Beginning Reader Storytime

I get bored easily. I think that’s why I work well with toddlers and teenagers– we all have a similar hunger for new experiences and pushing boundaries. I was tired of doing the same old preschool storytime. I mean, I loved it, but like I said, I get bored easily. I want to try new things. I want to explore, experiment, and expand my programming horizons. So I changed my preschool storytime into Beginning Reader Storytime. You can read the full story of how my Beginning Reader Storytime began here. This post is going to detail a bit more how I run this particular program.

As I often love to brag, I started out in the working world as a preschool teaching assistant, and eventually worked as a lead preschool teacher for a while as well. My preschool teaching experience has served me extremely well in my career as a librarian and I put it to good use for my Beginning Reader Storytime (after a couple of sessions I changed the age range to 4 years through 2nd grade, and put three year olds into toddler time. This has been a much better fit for both storytime groups).

Nametags are a staple of every storytime, and always having nametags is actually a great literacy activity–learning to recognize your name is the beginning of your experience with letters.

After children have their name-tags, they come in and sit down and I go through my normal storytime opening routine. This is followed by the Storytime Message. On my dry-erase board easel, I write out a message:

January 1st, 2011

Dear Friends,

Tonight we will be reading the book Snip Snap!

I read the message out loud to them–or one of the older kids does it for me–and then I shuffle through their names to choose children to find the letter of the day. For this storytime, I focused on the letter S.

After we circled all of the Ss in the message, I read the book and then we sang the song “Five Little Monkeys Swinging in a Tree.” I’m really brutal with that song; I have the monkeys on the monkey mitt, and they actually get eaten by a fairly realistic looking alligator puppet. The kids love it, though. But if you take this approach, be cognizant of more sensitive children in your group and tailor your bloodthirst accordingly.

Then we went to do our table activity. To transition from rug to table, I sing “Willoughby Wallabee Woo”, asking the children to listen for the rhymes in their names. This week I had story paper, an Ellison cut letter S, a glue stick, and markers. I told the children to glue their S down where they liked on the top half of the story paper.  Then, they could either create an S creature and tell a story about it, write down some words that began with S, or draw anything they liked and write a story about it. Some parents will balk at this open ended sort of thing, but most will go along with you.

Other table activities have included name writing (for 4’s and 5’s who can’t write their name from memory yet, this means copying their name that is written out on sentence strips), alphabet bingo, and lacing with lacing letters. Sometimes the activity is putting together an alphabet floor puzzle, writing on the dry erase board, or playing with magnet letters on the magnetized side of my easel.

If you clicked on any of these links, you’ll see that Discount School Supply is a great resource for literacy games and materials.

I love this storytime. It’s great to give older kids an opportunity to listen to some great picture books, and it really allows me to show parents that early literacy is NOT Your Baby Can Read or Hooked on Phonics, but rather nurturing a love of literature in children by taking the time to share stories, talk, and write.

If anything needs clarifying or if you want more information, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments, or start a conversation with me on twitter or facebook!

-Miss Julie

Falling Behind

September went by in the blink of an eye! I was on vacation for the first part of the month, spend the middle part enduring and enjoying my robust programming schedule (note to self: cut back on both programming and pastry and you’ll be much happier for it), and at the end of the month I presented as part of a panel at the Illinois Library Association conference at Navy Pier. I have a lot of information to share about all that happened in September, and I’d like to do it justice, so a new post will be coming soon.

In other housekeeping/blogging news, in November I’ll have a guest post up at Librarian by Day*. I’m going to discuss adult historical fiction that has cross-over appeal for teens. I’m really excited about it, so I’ll remind you when the post goes up in mid-November.

I’m also a panelist for the 2010 Cybils in the Easy Reader/Early Chapter book category, so the number of book reviews here is going to jump dramatically. I’m really excited to be a part of the Cybils, and I’m happy to have been chosen since it is fairly competitive. I’m well-versed in picture books and YA fiction, so I’m looking forward to expanding my knowledge in a genre that I love but don’t always make time for.

I’m also trying out having a facebook page for my “Miss Julie” librarian persona. I want to use it to connect with other libraries, librarians, and the families that I work with especially. We’ll see how it goes. Do any other librarians have a page like that, so patrons/users can interact with you a bit more personally but still with some boundaries?

*I just realized there is more than one “librarian by day”!  Melissa uses that title and  Bobbi Newman does as well.


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.

summer reading.

I have a complex relationship with the institution of summer reading. I never participated in summer reading as a child, which may explain my lack of zealous enthusiasm for it. I do see its value, and I do love that it gets kids into the library, but there is something about the entire exercise that ultimately leaves me feeling a bit letdown.

I’m trying to make the summer reading program experience a bit more worthwhile for our youngest patrons. What does that mean? Well, it means I created a summer reading log for pre-readers (at my library, four months – Kindergarten and by request*) that demands a bit more from the people who use it: summerpreread3

Previous logs for pre-readers involved little more than listing titles read. With this log (based in part on a version the Bartlett Public Library produced) I’ve asked that the parent or adult reading to the child take the time to incorporate activities that will help their child master the six early literacy skills.

I don’t think asking parents to interact with their children while they read will place an undue stress on them. In fact, I might just be giving them a more precise vocabulary and concise description for things they are already doing with their children. But for the parent that is unaware of how much these simple activities and interactions can help their child, I think that this simple little summer reading log could provide valuable information and service.

I have high expectations of myself as a librarian, and I also have high expectations of the parents of the children that I serve. I believe that if people are shown that a summer reading program can be more than getting free toys and a free book, they will find more value in it. I want my summer reading program to be more about the process rather than the prize. I do not think that this is a philosophy that other librarians share. If they do, I surely would like to hear about it. I feel like the cheese, standing alone,  starting to stink.

What are your thoughts about summer reading? Is it all about the number of people you get in the door, or is it about the experience itself? Or somewhere in the middle?

*By request means that if there is a person of any age who feels that the pre-reader program best meets their needs, they are welcome to sign up for it. I mostly think that this will apply to older children/adults with developmental delays.

Miss Julie

pigs & pancakes

At my (awesome) library, we’ve been using letters of the alphabet to structure our preschool storytimes this spring. I borrowed the idea from Motherreader and tweaked it to my own tastes. Here’s my letter P storytime:

Pigs Aplenty, Pigs Galore by David McPhail

This Little Piggy fingerplay

If You Give a Pig a Pancake by Laura Numeroff

Blow the Balloon/Sticky Sticky Sticky Bubblegum

I’m Invited to a Party! by Mo Willems

Letter P party: name things that start with letter P.

I love Pigs Aplenty, Pigs Galore. If you’re not familiar, it is the story of an Everydude who is, one night, swarmed by hungry, messy pigs (oh, the stereotyping!) Eventually he makes peace with the pigs, and after they clean up the mess they made they all enjoy a slumber party. (While I may not be the world’s best summarizer, it is just that weird). We talk about how those words–aplenty and galore–mean a WHOLE BUNCH of pigs. Some groups really lose it during the underwear part (Pigs from England,/ Pigs from France,/ pigs in just/ Their underpants) and other kids don’t even notice. Depends on how u-word centric they are, I guess.

If You Give a Pig a Pancake is one of the entries in Numeroff’s “If you” series, which intends to educate small children everywhere about the subjunctive mood tense, second person pov, and the dangers of being TOO GIVING. The pig eats her pancakes with syrup, and becomes sticky, so of course I follow this book with “Sticky Bubblegum.”   I learned blow the balloon and sticky bubblegum  from Hugh Hanley.*

I’m Invited to a Party is an easy reader, but it works surprisingly well for preschool storytime if you have an attentive group of kids and you read it in such a way so as to help them follow the sometimes slight changes in the characters’ appearances. At my library, we actually have made a flannel board set, and allowing the kids to actually see the layers of party clothing be added helps them recognize the absurdity of it all.

Then, of course, we end by naming a bunch of words that begin with P, and I write them down on the dry-erase boards. I have a couple kids who couldn’t care less about the stories and songs–they want to tell me all of the words they know, and pronto (PRONTO STARTS WITH P MISS JULIE!).

What are some of your favorite words that begin with the letter P? I like prelapsarian and potentate.

*I hereby COMMAND you in my most authoritative librarian voice to buy all of Hugh Hanley’s books and CDs (three altogether, and if you buy all of them you get a shipping discount). With these CDs in your professional tool-kit, you will never be at a loss for songs and fingerplays. Also, you should listen to all of them in sequence a few dozen times to absorb Hanley’s masterful ability with sequencing and creating a dramatic arc out of a series of songs. Trust me. Do it now. Further, you’ll be supporting an independent musician, which is always a good thing, right?

grizzly murder in [redacted]

When I was still in junior high, that was a headline in my local newspaper. I read the article eagerly, because I was so excited to read about the poor person who’d been mauled to death by a g.d. bear–in my hometown!

As I read, I slowly began to realize that no, no one had been eaten by a bear. It was just the “journalists” in my home town did not know the difference between grizzly and grisly. It was quite the moment in my youth, realizing that at fourteen I knew more than the adults who were working at the town newspaper. (Were you one of those kids? One of the smart kids, but not smart in an IMSA way, but still, too smart for your teachers?)

I always have to look them up to remember which is which, but I love homophones and homonyms (I believe grizzly and grisly are homophones, but feel free to correct me in a pleasant manner if I am wrong). I love looking things up, too, because then I get caught up in the wikipedia article on the topic, and find myself led to read about eggcorns, oronyms, and Thomas’s Under Milkwood.*

Now, I don’t fancy myself a genius, not by a long shot. But I am a reader. Any success I have had or will have is tied to this fact. I didn’t learn how to write a research paper in high school (rather, I wasn’t taught to), but since I was such a voracious reader I had enough of a grasp of how to write that I quickly turned my freshman English comp course papers from failing works marked all over in red pen to papers that garnered comments such as “I do believe you are the nascent creative writer in this course.” I loved that my professor used the word nascent, which I didn’t know, and had the chance to look up. If I wasn’t a reader, I wouldn’t have managed to get into college much less graduated.

I think about this sort of thing when kids limit their reading to the AR list, or when parents force their children to read what they think they should be reading rather than what the kid wants to read. I wish for these kids the freedom to read with abandon, and joy, and choice, so that they, too, can some day feel superior to a small town journalist who doesn’t know about homophones.

I feel like I’ve wandered far afield. That will happen sometimes.

* Here’s my favorite quote from Under Milkwood:

Alone until she dies, Bessie Bighead, hired help, born in the workhouse, smelling of the cowshed, snores bass and gruff on a couch of straw in a loft in Salt Lake Farm and picks a posy of daisies in Sunday Meadow to put on the grave of Gomer Owen who kissed her once by the pig-sty when she wasn’t looking and never kissed her again although she was looking all the time.

Isn’t that just absolutely heartachingly beautiful??


reading, pronouncing, and announcing

Peter over at Collection Children’s Books wrote a great post about having a reader’s vocabulary–you know, those words you know from reading them, but are deathly afraid of using in conversation because you have no idea how to pronounce them? (Subcutaneous was a word I loved, but never spoke aloud. I think I heard it in my head as sub-cut-tan-ee-us.)

Are you that person who huffily corrects people’s pronunciations, spelling and grammar? Are you a jerk about it? Do you get a dirty little thrill from making someone look and feel stupid? Do you do it to CHILDREN as well as adults? Well, quit it. You should be helpful, and use the word again with the correct pronunciation (if you’re sure you’re right), but don’t be that person that makes other people feel stupid. All you’ll really succeed in doing is preventing them from ever using new vocabulary words ever again, and that would be sad. If you love words so much, don’t you want more people using a wider variety of words?

So enough with the word shame. Embrace those mis-hearings and mispronounciations, correct them nicely when you can, and encourage people to use the words they read in the books that we (librarians, teachers) love so much.

Oh, and stop by Collecting Children’s Books and let Peter know what words you mispronounced in your youth.

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box Game Review

Does anyone still deny that video games belong in libraries? Well, yes, yes they do, but I hope no librarians do. Video games in the library can promote social interaction, which is an excellent thing to encourage when you consider that libraries can also be seen as community centers.

But have you thought about all of the video games that have storylines (like the one in the article, that I am totally going to encourage my library to buy)? Final Fantasy, Fable 1 & 2, Dragonquest, Super Mario Brothers (old school), all have fairly intricate plots, and honestly, almost all video games at least have CHARACTERS, which, when last I checked, were an important part of stories, along with plot, symbolism, etc.

Stories are stories, whether they are printed on a page, a screen, or brought to life by actors or animators. We need to realize this, and encourage kids (and, frankly, adults), to TALK about these stories. The talking, I think, is the important missing link. TALK to these kids about how the plot of their favorite video game(s) progresses. TALK to them about how the characters act. Are they cocky? Shy? Do they get angry when they are hurt, or do they cry? Even Mortal Kombat has a diverse cast of characters with rich backstories. It’s like the Forsyte Saga with (more) punching and kicking (and if you can get a gamer to read the Forsyte Saga by reader’s advisor-ing the similarities, please let me know so I can laud you to no end).

But you don’t have to take (only) MY word for it. Check out some of the things that come up from a google search of “storytelling and video games”.

What do you think about video games? Do you agree or disagree?