Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Baby/Toddler Story Time, 1/3/12

My Winter story time schedule began today, and thankfully started off with a couple of small groups. I felt really rusty getting up there at first, but also much more relaxed than I've felt in a program since I can remember. I'm not sure it's necessary to take two weeks off like I did this year, but I do feel re-energized and rejuvenated, and ready to take on a new bunch of songs and rhymes, so I think at least a week's break is necessary.

This is my repertoire for this morning. I had about 25 kids at the 10:00, and around 30 at 10:30. The group was especially restless, probably because they're out of the story time routine, so the sessions ran just about 20 minutes each.

Opening Song: Hello, how are you?

Book: Snow by Manya Stojic (2002)
I love this story, with its big bold words, bright oversized illustrations and emotionally satisfying ending.  It was a few pages too long for my very young group - I'd say the average age this morning was around 15 months - but they still mostly paid attention, and seemed to really like the animals. I might save this one to use again during my upcoming preschool class visits.

Rhyme: Clap Slap Tap Lap

Rhyme: Fingers

Book: We've All Got Bellybuttons by David Martin, illustrated by Randy Cecil (2005)
This book would have been just perfect if I had my usual twos and threes, but many of them did not attend story time this morning, and the motions suggested by the text just weren't interesting to the babies - or to their very chatty and seemingly bored caregivers.

Song: Shake My Sillies Out 

Song: I'm a Little Teapot

Song: There's a Little Wheel a-Turnin' In My Heart 

Flannel Board Rhyme: Five Perky Penguins
They really didn't like this rhyme, even when I tried to make it interactive by asking the kids to pretend to swim. Again, I think this was due to the surprisingly young ages of nearly all the kids. (I also totally made up my own words halfway through in an attempt to make it simpler for the babies.)

Song: Numbers Are Our Friends

Song: Ten Little Icicles
This one is really cute. We counted to ten with our fingers right-side up, then turned our hands upside down and wiggled our fingers to show them hanging on the roof. 

Song:  Five Little Snowmen Riding on the Sled 
The kids didn't quite understand that this song is essentially the same as monkeys on the bed, but I feel confident that they will eventually, since I plan to do this song every week this Winter.

Goodbye Song: We Wave Goodbye Like This

Five Characteristics of Great Easy Readers

The finalists for the 2011 Cybils were announced on Sunday, and among them were the five chapter books and four easy readers chosen by the first-round panelists in the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book Category, of which I was one. Since I have now officially come to the end of my Cybils duties for this year, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what I've taken away from the experience, and what I have learned about easy readers and chapter books. Today, I'll discuss what makes a great easy reader, and tomorrow, I'll do the same for chapter books.

The first key aspect of a successful easy reader is well-written text. The writing must be both easy enough for its audience to read, and artistic enough to make the book interesting. This means that not only is an author limited in the vocabulary he or she can use, but he or she is also presented with the additional challenge of stringing few words together in a way that is not cliched, boring, or awkward.

An example of perfect easy reader text comes from the first page of Aggie Gets Lost by Lori Ries, wherein Ben walks his dog and the action is described as follows:

Left foot, right foot, two feet, four feet.
We walk to the park.
Aggie pulls hard.
She wants to play fetch.

Making an emotional connection to the reader is a second sign of easy reader excellence. Whether the mood of a story is silly, as in the Elephant & Piggie books or the Fly Guy series, sad, as in Aggie Gets Lost when Aggie is missing, or even scary, as in parts of Gus Gets Scared, the reader should feel that emotion along with the characters. Children can more easily relate to new characters and settings if they can recognize feelings and concepts they have experienced themselves.

Easy readers should also be told from a child's point of view. This means that the characters speak to the reader at his level, rather than at him in an adult tone. Even adult characters, like Mr. Putter, and adult-like animals like Dodsworth from Dodsworth in Rome, should embody child-like characteristics to which kids can relate. Revealing adult characters' anxieties and imperfections makes them interesting to read about, and giving them dilemmas similar to those found in childhood creates stories that really speak to their audience and keep the reader invested in their outcomes. Embodying a child's point of view also eliminates the urge to preach at kids, and makes the story, rather than the message, the central focus. Most kids aren't interested in morals, but they become quickly invested in the fate of a favorite character.


It's also important for easy readers to focus on familiar themes. New readers like to read stories that reflect their real lives, and by keeping things close to home, authors can help kids find comfortable ways of learning new vocabulary and story structure. By beginning with those simple themes of family, friendship, school, and home, kids begin to build a strong foundation that will later help them tackle new genres and settings.

Finally, a truly great easy reader includes illustrations that are not only beautiful to look at, but also complement the text and assist the reader with understanding new vocabulary and new concepts. Illustrations in children's picture books and easy readers are an integral part of the story, not just the icing on the cake. Not only should the illustrations clearly depict what's happening in the text to provide context, they should, like those in Flip Flop and Dodsworth in Rome, also include other visual content that expands the story beyond the words and gives the reader a greater understanding of the setting, plot, and characters.

To learn more about the nominees and finalists in the Cybils Easy Reader category, visit Cybils.com.
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