Monday, October 28, 2013

In the Story Room: Fighting Story Time Burnout

No matter how much you love story time, you are bound to get burned out now and then. Some libraries have the luxury of taking breaks from story time, or offering seasonal sessions, and these are great opportunities for those who can take them. Unfortunately, though, for those of us whose systems require year-round story time offerings, or for solo librarians who are the only story time providers for their libraries, it might not be that easy to simply take a break. Below are five other ways to break out of a story time rut.
  • Visit another branch, or another library, and look for books you’ve never used before.
    For me, the greatest source of new story time books was always the main branch of my library system. My branch had a great collection, but the main library’s collection is both larger and deeper. Sometimes just browsing the shelves will spark a series of new ideas for themes or songs. Sometimes just finding one new book on an old familiar theme is enough to rejuvenate the entire concept and renew your excitement. Repetition is wonderful for kids, but if you’re sick of the books you’re reading, your audience will pick up on that in a heartbeat. Better to find some new favorites than to make yourself nuts with your 400th reading of Bark, George.
  • Revamp your songs and rhymes library.
    There was a period of time where I sang The Wheels on the Bus three times in a row every Tuesday morning and twice more on Friday morning. I sang it because the kids loved it and the nannies responded to it, and I could count on at least five minutes of uninterrupted participation if I sang every verse I could think of. After a while, just the thought of turning my hands around and singing those opening lines was enough to make me want to stay home in bed. It was time to branch out. Thankfully, there are lots of resources for finding songs and rhymes for story time that will excite the kids without making you pull your hair out. Some of my favorites are:
    Another great approach that has worked for me is writing my own piggyback songs based on familiar tunes the kids know and love. Sometimes just a new set of lyrics is enough to make an old favorite bearable once again.
  • Change the structure of your story time.
    I like structure when I’m planning story time, and I think it helps the kids to have a predictable pattern they can anticipate. Unfortunately, though, a strict story time structure can sometimes become more of a burden than a blessing. For example, during the 2012-2013 school year, I introduced a letter of the day at every story time. It was a great way to add variety to story time without necessarily having to read more books, and it provided a nice opportunity to work in some of the flannel boards and fingerplays I had learned but not yet shared with kids. After twice through the alphabet, however, I began to dread the letter of the day. My audiences, too, had begun to fidget and squirm during this portion of story time. They’d seen it all. It was old news. I sat down with an outline of a story time and made some changes. I added an additional book, threw in a couple more songs, and added a magic envelope activity. Suddenly, what had seemed stale had a new lease on life and story time was once again a fun time for everyone.
  • Ask colleagues for their favorites, and if possible, observe colleagues performing story times.
    Children’s librarians are such creative and giving people. If you ask them for new story time ideas, they will provide more material than you can ever possibly use - and they’ll have brand-new approaches to old favorites that you never imagined in your life. If you’re the only children’s staff person at your own branch, try getting in touch with other branches, by phone or by email, or at monthly meetings. If your system is small, or you’ve tapped out its resources, or you’re just shy, there are also great online communities, such as the Flannel Friday Facebook page, where you can ask questions and receive instant advice. Sometimes just seeing how someone else performs a song or acts out a story can change your whole perspective and get you excited about trying something familiar in a new way.
Performing story time is a fun job that we are lucky to have, and you don’t want to let yourself get so burned out that you stop enjoying it. When you find yourself in a rut, take the extra time to analyze what is causing you to grow weary of story time and give yourself permission to make the changes necessary to restore your sanity. Your story time audiences - and you - will be happier for it!

Monday, October 21, 2013 Library Crafts for the Craft-Phobic Children's Librarian

Are you a craft-phobic children's librarian? Or are you looking for simple, budget-friendly craft ideas for your programs? Today I'm over at The Library Adventure sharing my list of fun and easy library crafts.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Flannel Friday: Do You Know Where I Live?

I recently learned about a new story time song from my former co-worker who is now working in his first children's librarian position. When I was helping him plan for his first story time, he shared his repertoire with me, and I was excited to see "Do You Know Where I Live?" on his list, because I'd never heard of it! I'm not sure where he found it, but it's perfect for a houses and homes theme (which is how he used it), or for a more generic animal theme.

The tune for this song is Did You Ever See a Lassie? I wasn't completely pleased with the way some of the original verses fit into the song's rhythm, so I discarded those and wrote my own. Only the first two verses remain from the original; the final three verses are written by me.

Since I am not working right now, and have no need for a new flannel board, I didn't make the pieces, but as I did for Knock Knock! Trick or Treat! I created a Google Drive presentation to show how I might present the song. Linked at the bottom of the post are the clip art images I used. (Except for the hole - I drew that myself.)

To view the presentation properly, just click through the slides one at a time.

This week's Flannel Friday host is Amy of Catch the Possibilities.

Monday, October 14, 2013

10 Non-Spooky Halloween Picture Books

In schools and libraries where Halloween celebrations are permitted, it can sometimes be a challenge to find books to share that aren't too scary for the under-five crowd. Here are a few tried and true favorites that capture the spirit of Halloween without troubling kids' sleep. 

This is NOT a Pumpkin
by Bob Staake
It sure looks like a pumpkin from every angle, but at Halloween, this orange gourd becomes something even more exciting. (Hint: It has a face, and it lights up at night!) I have only used the board book version with small groups, but it also makes a quick and easy flannel board to use with larger crowds.

by Linda D. Williams
A pair of shoes, a shirt, and other creepy clothing articles follow the little old lady home one night, but she's not afraid of them - in fact, she has a job for them to do! This book is especially fun to act out with preschoolers and early elementary schoolers.

by Richard McGilvray
There are all kinds of silly creatures out tonight - best to stay in your cozy bed! (This book could potentially scare a very small child, but the reader's tone really determines whether it's silly or scary. I have used it with toddlers with great success.)

by Steven Kroll
Two mice fall in love with the same pumpkin but neither one realizes the other's plan to carve it and enter into the Biggest Pumpkin contest. This is one of the first books I remember buying at the school book fair when I was in elementary school, and it was a great alternative to the ghost stories my classmates were reading.

by Ed Emberley
What better way to confront Halloween monsters than to banish them with the power of our imaginations? This book builds up a monster, then sends him away one scary feature at a time. This is a great one for large crowds who can repeat each line after the storyteller.

by Wendell Minor
Where can you see pumpkin heads on Halloween? Almost everywhere! The illustrations in this book are beautiful, and the text is spare enough to make this a good title to share at multi-age story times, or sessions with lots of toddlers and babies in attendance. 

by Janet Morgan Stoeke
Minerva Louise explores the farmyard's Halloween decorations, coming to  all the wrong conclusions. This is a great one for preschool story time - and even better if the audience is already familiar with the Minerva Louise "schtick."

Halloween Faces
by Nancy Davis
On Halloween, everyone puts on a different face. This toddler-friendly lift the flap book shows the fun of wearing costumes and might even help explain that the scary creatures wandering the neighborhood are just big kids dressed up. 

by Anne Rockwell
Celebrate all the fun of Fall, ending with the carving of a jack o'lantern in time for Halloween.  This works well in a seasons-themed or Fall-themed story time as well as a Halloween story time. It's perfect for twos and threes.

by Peter McCarty
Jeremy draws a monster who isn't scary, just rude! Thankfully, Jeremy knows when to say enough is enough, and before too long, he sends that monster packing. This book actually makes no reference to Halloween, making it a good alternative for schools and libraries where Halloween isn't celebrated.  Check out my flannel board adaptation of this book here

Monday, October 7, 2013

Reflections on Library Service to Parents

One of the things I enjoy most in the world of children’s librarianship is reader’s advisory. I enjoy discussing books with kids, parents, and teachers, and I love the feeling of satisfaction that comes from connecting a kid (or an adult) with a book that he or she truly loves reading. I think the trickiest part of Reader’s Advisory is advising parents about books for their kids. Over the past three years, working in my busy branch where many parents visit the library without their children, I have become better and better at these interactions. I attribute this to a very specific trait in my personality: my ability to put myself in another’s shoes and remove myself from the equation.

How many times has a parent come to your reference desk with a request you just can’t stand? I can name a few:
  • The recently divorced mom who only wanted her girls to read “happy” books so they would be protected from feeling sad. (She also said she would prefer it if they were “nice horse stories.”)
  • The mom who genuinely feared fiction because she thought the books were lying to her son. (“But that isn’t the truth. He should only have the truth, or he’ll get confused.”)
  • The mom who asked for books on Guided Reading level C that were “literature” and “not these boring leveled readers.”
  • The mom who wanted her kids to “branch out” and stop reading fantasy and focus on “serious books.”
The examples I remember happen to be moms, but we all know lots of moms and dads who have unusual and sometimes frustrating opinions about their kids’ reading. When we hear their requests, we can easily fall into the bad habit of judging the parents’ views. Instead of answering their questions, we might offer them the books we think they should want, or start trying to argue with parents to dissuade them from their stifling opinions. We think of these poor children, forced to bypass Harry Potter in favor of Kira-Kira, and we have an instinct to rescue and protect them from the evils of their overprotective and misguided parents.

What’s wrong with this approach, you ask? Well, put simply, it’s bad library service.

My approach to reader’s advisory has always been to treat the individual in front of me as my patron. When a mom comes to the library without her son, the books might be for her son, but my customer, in the absence of the child, is his mom. This means that, for the duration of our time looking for books together, I am on the mom’s team, and I do my best to see my collection from her point of view. If she tells me her son is an advanced reader, I believe her. If she tells me her son hates fantasy, I avoid fantasy, even if I know from the child himself that she is wrong about his preferences. I am not serving the child at that moment. The customer whose information need I must fulfill is the mom.

In these interactions, it helps me to keep my ego in check by remembering the following:
  • Parents have a right to raise their children any way they see fit, just as I will have the right to raise my child according to my principles and beliefs. Trying to sell a parent on a book that directly opposes her firmly held opinions is a waste of my time, and hers.
  • My personal opinion of a book is usually irrelevant. Though parents ask me all the time for recommendations, I typically think of them as suggestions. I have my own set of preferred books and genres, but most of the time, parents are not asking me to share those. What they want is for someone to tell them which books of the many on the library’s shelves fit their preferences. This is the role of a librarian - not to decide for a patron which are the best books, but to help the patron find the books he or she thinks will be best for her children. There are occasions where a parent selects a book that is a particular favorite, and I might volunteer that information if it turns out the child enjoyed it, but otherwise, it’s not about me and they don’t need to know my personal feelings.
  • Parents will guide the conversation in the direction they want it to go. I never ask a parent outright if they object to swearing or sexual content or swords or aliens or evolution. Rather, I ask general questions and let them supply their own prejudices and requirements. Then, based on my knowledge of my collection, I can lead them to the books that will be most likely to please them. This is where reading as much as possible comes in really handy. Parents with lots of specific preferences about their kids’ reading often ask me: “Does this book have suicidal ideation? Does this book have swear words? Does anyone in this book use a weapon?” It’s fine to say I don’t know, but when I do know, parents are eager to have an honest answer. It helps to have the facts filed away in my memory so I can answer them without getting caught up in my personal feelings for the book. 
  • Most parents are just trying to do right by their kids. It’s easy to think of people with strong religious convictions or unusual beliefs as “crazy” or “out there,” but for the purposes of successful reader’s advisory, it’s important to think of your parent patron as a person, just like you, who has specific likes and dislikes, preferences, and habits. You’ll never enjoy the company of every patron, but smiling and trying to make your book hunt a team effort usually leads to the best outcome, and it avoids that stressful boxed-in feeling we get when we think of those poor kids who will never read the books we wish their parents would allow them to read.
Dealing with parents is an important part of children’s librarianship, and the better you are at assisting your parent patrons, the better your reader’s advisory skills will become. Please feel free to share your experiences helping parents find kids’ books in the comments section below.

Friday, October 4, 2013

New Blog Features Coming Monday, October 7

As many of you have heard here and on Twitter, today was my last day of work as a children's librarian for the foreseeable future. I have resigned from my position in order to be a stay at home mom to my own little one, who is due on or about November 30. Though I will no longer be performing weekly story times, I have every intention of keeping this blog going. In fact, as my work duties have been winding down, I have been very busy writing up and scheduling a whole backlog of posts. Beginning on Monday, October 7, you will see a series of brand-new features here at Story Time Secrets. Here is a sneak preview of what you can expect.

On Mondays, I'll be sharing various posts about my experiences as a children's librarian, in the hopes that some of the lessons I have learned will be useful to others, especially those just starting out in children's services. These posts will fall into a number of categories:
  • Reflections on Library Service
    Each month, I'll provide hints and tips for serving a particular segment of the typical population that visits a public library's children's room.
  • At the Children's Desk
    In these posts, I will share various questions I have heard at the reference desk, sometimes with advice on how I would respond to them.
  • In the Story Room
    These posts will talk about how I approach story time and why and how I do things the way I do them. As summer approaches, these posts will focus on story time starters for the Fizz Boom Read summer reading theme.
  •  Ten Things
    In "Ten Things" posts I will share lists of books, story time activities, and crafts for specific themes, occasions, and/or audiences. 
On the third Monday of each month, instead of posting here, I will be posting at a new collaborative blog, The Library Adventure, where I am a library resources writer. My posts will encompass a variety of topics from crafts, to playing the ukulele, to summer reading printables, and they will be aimed specifically at librarians.

Every Thursday, I will post a review of a picture book. These reviews will include brief summaries, comments on the illustrations, story time suggestions, and reader's advisory information.

As of right now, I have an uninterrupted schedule of posts running from October through early March, so even after the baby comes and I disappear into Mommyland for a bit, you'll still get to hear from me twice a week. I hope you will continue to read, comment, and email me feedback even as the content here changes, and that you'll enjoy all the new posts! Thanks!

Flannel Friday: Knock Knock! Trick or Treat!

Though I am officially no longer employed as a children's librarian as of 5:45 p.m. this afternoon (Friday, 10/4), I still have a flannel board idea to share today. I hope some of you who are doing Halloween story times will be able to use my original rhyme and let me know how the kids enjoy it!

The rhyme goes like this:

Knock knock! Trick or treat!
Behind this door, who will we meet?

Ask the kids to help you choose a door. Behind each door is hidden a Halloween creature. When the creature is revealed, all chant:

A [ghost]! A [ghost]! A spooky spooky [ghost]!

Repeat for as many doors as you'd like. 

Because I have no immediate reason to use this idea, I opted to make it into a Google Drive presentation, rather than a traditional flannel board. The presentation is embedded below. To find out who is hidden behind a given door, click on that door. This will take you to a new slide showing a ghost, witch, mummy, spider, or bat. To return to the doors, click on the individual creature.

Those of you who use iPads or a projector in story time might want to use this presentation as is, but if you'd prefer to adapt it to the traditional flannel format, here are links to the clipart images I used.
 This week's Flannel Friday Halloween Extravaganza is hosted by Kay Leigh at Storytime ABC's.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Shoes Preschool Story Time, 9/27/13

Shoes Preschool Story Time, 9/27/13

Last Friday afternoon's Preschool Story Time was my last story time for the foreseeable future. It's still so weird to  think that I won't be planning or performing formal story times for any children other than my own when he or she arrives, but I'm happy to say that this last preschool story time was one of the best. The theme was shoes, and nine kids came with their parents!

Book: Whose Shoes? by Stephen R. Swinburne
The kids were very hesitant to name who wore the ballerina slippers, but by the end of the book, they were throwing out guesses both serious and silly.  (And one adorable little girl kept saying, "I don't know!" and laughing, which was fantastic.

Book: Shoes from Grandpa by Mem Fox
This cumulative story does go for a bit, but the kids seemed mostly into it, and the adults laughed out loud at the somewhat surprising ending. 

Song: Hat Coat Pants and Shoes 
Pregnant ladies should not do this song. That is one reason why I'm glad there are no more story times in my immediate future. Bending over is just not happening!

Clothesline Story: The Case of the Missing Shoe
This rhyming story pretends that the storyteller has lost her shoe. She must look behind various household objects to find it, but each time the shoe found is the wrong color. Finally, the storyteller realizes the shoe has been on her foot the whole time. I told this as a clothesline story, and it went over very well. I plan to share the whole concept in an upcoming Flannel Friday post.

Book: Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes by Eric Litwin
We had  a family of Pete the Cat fans in the room, which made this book even more fun to read than usual. Another family snatched it up after story time and the older son, who is five, had a great time pointing out different things in the illustrations to his mom. 

Coloring Page: Who wears these shoes?

I use the same hello and goodbye songs at almost every session. Click here for the tunes and words. For descriptions of each of my story times, click here.
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