Friday, June 24, 2016

Story Time Q & A: Early Literacy, Supervisor Support, and Organizing My Repertoire

Today I'm answering the second batch of questions from the list I received following my "Tips for Story Time Success" webinar. 

Q: Can you talk about the early literacy benefits of storytime? There is a push in the field to focus on early literacy, as if there was a right and wrong way to do storytime.  What do you think? Early literacy-focused vision of storytime vs. a FUN-focus?

A: There is definitely a big push in the field to focus on early literacy, but it has not caused me to change how I present story time. Every time we read, sing, play, or talk with a child, we are helping her work on her early literacy skills whether we say so explicitly or not. Story time has always accomplished this, even when librarians didn't talk about it all the time. It is definitely helpful for librarians to be aware of what children need to know before they can learn to read, and to incorporate a wide variety of activities into story time, but I am not a story time presenter who ever announces to the audience which early literacy skill we are practicing at a given moment, nor do I share asides with parents as part of my story times. I also don't consciously plan activities to match each skill.

Certainly story time is more than just entertainment, but it is also not school, and for me, the push for early literacy instruction at story time feels more academic than is necessary for kids under five. The job of small children is to play. If we make story time a playful and fun experience, they will learn all of those early literacy skills without even realizing it - and their parents will repeat story time activities at home, not because the librarian says to, but because the child enjoys them and wants to experience them again and again. So I am not big on early literacy focused story times. It's one right way to do story time, but definitely not the only way.

Q: How do you find success without promotion/support from a branch manager or director?

A: It can certainly be difficult when the vision that a manager or director has for the library does not include support for children's programming, but this does not mean you are doomed to failure. Sometimes an indifferent or uninvolved supervisor can be a blessing in disguise, because their lack of interest in story time frees you up to do what works for you and build up the program yourself. Often, after you do this, the supervisor is forced to become more invested in story time because other members of the community (prominent patrons, library board members, local officials, etc.) begin to recognize your success, and the supervisor doesn't want to look like he is out of step.

If your supervisor is involved with the work of the children's department, but is specifically not interested in having story time, or not convinced of its importance, this can be a bit trickier to navigate. In that situation, I might try a few things. I might tactfully make the case for story time, using articles in professional publications and books like mine to justify why story time is so important to public libraries and why it should be a part of your library's service to its patrons. If you have an existing story time schedule, you might ask the patrons who do attend regularly to fill out comment cards or surveys indicating the importance of story time to their families. This way, your argument for focusing more heavily on story time is justified by patron interest, not just your own.

Ultimately, though, I have never felt that a supervisor's involvement was a key factor in how successful my story times are. It's certainly nice to have a supervisor who appreciates story time and values your work, but it is possible to succeed in spite of a supervisor who does not have that outlook.

Q: How do you organize your repertoire of story time resources/ideas? 

A: My organizational system involves three websites:
  • this blog, where I post all of my story time plans; 
  • my wiki, which houses all of the lyrics, tunes, and links for the songs and rhymes that I have used; and 
  • my Goodreads account, where I shelve all the books I read at story time according to theme, with notes about when I read them and links to the corresponding blog posts.
I also have a large Rubbermaid container in my garage at home filled with flannel board pieces and stick puppets, which is organized by category using a bunch of manila envelopes labeled with different subject areas (people, animals, food, clothing, etc.) 

Do you like this feature? Would you like to see it continue? Email me with your own story time question at 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Read Around Town: The Bus

Read Around Town is a series where I highlight picture books that celebrate the people and places in a young child's immediate community. Today's post focuses on buses and bus drivers.

School Bus by Donald Crews
Follow the daily travels of a school bus in this boldly illustrated title from Freight Train creator Donald Crews.

The Wheels on the Bus by Maryann Kovalski
While two kids wait for the bus with their grandmother, they sing the favorite children's song so exuberantly they forget to board the bus.

The Bus for Us by Suzanne Bloom
At the bus stop on the first day of school, Tess asks her friend Gus whether each of a series of vehicles is the bus or something else.

The Babies on the Bus by Karen Katz
In this vibrantly colored book based on "The Wheels on the Bus" the driver and passengers on the bus are all babies!

Busing Brewster by Richard Michelson, illustrated by R.G. Roth
This historical picture book relates Brewster's experiences being bused from his primarily black neighborhood to a white school.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems
When the driver must leave the bus for a moment, he instructs the reader not to let the pigeon drive the bus, but the pigeon is not very compliant.

Bus Stops by Taro Gomi 
A public city bus travels its route, picking up and dropping off various passengers throughout the day.

My Bus by Byron Barton
A bus driver picks up and drops off groups of feline and canine passengers in this companion to My Car. (Read my review here.)

The Seals on the Bus by Lenny Hort, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
In this silly version of "The Wheels on the Bus" wild animals noisily ride the bus all around the town.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson
As CJ rides the bus home from church with his grandmother, he expresses his frustrations over having to take the bus, not having the latest technological devices, and living in a poor neighborhood, to which his grandmother responds with kindness and patience. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Chapter Book Check-In, Summer 2016

Today I'm rounding up brand-new beginning chapter books with publication dates in June, July, and August of 2016. The following titles are included:

  • New Friends by Michelle Misra 
  • Cody Harmon, King of Pets by Claudia Mills
  • Meet the Bobs and Tweets by Pepper Springfield
  • Pearl's Ocean Magic by Catherine Hapka
  • Backyard Witch: Jess's Story by Christine Heppermann and Ron Koertge
  • The Toad by Elise Gravel
  • Slingshot and Burp by Richard Haynes
  • Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln? by Kate DiCamillo
  • Piper Green and the Fairy Tree: The Sea Pony by Ellen Potter 
  • Chime Travelers: The Strangers at the Manger by Lisa Hendey

Angel Wings: New Friends
by Michelle Misra
June 7, 2016; Aladdin

This first book in the Angel Wings series was originally published in the UK in 2013. It introduces a group of school-age angels, all of whom attend the Guardian Angel academy, where they are taught subjects such as Angel Gardening and Flying while they try to earn halo stamps for good behavior. When Ella, one of the main characters, decides to go out of bounds to visit Rainbow's End, the other new girls in school band together to save her, and then vow to have many more adventures together. This series looks like it will be very similar to Cecilia Galante's Little Wings series, but with angels instead of cupids. Personally, as someone whose religion has a specific teaching about angels, this book rubbed me the wrong way. There is no mention of heaven or God anywhere in the book, and the angels are treated like any other character in a fantasy story, with no reference at all to their religious roots. Since I will be teaching my kids the Catholic explanation of angels, I would not be interested in sharing this book with them because I think  it would just be confusing. Religious objections aside, however, it could be a read-alike for the Rainbow Magic books, and for other fantastical school stories like the Owl Diaries and Worst Witch series.

Cody Harmon, King of Pets
by Claudia Mills
June 14, 2016; Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The fifth installment in Mills's Franklin School Friends series stars Cody, who is not very strong in academics, but has a strong affinity for animals. His story revolves around the school pet show. Cody has nine pets, but he can only afford to enter one into the show himself. He agrees to allow some of his classmates to borrow his other pets as their own entries, but when Tobit requests Cody's beloved dog, Rex, Cody becomes concerned that his friend will not treat the dog properly. This results in a lot of stress and worrying for Cody in the days leading up to the pet show. Though this was not my favorite Franklin School story, I really appreciate the fact that the author gave Cody his own book. In the other books, he is often pitied or disliked by the other characters, so it was nice to see him demonstrating his rapport with animals and to understand a little bit more why he is not a great student. I like that this series celebrates different types of intelligence and allows kids to see the value in all talents.

Meet the Bobs and Tweets
by Pepper Springfield
June 28, 2016; Scholastic

This Seussian rhyming story focuses on the battle between the Bobs, who are slobs, and the Tweets, who like things to be kept neat. Both families are convinced to move into the same neighborhood  by a real estate agent who promises each of them that their new block is perfectly friendly to their lifestyle. While the older members of each family focus on their differences, the seventh and youngest Bob and the seventh and youngest Tweet look for commonalities and become friends. Imitating Dr. Seuss is usually not a good idea, as derivative works never compare well to the originals. In this book, the rhythm is awkward in many places, and the rhymes are very cutesy and obvious. The "can't we all just get along" storyline is also predictable and not very interesting to kids. The format of the book, and the colorful artwork, are really appealing, so kids will probably pick up the book and look at it, but I'm just not convinced they will want to read it.

Pearl's Ocean Magic
by Catherine Hapka
June 28, 2016; Scholastic Paperbacks

Pearl, her parents, and her little sister, Squeak make up a small pod of dolphins who use telepathic magic to "guide" and "push" other sea creatures out of danger. Pearl has just started at Coral Cove Dolphin School, where she meets a dolphin named Mullet, who is not very friendly and seems to cause a lot of trouble.  When Mullet challenges a classmate named Flip to complete a dangerous dare, Pearl and her new friends must step in to save his life. This book is a really gentle fantasy story that will appeal strongly to sensitive kids. The setting and characters are reminiscent of Finding Nemo, which will draw in readers, and the adventurous plot, though clearly dangerous and a bit scary for the characters, is resolved quickly and comfortingly. The writing is stronger than in a lot of other fantastical school stories, and the rules of Pearl's magic are well-explained and easy to follow. Though the pink dolphin on the cover is probably looking to reach girl readers, the story itself is appealing to all kids, especially those who are fascinated by the ocean and/or who are already fans of the Shark School books.

The Toad 
by Elise Gravel
July 5, 2016; Penguin Random House Canada

The Toad is a non-fiction book for beginning readers which uses a graphic format to provide scientific information about toads. Though the length and size of the book suggest that it might be an easy reader, the structure and vocabulary make it more appropriate for the beginning chapter book audience. The book's sense of humor, which is embodied by the female toad who is the star of the book, is spot-on for six and seven-year-olds (especially boys), and the colorful illustrations will attract kids who are interested in graphic novels and Toon books. It might be useful to pair this book with a more serious nonfiction narrative that includes photographs, as it is hard to glean from this book what real toads look like, but as a gateway to becoming interested in science, this book is excellent and it will circulate well in elementary school libraries.

Backyard Witch: Jess's Story
by Christine Heppermann and Ron Koertge
July 12, 2016; Greenwillow Books

Sadie's friends Jess and Maya are home from camp in this second book of the Backyard Witch series, and they have been filled in on their friend's adventures with the mysterious Ms. M. They haven't seen her in a while, but when Jess nearly burns her mother's kitchen to the ground while her mom is out working with a prestigious chef, her mom decides she needs a babysitter. Without realizing who she really is, Jess's mom hires Ms. M. Suddenly, Jess's life is filled with the excitement that comes from hanging out with a witch. Ms. M. plays sports with Jess, teaches her about herbs, fills her in on the latest news about her long-lost friend, Ethel, and even secretly spends the night at Jess's house. This follow-up to Sadie's Story really drives home the similarities between this series and the classic Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books. Ms. M. is a bit less moralistic than Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, but she stills helps the girls solve problems and improve themselves at the same time. Ms. M. also has a delightful sense of humor which, in addition to making kids laugh, also make this book an enjoyable potential read-aloud. All in all, this is another strong addition to the series that will have readers waiting impatiently for book 3.

Slingshot and Burp
by Richard Haynes
August 2, 2016; Candlewick

Slingshot and Burp are double cousins who live in the West and consider themselves to be cowboys. When they discover that there might be bones - or better yet, treasure - buried in a local area known as the Boneyard, they jump at the chance to dig it up. But what they don't count on is the fact that there might be a ghost cat out there, too, looking to scare them off, or worse. This lively story filled with realistic dialogue provides a fresh and different approach to books for newly independent readers. The unique setting and strong connection between the two boys help the story stand out among other realistic fiction titles for this audience. For kids who are interested in cowboys, or whose imaginations fuel adventures in their own backyards, Slingshot and Burp will be two new best friends. Recommended for library collections in specific need of more books to engage boys, and for families looking for fun boy-friendly read-alouds for six, seven, and eight-year-olds. A great read-alike for the Hooey Higgins series.

Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln?
by Kate DiCamillo
August 2, 2016; Candlewick

After living under the thumb of her sister, Eugenia, for many years, Baby Lincoln decides to strike out on her own and take a Necessary Journey. She hops on a train to a town called Fluxom, and as she travels, she meets a man in a fur hat who encourages her to read comics despite Eugenia's disapproval, a young woman named Sheila who shares her jelly beans with Baby as she heads back to college, and a little boy named George who is traveling alone and needs Baby to look after him for a while. Through these chance encounters, Baby begins to come into her own as Lucille Abigail Eleanor Lincoln, and not just as Eugenia's little sister. This book, like the previous Deckawoo Drive titles, provides a character building lesson for kids by placing a child-like adult in a difficult situation and then following her as she overcomes it. It also provides kids with a taste of the experience of traveling alone by train, which most elementary school students have probably not done yet. I did not have as strong an emotional reaction to this book as I did to Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon, but I still enjoyed it, and I consider it a worthy addition to this wonderful series.

Piper Green and the Fairy Tree: The Sea Pony
by Ellen Potter
August 16, 2016; Knopf Books for Young Readers

In her third book, Piper Green decides she would like to have a horse, and she petitions the fairy tree in her yard to give her one. When the tree instead delivers a whistle, Piper figures she will have to figure out how to get  a horse on her own. When she is out on the boat with her dad, however, her whistle attracts an unexpected friend whom Piper considers to be her sea pony. The latest installment to this delightful series is in perfect keeping with the style and format established by the previous titles. Piper's spunky personality really shines in this story, as she annoys everyone in town with her whistle, and her interactions with characters like her brother and the owner of the grocery store bring her to life very vividly. There are a lot of horse stories for kids, but this one brings a fresh new perspective to the topic, which introduces kids to more details of what it's like to live on an island. I keep seeing reviews comparing Piper to Junie B. Jones, but I actually think she is more like Judy Moody: interested in the world, excited about new things, and just impulsive enough to get into trouble now and then. This continues to be a great series that I highly recommend.

Chime Travelers: The Strangers at the Manger
by Lisa Hendey
August 19, 2016; Servant

This fifth book in the Chime Travelers series not only focuses on two saints - Joseph and the Virgin Mary - it also brings Katie and her twin brother Patrick face to face with the infant Jesus as they witness and participate in the events surrounding His birth. Of the three books from this series that I have been able to read so far, this one is the most powerful. Having the characters visit ordinary people whom we know later become saints is one thing, but actually allowing the characters to interact with Jesus as a baby, and encouraging the reader to imagine what that must be like, is really an amazing feat for a chapter book. Hendey also uses the twins' experience at the Nativity to inform a situation in their real lives, where a refugee family has arrived in their parish but they have failed to welcome them. This book would be a wonderful read-aloud to kick off the Christmas season, and to really drive home the real meaning of the holiday. By embellishing the Bible story with imagined dialogue, Hendey brings the entire event to life in a way that makes the Christmas story personal for kids, and draws them nearer to Christ. Every Catholic family can and should benefit from this wonderful book.

I received digital ARCs of New Friends, Cody Harmon, King of Pets, Meet the Bobs and Tweets, Pearl's Ocean Magic, and Backyard Witch: Jess's Story from their respective publishers via Edelweiss. I received paper review copies of Slingshot and Burp and Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln? from Candlewick. I received digital ARCs of The ToadPiper Green and the Fairy Tree: The Sea Pony and Chime Travelers: The Strangers at the Manger from their respective publishers via NetGalley.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Story Time Q & A: Repetition, Large Groups, STEAM, and Behavior Problems

Today I'm answering the first batch of questions from the list I received following my "Tips for Story Time Success" webinar. These are the questions that could be answered in just a paragraph. There will be two more posts this week and next which will include answers to the more involved questions. 

Q: I repeat a lot of games and songs when it comes to my preschool storytime, mostly because the kids learn them and love them, is that okay?

A: Since we know children learn best by repetition, I think it is a great idea to repeat the same material over the course of several sessions, or even at every session you present. If you enjoy it, and the kids enjoy it, and it works for your story time, keep it up!

Q: If possible could I get some aesthetics pointers for very large groups (my storytimes are usually have between 60 and 75 in attendance) [Note: This question refers to the section of my presentation where I talked about the appearance of the materials you use in story time.] 

A: It can definitely be hard to make sure everyone can see when a story time is this large! Here a few pointers:
  • Choose books with bold lines, bright colors, and solid backgrounds that help the figures to stand out on the page. Books where a single, simple image appears on each page, and fills the entire page, are easiest to see at a distance.  
  • If you can manage it smoothly, try using big books, or using a projector to show book pages on a screen or wall. 
  • Substitute physical movements for visual aides. Instead of singing a song with a puppet, find hand gestures to accompany it, or use your fingers instead of flannel board pieces to count five little ducks, monkeys, flowers, etc. 
  • Use very large flannel board pieces with distinct features and bold lines. Avoid flannel board stories that require a lot of pieces to occupy the board at once - instead, tell simple stories without a lot of moving around of figures.
  • Tell stories without the book and make them visual in some other way - hand gestures, full-body movements, facial expressions, etc.
Q: Have you added STEAM elements to your story times?

A: I have always done STEAM programming separately from story time, but I do have a list of story time starters for STEM themes that I created to go along with the Fizz, Boom, Read summer reading program in 2014 that might be of interest!

Q: How do you address problem children? It is difficult when the parent is sitting in the same room but refuses to calm her child down, who is then riling all the other children up to misbehave as well!
The entire last chapter of my book is devoted to story time problems, and there is a big section in there about child behavior. In the specific situation you mention - a parent refusing to calm down the child - I would probably address the parent in the moment in a friendly, but firm way. Something like, "Whoops, this little guy needs to find his mom." That lets the child know you see what he is doing, and the parent know that you expect parents to handle those types of behaviors. If it escalates beyond that, I would probably have to ask the parent not to bring the child anymore, or at least to leave with him when his behavior gets out of control. I would try to have a supervisor or colleague in on that conversation if at all possible.

Do you like this feature? Would you like to see it continue? Email me with your own story time question at 
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