Ask a Storytime Ninja: Disengaged Storytime Audience

Have you ever had a storytime where you feel like you’re the only one actually listening? What would you do with a consistent disengaged storytime audience? Our ninjas gave some great advice! Stick in their Question Asker, it will get better!


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The Question: 

I’ve just recently started delivering storytime at the library where I work as a reference assistant. I am a pretty nervous public speaker and I was a nervous-wreck before my first session of the six week toddler series. But I practiced like crazy so that I would know my stuff. It wasn’t nearly as nerve-wrecking as I expected.


However, I didn’t feel anyone was too engaged. There were about 10 of the 15 children registered who showed up, plus a few siblings and of course the parents. A few were very interested, they sat close and responded to my questions about the books and rhymes.


The next week, less than half of the children showed up. I was so disappointed! To make matters worse, just one of the children was interacting and responding. The parents didn’t express any interest and weren’t much engaged (during week one or two).


I don’t know what I am doing wrong. But it really has bothered me. I feel really detached from the children and parents despite the fact that I really love working with children. Maybe it is just because I am so new to this. Usually, I work with the children during big events or assisting with activities and generally with slightly older kids. But I really want to excel at storytime!


Please, any suggestions would mean so much!


The Answers


Shelley says:

I make a few announcements before we start class. Parents can use phones, but they must turn off ringers. I advise caregivers to participate so that the children will get more out of our time together since these caregivers are their major role models. Lastly, if the kids are upset, they should feel free to step out for a minute and come back.

Building a relationship with your class takes time. It may be that you need to retool the program a bit. Pick books that are participatory to get them involved. For example when I read the book Wolf’s Coming by Joe Kulka, we ring bells every time I read, “wolf’s coming!!!” in the story. It is really important to keep things moving to keep up with their attention spans. Changing one song that is too long or having back up stories that you know well in case things aren’t flowing may help. Read other librarian’s blogs to see what is working for them, it will spark ideas for your classes.
As far as attendance sometimes patrons take our free programs for granted which has nothing to do with your abilities, but can be utterly frustrating. I send an email to all caregivers who register telling them the dates, how to contact me, and what to expect from our classes. I also advise them that if they miss 2 classes without contact, we will give their spot to another child on the waitlist. From your question it shows you really want to succeed and you have heart so don’t give up.



Valerie says:

If you are new to working with children, I think the best piece of advice I can offer is this: children can seem completely disengaged when in fact they are absorbing everything around them. The ages that we normally work with in story time programs have usually not been to school yet, and so are not used to sitting still and paying attention as we know the concept. Don’t be discouraged!


What has worked wonders for me is scanning my books and projecting them onto a big screen. Kids love seeing the pictures in books, and this ensures everyone can see the pictures. It also offers a great opportunity to interact with the kids, asking questions like: “How many fish are on this page?” and circling them with the mouse as you count them. This can help with nerves too as the kids are looking at the screen/pictures more than at you.


Lisa says:

I went through the same thing long ago—we’d had a librarian who did incredible programs, right down to playing the guitar, and she left, leaving me as the sole programmer! I was petrified! I went in the first week and said—“I’m sorry I can’t play the guitar like Miss B, but I bet you don’t do that at home. Neither do I.” I kept one or two elements of her program—opening and closing things mostly—and then started doing things on my own. And I learned that I loved doing that age group and that I could do it well. Not the same program as “Miss B”, but my own special thing.
Odds are, people coming or not coming has little to do with your program. My programs are very popular locally, but some weeks everyone comes down with the same flu bug, or a new playgroup starts, or people are out of town. It happens. Don’t take it personally.
Building an audience takes time. You’re the new girl on the block. Give people a chance to find you. If word gets out that you are running a fun program, your audience will grow. And grow. And grow…


Two year olds are NOT toddlers, and there is a vast difference between a 24 month old, a 30 month old, and a 35 month old. But even that 24 month old is old enough to interact with their parents/caregivers and with you. They can sit and listen a bit, but they generally still have short attention spans, especially if they’re not involved in what you’re doing. A fly in the room will distract them. The kid who comes running up front to grab your book will inspire others to try the same. You can plan & practice, but things will happen!


So pick simple books without fussy illustrations. You want bold, clear pictures and uncomplicated plots. Twos love books about real things—farm animals, vehicles, stuff like that. As Shelley said, audience involvement is key. I’m not talking about “asking questions”—unless it’s part of the plot– but rather by having the kids react to things that are in the book. Think of the chorus “Bear Snores On,” or, “But he was STILL hungry!” in The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I personally love books with songs. But don’t pick a book YOU don’t love—you are selling this book to your audience, and if you don’t like it, it won’t work.


Pack your programs with songs, action rhymes and movement. Books are vital, but a lot of twos get too much time sitting down in “classes”—and that includes library programs. More & more studies show the connection between large muscle and brain development. Get them up and moving and blowing off steam!


When you do this age group, you have to play to the parents/nannies as much as the kids. Look for ways they can participate actively—and ask them to do so. They are the role models for their kids–when the kids are up and moving, they need to be at least standing up.


Above all, roll with what happens. Expect the unexpected. This is the age group where things will seldom go just as you plan them—but that can be a fun thing, believe it or not!

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Free Training Resource: “Zoning in on Children’s Spaces” from Demco

Last month, I asked readers like you what new types of regular features you’d like to see here on Storytime Underground. One of the two top requests was for free training resources. Starting today, you’ll get links and information about a free training resource every month.


November’s free training resources is a webinar sponsored by Demco: “Zoning in on Children’s Spaces: Engaging Your Youngest Visitors” given by Kimberly Bolan Cullin. I had the opportunity to see Bolan Collin speak a few ALAs ago, and I was fascinated by all she had to say about creating deliberate spaces in the youth areas of the library. I’m excited that everyone can take advantage of this archived webinar–and all the accompanying resources!


Click on this screen grab to access this webinar & resources!

Click on this screen grab to access this webinar & resources!

So take a bit of time to engage with this webinar and think about how you can thoughtfully and deliberately create spaces that your target audiences will use. I, for one, love this idea of zoning spaces for specific ages of library users. Go forth and get ideas!


* Don’t forget that viewing a webinar counts toward the Grasshopper Badge in Storytime University! Create a Storytime University account and log all of your awesome professional development work, you stellar youth services ninja, you.
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Librarians- Check Your Holidays at the Door

Every year, about this same time, youth services staff start asking the same kinds of questions. “Do you do a Hanukkah/Christmas storytime/program in your library? If so, what do you do?” or “Do you decorate your library for the holidays?” or “Is it important to represent ALL the holidays in the winter?” And so on, and so forth. And every year, I get ranty and ragy about this. Usually just to friends and colleagues, and this year, you are all counted as such. Lucky you!


Let me just cut right to the chase. I am vehemently against holding holiday programs in any library, especially when the holidays have religious foundations. Frankly, even if they are more secular holidays (think Halloween and Valentine’s Day) I believe in approaching them with caution. Even these holidays cannot be celebrated by some of your population (Jehovah’s Witnesses, to mention one group) and you are denying them access to your resources by holding a program based on a holiday of any kind. Try focusing on pumpkins and other festive, fall topics rather than trick-or-treating and Halloween. How about love and pink and red and glitter in February? No need to mention the holiday in order to satisfy your patrons’ desires for some fun festivities — if you really can’t stand to let go of the holiday celebrations, that is.


I’d like to challenge you to do just that, however. Let it go. There is absolutely no need to hold a holiday celebration in your library. You may say, “It’s fun! People want it!,I want it!” and I will say to you, “Lots of things are fun! People will get it for free in lots of other places! And I don’t care what you want–programs are for your patrons (ALL patrons), not for you!” If you love Christmas so much, use your programming expertise and plan something for your church, or friends and family–all willing participants who likely feel the same way you do.


Allow me to explain why you should not provide holiday programs this winter, or ever.


You are not an expert on holidays of all kinds. You cannot accurately explain the meaning behind Hanukkah, Christmas, or any holiday, when a young patron asks about them. If a young patron asks you to explain the birth of Christ, you would not sit them down and tell them what you believe to be true. Rather, you would show them the wide variety of materials explaining this from many points of view. You would do a reference interview to make sure you are answering their question as best you can with the resources you can access. Likewise, if someone asks you about a holiday, you should provide them with information and not share your personal knowledge, or lack thereof, of any holiday. Unless you plan on having someone come in to talk about the various holidays of their culture, and you plan on doing this all year round, just don’t go there. You run the risk of deeply insulting someone who celebrates a certain holiday if you present it inaccurately, and honestly, you just shouldn’t try to teach people about things you don’t know about.


In my opinion, this falls under the same category as offering medical or legal advice–just don’t do it! Even if you are an expert in some religion or another, you should present about your expertise outside of work time if you so desire, but not on the taxpayer dime. You are representing the library when you present a program on work time. And unless your library is coming out as Christian, you shouldn’t be presenting programs about Christian holidays (or any holidays; this is just an example).


Stop thinking from a traditional, privileged point of view. I sometimes get the impression that anglo tradition is screaming “It’s not fair! I want to do Christmas in the library!” in a Violet Beauregarde tone, stomping its privileged feet. It is not your right to celebrate Christmas in a public institution. It is your right to celebrate whatever you want on your own time and help patrons find places, outside the library, that offer celebrations or events around any holiday in which they might be interested. As Angie mentioned on the Storytime Underground Facebook page, those who celebrate holidays during the winter have plenty of places to go to celebrate (churches, etc.). They don’t NEED the library to help them celebrate. Conversely, those who do not celebrate Christmas, specifically, have very few places (basically just their own home, if they have one) where “holiday spirit” isn’t in their face constantly. The library should be one of these places.


We are NOT being diverse by including a holiday like Hanukkah in our themed programs for the winter. We are being narrow minded. Ask yourself, “Why Hanukkah?” Did Jewish patrons ask for this type of programming? Have you spoken with leaders in the Jewish communities? Muslim communities? Native Peoples? Indians? And on and on and on? Have you even connected with any of these groups in your community? If you answered no to any of these questions, maybe you should spend time building some relationships instead of planning Santa’s visit. Don’t ignorantly and selfishly pick holidays from these non-anglo cultures that happen about the same time as our precious Christmas. Not cool, people. Celebrate diversity by allowing ALL people to participate in ALL library programs. I really like what Angie (yes, I’m quoting her again, because duh) said in regards to inclusive, diverse programming:


There’s a lot I exclude from programming because of the simple fact I have limited time. Because here’s what it comes down to for me: do you have a Yule storytime for your pagan patrons? Do you have a storytime with no themes but lots of crafts for your atheist patrons? Do you have a Eid al-Fitr storytime? Last year I found out lots of international patrons, particularly those from Italy and Spain, were upset about all the holiday focus on Santa and presents, they wanted books and themes with more focus on the birth of Jesus. Where do I fit that in? If you leave out one of these, or a dozen others I could name, then, hey: why do you hate diversity?

OK, you say to yourself. But I have 10 pagan patrons and 100 Christian ones. Doesn’t it make more sense for me to have a program for the 100? But ya know? I don’t want to provide services and programs to the 100 people at the cost of 10. It’s that simple to me.


Still not convinced? Let me paint you a picture. It’s Wednesday and you’re 9. You come to the library every Wednesday for the library’s craft program. This Wednesday your mom says you can’t go. This Wednesday they are making Santas and Reindeer in the craft program and your family doesn’t allow you to participate in such activities due to your religion. The one place in the world that is still supposed to be open and inviting FOR ALL has just excluded you. And as librarians, we have all failed for allowing this to happen.


Step outside yourself this year, get creative, and offer programs in which everyone in your community can participate. And if you are having a hard time explaining to some patrons and staff why you are leaving Santa out of the library this year? Channel Angie once again: “I have books for everyone, I’ll be happy to help you find them and even recommend some favorites. Please feel free to share them with your families and children and in your churches and ceremonies. But we are a public institution and we’ll be programming around snow so that every kid can feel welcomed, not just the majority.”


I’ll leave you with this quote from Mark Twain. “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

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Ask a Storytime Ninja: The Dreaded Storytime Interview

Raise your hand if you had to give a storytime during an interview. I personally think it’s one of the worst things ever. The interviewer is asking an anxious and stressed person to pretend to read to a bunch of 3 year olds, who are really a bunch of adults who are deciding your fate. Not an easy situation to be in! Let’s see what our ninjas have to say this week.


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The Question:

I am looking to advance in my career as a storytime person. I have an interview coming up and I need to present a preschool storytime as part of the process. I have many titles going around in my head, but can you suggest some other titles. The stress is clouding my views. Thank you.


The Answers:


From Shelley:

What an awesome question there are so many choices. When I plan my storytimes, I pick a theme for each class. It helps me organize my thoughts into developing a plan. I search for books that will fit the theme from my past classes, new books to our collection, blog posts, and colleague suggestions. Books that invite participation and are funny will help you make a connection with your kids. Practice with the books you choose and make sure you like them. Here are some of my favorites titles, good luck and have fun!


Bark George by Jules Pfeiffer
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Willems
Day Out with Dad by Stephen Cook
Wolf’s Coming by Joe Kulka
Peanut by Linas Alsenas
Penguin in Peril by Helen Hancocks
Off We Go A Bear and Mole Story by Will Hillenbrand
Big Smelly Bear by Britta Techentrup
Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin
Head to Toe by Eric Carle



From Valerie:

I agree with Shelley that creating a theme can be very helpful when planning a storytime. Going even further, I try to follow a formula for my storytimes so I know there are a variety of engaging activities built into each one. My formula is: welcome song, one book that I simply read to the kids, song based on the theme, one interactive element such as a finger play, one flannel board/puppet show/magnetic story to emphasize that storytelling is a multifaceted art, and an activity for participants such as a coloring page related to my theme. Creating your own formula and having a theme may help you focus your choices.


I would also suggest bringing some props with you to the interview, even if all you have is a sock for a puppet. This shows that you are prepared for and committed to the material and your preschool audience. It can also help take some of your jitters away as the focus of your audience, in this case your interviewer(s), will shift from you to the puppet/prop.


Here are some great books I would suggest:

Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein
Parts by Ted Arnold
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff
Don’t Squish the Sasquatch by Kent Redeker
I’m A Shark by Bob Shea
Gary and Ray by Sarah Adams


Whatever book(s) you choose, just make sure to have fun with them. As I say to my parents in storytime, if you’re engaged and having fun the kids (and in this case the interviewers) will be sure to have fun too. Good luck!


From Lisa:

Okay, take a deep breath. Now take another. And another.


Now close your eyes and think about what you LOVE to do at your story times. What book is the one you love to share? What song or game or fingerplay is THE surefire hit–the one the kids want to do over and over, or the one that you find always gets them singing along?


I don’t know how much time you have, but don’t build an earnest program filled with what you think you SHOULD be doing, or so that everything fits the theme regardless of your taste. I was a self conscious, BAD storyteller until I threw away the rule book and discovered my joy in what I did.


I recently interviewed several people for an assistant’s job. One of them was a young man who clearly wants to do YA work. But he interviewed and read “Frederick” by Leo Lionni with huge enthusiasm and great delivery–and while we didn’t hire him, I know he will be a great YA librarian soon! And the young woman who is now my assistant read “Click Clack Moo, Cows That Type” by Doreen Cronin. Both her book choice and her sense of fun in the delivery convinced everyone she was the one we wanted to hire–and I love having her here.

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For the Children: A Rant

You know what I hate? When people argue something is wrong with the library/school/any public space children frequent, but they’re only bringing it up (concerned face) out of concern for THE CHILDREN.


It goes something like this (with my commentary in the footnotes):


“I read somewhere (1) that X is bad for kids. And I think it’s pretty clear (2) that X is going to lead to Y. So I don’t want kids doing X, and lots of other people (3) agree with me. So you should change the collection/layout/schedule/rules (4) of the library/school/etc. so that kids aren’t damaged by X.”


(1) “…in a news source that I read because it reinforces my own views”

(2) Inner debate club cheerleader: If I say something is ‘pretty clear,’ you seem irrational not to agree with me, even if I’m being hyperbolic, reductionist, or using a straw man argument.

(3) “…whom I’m friends with because we share values like THE CHILDREN”

(4) “…because it’s totally rational to expect any old library employee to be able to snap their fingers and change things into the library of my dreams” (5)

(5) If we could snap our fingers and have the library of OUR dreams? Obviously we would do that. Is this library perfect? No? Ergo…


Sometimes, I have the sneaking suspicion (6) that arguments like these aren’t really about the children at all. They’re about being right. And I think it is a huge mondo problem that we all want to be right all the time, instead of having thoughtful discussions in which all parties listen; all parties learn; and all parties grow. What happened to actual discourse, y’all?


Yes, let’s do things for the children.


And yes, let’s challenge the status quo and how things are done.


But for Pete’s sake (7), can we take a rational tone and be open to actual back-and-forth discussion? And the fact that maybe not all taxpayers share your exact same values (8)? And maybe take some time to do a bit of research (9), then reconvene and figure out what’s best and how to move forward realistically?


LIBRARIES CARE ABOUT THE CHILDREN, TOO. We are not just making decisions and buying stuff because we think it’s cool or shiny. We are doing everything we possibly can to give children the best experiences and advantages with the knowledge, resources, and mission that we have. We want to hear your input. But for this relationship to really work, you have to want to hear ours, too.


(6) sarcasm

(7) and Sophie’s, and Aiden’s, and Asa’s, and Samir’s, and Claire’s, and Zia’s, etc.

(8) or are privileged (10) enough they they can choose to utilize only specific library services because they have access to books/computers/science camps elsewhere

(9) actual research

(10) and, frankly, the fact that you’ve got time to a) come to the library once and see something you don’t like, b) go home and find a blog or online article that agrees with you, c) email your friends for support, and d) come back to complain probably denotes a fair amount of privilege to begin with


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Coolest Things I Saw On The Internet: Winter Is Coming

The cooler weather sees me desperately trying to read some of the books getting Newbery and Caldecott buzz, and launching evil plots with Amy and Brooke for Midwinter. If you’re going, submit a Guerrilla Storytime challenge in the comments!



The Library Adventure is doing a monthly interview with a library worker. This month, the featured librarian is in youth services! And she’s from super close to my hometown! And she has a cute blog! Hi, Emily!



Also found at Storytime Secrets, I love this list of books for kids with new babies in the house. I work with a lot of toddlers who are having some ISSUES with this, and I’ve been thinking a lot about picture books as art therapy since I got Good Bye, Bad Bye in a few days ago (man, that thing is stunning).








I THINK YOU SHOULD BE DOING MUSIC AND MOVEMENT. So does Miss Meg. So does Angie. We all think so. (This post cracked my shit up, also)



. . .if you don’t sing in storytime.


I don’t know if I’ve linked to this before, but did you know what Harris County (Whooo!) Public Library has an insane database of storytime themes with books and flannel and song ideas and also notes? It’s a keeper.



Y’all, I hattttte Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving books and Thanksgiving storytimes. I do. I think it’s from living in the heart of Indian Country for awhile, or from being a vegetarian who doesn’t eat sugar. I don’t know. I hate it. But kids don’t! So, how do y’all handle the Thanksgiving thing without it being super racist? I’ve done pie-related, pumpkin and apple, and thank you themes in the past. Share your favorite no-pilgrim-November storytime ideas!

Yes. I’m This Person. #sorrynotsorry

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Guerrilla Storytime at the Kansas Library Association

Woo hoo! Megan Bannen and Kelly Sime of  Johnson County Library led a Guerrilla Storytime last week at the Kansas Library Association Conference 2014: Out of the Stacks. We’re incredibly grateful to Megan and Kelly for leading some great skill sharing in Kansas, and also for telling attendees all about Storytime Underground. Thanks, too, to the amazing scribe who took all these notes so we can benefit from the Guerrilla Storytime, too!


What’s your favorite storytime book and why?

  • Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin: Great for toddler time. It teaches colors and encourages participation. You can listen to Eric Litwin perform the book on
  • Llama Llama Hoppity Hop by Anna Dewdney: Great to use with movement. If you repeat it, you can use the second “verse” to sit down.
  • Bedtime at the Nuthouse by Eric Litwin: teach dance first and be sure to cue kids when their part is coming up.

What’s your favorite closing song or rhyme?

What’s your best finger play?

  • There Was a Little Turtle and Tiny Time: both finger plays found here.
  • Five Little Pumpkins
  • Two Little Blackbirds
  • Five Fat Turkeys: Here are the words plus lots of other turkey rhymes, including the words to “Albuquerque Turkey” (to the tune of “Darling Clementine”)

Puppets: Freaky or awesome? How do you use them in storytime?

  • Use a hippo puppet to perform “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”
  • Buy stuffed animals for cheap from garage sales, pull out the stuffing, finish off the broken seam: voila! Instant puppets on the cheap!
  • The Puppet Ladies: a group of women who do awesome puppet shows – they’ll travel to many Kansas communities.
  • Use spider puppet for “Spider on the Floor”
  • One library lets kids into their puppet closet. Kids can select puppets and put on their own puppet show.
  • Puppet named Boomer helps with opening song. Kids get to wake boomer up.
  • Use a bear puppet to go on a bear hunt to find the puppet in the library.
  • Learn how to manipulate puppets correctly moving only thumb (like squeezing a tennis ball in your hand) so that puppet’s actions look natural.

What opening song do you like to use?

  • “If you want to hear a story clap your hands” found here. At the end of the song, you can sing, “if you want to hear a story, WIGGLE!” so kids can get their wigglies out.
  • “One little, two little, three little (insert something kids pick)”
  • “Get Funky” by Learning Express.
  • “Welcome to the Circle”

Adults won’t participate. What do you do?

  • “Let’s ALL stand up.”
  • Let adults know that they are role models for their kids and that their participation is an important part of storytime.
  • “And if Miss Megan is singing, we’re ALL singing!”
  • Enlist help from kids: “Go get your grown-up. Now, wiggle with your grown-up!”

What do you do about those really chatty kids in storytime. (“Oh, I have a dog! His name is Buster! My grandma has a dog!”)

  • Turn attention to other children. Take the time to get to know their names.
  • “That sounds like a story I want to hear at check-out time.”
  • Follow up on conversation after story time.
  • Give them a job. (“Can you help me hold this book?” etc.)
  • Hold up Interrupting Chicken on a popsicle stick.
  • Magic wand: it dings to bring back attention. Plus, it’s really awesome to have a magic wand.
  • Close the book and wait until you have everyone’s attention.

To theme or not to theme? That is the question.

  • Yes: letters through the alphabet make it easier to plan, especially if you do a craft.
  • Themes make it easier to teach
  • If you have books that you love but that don’t fit particular themes, you can have a Librarian’s Favorites week.
  • Creative themes: see if you can find some kind of thread running through the books you choose.
  • Don’t theme: Choose books you love.
  • You can have a coloring sheet out to go with your theme.
  • Have kids pick out books for storytime.
  • Focus on an early literacy (6by6) skill rather than a theme.

What storytime props do you like to use and how do you use them?

  • Magnet stories instead of flannel
  • Clothing: especially for The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything
  • Shaker eggs: “I Know a Chicken” by Laurie Berkner – you can make them with plastic Easter eggs and rice.
    1. Also good for Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.
    2. And you can make maracas if you tape the eggs between two spoons!
  • If kids don’t want to give the eggs back, you cans walk around with your eggs basket and sing, “Put them back so they don’t crack,” to the tune of “Jimmy Cracked Corn.”
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Meet the November Ninjas!

Big round of applause to our amazing October ninjas for some fabulous responses last month. Now we welcome a new batch of November Ninjas!


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Meet Shelley


Shelley 2


Shelley has worked in library services in Connecticut since 2001. She earned her MLS in 2009. As a public children’s librarian for 8 years, she does weekly storytimes with three different age groups ages 10 months to 5 years. They are multimedia classes that incorporate apps, music, movement, books, and parachute games.


In December 2013, she was hired as a children’s technology librarian consultant at a local Magnet school helping middle school children learn about giving storytimes and using apps to create their own books. She has also been a guest blogger for ALSC. Her pinterest page is here and her blog is here!


Meet Lisa




Lisa has been a children’s librarian for 30 years! She started at NYPL and moved to Northern Virginia in 1988 where she is currently a Youth Services Manager at a branch library just outside Washington, DC. She currently does everything from storytelling, to movement and music, to collection development!


You can find her blogging at Storytime with the Library Lady. She also does a lot of book reviewing over on Goodreads. 


Meet Valerie




Valerie is a very enthusiastic first year Youth Services Librarian from Florida. Her expertise is with ages 3-9 years and with STEM programs, as she used to work at a science museum. While she is not currently a manager at her library, she has 5+ years of experience managing a staff of up to 20 individuals and has been a volunteer coordinator for over 90 volunteers at one time. She is a part of a team of YS staff of 3 full time librarians and 1 part-time librarian.

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Coolest Things, Halloween Edition

Isn’t the internet wonderful? GIFs alone make my life.


SPEAKING OF GIFS you can now take an online class on child behavior management from the Valkyrie herself, Ms. S. Bryce Kozla. DOOO ITTTTTTTT.


I talk a lot about Abby’s preschool lab, because it’s awesome, but also because she just does such a phenomenal job of integrating early literacy and science, and her blog posts are super helpful. This one is about BATS which is timely (since you’re already planning your Halloween storytime for next year, right? I guess it’s not THAT timely) and I love bats, and also Abby.


Who else do I love? ANGIE. What spectacular, over the top, make you feel like you’re not doing enough in your library (kidding!) thing is Angie up to now? Frozen party. Obvs.


Are you already reading Inclusive Early Literacy? If not, I recommend adding it to ye olde blogroll. This post, about the presentation that Tess (@tess1144)  gave at ALSC Institute, should whet your whistle.


People talking about WHY they do things in ST is totally my bag. Intentional Storytime goes Orange this week, and I go. . .pink with happiness? Green with envy of the kids who got to see it? I don’t know. It’s a really good storytime write up, is what I’m saying here.


This video made me unreasonably happy. Happy Halloween!

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Ask a Storytime Ninja: ECRR Training

We have a great final question for our amazing October ninjas! There is so much amazing information in these 3 answers. As someone who was thrown to the wolves in her first job, PLEASE DON’T DO THAT! The person who asked the questions wanted as many responses as possible, so please add your thoughts and ideas in the comments.


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The Question:


How do you train new staff members in your library’s  storytime practices? Do they observe before doing their own? Go to an ECRR training? Throw them to the wolves and wish them good luck?


The Answers:



This question is so timely! At my library system, we are just starting to re-work how we train new staff members and/or substitute storytime librarians.


In the past, we’ve trained substitutes on a case-by-case basis, as volunteers or interested parties have come forward. We would assign a mentor or trainer and that new substitute would meet individually with their mentor for basic training. This would include :


1. Walking through the basics of a solid storytime plan, discussing the ECRR2 platform and how to implement it at storytime, showing various plans of past stortyimes, and highlighting print and online sources available to help with storytime planning.


2. Observe *at least* two storytimes — preferably one at a larger location (over 50 children) and one at a smaller location (25-30 children).


3. Write up a storytime plan for evaluation by mentor/trainer.


4. Come to a stortyime and present a book/fingerplay or a song/book or a flannel/fingerplay (part of a storytime, but not the entire thing).


5. Be ready to present a full storytime with observation by mentor/trainer.


6. Feedback!


That’s what our main framework has always been. We are planning to change how we do the in-person training to a larger, group session at one of our two all-staff training days (October or March), OR have a dedicated training session at some point in the year for new volunteers/substitutes/hires. Much of the same material will be covered at the group session, but our main purpose for doing this is to streamline the training so that individual staff members aren’t constantly hopping around and meeting with new stortyime presenters on a one-by-one basis. Keep it simple, right?


We also have an “emergency storytime bin” at each of our locations. Bins include several books, a flannel story or two, some puppets or finger puppets, big books, pop-ups, perhaps a book prop, a CD with storytime songs on it, sheets with songs/fingerplays/rhymes, and a notebook which includes at least two storytime outlines from start to finish. This bin is in each library as a true last-minute substitute storytime plan (e.g. if the children’s librarian calls her library an hour before storytime saying she’s sick or stuck in a traffic jam or what have you). The point of the bin is to make it super simple and easy for *anyone* to fill in if a true emergency arises. This is not ideal, and we try not to do this very often, but every once in a while it does happen and we are happy to have those bins in place!


Other parts of storytime training include attending the yearly metro-area storytime workshop (put on by metro public libraries in my area — Minneapolis/St. Paul). A workshop for all children’s librarians is put on at the end of every year to show best practices, share new songs/fingerplays/flannels/ideas, highlight some aspect of storytime (this year, for instance, we will highlight providing a sensory storytime) and basically discuss all things storytime. We encourage all our substitute staff and new staff to attend this open workshop for ideas and opportunities to gain more information for their personal storytime “tool box”.


That pretty much covers it in my library system — it is ALWAYS a work in progress, as different staff members bring different strengths to the storytime table. Moving forward, however, we hope to streamline the training process a bit!


One last word of advice : if you train substitute storytime librarians (as opposed to new hires), don’t let them languish on the shelf! Our philosophy is that a trained storytime presenter should be used and should be able to keep their storytime muscles limber. To that end, we try to have all substitutes present at least three or four storytime a year, regardless of whether or not they are needed as a true substitute, just to keep them from getting rusty and to make sure they are on top of their game.


Good luck with your training! It’s always fun to welcome new folks into the storytime fold …



My current position includes minimal training responsibilities, and I don’t want to speak for my whole system (which emphasizes ECRR2 training and mentorship), so I’ll defer to the other ninjas on this one, but some helpful tips I’ve picked up along the way, especially for training presenters who are not full-time, include:

Provide Sample Plans–if there’s a way you’d like storytime done, lay it out. Assure presenters they are free to tweak it, but give a guide. Then have trainees observe two very different practitioners to help them stretch the limits of the guide.

Show, don’t just tell–every training should include demonstrations and hands-on activities, storytime training just doesn’t translate well to powerpoint and lecture format.

Highlight storytime resources–Have a central cache (physical and online) of institutional knowledge and best practices, and make sure everyone knows where it is and can edit and adapt it. Guide new storytimers to the embarrassment of riches available now in the blogosphere.

Change it up–Have practitioners do partner storytimes, and encourage mutations on the form once the basic sit and sing model is well incorporated. Dance party? Picture walk? Oral stories? Just one physical change in a room can perk up a whole storytime.

Best of luck with training, and remember to ask what the new people have brought with them–they might have skills you’ve never even considered.



Training and development for storytime providers is SO important. I feel bad for people that are thrown to the wolves. I am the trainer for all of our storytime facilitators in our system. We require a lot for our providers because we feel storytime is such a valuable part of what the library has to offer. In order to initially become a storytime facilitator, each person must complete two classes with me.


1. Introduction to Every Child Read to Read and Parent Reminders

This class provides training on what ECRR is, how to incorporate it into storytime and how to make your reminders fluid in your storytime.


2. Storytime Structures and Objectives

This goes over the structure and objectives for each individual age group as well as all ages and bilingual storytime.


In addition, we encourage all new storytime providers to go see at least 3 storytimes (not all in their own branch). This way they will get ideas from lot of different people. I stress in my classes that you have to develop your own style rather than copying someone else’s style and forcing it to work.


Each storytime facilitator is also asked to attend at least two share sessions per year to help improve their skills. These sessions have a different topic each month. We have covered everything from how to get the wiggles out to using digital elements in storytime. I plan them depending on what people seem to want and need. People are encouraged to come and listen as well as provide input on the topic.


Finally, each storytime provider receives two observations per year. One is done by me and one is done by the person’s supervisor.


We have found by doing all of this, our storytime facilitators have become more confident in their storytime and incorporating the ECRR practices and skills as well as reminders. Our storytime numbers have increased and caregivers are happier.




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