Storytime Grab Bag

Storytime Grab Bag

This was one of those weeks where it felt like there just weren’t enough minutes in the week. I gave six storytimes, including two at Head Start, and I’m feeling like I’m getting more confident as I practice my routines more. The most important thing I did this week was read Story Time Success and discover where I sorely needed work: transitions. I wrote out a script for all of my storytimes with basic transitions, and I learned another brick in the wall of my education in that transitions and songs are everything to daycare and preschool workers.

Basically, transitions help prep the kids for the next activity you have planned for them (in storytime, this is usually going from book to song/action rhyme and vice versa) as well as strengthening their understanding using the first step of the Marzano strategy with comparing and contrasting between what you just did and what you’re going to do next. For storytime transitions, this would be taking one thing you just read or sang and finding a common element for the next thing, whether that’s color, critter, concept, or anything else. With that in mind, I’m thinking I’m going to start planning my storytimes about a basic early literacy concept, like books and fingerplays that demonstrate opposites, colors, seasons, etc. Anything to give my storytime kids an edge in kindergarten readiness! Forgive me if I sound a little nuts in my desire to find storytime hacks.

This week I also swapped out most of the books I had chosen for my 4-5 year old storytime to participatory or call and response books. The Head Start group loved It’s a Tiger! by David LaRochelle, especially when I encouraged to shout the phrase with me and helping me find the tiger on the page. Another hit was Don’t Wake Up the Tiger by Britta Teckentrump, dont-wake-up-the-tigerwhich was pretty much storytime gold because it gave easy instructions for the kids to follow, had great full-page illustrations, and an easy-to-understand story. The one change I made that was a participatory book that followed all the conventional storytime book standards (big, colorful, full-page illustrations, big text, and an easy story) was Dinosaur Kisses by David Ezra Stein, which the kids didn’t really seem to get. (That may also be chalked up to my reading ability with this story.)

My review round up of this week only yielded five solid picks from a 20-25 book pile. Such is the storytime life, I think. This week I’m separating them by age range again.

Two year olds

After getting a rather lukewarm perception to Walter’s Wonderful Web in storytime, I was happy to find that another Tim Hopgood story had a little more advanced story about a hooray-for-hoppyyoung rabbit named Hoppy who’s using his senses to investigate when spring will be here. Hooray for Hoppy has a story text is very basic and clear, making it ideal for two year olds, and once again, the illustrations are eye-catching and big. I would make the argument that this text would be a good story to illustrate seasonal transition as well as how animals use their senses.

My next pick would be one that was lauded quite a bit in 2016: Varsha Bajaj’s This is Our Baby, Born Today. At first, given the basic one-sentence-per-page story, I thought this this-is-our-baby-born-todaymight be better for one year olds, but given the length and some of the concepts discussed, I think older two’s would get it more. The story follows a “day” in the life of a baby elephant, highlighting the elephant’s social circle and understanding of the world around them. It leaves off with warm fuzzies, and while I might clip some of the pages together (as much as I hate to do that with Eliza Wheeler’s fantastic illustrations), I hope to use it soon. Once again, the story has full page, colorful, and easy to see illustrations–almost like it was written for storytime.

Three year olds

A confession for my picks in this group: these are stories I like but may not actually work in storytime because they might be too confusing/random/long, and like so many picture books, might be better suited to one-on-one reading. (That sighing sound you hear is me.)

My first pick is the brand new How to Find a Fox by Nilah Magruder. I loved the illustration style and gentle sense of humor about a young girl trying to take a picture of a fox. At first, how-to-find-a-foxshe has many clever ideas about laying out food and following tracks, but it’s not until she’s on the verge of giving up that the fox finds her. The fox is present on every page even if the protagonist can’t find him and does many devious foxy things. The story has big illustrations with a couple of pages of sequences, and my one qualm is that it’s a little long for storytime. Still, I know cuteness is not supposed to be a criteria for evaluating picture books, but this one is mind meltingly cute.

My next pick is The Thing about Yetis by Vin Vogel. While this isn’t a new story, I thought the-thing-about-yetisthat it was a good storytime pick because it encourages kids to practice empathy while they learn to understand that yetis do not always love winter. What’s a yeti to do when they want it to be summer in the dead of winter? It’s an easy story, and the illustration style reminds me of the old school Rudolph the Reindeer style. This book isn’t exactly barging down my door to get used, but I like its gentle approach.

The last book I’m choosing for this week is by a gold standard author for storytime. My library loves her. Saroj Ghoting loves her and has used other works as an example for a Good Storytime Pick. While there are a couple of authors who might fit that general description, I’m talking specifically about Denise Fleming. I read 5 5-little-ducksLittle Ducks when I was first looking at storytime books in my first week of work, and I didn’t really get it. Now that I’ve actually done a few storytimes, I see why everyone loves her: the stories are easy to understand but still highly entertaining; the illustrations are large enough that they can often be seen across the room; and her use of repetition means that even if a child only hears this story once, they’ll probably walk away getting something from it. 5 Little Ducks is no exception to these rules, except that I think the story is a little more suited to a toddler audience than 2-and-under. I will be field testing this one for sure.

“What the heck do I do with this?”

I found a story that I like but is a little too random for me to assign to an age group. Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? by Susan A. Shea and illustrated by Tom Slaughter has desirable storytime elements, like great flaps and illustrations but I’m not sure how I would read it to a group. It’s a little too long for babies or toddlers, but I’m uncertain how do-you-know-which-ones-will-growit would hold the attention of preschoolers. There’s no real story, just rhymed comparisons of critters to objects that leads up to a comparison of a boy to an object, asking which one will grow? I can’t help but think that this story is “close, but not close enough” to use for storytime (which is okay, because I actually borrowed it from a nearby library system since my library doesn’t have it).

That’s it for this week! Next week, I’m hoping to find great storytime books for preschoolers. Each age group has its challenges with choosing the right storytime books, but I’m still struggling a little bit with the 3-5 age range.

Preschool and above storytime picks

Preschool and above storytime picks

Tonight was me marathoning picture books and sorting them into four piles: baby/toddler storytime picks, preschool and above, books that are still good but not for storytime (a nebulous category for sure), and books that aren’t really my style. It kind of feels like splitting atoms to put wonderful books into conventional categories, but I’m focusing on their use. This post featuring the preschool and above storytime picks is a big post, so I’m foregoing my matrix to highlight four different titles.

the-wheels-on-the-tuk-tukThe first title is one that I have been dying to read since I heard about it in October from Penny Peck: The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk written by Kabir Sehgal and Surihiha Sehgal, and illustrated by Jess Golden. Ever wondered what “The Wheels on the Bus” looks like in India? This cute and humorous story includes a tuk tuk (a shared taxi that serves as the bus), rupee, wala, namaste-ji, cow, yogi, chai, poppa-doppa-doms, elephants, and Diwali. I think my favorite page is when the “Tuk Tuk yogi chants ‘Om-om-om, om-om-om, om-om-om’…all through the town.” The song is recognizable, and the illustrations are large enough that it’s easy to watch the tuk tuk toodle about town. It’s easy to make the argument that both the repetition and vocabulary adds to background knowledge and encourages the imagination. While I’m not sure I’ve found an audience where I can use this story, I will keeping looking!the-wheels-on-the-tuk-tuk-page

My second pick for this week is another take on a less familiar but still recognizable story: The Three Triceratops Tuff by Stephen Shaskan. Even though this story was published in 2013, as soon as I saw it on the shelf today, I knew I wanted it. Dinosaurs are dynamite for preschoolers of both genders, and this comic take on a Tyrannosaurus Rex who wantsthe-three-triceratops-tuff to eat our heroic Triceratops Tuff and learns a lesson about picking on dinos of his own size. The colors are gorgeous and the illustrations are a good size for a small to medium group. I also think that because the telling is pretty true to “The Three Billy Goats Gruff”, kids will easily be able to recognize and predict the pattern, making it perfect to tie in as an early literacy title. And let’s be honest: I will always pick cartoon dinosaurs when I can for storytime!

Perhaps these were the titles that caught my eye today, because my third pick fits in with playing with expectations. The book is Beautiful, written beautiful-coverby Stacy McAnulty and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff. This is a newer title that addresses an issue I first read about from A Mighty Girl: calling young girls cute or beautiful teaches them to value physical beauty from an early age, and it’s fair better to compliment them on their intelligence, leadership skills, humor, etc. Beautiful takes that philosophy and illustrates it in a fantastic way by taking old chestnuts like “Beautiful girls know all about makeup.” by showing two girls playing pirates, complete with drawn on stubble and curling mustaches. The girls of this story play in the mud, get dirty, play sports, conduct science experiments, because as the back cover says: “It’s about your clothes, your hair, your style WHO YOU ARE.” What a fantastic message, and the humorous illustrations make me believe it would be good for boys and girls! I recommend this for an older preschool audience, one that can understand the underlying message between the words and the pictures (probably needs to be judged on an individual audience basis).

My last title for preschool storytime picks is Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn by Kenard Pakgoodbye-summer-hello-autumn, which would be good for late summer/fall storytime (Captain Obvious strikes again!). I picked this up immediately because of the gorgeous, colorful illustrations that feature a young girl greeting various critters, objects, and phenomena as the world transitions from summer to fall. While the font is not very large, due to the text’s brevity, it still works for storytime, and some pages feature good specific vocabulary that work for background knowledge. Another feature of this book that I like is the opportunity to make the jump from the girl’s observations to what the kids know, such as when the girl greets the thunder would be a good time to ask kids what noise thunder makes.Another opportunity would be to have the group provide an answer to the question posed on the back cover: “How do we know that autumn is coming?” While the illustrations are not gigantic, they do fill the page and could work with a small group or an older audience especially.

Overall, these stories are great for expanding the worldview of kids, and while I recommended it for preschool and above, I also caution you to know your storytime audience. In my limited experience, it’s easier for a group to appreciate a simpler story than struggle with a confusing one, but I’m always looking for an opportunity to bring in interesting titles. I’ll come back and report later when I try one of these out!

Toddler storytime picks: Say Hello Like This! by Mary Murphy and Happy in Our Skin by Fran Manushkin

Toddler storytime picks: Say Hello Like This! by Mary Murphy and Happy in Our Skin by Fran Manushkin

So my library does some pretty amazing stuff delivering books to local children’s agencies. There’s TOTES–Tubs of Totally Engaging Stories containing 25 books apiece–that are circulated to 15-16 daycares once a month. We have a dedicated collection for TOTES, but twice in the last week I’ve had to pick storytime appropriate picture books from our general collection: 30 for Head Start, and 52 for an after school program (only 15 were picture books, though). I’ll be repeating the pulling of the after school program books two more times before the month is out, and once more for Head Start. I’m not good with numbers, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be trying to find over 200 storytime picture books. Bananas!

With that task at hand, I’m finding myself gravitating towards standby materials (same authors, similar stories) when I call. One author and illustrator I really love for baby say-hello-like-thisstorytime is Mary Murphy, and this week I read one of her books from 2014, Say Hello Like This!Murphy’s more recent work is the gorgeous Good Night Like This, but I like the “Hello!” and animal noise theme better for Hello. Both books are perfect for toddlers because the story is simple and easy to understand, good-night-like-thiswith full page colorful illustrations, and large, visible font. The best part that will enchant babies is the flaps: every page has a sentence that explains the illustration, and then a half page that flips over to show the action that finishes the sentence. One example from Hello is “A dog hello is licky and loud…like this! Bow-wow-wow-wow!” The content and illustrations are just pure fun, and I’ll be sure to be using this in the future for my book picks.

Another pick that comes from 2015 that is appropriate for younger storytime audiences is Happy in Our Skin written by Fran Manuskin and illustrated by Lauren Tobia. One happy-in-our-skinchallenge I take very seriously is trying to find storytime picture books that portray a diverse audience, and this book is a perfect fit. The illustrations and writing highlight how everyone has different skin, but it all serves the same purpose (such as, “Holding our insides in and our outsides out!”). The illustrations fill the page and portray lots of babies, perfect for 1 year olds and above who love seeing babies. The illustrations are so creative and colorful, and generally clear even for little ones (though for very young children, I recommend one-on-one or a few babies at most). I love stories like this and was excited with how great it will be for toddler storytime.

Overall, it’s really helped finding Mary Murphy and Fran Manushkin, both of whom have written several children’s books. Both of their works run the fine line between beautiful illustrations and creative stories, and yet it’s simple enough even for small children to enjoy.

Walter’s Wonderful Web by Tim Hopgood

Walter’s Wonderful Web by Tim Hopgood

As soon as I spotted this book in my library’s new picture book section, I had a feeling I was on to a winner.For one thing, it has “A FIRST BOOK ABOUT SHAPES” smack dab on the cover, and I’m always looking for books that can introduce important concepts in a fun way. Now that I’ve read this story, I see that Tim Hopgood has other books about colors and senses, and I can’t wait to include them in storytime!

walters-wonderful-webThis story is about a cute, crayon-style spider named Walter who needs to figure out the best shape to make his web so it won’t blow away in the wind. I liked that this book is short, but manages to pack in an interesting story that would engage 2-3 year olds. Let’s see how it holds up with the individual components:

Text (amount, diction, font and size)

The text is short and wonderfully to the point. The narration is third person, uses fun phrases like “wibbly-wobbly, and has fun sound effects for the wind. I love that the story has an easy repetition as Walter tries to make his web into a triangle, square, and rectangle, which fail each time: it’s a great opportunity to kids to predict what will happen next and recognize basic story structure. The font also varies and would be easy to read for a small crowd of children.

Illustrations (line work, colors, size, and amount of “negative” white space, which is undesirable in a storytime book)

Tim Hopgood is a man who knows his way around a great picture book illustration: each page is saturated with distinct shapes and colors that are big and easy to see. Walter is also very expressive for a little spider, and I like that he’s friendly. There’s very negative space, and the illustrations of the shapes are especially good (it would be easy to help kids observe the shape characteristics). The easy crayon-style illustration remind me of a child’s drawing, which is an appeal factor.

Theme (concept and story)

This book is what it says on the tin: an introduction to shapes, with a basic plot of a main character failing four times before overcoming a problem. I liked the fact that Walter’s final web not only rocks, but combines all the shapes introduced previously.

Best age fit

While I feel the basic story is good for 2-3 year olds, I could easily see this story working in a preschool storytime as well. The preschoolers would be able to participate by blowing to make the wind as well as drawing shapes with their fingers in the air.

Possible early literacy connections

Background knowledge for introducing shapes and narrative skills for predicting what happens. Understanding shapes is the precursor to letter knowledge, so it’s one of the most valuable skills a toddler can acquire!


As I mentioned in the introduction, I’m excited to see that Tim Hopgood has other concept stories about senses and colors!

I really like that this book, like so many picture books, introduces failure in an less intimidating way and brings in early expression and creativity. I’d love to see Walter up there with Pete the Cat.

Penguin Problems by Jory John, Illustrated by Lane Smith

Penguin Problems by Jory John, Illustrated by Lane Smith

Captain Obvious moment: I knew that starting a project of choosing great storytime books would mean reading an insane amount of picture books, and I am totally fine with it. I started off with trawling the Internet to find lists of great picture books for 2016 and 2017, with the logic that I might as well keep it recent. One problem I found when planning my storytimes is that the gold standard storytime books, like Don’t Push the Button, had already been done at my storytime locations recently. Time to reinvent the wheel, then, and check out new works that other people thought were great. I’ve started with checking out 11 books, with about 15 more on reserve at my two local public library systems.

penguin-problemsFirst up is Penguin Problems written by Jory John and illustrated by Lane Smith. This book came out in 2016 and was lauded for its humor. The premise is that a little penguin wakes up on the wrong side of the bed–he’s cold, he’s hungry, he’s lonely, and the day isn’t shaping up to improve. The story takes us through his day which is narrated by the penguin’s observations and start where it all began. Time to throw this story into the storytime book matrix

Text (amount, diction, font and size)

This would be a challenging book to narrate, as the penguin’s voice is very clear but literally every page has a complaint on it. The font is generally too small to be seen well, and then there’s one page with an entire wall of text where a walrus tells the penguin to appreciate what he does have instead of focusing on what he doesn’t.

Illustrations (line work, colors, size, and amount of “negative” white space, which is undesirable in a storytime book)

Some of the illustrations are great–very little negative space, and good colors and shapes. The penguins are distinct and I love how the colors mirror what you might see in Antarctica. One big problem is that there are way too many sequential pictures where the penguin is featured up to four times on the same page, implying movement…but a 2 year old might look at this and see four different penguins.Therefore, this book would be more appropriate for a school age audience.

Theme (concept and story)

The theme of this story is tricky to rate: a penguin complaining, realizing some things are nice, and then returning to complaining left other reviewers commenting on how it seemed like this book encourages whining. I didn’t see that, but I also think the audience who really appreciates picture books won’t pick up on the humor, and as an adult…I didn’t think it was that funny. I wish the part about the penguin appreciating what he has had been emphasized more, but then I suppose it might have had to have a different time.

  • Best age fit

School age, around first or second grade. Basically, old enough to appreciate the humor but young enough to still like storytime. If I was to read this book to a group of kids, I would be playing up the contrast and trying to bring more levity to what is generally a pretty downer story.

Possible early literacy connections

There’s always the argument of background knowledge for how penguins live, but I think there might be more informative and entertaining text for this particular skill.


So my first review is of a clunker. But really, I feel like this might be a good book for one-on-one reading, particularly with a kid with a different sense of humor. Lane Smith is known for quirky words, and most of his illustrations are great. I do have to recommend this with reservations about the conversation about appreciating what you’ve got that would probably follow after reading this story with a child.

An introduction and a woman’s quest for the perfect storytime picture book

An introduction and a woman’s quest for the perfect storytime picture book

Hello! My name is Ashley, and I am a newly minted children’s services outreach librarian at a public library in Kentucky. I have my MSLS, but neglected to take any children’s lit classes during library school. Since graduating in December 2015, I worked in two different large public library systems in Kentucky, and found the adult services side of public librarianship sorely wanting for jobs. I like helping kids in the library, right? And there’s nothing more fun than getting to act like a kid while imparting important literacy and learning skills, riiiight?

I spent about six months toying with the idea of becoming a children’s librarian–reading a book here, doing a webinar there. I knew several children’s librarians, and took to asking them, “What do you love the most about your job? What path took you to children’s librarianship?” Like so many public librarians, most of the people who answered saw public library work as a secondary career path; with children’s librarians, it’s typically a second choice to teaching. But the answer to what they loved most was unanimous: storytime. Not just singing, dancing, or acting in storytime, but seeing the kids light up and have a ball as well as teaching parents how to recreate the magic at home.

I have learned a ton in the short three weeks I’ve been a children’s librarian, especially that there’s so much that makes a children’s librarian awesome that is just not taught in library school. But I also noticed one area where I could not find much (not to mention free) information on choosing picture books for storytime. The books are almost the entire reason that storytime is the children’s staple it is today, the foundation that the songs and fingerplays are built on. But what constitutes a good book for storytime?

Next month, I will begin giving storytimes to various daycares and preschools in the county where I work. Twenty storytimes spread over four weeks, not to mention all the other projects. It’s storytime on juice. Luckily, I’ve had a lot of time to plan them out, and I have them organized by age groups: older 1 year olds, 2 year olds, 2-3 year olds, 3 year olds, 3-4 year olds, 4 year olds, and last, 4-5 year olds. There’s a lot of crossover in the songs and even some of the books, and it took about three days to find the right books for next month. What I noticed as I began selecting my books is that there are many fantastic picture books that are terrible for storytime. From too much text to too much negative space, from teeny illustrations to scary monsters, I’ve seen so many that would be great for a parent to read with their child on an individual basis, but any librarian presenting them to a group of rambunctious four year olds would probably get eaten alive.

That brings me to the purpose of this blog: to review picture books and evaluate them for their storytime potential. There will be no stars here (thank goodness!). I will be looking at:

  1. Text (amount, diction, font and size)
  2. Illustrations (line work, colors, size, and amount of “negative” white space, which is undesirable in a storytime book)
  3. Theme (concept and story)
  4. Best age fit
  5. Possible early literacy connections
  6. Miscellaneous

It is desirable to find books that back up pre- or early literacy connections, including repetition, cumulative text, clear illustrations, and new vocabulary. My library and my storytimes are not themed because of the emphasis on choosing the best books rather than ones that fit a theme (if it coincides that the great books are of a common theme, awesome, but it’s not intentional), which backs up what Saroj Ghoting says in Storytimes for Everyone!. Overall, I’m using these as a tool for my own personal use, but there is a need in the library world for newbie children’s librarians like me, so I thought it would be good to share. I may also post about other resources I find (Jbrary, all day, everyday).

Overall, welcome to my blog! Let’s get to reading pictures.