Themeless Storytimes: The Method to My Madness

Themeless Storytimes Banner
So in my last post, I talked about how I needed some sort of structure to my storytimes since I’m no longer doing themes.  Today I’m going to talk about the method to my madness.  Now, I don’t follow this outline rigidly, but my themeless storytimes tend to have:

Opening Song:  I still use the same opening song.  It’s an opening song that we use for all of our storytimes, and I kept it to keep some consistency.  Plus everyone knows it by now.  (Our opening song is The More We Get Together, but that’s irrelevant.)

First Book:  Like so many other storytime providers, I tend to read the longest book first.  These first books are usually in rhyme, or have some great illustrations, or a great story.  But, most of all, they’re books that I absolutely 100% love!

First Activity:  When planning storytimes, I just grab random activities that I really like.  Usually these are flannelboards, but they can also be songs/puppets/STEM or any combination of those.  Occasionally the activity will tie in with one of the books I’m reading, and if that’s the case, I’ll make sure to to the activity before or after that book.  But most of the time it doesn’t matter when I do an activity, so I just grab whatever I’m in the mood for.

Song and/or Short Book:  I really like singing books, so I try to have at least one book that can be sung in storytime.  Pete the Cat is my favorite, but I’ll read/sing just about any book that has a good tune (bonus points if children sing along though).  If I can’t find a good song book that appeals to me, then I will choose a short book that’s funny or has lift the flaps or something of interest.

Rhyme Cube:  Another tradition that I brought over from my themed storytimes.  The only difference is that I usually don’t have to roll the cube more than once anymore.

Movement Book:  By this time in storytime, kids are getting antsy, so I always try to have a story that incorporates movement.  Jan Thomas’s Can You Make a Scary Face is my absolute favorite.  Other movement books that work well include From Head to Toe by Eric Carle, Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton, and Faster! Faster! by Leslie Patricelli.

Short Book:  Since the movement book is kind of like an activity, I go right into another book.  It’s usually a short one, and, like I mentioned before, it tends to be funny or have some sort of interactive element such as lift the flaps.

Second Activity:  Then I do another activity.  Again, not picky about what kind of activity.  I usually just pick whatever I’m in the mood for and whatever is most appropriate for the crowd.

Calm Down Book:  I like to end things with a book that’s very short and calming.  Keith Baker’s stuff is good, and I also used Helen Frost’s Step Gently Out before.  I’m sure kids probably think these calm books are kind of a let down after all of that movement and giggling, but I like to think that the parents appreciate it.

Closing Rhyme:  We officially end things with the closing rhyme.  Again this is consistent with how things have always been done.

Once storytime is officially over, I tell parents that they can check out any of the books that I’ve read or that are on display in the room (and I always feel very happy when the books get checked out).  I also turn on some fun music while people are browsing books.  If I used a puppet in storytime, I will wait with the puppet beside the storytime door so that children can say goodbye to the puppet.  Once everyone is out, I turn off the music, clean up, and storytime is over.

*I also want to note that while I didn’t list a specific spot for early literacy tips, I tend to sprinkle those in as I’m reading or doing activities.

Theme-less Storytimes: Pros and Cons

Themeless Storytimes Banner

Welcome to Theme-less Storytimes Week!  A few months ago, I gave up storytime themes in favor of making every storytime about my favorite books, rhymes, and activities.  While I realize that this format isn’t for every storytime provider, I want to dedicate a week to theme-less storytimes in order to both spark some discussion and to critically analyze what’s working and what’s not working.  To start us off, I’ll share some of the pros and cons of theme-less storytimes:


  • FREEDOM!  By giving up storytime themes, I’m able to choose whichever books, songs, activities, ect. that I want!
  • Because I’m able to choose what I want, I’m able to choose things that I really love.  Long gone are the ‘meh’ books and activities that I would throw in to stick with the theme.  And by choosing things that I really love, my energy level and enthusiasm for the storytime increases, and it shows!  Parents and children get excited simply because I’m excited.
  • I’m able to gather a lot of books and activities for each storytime, which makes it easier for me to adjust storytime based on the crowd.  I don’t know about your libraries, but preschool storytime is more like family storytime at my library.  Most weeks we’ll get an equal number of preschool-aged children and toddlers with a few babies thrown into the mix.  When I was doing themes, it was sometimes hard to find enough books and activities that were suited for a variety of ages, and I often found myself thinking on my feet to accommodate the various ages (which sometimes resulted in me doing the rhyme cube 3 or 4 times).  But now I bring a whole big stack of books, flannelboards, songs, and activities into the storytime room.  The ones I don’t use, I save for the next storytime.  It’s amazing!
  • It takes less time to plan (usually).  The first day I decided to go themeless, I spent about a grand total of two minutes walking through the picture book section, pulling some of my favorite books.  I then walked to my cubicle area, opened my flannelboard/activity drawer and picked out a few.  The whole thing took about five minutes.  Like I mentioned above, any books or activities that I don’t do in storytime go into the next storytime I do.  So when storytime is over, I have half of my next storytime all ready to go.  All I have to do is pull an extra few books and maybe an activity or two and voila!


  • You have to be very cognizant of what books/activities you’ve used recently.  I don’t know about you guys, but it’s easier for me to remember what themes I’ve done recently as opposed to which books/activities I’ve done. I’m lucky at my library because preschool storytime is split between myself and three other librarians.  So I typically do one storytime a month (sometimes 2 a month if we have people out on vacation/sick time). Therefore, if I do end up doing a book or activity that I did the last time I did storytime, it’s usually not as big of a deal because that last storytime was most likely 3 or 4 weeks ago.  Still, I often find myself looking at my past storytime plans and wondering, “Is it too soon for me to sing Pete the Cat again?”
  • If you only do your favorite books and activities, your pool of things to choose from grows smaller.  I’m lucky in the sense that I have a lot of favorite books and activities.  This added on to the fact that I only do storytime once or twice a month means that it’ll be quite awhile before I run out of things that I love (and by then, enough time would have passed for me to start repeating things).  But if I was doing storytime every week, I would probably have a problem.
  • Lack of structure.  While it’s freeing to not be limited to themes, after my second themeless storytime, I started grasping for some kind of structure.  (If I were a character on Friends, I would be Monica.  You might not have this structure problem if you’re a Rachel or a Phoebe.)  I found myself creating some semblance of structure by the types of books I read (see the next post, The Method to My Madness).  And so far it’s working out okay.
  • The parents may not like it.  This isn’t a problem that I’ve actually encountered yet, but I can see it happening if parents are used to themes.  So many of us do storytime at my library, and we all have different styles, which means the parents are used to every storytime being a little bit different.  And I know some of my coworkers occasionally do a themeless storytime just to liven things up (or because they have a cold and are in no mood to actually plan a themed storytime…we’ve all been there).  So my storytime parents are used to this nonsense and just kind of go with the flow.  But if you do themes every week and suddenly stop, I can see some parents reacting negatively to that.  But they’ll get over it.  Especially when they see how much fun their kids are having.

And that’s all I can think of right now.  Do you do theme-less storytimes?  If so, what are some of the pros or cons for you?


iPad Free Play

Today I offered an iPad program in which parents and children of all ages were invited to come in and test out some of the apps that we have on our iPads. There was no format, no goal, and no structure.  I simply stood outside of the program room and basically said, “Good morning, would you like to play with some iPads?” to families as they walked into the department.  Many of them said yes, grabbed an iPad or two, and started to explore.

I have always been a firm believer that — yes, too much screen time is bad — BUT interactive and educational screen time can be very, very good!  And this program justified my belief because during the entire hour, I heard fantastic conversations between parents and their kids as they all played and explored and learned together.

Also, this conversation happened as I was explaining Color Uncovered to a young girl:

Me:  This app has a lot of cool optical illusions!

Girl’s Mother:  Just like that dress on the Internet!

Weird Internet memes aside (IT’S GOLD AND WHITE!), this program was a lot of fun for everyone, and the best part is the fact that I did little to no prep work.  All I had to do was familiarize myself with the apps, which took about 10 minutes because I was already familiar with most of them.

After people were done exploring the iPads, I asked them what their favorite apps were.  Here are some of the favorites:

Kaleidoscope Drawing Pad

Finger Paint with Sounds

LEGO Movie Maker

My Robot Friend

Minecraft Update

Back in July, I talked about the Minecraft program that a coworker and I were offering twice a week during the summer.  Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that we’ve continued to offer this program once a week every week (with a short break for Christmas & New Years).  So here’s what’s been happening:

– We updated to the latest MinecraftEdu.  I forget what version we were running before, but we ignored all updates throughout summer and fall and the beginning of winter.  We also kept the same worlds for those months, and kids were definitely running out of land to build on.  Then came that fateful day in January when I had a full room of Minecraft fanatics and THE SERVER CRASHED!  Luckily we were able to play in a single player world, so I wasn’t mobbed by angry kids, but it taught us the lesson that we should update semi-regularly and give the kids a new world to play in semi-regularly too.  So now we’re up to date, and the worlds are still newish, and I’ll be sure to let IT know to update and build a new world prior to summer.

– We had several weeks where an invisible person (or multiple invisible people) was destroying houses and killing pets and basically just griefing all over the place.  This was the most frustrating couple of weeks for me because kids would get very UPSET when something happened to their house or pets.  But the person was invisible, so there was no way that I could figure out who it was.  There were a couple of times when I had to freeze everyone in the game in the hopes that this behavior would stop, but freezing did nothing.  And the worse part was that I wasn’t even sure if it really was an invisible person, or if it was some sort of glitch in the game.  One day, I had a girl tell me that someone had flooded her house.  And, sure enough, it was flooded.  But 1) she was in the nether and a quick look around the room told me that no one else was in the nether, 2) we had literally just logged on and flooding a house like that would have taken more than just a minute.  After a few stressful weeks of trying to manage this invisible nonsense, I ended up telling the kids that there was nothing that I could do, and that they’d just have to live with it and rebuild.  Funnily enough, the mysterious invisible person stopped harassing others after that.

– This program is still insanely popular.  We saw a slight drop in numbers when school started, but for the past two months we’ve not only been filling up the computer room, but I’ve had to turn anywhere where from 2 to 8 kids away per program!  I’ve also been letting kids use my computer, just so we could get that one extra person in.  Because of this, I haven’t been signing in as a teacher, which means I can’t TP kids or freeze kids.  This has been working out well for me because constant TPing is a pain, and now I can walk around the room and talk to kids about the game and even bring some extra work to work on during the program.  Kids are sad about not being able to TP though, so I think that I’ll start a policy where I will keep the computer for the first five minutes so that I can TP people to be by their friends before relinquishing the computer to the last kid.

– One of the things that I love most about this program is that I get to watch kids build friendships with one another.  These are kids who might otherwise be staying at home and playing on the computer solo, so it’s great to see them become friends with each other.  I see a lot of hugs in the hallway as they’re waiting for me to open the door.

– The kids are SO PROUD of what they build!  As I’m walking around the room, I often have kids stop me to show me what they built or to tell me about how many diamonds they have or something similar.  Every now and then, kids will work together to build something AMAZING and then put a bunch of TNT in it and call me over so that I can first marvel at it and then watch it burn to the ground.

– There are still A LOT of things that I don’t know how to do in Minecraft, but it’s okay because there’s always at least one kid who does know how to do it, so when I get asked a question that I don’t know the answer to, I can still just call out the question and someone else will have the answer.

– The last thing to note is that we’ve (and by we, I mean me, and maybe my coworker) have relaxed a lot during this program.  We no longer write down the rules (our regulars know them, and when we see a new person, we tell them the rules as we get them started).  We no longer take down names and user names, though we still try our best to learn names/user names as we go.  We now allow survival mode, which we said we’d never do.  We have two servers for kids to play in and one is in survival mode and other is in creative and they can choose which one they one to play in (about half choose survival while the other half choose creative).  We generally keep monsters turned off, but allow TNT.  I have gone from mostly dreading this program to actually kind of liking it a lot.

And that has turned into a novel-length blog post.  I don’t know if any of you will find it useful and/or interesting, but if you do have questions about Minecraft, feel free to ask!

Life Lately at the Library: January 2015

Life Lately January 2015I realized the other day that anyone who reads this blog probably thinks that all I do at my job is Toddler Art and Storytime and read picture books.  Which, yes, is a big part of my job.  But I actually do a wide variety of other things too.  These other things may not deserve their own blog posts, or maybe they do and I’m just too busy to get around to it.  Either way, I still want to share what I’m up to each month, which is why I’m starting a new blog series:  Life Lately at the Library.

Where’s what I was up to in January:

Frozen Party 1

1) Frozen Sing-a-long

Okay, this program actually happened at the very end of December, but it was close enough to January 1st that I feel comfortable adding it to January’s LLatL.  One of my coworkers was the mastermind behind this program, but I was there to help out for the afternoon and evening showings.  The program itself was really simple:  we showed the sing-a-long version of Frozen in the library’s theater and allowed the kids to come up on stage and sing along with the songs.  We also had a photo op area for families to take their pictures with cardboard cutouts of Elsa, Anna, and Olaf.  Overall, the program was a big hit (we had over 100 people attend each of our three showings), though I got so sick of Frozen, that I don’t know when I can actually watch it again.  I was also sick with a cold that day.  But as a very wise person on Twitter mentioned, my cold didn’t bother me anyway. ;)

Media Tie-Ins

2) Categorizing the Media Tie-Ins

I’m in charge of my branch’s media tie-in books.  These are the books that are based off of movies or TV shows (think Dora, Disney, Star Wars, etc.).  We have a special area set aside for these books, and we put orange stickers on their spines.  This collection is very popular — so much so that it’s impossible to keep them in shelf order.  So in January I started categorizing these books by TV Channel and/or Movie Production Company.  To do this, I placed smaller stickers within the orange stickers.  So now the Disney books have blue dots within their orange dot.  And the Dreamworks books have green dots within their orange dots.  And Nickelodeon books have yellow dots, etc.  It’s still impossible to keep them in shelf order, but now it’s a little easier to find books, because you only need to flip through a certain color of dots.

3D Printing

3)  Minecraft and 3D Printing

I was going to talk about how awesome the Minecraft and 3D Printing programs are, but then I decided that this really does require its own post.  So for right now I’ll just say that Minecraft is a weekly program that I do along with a coworker.  Minecraft’s popularity is huge, and I had to turn kids away several times in January due to not having enough computers.  3D Printing is also very popular these days.  I offered two classes in January and had over 30 kids attend!  Woo hoo!


4)  Mock Caldecott and Newbery Awards

I am super, super fortunate that my library offers a Mock Caldecott and Mock Newbery each January.  Last year I just did the Mock Newbery, but this year I did both.  And it was so much fun!  Colleagues from all over the state came together to discuss the year’s best books and to vote on our favorites.  And we were eerily close to guessing the actual winners this year.  Click here to see the results of our Newbery election.  And click here to see the results of our Caldecott election.  And ten points to the Hogwarts house of your choice if you can spot me in the pictures!


5)  Day of Diversity Forum @ ALA Midwinter

A few months ago, I was awarded a Building STEAM with Dia mini grant (more on that in the coming months).  Because of this, I was invited to attend the Day of Diversity Forum at ALA Midwinter.  And.  WHOA!  It was, by far, one of the best events that I have ever attended!  I’ve already written about it here, so I won’t say any more about it on this post other than Chicago is a beautiful city.

Perfect for Storytime

Perfect for Storytime Banner
Baby and Toddler Storytime:

Love Always EverywhereLove Always Everywhere by Sarah Massini.

This super simple book is especially perfect for baby storytimes, though it’ll also work well for toddler storytimes.  Each page features only two words, and there’s a simple rhyme scheme that makes it flow smoothly.  While books that chronicle the many facets of love are plentiful, this one stands out for its warm illustrations that feature a diverse cast of children.  Also puppies.  And a little mouse that can be found on every spread, which would make a great look and find game for one on one reading.


Preschool and Family Storytime:

The Bear Ate Your SandwichThe Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach

This book is beautiful and detailed and funny!  The story is simple and follows a bear as he escapes the forest on a berry truck and spends the day in the city, culminating with him eating a sandwich.  But the best part of the story is the slight twist at the end.  While a one on one sharing would be best for a child to see all the amazing details in the illustrations, this book will still work well as a read-aloud.  And while I’m not really good at predicting Caldecott contenders, I still say that this one has a definite chance for next year’s award.

This is ORQThis ORQ. (he cave boy.) by David Elliot

This one is sure to be storytime gold, and I can’t wait to read to a group of kids!  For optimal success, you’ll have to read it in your best cave-person voice.  The short sentences on each page tell the story of Orq, a boy who loves his pet woolly mammoth named Woma.  But when Woma gets too big for the cave, Orq’s mother kicks the over-sized pet out.  The antics between Orq and Woma will make kids giggle throughout the whole story.

The Boy Who Lost His BumbleThe Boy Who Lost His Bumble by Trudi Esberger

There once was a boy who loved his garden and the bees that lived in it.  But then the seasons change, and the bees go away, and the boy feels very sad until spring when the bees return.  The story originally made me think of S.A.D, particularly since the colors are bright during the warmer seasons and dull and gray during the colder seasons (and also because the boy is described as feeling empty).  But the back of the book has some interesting tidbits about where bees go in the winter, why bees are important, how bees are in trouble, and what we can do to help.  While you can definitely use this book to talk about emotions or help a SAVE THE BEES campaign, it also works well on its on as a simple read aloud.

Diversity: What We Can Do NOW

Yesterday I had the great privilege to attend ALSC’s Day of Diversity Forum.  This was an all day, invitation only event that was amazing beyond my greatest expectations.  I wanted to film the whole thing.  Every single panel and speaker and break-out session was simply wonderful.  Unfortunately, I did not film a single thing (though I did tweet like crazy).  Since I did not capture the amazing on film, I would like to write about it here.  I will not be recapping the day; instead, I’ll be talking about why we should support diverse books and programs, and then I’ll list some things that we can do RIGHT NOW to help promote diversity in our libraries, schools, and communities (and hopefully, soon, the entire world).

But first, if you’re not up to date on the topic of diversity in children’s literature, ALSC has a great list of suggested reading.  (Scroll down for the reading links.)

Why Promote Diversity:

  • The lack of diversity in media isn’t limited to children’s literature.  Just look at this year’s Oscars nominees.  While the United States is getting more and more diverse, this isn’t being reflected in media.  Kids (and adults) need to see themselves in what they watch and read.  By fighting for more diverse characters in children’s literature, we can hopefully cause a change in other media outlets as well.
  • The topic of diversity comes up every five years or so, but the conversation typically fizzles out without any positive outcomes.  This time the conversation seems to be sustaining itself, but it will only continue to do so if we continue to promote it.  Talking about it isn’t enough; we need to be DOING something about it.
  • Kids are not kids for very long.  Every few years, they age out of various reading levels (picture book, chapter book, middle grade, YA, etc.)  We do not have the luxury of time to sit around and ho hum about this topic.  We need to be proactive so that the children of today can see themselves in (and be inspired by) the books they read.

What Can We Do NOW:

  • Promote diversity system-wide in your organization, whether it’s a library, school, or business.
    • While one person promoting diversity is better than none, this is not a one-person job.  What if that person leaves the organization?  What will happen to all their hard work?  Furthermore, the community needs to see diversity in all areas of the library, not just in one area.
    • All staff needs to be knowledgeable about cultural bias.  If possible, have a university professor or some other expert come in to conduct a workshop with staff about cultural bias.
  • READ diverse books.  Go outside of your reading comfort zone.  It’s not enough to simply hand a diverse child a book that features a diverse character.  This is especially true since many older books portray harmful and inaccurate stereotypes.  Know what these books are about and pitch them to children in a way that will make the child excited to read them.
  • There are more book awards than just the Newbery and Caldecott.  Promote Coretta Scott King books.  Promote Pura Belpre books.  Promote American Indian Youth Literature Award books.
  • Buy diverse books!  Buying books is a political act.  By buying diverse books, we are not only supporting the writers, but we are also showing the industry that these are the books that we want.
  • Go to your local independent bookstore with a list of well-written diverse books and ask them to purchase every book on the list.  You can try this with Barnes and Noble too, though there’s more red tape there.  Hopefully if we ignite diverse book buying at a local level, bigger stores will follow suit.
  • Take a look at the e-books your library is purchasing.  Are there diverse titles?  With more and more people reading on tablets, it’s important that all parts of our collections are representing diversity, including our online books.
  • Reach out to teachers.  Many of them are so busy that they do not have the time to be aware of new diverse books.  Start a custom collections program with your local teachers so that they can learn about and have access to well-written diverse books.  If possible, seek out grant money and adopt a classroom, bringing children new books that they can either keep or check out.
  • Include diverse books in your book displays all year long.  Set up some non-prominent book displays throughout the library so that kids can look at the book without feeling looked at.
  • Learn how to pronounce the names of diverse authors ( is very helpful here).  Also, show pictures of the authors so that children can see that they can be writers too.
  • Give publishers feedback.
  • Partner with local organizations to provide cultural programs.
  • Set goals and give yourself a timeline to get them done.  It’s not enough to just agree with the diverse books movement, or to just talk about it.  We need to DO something.  So write down three goals:  one that you want to accomplish by the end of the month, one that you want to accomplish by the end of three months, and one that you want to accomplish by the end of summer.

If you’re on Twitter and want to learn more, take a look at the #DiversityMatters tag.  Lots of great ideas and inspiring quotes!