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 and I will link them all as I write them.  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.”

5 thoughts on “New to Storytime: Choosing Storytime Books

  1. Love this! My example of a book that DIDN’T work for my group of mostly 2 year olds…. any Minerva Louise book. I love them and have tried them a few times… but that age just doesn’t “get it!” Lol! So I must save those for 4-5-6 year olds! Live and learn!

    1. Oh I’ve never tried the Minerva books for any age. Good to know! Sometimes you gotta try something to know if it’s a winner or not 🙂

      1. Minerva Louise is a cute chicken who thinks sort of like “Amelia Bediela” – her misunderstandings go over the heads of the littles…. but by 4 -5 years old, they get the jokes better. 🙂 And, in another note, I have recently been doing more interactive books – like Don’t Wake the Tiger – and the littles LOVE them! And so do I!

  2. Wow, I so wish this had been around when I first started doing storytimes! I’ve learned way more from your blog than I ever did in library school 😉
    Edi Campbell reviewed Spunky Little Monkey recently and pointed out some things that make it problematic to read in storytime. https://campbele.wordpress.com/2018/10/24/review-spunky-little-monkey/. So, maybe try Uh-Oh by Rachel Isadora instead, or something from the other fabulous resources you highlighted? Thanks for your ongoing commitment to diverse picture books!

    1. Thank you for posting This review Grant. I was uncomfortable with Spunky Little Monkey and Edi Campbell is much more articulate about why.

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