Saturday, April 30, 2011

Story Time Themes

I really am going to start posting story time programs here, not just lecturing on technique.
But in the 2 weeks I've been setting this blog up, I haven't DONE many story times thanks to a one week recess and a week of a nasty little bug circulating through my family.

Meanwhile, here's a link to a page full of story time themes I've posted over the years at The Library Lady Rants

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The President Reads "Where the Wild Things Are"--A Lesson in Story Time


At the first Easter Egg Roll of the Obama presidency, the President read "Where the Wild Things Are" to a group of children.

I saw a clip of it, and immediately saw some great things--and some not so great things--in his performance.

And it's a great way to offer some important rules on the art of reading picture books to a group:

Rule 1: You are reading to LITTLE people! Position yourself accordingly.

President Obama is tall--really tall. At 5' 4" I am not, but I am still a lot taller than the munchkins I read to--and so are you.

The kids are on the ground. The President is standing up. Perhaps that's for a camera angle, but it's forcing the kids to cran their necks to see him--uncomfortable and certain to make the restless.
It's got to be uncomfortable for him too, having to lean down like that!

He was also too far away from the kids. Cute to have his own daughters positioned in front of him, but they were blocking the kids--and probably distracting them. Better to have them up with their mother, or in the front of the audience.

SIT DOWN!  :The President should have been seated on a chair. A low chair, if possible. I keep a small child sized blue chair--relic of a former children's room--in my story room. Surely they could have found Mr Obama a stool or a chair.

Rule 1A:It's not just how you're positioned, it's the book!

At :48 seconds and again at 2:54 Mrs Obama tells her husband some of the kids can't see the book. He is tilting it and holding it too high, partly because he is standing.

LEARN TO HOLD THE BOOK: The President has obviously done this before, but he still hasn't perfected what I might call "librarian grip"--holding the book balanced levelly on one hand in the center, while you turn the pages with the other. You can hold it with 2 hands, but it makes it awkward and you'll have to shift the book as you turn each page. If you do story times a lot, this will become natural, but at first you may need to practice a bit.

Hold the book low enough for your audience to see it easily. You can hold it to one side of you to help you see the text. If you have a large audience, you can move the book the same way you would "pan and scan" with a camera to left everyone see the pictures.

Rule 2: Don't miss a chance for audience participation!
At 2:11 the President missed the chance to encourage his audience to "roar their terrible roars", etc, etc.
This is something the kids love to do and pulls them into the story. On the up side, at 2:24, he DID pull them into "staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once", and both he and they clearly enjoyed it. He also does a GREAT version of the "wild rumpus" at 3:12!


Rule 3: Pick something you enjoy reading--and read it in advance
Mr Obama has read this book before--if either of his girls is anything like mine, he may have read it a lot.  But whether he's read it just once or twice, or at some point nightly the way I did for my daughter SC when she was 2, he'd read it before. You can see him looking away from the book as he reads parts of it with confidence--and I don't think it was on a Teleprompter. He's reading smoothly and with enthusiasm.

Rule 4: Have a great time doing what you're doing. 
He's having fun. The kids are having fun. And that's how it always should be!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Picking Books For Story Times

Okay, so I've talked about group books vs. lap books.
Let's expound on that with some thoughts on picking group books.

1)The art is going to make or break most books.
It has to be clear and bold enough to be seen even in the back of the room. That doesn't mean the style can't be delicate--I think Kevin Henkes  Old Bear  proves that. But it has to have a clarity that works as well at a distance as it does close up. Lots of fussy little details a la Jan Brett are not going to be seen. Her books are great for one on one reading. but not for a group read
.
 On the other hand, take a look at Denise Fleming's wonderful  In The Tall Tall Grass. I have this and its companion book In the Small, Small Pond as huge oversized paperbacks, but even in standard size, the bold, colorful format reaches out to even a large group. And watch as the main character (a caterpillar) changes size in proportion to the other animals. The kids love to spot the caterpillar, and see that he is tiny compared to the birds, HUGE in comparison to the ants, etcetera. 

Which brings me to the next point:

2) Find books that have something to get the children involved in the story.
Working with a group is performance. As the stripper said in "Gypsy"--"You gotta get a gimmick!"

Take a look at that book. What does it have that you can use to do more than just a reading?

In the Fleming books you look for that caterpillar (or in the Pond book, a frog). You've also got the chance to ask the kids --what's that? Or you might have them join in a chorus--in Karma Wilson's Bear Wants More, where each page ends with those words, and the kids can join in on each page.The Very Hungry Caterpillar  works as well with groups as it does with that child on your lap because it's got things to count, plus the days of the week and fruits to identify   
Books like The Lady With The Alligator Purse can be sung instead of read.(BTW, if the illustrator is Nadine Westcott, grab it--she's got just the right wacky brightness that works with group books)

And you can get up and do 
the movements in books like Eric Carle's wonderful From Head to Toe  and Doreen Cronin's recent gems Stretch and Wiggle.  This is especially important if you're reading to toddlers and preschoolers, but even the K-2 age will respond to the chance to get up and participate,  and you'll all have fun doing so.



3)Poetry is great, verse is great, but it has to READ ALOUD WELL.
I have panned more than one picture book on Good Reads because its scansion flops and it does not read smoothly out loud. Try reading something to yourself out loud before trying it on kids. If the rhythms are awkward, it will not be a pleasure to your ears or to theirs. Read something by Margaret Wise Brown or Maurice Sendak and you will know what a well written children's book in verse can be.

Even books in prose need to read well. Does the text flow smoothly? It can use "big words" if they fly trippingly off the tongue. But sometimes the simplest of texts can have far more impact if the words are well chosen. The seasonal cycle by Anne Rockwell that includes SC's childhood favorites At the Beach and Apples and Pumpkins are told with minimal text, but the words and pictures speak to a two or three year old on their level.That's important because:




4)You are not reading to other children's librarians, or teachers, or to adults at all, though there may be adults in your audience.  
You are reading to kids and they haven't heard of School Library Journal, or the Caldecott Medal or even the NY Times bestseller list, for heaven's sake! They're not going to be impressed by any of that--and you shouldn't be either, truth to tell.

Kids know what they like. If they don't like it, they will wiggle and squirm and you will feel like doing a story time is an effort. But catch them with the right book, and they will sit up and PARTICIPATE!

When they stop you to ask a question, when they make a comment, when they are silent not because it is "quiet time" but because they are so engrossed in the story, when afterwards they want to talk about the story not because they were prompted but because they are interested--it's magic!

They will willingly follow you wherever you go. You will get a fabulous experience from the sharing. Probably not the experience you will expect--kids don't follow the script, but one you will treasure all the more for the fact that it's a shared experience.


The last, very important rule:


5)Love the books you are reading!
Don't pick them because I recommended them, or because they're on somebody else's list, or because they're the flavor of the month right now. Pick them because they speak to you, and have something you want to share. 

You'll have fun. I do. And so do the kids!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

RulesOf Story Time: #1:Group Books Vs Lap Books

 This was originally posted w/some variations on "The Library Lady Rants"

Last fall a librarian from the NY Public Library, currently famed for her blog, prominent in all the kidlit circles, wrote a review of a lovely book of seasonal poetry on Good Reads. It started with her discussing how she had had a patron come in needing books on the seasons to read to a preschool group. A guy who I'd guess has had little experience in reading to a group of preschoolers--perhaps a father doing a "guest reader bit".  And she mourned the fact that she didn't have this particular book to give him because SHE loved it so much and "even if the kids were too young to hear all the poems, at least they'd like to hear some of them, and maybe get a little knocked out by the images."

Now I try not to snort at this lady too much because she seems like a nice person and I am her "friend" on Good Reads. She's at the heart of the book world and I get a lot of useful stuff from her reviews and posts.
I know she is the authority for all things children's librarianship these days, at least according to the Hip Young Librarians, a group to which I never would have belonged to even when I was young.
I mean "Kid Lit Drink Night"? Sigh......

But when she starts talking nonsense like this I can't help rolling my eye and remembering that I have shoes in my closet nearly the same age as she is. That I was doing what she does at the NYPL, (albeit in one of the less prestigious locations), back when she was a 6 year old in Kalamazoo. Yup, I'm that old! 

In other words, she may have fame but I've got a lot more experience. And she is OUT OF HER TREE to think that this book (recommended, by the way for Grades 2-5) would have worked for an inexperienced reader doing a program for a bunch of preschoolers. Especially in September, early in the school year when a lot of them were likely to be new at just sitting down in a group for a story hour!

When you are reading to your own child, or a known child, you can pick something with complicated pictures, with lovely little details to pour over. You can choose complicated verses if your child is the sort who will hold still for poems.
You have your child's attention and can go at your child's pace.

You don't have to worry about the wiggly little boy who likes to lie down on the rug and flip his feet over his head. You don't have to deal with the two little girls who distract each other at the drop of a hat. Or the one who bursts into tears because he misses his mommy. Or the two moms who are there, but having a conversation unrelated to the story. Or the nanny busy giving her kid a juice box, or <grr> ignoring her charge as she busily texts on her phone.


The link is to Amazon.com where you can see a few of the pages.
Perhaps if you really do have one of those bright, thoughtful little 4 year olds, you can sit down with them at home on your lap and  read a book like "Sharing the Seasons: A Book Of Poems".

I mean, it's got poems picked by Lee Bennett Hopkins, the ne plus ultra of compilers of poetry for kids. It's got lovely, slightly abstract illustrations by David Diaz, who won the Caldecott Medal for another book, if such things impress you.

But the truth is that though the pictures are lovely, their appeal for young kids is limited. Few of the poems have anything that young kids really relate to, and some go on for a full page. Not a book I'd want to be reading to an unknown group of preschoolers.



Okay,now look at Old Bear, the book the "expert" ended up giving  this guy. And he was lucky that she had this one instead of the Hopkins book, because THIS is just the right sort of book just right to read to a preschool group!

It's by Kevin Henkes, probably best known for his books about Lily, including Lily's Purple Plastic Purse and my favorite, Julius,the Baby of the World (featuring the "uncooperative chair")


Four excerpts from the book as a poster.

 As Bear sleeps through the winter, he dreams of the seasons:
 "He dreamed that spring had come and he was a cub again.
The flowers were as big as trees. He took a nap in a giant crocus" 

 He dreams of summer, when "the sun was a daisy and the leaves were butterflies", of fall when "everything was yellow and orange and brown, even the birds and the fish and the water" and of winter "It was night, and the sky was blazing with stars of all colors. The cold went on forever". When he finally wakes from his dreaming, he walks into a beautiful spring day. 

There are no more than a few lines of words per each two page spread, but they are so well chosen, and the illustrations so evocative that they blend together into a book you could read to a group of kindergarten kids or fourth graders, or perhaps even high school students, and each group would get something from it. That's the power of a really good picture book.


Most importantly in this case, it has a magic that will work even when this is read by an inexperienced but enthusiastic reader working with a bunch of preschoolers. It's the sort of book I choose each week to read to story hour groups ranging from wiggly, barely sitting down 2 year olds (and their ESL nannies)to 4 and 5 year olds that I can work with without a parent in the room.

So there's rule #1 for Story Time: look at the books you choose in terms of reading them to a group.

It's simple common sense. But what a difference it makes!

Monday, April 18, 2011

What Is "Story Time"?

For me, it's more than just reading a few picture books and perhaps doing a finger play or two.
In fact, with my toddlers (12-24 months), it's not about books at all!

Story time for ages 2 and up for me IS about just that--stories. But that goes far beyond books.

It's about books, but they are books that allow the kids to interact with the book--and perhaps with each other.

It's about story telling. Sometimes with objects, sometimes with puppets, sometimes with stories that involve a lot of audience participation--things as simple as joining in the chorus of a song, or making animal noises.

It's about singing. Lots of singing, often with gestures or counting or a puppet.

It's about finger plays, but more often it's about action rhymes and songs with full body movement.

It's about dance. Nothing complicated--perhaps a scarf to twirl or a noisemaker, but often just putting on a song that inspires turnings and jumping and spinning.

Let's be blunt about it. Story time as I practice it--and people really like what I do--is really a PERFORMANCE .

Frankly, a lot of librarians I have known are just not into it,and probably shouldn't be doing it. And they probably WOULDN'T be doing it if it wasn't a required part of their jobs Don't get me wrong--they often love kids, and they certainly love children's books. But they're not performers.And working with groups is performance.

It's a very interactive thing.
It's finding your voice and letting go and getting a chance to play.
It's working with your audience--feeling what will and won't work and adjusting to their needs.

When it works--there's nothing like it, if you love it.
Of course, sometimes it doesn't, and you have to learn to deal with that too!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Why This Blog?

Because for the last 5-7 years I have been itching to do a blog for the library I work for. Somewhere to share story time with my patrons, especially the parents who send their kids to story hours with the nannies and never come in themselves!

But there are fears of legal repercussions (rolls eyes) and a failure to see how vital this sort of thing could be. Particularly since there is constant talk about the "21st century library" and moving with technology. How can we do that if we don't use current technology?

I approached our deputy director and begged her once more to let me do a blog like this, and it may be that in the near future I can make a public blog, one which ties back to the library. Meanwhile I am going to use this one to  keep track of things for myself and to share my story hours with anyone out there who works with kids.

Enjoy, borrow freely (that's what librarians always do with new ideas) and please let me know what works and doesn't work for you!

The Library Lady
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