Storytime Opera

even cats can sing!
even cats can sing! illustration by Kyle Harter http://www.kyleharterart.com

Singing is one of those things that every human can do, but many avoid doing because they think they’re not good at it or that they have bad voices. There is no such thing as a bad voice. There are voices that people prefer to hear, but breaking things down in to good and bad–especially when you’re working with children–doesn’t do anyone any good.

Now I judge the heck out of singers. When people tell me I should audition for America’s X Factor Yodel Idol, or some other such nonsense, I want to cry. Those people aren’t singers. I don’t know what they’re doing–hollering slightly out of time, maybe, or gyrating while they emit sound waves–but that, to me, is not singing.

And there’s definitely a difference between singing on a stage, for people who might have paid to hear you sing, and singing because it feels good and it makes you happy. Ideally those singers on stage are happy when they sing, but not always.

But anyway. Singing in storytime is amazing. Singing and music can bring people together in a way unlike any other art. We know, anecdotally, that rhythm soothes and teaches—that’s why we sing nursery rhymes, and rub our baby’s back when she’s trying to fall asleep. That’s why dancing is so revitalizing for many–the rhythm does, indeed, get you. That’s why massage–the rhythmic stroking of our body–is so soothing. Science is also looking into whether or not music and rhythm can actually be used as medicine. I know that if I am having a bad day, or am stressed out, banging out some c&w rhythms on my guitar can have a positive effect on my mood.

Even without all that, singing is one of Every Child Ready to Read’s 5 skills. So there’s every reason for librarians to be singing in storytime, and programs beyond storytime as well (seriously, I played a Bob Dylan song for a group of 7th graders once and it was amazing).

“But I can’t sing!” you cry. Yes, you can, I reply. If you can talk, you can sing.

Listen. Kids don’t care. They are the perfect audience to sing to. They don’t notice if you’re pitchy, or off key. They love the sound, the rhythm, the melody, the movement. If you’re smiling and excited as you’re singing, they will love you. You will be a rock star in the eyes of toddlers.

“But you’re a singer!” you say. “It’s easy for you!”

Well, perhaps. I’m accustomed to singing, and I enjoy it. But listen– singing with kids isn’t the same as playing a set of original weepy folk songs at the coffeeshop. Firstly, I put everything in a higher key for the kids, so their piping voices can sing along more easily. I’m singing slightly above my range in every storytime, and most times my voice will inevitably break a la Peter Brady.

And no one cares. The adults will snicker if I reference Peter Brady, but no one is shocked that it happened. In fact, it sets everyone at ease and gets more people singing.

Further, the trick is to sing. Playing CDs is fine, but there’s something special about the human voice; and if you have chatty storytime parents, I find it’s much harder for them to talk through my earnest singing than it is to talk through a booming CD track. (I think Storytime Katie has written  about this but I couldn’t find the post.)

I also play guitar. Which kids like. But you know, playing basic folk guitar is not that hard. If you want to be Eric Clapton, that’s another thing. But if you want to play three chords and sing “The Wheels on The Bus”, well, that’s within everyone’s reach. And even then, kids don’t care. One time a kid completely undid the tuning on my guitar and I wasn’t able to fix it, but I played “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” anyway, and not a single kid noticed. They just jumped their little hearts out. Some of the parents grimaced, but, well, that’s the cost of entertaining children–sometimes you annoy the adults.

So sing in storytime! It will only bring you good things, I promise you.

Other singing in storytime stories:

If you’ve written about singing in storytime, please link in the comments and I will add it to the list!

let’s stop worrying and love the common core

You’ll live to be read another day, sweet Catcher in the Rye. Beautiful illustration by naomi yamada.

Dear sweet baby Jane.

So if you want a rage stroke, read the articles I’ve listed below. If you want to just read an accurate description of how the fiction/nonfiction actually breaks down in the Common Core, just read this one.

I think the way everyone (yes, LITERALLY* EVERYONE EVER) was misquoting the 70% figure and assiduously babycrying about Recommended Levels of Insulation being an exemplary text (which it IS, for INFORMATIONAL TEXTS, not LITERATURE) really shows us that our ability to read different types of text SUCKS.

Listen. I think the common core probably has flaws, but I don’t care, because it has at least one major strength: knocking lexile off its perch as the definitive way we give kids books to read.

See, a major component of CC is text complexity. This concept forces us (us referring to teachers, parents, and librarians, mostly) to consider a whole text when we’re deciding when to read it and who to read it with. (I love this mostly because it reminds me a lot of the whole child approach to teaching). Lexile is only one piece of the puzzle. It must be used in conjunction with theme, levels of meaning, structure, prior knowledge demands, etc, to decide where a piece of writing would best be used. (I’d never be able to explain it better than Jackie Owens did in this presentation, so if you want to see how to evaluate a text, check that out, bookmark it, print it out and laminate it–it’s an excellent tool to use.)

The idea is that we want to empower kids to be stronger, more well-rounded readers. We want them to be exposed to a wealth and breadth of reading materials so that they can discover their talents and passions. You know that some kid is going to geek out intensely on that insulation text (well maybe not, but don’t we all know kids who pore over game manuals who could easily and happily make the leap to, say, car repair texts? or mortgage applications?), and who are we to deny that kid that opportunity?

Being able to adjust one’s reading style to the text at hand is an important skill, and one that we’re sorely lacking. You don’t read a verse novel the same way you read your tax form, and if we don’t teach kids that, we’re setting them up for failure. Maybe if more kids knew that it was okay to skim the boring parts of a novel (hello, flensing in Moby Dick and architecture in The Hunchback of Notre Dame) they’d be more able to stick with a difficult novel and get out of it what they could. Further, if we read more informational and technical texts, maybe we’d have been better able to avoid some of the effects of the financial crisis because it wouldn’t have been so damn difficult to read and understand loan documents and mortgage applications.

So teachers, don’t worry, you can keep teaching The Catcher in Rye (shudder) until they pry Holden Caulfield’s literary corpse out of your cold dead hands. But you can also spend a little time reading biographies of some of the famous people mentioned in the text (such as Gary Grant, or the Lunts, perhaps, although I can see many a middle schooler having a field day with that name), or looking at articles of the period from the Saturday Evening Post. CC isn’t about taking anything away, it’s about adding supporting materials to deepen and enrich the experience of reading.

It’s also a great opportunity to insist that literacy isn’t solely the responsibility of the LA teachers and librarians any more. Read a novel in math class (Alice in Wonderland and The Phantom Tollbooth both lend themselves wonderfully to big, beautiful, crazy making math discussions), or read Silent Spring in biology class. I read Silent Spring in biology class when I was in high school, and it’s pretty much the only damn thing I really remember, frankly. For kids who aren’t technically minded, having stories to hang these concepts on is a wonderful scaffolding and support technique. And for kids who love to crunch numbers and muck about with beakers, being exposed to the lyricism of Rachel Carson’s prose or the sheer goofiness of Milo’s adventures will remind them of the human element inherent in every discipline, no matter how far removed it may seem.

SO FRET NOT FRIENDS. The world of literature for children has expanded, not contracted; there is a bounty out there, with something for everyone. Rejoice.

AND DING DONG LEXILE’S DEAD. Or, at least, not so very powerful.

Now I want a ding dong. Or actually, a zinger.

*Chris Trager style

How To Do it Right

Two Common Core Blunders To Avoid–and How to Do It

The Role of Fiction in the High School English Language Arts Classroom

How to measure text complexity

Common Core and Nonfiction, Again

Rage Stroke Articles

Common Core Nonfiction Reading Standards Mark The End Of Literature, English Teachers Say

English Class: Hold the Literature?

Catcher in the Rye dropped from US school curriculum

 

Boundtracks: Pete the Cat and “New Shoes”

Oh, Pete the Cat! I can practically recite you from memory, and there isn’t a group of kids and adults in existence who aren’t magically swept up in your bouncy tale of sloppy shoes. (Although some more savvy color mixers insist that first your shoes should turn pink then purple but I call it a quick charming lesson in suspension of disbelief.)

As I await the arrival of Four Groovy Buttons (having not been terribly impressed with Rockin In My School Shoes, ymmv), I’ve been revisiting the original Pete the Cat, and during my commute this morning I thought that Paolo’s song “New Shoes” would be a great pairing (ha! pairing! shoes! ahem) during a storytime. You could have the kids just get up and dance, or if they need a bit more encouragement, pass out shakers or dancing scarves to help them find the groove.

Videos:

 

On the Front Lines

I’m attending a small but mighty conference at the state capital called On the Front Lines this week, and I had the pleasure of presenting Tech for Tots to a lovely group yesterday afternoon. I’ve put together a Pinterest board of all the articles I used while putting the slide show together, so head over there if you want to read further.

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Essentially my talk covered screen time for kids, and the difference between new tablet/touch screen technology and good old fashioned television. My basic philosophy is this: tv is passive, and will do nothing for children, especially those under two. Tablets, and their accompanying apps, are more interactive, and especially when parents spend time teaching their children to use the apps.

Many thanks to Little Big Blog for creating the awesome, mocking Your Baby Can … series (and the blog url is wrong on the slide, sad face!), and to Walton Goggins and Benedict Cumberbatch for being incredibly attractive.

Storytime Specials

About every other month at my library we present what we call a Storytime Special, which is a 45 minute program for 4-8 year olds that includes stories, a treat and a craft centered around a theme. I like to use these programs to stretch stories in different ways, or to give the kids and their parents a somewhat fancy and free outing, or to simply entertain myself.

Themes have included Frog and Toad Tea Party, Colorlicious (a more gender-neutral Pinkalicious program), Winter Wonderland, Shark Versus Train, Hot Dogs (there are so many encased meat picture books, you guys), and many more. I’m going to write up all the materials for the individual programs, but for now here’s a sampling from them to show you how we do:

Colorlicious Tea Party
Frog and Toad Tea Party

You can see more videos from these programs on my youtube channel as well.

Beginning Readers Storytime: Art Adventure

After having my Beginning Readers Storytime for several sessions, I began to feel a familiar feeling: boredom. I was bored. I needed something new, exciting, thrilling. I needed to challenge myself.

Yet, I am not completely insane. The program was popular and well-attended, and people looked forward to it. I didn’t want to sabotage that. So what could I do?

I decided to tweak. (Not like a meth head. As in, to fine-tune or adjust a complex system. Because, yo, storytime is a complex system if ever I saw one.) I would keep the name, the day, the time, and the basic format–but this time around, the literacy activities would be replaced by art activities. Which, when you think about it, are literacy activities. There’s a rich, fun vocabulary in the art word: brush; stroke; acrylic; watercolor; collage; paste. Using a paint brush or colored pencil to draw develops the same fine motor skills that one uses when writing. And, of course, we began each sessions by reading aloud a  picture book with beautiful art  to serve as inspiration for our own art projects, specifically the collage technique of one Eric Carle. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.

This is a five week series. Week one we talked about the project and I gave everyone time to peruse Eric Carle’s books and other picture books that use collage. The second week we painted our backgrounds onto our very own canvases (foam board from the craft store). I’ll talk about the next steps in further posts.

How about you? Do you use art in your storytimes–art, rather than just a craft? Do you ever get BORED?

books to give, books to get

Books to Give

If you need ideas for holiday gift giving this year, and want to give a book, I highly recommend going over to Mother Reader’s site and utilizing her “Ways to Give a Book” series. Quality stuff, and if you have to participate in the craziness of STUFF exchange, you might as well give a book. Since I never have any extra money, I hardly ever am able to give gifts, but even I will break down and buy a beloved classic at the thrift store to share with my nephew or other children I am lucky enough to know.

Books to Get

Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal

I hate snow. A fresh white blanket of it only reminds me of The Stuff, and if I have to drive in it–ugh. So much unhappiness.

Yet this book, with a layer of fresh snow at its heart, has managed to win me over. The quiet, simple, understated prose is perfectly suited to the topic of what happens over and under a layer of new fallen snow, and the bold lines and clean images of the art are a perfect complement. This book is an ideal one on one bedtime readaloud during the season, and it would work equally well being read aloud in a science classroom during a discussion of seasonal changes or hibernation. Bringing quality literature into all curricular areas–not just during language arts–is critical if we want to keep kids reading and excited about reading.

This book also presents a conundrum–Baker and Taylor suggests a nonfiction number for it, which I suppose makes some sense, especially with the rich author’s note and further reading suggestions, but I also think it would be better served in a public library being shelved with the picture books. What do you think? Where would you put this book?

The Conductor by Laetita Devernay

Somewhere in my childhood I must have had a book that was tall and skinny like this one, because the shape seems so familiar, but I can’t quite place it in my memory. The story–a wordless one, of a conductor conducting a symphony of nature, transforming leaves into birds and back again–also seems familiar, but I can’t tell you why.

The lines and limited color palette certainly bring to mind Caps for Sale and Edward Gorey, and the environmental slant reminds one of The Lorax, but I think this book reminds me of so many other things because it is just a good book–it knows what its saying, but it is also loose enough to allow for many different experiences while reading it. I think it would be amazing fun to play different pieces of instrumental music while viewing this book, and see how the music changes the way the swooping leaves and birds appear to you.

Both books are review copies kindly provided by the publisher.

 

 

Summer Reading, pain in my…*

Summer Reading. We spend all year working on it. We can’t escape it.

I hate it. I hate summer reading.

But…but…it helps kids retain their reading skills over summer vacation!

You know why we even have a summer vacation?

So kids could spend the summer months helping out on the farm.

Wait…your kids don’t live on farms? They live in the suburbs? Or the city? Or even if they do live on a farm, it’s such a large farm that their meager help isn’t necessary during the summer months?

“Why operate on a calendar designed for the economy of the last century?” Kelly Johnson, communications coordinator for the National Association for Year-Round Education, asked Education World. “As we head into the 21st century, I don’t know of very many children who must work on family farms. So why do we continue to implement a calendar which has no educational advantages?

There’s no reason for summer vacation. Sure, it’s nice. Teachers love it, and probably want to punch me in the face right now. But really, why are we holding onto something that is nice but ultimately detrimental to our children and families? It has to be terribly difficult for working parents to find child-care for three months out of the year. I’m assuming a lot of kids just stay home unattended, or they get dropped off at the library for eight or more hours a day, without even a snack. Rarely will a child spend all of that time reading. Most of it is spent talking with friends, playing on the computer, or rolling around on the ground, rending his garments and crying “I AM SO BORED!”** Wouldn’t that time be better spent in school?

Are American schools serving up a quality education for all students? Although we provide students more years of formal schooling than any other nation, our school year is short, usually only 180 days. The world’s average is 200 to 220 days per year, and Japan’s is 243. (See “Give Kids More School,” USA Today, August 31,1992.) Over time, this difference can add up. [emphasis mine]

Further, in Chicago (where I live but do not work), our school days are among the shortest in the nation. We spend fewer days in school and even on the days we’re there, we’re not there for very long. And how many of those days are no more than an hour long?

Don’t worry about it, though! Summer reading will fix everything! Prizes from Oriental Trading and reading logs are an amazing cure-all for YEARS of educational neglect!

When a child is struggling with reading, I think the last thing s/he wants to do is spend the entire summer being forced by a well-meaning parent to read. Because that’s all it is– we give them a piece of paper or a database log-in and say, Here ya go! Read! Maintain your skills! What if Billy’s an eighth-grader and his reading level is only at the second grade? What good does it do for him to maintain that? How is he supposed to begin reading at his grade level without support, direct instruction, intervention–you know, SCHOOL?

The library is NOT school (no matter how many of my little patrons call me teacher), and most librarians are not equipped to teach children–or anyonehow to read, and I believe this is a major failing of most library school programs. How do we expect people to be invested in the library when they lack the one skill that makes it worthwhile? And even if libraries move away from storage and preservation towards content creation, how can we expect illiterate people to create content? How can we document community stories when the majority of the population lacks the ability to tell a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end? If we’re going to be putting on this “program” that is supposedly going to keep kids from falling behind in school, shouldn’t we know how literacy is developed, how kids learn how to read, how adults learn how to read? How many librarians reading this right now have a clue as to how any of that works, and how to apply it in a library setting?

This doesn’t mean I am opposed to fun programs at libraries, especially for children. I love programming and telling stories, and filling the library with whimsy. I think decorations kick-ass. I just think that libraries should do that sort of thing ALL YEAR, and not just spend all of their time, effort, and money during the summer, when, frankly, most people are just there for the chintzy prizes. Kids that want to read will read, regardless of how charming and well crafted your summer reading program is. Children who can’t read and don’t like to read won’t read, and your posters, prizes, and logs won’t help them one damn bit.

Much like a Vulcan, I can’t stand things that I find illogical, and I find the Summer Reading Program, with its high minded, idealistic mission, to be a completely illogical artifact of the past. I also never participated in it as a child, so I don’t adore it slavishly out of misplaced nostalgia. Yet I am an above average reader and writer, so I guess the lack of summer reading really didn’t hurt me any, did it? And I was one of those farm kids who was so urgently needed on the farm during the summer, one of those bare-foot, dust covered urchins that summer reading was supposed to help so much. Perhaps all that time I spent listening to my father ramble on about hog prices and what the neighbors down the road were up to helped my literacy skills more than I knew.

In summary, I do believe that the average summer reading program is little more than a crutch for the failures of the average American school system. What do you think?

NOTES

School calendars around the world

This article has a ton of links at the end about school calendars, start times, etc.

*to the tune of “Summer Lovin'”

**This is only a slight exaggeration.

we don’t need you, either.

The Summer Reading program. It is the event  that youth librarians spend almost their entire year either preparing for or recovering from. Children and parents descend, en masse, worked up into a froth of excitement from the promotional tour–books were booktalked, prizes were displayed and demonstrated, and the joy and pleasure of the program were hyped to the extreme.

Summer Reading, in my opinion, should be about the joy of reading, with the bonus of getting tacky plastic crap in return. I hope most libraries also give away books; in most programs I’ve worked in, that is the final prize. I also see Summer Reading as a time for kids to experience the freedom to read what they want. No AR tests, no quizzes, just–read. Enjoy a story, or a set of facts, or a recipe. Listen to an audiobook, or idly flip through a magazine. Read a video-game guide while you play your current favorite game (and people who think gamers don’t read, have you seen the super-thick game guides that are out there? Lots of text, and pretty complex directions to follow as well. So, shut it, people who claim video games are anti-literate; between the guides and the story inherent in most games, gamers are incredibly literate.)

I’ve recently heard a sad tale of a library that restricts teens to reading only YA titles for their summer reading. That sounds so nonthreatening, right? But it isn’t. It’s step one down the slippery slope of restricting access to materials. What if a teen doesn’t want to read YA books, and prefers adult books? Stephen King and Dean Koontz are popular with teens, as is Jodi Picoult and Nicholas Sparks and his LOVE stories (don’t call them romances). Tough sh*t, guys; you’re gonna read what the librarian tells you to read. And don’t forget, when adding up your totals, 2+2=5.

This library also denies teens the ability to check out movies based on rating. Even a 17 year old, who could see an R rated movie in the theater, can’t check out an R rated film from the library, because if you’re 17, you have a card that is color coded to indicate that your access is restricted.

This, my dear friends, is censorship. It is acting in loco parentis, which is frankly not the librarian’s job.

I hate these policies, and all too often teens are the ones suffering the most. Why can’t teenagers get a break?

Thinking about this stuff just makes me feel so sad and tired. Does anyone have any stories about awesome libraries that go out of their way to defend the rights of minors to access information?

story:

OR, You Can’t Have Transliteracy without Literacy.

“So my phone broke so my grandson got this new phone for me, but it didn’t come with a manual or anything and I can’t figure out how to make a call on it….”

“My microsoft word doesn’t look like this one. All I want to do is edit my resume and I can’t even figure out how to open it from my disk.”

“Do you have anything about sign language for babies? My baby keeps moving her hands around and making noises, but I don’t know what she’s saying.”

“I saw it at my friend’s house. It has two girls on it, with blond hair. Or light brown hair. They’re twins. One can see into the future and one can see into the past. The title was in green letters.”

“I did so bring those books back. I went to the bank and then I came here and put them in the drop-off outside. Look for them again!”

Everyone has a story. Every question or interaction we have in a library is rooted in story. There are characters, events, obstacles to be overcome, arcs to be completed, resolutions to be reached. There are comedies, tragedies, and sometimes even gothic tales of horror. We listen to stories from our coworkers and our patrons alike, and the level of skill these storytellers have can greatly influence the tenor of our transactions.

If  a patron’s story is incomprehensible or not compelling, it will harder for us as librarians to participate in the tale. If we are unfamiliar with the new genres of personal storytelling–I’m thinking particularly of the techno-genre, with its vast and quickly changing cast of characters and jargon–we’ll be even further left behind.

If we can’t spin a tale to our managers and directors that convinces them of a need for a new service, program, or material, we suffer as well as our users. Your entire professional life will become a film missing its final reel, or a book with the last ten pages torn out of it. Do you want to live with that amount of frustration and dissatisfaction your entire life? Do you want that for your patrons?

The jump to e-readers, smartphones and iPads is not a harbinger of death for reading; it is, actually, an expansion of the way we can tell and experience stories. Reading is not the only way stories are told. It never has been and never will be. There was oral storytelling and visual storytelling long before humanity created alphabets, writing, and books. Blogs tell stories, twitter feeds tell stories, hell, even the lolcatz tell stories. The story isn’t going anywhere. It’s simply putting on a new dress and dancing to a new tune.

One of the six early literacy skills is something called narrative skills, which means being able to tell or retell a story, and being familiar with the elements of a story–there are characters, events, a beginning, a middle, and an end. We need to remember that even as the scope of our work widens, we can still break it down into small, simple, and easy to understand concepts–and we should. For everyone.