This is Circulating Ideas, I’m Steve Thomas. I’ve always seen storytime as one of the integral parts of being a public library’s mission as it’s often a person’s first interaction with the library and a great way to imprint libraries in a positive way on young people’s minds. Those young people of course will grow up to be adults whom we will then count on to support all types of libraries. However, as with many good things in libraries, and life, I took them for granted. I certainly never discounted their importance, but also never gave them much deep thought or consideration, even as I witnessed staff at my library putting on fantastic children’s programs all the time. That all changed this past summer at the American Library Association conference in Chicago where I was able to witness Guerrilla Storytime. A spontaneous public storytime crash course, brimming with fantastic ideas for stories, songs and crafts, shared and performed live for any passer-bys to enjoy and learn from. I’ve known and worked with a lot of talented, innovative children’s librarians, even interviewed a few here on the show, but before that Guerrilla Storytime as such and the intimate skill involved in successful story time never really penetrated through my brain. So I decided to find out more. Today’s episode features many of the innovative children’s librarians I met at ALA and others that I’ve met online and have filled me with that sense of wonder.
[JJ] My name is Julie Jurgens and I am currently the school services co-ordinator at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library in Arlington Heights, Illinois. And you can find me online @himissjulie pretty much everywhere.
[AHK] My name is Anna Haase Krueger and I’m a children’s librarian. I blog at FutureLibrarianSuperhero.com and I’m super excited to be here.
[AC] My name is Anne Clarke. I am a children’s librarian in Michigan. I write a blog called So Tomorrow at sotomorrowblog.com.
[LK] This is Lindsey Krabbenhoff and Dana Horrocks and we work in Vancouver, British Columbia and we are the two teen members who make up Jbrary.
[AK] Hi, I’m Amy Koester. I’m a children’s librarian at a suburban library district in Missouri. I also blog online as the Show Me Librarian and you can find me on Twitter @amyeileenk.
[KJ] I am Kendra Jones and I’m a children’s librarian in Southwest Washington and you can find me on Twitter @klmpeace, or on my blog which is klmpeace.wordpress.com.
[CE] I’m Cory Eckert and I’m a youth services department head and a branch manager. My Twitter handle is @helenstwin and you can find me at the Storytime Underground blog which is storytimeunderground.wordpress.com and on the Storytime Underground group on Facebook.
Now personally, the only time I really read stories out loud these days are to my own children. Early in my library career I fumbled my way through a few storytimes, but I never really grasped the underlying craft to know how to engage children in a successful storytime.
[JJ] I know what I think is successful and I gauge it on how the audience reacts and then how I feel and, and people. I want to feel like there’s a lot of leeway and I think there is, but I think kind of the primary thing is that you want to connect with your audience and, and know that they’ve been affected and engaged and you can do that, usually when I do story times for like smaller kids, like third grade and under I go for engaging them with like energy and excitement and being goofy and funny and things like that, but you can also engage an audience in the opposite way. You can kind of pull them in by being very, very quiet and dramatic and, and kind of building up to things and it depends on the audience. Like with, with babies you kind of want to have a kind of more calm energy ‘cause you don’t want to be spasticly flailing in front of a tiny baby because that might be disturbing, but you want to be warm and open and energetic, but I’ve also noticed when I do storytelling with, with older kids, last year I had the opportunity to do some storytelling with middle schoolers and I just did completely old-school verbal story telling, I was promoting an author visit and I told a fairy tale ‘cause it was Adam Gidwitz’s and I just kind of impulsively told a version of Cinderella and it was, there was some humor in it but that’s a very dark story and I was just kind of like, kind of a little creepy about it, so, and that kind of really pulled them in ‘cause it was very unexpected, they didn’t, they weren’t expecting me to just kind of have like leave my Powerpoint behind and just start telling them a story. So, yeah, I think no matter what your style, cause people have different styles, you can be quiet, or loud, or energetic, or calm, I think you just need to make sure that your audience is connecting and you kind of need to be able to meet their needs, you can’t, you can’t throw a, a sedate story time on a group of toddlers because that’s not how they’re wired, but if you made a connection and you, and you feel like they’ve, they’ve really connected with you, that I think that’s, that’s successful.
[AHK] I think that flexibility is definitely one of the key skills because you can have totally different styles of storytime. You can have a loud, boisterous, action-packed storytime, or you can have a provider who does a really great, quiet, meditative storytime that is very relaxed and chill and they’re both completely valid.
[AC] A lot of people will want to define their success by numbers and you can’t really quantify a good storytime based on how many kids show up because you can have a good storytime with three kids and you can have a bad storytime with 90 kids, although god love you if you have 90 kids. But, for me if I leave and I feel like I want to get up and do storytime again tomorrow, then I consider that a win. If I have the same group of families show up the next weekend, nobody complains to my boss, then also a win. I think it’s, if you can look around the room and most people are enjoying themselves and nobody’s setting the place on fire, then another win.
[AK] I would say that one component, or one qualitative measure of a successful storytime is how much the audience has enjoyed it and we’re talking about kids and we’re talking about the caregivers that brought them there and how much they enjoyed it isn’t necessarily like is every kid leaving smiling, although it feels pretty good if they are. But, kids, different kids they have different personalities, just like grown ups, that they engage with the world in different ways and having them just kind of walking out quietly, you can tell they’re thinking, like that to me says success just as much as the kid who’s like so excited to check out every book that you own. And what kind of skills do you need to do that? I think it, flexibility is a really big thing that I look for in storytime leaders because you have to be able to respond to the differences in your audience, you can have the greatest storytime plan on paper, but if you don’t take into account the people that you’re actually there interacting with, cause it is an interaction, then you’re going to kind of crash and burn. You need to do some of the give and take.
[KJ] I think you need a level of energy. I know that sounds kind of funny, but it can be low energy enough, but I think you need to be able to maintain a certain energy in your storytime, so some storytellers I’ve seen not be so successful are ones who maybe start out really high energy, but then they end up really low energy. But if there’s not a consistency there, sometimes the storytime is not a successful, because it confuses your audience and so for me a really successful storytime, I like to talk about something called a reading bubble that you see kids in when they’re really into a book and you know you shouldn’t disturb them cause you can kind of feel this bubble around them. But I feel like a successful storytime has that bubble around it as well. You are the entire time engaged with the children and the parents and at no point did you feel like you lost them, at no point was anybody not interested, or complaining they’re cranky and the entire time it flies by, you look and you oh my gosh, 20 or 30 minutes has gone by, that’s it and it’s awesome. And I think afterwards you feel a big, a deeper connection with the children and the families, but it’s not really measurable. I don’t think that kind of success is a measurable thing, but for me that is how I know it’s the most successful storytime is when you just feel that total connection at the end.
[CE] In terms of storytime success, I was at the grocery store earlier and there was a, like maybe 9 month old boy who comes to one of my storytimes and he saw me, like from across the produce section and his entire face lit up and he started giggling and like reaching out to me and he’s not necessarily an every week regular, but he’s been enough to recognize me and the fact that he is now from a very early age way preliterate, pre-language, recognizing librarians and the library as a place that makes him ridiculously excited, in the grocery store, is a measure of success in terms of like the way that we change the community image of the library, because then his mom sees that and she is so, it’s building community connections and then the other thing I was thinking of in terms of success that’s not necessarily something we always think about is that my, my parents who come to storytime are a really diverse group of, a lot of them are immigrant moms, I have moms from the Philippines and Mexico and Kenya and all over and they have built a little cadre where they go to each other’s birthday parties and they have play groups and their own little support network and they met in storytime.
And I think that that speaks to us providing a specific kind of safe space where moms who are, I mean I have dads who come to storytime too, but where parents who are trying to find connections and support and learning how to be better parents are not just getting it from me in terms of me passing on early literacy skills, they’re also finding that space and finding each other within that space, which I think of as a success. I don’t know how you would define the skill except I see storytime providers sometimes so sort of self-conscious about what’s next on the list, or if they have their puppets in the right place, or if everything is on time, or whatever, that they’re not fully, not that they’re not engaging the kids, but that they’re not fully engaged with the kids and the caregivers, so they lose the kids and the caregivers and you’ll watch it happen. The more sort of internal they become in terms of worrying and being self-conscious, the more people start to like wander off and start to. And not that parents don’t park in the text or chat at the back of the world’s best story provider, ‘cause they are, and you’re, and a two year old is going to wander off no matter what, but there’s a, you can feel it in the air and I don’t know if that’s self-consciousness, or if it’s flexibility, or if it’s just paying attention more to the outside world than to what you’re doing, but I think that’s a really important, totally non-tangible, can’t tell you how to get it skill.
[LK] I think that kind of all the child development theory that we learned in school and that we’ve researched on our own is incredibly important. The biggest reasons for me is, I mean it’s helpful in selecting materials, to do for your programs, making sure that they’re kind of age appropriate, but the thing that I feel most strongly about is passing that knowledge onto caregivers, or to parents and grandparents. Something that I don’t think that a lot of people know about, baby times are about story times, is that it really is a chance to empower the people that are caring and raising the children that come to your programs and if you can pass on any of that knowledge, and leave the caregivers feeling more confident and more kind of involved in their child’s development, especially language development then I think our job is done.
Storytelling is perhaps an older profession than, well the oldest profession wink wink, nudge nudge, but what is it about the innate power of stories and storytelling that keeps the medium so meaningful?
[AC] There are so many things that are important about storytelling. You’re keeping an oral tradition alive, there is such a, a nice feeling, I’m a parent myself, of introducing songs and stories to my daughter that my mom and dad read to me, there’s a connection across generations that way. There’s, depending on what motors storytelling, there’s a lot of things you can do as a librarian that again a parent might not try at, might not have tried at home, such as doing the flannel board because most of us don’t necessarily have the, the flannel board at home. There’s a lot of, in this age of TV and smartphones you don’t often just hear somebody just talking to you and everybody likes to be read to, but most of us don’t have that experience, especially as adults in this day and age unless you like audio books but that’s not a live person, where you can see their face and their expressions and interact with them. I think sometimes as much as I love technology myself, I think we lose a little bit of the human factor. So I just love being able to sit into a room and talk to the kids and their parents and their grandparents and their aunts and uncles and nannies and daycare teachers, or whoever else is with them and getting to know them and not just sitting at a computer all the time.
[AHK] We learn from stories and we can see ourselves in stories and stories help us to make those connections because we can see other people in our, ourselves in other people and other people in ourselves. I think that’s sort of the biggest thing about it. But I think that, especially for kids, stories are so important and I just read the Three Little Pigs last week for a pig storytime. And I did the more traditional version where the pigs get eaten and the final pig eats the wolf at the end and all the parents are kind of looking at me and I said these stories are so important for kids because it’s important for them, they’re making distinctions between the good things and the bad things in the world and stories like this where they see them as fun and funny and entertaining, and they feel powerful, that’s so important for teaching them narratives that they then carry throughout real life.
[KJ] I think stories are really personal, we all have our own stories and when an author writes a children’s book, they’re putting part of their own story into that book and so when you’re sharing stories with people, not only are they, is it touching them in an, their own way, but you’re also kind of putting your own spin on it so you’re telling your own story each time. Which is why every time you see a person read a picture book to a group of children, they do it differently. I’ve never seen anybody read it exactly the same way. So for me I think that’s why stories are so important to our society, is that you can put so much of yourself into every single one of them, you can make it your own.
[AK] You see yourself in a story and you see other people in a story and that’s really remarkable, you can’t do that in a lot of mediums, especially now, like everybody’s constantly taking selfies. Like, dude, look at another person please.
[KJ] Sure, and I think that is really what I was trying to say, is like every kid in that audience, like here’s something that applies to them and they can like relate to the story somehow. Just super cool. But the storyteller can also relate, so it’s like you’re, like making this community just by telling a story, you all have something in common now.
[AK] Do you ever have kids after a story who want to like get up and say I want to be that character, or I’m that one, or you know, I’m that little pig. You know, and.
[KJ] Yeah, literally.
[AK] That’s, I just think that’s the most fantastic thing. Like they see themselves in that story and they don’t always identify with the main character, or the, the one that any grown up would say is obviously the one you want to be. They, their appeal, they appeal, the stories appeal to them for so many different reasons and that’s a lot deeper than a lot of times we give credit.
[KJ] When it was like that child’s play book that Gail was saying, that it goes into their play, but that they often pick up on themes that as adults we don’t even think are in the book, but kids like somehow get this relationship, you know, between characters in a book that a grown up doesn’t even notice, but it’s part of the story and so then later on they’ll be playing and you’ll hear them talk about that theme, which I find completely fascinating.
[AK] Yeah, it is, it’s, it, the stories that stick with them and that’s it, maybe that’s the crux of it right there, why stories are so important to us socially, culturally, because we carry them with us, even after we’re done with them.
[KJ] I think, yeah, you’re totally right, you don’t need the book or anything, you just need your brain.
[CE] So from a mythology perspective, there’s a couple of reasons that storytelling is really important. One is that cultures need to get kids on board with what the cultural norms are, and integrate children from an early age into basic social and cultural beliefs and ideologies and storytelling is a really ideal way to do that, to teach morals and ethics and cultural history and a slew of other things. Way before Homer, it was a way that people could remember the stories of their ancestors to pass on. Long before writing, so those are, are really important reasons, but we still do storytelling and not just, you know what I mean, they’re, they’re grown ups with like hammered dulcimers who get together in people’s backyards with bonfires and have like big storytelling conventions, but, I know because I’ve been to them cause my parents are hippies, but we still do storytelling every week at the public library and it’s still a big draw and I think that the reason for that, even though we don’t necessarily have a cohesive cultural norm that we are now raising children in, and we don’t need to memorize things in order to, because we have writing now, is that we’re fascinated by language and in order to get kids to continue the language and continue any language, you have to get them interested in it and fascinated and storytime is a great way to do that.
[JJ] That’s how we, this is how we interact, people don’t think about it, but even just having a conversation is storytelling. Any time interaction, you have this storytelling, think about, even being on hold with your bank, or Comcast, you’re telling a story, you’re saying this event was followed by this event and this reaction, like it’s, that’s how we communicate. If we couldn’t tell stories, we would not be able to function and even beyond that, like when you get into telling fairy tales, or folk tales, or other stories of that kind, urban legends, it’s how we understand our world and it’s how we kind of comfort ourselves, so it’s, it meets a practical need in a lot of ways, plus it also meets this kind of deep, psychological soul need to just kind of make sense of tragedies and evil things and things like that, so it, it works on a lot of levels, we really need it to comprehend the world in a multitude of ways.
Despite the skill and hard work they put into their jobs, many children’s services librarians feel under-appreciated by their professional peers.
[AHK] I think there’s a couple of reasons for it. I think that there are some people who just, yeah, they don’t like kids, they don’t like being around kids. There are still a lot of librarians who don’t like people in general unfortunately, and. I’ve, I feel like is changing in the profession, but there are still a lot of people around who, who miss the old library, the quiet, place and children’s services has really evolved way beyond that. So I think that that is one small, but unfortunate factor that is still around in a lot of libraries. And the other thing is that I think there’s a high rate of burnout with children’s librarians and a lot of them go into administration and they make great administrators, but some of them can’t translate out of their experience with children’s services to what’s currently happening and so I think sometimes they think that it’s really easy because they did it, but it wasn’t a good fit for them and maybe they were good at it, maybe they weren’t good at it, and now they’re in the part to make the decisions about what happens with children’s services. So, you might have a, someone who planned a year’s worth of story times and then did that year’s worth of storytimes every year for the entire time that they did children’s services, so to them why would you need more than a half hour to prepare for storytime. Well, because we do a lot more in storytime now than we did even five years ago, the focus has changed so much more with early literacy, I mean, 20 years ago parents weren’t allowed in storytime.
Well, I mean that’s huge, huge change and a lot of the people who were doing storytime then are in administration. So it’s just, that’s a whole different skill set from what is going on now and I re-use storytimes, but it’s a shortcut, but it still takes a lot of time because you’re, what new books are out, how can I make this better, how can I make it more dynamic and I don’t think it’s something that you should ever be resting on your laurels.
[JJ] I think sometimes they’re kind of left to their own devices sometimes. They, there’s a lot of neglect sometimes with children’s departments, even though there’s a great, there’s a great article out about how children’s departments and libraries and children’s museums can really work to fill a gap in early childhood education and create these experience spaces. It’s from that, the Institute of Libraries and Museums, but they had a really great, some really great information about how children’s departments and children’s librarians can kind of fill this gap and I just know that sometimes library administration doesn’t know how to deal with the children’s departments so they’re, they let the children’s department kind of go rogue in a lot of ways. Which is sometimes, you want to give your children’s department some freedom, but you don’t want to just completely ignore them and disconnect them from the library cause I think that’s where a lot of trouble happens, when you have the kind of segmented departments that nobody really knows what the other one does and I think that, I mean I love my, my, my colleagues and different departments who do different things, but I think if, if libraries were suddenly going to disappear, I don’t think children’s departments would because we have the strongest advocates, we have the, the highest use usually, our materials usually get the highest circulation and parents and kids would be up in arms if they suddenly said your children’s department is going away, like they would not let that happen.
I don’t know if other public library departments have that same kind of advocacy, like some people might be up in arms, depending on how well the library has integrated themselves in the community, but I think the children’s department is kind of the heart of the library and really a good children’s librarian can work anywhere in the library, like we need to know about technology cause almost every children’s department has computers. We need to know basic troubleshooting, we can answer reference questions for any age because we get parents, we get grandparents, and a lot of times they’re there already, they say can you look up the, the newest whatever book and I, I’m more than happy to do that. So we can, I feel like we by necessity can do a lot of things and, and just putting together a program, like some, more adult librarians are doing programs now, so I think they have an icon concept of what it takes to book a room, set up the materials, like have registration, check in people on their register, manage crowds, like crowd management and child management I think is something that we don’t learn about in library school and that’s a good chunk of what you’re doing, like trying to manage a large group of people. Sometimes just children, sometime children and adults and that’s a, that’s a hard skill to pick up, like you need them to move from place to place, or do different things, so yeah, I feel like children’s librarians and also teen librarians do so many different things that, and there’s always been that stigma of women especially who work with children, like oh, like that’s what you’re made to do, like it just comes naturally to you and what’s so hard about working with children, but you have to think about working with “children” covers infants up to 18 year olds, that’s a huge audience and they all have very specific needs. When you’re working with adults you kind of have like adults and then maybe seniors, so you have maybe two different kinds of audiences and you can pull those out, there’s like a business audience, or like a leisure audience, but I think when it comes to working with kids, the variety of needs and the variety of things you’re doing is incredibly varied and a lot of times it can be incredibly difficult, so yeah I just feel like some people just don’t appreciate what, what we do and that’s why I like the, the Guerrilla Storytime at ALA, because people saw that at the end of a good storytime, I’m sweating, I’m sweating and I’m tired and I feel exhausted and that’s, that’s kind of how I spend a lot of my time. Like if I’m not sweating at the end of storytime, I somehow failed and I don’t, I don’t think your average adult librarian ends the shift sweating unless the, the air conditioning is broken or they don’t have air conditioning, so. Yeah, I think, I think there’s just, I think there’s just a lack of knowledge in most public libraries, like what other departments do and I don’t know how to fix that besides. I’m a big fan of cross-collaboration in libraries, so we kind of all know what we’re doing and we can appreciate what we’re doing, but that’s not always possible with schedules, so.
[AC] I think a lot of attention in our field is paid to people that, doing something that the librarianship sees as new and sexy and ugh. But, I think that a lot of children’s librarians do feel unappreciated. I’m not one of them myself, I, I don’t want the appreciation for, for me, I feel very supported by my library and the administration, but I can, I can see where other people, if they don’t have that at their own institution in particular might feel that they’re not valued. I, I can agree that sometimes it feels like our fields of practice so just librarianship isn’t valued by other librarians and I’m, sometimes I just think that they don’t understand what we do, but in a way that’s kind of fair because I don’t necessarily understand what an academic librarian’s day job looks like all the time either. Despite having gone to a college library once or twice in my life. I think, I think a lot of people should just come watch what we do sometimes.
And I feel like librarians who have children and I don’t want to make this like a case of mommies and daddies versus child-free or childless people, but I think if you have kids on your, of your own, or at least nieces and nephews and children that you care about, that you have a better appreciation for how hard it is to entertain a child for a significant amount of time.
[KJ] Oh I’m going to kick myself for saying this. In a profession where there has been a lot of online “newsprint” lately about who’s going to be the next big thing, the next Mover and Shaker, the next big accolade winner. To be part of this community where really our primary goal is the, the skills and opportunities we’re giving kids I think is just a breath of fresh air.
[AK] I totally agree, it’s so nice to not have people constantly just trying to be famous, like they really just want to do their jobs really, really well and like change children’s lives. It’s like “Oh thank you.”
[CE] I mean every once in awhile like as stroke of I don’t know what, lightning strikes and a youth services librarian does kind of get famous and it always who I think like I’ll be honest, there are adult services librarians who get famous and I think oh no, what you do really. I’m not, not that they’re not good librarians, I just, there online presence to me, I’m going to kick myself for saying this too, I don’t see them talking about what they do. And that’s not true of every famous librarian, but I’m sometimes like what do you, what’s your patron, like what do you do with patrons? Every like sort of famous youth services librarian I know, I know what they do and I know that they’re a phenomenal youth services librarian and I think that there’s something about our online community that we’ve built, where we talk about what we do because that’s how we judge each other professionally, is like how much you help kids and we’re not, and I don’t mean judging in a bad way, like we want youth services librarians who don’t feel like they’re great with kids, or I mean don’t feel like their best, to come to us so that we can help them, we want to be like what are you working on? What are you struggling with? What can we help you with? We all really want each other to succeed because we, and it’s not, it, in a lot of it just wanting kids to succeed because that’s a, a massive thing, but I think most of us are sort of called and this is, this is true of all librarianship, I mean not just children’s librarianship, but I think you do it as a vocation not just as a profession and we’re called because we, we need for kids to say see, but we also know that for every kid that succeeds because of the library, that’s job security for somebody else later because if they grow up to be library users, you know what I mean, that’s, it’s a, it’s a firm basis for the profession, not just that that kid, which is if I help one kid, like honest to god if in my entire library career I have one kid who is like “Miss Cory made the difference in terms of me being a reader and not being a reader,” like I will feel like my professional life has been 100%. I’ve done it, if one kid is, has a lifelong love of reading cause of me, I’ll feel like I’ve done it.
But, if lots and lots and lots of kids have a different idea of the library, and especially because I work with underserved communities, if those kids think of themselves as library users and the library’s their place, and kids who are not in the best schools, who do not have the best resources feel like the library is their place and they can get those resources at libraries and they come and get them, then that is not just my professional life, but all of our professional lives being strengthened by it.
[KJ] Totally, oh I used to say in a lot of my cover letters that my goal as a children’s librarian was to grow lifelong library supporters in addition to all of the other things that I think are kind of obvious, but meaning if you make the kids love the library, then they’re gonna still love it when they’re an adult and they have kids and so on and so on and so on, so like you said, it’s totally job security, but also, I mean we know what the, all the great things the library does for people and for children, but you have to make sure that they’re actually coming to the library to get all that stuff. And I think that’s what children’s librarians do. We start out when they’re tiny and we make them love the library.
[AK] Yeah, and I think we’re making them love the library in an entirely, an entirely, I can’t think of the word I want to use, a, not disingenuous, what’s the opposite of disingenuous?
[AK] Yes, oh good job [laughs]. We, storytime has the capacity to make children really love the library in a genuine way. In a way that other organizations, institutions, that are trying to attract children and their families don’t necessarily do. When you think about all of the, the proliferation of play places and fast food restaurants because a lot of this fast food restaurants were coming into communities that didn’t necessarily have public play areas and well is your goal, ultimate goal to support the development of kids, or is it to sell chicken nuggets? And I think, like seeing so much of the ads on TV and the, the signs you see for all these groups and businesses that are so adamantly trying to appeal to children because it’s their business model, because they want kids so that they’ll spend money there as opposed to our business model is we want you here because there is so much we can help you engage with in this space and it’s totally value added as opposed to value given on the part of the participant. Like they’re getting so much and I feel like at least that’s a motivating factor for a lot of children’s librarians, like let me show you all of these things, let me open this door for you.
[CE] Well, and it’s free. And it’s free, those, those play areas you can’t go into if you’re, if you’re a grown up, so there’s no interactive element, there’s no helping parents be interactive with their children and libraries, there’s a big push in, Amy, I kind of know this but, Steve, I don’t know if you know this or not, there’s a big push in children’s librarianship right now to add like play spaces and teach parents how to play with their kids because brain development, research shows that playing with your child is incredibly important. So, we aren’t just teaching kids to be lifelong learners, like we’re also teaching parents skills that they may never have gotten anywhere else, giving them not just information about how to be better parents, but actual concrete training on parenting skills that they’re certainly not getting at the play area of McDonalds.
[KJ] Yeah we have, our library has that huge, the largest of its kind, you know, in the nation, huge play space, it’s like a children’s museum on our floor and we see that a lot, like people who don’t come to storytime, don’t come to anything else, they will come for what they call the play area because it’s a free playground inside the library and it rains like crazy here so they need a place to come and it’s the perfect for us to, like you said Cory, like model for them things that, like how to play with their children and things to do. I mean we don’t like go tell them that they need to do that, but just helps us get at those people who aren’t always in the library. And then they start coming to storytime, and then they start doing these other things just because they’re trying to get out of the rain in the really cool play space.
Julie Jurgens is the first person I heard to say that storytimes are the original maker spaces.
[JJ] Yeah, I don’t know if I’m the first person who said it, but I definitely latched onto it.
Instead of 3D printers and robotics, they use cotton balls, glitter, Popsicle sticks and things like that. But that doesn’t mean children’s services librarians eschew technology all together.
[JJ] Technology, like anything, I, I believe things need to be used in moderation and I did, a couple of years ago at this point I did a lot of research talking about using technology with kind of toddlers and young preschoolers and from what I’ve learned so far, there’s nothing, there’s nothing wrong with using technology with young children. The, the thing is that you don’t want it to be a, a passive experience, like you don’t, and it’s, I, I sometimes get very judgmental, but I’m not opposed to like you have a screaming toddler and like give them the iPad, let them play with an app, save your sanity, but generally 98% of the time when you’re using technology with kids, you want it to be just as active and interactive as if you were reading a, a book or talking to them or playing a game, or doing an activity, so you don’t want to just prop up a tablet in front of a baby and then just leave them there. I think that’s what happened with the, the Baby Einstein DVDs several years ago, like people were just leaving their babies in front of the TV, which is not interactive. And that’s why Sesame Street and Mr Rogers Neighborhood are still kind of the, the gold standard for television for young children, cause it’s very interactive, the characters are engaging children and it’s not ideal because they can’t really see a specific child’s reaction, but they are engaging the kids as far as TV can engage a child, so a lot of people are trying to do. The one time I had used the, like technology in storytime, like I used the tablet and I played like a version of Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See, like and it wasn’t very interactive and I could tell the kids would have rather I had read the story cause I would have done a better job, but there’s a lot of new things out now that my library is starting to work on. The storytime leader is working on using apps in storytime, there’s like felt apps where you can do like a basically a flannel story on a tablet, which is kind of cool. Projecting things to make them easier to see, for the audience is something I really think is a good use of technology, like with baby time, projecting the lyrics to the nursery rhymes, maybe sometimes in two different languages, I think is a really good use of technology and blowing up the pictures of a storybook ‘cause books are, they’re kind of built for one-on-one reading unless they’re like a big book, but big books are awkward to handle.
So if you can kind of project onto a, a screen, like a bigger version of the story that you’re reading, I think that’s a really good way of using it. So I think, and there’s just so much stuff coming out, but I think just fundamentally whatever you are using in storytime, or with your own children one-on-one, there needs to be that, that engagement and that interactive quality. You can’t just leave a kid and expect they’re gonna know how to engage with it, so I think, I think that’s my, my baseline for using technology, is just, be, and be aware of why you’re using it, like are you using it because oh, other people are using tablets in storytimes so I guess I should, or have you found a really good purpose for it in a really good way that’s going to help you, that makes the storytime experience better. I don’t believe in using things just for the sake of using them, you should have a purpose and know what your purpose is and put it to use in a thoughtful way.
[AC] You know I don’t actually use that much technology in my storytimes. I don’t have an iPad and I think that’s probably the best way of using an app or something, so I think the only thing I’ve done is like sound effects off my phone. Then one thing I did do that is like a 1930s or 40s technology, I don’t know when did overhead projectors become a thing? Is shadow puppets on an overhead projector and that’s not something kids really see any more, so they really responded nicely to that, but as far as storytime is being a maker space, I definitely agree especially, well children’s programming in general I would say because there’s a lot of times with a craft you might give a kid a toilet paper roll and some cotton balls and some glue and say here, knock yourself out and just watch what they make and I think that’s the idea behind makerspaces, besides 3D printing which also is pretty cool I have to admit.
Do you incorporate new technologies into your storytimes?
[AHK] I do. I, I’m one of those people where I just hate when everything has become so black and white. I have an iPad personally and I downloaded an app that makes animal noises and I use that with, I created a 3D puppet stage that looks like a house and so we do a little mime, finger play rhyme, totally traditional with puppets, totally traditional, and the rhyme here is a house where someone can hide, let’s knock on the door to see who’s inside. Yes, it’s a …. and then we all pause and I use the iPad to make a real life animal noise. And then the kids guess what it is and then I pop out the matching finger puppet. So it’s new technology, it’s completely old technology, but it’s creating a really, kids hear what a real lion sounds like rather than the rawr sound that we all make, which doesn’t sound anything like a lion. So it’s a huge added educational bonus to what we’re doing in storytime. And I think that sort of illustrates, it doesn’t have to be so black and white and we can embrace new technology without throwing out the baby with the bathwater, ‘cause there’s lots of things that we’ve been doing traditionally that are still working really well and are really great.
Yeah, I feel like, I mean technology just is another tool to use then just in our tool book, tool belts.
[DH] Yes and I really like this concept. At our library we don’t do a ton of crafts, or kind of activities after our storytimes, but I think even at baby time you can consider a makerspace because while we’re not kind of making actual crafts, I think if you think of language as a craft and you’re breaking down the different elements of it, in a song you’re breaking down those phonemes and helping babies to kind of parcel them and learn the, learn the language blocks. That is the original maker space, my friend, that is taking things down to like a molecular phonemic level and, and helping kids learn it. So I think that playing with songs, with sounds, and narratives could be considered the original maker space.
Children’s services librarians have been very active in using online resources and social media to engage with each other, including creating some sites of their own.
[AHK] It’s so huge it’s been such a huge part of my development as a librarian. When I first started working, I was by myself in a very rural library in a very, very spread out system. I mean there was no support anywhere at all and that was when I was in that position, I was so lonely and felt so alone and I would kind of try poking around and looking at library blogs, but it got so overwhelming that like oh I wish I would have read that three months ago and now it’s too late and I may as well decide not to read this stuff because it’s just too much. And then I started using my brain and it was like, oh RSS feeder, that thing that I’ve been avoiding because I would spend all my life on the internet, maybe I could just use it for work things and it sounds so dumb but that was a huge revelation for me. So I started using RSS to keep track of just library things and it just became this part of my every day. I’d come in for work, I sit down, I’ve got my tea or whatever, my computer is loading up and I’m just getting started. I spend five minutes catching up on my RSS. I come back from lunch and I’ve got 5 minutes before a meeting, I catch up on my RSS. And it just made this huge, huge difference in how aware I was of what was going on in the library world, ideas for programming, and connection with other librarians and the other key thing that happened was that, that was right when Play On Friday was getting started and I got involved with Flannel Friday right away and started my own blog and Flannel Friday was a huge resource in and of itself, but also a huge community and way to start blogging, have something to blog about and immediately get hooked into a community and it was very small at that point, but it’s really grown into something big now. So it’s been really amazing to be part of that and then through that was also Twitter and I said this on the episode before, but I went to my first ALA and I seriously knew, like, 50 people there, just because of Twitter and so everywhere I went I was meeting people that I already knew and that was such a huge experience, I can’t even imagine what it would be like to go to ALA without having that kind of network already there.
[JJ] It’s really great to see other things that people are using, books and how they put things together, how they run things and just that kind of support, so yeah, I post stuff to my blog that I, I think will be useful and I also use Twitter, I like ask questions, I’m like I need a book about X, Y, Z because it’s sometimes the, the human catalog is way more efficient than any other thing you can look at, so yeah without that kind of stuff I would just be adrift and feel really disconnected, so yeah I’m a heavy user of, of that stuff as a professional development tool.
[LK] So we started Jbrary in March 2013 because as new children’s librarians who are just coming into the field we found it really hard to find songs and rhymes that you could use in storytime, that you could actually listen to. It’s very easy to find them printed online, but we wanted something where new children’s librarians especially could go and actually listen to the songs, see them performed and get ideas for how they could adapt them for different age groups.
[AC] Flannel Friday is a weekly online storytime professional development opportunity to use the training parlance. We have a number of librarians and daycare providers and parents that post basically a storytime prop, it can be a flannel board which is how the name comes from, it can be a, I think I did a scarf dancing activity to There’s A Spider On The Floor by Raffy. It can be anything that you would use between books or about books in a setting with small children. It was started by Melissa Dapper, of Movers and Shakers fame. She is a children’s librarian in Colorado and it actually started, Mel was just posting a flannel board on her blog, just to have content basically, and I really enjoyed her posts, I was just a reader, I didn’t know Mel at this time and actually I’ve never met Mel, but, but I really enjoyed reading her posts and one Friday I was like you know what, I kind of want to put my own one up so I posted at the time what was my favorite one, Little Mouse, Little Mouse and our, our other friend Mary, who I have, again not met yet, she decided to put one up on her blog really quickly too and we never asked Mel for permission, and the, after a couple of weeks of, or maybe just a week or two of us doing that, the three of us, some other people started putting them up and then we were kind of like oh, you know, it will be nice if somebody would do a round-up of them now that we have more than two or three, and then eventually we devised a whole system of people doing round-ups every week. We have Pinterest boards, we’ve got our own hashtag, we’ve got a pretty active Facebook page too. For a while I was kind of the person who, who was organizing this all, and so people just emailed me directly through my, through my blog, but over time we decided to open a separate blog just for Flannel Friday stuff, cause I was going to be on maternity leave and then we made a Flannel Friday email account and a different person runs it and then we switch every two months and there are fairy godmothers, is their very official title, so yeah, people can just decided to join. We do allow people who don’t have a blog of their own, but want to share an idea, they can contact the weekly host, or just any host that they feel they have a, that they want to get to know, or can email a blogger. We try to reach as much as we can, but I admit we probably haven’t been as great about that lately as we could be, but we’re trying and we keep growing, which is awesome. When I started participating in Flannel Friday, I was at a point in my career where I wasn’t sure if this is what I wanted to do anymore and I was feeling like I didn’t have a professional network, I didn’t have people to bounce ideas off of which is really important as a children’s librarian and so I was kind of almost lonely and pathetic and kind of listening to angsty music all the time and so by, by starting to work with people like Melissa and Mary and Anna, I got to make some friends which is critical and I’ve actually presented with Anna and some other, some other people that I met through my blog at various things and it’s just been a really nice opportunity to feel like you’re not alone in the world, other people care about the same things as you, whether, even if they’re really nerdy, which they are cause blogging about flannel is not, not the coolest, hippest hobby I’ve ever had in my life, but one of the most rewarding ones.
[CE] Yeah Guerilla Storytime since I started, mostly ‘cause I don’t know what I’m doing, I, I’ve been a children’s librarian for two years, a little more than two years and I didn’t have any storytime training in grad school because I thought I was going to be a teen librarian. So I didn’t know what a flannel board was when I got my job and I didn’t figure out why everyone’s blogging about it, although thank god they are, I love Flannel Friday, but I just, I had no idea, I was reading a lot of blogs and talking to a lot of people on Twitter and I felt like I wasn’t, I needed to see the stuff in action to really understand what people were talking about. I looked at it, immediately I was like I don’t understand how you tell a flannel story, I see the flannels, but I don’t, without seeing someone actually tell a story with flannel pieces, I don’t understand how that works and so I started talking to people on Twitter about how we might get together and help each other out with skills and do some co-training and Storytime Underground came out of that. I originally worked really extensively with Melissa Dapper who was at Mel’s desk and Anna whose last name I cannot pronounce, but her Twitter handle is @opinionsbyanna and we worked really extensively together to get all this stuff together. Amy got really involved and brought, she made the first set of questions for the first Guerilla Storytime cause I couldn’t be there and she and Melissa facilitated and it went phenomenally well. So we got this big crowd that we, so we, we decided to do a co-training at, at ALA because I wasn’t the only person who thought that we had no idea what we were doing on certain things. Everyone had something that they heard other people go “Oh my god I love using shakers!”, or “I love using scarves!” or whatever, but they had no idea how to actually integrate that well. So, Katie, how do you pronounce Katie’s last name you guys? Salis? Salo?
[AK] Storytime Katie.
[CE] Okay. Katie, Katie brought her stuff, her props and we, we showed each other, we got together in the middle of the uncommons and we threw a Guerrilla Storytime and for impromptu, totally off the cuff, we had some challenges, people brought their own challenge questions, we had some props, people brought their ukeleles, and they taught us songs and they talked about sort of more theoretical, how do you deal with this problem, or what are your, what’s your theory on this part of storytime, and it was a great mix of really like down-to-earth, hands-on skills of specific songs and things like that and specific scripts to deal with problems, but also more theoretical, what’s, how do you deal with this bigger issue, so it was amazing and we had so much response from the first two days that we had planned that we ending up throwing another really Guerrilla Storytime, completely impromptu on Monday at ALA and the, the thing that happened and I want to say it was Saturday after the, after the second Guerrilla Storytime was that somebody stopped me on the shuttle, the shuttle between McCormick Place and the hotel was like 30 minutes and she was an early childhood specialist in New York and I do not remember her name, I wish that I did and she said you all need to have a blog. And I, I said well what would we blog about? Flannel Friday does amazing stuff, there’s a million phenomenal storytime blogs out there, there’s so many and she knew none of this cause when you asked us for storytime blogs, we were like and this person, and this person, and this person, and this person. The list just keeps going, so I thought what would we do that would be different from what everyone else is already doing so well because we, children’s librarians are amazing at sharing skills and sharing resources and, and sharing ideas.
We are really, we are about intellectual freedom. We are really about, I tried this cool thing and I want you to try it cause it’s great. There’s no I tried this thing and it’s mine and you can’t have it in children’s librarianship at all. So I thought what would we do? And so she and I sat for about 30 minutes on the bus, on this shuttle and we talked about what Guerrilla Storytime, Storytime Underground might be, what it, what a blog might be and I had had this idea when we started Guerrilla Storytime of, of keeping the people together who were interested in Guerrilla Storytime and starting up something and I remember bringing it up on the, on the Google Group, starting something that I called the group Storytime Underground from nearly the beginning, that was like a coalition of youth services librarians who were interested in advocacy because Guerrilla Storytime was meant to be as much a skill training as it was an advocacy event, which is why we had it in the middle of the Uncommons, because the feeling that I had and that I’ve heard a lot of youth services librarians talk about is that we don’t get a lot of respect within the larger profession because it’s seen that we, we just read books to kids and our work isn’t seen as being, we don’t talk about tech a lot although Amy’s been blogging for Little eLit which talks about using tech in storytimes on and in children’s librarianship, but we’re not like the next, we’re not, we’ve been, we’ve been makers for ever as Julie says, himissjulie says, we, we’ve always had makerspaces and we’re not, we don’t have 3D printers, like we have little kids with glue and we’re not this exciting new shiny thing, so we don’t tend to get a lot of attention, we don’t get linked to a lot in AL Direct and we don’t get, we just, we’re, we’re not the big next new shiny thing in librarianship, we’re the thing that’s always been there, but because we are, what would your average public library circ stats or program stats be without us? We would like to be talked about more and I think ALSC does a number of hugely phenomenal things and I’m a proud member of ALSC, I love ALSC, but we wanted to be, I was interested in doing some advocacy that was a little bit more grass roots and not constrained as much by ALA rules I guess, cause I’m like that and so I started to talk about this thing called Storytime Underground and I didn’t know what it was going to look like and then on the shuttle, this woman from New York I started to solidify an idea of what a, a storytime advocacy blog would do, what a youth services advocacy blog might do and so Guerrilla Storytime was this big success and people wanted to plan other Guerrilla Storytimes, so we needed a place for people to plan other Guerrilla Storytimes and that was the beginning of a blog, was just to have a spot where people could plan other Guerrilla Storytimes and I, I sort of reached out to people had been at Guerrilla Storytime and active in planning Guerrilla Storytime with me and said on Twitter and said who wants to be in my advocacy army and nobody did except for Kendra and Amy, but Kendra and Amy are equal to me. We, I would go, maybe Kendra and Amy will disagree with me, although hopefully not on tape, but I think that the three of us have this extraordinary working relationship where one of us send out an idea and the other two are like I know exactly what you mean, I know exactly what you want, let’s do it this way, what about this and we, from the time we started planning this Storytime Underground website we thought and it will go live in a couple of months maybe and running and beautiful and it, we knew what the, the vision was really clear, we knew exactly what we wanted, we wanted to be able to answer some questions and somebody, does anyone remember who had the idea of doing an advice column?
[KJ] Who knows?
[AK] Yeah, I don’t remember.
[CE] Somebody on Twitter had the idea of an advice column and we thought that’s amazing, I wanted to do a link round up cause I wanted to talk about, I wanted to call out other amazing youth services librarians because I figured if we’re not gonna get linked in the, in the ALA stuff, then I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna really talk about what people are doing that’s really extraordinary and we decided that rather than just pointing out what was cool, that people were doing, cause Flannel Friday has all this really cool stuff and they were already doing that and we wanted to really specifically do something different, we would find people who were talking extensively about what they did and why and we would really focus on that, so we wanted to be the “Why?” of storytime so if you do this song, what’s the educational development, the early childhood development brain angle of that and why do you do that in storytime? And why do you do this in storytime? How do you put together a storytime that’s really, deeply cognitive development based while still being fun and we wanted to link to people who were talking about that across the internet so we wanted to do a link round up and we wanted to do a storytime guerrilla of the month because we wanted people who are outside of the little clique that we have online of Twitter, blogging, youth services librarians to get their due because there are youth services librarians who are doing phenomenal things and I totally should have let Kendra and Amy talk about the parts that they do. But, we get, I mean you can talk about, Ask a Storytime Ninja forever cause it’s amazing so I’m going to stop cause they do most of the work for the blog.
[AK] I think what it does, the ultimate sign of a great collaboration is that everyone feels like they do the least amount of work, like that’s how I feel. I feel like I’m never doing anything for it and I feel bad.
[KJ] And I feel bad cause I feel like Amy and Cory do everything and I don’t. So yes, I think you’re right Amy, that’s part of a collaboration.
[AK] Yeah, that everyone feels, yeah.
[KJ] Yes. Very good.
[CE] Oh that was, you should talk about the, the Facebook group though, cause that’s like a whole ‘nother.
[AK] Yeah the Facebook group is a horse of a different color for sure. Shortly after the Storytime Underground website went live, we had a couple of people saying oh I wish there was some sort of discussion forum, why don’t you guys have a Facebook group, like Flannel Friday does. So, I looked more into the details of how Flannel Friday was working, I mistakenly first made a Storytime Underground page on Facebook which I don’t recommend, it was, no, that was not good. So we made a group and then all of a sudden, just through a little bit of tweeting it out to people and putting it on our blog we were over 400 something people, members of this Facebook group.
And when we, when Cory and Kendra and I were first planning like who was going to do what with this community, who was going to oversee what aspects were, trying to figure out who’s going to be in charge of Facebook, this is going to be such a big job, but really it’s a community that for the most part, it runs itself, like and that to me just shows that there are so many people who want to be engaged in these conversations about why do you do this and how can I use that to the best effect in my storytime and what would you recommend in this situation and what I think is really interesting is that there’s a fair amount of cross-pollination between the Flannel Friday group on Facebook and the Storytime Underground group on Facebook. Both seem to be kind of parallel roads, they don’t intersect all that much and from what I can tell from people’s comments is that the participants really feel like they’re getting something incredibly valuable from both of those. The hows and the fantastic ideas for these beautiful pieces of artwork that you use in storytime that I couldn’t even begin to like create with my awful, awful art skills.
[KJ] And we don’t, they don’t require us at all, like I, that’s what I love about it, like you said Amy, it just totally runs itself and I find myself on their forgetting that like you created the Facebook. I’m just like oh this is just a great ‘nother resource for me to contribute to. Oh yeah, wait, I’m part of this, because it’s just awesome, they just kind of like took it and went.
[AK] Yeah and people like of their own volition sharing like I’m looking at a post from last week from Kelsey Cole who’s in Illinois. She said I use one of my go-to early literacy tips today and then she shares it and she shares why she uses it and what happens and what it actually looks like in storytime and like for someone to just share that information which is incredibly helpful to all of us who are practicing storytime librarians, like to just come out and share that, that’s, I mean that’s the, the foundation of this community, like we all want one another to exceed be, to succeed because if we succeed then that’s a whole ton of kids across this entire country, across the whole world who are going to have a better chance of succeeding.
[KJ] Totally. I think that’s like for me the really big lovely thing about Storytime Underground, well all of this is just the, all the people who are involved, their like one total goal is just to have children succeed. That’s what they want, they want children to have literacy skills and be the best that they can be and they know that that’s like all of us working together, which is totally awesome, you know?
[AK] Love it.
And of course I couldn’t end the episode without some examples of their great creative work.
[AK] Hello bubbles.
[KJ, CE] Hello bubbles.
[AK] Come and land.
[KJ, CE] Come and land.
[AK] Right in the middle.
[KJ, CE] Right in the middle.
[AK] Of my hand.
[KJ, CE] Of my hand.
[AHK] One of the finger plays that I do a lot is five fat peas and one day, obviously you start out by talking about five fat peas, but one day, just randomly I just said hey show me five. All the kids held up their hands and then I said, hide them. And I rolled up my fist and all the kids did it too. And I thought hey, this works really well, and so we made that into a game that we play almost every storytime and it is amazing how all those little eyes that might have been all over the room are suddenly on me and all I do is show me five, hide em. Five, hide em. Two, and then some of them will have done five and we all laugh and again it’s so simple, it grabs their attention amazingly because they have to listen so hard to know what to do. They think it’s hilarious and it’s exercising those little hand muscles and just to make those shapes with their fingers, which is one of the early literacy skills, they can hold a pen, or a crayon then they’re going to be more successful when they get to school cause they already have that skill built in and they’re not trying to catch up and learn it right then and there.
[LK, DH] [singing]
Oh, the city is great,
Oh, the city is grand,
There are lots of tall buildings,
On a little piece of land,
We live way up on the 57th floor,
And this is what we do when we go out the door.
Take the elevator up,
Take the elevator down,
Take the elevator up,
Take the elevator down,
Take the elevator up,
Take the elevator down,
And we turn around.
[AC] I do a lot of, I work, right now my storytimes are for two and three year olds and they really thrive on repetition and knowing what to expect at storytime, so I do a lot of the same activities every week. One of them is Little Mouse, Little Mouse which if anybody listening isn’t familiar you have a bunch of houses on the flannel board and then you hide a little mouse, gee I wonder where the name comes from, behind one of the houses and then you say little mouse, little mouse are you in the, and then they guess a color house cause all the houses are different colors. So we do that a lot, and the kids come in and they’re like oh my gosh Miss Anne, where is the mouse today? I say oh I don’t know, they just hide on their own. I do a lot of Raffi’s stuff because I’m a big Raffi geek, but also because I think he’s kind of fallen out of favor and that’s definitely a crime that we can remedy at storytime, so we do that.
[JJ] I usually do this at the end of storytime, right before we say goodbye and I say let’s sing a little song, you might know it, it’s about five little monkeys and I walk through the actions and then we just kind of go from there. So we’ll stop with, and I like to ask the kids and the parents like how many monkeys do we have left and I hope they tell me ‘cause genuinely sometimes I lose track. It’s only five, but sometimes I get so excited and I’m like “Ahhh how many are left??” and so it’s, it’s a really good kind of interactive song and the kids get to jump so. So we’ll do, we’ll jump in with [singing three little monkeys jumping on the bed with guitar playing]. Big finish, no more monkeys jumping on the bed.
[AK] This is like the exact reason why Guerrilla Storytime is so phenomenal, because there are all of these amazing rhymes and songs that you, at least I feel like I would never really give, be able to give them justice just reading about them online, but seeing people perform them and hearing them do them is just, oh man, I have so many new rhymes and songs in my storytime bag from the first Guerrilla Storytime at ALA. It’s like these new things that need to be shared. This is our oral storytelling culture.
[KJ] What I try to say, when a patron says to me, or a staff worker you must just love your job that looks so much fun, like so much fun. What I usually think in my head is that I am really glad that we are so awesome at our jobs that we make all of this look super easy and super fun. Because really that’s what I want patrons to think, is that to me it’s just so much fun. I don’t want them to think anything bad at all about storytime. So, that’s the positive part of people not valuing us maybe as much. We make it look easy.
[AHK] I can’t think of an example, cut that, cut [laughs].
[JJ] Then I can do that I think for like a minute and a half sometimes, hitting the guitar and like pretending I’m gonna like smash the guitar, it’s, it’s so much fun and the kids really like it.
This is Circulating Ideas, I’m Steve Thomas. This episode continues a discussion from last episode with the children’s librarians who put on those great storytimes. In this episode they give recommendations for books to read during storytimes and also talk about how they became children’s librarians in the first place.
My name is Julie Jurgens.
My name is Anne Clark.
My name is Anna Haase Krueger.
I’m Amy Koester.
I am Kendra Jones.
I’m Cory Eckert.
Steve: This talented group of librarians is so great with storytime that I assumed that they had always wanted to work with children, but the answers surprised me.
[JJ] Oh man, when I was in college, I was convinced I hated children, I’m like “Ugh, children, gross!” cause I lived in a house in college for a while and there was one woman who shared the house who had, who would babysit occasionally and like when she had the kid over I’m like “Ugh kids, gross!” But then one time, I don’t remember how it happened, like they were doing something in the kitchen and I was there and I was just talking with the kid, like I would talk to anyone else with less profanity of course cause I had some knowledge of social etiquette, but, and then that was kind of the first time I’m like oh kids aren’t so bad and then after I graduated from college with a bachelors degree in English and creative arts which was just kind of writing and theater and a mish mash of useful things. I was looking for a job cause I, an internship had fallen through and I was living at home and just desperate to get out and do anything, I was applying to anything and everything. I was like radio DJ, I’ll do that. And then there was a, an ad for an assistant preschool teacher and I’m like I guess I don’t hate kids that much, so I went to, and I interviewed and in the interview they asked all these questions and I kind of just, just answered, just gut feeling and apparently they were all the right answers cause the interviewer was like yeah, right on. And so that’s how I started. I started as a person who like just hated children and was desperate to like get out of my mother’s house and move in on my own and I worked as a pre-school assistant in, in that school for how many years? Four or five years and then I moved to Chicago and worked as the B teacher for a couple of years and I just kind of reached this point where I knew I needed to go back to school, cause I took some classes in childhood development after that, I took like maybe 16 credit hours, so I learned about basic child development and, and things like that.
And then I thought I either need to get a Masters in early childhood so I can be a director some day, or I need to do something else because I was just a, a teach, lead teacher in a private school with a bachelors degree and you can’t really move up without further education. And I’m like but do I want to do this cause it’s hard. It’s hard to be a preschool teacher, I worked in a school where the kids were there from about 6.30 am to 6.30 pm and they spent a lot of time with you, and you’re basically a surrogate parent for too many hours a day and I was getting a little burnt out. I’m like I have, I’ve no emotional resources left for anyone after working with these kids all day, so I was trying to find a compromise and in Chicago pretty much all of my close friends were librarians and so I kind of floated the idea one day to my friend Jordan. I’m like so what do children’s librarians do and she kind of broke it down for me and I’m like oh, that’s all my favorite parts of working with kids at the pre-school with none of the toilet training things, or xxxx cleaning and caring of that nature, like reading books and playing games and doing that kind of thing, that sounds awesome. So, that was kind of when I decided to move into librarianship and of course it’s a cult, some of my friends they got, I don’t know they got some kind of pin for, for recruiting another soul into the collective. So, I was glad to help them out. So that’s, and that was about 2006, that’s when I decided to go to library school, and then pretty much after that I started applying for part-time jobs cause I knew that if I had experience when I graduated it would just kind of put me. And that was kind of a little bit before everything kind of went kerfluey and it was really hard to get jobs, like it was, it was a little tough but you could, you could kind of pull through if you were qualified and, and applied to the right position, so yeah, it was kind of a, a long meandering path. Like not as long as some, but yeah, I, I started off as a child hater [laughs]. And now I can’t get enough of working with kids.
[AC] That is kind of a funny story actually. My library career started in college. I was looking for a summer job and I had been an aide in the high school library that I attended and, and I really enjoyed that so I happened to look at the local public library’s website and they were looking for shelvers for the summer and I was like oh that’s perfect, I know how to do that already, I know that. That’s work I feel comfortable doing, so I applied and they hired me and one day I was shelving something on the bottom shelf, I don’t remember what it was, but I was sitting on the floor shelving, I think it was graphic novels and this little girl came up to me and she sat down in my lap. And I was sort of wondering where her mother was, but since I couldn’t see her right away and the little girl was looking at me expectantly, grabbed a picture book off the cart I was shelving from and started reading it to her cause I didn’t know what else to do. And my boss happened to see this and then she came up to me later and she said you know, you should be a children’s librarian and I very eloquently said that’s a job? I didn’t know that was a job. And she said yeah, why don’t you finish your summer work and if you think about it and if you want to come back to the library I’m going to give you a good reference so after I graduated I went back to working at the library, but just in circulation at that point and then at, at a different branch and when the part-time children’s person left, I was already in library school, about half way through and they promoted me and I did my first storytime about three or four weeks later. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was pretty much hooked instantly and flash forward six years and here we are.
[AHK] It was about half way through grad school, I originally, I thought I was going to be a library director or manager. I do really like management and I miss my old job where I was a manager. But then I took this and the elective courses for children’s and children’s literature and the, also the one for young adult literature and I was like oh yeah, this is who I am and I was kind of, like rediscovering this part of myself that I had forgotten for a while because I, I was a camp counselor, camp director, I mean I worked at camp every summer planning activities, programming, I mean basically I spent my summers volunteering doing the job very closely to what I do now, so it was about half way through grad school.
While I had the experts on the line, I wanted to get some recommendations. So I asked them if they could only choose one book to read for storytime, what would it be.
[JJ] One book to rule them all?
[JJ] One book to bind them [laughs] That’s a, that’s an awesome question. It’s not actually that hard for me. I would, my gut instinct was The Monster At The End Of This Book starring lovable furry old Grover. And if I can find the combined edition that had Play Hide and Seek with lovable furry old Grover I would definitely go with that because the, those two Grover books are just so, just classically interactive, there’s a lot of opportunity for the storyteller to, to act out the character and get the kids involved and you can kind of take it in a lot of different ways, so yeah, the Monster At The End Of This Book by John Stone and Michael Smolin would be my choice.
[AC] My personal favorite would probably be Pete The Cat I Love My White Shoes. I’ve never had a group of kids not respond enthusiastically to it. It’s not as literary maybe as some people’s choices might be, but my storytime philosophy is kind of based on the idea that we’re there to have fun, it’s not about the kids sitting quietly, it’s about everybody enjoying something together and I think Eric Litman’s books really represent that.
[AHK] My gosh, there’s so many great choices. One of the books that’s magical for me is called Pickin’ Peas by Margaret Read McDonald and it is actually no longer in print, but I have a treasured copy off of Amazon and it’s sort of a traditional folk tale, so it is longer than would normally work for story time, but it just has that perfect combination of interactive elements and engaging story and great pictures where it works and I can, a crowd of 80 will just be entranced while we read that story, so that’s my personal favorite.
[AK] Why is there only one? That’s so, well okay. That’s a trick question because even if you can only read one physical book, you can still tell millions and millions of stories. So, hmmm, what do you absolutely need the book to tell? I would say if you needed the book I would chose Heckidy Peg by Audrey Wood because the illustrations are beautiful and they make it at the same time both more creepy and less creepy of the story. Obviously it’s for older preschoolers.
[KJ] I think if I had to choose one it might be Huff N Puff because it works for all ages, so if I had like one book that I had to carry round with me to do storytime, or to read to kids it would have to be that one. Cause it would work for any age.
[CE] If there was only one group, one book I could read to any age group, it would probably be a Pete The Cat book because it appeals on a humor level to like a wide age range and it gets them singing and it has great illustrations.
And after forcing them to whittle it down to one, I then asked for other recommendations for stories, songs, crafts, and anything else they do regularly in storytimes.
[AC] There is a dog house story that I do a lot. It’s by Doctor Jean, it’s called Bingo and in this story Bingo is a dog and he goes, he runs away, sadly, so you start by drawing like a little stick figure person at the bottom and that’s going to be you looking for Bingo. And then Bingo, you think may have run away to the park so you go to the park to look for him and then you get swarmed by bumble bees, oh no! So then you draw little dots for the bumble bees and then to get away from bumble bees you naturally have to jump into the pond. So you draw a circle around this stick figure and the bumble bees. And then they leave you alone, so you climb out and go up a hill which is a semi circle on top of the circle for the pond. And then you go down one side of the hill in a loop and back up and then on the other side and then those wind up being the two ears. And then when you’re done you have drawn Bingo the dog and then you ask people where he is and then they say he’s right there. And then you say he was there the whole time? Why didn’t you tell me? And you know, spontaneous applause and everyone things you’re a genius.
Do you do that one a lot?
I do that one a lot. It’s my go-to for any time like I do a school visit with elementary students, or whether they come to us or I go to them. I think it really breaks the ice nicely and it’s a form of storytelling that a lot of people don’t do any more. So they haven’t usually seen that one, although I’ve now done it for so many kids that they’re like are you going to do that story again? And like heck yeah I’m going to do that story again [laughs].
Yeah, I was gonna ask do you have certain ones that kids have, like your, like your regulars, do they request certain songs, or books, or things like that?
Yes. I do a lot of, I work, right now my storytimes are for two and three year olds and they really thrive on repetition and knowing what to expect at storytime. So I do a lot of the same activities every week. I do a couple of action rhymes, open xxxx, the classic, and the kids like that. We do one where they pretend to be different animals and then at the end they sit down and pretend to be as quiet as mice which segues directly into a little mouse, little mouse. It’s almost like I plan these things I swear.
[CE] I’m a die-hard advocate of shaking your sillies out.
[KJ] Yeah. That’s a good one. I am actually now recently addicted to Anna’s Fruit Salad song we have to do that every storytime. But, my go-to really is the bubbles. I do a hello bubbles at the beginning and a hello bubbles at the end and if I ever stopped I would be mobbed by toddlers.
[AK] I guess mine’s a little bit more abstract, but I like songs and stories where you’re using your fingers. So the one I’ve had on repeat for months now is doing Little Bunny Foo Foo and just anything where you kind of let the kids in on this secret of this story and before we tell it, I say alright, these are some things you need to be able to do, can you make a bunny rabbit with your fingers, can you scoop, can you shake your finger like someone did something wrong and like then they feel like they’ve been initiated and that’s when those kinds of songs and stories kind of do for me and my storytime groups, which is why I think they’re, they’re my back pocket need to, need to pep up storytime tool.
[CE] It is the peanut on the railroad track for squishing.
[KJ] I don’t know that one, I’ll look that one up.
[AK] Yeah, and.
[CE] Railroad track, his heart was all a flutter, round the bend came number ten, Toot toot! Peanut butter!
[AHK] I have a lot of sort of organized chaos in my storytimes where on one hand I’m super anal and on the other hand I’m super carefree, so I don’t have a schedule of like every other week we sing this song. It’s like oh we haven’t sung the watermelon song in while, let’s do that one, oh let’s play stars today. The things that we do every week, if I, if I skip them then they, they get upset so they do really, they love the routine that’s built in and so the things we do every week. I have the same opening song, the same closing song, we always do the letter of the day with Fergus my letter monster puppet. He’s like a big muppet, his stick is that the letter of the day, he eats words, so we have a letter of the day and then I have pictures that prompt because a lot of them are too little to really make the connection between M sounds like this and a word that starts with M is mom. The, they don’t, they’re not really there yet, it’s a little advanced for the, the group that I’m generally working with, so I just have pictures of things that start with a letter of the day. So if our letter of the day is T and there’s a picture of teeth, then well we talk about the sound that we make when we see teeth. I say okay Fergus is going to eat that word teeth, do you hear that T sound in there. And then we get it in our fists and they all hold up their little arms and they count to three, we say teeth and they all make a twirling motion and Fergus gobbles up all the words like Cookie Monster.
And then the other thing that we do every week is we count all the people in the room and we do it together, so if there’s 60 people in the room we count to 60 and at first I was kind of like oh I’m just doing this because I need to know how many people are in the room, but the kids really like it and they got upset when we don’t do it and the more I thought about it, it’s like you know, kids don’t get a lot of chances to count beyond 5 and 10 and it’s really good practice for them and it’s tedious for adults, so hey we’ll do it in storytime every week and kill a couple of birds with one stone.
Yeah, well I can say without you my children would not have their favorite book It’s A Tiger, so….
[JJ] [laughs]That book is the best. Like it’s just, it’s, it’s, it completely fits into that there’s a vein of books that are like that, like running away from animals and if they like that one, maybe try oh what’s it called? Walking In The Jungle by Julie Lan… Lacome or something. It’s an older book, but it’s kind of got the same formula, but it’s really good, it’s really great. I like that one too. But yeah, It’s A Tiger, that’s cool. It’s a great storytime book and I like books like that that have kind of a repeated phrase that the kids and parents can kind of learn and then they can, they become a part of the story. I also make them run and work at, and act out the actions cause it’s, I usually read it to like toddlers and preschoolers and I’m like let’s move, so yeah they run, they scream and it’s, it’s a grand old time. The original one, Dinosaur Versus Bedtime, it’s like dinosaur versus grown ups and you just see the grown ups legs and they’re just going blah blah blah and that’s a great opportunity to like improvise. I did that as a team one time and we would say things like blah blah blah taxes blah blah blah mortgage, just like making fun of what grown ups talk about and, and that’s, that’s something I always try and throw in my storytimes. I throw out little jokes for the parents because they, they deserve to enjoy the experience as well.
I think I put it on Twitter yesterday, my storytime on Monday was timed to, to do the scarf part of the storytime. So I, I grabbed the scarf book and I said now time for the hit show Dancing With The Scarves and like I threw the scarves out and you could hear a couple of grown ups groan and I’m like that pun’s for you friends, like. So it, it’s nice to, I like, I caught like the, like the Pixar model of storytime cause like Pixar’s really, Pixar is really great about working on kind of multiple levels without ever detracting from what the kids like. There’s just always like another little layer that, that adults can kind of appreciate, so I try to do that.
I think if people have nothing else, if they get, there’s a musician former early childhood educator named Hugh Hanley out in Boston. He has three music CDs that he’s released and they’re called Circle Songs, Another Circle Songs, and then Another Nother Circle Songs. And they come with a booklet that has like all of the stuff illustrated and he’s really great about, he has, like each CD is about half an hour and he’s really great at sequencing. So it kind of starts out a little like quiet and low key and then he builds things up to a peak and then he kind of brings things down like in a classic story structure. Like you have your opening, and then there’s the climax, and then there’s the denouement, like that’s how a storytime I feel should kind of be put together.
[?] Like you start off and ease everyone in and then you have the, the rising action and the, the huge peak and then you kind of bring everything back down and then I like at the end to also wind the kids back up again and then send them into the world, so. But yeah Hugh Hanley is great if you know no other songs and finger plays besides the ones on those CDs, like you’d be, you’d be set for life cause you can intermix them in a, in an infinite number of ways and then Jan Thomas is really great. Her storytime books are great, like as everybody write for fun. I use those a lot. What do I always grab? I grab, what else is there? For older kids I read Gobble Gobble Slip Slop. It’s a, a retelling of a folk tale. I can’t remember the author’s name, but it’s illustrated by Milo Soh and it’s basically about a greedy cat that keeps eating larger and larger things and you’re like this is crazy, he can’t eat those things and that works really well with like, oh K to 5th graders. At PLA in March along with the Bradley from Skokie Public Library, we’re working on, and there’s another person whose name I forget, we’re working on doing You, Uke Can Do It. You should probably say it Uke cause it’s ukulele. I learned from someone, but Uke Can Do It. And we’re going to have ukuleles that people can like pick up and play and we’re going to teach them some simple stuff because people are impressed with, when I play the guitar, but really if you learn C, G, and D you can play like 99% of children’s songs. Like old Mcdonald had a farm, you can play the wheels on the bus go round and round, and then if I can learn how to play guitar, pretty much anyone can and it just, even if you just know one song on guitar. Cause a lot of times that’s the only song I play and it’s still so, it’s just so effective. It just, it’s the Maria von Trapp effect is what I call it. Soon as you bust out an instrument and start singing, like it just, it’s just magical.
[AHK] I’m going to try not to act like a Valley girl, but I sort of do.
[JJ] Accident report: “child was too imaginative”