Friday, May 30, 2014

#ArmchairBEA Day 5: Middle Grade/YA

Armchair BEA ends today, and the final topic is Middle Grade/Young Adult. As I mentioned in my introduction on Monday, I read a lot of middle grade. I also read some contemporary YA. Today, I'm sharing some of the criteria I use when I review books at this level. Below are 8 tips for evaluating middle grade and young adult books.
  • Don't judge a book by its cover.
    This is a cliche, of course, but it's a good place to start. Book covers can and do change from edition to edition. They reflect one illustrator's interpretation of an author's work, and sometimes the current design trends in the publishing field. Though books with similar content sometimes have similar covers, there are also many situations where the cover of a book does not live up to the wonderful story it advertises. At least read a little bit about a book before you completely dismiss it. Sometimes stories with hideous covers turn out to be real gems - and if  they're lucky, they get better covers when the paperback editions come out! 
  • Look for plot holes.
    Plot is a key component in books for older readers, and especially in middle grade stories.  As you read, pay attention to the way events unfold. Is the story plotted in a logical way? Do things happen in a sequence that makes sense and slowly builds up to a satisfying conclusion? Are things tied up plausibly? Are there loose ends? Truly well-plotted stories often make you forget that you're even reading a story in the first place because everything flows so smoothly and naturally.  
  • Consider genre conventions.
    Some genres come with their own expectations. Mystery novels generally include a series of red herrings, followed by the eventual unveiling of  the truth. Fantasy novels require world-building and an establishment of rules within that world before they can proceed to tell a believable story. Historical fiction is bound by history, and anachronisms must be avoided. When you read, consider what readers expect from the story's genre and decide whether the book meets or fails to meet those expectations.   
  • Scrutinize the setting.
    Whether it evokes a certain mood, creates certain weather conditions, or provides a character access to certain people, places, or objects, the setting of a story often enhances its overall success. Watch for the specific details an author uses to transport readers into his or her world. Do these details make it easy to imagine the setting? Has the author provided enough information about the setting to contribute something significant to the story? Conversely, does the setting overshadow other more important aspects of the book? The importance of setting varies from story to story, but it's a point worth considering in your reviews.
  • Look beyond likability. 
    Too often I read book reviews where the reviewer's opinion is completely wrapped up in whether he or she liked the main character. The likability of a story's main character is actually not an indicator of the quality of a book. There are books with intentionally deplorable main characters. There are books with unreliable narrators, who may or may not be likable depending on the lies they tell. Some narrators (e.g. Holden Caulfield) annoy certain readers and elicit hero worship from others. It should not be a question of whether you would like to hang out with a particular character, but whether he or she is interesting to read about. Truly well-developed characters will all have some flaws, and, in moving through their stories, they will make mistakes. This journey toward overcoming these flaws and mistakes is what makes a good story. Instead of simply dismissing a book because the character doesn't appeal to your taste, think about a book's other qualities before giving it a bad review.  
  • Tune into your inner child/teen.
    Some children's books - particularly the award winners and classics  - easily appeal to adults. Others (Junie B. Jones, for example) might annoy adults and appeal much more to kids. Since kids are the intended audience for middle grade books, and teens the intended audience for young adult, it's important to look at things from those points of view. Maybe you don't love a book now, but how would you have felt about it at sixteen? Maybe your adult sensibilities make a particular plot point annoying to you now, but thinking back, it might seem like just the kind of thing you would have done yourself as a kid. When in doubt, talk with the kids in your life about how they see the books they read. Understanding where they're coming from will help you better evaluate the books published for them.  
  • Call out cliches and stereotypes. Keep an eye out for tired and overused phrases, images, and stereotypes in books. Don't hesitate to point out instances of insensitivity to particular religions, races, or backgrounds, and be mindful of trite descriptions and contrived endings. Relying on cliches is a sign of lazy writing; the best children's books avoid cliches and look at familiar things in new ways.
  • Separate your personal and professional opinions. 
    Reviewers, like librarians, should try to be as objective as possible when evaluating books. If we are doing our best to put the right book in the hands of the right reader, then our personal feelings are far less important than our overall objective opinion of a book's quality. Some parents don't allow their children to read books containing violence, or sexual content. This does not mean that a book containing those themes is inherently poorly written. It just means that book is not for that particular family. It is possible to find the content of a book objectionable, boring, or otherwise dissatisfying and still recognize that the book represents quality literature. Whatever my personal reaction to a work, my professional instinct is always to find the people who will appreciate it and recommend it to them.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Story Time Music: Stretching and Movement

Though some groups are calm and engaged for all of story time without the need to move around, most story time sessions require a chance for everyone to get their wiggles out. Songs and rhymes work equally well for this purpose, as long as they give everyone an opportunity to be on their feet, blowing off that excess energy.

With older children (preschool and up), and especially with class visits, I like to make the stretching activities somewhat open-ended so that the kids have an opportunity to get creative and suggest their own movements. Older kids sometimes start to think that singing is cheesy or boring, so it helps a lot to get them on board by asking for their input. I might even let them choose a song from a list of known favorites.

With toddlers, it's a good idea to repeat the same movement songs over and over again. At first, the kids will most likely just stand and watch you do the motions, but after several sessions of careful observation, they will start doing those motions with you - and on their own at home too! Toddlers also really like to hold onto props during dancing songs, and it can be fun to encourage them to put props on their heads, elbows, toes, tummies, etc.

With babies who don’t yet walk around, I tend to use rhymes and songs about bodies - such as Head and Shoulders or Tony Chestnut - not necessarily to get their wiggles out, but to help them become aware of their bodies, and to learn the names of their hands, toes, heads, etc. I tend to use a similar structure for all my story times, regardless of age, so I usually plug in these body-themed songs in the same place I'd include a movement song for older kids.

My favorite story time stretches include:
What would you add to the list?

There is just one post remaining in my story time music blog series. Next week, I will conclude my reflections with a post about goodbye songs.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

#ArmchairBEA Day 3: Novellas/Short Stories


Today's Armchair BEA topic is Novellas/Short Stories. I have always enjoyed short stories - both reading and writing them - so this is a topic I like a lot. I used to have a "Short Story Spotlight" feature on my blog, which I stopped only because of how difficult it was to find short stories for kids. Still, I have my favorites, both for kids and adults, and I thought I'd share a list of them today. (Wherever possible, I have provided a link to the full text of the story.)

  • Good Country People
    by Flannery O'Connor
    This is probably my favorite short story of all time. Its main character is a woman named Hulga who uses a prosthetic leg. Hulga becomes friends with a Bible salesman named Manley Pointer, who charms her out of her usual cynical worldview and then turns the tables on her in a most unexpected way. Anything Flannery O'Connor has written - including her letters - is worth reading at least twice, but this story in particular really sticks with me.
  • The Girls in their Summer Dresses
    by Irwin Shaw
    On a Sunday morning in New York, Michael and his wife Frances go for a walk, during which they discuss Michael's consistently wandering eye, which is always sizing up beautiful women. I read this for the first time in high school and have reread it several times since. I like the interesting dynamic between the characters, but more than that I just enjoy the feeling of Sunday morning in New York which the author perfectly captures in his descriptions.
  • A Father's Story
    by Andre Dubus
    There is nothing like reading this story for the first time. It's one of those pieces of writing that is so perfect, I just marvel at the way the words are put together. It's the story of a father whose closest friend is a priest, and who harbors a secret that puts him at odds with his religion's teachings about right and wrong. (The secret involves protecting his daughter; hence, the title.)
  • Will
    by Adam Rex
    This is a children's short story from the Guys Read: Funny Business collection. Set in a school for kids with superpowers, it explores what happens when a supervillain breaks into the school looking to destroy its nemesis. The story is laugh-out-loud funny, appealing to boys and girls, and a great read-aloud, especially for grades 5 to 8. It is my number one go-to story for reading on class visits, and I hope to see it get lots of attention when the 2015 summer reading program focuses on superheroes.
  • Winter Dreams
    by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    Though this short story shares much in common with The Great Gatsby and with Fitzgerald's other works, this story stands out for me much more than the others. A golf caddy at a country club falls in love with a beautiful woman who does not return his affections. The writing is very accessible, especially given the age of the story, and it's a good one to use to introduce teens to the short story form.
  • The Lottery
    by Shirley Jackson
    This chilling account of one town's brutal yearly tradition is best read with little or no introductory comment. This one is commonly taught in high schools and colleges, but anyone who has not read it absolutely must. It's unforgettable and thought-provoking. I also think it would be so interesting to pair with The Hunger Games.
  • All Summer in a Day
    by Ray Bradbury
    I only read this story once, when I was taking a Teaching of Reading course in college. The story was included in a basal reader we looked at in class, and I believe we read the story as a class to practice a particular teaching technique. Though the lesson intended by the professor has long since been lost, the story sticks with me. The setting is an elementary school classroom on planet Venus, where the sun is only visible every 7 years. A little girl from Earth is looking forward to seeing the sun, as she can still remember it from her childhood. Sadly, through an act of harsh bullying, her fellow students deprive her of the experience. This may not be intended for children, but it is appropriate for them to read, and a nice way to prompt critical thinking about acts of bullying.
Do you have a favorite short story? Share recommendations in comments! I won't have an Armchair BEA post tomorrow so I can post my next installment in my story time music series. Check back on Friday for a review and one last BEA post.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

#ArmchairBEA Day 2: Author Interactions

Today's Armchair BEA topic is Author Interactions. Now that I have been blogging for three years, I receive a good number of comments and emails from authors whose books I have reviewed. I have also met a fair number of authors over the years (starting from childhood), and have had both positive and negative interactions. Based on these experiences, I have made a list of tips for interacting with authors in person and online.

In Person 

When meeting an author in person:

  •  Have realistic expectations. When you really love a book, or a body of work, it is easy to build up the author in your mind. Unfortunately, sometimes you imagine such a specific image of what the author will be like  that the actual meeting feels like a bit of a let-down. 
  • Don't freak out.
    It can be hard to remember that authors are regular people. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer, so in my mind, meeting an author was a similar experience to meeting a major celebrity. Even as an adult, I sometimes find myself getting nervous standing in line at a book signing, thinking about meeting this person whose writing I have so admired. But it's best to remain calm. Sometimes the author is just as nervous as you are.
  • Plan something to say.
    Book signing lines can be long, and you don't usually get a lot of time to talk with an author. Therefore, I find it is wise to prepare ahead of time what you'd like to say. (This also helps with the nerves I just mentioned.) I usually like to say something specific about one book: "I really identified with that character" or "This book meant so much to me when I was fifteen." I might also say something complimentary like, "You are a story time favorite at my library" or "My daughter absolutely loves your books." Statements like these are meaningful, they let the author know how much you like his or her work, and they take just about as long to say as it takes an author to sign his or her name.
  • Respect boundaries.
    Some authors like to pose for photos; others don't. Some authors allow fans to hug them; others don't. Some will sign anything you bring with you; others will only sign books. These boundaries are usually put in place for the author's comfort, and sometimes for logistical purposes (to keep the line moving, for example.) Even if you're dying for a photo, a hug, or an autograph on your tee shirt, it is important to respect the limits the authors have put in place.
  • Say thank you. Even if you can't get the courage to say anything else during your in-person interaction with an author, make sure to thank them for their time, and for taking the trouble to sign your book. 


  • Don't spam.
    While the internet makes it very easy to connect with people we admire, authors are entitled to their privacy and their personal space. While the occasional reply on Twitter is probably fine, I make it a practice not to tweet my reviews at authors. Instead, I inform publishers of my review dates and provide links, and I let them get in touch with the authors. Then, of course, if an author responds to me directly, I happily acknowledge their comments.
  • Reply to comments and messages.
    Whenever an author takes the time to comment on my review, or to send me an email or tweet, I do my best to reply. Even if it's just a quick "thank you for reading" or "I'm glad you liked my review," it lets them know that you value their comments. If the author or publisher sent you a review copy, it also shows them that you are appreciative of their generosity.
  • Be tactful. 
    Because online reviews are public, and because these are often shared with or stumbled upon by publishers and authors, it is important to remain courteous and professional even when you dislike a book. There is no reason to write only positive reviews, as critical reviews are how librarians, readers, and others often determine whether to purchase or read a particular book. Still, it is a good idea to focus your criticisms on the book only, not on the author as a person, and to restrain yourself from swearing or name-calling in your review.
What else should bloggers do when interacting with authors? Leave your own suggestions in comments, and check back tomorrow, when I'll be sharing my favorite short stories.

Monday, May 26, 2014

#ArmchairBEA Day 1: Introduction

Image credit: Amber of
I usually try to avoid posting more than once a day, but I'm making an exception just for today, so I can post my introduction for Armchair BEA. To learn more about what this, and how you can participate, visit Today's specific topics and link-up can be found here. Below are my answers to five of the ten introduction questions provided here.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging? Where in the world are you blogging from?
I'm Katie Fitzgerald, a former children's librarian turned stay at home mom living in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. I started blogging on New Year's Day 2011 at Secrets & Sharing Soda, where I posted book reviews. I then started a second blog in March 2011, Story Time Secrets, which was for all my story time outlines. I have since combined both blogs into Story Time Secrets, which includes book reviews, book lists, story time starters, etc I got into blogging mostly because I like to write, and because my then-boyfriend, now-husband thought I would be good at it and encouraged me to stick with it.

Describe your blog in just one sentence. Then, list your social details -- Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. -- so we can connect more online.
Story Time Secrets focuses on resources for sharing books with kids. I am on Twitter as @mrskatiefitz​, and my blog's Facebook page is here. I also post to Pinterest quite a lot.
What was your favorite book read last year? What’s your favorite book so far this year?
My favorite books from 2013 were Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill, illustrated by LeUyen Pham and The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarsky. Some of my favorites so far this year are Revolution by Deborah Wiles, Steering Toward Normal by Rebecca Petruck, and Welcome to Dog Beach by Lisa Greenwald.(All three are middle grade titles. That tends to be what I read the most.)
Spread the love by naming your favorite blogs/bloggers (doesn’t necessarily have to be book blogs/bloggers).
Some of the blogs I have been reading lately are: Catholic All Year, The Matt Walsh Blog, The Library Adventure, Ms. Yingling Reads, Randomly Reading, and
 Share your favorite book or reading related quotes.
 One of my favorite quotes about books is from Please Bury Me at the Library by J. Patrick Lewis:
A bad book owes to many trees
A forest of apologies

Check back tomorrow for an Armchair BEA post about interacting with authors.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

10 Things To Know About Middle Grade Literature

Lately, I've seen a lot of blog posts discussing middle grade literature as though it is a new, difficult-to-define category. I hope to clear up at least some of the misconceptions with this quick list of things to know. 
  • “Middle grade” is not a new term. It’s been in use in publications like Booklist and The Horn Book since at least 1967, and is also sometimes used synonymously with juvenile fiction (as differentiated from picture books or young adult fiction).
  • Middle grade refers, literally, to the middle grades of a child’s education, roughly grades 4 to 7, or ages 8 to 12. Education literature often uses the term “middle grade” to define a level of education, not just a level of reading ability. I have seen references to “middle grade math” and “middle grade science” as well as “middle grade fiction.”
  • Books read by middle school students may or may not be middle grade. Most middle school libraries I have seen have a mix of middle grade and young adult books designed to suit the interests of a student body ranging in age from 10 to 14. Many middle school books are on the upper end of the middle grade reading spectrum, and might not be appropriate for kids on the lower end.
  • Middle grade is not a genre. Middle grade books can fall into any number of genres - mystery, fantasy, realistic fiction, biography, self-help, how-to, etc.
  • Middle grade novels do have chapters, but they are different from chapter books. A chapter book is a transitional book for kids who have mastered the basics of reading but are not quite ready for the complications of plot and character introduced in a children’s novel. Chapter books can be appropriate for kids ages 5-8, while middle grade books straddle the late elementary and early middle school years.
  • Middle grade books will typically include stories of family, friendship, neighborhood happenings, school, bullying, fighting the forces of evil, overcoming hardship, and beginning puberty. Middle grade books will not include sex scenes, drug use, heavy violence, or other edgy, dark concepts. (Books for kids containing these subjects are young adult books.)
  • A middle grade book does not have to be appropriate for the entire 8-12 age range to be classified as middle grade. Books that appeal only to 9-year-olds are middle grade, as are books that appeal only to 12-year-olds. The middle grade category is a spectrum, and it encompasses a continuum of reading levels.
  • Authors of middle grade books sometimes write young adult fiction and vice versa. What determines whether the book is middle grade or YA is the subject matter and reading level, not the person who wrote the story. Though both are by Suzanne Collins, Gregor the Overlander is middle grade, and The Hunger Games is young adult.
  • Middle grade is a concept understood by teachers, librarians, authors, and publishers, but most kids don’t know which category the books they read fit into. Teens might know to ask where the young adult section is, but a middle grade child is probably going to ask, “Where are the fifth grade books?” not “Where is the middle grade section?” Middle grade is a useful term to use among children’s literature professionals, but it’s jargon and not necessary to use with the general public.
  • Categories are useful for organizing libraries and guessing at what a collective body of kids might be interested in reading, but terms like "middle grade" only matter insofar as they are helpful. The best way to determine whether a given book is appropriate for a given child is to gather facts about both and make an informed recommendation based on what you learn.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

9 Father/Son Picture Books

Last week, I shared a list of Daddy/Daughter picture books in preparation for Father's Day. Here is a companion list, featuring books about fathers and sons. 
  • Daddy Makes the Best Spaghetti
    by Anna Grossnickle Hines
    Corey and his dad get dinner ready while they wait for Mom to come home.
  • Enemy Pie
    by Derek Munson & Tara Calahan King
    When a boy appeals to his dad looking for help dealing with an enemy in the neighborhood his father suggests making enemy pie to take care of him once and for all.
  • Hush, Little Digger
    by Ellen Olson-Brown & Lee White
    A father sings a lullaby filled with construction vehicles to his young son.
  • The Impossible Patriotism Project
    by Linda Skeers & Ard Hoyt
    Caleb find's inspiration for his class's patriotism project in his father, who is deployed.
  • Mitchell’s License
    by Hallie Durand & Tony Fucile
    Mitchell's father gives him a license to drive him to bed each night, but he draws the line when Mitchell wants to fuel up at the cookie jar.
  • Papa, Do You Love Me?
    by Barbara Joosse & Barbara Lavallee
    A Masai boy repeatedly asks if his father loves him, always receiving a reassuring response.
  • Pete’s a Pizza
    by William Steig
    Pete and his dad play a fun game where Pete gets turned into a pizza.
  • There, There
    by Sam McBratney
    A father bear helps his son when injuries and other problems disrupt their daily routine.
  • Your Daddy Was Just Like You
    by Kelly Bennett & David L. Walker
    A grandmother informs her grandson of all the ways his father was just like him growing up.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Story Time Music: Extension Songs (and Rhymes)

Welcome back to my continuing series on story time music. All the previous posts in this series can be read here. Last week, my post was all about the opening sequence of story time. Today, I'll look at using songs and rhymes to extend the story time experience beyond the pages of a book.

Though it’s not always possible to find a song or rhyme to accompany every book I read at story time, I do like to find songs and rhymes that extend the reading experience whenever possible. If I read a book that introduces colors, I might then sing a song about a rainbow, or present a flannel board about coloring with different-colored crayons. If my book involves counting, I’ll follow it up with a song about “five little somethings” or a counting fingerplay. Not only does this help kids internalize the information they’ve heard in a given story; it also makes it easy for me to choose which of the many songs and rhymes in my archives I will use at a given session. While I think it’s great to repeat some songs at every story time, or at least regularly for a number of sessions, it’s also nice to have some variety and to match books with thematically related activities, even if the overall story time does not have a theme.

There are tons of extension songs and rhymes out there on the internet, and they can vary greatly in quality. The best ones seem to have the following:
  • Natural-sounding rhythm and rhyme. Songs shouldn't attempt to squeeze too many syllables into a line and they shouldn't use particular words just because they rhyme. Each word should make sense and clearly belong to the song.
  • Accurate and relevant information. Songs should reinforce correct information from the books, instead of making things up just to create a cute song. (Penguins don't fly for example, so a flying bird song doesn't work in a penguin theme.) 
  • A catchy tune. Since audience participation is a key part of story time, it helps to find songs that have familiar tunes, or at least tunes that are easy to learn after just a few repetitions. Sometimes it might help to write your own piggyback songs based on the tunes your groups know best. (Check out my post on writing piggyback songs for more information!)
  • Motions, sounds, or other ways to encourage interaction. Story time audiences stay engaged when their contribution matters! Find songs with simple motions for the kids to act out, and teach them how to make the movements. 
  • Versatility. While it's great to find a perfect song that suits an obscure theme, it is much better to find a song that will suit a variety of themes so your groups can learn it once and sing it many times over. I like Chickadee, for example, because it works for multiple themes: birds, spring, flying, counting, and happiness.  
A long list of thematically organized extension activities that I have pulled from various sources can be found on my wiki.  Feel free to share your favorite resources for extension songs and rhymes in comments!

Next week, I'll be focusing on getting the wiggles out with movement songs and stretches.

Monday, May 19, 2014 7 Qualities of Awesome Children's Librarians

My latest post at The Library Adventure is dedicated to awesome children's librarians everywhere. Check it out - and give a shout-out to your favorite librarians in the comments!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Picture Book Review: Hooray for Bread by Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman (2013)

The story of a loaf of bread is told slice by slice and crumb by crumb in this well-written rhyming picture book. Bruce Ingman’s pictures use an interesting color palette, wherein some parts of each image are pink, red, and white, and others are drawn in full color. The colors give the book an overall cheerful look, which matches its celebratory tone, and the cartoonish figures look a bit like a child’s own illustrations.

My favorite page in the whole book is when the baker’s wife and the baby visit the duck pond and throw breadcrumbs to the ducks. Ingman perfectly captures the frenzied movements of the ducks as they paddle excitedly toward the bread crumbs, and the paint strokes he uses to convey the rippling water are perfect. I also love the illustration of the interior of the entire house at night, showing every member of the family in his or her bed.

If your family, like mine, bakes its own bread, this book will be a natural choice for sharing as a read-aloud. The story will also appeal to fans of Ahlberg’s other books, written both on his own and with his wife, and those who like Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Little Pea, Spoon, and Chopsticks.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

9 Daddy/Daughter Picture Books

With Father's Day just a few weeks away, now is a great time to start reading these daddy/daughter picture books. (Check back next week for a list of father/son books.)
  • Apples to Oregon
    by Deborah Hopkinson & Nancy Carpenter
    Delicious and her siblings travel across country in a covered wagon, doing everything they can to ensure the successful delivery of her father's fruit trees to their new home in Oregon. 
  • Has Anyone Seen My Emily Greene?
    by Norma Fox Mazer & Christine Davenier
    It's time for lunch, but where is Emily Greene? Her father pretends not to see her as the two engage in a silly game of hide-and-seek. 
  • Higher! Higher!
    by Leslie Patricelli
    A little girl climbs on the swing and asks her dad for a push. He pushes her so high, she flies all the way up to space. 
  • Interrupting Chicken
    by David Ezra Stein
    Chicken loves listening to Papa read at bedtime, but she just can't help interrupting to add her own exciting endings to each of the stories.
  • Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale
    by Mo Willems
    Trixie and her dad are having a fun time on their trip to the laundromat until Knuffle Bunny gets left behind. 
  • Lola Loves Stories
    by Anna McQuinn & Rosalind Beardshaw
    Lola's dad takes her to the library every Saturday, inspiring a week's worth of make-believe play for his daughter.
  • Owl Moon
    by Jane Yolen & John Schoenherr
    A young girl and her dad go owling together in the woods on a cold winter night. 
  • Please, Papa
    by Kate Banks & Gabi Swiatkowska
    Alice's toy farm is missing a horse. When she says, "Please," her father happily becomes the horse himself. 
  • Ten Nine Eight
    by Molly Bang
    A little girl and her father count down to bedtime as they go through their nightly routine.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Story Time Music: Saying Hello

For the past few weeks, I have been sharing my experiences using music at story time. I have posted about recorded music, a cappella singing, and live music, but I have yet to say very much about the specifics of choosing story time songs. Today, I'd like to share my thoughts on the hello songs (and rhymes) librarians use to open a story time session.

Whether you start story time with a song or a rhyme, the opening activity is a crucial part of the session. Your opening routine represents the first impression you make on your audience, and also your opportunity to set the tone for story time and get everyone’s attention. In my opinion, a great hello song or rhyme includes a greeting to the audience and a set of simple motions for the audience to imitate. The greeting lets everyone know that this song marks the start of story time, and also welcomes the group to the library. The motions encourage everyone to begin paying attention, and to look to you to lead them through the story time experience. I also think it’s important to repeat the same hello song week after week so the audience becomes conditioned to associate it with the start of story time.

Here are some of my favorite hello songs:
  • Hello, How Are You? is great for really large groups, classroom visits, and mixed age groups. I always have the kids wave during the first verse, then I choose motions for subsequent verses based on the age and activity level of the kids. I have had many families tell me that this hello song has become their children's favorite song.
  • Say Hello is a good choice for small groups where there is time to greet every child by name. I used to use this song quite a lot in baby story times, until the groups got a bit too large, and the hello song started taking up half the session. If you're new to your library, or just have a new group of kids, this song will help you learn names quickly.
  • This is the Way We Wave Hello is a short and sweet hello song that works really well with babies and toddlers. For this one, I never vary the motions I ask the kids to do. I find that repeating the exact same motions week to week encourages the kids to learn them and perform them along with me. 
  • Say Hello to Your Toes is another short and sweet opening song that works best with babies. Parents and caregivers can hold the kids in their laps and point to each part of the body as it is mentioned. I like this song because it sets a tone for lap time wherein parent/child interaction is the central focus.
With preschoolers, and at class visits, I also like to sing a second song after the opener, which is usually If You’d Like to Read a Book. While the hello song signals that we have started, this song reminds the kids that we’re about to hear a story, and, because I ask them to “whisper hooray” at the end of the song, it gets them into that quiet place where they’re ready to hear what I’m about to read.

How do you open your story time sessions? Share your favorite hello songs and rhymes in comments! Check back next week for my thoughts on extension songs.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

8 Mother/Son Picture Books

Last week, I shared a list of mother/daughter picture books in anticipation of Mother's Day. Here is the companion list, featuring books about mothers and sons.
  • Are You Awake?
    by Sophie Blackall
    At bedtime, Edward asks his mother a million questions instead of going to sleep.
  •  I Wanna Iguana
    by Karen Orloff & David Catrow
    Alex and his mother write a series of notes back and forth debating over whether Alex should have an iguana.
  • Llama Llama Mad at Mama
    by Anna Dewdney
    Llama Llama has a tantrum during a trip to the grocery store.
  • Mother Mother I Want Another
    by Maria Polushkin Robbins & Jon Goodell
    A young mouse asks his mother for another kiss, but she thinks he wants another mother, so all the animal moms in the neighborhood drop by to say goodnight.
  • Pig Pig Grows Up
    by David McPhail
    Pig Pig's mother wants him to start growing up, but Pig Pig is pleased to continue being the baby.
  • Please Baby Please
    by Spike Lee, Tonya Lewis Lee, & Kadir Nelson
    A mother pleads with her busy toddler to slow down and calm down as their busy day goes by.
  • Runaway Bunny
    by Margaret Wise Brown & Clement Hurd
    A rabbit mother explains to her son that no matter where he goes, she will always love him, and will always find a way to be with him.
  • Tell Me The Day Backwards
    by Albert Lamb & David McPhail
    At bedtime, a little bear and his mother recount the events of their day, all the way back to the moment they awoke from hibernating all winter long.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Library Interview: Meet Sharon Chastain, Children's Librarian

The Library Adventure has launched a new series of monthly interviews with library professionals. In today's post, I interview Children's Librarian Sharon Chastain.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Story Time Music: Live from Story Time!

This is my third post in a series on story time music. The first post was all about recorded music, and the second one focused on a cappella singing. Today, I'll take things a step further with my reflections on playing live music at my story time sessions.

One of the things I have learned about myself in this profession is that I am always eager for a new challenge and always interested in outdoing myself. When my husband gave me a ukulele for my birthday in 2011, I knew it was only a matter of time before I'd bring it to story time. It took me about 9 months to feel comfortable actually performing in front of a group, but from the very first ukulele story time I did, I could tell it was a great idea. Here's what I observed when I began to play the ukulele in story time.
  • Adults were more likely to listen because they respected my singing and playing as a performance, rather than just another routine part of story time.
  • The ukulele was a great attention-getter in story times where my audiences were losing focus.
  • Kids were drawn to the ukulele, and often pretended to strum along with me, or even tried to touch my strings. They also lined up to see the ukulele after story time.
  • I didn't need to have a set of motions for every song because listening to me strum was entertainment enough.
  • I could still adjust songs to suit my needs and use piggyback songs, but there was something a little bit more special about playing the ukulele, instead of just singing on my own.
I didn't replace every a cappella song with a ukulele performance, because that would be overkill, but I found that a blend of a cappella singing and ukulele strumming worked best for my story time groups, and if I were doing a story time right now, that is likely to be the approach I would take.

Though not every children's librarian is musically inclined, it is important for each of us to find a way to share songs with our story time audiences. Whatever music you ultimately decide to use, I recommend trying different approaches, pushing yourself to new limits, and working on overcoming the fears that might keep you from singing your heart out.

Next week, I'll start to get into the process I use to select story time music with a post on choosing hello songs.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

9 Mother/Daughter Picture Books

Mother's Day is just around the corner. Celebrate your relationship with your daughter (or mother!) by sharing some of these pictures books with her. (And check back next week for a list of Mother/Son books.)

  • The Block Mess Monster
    by Betsy Howie & C.B. Decker
    When Calpurnia becomes too afraid of the monster lurking in her block mess to clean up after herself, her patient and creative mother comes to the rescue. 
  • Blueberries for Sal
    by Robert McCloskey
    When Sal gets separated from her mother while blueberry picking, she encounters a mother bear whose cub begins following her mother by mistake as well. 
  • A Chair for My Mother
    by Vera B. Williams
    When they lose their home in a fire, Rosa and her family work hard to save the money needed to buy a comfortable chair for her mother to sit in.
  • Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild
    by Mem Fox & Marla Frazee
    Harriet tries not to cause too much trouble, and her mother tries not to get too upset, but sometimes it just doesn't work out that way. 
  • Mama, Do You Love Me?
    by Barbara Joosse & Barbara Lavallee
    A mother reassures her young daughter of her unconditional love in this story set in the Arctic. 
  • The Quilt Story
    by Tony Johnston & Tomie dePaola
    A mother makes a quilt for her daughter, Abigail. Many years later, another girl finds the quilt and her mother mends it so that it will keep her warm as well. 
  • Take Your Mama to Work Today
    by Amy Reichert & Alexandra Boiger
    A spirited little girl named Violet makes quite an impression when she accompanies her mother to the office. 
  • Thank You, Mama
    by Kate Banks & Gabi Swiatkowska
    On her birthday, Alice receives a pet parrot who copies her when she says, "Thank you, Mama," but Alice wants the parrot to learn to thank her too. 
  • This Quiet Lady
    by Charlotte Zolotow & Anita Lobel
    Through a series of old photos, a little girl finds out what her mother was like as a child.
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