Some Totally Awesome, Completely Rad New (Mostly Silly) Books.

15 Sep

I admit I’m a sucker for a silly book. Somehow, when I get in front of a classroom full of preschoolers, I turn into a giant ham (and not the honey baked kind). Silly books are the bread-and-butter of my storytimes. And here are some recent sillies that got me all shook up:

Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret by Bob Shea. So the premise of this book isn’t necessarily silly. It’s about two friends, balletBallet Cat and Sparkle Pony (okay, yeah, it’s pretty silly), who like to play together. When it’s Pony’s turn to suggest a game, Ballet Cat nixes every possibility as they won’t be able to do it while they dance ballet. Sparkle is scared to admit to Ballet Cat that he really DOESN’T always want to dance ballet, but thinks his friend won’t be his friend any more if he tells the truth. When he finally does admit it, Ballet Cat assures him that the one thing she likes more than ballet (and more than ice cream, even) is her friend Sparkle Pony. PHEW.

The thing that made this most fun for me is that I could HEAR the voices of the characters in my head when I first read the book. And I immediately had to take it over to a colleague and make her read it (she was wondering why I was laughing so loud). I think Bob Shea’s quite masterful in how he designs his characters – you can glean so much from them without even reading the words of the text, even their voices.

I won’t say this series will be the “next Elephant and Piggie” because it stands on its own and doesn’t need to be anything other than what it is. But fans of Gerald and Piggie will probably also love Ballet Cat and her friends.

Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins. It’s funny from the title page – I mean, c’mon, ROWBOAT Watkins? If I ever finish writing my picture book I’m changing my name to Caboose. Maybe.

rudeRude cakes are, as the title says, RUDE. They have ZERO manners. They’re bullies who never say please or thank you. Rudeness aside, when cakes meet monsters, you’d think they’d be doomed. But no – monsters don’t love cake, they love tiny hats. And rude cakes make excellent tiny hats. You follow me so far? Yes, it sounds absurd, but it’s HIGH-LARIOUS. And kids are gonna love it.

McToad Mows Tiny Island by Tom Angleberger; Illustrated by Jon Hendrix. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Angleberger at ALA – super nice dude (and a menace at Words With Friends) – and bought a copy of this one. And boy howdy am I glad I did!

McToad really enjoys Thursdays, because on Thursdays, he mows tiny island (every other day he mctoadmows plain old big island. BO-RING). But in order to get his mower to tiny island, he must use a series of vehicles that get more and more outlandish. Just to spend about 5 minutes (with lemonade break) mowing a seriously tiny island. But he loves it, and it shows.

The illustrations are detailed and quirky. McToad is a cheerful lawn-mowing mogul (every one of the modes of transport is owned by him) and will be a surefire hit in storytime.

A few not-so-silly, but equally worthy (and gorgeous) books I’ve read lately:

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson. Absolutely beautiful story of generosity.

The Moon is Going to Addy’s House by Ida Pearle. As Addy rides home from a play date, the moon goes along. The illustrations, in cut paper, much of it marbled, are glorious. They convey movement and take on a variety of perspectives – much like the way we see the moon from different places.

Float by Daniel Miyares. A Caldecott contender for sure. This wordless book tells the story of a boy and his paper boat as it floats away during a rainstorm. Even the endpapers enhance the story – in the front are instructions for folding a paper boat; in the back – a paper airplane. A limited color palette in no way detracts, and Miyares deftly conveys motion and movement. The shape of the book and even the illustrations remind me of Ezra Jack Keats – and that’s a very good thing.

What are your new favorites? Any especially silly stories I should know about?


24 Aug

I wanted to give a shoutout to a couple of amazing organizations/groups I have the good fortune to be involved with. They are both, in different ways, working to help grow children into successful, literate adults.


Earlier is Easier is a Denver collaborative working to build awareness around the importance of the first 3 years of a child’s life. Right now our advocacy consists of informative websites in English and in Spanish, as well as parent tip cards that we distribute through our partner agencies. We’re diligently working on other ways to get our message out, including a possible media campaign and partnerships with faith-based and other community groups. It all depends on funding, of course. But we’re making it happen! Check out the websites, and please share! They have great, easy activities for parents to do with their young children, divided by age groups.


Storytime Underground! I’m super-duper excited to have been recently chosen to be a joint-chief of this amazing group. SU is dedicated to  supporting, training, and advocating for youth services librarians throughout the country (nay – the world!). We believe that “literacy is not a luxury” and the work that we do in libraries around early literacy is important and necessary. I will blogging especially about advocacy – helping us understand the “why” behind what we do do in storytime and in youth services and how we can best advocate for our work in our libraries and in our communities.

I am happy and grateful to be able to work with both of these groups. Together, we ARE changing the world.

Ukulele in Storytime: 5 Green and Speckled Frogs

9 Aug

Like most people, I think I sound weird when listening to or watching myself. But maybe it won’t sound weird to you. The latest, seriously overdue, edition of ukulele in storytime features “5 Green and Speckled Frogs” which is, in my world, a storytime staple. So get out your ukes, friends, and learn the D chord with me if you don’t already know it!

Early Literacy Messages in Action

16 Jun

Fellow Early Literacy Evangelists (may I call you evangelists?),

Yesterday I did my first baby storytime in… well, years, and I had the opportunity to slip in a few early literacy messages that Early Literacy Messaging Graphicreally resonate with me. And I was super excited to do so. But I know that’s not always the case.

I am a 44-year-old childless librarian who ostensibly tells parents how to raise their kids without having any experience of my own. I know, awkward, right? I suppose it could be. I could be saying to myself: “Self, who are you to tell these parents that they should talk to their kids all the time to give the kids a big vocabulary? How do you know they aren’t already doing that and you’re just going to make them defensive? Aren’t they going to look at you and think ‘Don’t you tell me what to do!’

But I don’t, and here’s why: I, myself, am AMAZED by what I’ve learned about early literacy and brain development. I find it incredible that by simply talking and singing with babies, we can set them on a path for learning that will last their whole lives. I’m fascinated by the brain science – it takes a toddler 5 to 7 seconds to respond to a question because there are 4 different parts of the brain involved in hearing, processing, and speaking? Wow! Babies brains grow from 25% developed to 75% developed in the first year of life? Holy cow!

This is powerful, life-alerting (literally) stuff, and I just want everyone to know how easy it is to give young children the best future possible.

I work with parents who are both affluent and highly educated and those who are less so. Personally, I think everyone can learn something new about their child. I haven’t yet heard of a child born into this world with an owner’s manual, so I think lots of parents are just figuring things out. But the universal thread is that they ALL love their children and want the best for them, and simply by bringing them to the library for storytime, or to an outreach event for a parent presentation or play and learn group, they’re demonstrating that.

But I get that it’s challenging to feel like the “expert” in many situations where you DON’T know what parents already know. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I think tailoring your message to your audience helps a lot. If you’ve got parents whom you suspect already know about phonological awareness and rhyming games, maybe focus a little more on the brain science – they’re less likely to know all of that (heck, I have a master’s degree – and I didn’t know ANY of that until I started working as a librarian!). If you think your audience is parents who are simply struggling to get through the day, maybe offer a little praise for the good things they are doing (like bringing their kids to storytime) and encourage the simple activities, like singing in the car or talking while making dinner.

Here’s how I might (and do) share early literacy messages with parents who may or may not already know what I’m telling them:

  • I like to call the little one-or-two-sentence bits of information “early literacy reminders” instead of tips. That assumes that the parent already knows what you’re telling them – but don’t we all need to be reminded of things every now and then?
  • I try to present my “reminders” in such a way that demonstrates my genuine fascination with the information.
  • I’m always positive and never accusing or “YOU MUST DO THIS” in tone. I prefer to focus on what they already are doing and recognize it. Doesn’t everyone need a little praise, even for the little things?
  • I often tie my “reminder” into something I’m doing – a song, fingerplay, book, etc. For me, it helps me remember what I want to say AND makes it more specific.
  • I try and use humor if possible. I play on what I didn’t know before. If I didn’t know it, I’m pretty sure some of the parents don’t know and can’t we all discover together?
  • I rarely use more than one or two sentences. And never more than 2 “reminders” per storytime.
  • Avoid using the phrases “you should” or “you need to.” I know hearing those things really make me defensive, so why would I say them to other adults?
  • Transitions are a great time to slip in a “reminder.” We’re standing up; we’re passing out scarves; let’s talk about why movement is fun and important!
    • “Grown ups: fingerplays help little guys strengthen their fingers so that later they can hold a pencil and write. Isn’t that cool?
    • “Thank you for bringing your little ones to storytime today! We’re growing brains and when you share books at home you’re doing that too!”
    • “I love seeing how happy the babies are sharing songs with their grownups. Isn’t it neat that happy babies are better learners? You’re helping your baby learn right now!
    • (Before starting a new book): “This is one of my all-time favorite books. I bet your kids have their favorites too and want to hear them all the time! I know it’s not so much fun for grownups to repeat the same book, but it’s great for building literacy skills!
    • “I love to sing and it was so exciting for me to learn that singing helps with learning to read! Singing slows down words so that we can hear all the little sounds. That’s pretty neat!”
    • “Grownups: did you hear the word “insufferable” in that book? We’re growing our kids’ vocabularies when we share books!”

I know that adding early literacy reminders to storytime is a challenging task and can feel unnatural at first. But with practice, it WILL become easier. Trust me. REALLY. I swear. And it’s perfectly okay to plan your reminders in advance and write them on a sticky note or piece of paper. Practice with a colleague if you want some feedback on how something sounds.

In the long run, you’re doing SO MUCH GOOD by sharing this information with families. Even if one parent is bothered that you’ve stopped reading a book for 30 seconds to offer two sentences of brain development goodness, the majority, whether they already know what you’re saying or not, appreciate it.

This is a topic that resonates with a lot of us, so visit the Jbrary blog on Friday, June 19 for a roundup of ALL the “Early Literacy Messages in Action” posts that are happening this week! On twitter you can catch all the posts by following #EarlyLitInAction. You’ll find lots of great suggestions and “reminders” that you can use right away! And please – share your own “best practices” in the comments. I’m sure you’ve got ’em!

Now, GO FORTH AND BE AWESOME, you world-changers, you!

Don’t (DO!) be such a drama queen! Best picture books for a DRAMATIC storytime

8 Jun

I admit it. I am a giant ham. I LOVE playing for laughs in storytime. There’s nothing better than making a child (or a parent!) giggle so hard they can’t stop. I am proud to say I made a preschool teacher laugh so hard at my performance of I Want My Hat Back that she cried.  What more could a storytime provider want?


Anyone else read the bear as completely deadpan?

To that end, a colleague and I are presenting a short program to our fellow storytime presenters on integrating drama into your storytime. My co-presenter is a former drama teacher, so she’s going to talk more about drama games and other activities beyond the book, but I’m focusing on making picture book readings more dramatic.

We’ve narrowed dramatic readings down to two categories:

  1. “Playing the dummy,” i.e. pretending like you don’t know what’s going to happen (and asking obvious questions of the listener) and being very surprised/confused/angry/happy when the story resolves, or
  2. Using the text and/or illustrations for clues on how to read the story. For example, if a character looks like he’s crying, read the text in a sad voice. If the text is bolded, obviously that’s a word or phrase you need to emphasize. Use your body to mimic what the character is feeling or saying!

Here’s the list of books that really lend themselves to dramatic readings. I’m sure there are many, many more. Please share your favorites in the comments!

Bark, George by Jules Feiffer

There’s a Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone

Book with No Pictures by BJ Novak

The Doghouse by Jan Thomas

A Splendid Friend Indeed by Suzanne Bloom

Harry Hungry by Stephen Salerno

Dinosaur vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea

Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dykeman

Interrupting Chicken by David Stein

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli

Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney

Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems

Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas

Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard

Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

Froggy Gets Dressed by Jonathan London

Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Audrey Wood

A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker

Mortimer by Robert Munsch

Moo by David Larochelle

Banana! by Ed Vere

A Pet for Petunia by Paul Schmid

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems

Punk Farm by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Shark in the Park by Nick Sharratt

An update y una invitación a bailar!

24 Apr

Wow. It’s been…like, 6 months since I last blogged, and I apologize for that. I’m a little over 1 year into a new job with more responsibility, more supervising, and fewer storytimes, and that has meant a lot of learning and doing and figuring out. I’m definitely feeling settled now and enjoying my work as an early literacy department head, but still don’t find as many opportunities to blog. I do miss it. I will try harder (famous last words, I know).

Meanwhile, I wanted to share with you something I learned about this week. A former co-worker from my old library put me on to this Boulder, CO-based band: Basho & Friends. Talk about FUN music! It’ll get you moving and dancing and maybe even learning some new words – in Spanish, French, or Chinese! I do some Spanish-language and bilingual storytimes and I think some of these songs would be PERFECT movement activities. I especially like this one and intend to use it soon!:

¡Baila y disfruta!

¡El Pollo!; aka, the most fun movement activity en español EVER.

10 Sep

Some of the best storytime activities are the simplest. This is one of them. It basically names the parts of the chicken, rhythmically. I tried it out with my new class of Spanish-only kiddos and they LOVED it. LOVED.

I learned it from my colleague Alberto, and here’s a video of him performing it:

This is the text:

El pollo! (clap hands together)

El pollo con una pata (step one foot forward)

El pollo con la otra pata (step other foot forward)

El pollo con su piquito (hand in front of mouth like beak)

El pollo con sus alitas (move arms like wings)

El pollo con su colita (turn around and shake tail)

The rhyme doesn’t work as well in English, but it can be done. Here’s Alberto again:

And the words:

The chicken! (clap hands together)

The chicken with one leg (step one foot forward)

The chicken with the other leg (step other foot forward)

The chicken with his beak (hand in front of mouth like beak)

The chicken with his wings (move arms like wings)

The chicken shakes his tail (turn around and shake tail)

You can do it again faster, slower, and without words. It’s a good time! ¡Que disfruten!


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