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!

how to become the best, most versatile baby & toddler programmer ever

1. Buy all of John M. Feierabend‘s* books. Pay special attention to The Book of Tapping & Clapping, The Book of Bounces, and The Book of Wiggles & Tickles.Read them. Find the taps, bounces and wiggles that you like and can perform without feeling too self-conscious. Memorize them.

2. Buy all of Hugh Hanley’s Circle of Songs CDs, which come with photo-illustrated books. Repeat the same process as with the Feierabend books.

3. Buy all of Annie Kubler‘s board books. Revel in the simplicity of the drawings, the diversity of the babies, and the clarity of the nursery rhymes and classic children’s songs such as “I’m A Dingle Dangle Scarecrow” and “Row Your Boat”.

4. Buy all of Helen Oxenbury‘s board books. Enjoy the adorable babies and simple actions that are easy for parents to do with their child during storytime.

5. Buy some simple toys. Baby and toddler storytimes should be half program, half playtime. After all, children learn through play! Play time is also a great time for parents and caregivers to talk, share information, and make friends. Building community is just as important as building emergent literacy skills.

6. Build on the first five steps as needed. This is a solid foundation for baby and toddler program, and a great place to begin if you’ve never presented a laptime or toddler story time before. With these materials in your arsenal, you should be able to present a wonderful program at the drop of a hat, while continually adding new books, rhymes and toys to keep things fresh.

As for the actual storytime, I have my regular opening routine. For babies, I’ll read one book, then go through a sequence of bounces, tickles, wiggles, and songs (I play songs on the guitar, but you can easily sing songs without accompaniment). The order of these doesn’t matter too much. I try to read the babies as much as I can. Some babies love bounces, so I’ll do more bounces. Other babies love singing, so we’ll sing more. I’m happy to cater to their preferences.

For toddlers, I add one more book in the mix, sometimes two more if they’re particularly attentive.

*I just realized he has music CDs as well. You should probably go ahead and get those, too.

In case you’re wondering, at my library, the ages for baby times are 4-18 months, and toddler times are 19-47 months.

P.S. Do your baby and toddler times need revamping or freshening up? I’d be happy to come talk to your staff in person or via skype about programming for these ages. If you like, I’ll also throw in a 30 minute musical storytime for your patrons! Drop me  a line if you’re interested!

Sleepy Storytime

(I wrote this last winter but never finished it, so here it is now, as we are hurtling into fall and winter with its sleep-inducing weather.)

The frigid temperatures inspired me to put together a sleep-themed storytime, since this time of year all I want to do is stay beneath the covers and sleep until spring. (Not to toot my own horn, but I think I did my job too well: one of the teachers with my favorite school group actually fell asleep during this storytime).

Dinosaur vs. Bedtime!

Oh, Bob Shea. Oh, Dinosaur. This book is practically perfect in every way. There’s shouting, making fun of grownups, spaghetti, and the opportunity to yell “DINGDINGDING” at the end of every round. (Now that I think about it, I might try busting out my finger chimes next time I read this out loud. Man I love my finger chimes.) This is a super strong opener, so make sure you’re up to the task of selling the rest of the storytime with equal verve.

“Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed”

I sang this with the monkey mitt. You have a monkey mitt, right? What genius created a furred glove and those adorably ugly puff ball pipe cleaner goggly eyed creations to go with them? Man. Why can’t I come up with something like that? Then I could have an informercial. Maybe even a spot on QVC. Anyway. I love that song, and the kids do too, but I’ve always felt the ending was lacking. I always feel like I should add some sort of pithy capper—“And then the monkeys spent the rest of the night in the ER”! or something, but nothing ever seems to fit. This time around I decided we’d kiss the monkeys owies and then sing them a lull-a-bye. I chose “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Then we tucked the monkeys into bed after they fell asleep. I felt much more satisfied with that ending. Try it; you might like it. Or try sending them to the ER. I’ve also worked in some banter about concussions; parents and teachers really enjoy that, and the kids enjoy that the adults are laughing.

If you have toddlers or want to add a music component, play this version of song while the kids jump, dance, or even shake some shakers:

Ten in the Den.

John Butler’s books are so adorable (cuter than a pillow stuffed with bunnies) I just want to barf glitter every time I read one. Ten in the Den isn’t my all time favorite (that’s reserved for Whose Baby am I?), but it is one of my sure-fire storytime winners. I sing the book, which you really should do, too (no shame if you’re pitchy) along with some hand actions for the kids—rolling their hands for “roll over, roll over” and either clapping or patting their legs when the animal stops rolling.

The Squeaky Door.

I’d normally put a book this long at the beginning of a storytime, but it doesn’t feel right at the beginning. You don’t want to follow this book with anything else besides a “see ya later.” At the end, when Grandma fixes the door, I had the kids help me fix the door by making the squeak get softer and softer until it disappeared. At the very end of the book, I was always afraid that the kids would squeak instead of shhhh, but no one ever did.

Some other sure-fire hits that would fit this theme: Where is the Green Sheep?, Monkey and Me, Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late.

Baby Rhymes!

These are some of the new (to me) rhymes that I will be using during this spring’s baby storytimes. I adapted most of these from  Baby Goose by Kate McMullan, adding the actions in parentheses.

Dance to your daddy
(have baby dance)
Dance to your daddy, my little baby;
Dance to your daddy, my little lamb;
You shall have a fishy in a little dishy
You shall have a fishy when the boat comes in.
(repeat using “mommy.”)

Oh, Baby Went a Walking
Oh, baby went a walking and walked into a store (move baby’s legs)
He bought a pound of sausages and laid them on the floor
Baby started singing la la la! a lively tune
And all the little sausages danced around the room. (swing baby gently to dance)

Hark, Hark the Dogs do Bark
Hark, hark, the dogs do bark (bounce baby in time to the rhyme)
The babies are coming to town
Some with flags and some with bags
And one in a velvet gown.

Cock a doodle doo!
Cock a doodle doo!
Baby’s lost his shoe! (tap baby’s feet)
Baby has looked everywhere
And knows not what to do!
Cock a doodle doo! Baby’s found his shoe! (tap baby’s feet)
Baby’s put it on again
Sing doodle doodle do! 

Donkey donkey soft and gray
Donkey donkey soft and gray
open your mouth and gently bray (tap baby’s mouth)
lift your ears (tap baby’s ears) and blow your horn (tap baby’s nose)
to wake (lift baby up) the babies this sleepy morn

Big Mama Stood
Big Mama Stood
At the tub, tub, tub (bounce)
Three dirty babies
She did scrub, scrub, scrub (tickle baby)
But when they were clean (tap cheeks)
and fit to be seen (tap near eyes)
They all dressed up
and danced on the green. (lift baby)

Dickery, dickery dare
Dickery, dickery dare (bounce baby)
the pig flew up in the air (lift baby)
Run, baby brown!
Quick—bring him down! (lower baby)
Dickery, dickery dare! (bounce baby) 

The Elephant
The elephant goes like this and that (swing baby back and forth)
He’s terribly big and he’s terribly fat. (hug baby)
He has no fingers, he has no toes, (touch baby’s fingers and toes)
but goodness gracious, what a nose! (tap baby’s nose)