Saturday, February 26, 2011

Weekly Story Time Wrap-Up Volume 5

This week's story time came on the heels of an ice storm that put the schools on a two-hour delay. So attendance was  down, because families with school-age kids were busy getting themselves off to school while story time was happening. But "down" in this case meant approximately 40 kids at one session, and 30 at the other.

Because it was a smaller group, I opted to skip the theme I had planned (community helpers) and just pulled three books at the last minute and  read  those instead. It was a tough day, with chatty parents and crying babies, and the books were not at all well-received. It was a good day for singing, so we did a lot of songs, and people enjoyed that, and said so.

But whether the audience liked them or not, here are my thoughts on the three titles I chose:


Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown,
illustrated by Felicia Bond

As I was reading this first story, I realized it was a book I used to read all the time when I worked as a nursery school classroom assistant in college. And of the three, I think it was the one the crowd liked best, if only because it gave  them the opportunity to make noise. I appreciated that, too, though I wasn't pleased when some moms started talking louder to be heard over the mooing, neighing and oinking.

The story follows a group of farm animals (the usual suspects, including a cow, a duck, a pig, a donkey, a rooster, and a hen) through one entire day in the big red barn they all share. The text rhymes, which can sometimes be a problem for me, but Margaret Wise Brown is an author who can be trusted to do such things without choosing ridiculous words just to make a rhyme work, so I wasn't bothered by it. In terms of Felicia Bond's illustrations, I really liked the contrast in colors between daytime on the farm - bright greens, blues, and reds for the grass, sky, and barn, and warm browns and grays for the various animals - and nighttime on the farm - deep blues and purples, creating the illusion of dark, and demonstrating the way everything appears  to change color in the absence of the sun. I'm always entertained and impressed by illustrators who can create that effect. And Felicia Bond's style - as in If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and others in that series - is warm, playful, and comforting, as always.


Building A House by Byron Barton 
This second book, though written by my old standby, Byron Barton, was not a wise choice for a story time. It was shelved (mistakenly) with the picture books, but was actually a non-fiction book, and as such, it was a little bit dry for toddlers. I chose it because I thought it would appeal to all the little boys who are so into things like Trucktown and the John Deere DVD's about bulldozers and such. But it wound up being pretty boring, and I can't even really say much about it. I do like Byron Barton - he has a way of simplifying complicated concepts, and his illustrations are always bold and eye-catching and toddler-friendly. But this book would have been better read independently, by a six-year-old.

It does, however, give a nice overview of the various stages of constructing a building, and it  reminded me - on a very simplified level - of The Little House, which I posted about a few weeks ago. I'll remember it for the next time a construction worker enthusiast comes in, but until then, I'll be leaving it out of story time.



 A Good Day by Kevin Henkes

I love this book. Several animals are having a bad day - a bird loses a feather, a squirrel drops his nut, a fox can't find his mom, and a dog is all tangled up in a leash. But then their luck changes and they - and a little girl living nearby - have a good day after all. I am always amazed when authors can do so much with so few words, and this book is a great pick-me-up, especially on a day when it's cloudy, gray, and cold outside. The bold brightness of the illustrations, and those thick lines that Henkes uses to outline shapes, make it stand out, and they beg me to open the book every time I see it on the library shelves.

I outdid myself with the dramatization of this story, and read with more inflection and excitement than my personality typically allows, figuring it would help. I guess it sort of did - there was some applause - but mainly it was just a  restless day, and this group was not sitting for three books, no matter what. Some days are like that.

Next week, I've got Family Story Time on Monday and the usual Baby/Toddler group on Tuesday. Check back next Saturday to see what we read!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Weekly Story Time Wrap-Up Volume 4

Three different story times to report on this week!

Last Saturday afternoon, I read a quick story for a group of children who were using one of our meeting rooms. The group was all girls, so I chose a princess book, and it went over quite well.



Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated by Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Lane Smith


This is the story of Princess Hyacinth, who was born with a mysterious affliction that causes her to float whenever she's not weighted down. Her royal clothing is lined with diamonds, and her crown is rather heavy, so as long as she wears her princess garb, she remains safely on the ground. But one day, while outside, she meets a man selling balloons, and because she is a princess, he indulges her request to hold onto a balloon string and see what it's like to fly high into the sky. When the balloon string breaks, however, only the ingenuity of Boy, a neighbor child who has admired her from afar, can save the day.

This is a really clever and funny book, and most of the girls thought so, too. Lane Smith's illustrations (and the design of the book, done by his wife, Molly Leach) suit the story perfectly. The story itself has some markings of a typical princess fairy tale, but the Princess's troubles aren't magically erased by a hero. Rather, the story only promises she will never be bored again. I loved the message that sends to girls, which is that, through teamwork, they can find ways around their problems, and that they don't need saving, so much as the opportunity to find new solutions. An excellent girl-power book, and I think the humorous tone would also go over quite well with boys.




On Monday, attendance at Family Story Time was sparse, but covered our biggest age range so far. The youngest was just a toddler, and I think the oldest was a second- or third-grader. We read the following Valentine’s Day themed books:


Henry in Love by Peter McCarty
If You'll Be My Valentine by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Fumi Kosaka
Panda Kisses by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, illustrated by Kay Widdowson

Henry in Love is quirky and adorable. It's hard to say whether the kids were into it, as we had parents who kept pulling them in and out of the room, but I think they enjoyed it, overall. It went over better with the girls than the boys, but I'm not entirely sure why. Henry is shown standing at the toilet in the first few pages of the book, and there is a football scene, and lots of boyishness. Perhaps we lost them when we saw Henry's love interest, Chloe, sitting in a field full of flowers. I'm not sure. But I love this book, and especially the subtlety on the last page, when Henry trades his blueberry muffin for Chloe's carrot. I really would love to see the author do a sequel!

I repeated Panda Kisses again, even after its failure last Tuesday at Baby/Toddler Story Time, mostly because all of our Valentine's Day books were out, and I knew this one was checked in. The older kids liked it, surprisingly, and I think they were the only ones actually in the room when we read it. They said it was cute, and honestly, that's really all you can say about it anyway.

If You'll Be My Valentine would have been perfect for a preschool audience, but I ended up reading it with just a couple of little ones in the room, and  they couldn't have been less engaged. What's nice about it, though, is that each Valentine is addressed to a particular recipient, whose identity is revealed only in the illustrations, so it sparks a lot of discussion with the audience. I would have loved to read it to a small, intimate story time group of ten or fifteen kids. Maybe next year.

All in all, I'm still not sure what to expect at Family Story Time. It hasn't caught on yet, so I mostly end up reading to whoever happens to be in the library on Mondays at 4pm. I'm hoping that things will pick up, though, now that our information is posted correctly on the library website.


I don’t usually do themes, but for this week, in an effort to work on my transitions between books and songs, I did a Loud & Soft theme for my Tuesday Baby/Toddler sessions. I stuck to the same three books for both sessions:


What's Your Sound, Hound the Hound?
by Mo Willems
Noisy Nora by Rosemary Wells
Shhhhh by Kevin Henkes

This was the best week I've ever had at Baby/Toddler story time. I would like to say that's because of the theme, but I actually think it's less about that, and more about the fact that I planned ahead, and regardless of what happened, didn't change the plan. I also didn't anticipate it at the time, but I had the most kids I've ever had at any story time ever (over 100, counting both sessions), so it was good to have a definite roadmap.

These books were all favorites with the crowd, and I think that's due in part to the fact that I stood at the front of the room, and held the books up where everyone could see. That's a technique I intend to adopt permanently; it seemed like that was the key to unlocking story time success.

I began with Noisy Nora, and made sure to keep the pace slow, and point out what was happening in the illustrations. I have done this in the past, but with not much confidence, almost like I was afraid of being criticized. But there were so many people in there, I had to focus my nervous energy somewhere, so I stuck with the book. It worked. At the end of the story, I was met with thunderous applause. I don't usually get a reaction at all at the end of a book, so that was a big improvement.  I also absolutely love this book, and have read it a million times, so I knew what to expect, and it gave me great joy to share my beloved refrain, "'Nora,' said her sister, 'why are you so dumb?'" with kids who had never heard it before. (And, for the record, I was sure to point out that this was not a nice thing to say.)

The second book I read in both sessions was Shhhhh, which served as a nice way of reining in the crowd after some noisy singing. I had some issues with adults talking, so we just kept making the "Shhhhh" noise every time things got out of hand. This book is also great for the element of surprise. Everything is very quiet as the speaker - a little girl - gives a catalog of everything that is asleep in her house, but she breaks that silence when she pounces into her parents' bedroom and wakes everything up. This book is also just the  right length for toddlers, and like Jessica it's a Kevin Henkes book I didn't know was by Kevin Henkes!

Inspired in part by Libby who blogged about Time to Sleep, Sheep the Sheep earlier this month, I decided  to try What's Your Sound, Hound the Hound? as my third book.   Not only did it make the perfect lead-in to "Old MacDonald Had a Farm," but the moments where Bunny the Bunny can't seem to make a sound got huge laughs from the audience, even though the pages were wordless. Mo Willems is just a genius when it comes to what kids like, and what's funny from a child's perspective.

Next week, I'm doing a Community Helpers theme. After that, I might try to ditch the themes again, and see if I can still be as organized without one. We'll see how it goes.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Weekly Story Time Wrap-Up Volume 3

I only did story time one day this week, and it felt like an off day to me. I enjoyed myself, but I didn't get much reaction from the audience. Also, what looked like a good collection of books turned out not to be not so interesting to the kids. But here's what I read on Tuesday, at my back-to-back Baby/Toddler story times: 

Cupcake by Charise Mericle Harper
Police Hurrying! Helping! Saving! by Patricia Hubbell, illustrated by Viviana Garofoli
Panda Kisses by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, illustrated by Kay Widdowson
One Mitten by Kristine O'Connell George, illustrated by Maggie Smith



I read Cupcake in the first session, and I realized halfway through that toddlers are not old enough to get the subtlety of its humor. We finished the book, the parents chuckled, and applauded, but I quickly crossed it off the list for the second session. It is a cute story, though. A plain white cupcake tries to find an exciting topping to spice her up and hopefully attract someone to eat her. When she teams up with a silly candle, the  two brainstorm together, until finally, the candle stands atop the cake, and the cupcake realizes what a great team they make. The candle never quite catches on, providing the punchline of the joke. I love Charise Mericle Harper, as evidenced by my recent reviews of two of her Just Grace books, and I didn't really know her picture books before this. I think they're even more clever and fun than her chapter books!

I have a lot of boys in my Tuesday group who love cars and trucks, and after the success of My Car last week, I decided to try a different kind of vehicle - police cars. I knew I had a hit with Police: Hurrying! Helping! Saving! before story time even started, when one of the little boys came up to me, pointed at the book and said, "Police!" And though we had some chatty adults who drowned out parts of the story, the kids and I made up for it by making a loud siren noise every time the story called for it. It went over so well the first time around, I repeated it for the second session. It didn't get applause, but I'm discovering that this is because my endings lack enthusiasm, and my transitions from book to song to book suck. I'm working on it.

I had a tough time keeping the audience's attention in both sessions, so I was thankful that parts of One Mitten, a book about the many things you can do with one - and later two - mittens lent itself fairly well to audience participation. When in doubt, I've learned it's best to get the parents doing something, if for no other reason than it stops them from chatting with each other. So when the little girl in the story clapped, made mitten ears, and covered her eyes, we all did, too. I loved the warm colors of the illustrations, and even I was tickled by the moment when the little girl finds her second mitten hiding under her sleeping cat. 

I loved the adorable Panda Kisses story, and thought it was perfect for Valentine's Day, but alas, it was a failure at story time. Too abstract, I guess. Or maybe it was just one book too many. I have a tendency to panic if I think I'm not doing enough books, and I think this one put me too far over the edge. I've decided to start planning out a month's worth of story times ahead of time, so that I have time to really consider the books, and maybe I'll stop worrying so much about filling the 30 minutes. In any case, this book is an easy reader by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, author of the beloved Biscuit series, about a little panda who tries to find the best kiss. After trying low kisses and high kisses, mom kisses and dad kisses, she discovers that the best kisses are the ones the whole family shares at the same time. So cute. I'm not sure what's with me this week, but I'm really into cuteness.




Ten Black Dots  by Donald Crews
Pots and Pans by Patricia Hubbell, illustrated by Diane Degroat
Big and Little by Margaret Miller

I consider Donald Crews to be an extremely reliable author for toddler story time. But Ten Black Dots just didn't do it for me this week, when I read it to the second session group. I like the concept though - black dots increasing in number from one to ten are shown as parts of different images, from marbles to animal eyes. My group is getting younger and younger as our Friday preschool story time begins to attract the older kids, and I think I need to start adjusting my expectations to suit actual toddlers, under the age of 2, instead of the 2 and 3 year olds I used to get. Because this would have worked at the interim branch, and I was surprised when it didn't seem to appeal this time around.

I tried to turn Pots and Pans into a call and answer type thing, and I had one very helpful Mom, who made every sound and kept a smile on her face through the whole story, even though some other parents were talking. This was perfectly age-appropriate, and though I didn't realize it until after story time, it's by the same author as the aforementioned police book. I'm going to try some more Patricia Hubbell books, even if they do force me to make embarrassing sounds and look like an even bigger fool than usual. (This one is about a baby who takes out all the pots and pans in the house and plays them like drums. I can remember doing that, and it was so much fun. The book definitely lives up to the fun of the experience.)

Big and Little suffered, once again, from the "one book too many" syndrome. I also think the photos might have looked a little dated. It's a book of opposites, basically, showing real kids in real situations. Normally, toddlers like to look at other kids doing things, but this was tacked onto the end of the story time with no transition, and I just lost them. So we went back to singing songs after that, and called it a day.

Better books next week, I hope.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Weekly Story Time Wrap-Up Volume 2

These are the books I read at my library story time sessions this week, 1/31 through 2/4.

This Place in the Snow by Rebecca Bond 
The Dinosaur Who Lived In My Backyard by B.G. Hennessy, illustrated by Susan Davis
The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Marla Frazee

I read these three books at Family Story Time on Monday afternoon. There weren't actually many families in attendance. In fact, I had one preschool group from a neighborhood school, and only a handful of moms with little ones. And these books could not have been worse choices for the age group.

I read only about half of This Place in the Snow before reading it to the kids, which is against my usual policy of previewing a book by reading it cover to cover. Because I didn't finish it, I didn't realize how strange it was until it was too late to recover. From what  I gathered, it's about a neighborhood coming together to build some sort of structure out of  the snow that falls on their streets. But it was very abstract and strange, and the kids were totally bored.

The Seven Silly Eaters was another mistake. I was looking for one long book and two short ones, and chose this to be the longer one, but it was way, way too long for preschoolers. I love Marla Frazee and could easily spend hours with her illustrations, finding new things to enjoy with each new viewing. But the rhyming text is just okay, and it was difficult to get the rhythm right while also maintaining good inflection. It just felt like it went on forever, and I didn't know the book well enough to skip any sections and fake my way to the end.

The Dinosaur Who Lived In My Backyard was the hit of the three, but it was a bit more like a non-fiction book than I remembered, and while the kids were engaged, I felt like they were waiting for a story. They did have a lot to say in response to the text, though, and they laughed at the size of the dinosaur in the illustrations compared with everyday things, such as a house and a school bus.



My Car by Byron Barton
From Head to Toe by Eric Carle
A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Eyes, Nose, Fingers, and Toes by Judy Hindley, illustrated by Brita Granstrom

These books are from my Tuesday morning story time. I read the same books for both sessions, since they were  pretty successful the first time around.

My Car was a big hit with the toddler boys, some of whom came up to touch the book while I was reading it. It was the first one to be checked out at the end of the second session, and probably  the one the kids were quietest for. It probably helped that it was the very first one we read. In simple sentences, the book introduces us to main character, Sam, who explains how he cleans his car, fills it with gasoline, and drives it to work. When he gets to work, though, he drives a bus. I love Byron Barton's style, and I wish more authors did such great books for the baby/toddler audience.

From Head to Toe was another good one, because of all the audience participation. Rather than sitting still and listening to a story, the kids were a part of an interactive experience where they turned their heads like penguins, swung their arms like chimpanzees, and imitated other animals. Thankfully, the parents and other caregivers in attendance weren't shy about looking silly, and  they participated as well. I don't know if you can ever go wrong with a book by Eric Carle.


A Sick Day for Amos McGee is not a favorite of mine. I feel kind of guilty saying that, since it's so beloved by so many people, and it won the Caldecott, but it just doesn't do anything for me. And I read it to the kids, almost rooting against it, hoping I'd have some validation for my "blah" feelings about it. Much to my chagrin, however, the kids really seemed to like the fanciful notion of animals wandering out of the zoo, and taking a bus to visit their sick caretaker, and this book, too, was snatched up quickly after session two.

I chose Eyes, Nose, Fingers and Toes only because I needed one more book, and I wanted it to feature babies. I've read most of our Helen Oxenbury, Karen Katz, and Mem Fox books to this group within the past few months, so I didn't want to repeat them just yet, but this seemed like a decent read-alike. It wasn't remarkable, or even particularly original, but it was another story that lent itself to physical movement, which is great when I'm reading to toddlers, and it was cute, which is a parent-pleasing characteristic, if nothing else.




The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

I read The Little House to a group of second through fourth graders who came to the library for a tour and a story on Thursday. I wanted to choose a funny book, but ran out of time to track one down, so I  went with an old standby that I thought might appeal to older kids. One young girl in the group knew the book, which pleased me, and I didn't have a lot of rude outbursts or interruptions while I was reading, which either indicates very good manners, or just politeness born of boredom. I loved this story's illustrations, where everything changes but the little house, and I loved the sense of history, and the fact that the story comes full circle. Sadly, I'm not sure anyone else in the room enjoyed those things.


That was my story time week! How was yours?
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