Gird Your Loins: Summer Reading Begins!

As I was making the daily schedules this week for our children’s department, I wrote the phrase “Gird Your Loins: Summer Reading Begins” across the top.  Highlighted in yellow.

In our library, Summer Reading sign-up is no joke.  It is a level-five, all-out, nonstop event that is both physically and mentally demanding.  Case in point: yesterday we signed up well over 200 kids within the first six hours!  And we don’t expect that rate to slow down until at least the end of the week.

This onslaught- that has us speaking ourselves raspy after hours of talking about books, prizes, and passports, this torrent of activity that has us sneaking a quick lunch on the fly before jumping back into the fray alongside our comrades, this circuslike atmosphere that has us gasping for breath at the end of our day- this is the fruit of our labors from the past few weeks.  Believe it or not, this is exactly how we like it!

Since May, the Children’s Library team has been visiting every class, every child in town in order to get them riled up and excited beyond belief about Summer Reading.  Imagine that.  Mere days after school lets out, instead of riding bikes, or heading out to the beach, or playing a round of Wii, or signing into their Poptropica accounts, hundreds of children and families flock to the public library to sign up for a program that celebrates reading.  I’ve witnessed children literally running (running!) into the library, crowding around the info desk, tiny hands wringing in anticipation.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll sign up hundreds of kids, give out hundreds of free books, award dozens of cool prizes, and recommended tons of truly awesome summer reads.  And while statistics, sign-up numbers, and door counts can give us definitive proof, our sure sign of success is simply leaving each day totally exhausted and bleary-eyed.  When we librarians are all tuckered out and need a nap, it’s been a job well done!

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True Tales from the Children’s Room

It’s been an eventful few weeks in my library.  I’m not sure if it’s the incremental changes in the weather or barometric pressure or if odd and hilarious incidents are tied to the waxing and waning of the moon.  In any case, here are some of my favorite highlights from the past month:  

Fourth of July in February

A packed audience of about 100 children and parents were enjoying kitchen science experiments performed by two local high school teachers, known as “The Wizards of Chemistry!”  A particularly robust reaction set off the building’s fire alarm and the entire library (all four floors) had to be evacuated.  On top of the inherent cool-factor of having fireworks go off in the auditorium, the fire department and police showed up on the scene a few minutes later.

No Pants, No Shoes, No Story

Some kids are just free spirits.  The group may be listening to a story or doing a craft and I find little Annie or little Jimmy off dancing in the corner or humming slightly out-of-tune or trying to do a handstand.  And that’s OK.  Hey,  sometimes you just have to march to your own beat.  But I draw the line at disrobing in the middle of preschool storytime.  Granted, I may have inadvertently inspired one little free spirit to cast off his pants with my rather enthusiastic reading of Bear in Underwear.  Nevertheless, it is now a storytime rule: while our “listening ears” may occasionally fall off, our pants may not.

Lethal Weapon

A dad and his four-year-old son stop in to pick up some new books.  Dad turns to son and asks “Do you have your library card ready?”  Son replies “No,” while clearing holding said library card in his hand.  “This isn’t my library card. It’s a gun!  Ka-pow!”  Dad turns back with an apologetic shrug and says, “And I’m a democrat!”

Brown Chicken, Brown Cow

Girl, aged 3,  came to the library dressed in a head-to-toe chicken costume (awesome).  I leaned down to complement her superior fashion skills and tell her how much I loved her look.  She looked me in the eye and said, “Mooooo.”

The Flamingo or the Egg?

If you’ve taken the Every Child Ready to Read workshops, you know how important it is to practice dialogic reading.  That is, stopping every once in a while to engage the children and ask open-ended questions about the book you’re reading.  What the Every Child Ready to Read workshops don’t prepare you for are the surprising, embarrassing, confounding, and downright bizarre answers you will undoubtedly receive from a group of preschoolers who now have the undivided attention of an adult other than their parents.

Case in point: During a recent reading of Sylvie by Jennifer Gordon Sattler, I asked the children to look at the illustrations and tell me how they thought Sylvie was feeling.  (Sylvie is the story of a little flamingo who, after discovering that her pink color derives from eating pink shrimp, decides to eat all sort of interestingly-colored items to change her color.  She eats so much that her tiny stomach swells and she feels slightly ill.)  It was at this point in the story that I paused and offered what I thought was a rather well-formed dialogic question: “Look at that illustration of Sylvie.  How is she feeling right now?”

A few timid voices offered “sick” and “her tummy hurts” and “sad.”

Then, loud and clear rang out a different answer:  “pregnant.”

Huh.  “Well,” I began, “what makes you think so?  Is it because her tummy is big?”

“Yes.  And she’s pregnant.  And she’s going to have a baby come out.”

Huh.  “Well,” I began again, “do you think that perhaps her tummy is big because she just ate all that stuff?”

“No.  She’s pregnant.”

Huh.  “Well,” I began again, “Maybe Sylvie is going to lay an egg!”

“No.  She’s not laying an egg.  She’s going to have a baby.  Because she is pregnant.”

Now, it was at this point in the back-and-forth that I began to sense a deep resistance to reason on the part of my preschool debater.  I had to then ask myself, am I going to school this four-year-old in the reproductive system of the avian class?  Or do I just let it go?

Is it appropriate?  What if she goes home and regales her parents with descriptions of mammalian versus non-mammalian birth?  What if she tells her parents that the library lady gave her this wealth of new knowledge?

And what are my motivations for doing so?  Am I really interested in transforming this into a “teachable moment” or am I more concerned with winning this battle of wills?

I looked at my audience of wide-eyed preschoolers, their moist little eyes flicking back and forth between their spokesperson and myself.  They were waiting on my answer and I knew I could show no fear.

“Well.” I met her steely gaze, cocking my right eyebrow ever so slightly.  “That is a very interesting thought.  Thank you for sharing.”  And with that, I turned the page and continued on.

No.  Fear.

photos courtesy of Flickr users Victor Bezrukov and jenniferlstoddart.

Steal This Storytime: Spectrum Edition

Back in 2008 I began blogging over at ALSC about doing programs for children with autism. I felt then, and still do, that is is important for libraries to provide storytimes that are distinct from our usual preschool storytimes for children with sensory issues. Children’s Librarian Tricia Bohanon Twarogowski also did a fantastic series on the ALSC Blog in 2009 on Programming for Children’s with Special Needs.

Since 2008, when the rising number of children being diagnosed with various forms of autism began gaining national attention, few libraries were actively providing programs specially designed for these children.  Now, a Google search of “library storytime autism” pulls up over 80,000 results.  Yes!

It makes me so happy to think about the hundreds of children and parents who are being welcomed with open arms into libraries across the country because of this type of specialized programming.  Every single time I offer a Spectrum Storytime, I am bowled over at the gratitude and appreciation from parents and caregivers.  So many moms and dads of children with autism feel uncomfortable, judged, and nervous in most libraries.  Creating a time and a space just for them is such a small, easy step that can lead to a whole new community of users.

At my library, we’ve been offering Spectrum Storytime as a once-a-month program on a Saturday morning.  It’s a very laid back, low-stress environment in which we sing a few songs, read a story, and engage in a sensory-rich activity.  While I’m very proud of the work we have done together meeting once per month, I’ve been itching to do a weekly series for some time.  So, I am incredibly excited that my library will be offering a 5-week session this April in celebration of Autism Awareness month.  Since this will be my first opportunity to do cumulative projects that stretch from week to week, I’ve been rethinking my usual program plan.  I want to keep the basic structure that the kids and parents have come to know and rely on, but add some elements that build on each other throughout the session.  I’ve decided to keep the “storytime” part the same, but design the sensory activities to create works of art that will begin in week 1 and conclude in week 5.

Below is is my program plan for storytime itself and the sensory activities that will change from week to week.  As always, please feel free to steal it whole or in part.  I would also love any suggestions or ideas!   Continue reading

Steal This Storytime!

Looking to spruce up your preschool storytime with something fresh, diverse, and action-oriented?  Perhaps you may like to steal this American Sign Language (ASL)/Quasi-Valentine’s Day themed storytime :

(If you are interested more information and resources on using ASL in your programs, check out my other posts here, here, and here.)

Age Group: 3 to 5 year olds

Length of program: Approx. 30 minutes, give or take a few for the craft activity

Intro: Greet children by teaching them the sign for WELCOME.  You can also begin by showing them how to sign the first letter of their first name.  (Here’s a printable ASL Alphabet.)

Continue reading

Steal This Rhyme!

Sitting on the (slow, slow, slow) MetroNorth this morning, I came up with a new rhyme for my Preschool Storytime.  Take it, use it, change it up as you see fit!  And enjoy!

Kiera’s Wiggly, Jiggly, Settle-Down Rhyme

Right hand, left hand,

Clap! Clap! Clap!

Roll ’em up,

Shake ’em out,

Tap, tap, tap!  (tap hands on knees)

Blink your eyes,

nod your head,

give your arms a jiggle.

Touch your elbow,

touch your ears,

and shake out all your wiggles!

It’s no Shake Your Sillies Out, but hey, it does the trick.

photo courtesy of Flickr user John-Morgan

Steal this Program: Codes, Ciphers, and Cryptographs!

We just launched a new program called 7, 8, Create! at my library.  Designed for (you guessed it) seven and eight-year-olds, it’s a pretty open-ended program.  One day (depending on which librarian is running it) we might do a story and thematic craft.  Another day might find us mixing up our own batches of slime.  The possibilities are endless!

For my 7, 8, Create! class this week, I decided to harken back to my girlhood obsession with Nancy Drew, spy stories, and anything mysterious and clandestine.  Using Gary L. Blackwood’s Mysterious Messages as a reference, my sevens and eights explored the history of codes, ciphers, codemakers, and codebreakers. Continue reading

True Tales from the Children’s Room OR

How To Clear a Roomful of Preschoolers in Under a Minute.

Last Friday, I hosted our weekly movie program for children under five. We showed a collection of short films about magic and imagination, including the classics Strega Nona and Harold and the Purple Crayon.  I had such a large and surprisingly quiet crowd that even after the thirty minutes was up, I asked the group of kids, moms, and caregivers if they’d enjoy one more film.  The answer was an enthusiastic YES!  And there, my friends, is where my sound decision-making ended. Continue reading

Steal This Storytime!

After years of doing toddler storytimes, it can start to feel like you’re recycling the same old material over and over (and over.)  This is not necessarily a bad thing; the rhythm and rhyme of classic nursery songs and fingerplays are perfect for developing pre-literacy skills.  Plus, parents and caregivers appreciate when you sing songs and recite rhymes that they already know.

Repetition can be good.  That said, if you’re doing one or more toddler storytimes per week over the course of the year, it’s entirely natural to develop a slight twitch and bouts of nausea anytime you hear the opening bars to Five Little Monkeys.  So, here’s a little storytime trick I like to use when I’m getting sick of my usual repertoire but don’t want to completely abandon the material that my attendees have come to expect at storytime: the thematic switcheroo!   Continue reading

Steal This Storytime!

Perhaps because of the oppressive heat and humidity in the New York tri-state area this week, I was inspired to pull out this program plan that I usually use in either early fall or late spring (my favorite times of the year.)  Maybe imagining those lovely, breezy days will help us all cool off a bit.

Theme: A Beautiful Day for a Walk

Recommended age group: Toddlers Continue reading

Steal this Storytime!

Hello and welcome to a new segment I like to call Steal This Storytime! in which I will detail a storytime program plan that has a 100% proven success rate (and by that I mean no children ran screaming from the room, nor did anyone pass out from sheer boredom.)  Let’s get started!

This week’s Steal This Storytime segment is brought to you by the letter “S.”  As in “Sleepy” or “Shhhh” or “Stuffed Artichokes.”  Doing a pajama-themed program?  Or just want an excuse to wear bunny slippers to work?  Here’s my most recent program plan for a storytime we call “Sleepytime”: Continue reading