New to Storytime: Using Puppets

Welcome back to my New to Storytime series where I cover the basics of starting out as a storytime leader. Don’t miss the other posts!

Today we’re talking puppets. Feared by many new storytime leaders, puppets are actually an easy way to connect with kids and provide a visually stimulating storytime. This post will cover how to use puppets in different ways without having to become a voice actor. If you’re looking for ideas on how to make puppets, please read Miss Mary Liberry’s post which has fantastic suggestions for how to make a variety of cheap puppets. Seriously. Read her post, folks. She’s amazing.

Benefits of Using Puppets

Using puppets with children has myriad benefits. I’ve found during a rowdy storytime bringing out a puppet is the only way to recenter the group and regain their attention. Most kids have stuffed animals at home and have positive feelings about said stuffies, so breaking out a puppet is a familiar yet exciting thing for them to experience. Kids who are hesitant to talk to you as the adult sometimes come out of their shell when they see a puppet as it appears more friendly and less intimidating. Puppets also encourage kids to use their imagination and infuse a sense of play into storytime. If you’re using puppets to tell stories they can act as a wonderful way to build language skills too. This short video from the New Hanover County Public Library does a great job of summarizing the benefits.

Tips and Tricks

Practice Beforehand

Just like practicing reading aloud your storytime books, you also want to practice with your puppets. Here are some questions to consider once you decide to use a puppet:

  • Does it fit your hand comfortably? A too big or too small puppet may not work.
  • Do you have to put fingers in certain places for it to fit (I have an octopus puppet that can be a bit tricky!)?
  • Can you move the mouth open and shut allowing you to make the puppet speak? Or will this puppet mostly move around?
  • Will the puppet have a particular voice and if so what will it sound like? Is it comfortable pitch for you to sustain?
  • Where will you store the puppet during storytime when it’s not in use? Does it have a special home like a basket or box? Will the kids be able to reach it?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, but the answers will influence how you use the puppet and how well you are prepared.

Sometimes you will end up dressed exactly like your puppet and that’s okay.

Introducing the Puppet

Think about how you want to introduce the puppet to the group. This will largely depend on how you plan to use the puppet. If the puppet is a mascot who comes out every week and has a name and personality, then you can make their appearance a special moment. Sometimes I’ll pretend that I hear something and it ends up being whatever the mascot was doing before I brought it out such as baking a pizza, playing basketball, etc. It’s really fun for the kids to get to say a special hello.

Most of the time, and especially when I was just starting though, I used puppets in a less formal way during songs and rhymes. For this purpose the puppets didn’t talk; they acted as a visual cue for kids to help them understand what we were singing about. I fill a large bag with puppets and then dramatically pull them out one by one as we sing each verse. Sometimes I’ll pause and we’ll talk about the colour, texture, and shape of the puppet to model the early literacy practice of talking.

Manipulating the Puppet

Even if you don’t have the puppet speak, the eyes and mouth are important features. Slightly bend the puppet downward so that kids can see the puppet’s eyes. If you do have a puppet speak, even just to sing a song, open its mouth on the accented syllable. If it’s talking, look at the puppet as if it were alive. Kids will follow your gaze and watch the puppet too. Similarly, when you speak have the puppet face you. Even if I’m using puppets in an informal way during songs and rhymes I still try to treat it tenderly so that kids know they are special. This also preserves the illusionary aspect of a puppet if you use it as a character.

I love grabbing a bunch of farm animals and then throwing in a random dragon, octopus, or other unusual creature to sing classics like Old MacDonald Had a Farm.

Storytime Examples

Here’s some examples of how to use puppets in storytime in a simple way.

Songs and Rhymes

My Toddler Storytime: Using Puppets blog post is chock full of easy examples of using puppets in a non-intimidating way. Have a favourite storytime song that includes animals? Try adding a puppet to help you sing a verse. I created a Puppet Songs and Rhymes playlist on YouTube as well with tons of ideas. If you’ve got a random assortment of puppets, try something like “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” or “When Cows Get Up in the Morning” as you can customize the verses based on what you have available. And trust me, the weirder the animals the better! If you have a small storytime group you could pass out a puppet to each child and have them “lead” the verse by coming up to the front.

Reciting Poems or Jokes

I love bringing out a puppet to share a poem or a joke. That way I don’t have to memorize anything because the puppet reads it for me! If it’s a big poetry book I will prop it up on my easel and then have the puppet read it aloud. This is a great way to introduce a concept or theme of the day. If you’ve given your puppet a personality then having them tell a joke at the beginning or end of a storytime is fun. It doesn’t have to last long – they make an appearance, read the poem or joke, we thank them, and then they go away. This can be a great way to interact with families as they are gathering or leaving too. I’ve had many kids offer their own jokes to the puppet (but not to me!).

Mascot or Host Puppet

I don’t do this one myself, but I know many storytimes that use a puppet as their host or mascot. Usually they come out at the beginning of storytime to say hello, introduce a concept or theme, or lead a song. If you are really creative you can make clothes for the puppet that change with the seasons. You could also come up with a catchphrase or song the puppet always says. These things anthropomorphize the puppet and contribute to kids making a bond with the puppet. I’ve also heard caregivers talk about how kids will go home and use their stuffed animals in a similar way, showing how they mimic and learn from our storytime activities. The following video gives a great example of a host puppet including an early literacy tip for caregivers.

Further Learning

If you are ready to go above and beyond the basics of puppetry, you can learn how to tell puppet stories and put on puppet shows. The ALSC Blog has a great post on Puppet Shows at Storytime which gives an example of how a library used a series of puppet shows to address common childhood concerns.

There is also a 5-week online course offered through ALSC called Storytelling With Puppets that dives deeper. This course is taught by the same person who does the Storytelling with Puppets YouTube channel which is full of videos demonstrating how to tell picture book stories with puppets.

Lastly, if you are able I highly recommend shadowing someone else’s storytime who uses puppets or sharing ideas at a staff meeting. I’ve gotten so many ideas from seeing others in action!

What are your tips and tricks for new storytime leaders when it comes to using puppets? Or if you’re new, what questions do you have? I’d love to hear in the comments!

New to Storytime: Using Felt Stories

Welcome back to my New to Storytime series. It’s been awhile! These posts are aimed at people just starting out as storytime leaders. It’s really fun, I promise. This post will cover the basics of picking felt stories and songs and using them with small children in storytime or circle time setting. Don’t miss the other posts in this series:

Getting Started

Choosing a felt story or song can be daunting. My tip for beginners, especially if you are new to storytelling in general, is to start with a simple song. I’ve shared many of the felt songs I use weekly and I use them because they are so easy to incorporate. Already have a favourite storytime song? Try making felt pieces to go along with it and incorporate them before or during singing. Here are some examples:

I whipped these up to act as a visual guide for toddlers and preschoolers as we sing the songs. You don’t have to learn anything new in this case – you already know the song!

If you want try a felt story, choose something with a basic plot, a manageable amount of felt pieces (sorry, Very Hungry Caterpillar) and repetition. The felt pieces themselves act as a trigger to help you remember what to say, though you can also have a printed copy of the story on your lap or beside you as a guide. Sometimes I highlight the key words on the paper to help me remember the order of things. The great thing with felt stories is that you don’t have to tell a story word-for-word. You can use the pieces as your guide and make it your own. Here are some examples of simple stories that are easy to learn. All of the pictures are from Storytime Katie because she’s the bomb when it comes to felt stories:

These three examples are based on books. Just like with books, it’s important to practice felt stories ahead of time. Grab your felt board and let’s get started!

How To Use

There are a few things to do to set yourself up for success when using felt or flannel stories. Firstly, practice, practice, practice. Consider the following:

  • Do all of the pieces fit on my felt board? Do I need to arrange them in a certain order for them all to fit or make sense?
  • What colour is my felt board? If it’s black do I have any pieces that are hard to see?
  • Where will I store my felt pieces when I’m not using them during the storytime? Do I have a place on an easel, a table behind me, a special storytime bag, etc? Are they easily accessible to little hands?
  • Do I have the words to the story printed or have I memorized the story?

Before every storytime I take the time to put all of the pieces I’m using in order. Trust me, you do not want to be scrambling to find the next felt piece in the middle of the story! Once the pieces are in order I find a secure place to store them until I need them during storytime. My felt board easel has a tray on the inside where I can tuck away my felt story until I’m ready to tell it. Out of sight is better for little ones who will be tempted to come up and grab it if they spy it!

Introduce Vocabulary

One way to use felt pieces is to introduce the vocabulary in a song or story. For example, before we sing Zoom, Zoom, Zoom I put up the rocket ship. Then I ask kids if they are ready to go on an adventure. How will we get there? I point to the rocket ship and we say it together. Where should we go? I put up the moon and get kids to tell me our destination. Next we warm up our engines (rub our hands together). All of that vocabulary frontloading is done with the felt pieces before we sing the song. After a few weeks the kids instantly know what song we are about to sing as soon as I pull out the rocket ship. You can easily do the same for a story with unique vocabulary.

Practice Early Numeracy

Flannels are a natural fit for incorporating early counting and number skills with kids because they provide a visual aid that helps little ones see numbers. Flannel Friday has a Pinterest board filled with counting ideas and Storytime Katie has a list of her Five Little Whatsits if you need inspiration. My favourite counting story to use with felt pieces or puppets is Dog’s Colorful Day by Emma Dodd. If you use a counting rhyme take some time to put all of the pieces up first and ask the kids about them – what are they wearing, how are they different, how are they the same, what do you notice? This encourages the early literacy practice of talking and incorporates math and scientific thinking in a fun way. Here are two I’ve shared on Jbrary:

Simple Games

Don’t feel like singing or telling a story? Try playing a game with your felt pieces! My all time favourite is any variation of Little Mouse, Little Mouse. Seriously. I have a blog post with a bajillion renditions. See how it’s done:

There are so many game ideas out there though! If you have a small group and can give kids the chance to take turns to come up and interact with the felt pieces that’s even better. Some librarians leave the pieces up after storytime too so that kids who really want a chance to play get access to the story. Here are some other game ideas:

Have kids build a castle using shapes by Mel’s Desk
Key Shadow Matching by Felt Board Magic – shapes, colours, similaries, and differences!

Using flannel pieces as games is a low stress way to integrate them into your storytime. You don’t have to memorize anything, there are endless options, and there is no one “right” way for kids to interact. It also encourages lots of open-ended conversations where you can model the serve-and-return model of talking to kids.

Making Felt Pieces

You do not need to be an artist or a crafty person to make some awesome felt pieces. Trust me. Here are some tips and resources for building up your collection.

  • Clipart and Google Images are your friend – you don’t even need felt! Printing some nice pictures and taping them or clipping them up for the kids to see still provides that visual cue which is so helpful in toddler language acquisition.
  • Bigger is Better: I love how Mel makes oversized flannel pieces for her babies and toddlers. It makes so much sense – they can actually see them and manipulate them better. If you have a big group I also recommend going large over small if you’re board can fit them.
  • Keep Calm and Use Clipart: In this post by Storytime in the Stacks, she walks you through how she uses clipart to create her felt pieces. She includes a list of websites where you can get clipart for a fee or for free.
  • Flannel Friday: This online community has myriad felt stories arranged by theme. They link back to the blog post where the flannel was shared.
  • Flannel Board Fun: If you do have some money to invest I HIGHLY recommend checking out Wendy’s shop. Colourful, well-made, and she shares ideas for how to use each set on Instagram!

Alright folks, what did I miss? Any tips or tricks you’d give to a new storytimer when it comes to use felt or flannel stories? If you’re a newbie and have questions, feel free to leave a comment!

New to Storytime: How to Read Books to a Group

Are you new to storytime? Welcome to the family! Storytime is probably my favourite part of being a children’s librarian. I’m writing a series all about the basics in hopes of helping those who are just starting as storytime leaders. This post will discuss tips and tricks for reading books aloud to a group. Don’t miss the other posts in the series:

Before Reading

Read the book ahead of time. Check to make sure it’s in good condition and there aren’t any ripped, damaged, or missing pages. Practice saying the words out loud so you get a feel for the rhythm or flow of the story.

In storytime, find a place to sit (usually at the front of the room) where everyone can see you. My storytime groups are big so I sit on a chair. If you have a small group (5 or less children) you can get away with sitting on the ground with them.

Before jumping into the story, take time to read the title, author, and illustrator. I like explaining to kids that the author writes the words and the illustrator draws the pictures. Point out things on the cover and ask kids to guess what the story will be about. You can run your finger along the title to draw their attention to print. If the book has a unique orientation, like Shake the Tree, take a moment to talk about how the book is different. All of these things help kids understand how books work and boost their reading confidence.

Something I was taught in one of my MLIS courses was the mechanics of reading aloud. I highly recommend this video of Dr. Brian Sturm from the School of Information and Library Science at UNC-Chapel Hill that covers how to hold a book, how to position your body, and how to turn pages.

Another thing to consider is how to arrange your storytime space in general to allow families to view the book. I place little cushions around the room in no particular order. I don’t mind if kids sit near me, in fact sometimes kids with vision impairment need to be closer to see the pages. In the video Dr. Sturm recommends a 90 degree angle for best viewing. The size of your group and the size of your space will affect how you configure your read aloud experience.

During Reading

Slow Your Pace

Almost everyone I’ve ever observed at storytime reads too fast. Me included! Working on slowing my pace has been a goal of mine every since I read Megan Dowd Lambert’s book. Kids need time to process language and answer the questions you ask as you read. Toddlers especially benefit from a slow paced reading.

Scan the Book

Because my groups are quite large I do have to scan the book while I read. Scanning is when you turn the book from one side to the other so that everyone has a chance to see the pictures. Trust me, kids will let you know if they can’t see! If I know the book by heart, I will do this as I say the words. Otherwise I do it after I read the words which helps slow down my pace.

Make it Interactive

Find ways to model interactivity while you read. Examples include asking open-ended questions, adding a movement, or having everyone say a word or phrase together. Saroj Ghoting has an excellent brochure on interactive reading with a list of open-ended questions to choose from. When I read books like Firefighter Duckies! by Frank W. Dormer I teach families the repeating phrase and correlating made-up gestures before we read the book so they can do it with me as I read. You can also pause at the end of a sentence and have the kids fill in the blank. For babies and toddlers, labeling objects on the page is a great way to support their language acquisition. Making the read aloud an interactive experience models to caregivers ways to make reading engaging for their little one.

Make Connections

Kids will often do this naturally, but it’s great to make a connection between the book and something in the child’s life. Anchoring information to something they already know helps the information stick. You can also help them learn new words by explaining their meaning and connecting them to the picture by pointing to it as you read.

Try New Things

Try reading a book standing up. Try reading a book with a partner. Try “reading” a wordless picture book and have the kids tell the story. The smaller your group the more flexibility you’ll have to try new things, but even with large groups I encourage you to take chances and evaluate what worked and what didn’t.

Use Your Voice

If you have a big group like me you have to be able to turn on your “storytime voice.” This voice is louder, more exaggerated, and more outgoing than my usual voice. If you are reading a book with different characters you can experiment with different voices. Try using dramatic pauses and emphasizing the words that appear bigger on the page. A quick search on YouTube for library storytimes will result in multiple videos featuring examples of how to do this effectively.

After Reading

One of the ways we can support the early literacy development of our storytime kids is by extending the book. You can do simple things like ask the kids what their favourite part was or pick a stamp that matches something from the book and tell caregivers to use the stamp as a conversation starter later in the day. Some libraries are able to offer a craft component to storytime. I recommend choosing a process art activity related to the book. If you’ve got space for a book display, put out books connected to the theme that might feature similar or related vocabulary and concepts. Lastly, try retelling the story, either that day or the following week, in a different form. When kids hear the same story in a different format it helps reinforce the narrative structure and vocabulary. I love reading a book one week, doing the felt story version the next week, and doing a puppet version the following week. See my planning a storytime session post for examples of how I do this.

What are your tips for reading a book aloud to a group? I’d love to know what works best for you in the comments!

New to Storytime: Choosing Songs and Rhymes

Welcome back to my new to storytime series! This series of blog posts breaks down the different components of a storytime and is aimed at people who are just beginning as storytime leaders. Check out the other posts here:

How do you decide which songs and rhymes to sing at storytime? Why do we sing at storytime in the first place? How do you incorporate songs and rhymes into a storytime?  This post will try to answer these questions. It’s important to remember that everybody does things differently and that’s okay! Finding what works for you is part of your development as a storytime presenter.

Singing and rhyming are an important early literacy component of storytime. Not only are songs fun, but they also serve as a learning tool for children as they reinforce early childhood concepts. Songs and rhymes boost memory as children absorb new vocabulary and learn how to follow directions. They also break down language into smaller parts, called phonological awareness, which allows kids to hear the smaller sounds in words as they learn to speak.  Many songs have hand or body movements that accompany them offering kids a chance to be active participants using their bodies. Fingerplays in particular help children strengthen their finger muscles which they need to hold a pen or turn the page of a book. Lastly, singing as a group is a great way to build a sense of community and friendship among your community members. It fosters a sense of belonging and connectedness, one of my storytime goals.

Tips and Tricks

Here are some strategies I’ve learned when it comes to the “how” questions.

Repetition

To me, what you sing at storytime is far less important than how often you sing it. Kids learn from repetition.  They learn sentence structure and vocabulary words when they hear a song again and again.  When I start a storytime session I choose about 8 – 10 songs and rhymes I’d like to feature as my “core” group for the 10 – 12 weeks. I try my best to use these songs every storytime. They make up about 80% of the music I use each week. That extra 20% is saved for other songs and rhymes I rotate in. Sometimes they are connected to a particular theme or book I’m featuring. If I find something that’s a total hit then I make an effort to put it into more frequent rotation.

Providing Lyrics

This depends on your community, but I’ve found that providing the lyrics to the songs either on a flipchart or projected onto the wall/screen helps caregivers participate in storytime. This is partly because I have a high number of ESL caregivers in my community who have asked for lyrics to guide them.  Because I repeat so much though they learn the songs eventually. Just something to consider as you get to know your storytime audience.  Some people provide lyrics on a piece of paper or on a bookmark at the end of a storytime session instead.

Using Felt Pieces to Accompany Songs

I created super simple felt pieces to accompany the songs I do most often. I use these felt pieces to introduce the song’s vocabulary, an especially helpful practice for toddler language acquisition.  Having a visual representation connected to the lyrics helps kids understand the meaning of a song.  Alternatively, you could print a picture and hold it up. Doesn’t have to be fancy! My favourites to use are Zoom, Zoom, Zoom, Baby Shark, and my food themed set.

Using Recorded Music

I don’t use a lot of recorded music in my storytimes because I think it’s important to model to caregivers that it doesn’t matter what your voice sounds like, but when you are new to storytime it can help you feel more comfortable. I used to play “Jump Up, Turn Around” by Jim Gill at the end of all my toddler storytimes because it helped kids learn how to follow a few simple directions. Other people play music as families enter the room.  If you’re looking for good recorded music to play in storytime check out Recorded Storytime Music: A Primer.

Multilingual Songs and Rhymes

Don’t be afraid to add in songs and rhymes from languages besides English. Perhaps you speak another language or you have community members who do. They can be a great resource to finding out which songs are popular in another language.  Using  multilingual songs and rhymes exposes kids to a variety of cultures and can help make people from different backgrounds feel welcome in your space. I’ve gathered lots of Spanish song resources on my Bilingual Storytime Resources post, but I also love the multilingual selections on StoryBlocks.

Types of Song

I weave in these five categories of songs into all of my storytimes. There’s no hard and fast rule about how many songs to do from each. Instead, I’m intentional about planning a storytime that involves a variety of songs that match the energy of the group and the early literacy goals I’ve set.  If you’re looking for a certain type of song, please make sure to check out all of our thematic YouTube playlists!

Opening and Closing

I do the same welcome/hello song and the same closing/goodbye song every single week. This helps provides a consistent opening routine to your storytime and signals to kids that storytime is starting.  I wrote about my favourites a few years ago, but I actually do three opening songs in a row because it gives caregivers who are a bit late a chance to get settled before we read the first book. My current rotation is Well Hello Everybody, Can You Touch Your Nose (verses: clap your hands, stomp your feet, jump up high, shake your hips, beep your belly, sit back down), Hello, Friends, and Roly Poly. I make sure at least one of the songs involves movement because I like giving kids a chance to get their wiggles out before I read the first book. My closing song is Goodbye, Friends. There’s so many options though! Check out our Hello and Goodbye Songs playlist.

Fingerplays

Hand rhymes, aka fingerplays, are great for strengthening finger muscles. I usually do one of those right before or after a book and connect it to the content of the book. For example, if we read Mama, Look! by Patricia Murphy I would follow it up with Here is the Beehive to continue the conversation about nature and insects.  Check out our Fingerplays and Tickles playlist for tons of ideas.  I’ve also written about my favourite fingerplays and tickles for babytime and my favourite

Action and Movement Songs

Kids need to get up and move. Not only do they get heir wiggles out but they also learn through movement.  I pull these out mostly during the middle part of my storytime when kids have already sat through a book or two and need a chance to burn off some energy. As mentioned above, I use felt pieces with a lot of my movement songs.  I usually do about 2 -3 in a row before transitioning to a more literacy based activity like a felt story. Sometimes though you end up moving and grooving the bulk of storytime if that’s what is keeping the crowd engaged. Check out our complete Movement and Dancing Songs playlist and my Songs to Get the Wiggles Out and Favourite Dancing Songs blog posts.

Transition Songs

A good stroytime leader knows how to move kids from one activity to the next. That’s where transition songs come in. The hardest transition for me is getting the kids up and moving and then getting them back down on the floor to listen to a story. My go-to transition song is My Two Hands. I also like Everybody Take a Seat.  Dana wrote an excellent blog post with tons of other ideas for songs and rhymes that help kids transition between activities.

Soothing Songs and Lullabies

After we’ve read books and danced and sang and amped ourselves up, I end storytime with a few gentle, soothing songs and rhymes. I like to model taking deep breaths during this part as well. My go-to songs are traditional nursery rhymes like Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and the ABC song because they are well known and have a lullaby quality to them. I also use Rain is Falling Down with my felt pieces.  We’ve got some other great suggestions on our Lullabies and Soothing Songs playlist.

How do you choose which songs and rhymes to feature in a storytime? What are your favourite song and rhyme resources? Let me know in the comments!

New to Storytime: Choosing Storytime Books

Welcome to my new series, New to Storytime! One of the most common emails I get is from people who are just starting storytime and need help figuring out where to start.  Sometimes they’ve been thrown into a children’s library position due to an illness or staff vacancy and all of a sudden they’ve got storytime tomorrow! So I’ve decided to write a New to Storytime series where I focus on the basics. Each post will cover a different topic. Here they are:

I’m going to start with how to choose books to read at storytime because books remain a key focus of storytime and there are just so dang many of them. I’ve compiled my tips, all of the storytime booklists I’ve written, and additional blog posts and booklists I’ve found elsewhere that are useful.

What other topics would you like to see as part of my New to Storytime series? What tips would you give someone on how to choose books to read at storytime? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts!

Things I Look for in Storytime Books

Clearly Visible Illustrations

Because my storytimes are large (50+ people in one room) I go for picture books that have large pages with vibrant illustrations that are easy to see from a distance.  It’s essential your audience can clearly see the pictures as kids give about 90% of their attention when reading to illustrations.  Two examples of books that I think are ideal storytime size are Blocks by Irene Dickson or I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry. It’s not just about the size of the pages though. Look for illustrations that aren’t busy, detailed, or crammed onto the page. Those types of books are great for one-to-one reading but make a poor read aloud because the meaning conveyed in the illustrations gets lost with distance. Finding the right size book will depend on the size of your group. If you have a small baby or toddler group you can get away with reading a board book sometimes, especially if you walk around the room while reading.

Interactive Elements

Does the book have a repeating phrase I can have caregivers and kids say with me?  Are there actions in the book we can do together as we read?  Can I sing part of the book? Does the story line or illustrations provide good opportunities for me to ask questions as I read? Are there animal sounds we can all say together? Does the book have a good rhythm that caregivers could bounce little ones to as I read? These are the questions I ask when searching for books that build participation during reading, leading to greater engagement.  Excellent examples include Spunky Little Monkey by Bill Martin Jr. and From Head to Toe by Eric Carle.

Developmentally Appropriate

This phrase is kind of loaded as kids develop at different rates, but there are some things that work best for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. Babies love high contrast books and books with pictures of other babies, especially their faces. For example, You and Me, Baby by Lynn Reiser. Toddlers thrive on simple stories with 1-2 sentences per page and objects that are easily labeled. Definitely read my Toddler Storytime Authors to Know post. Preschoolers will enjoy more sophisticated stories filled with interesting vocabulary words, humour, description, and  chances for them to connect personally to the book.  Preschoolers especially love books with a surprise element.

Clear Narrative

For toddlers and preschoolers, I look for picture books with an easy-to-follow narrative. Something with a clear beginning, middle, and end. If I find a book is confusing or goes all over the place then I skip it.  My end-of-the-year storytime favourites booklists are filled with examples of clear narratives.

Everyday Diversity

I look for books that show people from a variety of backgrounds. Due to a lack of diversity in picture books in general it’s really easy to go an entire storytime session featuring books with only white, middle class, typically developing children.  So this is something to be aware of and to seek out in order to reflect many ways of being in the world.  Definitely check out the blog Everyday Diversity for recommendations.

Genre Variety

I’m trying to get better at this one, but I look for storytime books in our fiction and non-fiction section.  Information books make great pairings with story books and can appeal to children who enjoy learning facts. I have a co-worker who starts every storytime with a poem and I think that’s a great way to expose caregivers to our poetry collections.  I’ll be writing a blog post soon with my favourite information storytime books.

Books You Love

When you pick a book you personally enjoy your love for the story will show.  Maybe you are drawn to the artwork. Maybe it’s a book you remember reading as a child. Maybe it made you laugh so loud your partner looked at you like you are from another planet. Choosing books these types of books allows you to bring your enthusiasm for stories into circle time in an authentic way.

Choosing Storytime Books

Want more tips? Check out these blog posts from around the web with additional tips for how to choose storytime read alouds.

Jbrary Storytime Booklists

You can also browse our Pinterest boards for books by theme.

Additional Storytime Booklists

  • Everyday Diversity: This blog is a “tool to help librarians find storytime books that predominantly feature People of Color and Native Americans as main characters in contemporary everyday life.”
  • Storytime Share: This blog hosted by Saroj Ghoting features book reviews and more that include early literacy messages you can pair with picture books when reading them at storytime.
  • New Books for Storytime: A 2017 Infopeople webinar that features “new picture books that will engage the storytime audience.”
  • New Books for Storytime: A 2016 Infopeople webinar by the same presenter, Penny Peck.
  • What’s New for Storytime: A 2012 Infopeople webinar that “give you ideas to refresh your storytimes with new books to engage your audience.”

Building Your Storytime Confidence

Last week we got an email asking how to build confidence in delivering a storytime, especially if you’re new to the field or not used to working with young children.  I wrote up these tips, and rather than having them disappear into the interwebs, I decided to share them here in case other people are looking for some ideas on how to become more confident in providing storytimes to children ages 0-5.

1. Find Songs You are Comfortable Singing

It takes some time to figure out what works for you.   It may be worth spending an afternoon just listening to songs and picking out the ones you enjoy and that you think you’ll remember (don’t forget to factor in the nerves – I always forget things when I’m nervous).  Other things I look for are the vocal range – it’s harder for me to sing lower pitched songs – and repetition of lyrics. Some of my favourites that kids and parents LOVE are Zoom, Zoom, Zoom, The Elevator Song, Roly Poly, and Open Shut Them. But everyone has their favourites. Our most popular video is Mmm, Ahh Went the Little Green Frog but I honestly hardly ever sing it in storytime!  Having about 5-6 songs that you are really comfortable singing was very helpful to me when I first started.  It’s also okay to rely on the classics – ABCs, Twinkle, Twinkle, etc. I also made a song cube and we roll it every week to determine a few songs.

 

2. Use the Same Hello and Goodbye Song Each Week

One of the things that keeps families coming back to my storytimes is the right mix of repetition and new material.  One of the things they love is our hello and goodbye routine.  I do Hello, Friends using sign language and the parents get so excited when their toddlers start signing.  Having a set start and end to my storytime outline also made me feel more comfortable with storytime in general.  On the same vein, I only introduce a one or two new songs a week – the kids need the repetition.

3. Choose Age Appropriate Materials

When you’re first getting to know a group of kids, it’s common to choose too long or too complicated books for storytime.  I am a big fan of books you can sing or books that encourage participation.  And I always, always practice reading the books out loud before storytime so that I know the plot, the words, and can think about any early literacy messages I want to sneak in.  In terms of songs, we’ve got playlists for different ages: babies, toddlers, preschoolers.

4. Ask a Co-worker to Observe You (and Vice Versa)

This can be nerve wracking but getting someone to give you feedback can be a big confidence booster!  They’ll let you know all the things you did awesome and things you can improve.  If you’re not sure where you’re going wrong, having another set of eyes can shed some light (or simply let you know you already rock!).  Ideally, this person would be someone who also does storytime and can look for things like book selection, pacing, interaction with kids, early literacy message, etc. On the flip side, try to observe as many other storytimers as possible. I’ve gotten so many good ideas from watching my colleagues, and it’s perfectly acceptable to take the things you like about their style and adapt it to yours.

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