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.