Guest Post: Modeling Pretend Play at Storytime

At our November Library Services for Children Journal Club meeting we discussed executive function.  One of the ways we can help children develop executive function skills is through pretend play.  Stephanie M. Carlson is a professor and director of research at the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota. She wrote an article about why pretend play helps executive function and states, “We think it’s because pretending puts “psychological distance” between a child and the task at hand. Pretending helps a child step back from a problem and think about it from multiple angles. It helps him see different options for finding a solution. Pretending also uses the same brain networks as real behavior. So if a child practices using pretend play, it’s more likely he’ll use those same brain networks in real situations. It’s similar to the advice “fake it till you make it.”

Today’s post is a guest post by my friend and colleague Kate Lowe. Kate Lowe works as a children’s librarian in Vancouver, BC.  She enjoys testing out new storytime material on her 4 year old son. She is also living proof that anyone can learn to play the ukulele.  She’s here to share 9 ways we can encourage pretend play in storytime.  We’re taking the research and putting it into practice!


Research shows that there are a million and one great reasons to encourage children to engage in pretend play. So how can we encourage the parents, caregivers, babies, toddlers and preschoolers at our library to play “make-believe”? By showing them how it is done and reminding caregivers to try this at home.

1.  Lay an Egg

If you’ve got egg shakers at your library you have everything you need to demonstrate imaginary play. Well, an egg shaker and a willingness to make a fool of yourself in front of a room full of storytime families.

  • Step 1: Take an egg shaker
  • Step 2: Sit on it
  • Step 3: Squawk and flap like a chicken
  • Step 4: Lay the egg
  • Step 5: Cradle it in your hands and treat it like a delicate baby. Proudly show the egg to the audience.
  • Step 6: Ask if they are ready to play with shakers too

2.  Row, Row, Row Your Ukulele

Pretend your trusty uke is an oar to help you paddle down the stream. Try putting the instrument down and all of you can paddle together. It’s a nice variation on the traditional rowing actions. You can even change the words to “Paddle, paddle, paddle your canoe gently down the stream…”

3. Felt Piece Meet and Greet

Before starting a felt story take two of the felt pieces and bring them to life with sounds and movement in the air. You only need a few moments of clip clopping the horse along the top of your felt board, or having a cat chase the mouse up your arm to give your audience the idea.

4. The Original Hand Puppet

Turn your hand into a puppet named Herbert. After a fun storytime activity turn to your hand and have a conversations:

  • You: “Did you like that Herbert?”
  • You (aside to the audience): “This is Herbert.”
  • You: “So did you like the song Herbert?”
  • Herbert (nodding): “Yep I did!”
  • You: Let’s give ourselves a round of applause for that song!
  • Herbert: “Good idea”

Best advice I ever got from a puppeteer was: Look at the puppet when you’re have a conversation with it. Look at the audience when you are talking to them. The audience will follow your attention.

5. Sweep Up

Storytime scarves are the ideal pretend play tool. They are light, colourful, and they provide have endless possibilities for play. Remind caregivers that most homes have a rag, cloth or small blanket that will work for at home. Before you do a song or rhyme, take a scarf and turn it into a duster, or a broom and pretend to sweep. Clean the dust off your chair, your legs, some of the children’s feet…

6. Costume Change

The song “My Hat it Has Four Corners” demonstrates how a scarf can be a hat or a superhero cape.

7. Grow a flower

The rhyme “Here is a Green Leaf” demonstrates how a scarf can be a beautiful flower.

8. Baby Doll

Children have a special skill to turn any object into a baby doll. Take a puppet and start to rock and burp it. Pretend for a moment or two that the puppet is your baby to love and care for. A few scarves stuffed inside another scarf then tied with an elastic makes the head and wispy body of a lovely little doll. After a minute of caring for your baby you can tell the audience you are ready to move on to a song or book. Ask the audience to say goodbye to your little friend. If you are finished with the puppet or scarves, carefully place them somewhere safe to keep the illusion going.

9. Book Time

Library staff are always trying to model how to treat a book gently, but you can take it one step further and pretend the book is a baby, a piece of glass, or precious friend. We can talk to the book, hug the book, and cradle the book. Especially if it is a favourite book that you decide to bring out a number of times during a series of storytimes. The book can become a familiar friend and treated with special care. You could make the book a special sleeping bag, a coat, or give it a special box to sleep in. There are endless possibilities.

What storytime objects have sparked your imagination in storytime?  Let us know in the comments!

Guest Post: All About Process Art

Remember when we put out a call for guest posts? It’s still open if anyone is interested in contributing! Today we are excited to share a guest post from Katie O’Brian. A native of the Chicago suburbs, Katie works as a Librarian at the Sam Gary Branch of the Denver Public Library.  She has worked with children and families since 2012 and loves providing storytime and programs for children of all ages. In her free time, Katie reads, knits, and watches The Great British Bake Off.

Read on to find out what process art is, why it’s great for kids, and ideas for trying it out at your library.  Thank you, Katie, for this amazing post!


I used to think that every craft program I ran had to have a specific product the kids could take home at the end of the day. I gathered all the right supplies, tried to guess the right numbers, and made sure directions were clear. While this kind of craft has its place, it’s certainly not the only option! You or volunteers could spend hours cutting out tiny pieces to make a very specific product. Alternatively, you could put out a variety of supplies and watch what happens. This is called process art, and it’s a magical thing.

In process art, the emphasis is on exploration. Participants explore a material, a technique, a color, etc. at length. There is no sample to follow. The activity is child focused and directed. The goal might be to explore painting, for example, by using a water bottle as a kind of stamp. Do we roll it? Stamp with the bottom? The top? Inevitably, someone will decide they want to discard the water bottle and spread the paint with their hands or a brush. That’s great! They’re seeing what happens when all the colors are combined. They’re getting messy. They’re having fun!

The developmental benefits of process art are numerous. Because every child explores differently, process art allows each child to engage in self-directed learning. They have the control. When we ask a child, “What would happen if…” we’re asking them to answer an open-ended question. This is a powerful learning opportunity.

These are some of the many reasons I love process art:

  • It gives children autonomy
  • It takes away the stress of trying to get something exactly right (for them and for us!)
  • Children learn about cooperation, decision making, and sharing
  • It allows kids to have fun while creating something completely unique to them
  • Many programs use materials parents have at home, meaning they can easily translate craft ideas to at-home art making
  • It gives kids a chance to be messy!

Multiple parents have told me that they would never let their kids paint at home because of the mess. They appreciate the chance to let their kids explore the art of mess making in an environment where they’re not responsible for cleanup.

For those of us who are responsible for the cleanup, I advise using dropcloths or some other kind of table cover. Limit the amount of supplies you put out at once. If using paint, I squirt a color or two onto a paper plate and refresh as needed. Inevitably, someone paints on the plate, but that’s part of the process, too! If we’re painting with watered down glue or liquid starch, I put a limited amount in a cup. I have been fortunate to have access to multi-purpose rooms with sinks, but if you don’t have access to a sink, try filling a basin with water and bringing it into the room. Wet wipes are also super helpful.

I’ve mostly done these programs with preschool aged children. Some examples of programs I’ve done for that age range are:

  • Bubble wrap art
  • Q-tip pointillism (painting with Q-tips)
  • Playdoh monsters
  • Coffee filters and watercolors
  • Paint and symmetry (what happens when we fold the paper while the paint is wet?)
  • Circle art (using different circle-shaped objects as stamps)
  • Bright colors on black paper
  • Water bottle stamps
  • Leaf art

If you’re hesitant to do an entire program around a process-based craft, it’s also quite easy to incorporate into something else. Planning a big event with several stations? Maybe put out a bunch of materials at one station and let kids go to town! Don’t really have a lot of time for a whole program? You can also incorporate process art into passive programs like make and take crafts.

Exploration and process-based learning are important for older kids, as well. I did a DIY Board Game program for families with kids of all ages. I was interested to see how the process might change as kids got older. I provided a list of questions to consider in case kids needed more guidance. Among other questions, it asked, “How many players?” “What is the goal?” “How do you win?” Some kids methodically answered every question. Others ignored it completely. Some had very involved sets of rules. Others focused on the design of their game board. It was really cool to see individual personalities come out in the process of board game design. One girl, with her arm in a cast, made a game called “Hospital” in which the goal was to get to the patient’s room first. Real life inspires art, perhaps?

Ideas for process art can be found all over the world wide web! Here are some of my favorite resources:

Do you have any favorite process-based crafts or programs you’ve done or recommend? I’d love to hear about them!

2017 Picture Books Cover Appeal: Canadian Edition

I’m back with part three of my Cover Appeal series! This time I’d like to shine a light on the covers of 2017 Canadian picture books that have caught my eye.  There are a few Canadian titles scattered throughout Part 1 and Part 2, but this post is dedicated to all the wonderful titles being published by Canadian authors, illustrators, and publishers this year.  Which ones are you looking forward to? Let me know in the comments!

I love the striking yellow colour of this one. Colette’s got a kind of Madeline vibe I’m digging. The author hails from Montreal.

Part of a series from this author/illustrator duo. This one is set in Vancouver, wahoo!

A boy writes an email to his friend after arriving in Canada from Jamaica. I like how the colours of Jamaica’s flag are woven into the cover.

Did you ever sing this little rhyme as a kid when walking on the sidewalk: “Step on a crack, you break your mama’s back”? I did and this book is living up to my childhood imagination.

This book gets all the weird points. Weird title. Weird illustrations. Possibly weird storyline? I love it.

Grumple! A grumpy animal? I can just imagine that name becoming a family saying after reading this book. “Looks like someone woke up a grumple today!”

Canadian illustrator Matthew Forsythe is set to stun with this one if the cover is any clue to what’s inside.

No title or author given on the cover, but this one’s from Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. I think it would be fun to ask kids what they think the title is based on the cover. Tree? Monster? Triangle? (yes).

I just love the contrast between the muted greys outside and the brightness under the umbrella. I already know my niece is going to ask why the man has a blue nose.

From Canadian publisher Groundwood books. This one hits a personal note for me as my niece is Colombian. Not sure where the story is set but both the author and illustrator live in Colombia.

My niece used to ask me this question at least 20 times a day when she was in preschool. Based on the cover, I hope one of the answers is reading!

I’ve loved the first two in this series. The perfect gift for birthdays!

It is the year of yellow covers! Set in Brazil, follow the boat to see who you meet. I believe it was translated by Canadian Jane Springer.

The title + the illustrations have me wondering if this one will be a tear jerker. Sad books get me every time.

The cover caught my attention because I know Crozier’s poetry. Looks absolutely adorable.

Mermaid alert! I repeat, mermaid alert! Told by Inuit elder Donald Uluadlauk.

You guys, the dog! It’s the cutest dog I’ve ever seen! From the West coast to the East coast, journey across our country in this one.

Looks like a great new addition for talking about comparison and contrast.

What I see on this cover is pride and community. From a First Nations author/illustrator duo.

New Ashley Spires, yeehaw! You can do it, Lou!

Look, this wouldn’t be a Canadian list without at least one moose on it, right?

Pure imagination on the cover. Knitting in children’s literature is really having it’s heyday.

Originally published in French by Montrealers author and illustrator. You don’t see many bald children on the covers of picture books and it’s a shame.

This could be the cover of a book for ANY AGE. It’s mysterious and a little spooky. My favourite part is the kid in the back raising their ski in a fist bump.

Sneaking this one on even though it’s a board book. It just looks so happy!

Which ones are you most looking forward to? Let me know in the comments!

2017 Picture Books: Cover Appeal Part 2

A few weeks ago I shared some 2017 picture books I’m looking forward to reading based solely on their covers. I had a lot of fun writing Part 1 and lately I’ve been needing things that are fun and give me a renewed sense of energy to keep going. Self care, friends, is so important.

So here is Part 2! Again, I don’t know much about these books except for the fact that their covers got me like gimme gimme gimme.  Here’s what’s on my cover appeal radar.

Does anyone else immediately think of the movie Amélie when they see gnomes? Just me? A pun-tastic cover.

Neil deGrasse Tyson once tweeted, “I wonder who was the first person to see a bird soaring high above & think it a good idea to capture it and lock it in a cage” and that’s what this cover makes me think of.

Adorable snail alert! I repeat, we have an adorable snail alert!

There is a complete lack of mermaid picture books and I know this because I’ve read all 5 that exist to my niece at least 100 times each. Excited for some new material!

The title is Strange. The little girl looks a bit Strange. The perspective is Strange. I’m all about it.

Existential crisis, anyone?

Oh please, please, please, please get library representation right!

A narwhal in a fish tank, what is this madness! I must read immediately.

Look, I never thought I would say the word “cute” and “octopus” in the same sentence but here we are.

Digging the retro feel of the illustrations and the technology. Also I feel like being allowed to chew gum is this distinct childhood memory for a lot of people that no one talks about.

Where is the title?! Is this a new trend? Is it snowing? So many questions…

I think this one could be great for school-age groups. And I’m always excited for books that teach resilience.

This cover is literally my 8-year-old self’s dream. Like I actually dreamed about riding a pegasus against a beautiful sunset.

We do a Family Fort Night program at my library and I think this would make a great book to read at the beginning. As we say, fort building is in kids’ DNA.

I would like to stand by my original claim that cute kids and dogs on cover is THE TREND of 2017.

Honestly, I just can’t get over how adorable the kid is. The headbands, man!

Looks like a fun take on a very important life lesson – failing and learning.

Neil Gaiman writes picture books? Surprise! This cover is WOW.

The happiest little gardener that I ever did see. I am so pumped for more stories about community building and environmental awareness.

What does the fox play?

Do you know that Portlandia skit where the store owners coin the phrase “stick a bird on it” to sell more products? That’s me and donuts and picture books. STICK A DONUT ON IT.

Hope you enjoyed Part 2! Let me know which books you’re looking forward to reading in 2017!

Talking to Kids About Race: Racially Diverse Storytime Books

Awhile back I wrote a post about talking to kids about race.  Should we talk to kids about race in storytime? This post is the second in a series I hope to continue throughout the year.

Picture books can be a great tool to start these conversations with children.  If you need help finding racially diverse picture books that work well in a storytime setting, look no further (actually you should look further, specifically at the wonderful blog Everyday Diversity which reviews storytime books featuring people of colour, First Nations, and Native Americans).

In this post I’d like to welcome guest blogger Echo. Echo is the Children’s Librarian at an urban library in Washington State. She loves playing the ukulele and trying to convince her family that anyone can sing, even them. Echo is here to share an amazing resource she created – thematic storytime booklists featuring characters of colour.  Take it away, Echo!


When I was first learning to prepare story times, I was trained to choose a topic, select thematic story time elements, then go through our story time books and children’s collection to find titles that fit the story time theme. This made for cohesive, successful story times, but artificially limited which titles I would consider for story time; making it more likely to include books that were about a topic, rather than about a character. I was frustrated by how difficult it was to find good story time books about a particular theme that included characters who were people of color so, I intentionally changed the way that I plan story time from the start of the process. Now, rather than choosing a theme and finding books to fit, I find a specific title, use it as a base on which to build the rest of story time, and allow themes to emerge naturally. This change in my planning process made the books the first priority and the most flexible element in story time.

This change empowered me to be more intentional about the books I share in story time and made it much easier to include diverse books. I evaluate every book that I use in story time, looking for excellent titles that: make good read alouds, are about interesting topics for preschoolers, have believable characters rather than relying on stereotypes, and treat the characters that are people of color as normal rather than other or different. This last criterion is particularly important for the library where I work. My library is located in an incredibly diverse city and a book about being a person of color, and so different from most of your classmates or friends, does not reflect the experience of most of the children who live here.

When children see themselves in the book, they are more engaged and make richer connections. I share all kinds of books in story time, but when I’m looking for a book to build a story time on, I choose books that portray children who are people of color doing simple, every-day things in familiar environments like Mice Squeak, We Speak by Arnold Shapiro. I recently shared this book at a story time in a local day care center. Excited preschoolers yelled out, “He’s like me!”, “I do that too.”, and “She looks like my friend!” The smiles and excitement of these children made it clear that they felt valued in that moment. It would have been a bigger stretch for these young children to make these kinds of connections with characters who did not look or act like themselves or the people around them.

Rudine Sims Bishop talked about books as windows to see into the experiences of others and mirrors that reflect ourselves. For many of the children I serve, these windows are everywhere, and mirrors are few. I am a white woman with the privilege and opportunity to work in a diverse community; I may not be a mirror, but I can help these children find them in the books I share.

And now to the lists!

Thank you, Echo, for sharing this resource with us. Where do you find racially diverse storytime books to share with your library community? Let us know in the comments!

Mixed-Aged Storytimes

What do you do when you’ve got a storytime crowd full of babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and maybe even a few school-age kids too? This, my friends, is the beauty of a mixed-age storytime.  At my library we call them Family Storytimes.  Family storytimes are great because they allow caregivers with multiple children to bring them all together. We also know younger children learn from older children, and having kids of different ages interact can lead to some beautiful learning moments.

But we also know that trying to prepare a developmentally appropriate storytime for such a wide age group is a challenge. Or even just a storytime where everyone is engaged. I’ve been asked to share how I plan my family storytimes and ways to adapt things for a mixed-age group.  You can also check out Mixed-Age Storytime Gold by The Neighborhood Librarian.

Planning a Mixed-Age Storytime

My planning for this crowd is very similar to my planning for toddler storytime. I stick by my original recipe of:

Flexibility + Repetition + Movement + Caregiver Participation = A Good Time For All

And I overplan. I always have more felts, puppets, and books than I could ever actually cover in 30 minutes.  Overplanning allows me to go with the flow of the group and adapt to their needs. For example, if I have an older crowd one week I may be able to sneak in a 2nd book.  Conversely, if I’ve got a younger crowd I may need to be up and moving more. I created a new planning sheet that I use for family storytimes. It’s an adapted version of my toddler storytime planning sheet.

Family Storytime Planning Sheet (Word Document)

Family Storytime Planning Sheet (PDF)

As always, feel free to edit to suit your needs! Before storytime, I fill in all the boxes and shoot for about 80% repetition from week to week. I also use felt songs and rhymes A LOT, like almost every song, because it has helped the younger kids and ESL families participate so much more. If I’m doing a prop activity one week such as scarves or shakers, I’ll re-purpose one of the bottom two boxes.  Again, I never get through all of this!  Here’s a picture of my planning sheet post-storytime with checks next to the items I actually did.


Hopefully you can read my chicken scratch!

Songs and Rhymes for a Mixed-Aged Storytime

Here are some of my go-to songs and rhymes for this type of group. I’ve included suggestions for how to adapt them to different ages.  It’s great to explain the adaptations to caregivers before singing or to model them with a puppet.

My favourite hello song for mixed-age groups because you can include actions for all ages. Touch different body parts for babies, clap and stomp for toddlers. Preschoolers love the sillier ones like blinking eyes, beeping bellies, shaking your booties 🙂

Great rhythm and the counting is perfect for babies and toddlers. Preschoolers will enjoy coming up with funny rhyming body part combinations. I encourage caregivers of babies to touch their corresponding body parts as we sing.

Bounce babies and toddlers while preschoolers row along with you. The extended verses have some fun animal twists that allow for more participation. Many kids will know this one already which will increase participation.

Ya’ll know how much I love Zoom, Zoom, Zoom. I highly recommend making these easy felt pieces to go along with it.  I tell caregivers they can lift babies and toddlers, while the older kids and I practice our jumping. Lifting songs are great for mixed-age groups for this very reason.

If you’ve got a younger crowd, this is a great way to help them get out their energy while also teaching them a fun way to learn to stop. I like this one for it’s adaptability – you can bounce, tickle, jump, clap, etc. Whatever works for your group!

This song doubles as an action song and as a diaper changing song! Have the older kids get up and do the motions with you while caregivers with babies can move their arms or legs (if laying down) back and forth.  I model how to sing it as a diaper changing song with a puppet beforehand to give caregivers a clear example.

Every week I like choosing three children to be our cool cats. Then we insert their name into this song.  The older kids will have fun dancing, while younger ones can be bounced and lifted. The ch ch ch ch sound is so great for phonological awareness. I’ll never forget when a 13-month-old made the sound right when we finished the song and we all applauded!

I have a set of coloured fish that I put up when we sing this song. Toddlers and preschoolers practice counting on their fingers and making a loud “pop!” sound with their hands, while babies can be lifted into the air at the end of each verse. The simpleness of this song engages the toddlers and allows the preschoolers to sing along with you.

I love using scarves with my mixed-age groups. This is my favourite scarf song – watch the older kids throw them into the air or have caregivers make their babies “pop.”  Before we sing this one we talk about what colour popcorn everyone is making – it’s hilarious and fun.

Another Get the Wiggles Out activity. Toddlers and preschoolers will be able to move around with you while caregivers can wiggle their baby’s thumbs, hands, arms, legs, etc.  It’s fun to ask the kids for body part suggestions. You may find yourself wiggling your bum or your armpit.

I try to use puppets at least once during my family storytimes. They get the attention of any squirmers better than anything else I’ve tried. I like using this simple rhyme because I can talk about the power of surprise for baby learning. I adapt it by saying, “Little creature in my hand” and then I can use any pop-up puppet or any puppet and a blanket.  The older kids like singing the puppet a nursery rhyme like “Twinkle Twinkle” when it’s time for the puppet to go to bed.

Practice pointing to different body parts in this body positive song. If we have room I encourage caregivers to lay babies down on their backs when we sing this one so babies can see their smiles as they sing it. Challenge older kids to think of rhyming body parts you can sub in for extra verses.

How do you play for a mixed-age storytime? What songs and rhymes do you use?  I’d love to hear about your process in the comments.

2017 Picture Books: Cover Appeal

Welcome back, friends! I’m starting off 2017 by sharing some of the picture books I’m looking forward to reading this year. The criteria? Cover appeal. That’s right, I know little about these books except for the fact that their covers are enticing in some way and make me want to flop on my couch, sip hot chocolate, and read away.  Here’s what caught my eye:


Babies playing instruments? Sold.

Capitalization out the door! Notice the shape of the book follows the art.

I’m having flashbacks to the 1956 horror film my grandma showed me when I was a kid. Interest piqued.

I can’t recall any picture book with a person using a wheelchair on the front cover. More, please!

Huge fan of Pak’s illustrations after he made my 2016 Storytime Favourites list. This cover fascinates me because it’s spooky and playful simultaneously.

The freaking troll on the left! Sucker for nostalgia.

Cuteness overload. Too much cute. All.the.cute.

Basically I will read anything Kallie George makes. Also, is this the year of cute kids and dogs on covers?

Yes, yes it is.  Also – is he kneeling or sitting on his bottom? Are those pockets or butt cheeks? Are my eyes playing tricks on me?!

I’ve got a feeling I’ll be suggesting this one for a CLEL Book Award nomination!

That’s right, Pete, throw away those threads of conformity! You Be You!

Ooooo, pretty. Very pretty. I feel like this cover is hypnotizing me into reading it.

You’re not a true child of the 90s if you didn’t sing the title of this book à la Montell Jordan.

A message for the world, really.

I just like how the title is placed. Unusual.  Another good one to use The Whole Book Approach.

Screams fun. Also love seeing boys + unicorns + rainbows + sparkles.

Slay, girl.

Another cute kid and a dog! And another person using a wheelchair on the front cover! Fist bump.

My parents filmed my first ever jump from a diving board and I cried the whole time, clinging to the teacher’s leg. I’m hoping Jabari does better than me.


It’s like they knew librarians read a lot of picture books.

Pure self-interest here. My niece’s name is Sophie and she has these exact bangs.

Very chic font. I want to know about each of the kids and why they are making the expressions they are making.

Oh, Lois, you’ve done it again.

Il Sung Na is still one of my favourites.

I have a feeling I’m going to love this one.

Cute kids? Check. Cute dog? Check. I’m telling you, folks, I’m onto something here.

I saw Laurie Berkner’s name and that’s all I needed to see.

Is it a unicorn who wants to be a narwhal? I don’t know and I don’t care, just give me this book.

If you’re looking for more booklists, check out our Storytime Resources for all sorts of picture book lists. What books are you looking forward to reading in 2017? Let me know in the comments!

2016 Favourite Storytime Picture Books

This year I delivered over 150 storytimes. 150! I’ve actually never counted before, but this year was definitely a busy one.

Over the course of the past 11 months I’ve kept track of all the picture books published in 2016 that work well in a storytime setting. There were so many favourites this year! I swear this list gets longer with each rendition.  If you missed past round-ups, here they are:

Here are my picks for outstanding storytime books for babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and early elementary-age kids. If I missed one of your favourites, please leave a comment sharing yours!

1-big-salad1 Big Salad: A Delicious Counting Book by Juana Medina. A creative and fun counting book perfect for toddlers and preschoolers.  Not only does this book introduce food vocabulary, it’s also a great jumping off point for an art or drawing activity. Have kids count on their fingers to strengthen early numeracy skills.

abracadabra-its-springAbracadabra, It’s Spring! by Anne Sibley O’Brien; illustrated by Susan Gal. The lovely Rebecca tipped me off to this beautiful story about the changing of the seasons.  The fold-out pages work perfect for storytime as you can have kids predict how things change from winter to spring. We also had a blast saying the magical phrases together.  Great for toddlers and preschoolers. Be sure to check out the sequel called Hocus Pocus, It’s Fall!

barnacle-is-boredBarnacle is Bored by Jonathan Fenske.  Short enough text to read to toddlers (caregivers will get a laugh), but the humour in this one is aimed at preschoolers to Grade 2 kids. Give Barnacle a dramatic voice and the kids eat it up. This one reminds me a mix between I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry  and I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black; illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi.

blocks-irene-dicksonBlocks by Irene Dickson. A toddler storytime gem. Simple sentences tell the story of two kids learning to share.  The best thing about this book is the emotional connection many kids will have to the story.  A great chance to give an early literacy tip about social emotional learning.  The big pages and large illustrations are the cherry on top.

city-shapesCity Shapes by Diana Murray; illustrated by Bryan Collier.  I love this book so much I suggested it for a CLEL Bell Award.  Follow a young girl through her neighbourhood as she discovers shapes everywhere.  A diverse title ripe with follow-up activities. Also a great chance to tell caregivers about how shapes are the first step to learning letters.

daniel finds a poemDaniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer. I am always looking for ways to include more poetry in storytime and this book is the perfect lead in.  Daniel discovers the poetry in the world around him.  Simple enough for toddlers and preschoolers to grasp. I followed it up by reading a poem from Neighbors: The Yard Critters Too by George Held; illustrated by Joung Un Kim.

dig-inDig In! by Cindy Jenson-Elliot; illustrated by Mary Peterson.  I also suggested this one for a CLEL Bell Award.  Perfect for spring and summer storytimes, this one encourages kids to get out and play and get a little messy. Short and sweet text makes it great for extra wriggly toddlers.

dont-splash-the-sasquatchDon’t Splash the Sasquatch! by Kent Redeker; illustrated by Bob Staake. A wacky and fun read perfect for summer storytimes. This one is great for older preschoolers. Have them join in yelling the repetitive title phrase.  I like how it encourages kids to make up their own words and have fun with language. Squizzilefied is one of my new favourite words.

dont-wake-up-the-tigerDon’t Wake Up the Tiger by Britta Teckentrup.  Another interactive win from Teckentrup! If you have a small group you can have the kids come up and pet tiger’s nose and tummy.  There’s also perfect opportunities to sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and Happy Birthday.  Great for preschool outreach visits.

duck duck dinosaurmaple-leafDuck, Duck, Dinosaur by Kallie George; illustrated by Oriol Vidal. Big pages make this a good choice for larger preschool groups. There’s an underlying message that families can look like anything. Great for a dinosaur or sibling themed storytime. The author lives in Vancouver, so I love sharing this one and giving the local author a shout-out.

everyone-is-yawningEveryone is Yawning by Anita Bijsterbosch.  Perfect for babies and toddlers! A gentle bedtime book where you get to practice yawning together. The lift-the-flaps are an added bonus. Babies often mimic the facial expressions of their caregivers as they learn language (hello, mirror neurons!) and you can practice that skill by yawning along to this book.

excellent edExcellent Ed by Stacy McAnulty; illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach. I learned about this book from Anna’s Everyday Diversity blog.  Ed, the dog, worries that he’s not good at anything unlike the 5 kids in his family. Luckily Ed does discover his talent by the end of the book.  Recommended for preschool – Grade 2 kids. And dog lovers.

follow-meFollow Me! by Ellie Sandall. Before I read this one to my toddler group, we all practiced chanting the repeating phrase, “Follow me, follow me, follow me!” It was a great way to get caregivers involved as we read the book. I love the repetition and unique choice of animal (lemurs!). Highly recommended for the younger groups.

goodbye-summerGoodbye Summer, Hello Autumn by Kenard Pak.  Another CLEL Bell Award suggestion. When reading this one aloud I had to use different voices to model the conversation the child has with the natural world. A great way to promote the early literacy practice of talking.  Encourage caregivers to continue this story when they go outside.

goodnight-bobGoodnight Bob by Ann Hassett; illustrated by John Hassett.  Perfect for pyjama storytimes, a little boy keeps seeing pairs of eyes in the dark.  Encourage kids to guess who the eyes belong to.  Every toddler I know is obsessed with flashlights – bring one in as a special prop!

good-night-like-thisGood Night Like This by Mary Murphy. Similar to Say Hello Like This, in this book animals take turns saying goodnight to their babies. I like sharing this one at babytime. We either make animal noises together or snuggle the babies as we say good night together on each page.  I often include an early literacy tip about making reading part of your daily routine and bedtime is the perfect place to start.

grumpy pantsGrumpy Pants by Claire Messer. Another toddler storytime gem. Simple text and bold illustrations convey how penguin is able to help himself out of a bad mood. After reading this one we sing many different feeling versions of “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”  My favourite verse is “If You’re Mad and You Know It, Take a Deep Breathe.”

hand-in-handHand in Hand by Rosemary Wells. A top choice for baby and toddler storytimes. Nice big pictures are good for developing eyesight and the short rhyming text has a nice rhythm.  I always tell my families that storytime is a place to develop a loving bond with their child and this book illustrated that concept beautifully.

have-you-seen-elephantHave You Seen Elephant? by David Barrow.  Elephant claims he is very good at hide-and-seek in this delightfully funny book great for toddlers and preschoolers.  I had the kids tell me where Elephant was hiding on each page and we talked about good hiding places.  Play is one of the five early literacy practices and this book encourages it.

hooray for todayHooray for Today! by Brian Won.  The sequel to Hooray for Hat! is here and it’s just as good as the first.  It’s still got a repetitive phrase that lends itself well to group participation.  The thing I like best about it though is that it shows animals feeling tired, a feeling that can be hard for kids to notice in themselves. Definitely a feeling to point out related to social emotional learning.

hungry-birdmaple-leafHungry Bird by Jeremy Tankard. Bird is back and this time Bird is hangry! Your preschoolers who know Bird from Tankard’s other two storytime gems will love this third installment. I love talking to preschoolers about the colour choices on each page and what foods they find gross and delicious. Bonus: Tankard is a local author!

ill wait mr pandaI’ll Wait, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony. I think I like this one even better than the first. When reading with toddlers and preschoolers, we practice saying the phrase, “Wait and see” together and making the signs too. Turn-taking, patience, and self-regulation are key themes here.

im-a-hungry-dinosaurI’m a Hungry Dinosaur by Janeen Brian; illustrated by Ann James. A baking themed follow-up to I’m a Dirty Dinosaur. I sing this one to the tune of “I’m a Little Teapot” and we all do the actions like dinosaur.  I’ve tried it in babytime and toddlertime to much success. You can mention that baking with kids is a great way to practice math.

is that wiseIs That Wise, Pig? by Jan Thomas. I mean it’s another Jan Thomas title so you knew it was going to be storytime magic, right? Have families join in asking the title phrase and giggle along to Pig’s soup additions.  Perfect for any age.

king-babyKing Baby by Kate Beaton.  This is the perfect book to read at babytime.  I was ROFL the first time I read it, and I think this book does a great job setting a fun and playful tone of storytime.  If you have younger siblings who often sit-in at babytime, they will get a kick out of it too. An apt metaphor for the life changing event of having a child.

leo-can-swimLeo Can Swim by Anna McQuinn; illustrated by Ruth Hearson. Another babytime hit. Showcasing a father-son relationship, this one depicts a common childhood experience – swim lessons. Fun to share in the summer when families are more likely to head to the pool.   

listen to our worldListen to Our World by Bill Martin Jr and Michael Sampson; illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Travel around the world and hear all the different sounds animals make.  Make it participatory by having kids and caregivers make the sounds with you. Accurate habitats are depicted and back matter gives more detailed information.  Use with toddlers and preschoolers.

little-penguinsLittle Penguins by Cynthia Rylant; illustrated by Christian Robinson. Now this is what happens when two all-stars join together. A perfect winter themed read aloud for babies and toddlers. The simplicity of the language is perfectly suited for your younger groups. Would also work well for a getting dressed theme.

maggie and michael get dressedMaggie and Michael Get Dressed by Denise Fleming.  A new toddler classic. Big page spreads feature a little boy who tries to get dressed with the help of his dog. Not only are the sentences to the point, they model sentence extending: “Look, Maggie – socks. Yellow socks.” The colour words are printed in their corresponding colour to draw attention to print. A funny tale packed with early literacy goodness.

maybe something beautifulMaybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy  and Theresa Howell; illustrated by Rafael Lopez. An uplifting story about the power of art. I shared this one with a Grade 1 class and we talked about ways we could make our community better. I love that it’s based on a true story.

mixed up truckThe Mixed-Up Truck by Stephen Savage. Definitely add this to your transportation or construction themed storytimes. Follow the little cement mixer as it accidentally makes a cake! I talked about print awareness before reading this book as I pointed out the different names of the factories.  The kids loved shouting, “Presto!” with me as we read.

the-moons-almost-hereThe Moon’s Almost Here by Patricia MacLachlan; illustrated by Tomie dePaola. A gentle bedtime story with repetition and the option to add in animal sounds. If you’ve got huge groups of babies and toddlers, the big pages will help all see. Before I read this one we practiced the title phrase as it repeats on each page and offers a chance for participation.

my heart fills with happinessmaple-leafMy Heart Fills With Happiness by  Monique Gray Smith; illustrated by Julie Flett.  A beautiful board book featuring a First Nations family that encourages everyone to celebrate the simple joys in life. Highly recommended purchase especially if you buy sets of board books to read together at babytime. I also recommend Flett’s second board book this year with author Richard Van Camp called We Sang You Home.

my houseMy House by Byron Barton.  I think almost all of Barton’s books are surefire hits with toddlers. With his bright colours and simple text, Barton showcases a home in this one.  I would love if he followed it up with My Apartment which is an underrepresented dwelling in picture books.

my new mom and meMy New Mom and Me by Renata Galindo.  A sweet story of adoption that is easily accessible by preschoolers. I am always looking for diverse representations of family to read in storytime.  Even if kids haven’t been adopted themselves they can relate to the feelings of fear, nervousness, and ultimately belonging.

old-macdonaldmaple-leafOld MacDonald Had a Truck by  Steve Goetz; illustrate by Eda Kaban.  My new favourite book to sing at storytime! The littles who love things that go will delight in this take on the traditional song.  I personally enjoyed the woman’s (maybe she’s Old MacDonald!) active role in the story. I had multiple requests to take this one home after storytime.


sing with meSing With Me!: Action Songs Every Child Should Know by Naoko Stoop.  I pull this one out at babytime almost every week.  It’s great if you just want to practice one song. If you have a large population of newcomers or ESL families, it provides a good introduction to common Western rhymes. Stoop also provides recommended hand motions.

some petsSome Pets by Angela DiTerlizzi; illustrated by Brendan Wenzel. This one has all the right elements – repetition, unique vocabulary, adorable illustrations, and a diverse cast of kids. I read it to my mixed-aged storytime group and they all wanted to tell me about their pets afterwards.

still-a-gorillamaple-leafStill a Gorilla by Kim Norman; illustrated by Chad Geran. Repetition? Check! Humour? Check! Positive message about being yourself? Check! When reading with toddlers and preschoolers, I teach the sign for gorilla and we all beat our chests whenever we say the title phrase.

summer-nick-taught-his-cat-to-readThe Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read by Curtis Manley; illustrated by Kate Berube. My love for this book knows no bounds! I love the characters, I love the cats, I love how it’s about following your interests, I love how it’s funny, and I especially loved reading it to a kindergarten class.  I recommend this one for older groups, K-2 especially, who are learning to read themselves.

ten hungry pigsTen Hungry Pigs by Derek Anderson. A follow-up to Ten Pigs: An Epic Bath Adventure, one of my 2015 favourites. In this absurd tale, the pigs keep piling up more and more ridiculous ingredients. So many giggles at storytime! It has a surprise ending similar to the first book.  Great for food themed storytimes.

theres-a-bear-on-my-chairThere’s a Bear on My Chair by Ross Collins.  This is rhyming text done well. A very frustrated mouse just wants Bear to get out of his chair! I read it to a Grade 1 class and we talked about why some words are printed in red. The older crowd got more of the humour in the illustrations too, but I think this one could go as young as preschool.

they-all-saw-a-catThey All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel. A stand-out picture book this year, for storytime and otherwise. Great for toddlers through Grade 2, this book is all about perspective.  I love the conversations that will stem from sharing this one with a group, and the language has a beautiful flow to it. Highly recommended.

this-is-our-babyThis is Our Baby, Born Today by Varsha Bajaj; illustrated by Eliza Wheeler.  I loved reading this welcoming tale at babytime. We all say the “Born today” refrain together on each page.  As a super involved aunt, I was delighted to see them mentioned as a key part of baby’s world.  The text is lyrical and the illustrations are warm and inviting.

when spring comesWhen Spring Comes by Kevin Henkes; illustrated by Laura Dronzek. The perfect title to read when the weather starts to brighten.  The text is just right for toddlers and young preschoolers, and the bright illustrations work perfect for a read aloud. Pair with Abracadabra, It’s Spring! for a season themed storytime.

whoopsWhoops! by Suzi Moore; illustrated by Russell Ayto.  One of my favourite picture books in general for 2016! The kindergarten class I read this to absolutely loved it. There’s a cat, a dog, a mouse, an old lady, and some very funny spells. I love the repetition and getting all the kids to say “Whoops!” together.

worm loves wormWorm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian; illustrated by Mike Curato.  Anyone can love anyone and that includes Worm and Worm.  Love wins out in this celebratory tale despite objections from other critters. Due to the length, recommended for older preschool and school-age crowds as a read aloud.

you are onemaple-leafYou Are One by Sara O’Leary; illustrated by Karen Klassen.  A year’s worth of baby milestones are featured in this diverse title. I read it at babytime and afterwards we went around and caregivers shared a baby milestone they were excited about. This is the first book in a three part series, so look for You Are Two and You Are Three coming soon.

What a great year for picture books! I’m sure I missed some superb read alouds, so please let me know your favourites in the comments.