staffing and budgets to do so. This is simply not sustainable and leads to excess stress, anxiety, and ultimately, burnout; every year people leave youth services or public librarianship altogether for this reason. In our never-ending pursuit of ever increasing numbers we offer bigger and bigger prizes, everything from tablets, e-readers, and gift cards to cold hard cash. While this may lead to more "participation" in terms of signing up or turning in reading logs, does it actually lead to more reading? Or just more cheating? I have definitely observed the latter. And more importantly, does it really do anything to promote lifelong reading? There is research that suggests incentivized reading does not promote lifelong reading, and may in fact be counter-productive, and I believe this is true based on my own observations. 

So what would I do for summer reading if it were completely up to me, no worrying about numbers and focusing only on the kids and the mission to promote lifelong reading? Here are my "Do's and Don'ts" for an ideal summer reading program:

  • DO put as many books into the hands of as many kids as possible! Give books away for them to keep, make it as easy as possible to check out materials by removing barriers.
  • DO outreach and more outreach! Visit day camps and daycares, especially those with children who are less likely to ever visit the library. Give away books, talk about books, do fun programs with them. 
  • DO fun programs for all ages, but a reasonable amount relative to staffing, and keep most of them relatively simple.
  • DO have your summer program designed by librarians, with input from ALL staff that will be responsible for implementing it.
  • DO stay focused on the mission of promoting reading.
  • DO encourage free-choice and making reading FUN!
  • DO be clear on your goals and how success will be measured.
  • DO have a clear plan in place, with clear procedures and rules, well in advance and stick to it. Give staff plenty of time to ask questions and understand everything about the plan.

  • DON'T let your program be designed by politicians, marketing people, business people or others who are not professionally trained in child development, literacy, and reading motivation.
  • DON'T lose sight of the mission in the chase for numbers, publicity, or personal ambitions.
  • DON'T push so much programming that it becomes a circus and no one can keep up with what's going on and everyone becomes completely exhausted and burned out.
  • DON'T ignore valid concerns from your staff, then leave them to deal with the mess.
  • DON'T literally pay kids for checking out books and tell them it's their "summer job". SRP is supposed to promote the idea that reading is fun, enjoyable, and useful, not reinforce the idea that it's a chore.
  • DON'T make it up as you go along. Have a clear mission, a well-thought out plan for execution, and clear rules/criteria for participation and "winning" well in advance, and don't change the rules once the program has already started.

Now, I am a realist and I do understand that numbers are an easy, convenient, and tangible way to show board members and taxpayers what we do; I love data and stats as much as the next person, probably more if truth be told. But numbers are only part of the story, they aren't everything, and by becoming so obsessed with numbers we have crept further and further away from our mission and created miserable conditions for the front-line staff. I think it's time to say enough is enough, and re-focus our attentions on the mission of promoting literacy and learning, and allow staff to have less stress, more job satisfaction, and a reasonable work-life balance. 

Unfortunately, until library boards and administrations start to value and appreciate staff, recognize their experience and expertise, and seek and consider their input, change will be difficult at best. But we can try! Summer reading should be enjoyable for everyone, not something to be dreaded and suffered through. In the meantime, I will try to focus on the positive, that more families are coming in to the library so I'll at least have a chance to engage them, promote reading, and develop relationships.

Anyone else feel the same? Care to try to convince me the circus is necessary or at all beneficial? Anyone have a different experience? Please share in the comments below!