Surprise! It's story time!

I checked my email this morning to discover that an after school group was coming to visit my branch this afternoon, and that they were hoping for a story time. I said, without hesitation, “of course!” One great thing about being an auxiliary librarian is that last-minute story times don’t phase me in the least.

I don’t often get to work with school-age or “middle years” groups, so it’s great to step outside of my comfort zone every once in a while and interact with different age groups.

The afternoon group really just wanted me to share a few stories with them, so I followed my own tried-and-true advice and pulled out a few old favourites that I knew would be fun to read aloud to the older kids.

Little Owl Lost – Chris Haughton

An enthusiastic but not particularly bright squirrel tries to help a little lost owl find his mother. Kids love rolling their eyes at the squirrel’s hilariously unsuccessful attempts to reunite mother and baby.


Grumpy Bird – Jeremy Tankard

Everybody loves grumpy animals – just think of the internet sensation that is Grumpy Cat. This book is a lot of fun to read – I love making Grumpy Bird get more and more over-the-top exasperated by his increasing band of animal followers. Because as we all know, nothing makes a grumpy person grumpier than a cheerful person who just can’t help being cheerful.


Normally I might have considered pulling out Bark, George, as it works with audiences of almost all ages, but having just read it four times over the weekend, I needed a bit of a break from good old George!

Out and About with Outreach

To survive and thrive as valid institutions in the 21st century, libraries need to entrench themselves in their communities, and outreach plays an important role in this. I wouldn’t call myself a library outreach veteran by any means, but I have had the opportunity to get out in the community on a number of occassions. I regularly co-facilitate an adapted story time at a community health center, working with a medical professional to support the early literacy needs of a diverse group of children. I have also participated in a number of different community special events and festivals, including the Surrey Fusion Fest this past July (see that picture above!).

Special events and festivals are a great opportunity for libraries to market themselves and promote their programs and services, but they are certainly a different kettle of fish, and a major departure from the traditional library space! Here are a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the past few months that might help make your festival experiences the best they can be!

Dress for Success

  • Wear comfortable shoes. It may sound obvious, but it’s worth repeating. You will be on your feet. A lot. So wear comfortable shoes.
  • Dress for your audience. Representing the library at a chamber of commerce event? You might want to dress up a bit. Representing the library at Storyville in the park for two full days? Clothes with stretch are where it’s at. When in doubt, try for a look that is both professional and approachable. You want to look professional enough that people take you seriously, but at the same time you want people to feel comfortable enough to approach you.

Fuel and Hydration

Odds are, you will be talking a lot and moving around a lot. Make sure you have a big bottle of water handy, and stuff your pockets with some snacks to keep your energy level up. Again, it sounds obvious, but it’s worth repeating.

Check Your Self-Consciousness at the Door

  • Sometimes connecting with the community means going outside of your comfort zone. Sometimes it means singing in front of large audiences, or wearing unflattering staff t-shirts (lime green? Really?). Other times you might interact with creepy mascots, pass out brochures to endless streams of festival-goers, motivate bored volunteers or give speeches into echoing microphones. If you’re a naturally outgoing, fearless person, none of this will phase you. But a lot of us who went into library work tend to be a bit more on the introverted side. To really get the most out of working a festival, you might just have to fake it ’till you make it, and embrace your inner extrovert (this is definitely a practice-makes-perfect situation!). Take a deep breath, and remember that you could be stuck inside a stuffy office typing away at a cubicle or doing some other boring old job, instead of helping make a difference in your community (even if it means wearing a very, very unflattering staff baseball cap). After all, how many people get paid to tell stories, sing songs, play with puppets, or hang out with a Lego Certified Professional?

I Survived Mall Story Time

On Saturday and Sunday I packed up some of my favourite story time books, grabbed a stamp, set up a folding chair and some floor mats in a shiny, cavernous hallway, and delivered my first ever mall story times – four of them, to be exact – as part of a library fundraising and outreach event.

Following my own advice I initially planned a simple story time that would feature lots of familiar songs and action rhymes and two books I knew like the back of my hand. I brought five books so I’d have a bit of flexibility, but I expected to spend most of each thirty-minute session on my feet moving around.

Well, as Robbie Burns said, the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley. Instead of rowdy groups of bouncing preschoolers, I peered into the serious faces of school aged children, who sat criss-cross-apple-sauce in front of me in rapt silence. And what did my little audience want, you ask? Did they cheer when I announced it was time to wake up our hands with a shake, shake, shake, or jump with joy for Zoom Zoom?

No. No they did not. For the first story time, I did try to incorporate some singing, some rhymes, and even the Elevator Song, but the response was lackluster, at best. You know what my audience did keep saying?

“Read us another story! Read us another story!”

They didn’t want to sing. They didn’t want to dance. They didn’t want to jump up and down. They wanted to listen to me read them stories.

At first I read two stories, interspersed with some singing and movement. Then I read three, with fewer interruptions. For the final story time I began with a hello song, finished with a goodbye song, and read four books in between. I’m pretty sure I could have read even more, if I’d had the time!

The small group sizes (usually 10-12 kids) allowed for very intimate, interactive story times. When we read “Bark, George”, for example, we all made delightful animal noises, mimicked George’s mother’s priceless expressions, and reached deep, deep down like the vet. For “Dear Zoo” we debated whether or not we should keep each animal or send it back, and suggested reasons why a camel or a lion might or might not make for a good pet. It was interactive, it was engaging, it was hilarious, and the kids didn’t want it to end.

Side note: The absolute highlight of the whole story time experience was a little boy who experienced “Dear Zoo” for the first time. Every time I dramatically revealed what was behind each flap, his whole body just shook with excitement, and his whole face lit up with joy. I think he could have watched me read that book all day.

As a colleague of mine suggested, as children grow older, they often don’t get read aloud to as much anymore. The children in the audience obviously relished the simple joy of experiencing a story together, and I saw several children twice or even three times over the course of the weekend (they didn’t seem to mind that I read several stories several times!).

Here are the books we shared, to much delight and audience approval:

pete go away big green monster dear zoo bark george




Toddler time!

Speaking of surviving the on-call story time, I delivered a story time to an entirely new group yesterday, and survived! It was all about the toddlers yesterday morning. I hadn’t actually done a toddler time since my student librarian days, but fortunately I learned from some of the best in the business, so I didn’t feel too unprepared!

I followed a template that a children’s librarian shared with me back in the day, and made sure to follow my own advice and include plenty of golden oldies that hopefully everyone would know. Here’s (more or less) how it looked!

Welcome Song: Hello, Friends

Book 1: I Spy on the Farm/ Edward Gibbs

i spy

Body rhymes

  • I wake up my hands
  • Roly poly
  • Open shut them

Book 2: Monkey and Me / Emily Gravett


Action Songs

  • Bend and Stretch
  • Zoom Zoom (multiple times as per audience requests…)
  • If You’re Happy and You Know it
  • The elevator song

Goodbye Song: Goodbye, Friends

It was a great group, about 36 people in total, so definitely nowhere near as big a group as I’m used to. I hope they had as much fun making animal noises as I did!

Surviving the on-call story time

While I have three regularly scheduled story times per week, as an auxiliary librarian I am sometimes asked to cover for other librarians and deliver last-minute story times. For a newly-minted librarian, the idea of dropping into a new library and delivering a story time to an entirely new audience can be pretty daunting. How many children are going to show up? How old will they be (this is particularly challenging when covering a family story time, where the group could be made up of anyone from babies to school-aged kids)? Will they know the songs I want to sing? Will they rebel if I don’t include a favourite rhyme?

I have had some amazing experiences as an on-call story timer, and some not-so-amazing experiences (I once delivered a story time to a group of four children – two babies and two 8/9 year old boys…..the memory of it still gives me anxiety….). Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way that might help make on-call story times a bit less daunting!

  1. Stick to what you know.

Jumping into the unknown can be scary. Make it easier on yourself by sticking to the songs and rhymes you know the best. Don’t worry about reinventing the wheel and bust out all the standards – those elements you could perform in your sleep (and if you’re anything like me, the songs you unconsciously sing while washing the dishes, much to the amusement of bystanders). Delivering a last-minute story time can be nerve-wracking enough, and you’re less likely to forget the words to a song you know like the back of your hand. Plus, your audience will likely know these songs, too – “If You’re Happy and You Know It” has never let me down so far!

  1. B.Y.O.B. – Bring Your Own Books

There’s nothing worse than showing up at an unfamiliar library, looking at their story time resources, and realizing that you don’t recognize a single book. If you know ahead of time that you’re going to be covering for someone else’s story time, check a few of your favourite picture books out of your local library and bring them with you, so you’re not left in a panic. If you often find yourself covering for story times, it’s not a bad idea to invest in a few picture books if you can, just to have them on hand if you need them in a hurry (my copy of Pete the Cat has more than paid for itself in the stress relief it’s brought me). The same goes for felts or puppets if you like using them in story times – I have a few felt stories I keep on hand in case of emergencies!

  1. Go With the Flow

Carefully, thoughtfully planning out your story times is important, but don’t let yourself become a prisoner of your plans! If something isn’t working, change it up! Say you plan a story time with three picture books, but your audience isn’t used to this many stories and they start bouncing off the walls. You could a) stick to your plan and force your antsy audience to sit through another picture book (which would probably just make everyone miserable) or b) assess the mood of your audience and adapt your program. The same goes for audience requests – I’ve added everything from the alphabet song to I’m a Little Teapot to my programs because a child has asked for it, even if it wasn’t part of my original plan. I like to write a few extra songs/rhymes at the bottom of my outline that I can pull out if I need them. Just remember, as long as the children are participating and getting excited about learning, your story time is a success!

  1. Be Kind to Yourself

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your story times will just fall flat. There will be times that you’ll float out of a story times feeling on top of the world, and times that you’ll crawl out of them wanting to hide under a rock and never come out. That’s just life, particularly for on-calls. Don’t let a bad experience sour your feelings about story times, or make you question your abilities. Even a terrible experience can have value if it makes you a stronger (and hopefully wiser) person!

Sing it again!

I love to sing. In the shower, on the bus (quietly), while shopping (again, hopefully quietly), I am one of those people who always seems to be humming a merry little tune. So it’s no surprise that I love picture books that can be sung! Singable picture books are a secret weapon that I like to pull out towards the end of a story time, when the children are getting wiggly and just want to keep singing Zoom Zoom Zoom over and over again.

I also like to use singable picture books to show caregivers how much use they can get out of a picture book – read it, chant it, sing it, turn it into a felt story, act it out with stuffed toys – get as much bang for your buck out of that story as you can! Plus, kids thrive on repetition, and odds are the caregiver will be sick of the story long before their child is….

Here are just a few of the singable picture books I’ve used in my family story times.


I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More – Karen Beaumont

Colour, colour and more colour! A mischievous little boy is determined to use his body as a canvas for his riotously colourful abstract works. Sing this one to the tune of the boy scout campfire classic, “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More”.


The Seals on The Bus – Lenny Hort

One of many versions of this children’s classic, Hort’s version is one of my favourites because of its wonderful illustrations and hilarious cast of noisy characters – a perfect book for encouraging audience participation.


Old Mikamba Had a Farm – Rachel Isadora

Another spin on a familiar classic, Rachel Isadora’s beautiful collage illustrations introduce children to a host of African animals, from the familiar lion to the adorable little dassie. Expand your story time horizons in a way that is still very accessible.


Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes – Eric Litwin

What more is there to say? This is a great introduction to singable picture books, as it’s really only the jazzy refrain that gets sung. While many children already know this book, most are more than happy to sing it again….and again….and again…

Working with teens – lessons learned (so far)

As a library school student, I knew pretty early on that I wanted to work with children. I love, love, love sharing my passion for books with children and their caregivers, I’m a pretty high-energy person, and I naturally sing all the time anyway, so it seemed like a natural fit. What I never really thought about as much was working with teens. This past summer I was offered an opportunity to co-facilitate a teen “maker’s camp” program, and this fall I’ll be co-facilitating the Teen Library Council and teen programming at a pretty large urban library branch. Although excited, I initially felt a little bit intimidated by the prospect of working with teens. Let’s face it, it’s been more than a few years since I was a teen (I’m not telling….), and I was such a nerd in my youth anyway that I was really more like an old lady in teen clothes than an actual teenager. And life was so different then! The internet was a shiny new thing that we had to connect to using our telephone lines, and very few of us actually had cell phones, which were really only capable of making calls anyway. We were exposed to so much less back then than the average teen is today. How could I relate to these youngsters? I found myself worrying pretty much the same worries that I had when I was actually a teenager : will the group like me? Will they think I’m cool, or will they laugh because I’m lame?

Wearing a Domo-kun t-shirt that reads "Nerdy by Nature" may or may not up my coolness factor with the young folk...
Wearing a Domo-kun t-shirt that reads “Nerdy by Nature” may or may not up my coolness factor with the young folk…

Now, I am by no means an expert at working with people between the ages of 12 and 20, but here are a few things I have picked up along the way. 1. You are not cool. Get over it.

  • Being uncool is like being stuck in quicksand. The more you struggle, the deeper in you sink. Just accept that being over the age of 20 makes you an old timer and thus inherently out of touch and worthy of pity. The more you try to act or look “cool” (i.e., like a teenager), the lamer you in fact become in the eyes of your audience.

2. You are not there to be everybody’s friend.

  • Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t be friendly, or that you shouldn’t have positive relationships with your teen group. What I am saying is that teens for the most part already have friends – they don’t need or even want you to take on that role. What they do need is for you to be a role model, a supporter, a guide and a leader. Someone who will be firm with them and honest with them when it’s appropriate, even if it means coming across as uncool or boring or lame. Someone who will be there for them even if their friends have turned on them or labelled them uncool. It’s important to be liked by your teens, but it’s even more important to be trusted and respected.

3. Laugh at yourself and the world laughs with you.

  • Don’t take yourself or your programs so seriously that you can’t laugh at your mistakes or shrug off your failures. In my first teen program, there were times when my best-laid plans just completely fell through. I’d planned activities with a certain audience in mind, which turned out to be not even close to the audience that actually showed. What can you? By laughing at life’s little hiccups, dusting yourself off and making the best of the situation, you’re not only making your own life a lot less miserable, you’re also providing a pretty positive example for your group. I want my teens to know that although you can’t always control what life throws at you, you can control how you react, and how better to illustrate this than by living it (most of the time…) myself?

So, that’s just a little bit of the totally non-earth-shattering wisdom I have gained in the past few months. Here’s hoping the next few months prove just as enlightening.

An example of how cool I look when I’m working with teens!

Ice breakers!

Oh ice breakers, the part of meetings that we all love to hate. Designed to get people moving and interacting, ice breakers can all too often be cheesey, boring, weird or even uncomfortable….

Because our teens come from different schools and are in a number of different grades, it’s important that our teen library group meetings include some form of interaction activity that can help teens get to know each other in a non-competitive and hopefully non-threatening way. That being said, we don’t want teens to think that the library is even less cool than they already think it is!

Here are a few ice-breakers that I’ve used in the past, either with teens or in my other role as a facilitator of newcomer programming. Some of these ice breakers have a greater emphasis on “getting to know you”, while others are just fun ways to get people mingling and moving. I’m going to use the word “teens” here a lot, but these can be adapted to work with different age groups as well.

1. Pair and Share

  • Divide teens randomly into pairs. Here’s one way to divide the group: Brainstorm a bunch of YA lit or culture words. If you want to divide the group into 10 pairs, for example, think of 10 words or phrases (Katniss Everdeen, Divergent, One Direction etc.) and write each word/phrase on to two slips of paper. Put all the slips of paper into a hat, and have teens each draw a slip of paper. The teens have to find the person with the matching word, and voila! You have your pairs!
  • The “share” portion of the ice breaker involves teens interviewing their partners, and then introducing their partners to the group (we had the teens write their answers on flipchart paper, so we could display the interviews around the room).
    • We posed both practical and funny questions, to get the creative juices flowing (nothing too personal, though, as we don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable). Besides the usual “name, grade, school” questions, we asked teens – “What animal form would your patronus take?” and “Which actor/actress would play you if your life story was turned into a movie?” These questions got some pretty creative answers!


2. Where do you stand?

  • This isn’t a “getting to know you” ice breaker, but it definitely gets the group up and moving. Everyone stands in the center of a room. The facilitator gives the group two options. Participants then have to move to the right side of the room if they prefer the first option, the left side of the room if they prefer the second option, or the middle of the room if they like/dislike both options!
    • Example pairs: Pepsi or Coke; Coffee or Tea; Early bird or Night owl; Ebook or Print book; Cake or Pie; Appetizer or Dessert; Summer or Winter; Xbox or Playstation; Superman or Batman


3. Alphabet Games!

  • I LOVE alphabet games. I am a total geek. My partner and I actually play these games while we walk, or while we play badminton. We’re cool that way.
  • You can play these games in a million different ways. Teens can sit in a circle on the floor, sit at chairs around tables, or stand. They can throw a beach ball or bean bag at each other, or progress from one teen to the teen seated beside them. Great replay value!
  • As the leader, start the chain with the first example. If your theme is “edibles”, say something like “A is for apple”, then throw the ball at a teen or turn to the teen beside you. The next person has to think of an edible that starts with b, followed by c, and so on. Keep going around the room until you finish the alphabet, and encourage the group to help each other with difficult letters, and be creative!
  • Depending on your group, you might start easy and just have the teens shout out any word starting with their letter. To up the ante, you can work in themes, like “edibles”, or “living things”.
  • Another way to play the game is to have teens think of a word that starts with the same letter as their first name (or the name of the person beside them, if you want to make sure teens are listening during introductions!). I might say “My name is J. J is for jaguar”, or “My name is Jane. Her name is Sophia. S is for salami.” You can definitely also play this game with themes if you’re feeling imaginative – I love the “edibles” theme because it’s definitely open to interpretation – cardboard is technically edible, right?


PJ Story time….zzzzz….

It’s PJ story time night tonight at a new-to-me branch, so I’m expecting the unexpected. I’ve delivered a few PJ story times before, so I’m going to follow a tried-and-true formula and get ready to think on my feet and adapt when necessary. Wish me luck!

A PJ story time is essentially a bedtime-themed family story time that’s offered in the evenings. One of the exciting (read: potentially disastrous) features of an PJ story time is its all-ages nature – you never know if you’ll be sitting in front of a room full of crawling babies or vocal preschoolers. For an on-call librarian, the challenge is even greater, as you don’t often have the luxury of knowing the regulars at your branch.

While we’re on the subject of PJ story times, here are a few bedtime-themed picture books that might just rock at your next jam session (ha ha…)

Dinosaur Vs. Bedtime

Dinosaur VS. Bedtime

Bob Shea

Simplicity at its best. Get ready to roar as a confident little dinosaur defeats all who dare challenge him (including a pile of leaves), before facing off against his greatest challenge yet – bedtime!

Everyone Sleeps

Everyone Sleeps

Marcellus Hall

A little dog who can’t sleep wanders his neighborhood, wondering if he is the only one still awake. Beautifully illustrated, this is a gentle bedtime story with an endearing little hero.

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site

Goodnight, goodnight, construction site

Sherri Duskey Rinker

And now for something a little bit different – a bedtime book about heavy duty industrial machinery! This is a slightly longer story, but the rhyming text is fun, the illustrations are lovely (even construction machines bring their teddy bears to bed!), and the quirky subject matter is likely to intrigue young listeners.

How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?

How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?

Jane Yolen

How does a dinosaur say goodnight? Perhaps not the way you might think! Repetitive, rhyming text, lush, detailed illustrations, and the added joy of dinosaurs make for an engaging twist on the traditional bedtime story.

Llama, Llama Red Pajama

Llama llama red pajama

Anna Dewdney

Drama, suspense, hilarious illustrations and a repetitive, rhyming story combine in this storytime favourite about a melodramatic baby llama’s bedtime antics.

Good Enough To Eat! – Food-themed baby time songs

It’s all about the food today – here are a couple of food-themed lap bounces that I’ve used in my baby times. I don’t typically follow themes when planning my story times, particularly not my baby times, but I must always be feeling a pick peckish when I’m doing my planning, because food-themed songs always seem to make an entrance.

I’m toast in the toaster

I’m getting very hot!

Tick tock, tick tock,

Up I pop!

You be the ice cream

And I’ll be the freezer

You be the lemon

And I’ll be the squeezer

You be the hot dog

And I’ll be the bun

You be the baby

And we’ll have some fun!

(Some versions of this song finish with “and I’ll be the mum!”, but my baby time is pretty diverse, with lots of grandparents and nannies, so I like to use this more inclusive version.)

Pop, pop, popcorn

Pop, pop, pop

You put the corn in the pot

Pop, pop, pop

You shake it while it’s hot

Pop, pop pop,

Open the lid and what have you got? Popcorn!

Pudding on the Plate

Pudding on the plate

Wibble wobble wibble wobble

Pudding on the plate

Candies in the jar

Candies in the jar

Shake ‘em up, shake ‘em up

Candies in the jar

Sausage in the pan

Sausage in the pan

Turn ‘em over, turn ‘em over

Sausage in the pan