Help! I Need Storytime Books on [Insert Theme]

We’ve all been there. You’re doing a storytime based on a theme and you’re drawing a blank on books. Depending on how long you’ve been in your role as a storytime presenter this problem can cause all levels of anxiety.

Today I’m sharing my top five strategies for finding a storytime book based on a theme in hopes of empowering others in their search skills.

First I’d like to draw attention to three things. If you are looking for an alternative way to plan storytimes check out Storytime Themes vs. Storytime Flow. Secondly, if you need help figuring out how to evaluate a book for read aloud potential check out Choosing Storytime Books. Thirdly, if you want to see all of my favourite storytime books check out my Storytime Resources page.

Now on to the Top 5!

Storytime Blogs and Wikis

Who knows what makes a great storytime book better than those doing storytime on a regular basis? A very high percentage of online storytime outlines follow a theme. Even if the blog is inactive, you can search or browse posts by topic. Most blogs also tell which age group the book works best for. Here are my favourite blogs listing storytimes by theme:

Search the Catalog

An easy way to see which books you actually have at your library is to search the catalog. It’s hard to give exact tips on this one because libraries use different catalog platforms. In the video below I demonstrate how to use filters, advanced search, and subject headings to find books by theme.

Once you’ve found these books you can evaluate them for read aloud potential. This method not only helps you become more familiar with your collection, but it also helps you get to know what features to look for when reading aloud to a group.


Or any other search engine of your choice! Try searching terms like “cat storytime theme” or “dog storytime books.” Often times you will be pointed to a storytime blog like above or to other credible early childhood sources. Pinterest results can give you a good lead especially if you find a particular board or account that focuses on storytime. Be aware that the word “storytime” is used liberally with the general population and may refer to any book that can be read to a child, rather than a book that is particularly suited to a group. That is where your professional judgment comes in. Find the books on your shelves, read them, and see what you think. Nothing wrong with using Google as a launching point though.

Ask Your Colleagues

If you work with another person who does storytime, ask them for their favourites. They may know about hidden gems you’ve never heard of. At my library each children’s librarian also has a storytime shelf kept in the back as reference. I love visiting other branches and seeing what each person has set aside as great picks for storytime. If you are isolated, try getting in touch with your state or provincial library organization. Often times they have list serves where you can ask these types of questions to people who can become local(ish) mentors.

Check Databases

This isn’t the first place I check, but library databases are a great resource. For example, NoveList is a reader’s advisory tool many libraries have access to. In the picture below it shows a list of themes in the left column for ages 0 – 8. Once you click on a title it gives you further options for searching by theme. As always, you’ll need to evaluate the books you find here for read aloud suitability, but NoveList has done the grunt work for you. TumbleBook Library is another database that lists books by theme.

Fellow storytimers, what are your top tips for finding books on a theme? Any favourite resources to consult? Please leave a comment with your recommendations and thoughts.

17 thoughts on “Help! I Need Storytime Books on [Insert Theme]

  1. My favorite way to find new storytime reads is reading blogs. I love it when librarians do a “my favorite new storytime books” sort of post. I order in all of the books and many times find a new book to add to our professional reference collection.

    1. Me too!! Writing my yearly storytime favourites list is one of the highlights of the blog in my opinion. I should get into the habit of sharing titles throughout the year too.

  2. When I first started working as a children’s librarian, I felt really overwhelmed, and thought that I would never be able to keep track of all the books I would need for storytimes. So, I started keeping computer files on themes. I have a standard template I use that lists the theme, books (with a one sentence synopsis), fingerplays, songs, flannels, puppets, activities, crafts, anything I have used or run across that I might do in a storytime. I read all the new picture books that come into the library, and when I find one that I think will work for a certain theme (or even a theme I’d never considered before), I put it into my computer file. I back this up regularly. I also share these files with anyone new, or anyone who asks. Sometimes these files start looking a bit messy, as I copy and paste into them, and I don’t fuss about matching fonts, etc. I’m mainly concerned about the ideas. I also started blogging my storytimes so that I could see how I had previously formatted my storytime.

    1. That is amazing, Awnali! I think I used Jbrary’s Pinterest boards in a similar way. I am a very visual person and like being able to see the book covers to remind me of the story. Some of the wikis I listed sound similar to your file storage system. Having a co-worker like you who shares all of that knowledge is so special. Thank you for supporting others both through your work at the library and through your amazing blog!

  3. I have used the storytime flow approach. I like that I can just choose good books and it is fun making the connections. In addition, I do consider “Librarian’s Favorites” a theme. In some library systems I worked in I needed a theme for publicity purposes. This was my process. I would plan several weeks worth of storytimes at once. I would gather old favorites, new titles, some books I just wanted to try out. The criteria for what I pulled was 1) I like the book, 2) I think the children will like it, 3) appropriate for age level of targeted storytime, and 4) works in group setting. I put them into piles so there is a mix–long/short, quiet/active, older/younger children, something I have a puppet or flannelboard or big book for. Then I look at each pile separately and think what a theme could be. When I had Pierre, Anansi and the Moss Covered Rock, and a Frog and Toad story, my theme was Talk, Talk, Talk because all had good dialog in them. When I had The Gunniwolf, Swimmy, and Jump Frog Jump, my theme was Catch Me If You Can. Always a fun process!

    1. I love how this approach prioritizes good books and lets you be creative with what we consider a theme. The hardest storytimes for me to plan are usually requests from daycares and preschools about specific themes related to their curriculum. Like Lizzie said, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with the reverse theme method. Thank you as always for sharing your expertise here – I always point people to the comments to see what wisdom others have shared.

  4. My blog also has storytimes broken down by theme, including theme-less as a category, and it’s still active ( I generally use themes because I like to have some kind of direction to help me focus in my planning and sometimes it’s just fun to really go all out with a theme, but I don’t think the kids really care. I think themes should only be used if you find it helpful for planning and organizing, not if you find it too confining or find yourself stressing about it. Sometimes I’ll have have several new books I can’t wait to use, so I just use them. Or I’ll just pull some old favorites if I’m not feeling a theme. As you say, I think the flow is much more important than a theme.

    1. Thank you, Jennifer! I have added your blog to the list in this post. I’m sorry I missed it the first time. You are so awesome at blogging and sharing your storytimes.

      1. Thanks! I just mentioned it because so many of the more well-known ones are no longer active, and mine still is, though it’s not on any regular schedule and sometimes kinda random. I don’t have time to write up every storytime now, and lately I’ve been in a rut and repeating things I’ve done before. I’m having a lot harder time planning storytimes lately; the pandemic and ensuing chaos of losing my job and having to move and start over has really done a number on my creative energies. My new library system does not have nearly as good of a collection as my old one, which is a never-ending source of frustration, and I don’t have any control over it. I haven’t seen any new books lately that I really like for storytime books, either, everything seems so text heavy and not that engaging.

  5. Saroj those are the best sort of themes. I don’t think themes need to be animals or seasons, as is so often the case. Your way of creating themes is like a reverse theme method – I like it!

  6. So glad you like it. It is very freeing and has us thinking out of the box. We also think and talk differently as we transition into the items.

  7. I think I’m with all the responders to your post so far πŸ™‚ While I personally work much better with a theme, to help me focus, sometimes I start working a storytime based on a new book that has just really grabbed me, so I keep an eye on those new book carts as they come in when I’m working at the reference desk. Then I’ll just make up the “theme” to match the book. If I’m not feeling a theme, I’ll just call the day Kelly’s Faves and grab a few of those to look over!
    Another thing that has really helped me over the years is something I think you (or maybe one of the other wonderful bloggers?!) broached before in a post, Lindsey – recording feedback. In my feedback to myself I briefly analyze how each program (and therefore, theme,) went – what books, songs, feltboards, and fingerplays went over well, and a rough description of ages present. Also, I keep a fluid list of books on any theme with each outline, so if I look back at the latest outline on a theme I did, I will have a whole list of books to choose from, including the new books which I add after finding them.
    Those practices also serve me well with Readers Advisories. I, too, share all those lists and anything else I do and use and love with my patrons and colleagues, and they share with me, too!
    I would love to do a blog, but I’m not organized enough to find the time, lol. So I enjoy others when I come upon them, or feel the need for fresh ideas. (Jbrary being my favorite so far! Not only is your blog great, but you highlight so many others as well – SO HELPFUL!) I also love to read the comments because we can learn so much from each other!
    Thank you to Jbrary and all the commenters for the support and the sharing of ideas!

    1. Feedback, reflection, and evaluation are so important. Supercharged Storytimes really helped me see it as part of the storytime cycle and the duty of the storytime presenter to ensure they are meeting the goals of interactivity and connection. Great point about using our storytime knowledge for reader’s advisory – great storytime books are also just great books! If you ever want to start a blog feel free to reach out – I think you would be amazing at it and are already a contributing member of the community through your comments.

  8. One of my quarantine projects was creating a storytime titles database, which lives on my blog at:

    Note: this database also has my personal notes (whether my library owns the book, when I last used it in storytime, etc.) β€” those obviously won’t be of use to anyone else accessing the document, so feel free to ignore!

    1. I love it, Ann! That is 1,000 times more productive than I have been over the past year and a half. I have added a link to this post and I also added you to my blogroll. Hands down one of my favourite blog names in a long time πŸ™‚

    2. Ann, your blog is an amazing resource! I’m new to storytime (just started in June!) and your lists will be such a help in planning my fall storytimes. I love that it’s searchable!

  9. Thank you for sharing and teaching your insights it will help us to have a much more meaningful reading time.

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