Thursday, June 19, 2014

Choosing Books for Story Time

A quality story time depends on many factors, but great books are high on the list. Not all picture books are created equal, so story time performers must choose wisely and carefully. Here are the questions I typically ask myself when deciding whether a given book is a good fit for story time.
  • Will this book engage the target age group?
    This is usually the first question I ask about any given book, because if the book is not suited to the age group, nothing else matters. Books with few words and big, bold illustrations are probably best for baby story times. Toddlers like books with rhyme, animal sounds, and interactive elements. Preschoolers can follow longer plots and even make guesses about what might happen next. Books for story times for all ages might include some combination of all of these. The important thing is to think about the age group and choose a story that suits their developmental needs and interests.
  • Do I like this book?
    As much as story time is about the kids and not the librarian, I think it’s important for the story time performer to choose books that she likes. I think kids can always tell when an adult is lukewarm about something she is reading, and I know I always do my best reading when I am enjoying myself. I can’t say I’ve never read a book I dislike at story time, but I can definitely say that my best story times have always happened when I’ve read titles I really love.
  • Is this book a good read-aloud?
    Some picture books, beautiful though they might be to look at, do not make good read-alouds. Awkward rhyme schemes, difficult-to-pronounce character names, overly-complex sentences, and lack of connection between the illustrations and the text are all reasons that I would avoid reading a book aloud. I also avoid books that I just don’t feel comfortable performing. I will usually try to read a book aloud to myself, or even to a colleague, before I take it to story time, just to make sure it works and that I don’t feel awkward reading it to an audience.
  • Do I know any songs or rhymes that would pair really well with this book?
    Though books are at the heart of story time, it’s usually not enough to just sit and read for thirty minutes. (Though I have had groups that prefer that approach.) Once I find a book I like, I think about what else I have in my repertoire on the same theme. It’s not absolutely essential that every book have a matching activity, but it helps a lot with the continuity of story time, and with narrowing down my options. I might still use a book for which I don’t have a matching song or rhyme, but I’m more likely to use a book that easily inspires other activities.
  • Are there other books on a similar theme?
    I don’t always do themed story times, but sometimes a book will make me think of five other similar titles, and inspiration will strike. I also find it useful to look at a book from a variety of angles in order to brainstorm new themes I’ve never used before. This is also a great way to learn about books in my collection that I might not be familiar with, whether they turn out to be useful for story time or not. 
  • Is the book difficult to hold?
    Some books are just unwieldy. I find it impossible to effectively share a big book because I have never been able to find a way to hold it up that doesn’t require intense acrobatics. I also have a hard time holding up books with lots of flaps and fold-out pages. When I have an unusually shaped book, or a book with lots of parts to it, I always give it a test-run for an imaginary audience just to see whether I can even show the book to the group. If not, it doesn’t make it to story time.
  • Will those sitting in the back be able to see the pictures?
    This question depends on the size of the audience as much as on the size of the book. If I’m doing story time for one hundred people in a large meeting space, I want to be sure the book is easily seen from the very back row of the room. If I have a smaller group I might just want assurance that kids within a couple of feet of me can see the pictures. The important thing is to choose a book that both kids and adults are easily able to see so they can engage with the visual elements of the story as well as the text.
  • Does this book encourage audience participation?
    Not all story time books need to be interactive, but it helps to consider whether an audience participation element will engage or alienate your audiences. With larger groups, I like an opportunity to invite everyone to make animal sounds or repeat a particular refrain because it keeps the attention focused on the book instead of on the ten thousand distractions 100 toddlers can easily create for each other. With smaller groups that I know to be shy or quiet, though, I might not want to depend too heavily on audience participation because I know the kids will not participate and the mood in the room will be very uncomfortable. 
How do you choose your story time books?


  1. Big Books are one of the best things to use with groups! I use mine on an easel. Most easels for librarians have a ledge for holding the book. Mine broke, so I simply use big jaw clips to secure the book to the top of the board. I stand behind it or to the side to read it, depending on how well I've got the text memorized.

    If you're having trouble holding a book, are you using what I call "librarian grip"? It should be balanced open on one hand , while the other hand steadies it and turns pages. After a bit this comes naturally, even with a larger book.

    1. I tried the easel approach a couple of times and found that the books just collapsed in on themselves or fell completely to the floor. With a better easel, it might have worked better, but I didn't have enough big books at my disposal to make it worth figuring out.

      My other issue is that I don't have full use of my left hand (nerve damage), so my "librarian grip" isn't always strong enough to hold up a larger book. I have to hold the book in my left hand, because only my right hand can turn pages, so that makes it a bit tricky. I love the term "librarian grip," though!

    2. I use big books occasionally - I put them on my lap and turn the pages from the top. This does require that you either A. have the story memorized and/or B. be able to read upside-down.
      When I'm looking for fiction in storytimes, one of the major things I look for is brief text - a lot of picture books are just way, way too long for storytime with younger kids. When I'm looking for nonfiction, which I try to incorporate in all my storytimes, When I'm looking for nonfiction for storytime (both in-house and outreach) I'm often looking less for nonfiction narratives and more for books that will spark off a dialogue.

    3. I LOVE gi-huge-enorm-ic books! I ask one of the kids to help me hold it open. I am in a fairly small space and we mostly sit in a circle so there is no issue with the book being held too low for folks in the back to see. Works great and the kids love being asked to help out - an especially good task to ask an older sibling to help with!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...