Monday, November 25, 2013

Reflections on Library Service to Babies

Most children’s librarians know that the first five years of life is a critical window for developing early literacy skills. We encourage parents to read with their babies. We offer lap times for babies and we continually seek out those wonderful board books and fingerplays that parents will take home and share again and again. We deliver early literacy messages at story time that define early literacy skills for caregivers and provide practical applications for them. Still, even with all the theory and background information in place, some of us can become intimidated by the thought of approaching an actual baby, or group of babies, especially if we are not parents ourselves.

I remember very well the sense of panic I felt the first time I was asked to do a baby story time. What would the parents think of me? How could I possibly perform story time for children who did not yet speak, some of whom could not even sit up on their own? For me, who had never really interacted with babies at all, the learning curve was very steep and the level of anxiety very high. Now, looking back over nearly three years of baby story times and interactions with the parents and nannies of little babies, I can recognize little hints and tidbits of advice that would have been very helpful back when I was a new librarian. I want to share a few of those today.
  • Learn each baby’s name.
    The quickest ice breaker when meeting a parent and baby for the first time, is to learn their names. Most parents like to talk about their kids, at least a little bit, and asking what the little one’s name is and how old he is shows your interest in the child. It also provides a welcoming atmosphere for a new mom or dad when you offer a smile and initiate introductions. If at all possible, it’s great to retain the baby’s name in your memory so you can greet the child by name the next time he comes to the library. This leads directly into my next point, which is...
  • Address babies as well as their grown-ups.
    Babies who ride in strollers or carriers all day can sometimes be easy to ignore, as though they are accessories or articles of clothing rather than people. Parents often even don’t realize that the librarian is there to serve the child as much as the mom or dad. But my quest is to make the library a welcoming place for even the youngest patrons, so I make sure to always speak to both the parent and the child. If I’ve met the child before and remember her name, I might say, “Oh, good morning, Susie! I notice you’re wearing your lion shirt. It’s so nice to see you at the library.” Then I’ll turn to Mom and greet her as well. When parents ask for books for their babies, I also try to include the baby in the discusson. “Oh, look at this book. You might like this one. Let’s see what Dad thinks of it.” I don’t have any expectation that a baby is going to participate in a conversation about books, but I do make sure the baby is included and has the chance to interact with me along with his parent.
  • Have a separate story time for babies.
    When I first started, the babies and toddlers at my library attended story time in one giant group. This seemed to be what the nannies preferred, and I wasn’t sure they would be thrilled with any changes. I quickly learned, though, that whatever the nannies liked, the babies sure didn’t like being jostled, bumped, drowned out, poked, and otherwise annoyed by their busy toddler friends. The really little ones also didn’t like being in a hot, crowded room where they couldn’t see, hear, or understand what was happening around them. Thus, I created a baby story time, and I was adamant about limiting attendance only to babies who did not yet walk. Parents felt more comfortable bringing their tiny ones to a more controlled story time, and I was able to focus my materials on the developmental needs of this age group. Babies sometimes still showed up to story times that were for older children, but the option for a story time of their own was always available. The quality of my baby story times improved greatly, and the story time became one of the most popular at my branch.
  • Have a baby-friendly space in your library.
    I had no idea how many parents would want a place for their babies to be able to crawl around in the library until they started asking me where they could find such an area. It turns out that many parents realize that the library is a baby-friendly place and they want to be able to hang out there outside of organized library activities. What I ended up doing at my branch was moving some of the picture book bins and replacing them with a square carpeted area for sitting and crawling. I also allowed people to use the carpeted story time room when story time was not in session, so their babies could have a safe child-proofed area to explore. Some might argue that the library is not really intended to be a baby meeting place, and that parents who expect a place for their babies to play in a public building are asking too much. I don’t think that is true. If we want to serve all children, from birth to adolescence, then we should be thoughtful enough to provide developmentally appropriate spaces for each age group.

I might have been afraid of babies when I became a children’s librarian, but over time, they became one of my favorite groups to work with. As a result of my early efforts, I was able to see several babies grow up into toddlers, and then into preschoolers, all while using the library and attending story time. By smiling, welcoming each child by name, and providing the spaces and services that best suit babies’ needs, any children’s librarian can help her library become the perfect hotspot for babies and their caregivers.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Flannel Friday: The Elephant and the Bad Baby by Elfrida Vipont & Raymond Briggs

As we continue to anxiously await the arrival of our new baby, expected just about any day, my husband and I have been relaxing and sharing books. The other day, he came home with a 1969 picture book called The Elephant and the Bad Baby, written by British children's author Elfrida Vipont and illustrated by Raymond Briggs of The Snowman fame. We read it aloud to each other just for the fun of it, but I soon realized the story would work really well as a flannel board or Powerpoint presentation. We came to have this book because it was being weeded from the collection at my husband's library, so I'm not sure how widely available it is, but I'd like to share my suggestions for using it with kids, and I'll try to provide enough of a script that  you can tell the story even if you can't find a copy of the original story.

The Story 

The story begins as follows:

Once upon a time there was an Elephant. 

One day the elephant went for a walk and met a Bad Baby. And the Elephant said to the Bad Baby, "Would you like a ride?"  And the Bad Baby said yes. 

So the elephant stretched out his trunk, picked up the Bad Baby, and put him on his back. And they went rumpeta, rumpeta, rumpeta, all down the road. 

At this point, the elephant and the baby meet the ice cream man. The elephant asks the baby if he wants an ice cream, and of course, the baby says yes.  So the elephant takes an ice cream for himself, and an ice cream for the baby, and they go "rumpeta, rumpeta, rumpeta, all down the road, with the ice cream man running after."

This is the basic formula for the entire story. The elephant and the baby come upon a butcher from whom they take meat pies, a baker from whom they take buns, a snackshop from which they take gingersnaps, a grocery store from which they each take a chocolate cookie, a candy store from which they take lollipops, and a fruit and vegetable man from whom they take apples. After each stop, the line of characters running after them grows longer, until finally, they go "rumpeta, rumpeta, rumpeta, all down the road, with the ice cream man, and the butcher, and the baker, and the snackshop man, and the grocer, and the lady from the candy store, and the fruit and vegetable man all running after."

At this point, the elephant turns on the baby, realizing that he has never once said please for any of the treats he has received. The Bad Baby falls off the elephant's back, and the entire group running behind them goes "BUMP into a heap." Finally, the Bad Baby does say please, and he asks to be taken home to his mother.  At the Bad Baby's house, his mother makes pancakes for everyone, then the angry mob chases the elephant away "rumpeta rumpeta rumpeta" while the baby falls fast asleep in bed.


This presentation, which I created in Google Drive using free clipart is probably not finalized enough to use in a real story time. The structure of it is fine, but the clipart images I was able to find don't really match each other, and I'm not sure how well the kids would understand who is who based on some of the images. (The person in the candy store is meant to be female, for example, and a snackshop isn't really a fast food restaurant.) Still, I think this presentation will be helpful for anyone who wants to create flannel board pieces for the story, because there are so many characters and objects to keep track of. I also like experimenting with presentations like this because they let me get creative with moving the pieces and adding textual elements to the story without creating a lot of the distractions that come from constantly moving things on and off the flannel board.

Other Suggestions

My instinct is actually not to tell this story using the flannel board at first. I think the book works perfectly on its own, and if possible, sharing the original text and illustrations is probably the best way to introduce the story to a group of kids. Because the story is repetitive and cumulative, though, I think it lends itself very well to being retold on the flannel board once the kids have had a chance to assimilate the content. In classrooms, or in public libraries where theft is not a major problem, a set of flannel board pieces could easily become a center for kids to work on individually or in small groups. In a structured story time setting, having flannel board pieces on hand creates an opportunity to match the shopkeeper to the item taken from his shop, or to see how many of the shops the kids can remember in order. Just in general, I think it would also be interesting to hear from kids why they think the baby is bad, and whether the elephant is truly blameless. The "rumpeta, rumpeta, rumpeta" refrain also lends itself to interaction - it would be fun to have kids tap their knees in a galloping motion, or even stomp their own feet to imitate the elephant running. I really like this book, and I hope some of you will find that it is in your library's collections so you can use it and let me know what your groups think!

Flannel Friday

Bridget is our Flannel Friday host this week. For more Flannel Friday information and contributions, check out the official website, the Facebook group, and the Pinterest boards.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Monday, November 18, 2013 Five Ways to Use a Flannel Board

Not sure what to do with a flannel board? Visit my post at the Library Adventure today to learn five ways to use one with kids.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Ten Holiday Activities for Story Time

Thanksgiving - which is also the first night of Hanukkah - is just over two weeks away, which means the holiday season is upon us! Below are ten of my favorite activities to share at holiday-themed story times. (I have never worked in a library where the community celebrated Kwanzaa, so these activities pertain to Hanukkah and Christmas only.)

I Am Lighting all the Candles 
This song is sung to the tune of I've Been Working on the Railroad. (I wrote the lyrics.) Start with an empty menorah, then place the blue candle in the middle position. Explain that this is the candle used to light all the others. Then sing the first verse of the song, which goes like this:

I am lighting all the candles
On this Hanukkah night.
I am lighting all the candles
To see them shining bright.
Flicker, flicker little candles,
Fill me with your glow.
Now the time has come to count them
Ready, set and go

As you count to eight, place one candle in each space on the menorah.  Then sing the song again, with one change. Instead of "Now the time has come to count them," sing, "Now the time has come to blow them out." Then as you count, remove each candle from the menorah until none are left. Then remove the middle candle to signify the end of the song.

One Menorah Candle
Another menorah counting activity is this rhyme, which celebrates each of Hanukkah's eight nights. Add one candle at a time, until all eight are present, then recite the final verse.

One menorah candle
burning oh so bright.
Now we'll add another one -
it's Hanukkah's second night!

(Repeat, counting up to eight candles.)

Eight menorah candles
burning oh so bright.
We're celebrating Hanukkah -
the festival of lights!

Spin Little Dreidels 
Two years ago, when I was desperately seeking an action rhyme to accompany some Hanukkah books, Lisa from Story Time with the Library Lady shared a great one called Spin Little Dreidels. It was a huge hit with all the kids at my holiday story times that year, whether they celebrated Hanukkah or not. It will work with any Hanukkah-themed book, but I especially recommend it to accompany picture book versions of I Have a Little Dreidel.

Rudolph, Rudolph
Rudolph is a little bit confused. He's supposed to guide Santa's sleigh, but his nose is the wrong color!  So begins this silly rhyme:
Rudolph! Rudolph!
What will you do?
You can't guide Santa
If your nose is blue!

Rudolph! Rudolph!
Santa gave a wink.
But what will he think
If your nose is pink?

It's a long one, but the full text of the rhyme is available here. It concludes with the following:

Rudolph! Rudolph!
The children are in bed.
 And now I know you're ready
‘Cause your nose is red!

Ten Little Reindeer
For babies and toddlers, I like to incorporate some simple fingerplays into story time. I found this song, to the tune of Ten Little Indians, on this website, then wrote a second verse. At the end of  the second verse, kids love to point to their noses.

One little, two little, three little reindeer
Four little, five little, six little reindeer
Seven little, eight little, nine little reindeer
Pulling Santa's Sleigh

Ten little, nine little, eight little reindeer
Seven little, six little, five little reindeer
Four little, three little, two little reindeer
Rudolph leads the way!

Five Little Presents

Place five presents on the flannel board, with something hidden behind each one. Then reveal the presents one by one using this rhyme.

Five little presents underneath the tree
Five little presents  - could these all be for me?
I unwrap the red one to find out what's in there
I open up the box and it's a... TEDDY BEAR!

Click here for the rest of the gifts!

Christmas Alphabet 

The Christmas Alphabet is an old song, a version of which is available on YouTube. To perform this song at last year's holiday story time I created a set of letters that appear in the word CHRISTMAS, which, when reversed, revealed the image of whatever object corresponded to that letter in the song. I mounted them on red and green construction paper, then lined them up along the edge of the whiteboard and sang the song a cappella.

Download the letters CRSMS (red letters with a green border), here.
Download the letters HITA (green letters with a red border), here.
Download the objects for each letter (with labels) here

Let’s All Do a Little Clapping
This is an action song to the tune of We Wish You a Merry Christmas, which doesn't specifically refer to any holidays by name.

Let’s all do a little clapping
Let’s all do a little clapping
Let’s all do a little clapping
to spread holiday cheer.
You can replace "clapping" with almost any action - or ask the kids for suggestions.

Five Little Snowmen Riding on the Sled 
This is a great song to sing with kids who are familiar with Five Little Monkeys. You can also sing it about penguins.
Five little snowmen riding on the sled
One fell off and bumped his head
  Frosty called the doctor and the doctor said
"No more snowmen riding on that sled!"

Monday, November 4, 2013

At the Children’s Desk: “Is this book appropriate for a third grader?”

One of the most commonly asked questions I have encountered at the children's reference desk over the past three years is from parents wanting to know if a given book is appropriate for their child, based on his or her grade level. This could be a tricky question to answer, but over time, I have found ways of tackling it that satisfy parents and fulfill my desire to provide quality library service.

When dealing with a question like this, it is important to first identify what the parent actually wants to know. Some parents define appropriateness in terms of content. Are the action sequences violent? Do the characters in the book curse? Are there scary sequences that are likely to cause nightmares? When other parents ask about the appropriateness of a given book, they aren't concerned with content at all. Rather, they want to know if the book in question is too easy (or too difficult) for their young reader. Asking a few questions up-front goes a long way toward making sure librarian and parent are on the same page and having the same discussion.

Once I establish what the parent is actually concerned about, I do my best to answer the question they have asked with objective information. If the parent is worried about content, my answer would include everything I know about the book's subject matter, either from my personal reading of it, or from review sources. I might say, “Well, the story contains a sword fight, a rabid dragon, and some swear words. If you’re concerned about exposing him to those things, you might want to read the book first and see how you feel. I also know of two other books on the same subject that don’t include those things, if you’d like to see those.” Instead of deciding for the parents whether the book is appropriate for the child, I present the facts and let them make the call.

If the parent is worried about level, again, I can supply the facts that will help the parent make a decision. The local schools here use the Fountas & Pinnell Guided Reading system. There are several decent resources online for finding out a given book's guided reading level, and I let parents know which level is listed for the book in question and where I found it. Sometimes, kids attend private schools or come from out of town, and they prefer to know the Lexile number, or another system's reading level, and I do my best to look those up, too. By providing a reading level from an objective leveling system, I'm able to assist the parent without passing my own judgment on the book or the child's reading ability.

I know that public librarians feel strongly about promoting a blind love of reading, and some would go so far as to tell patrons they can't help them with questions about reading levels, or that reading levels don't matter. It's true that the public library generally doesn't support a prescribed curriculum, but it is still part of our job to support the users of our libraries by providing the information they truly need. However we feel about the reading level obsessed parents and teachers in our community, we need to be able to provide them with the information necessary to decide whether a given book is going to work for a given child.

I have found the following resources to be especially useful in assisting parents with questions regarding appropriateness:
  • CommonSense Media's Book Reviews
    The reviews on this site are designed to inform parents about the content of books. The reviewers assign a particular age to each book, which represents when the book is most appropriate for kids to read.
  • StorySnoops
    This site features a group of parents who blog about kids' books. It was "founded to [...] help [parents] seek out books that may reflect the experiences, interests, strengths or weaknesses of their own children."  
  • Novelist K-8
    This subscription library database provides access to professional reviews of children's books, as well as subject headings indicating what is covered in a given book.
  • Scholastic's BookWizard
    This tool allows users to search for a given title, and it will provide the Grade Level Equivalent, Guided Reading level, DRA level, and Lexile measure for the book. Some more obscure titles might not be in the database, but it is not restricted to just Scholastic's publications.
    Search for a given book's Lexile number and create reading lists.
  • Local schools' websites
    Many school librarians and classroom teachers provide leveled reading lists for students and parents to access online. These are not always readily available, but many times they are right there for the taking and the parent just hasn't been made aware of them. It helps to bookmark pages for quick and easy access whenever a question comes up.
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