Category Archives: Storytime Guerrilla of the Month

Meet Joel Nichols, Storytime Guerrilla of the Month

Joel makes all of his storytimes so much fun, and you can totally tell that by his happy photo.

Joel makes all of his storytimes so much fun, and you can totally tell that by his happy photo.

Ninjas, meet Joel Nichols, an outstanding storytime provider and our May Storytime Guerrilla of the Month!

Joel Nichols is a Children’s Librarian and Branch Manager at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Past jobs there have included the Parkway Central Children’s Department and the Techmobile, a computer lab on wheels. He is the author of iPads in the Library (2013) and Teaching Internet Basics: The Can-Do Guide (forthcoming 2014), and also writes fiction. Recent stories can be found in the weird fiction magazine Phobos and in With: New Gay Fiction. He has an MSLIS from Drexel, an MA in Creative Writing from Temple, and BA in German from Wesleyan University. He lives in Philadelphia with his boyfriend and their child.

Q: What’s your philosophy for choosing books and activities for storytime?
Joel: For books, the art and book design have to catch my eye. The pictures need to tell the story. The text has to be clear and work on many levels: a preschool-appropriate message level, the right vocabulary level, to start, but it also has to offer something to adults in the group and, for the best ones, also in terms of symbology and reference to other texts.

For songs and rhymes: they have to be something I can sing/remember/recite! I’m no singer, so simple tunes work for me. I’m also drawn to anything about the moon and space, elephants, whales, insects, dinosaurs, and lots of other stuff.

That said, I test books out in storytime all the time that I don’t even necessarily like, but that have interesting connections to real-life events or other books. The final part of my philosophy for planning storytimes is that I try out lots of stuff and keep doing whatever seemed to work, whatever kids enjoyed, whatever they ask for, etc.

Go away, Big Green Monster!

Go away, Big Green Monster!

Q: If you had free reign to try anything in storytime, what would it be?
Joel: Crafts and writing activities. I work in a small branch and do storytimes on the floor. I wish there were appropriate space and furniture for preschoolers to have a chance to write/draw/make about something we just read or talked about in storytime. I’m constantly pairing storytime books that have lots of intertextual resonance, like Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown and Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester, and then asking kids to talk about the stories and books and what was the same and what was different. I’d love to be able to do more of that, but with big groups of preschool classes, it’s challenging.

Q: What piece of advice would you give to librarians just starting out in youth services?
Joel: Think of your professional practice and development as a “see one, do one, teach one” field, and observe as many other librarians doing their work as you can. Watching, assisting and asking questions to learn about the practice of others teaches you new practical skills and builds confidence through repetition.

Q: What one storytime skill are you really great at? Okay, you can share two things.
Joel: My favorite thing is being like a narrator for an amazing literacy experience. Sort of like Levar Burton on Reading Rainbow: setting the scene, introducing the books, and then also asking about and discussing them…I like taking storytimers on a magical journey where they are seeing some things and learning about some ideas for the very first time. That’s what I really enjoy.

Q: You’re in an elevator and an adult services librarian says something about storytime that makes it clear she just doesn’t get it. What do you say to convey the importance of storytime?
Joel: Sometimes people just don’t get it because they haven’t experienced it. You could ask her to join you in giving a storytime sometime, or just invite her to watch yours. In my community, storytime is a place where kids get access to a world of books, stories, art and ideas that’s more interesting and different (and maybe better) than the other media they are exposed to. It can be frustrating that this work is so often reduced to “reading with kids” by people who don’t understand the 5 early literacy areas and the role of children’s librarians in supporting literacy development, but go read to some kids and you’ll feel better.

Meet Dana Sheridan, Storytime Guerrilla of the Month

Dr. Dana has the best take on those stereotypical "librarian glasses."

Dr. Dana has the best take on those stereotypical “librarian glasses.”

Ninjas, today I’m pleased to introduce you to Dana Sheridan, our April Storytime Guerrilla of the Month. When we put out a call for folks to feature in this monthly series, Dana asked if we would only be featuring librarians. I was pleased to reply, “Nope! Anyone who does storytime in any capacity is a storytime guerrilla in our books.” We want to feature the full range of storytime practitioners, from volunteers and paraprofessionals to librarians and folks from other fields besides librarianship. If you’re doing awesome storytimes, we want to give you a platform to share it. And thus we came to feature Dana herself.

Dana Sheridan–or Dr. Dana, as she’s referred to when on duty–received her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Virginia. While her academic work focused on how children learn in free-choice environments, her professional passion has always been the design of dynamic hands-on programs for children. She has worked in a variety of settings, including a children’s hospital, special collections library, children’s museum, science center, and a major city zoo. Additionally, she has been a guest lecturer at literary society meetings, children’s literature classes, and education courses. She currently works at the Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton University, and blogs about her creative literacy work about her creative literacy work (including storytime project fun!) at Pop Goes the Page.

Q: How did you come to be a storytime practitioner?
Dana: I’d worked with kids in various contexts (museums, schools, hospitals, camps) before I came to Princeton University, but I had never done a straight-up storytime until I arrived at the Cotsen Library eight years ago. Since then, my storytime technique has evolved into what you see today–semi-dramatic readings with vocal characterizations, audience participation, questions & answers, using the book as a prop, etc. I’m starting to teach librarians and teachers how to use these techniques. My first workshop is next week! Wish me luck!

Q: True or false: A storytime is a storytime is a storytime.
Dana: It depends on what you believe. You can have a storytime with all the bells and whistles and it’s not worth one whit if you don’t believe in what you’re doing. You are absolutely allowed to be nervous, hesitant, terrified, and overwhelmed when you’re new to the storytime trade, but you can always learn storytime skills and find your voice. Even if you flub the first few and sweat your way through The Very Hungry Caterpillar, if you believe that books, children, and literacy are important, that belief is going to radiate out from you and make an impact on your listeners.

Q: What’s been inspiring your library work lately?
Dana: I’ve been doing a lot of nonfiction work lately. Currently, I’m researching six web mini-documentaries that feature Cotsen’s special collections. The mini-documentaries are aimed at middle school students. Some of them are basic, like what is a rare book, what are primary and secondary sources, what is book conservation, etc. Some are more complicated, like Victorian childhood and how toys reflected social status. Or the introduction of Communism in 20th century China as seen through a series of popular children’s publication. What’s inspiring are the materials from Cotsen’s collections. The stuff is just amazing, both visually and historically. I can hardly wait to teach kids about them.

Q: What’s your favorite thing to do with kids in storytime, and why do you do it?
Dana: My favorite thing is to read dramatically to kids and watch them react to a story. Gasps, laughter, hands over the eyes during the exciting parts, little squeals during scary parts, the offering of unsolicited advice to the characters. I will never tire of it. Never. Ever. Coming in a close second are the creative projects we do at storytimes. It’s always thrilling to help kids make a concrete, tangible, and inspired connection to the book, and to have them take their creations home for further fun.

Q: How do you go about continuing to develop your storytime skills?
Dana: By watching other story tellers, librarians, and teachers. And not just what they do during storytime but also during the transition times of the program! For my character vocalizations, I always keep my ears tuned for interesting voices in crowds. I snag voices from the videos my kids watch too. I’ll just add here that Captain Barnacles from the Octonauts is the man. Or more accurately, he’s the bear!

 

Meet Kevin Delecki, Storytime Guerrilla of the Month

Ninjas, this month’s featured guerrilla is a former storytimer who now advocates for the importance of storytime from a management position. We all do our jobs best when we’re flexing all our muscles to promote early literacy–both in storytimes and to our communities and administrators. Our March Storytime Guerrilla of the Month, Keven Delecki, can share some perspective on just that topic.

The Hulk is a fellow enthusiast of flexing one's storytime muscles.

The Hulk is a fellow enthusiast of flexing one’s storytime muscles.

Kevin Delecki has worked in libraries for 10 years, first in Michigan and now in Ohio. He began his career as a Children’s Librarian and moved into management 6 years ago. He is chair of the 2015 Theodore Seuss Geisel Award committee, and served on the 2011 Randolph Caldecott Award Committee. Even though it isn’t his main focus any longer, he is still active and involved in service to children and young adults, including storytime/storytelling, reader’s advisory and STEAM programming. In his spare time, Kevin spends as much time as possible with his wife and three adorable children, and is active on Twitter @NYALibrarian.

Q: What is your current position at your library?
Kevin: I am the Head Librarian (Branch Manager) of the Cedarville Community Library, a small library in a rural college town that is part of the Greene County (Ohio) Public Library system. Due to the size of the library, I am fortunate enough to be involved in all aspects of the library, including circulation, reference, outreach, programming, and youth services.

Q: What is your background as a storytime practitioner?
Kevin: I spent my first two years in libraries working with and studying under an amazing librarian who was a Professional Storyteller for 25 years before becoming a Children’s Librarian. I then began my professional career in a small inner-city branch with no history of children’s services. My focus there was to build interest and attendance in children’s programming. I began my first storytime series with 1 child and her grandmother –and it was just the three of us for three months! This was before the proliferation of Social Media and blogs focusing on Youth Services, so I learned as much as I could from other local librarians, listservs, and massive amounts of trial and error. Three years later, after a lot of work and immeasurable support from my manager and coworkers, I left the library with 10 children every week at our Baby Storytime, 25 children at Toddler Time, and 25 children at Preschool Storytime.

Q: How do you advocate for youth services at your library from your current position?
Kevin: Most importantly, I do whatever I can to ensure that the Children’s Librarian at my library has what she needs in order to succeed. That includes working with the budget, managing her work and desk schedule, ensuring she has the personnel support necessary, and providing opportunities for training and enrichment. Also, I spend a great deal of time advocating to parents/patrons in the library, as well as with stakeholders in the community–emphasizing to them the importance of quality Youth Services. Finally, I work with the rest of the staff of the library–reference, circulation, library aides–ensuring that they understand the importance of Youth Services and encouraging their support though their interactions with patrons, their participation in programs, and the building of their further knowledge.

Q: Unfortunately, not every library has administrators who understand or value what happens in the children’s room. What advice would you give to these YS staffers to help them advocate for their work to their administrators?
Kevin: This may sound counter-intuitive, but my first step would be to stop focusing on the views of the administration–at least at first. That’s not to say to be insubordinate or disrespectful, but instead to focus on yourself, and begin to grow and develop what you are doing. Get the pulse of your community, expand your Personal Learning Network, utilize the amazing online resources to help develop programs that specifically meet your community’s needs. Nothing builds vocal library supporters more than outstanding youth programs. In time, invite members of the administration–preferably starting with those more disposed toward Youth Services–to visit or assist with programs that you know will be successful, or will be attended by your more vocal supporters. You may not change their views or preconceptions quickly, or even at all, but demonstrated value goes much farther than just being told what should be important.
Also, surround yourself with local and virtual colleagues who understand the importance of Youth Services. Having people who truly understand and appreciate the important work that you do is vital to keeping you moving forward, innovating, and providing amazing service to the youth in your community.

Q: What do you miss most about leading regular storytimes?
Kevin: So much! Storytime/storytelling, both in the library and in the community, was the central focus and biggest joy of my job as a Children’s Librarian. I did between 8 and 15 storytimes a week, including three straight hours every other Friday. I taught myself ukulele, learned to storytell both on my own and with a 3-foot tall marionette and overcame my fear of singing in public. Most importantly, I got to be a part of so many children’s lives–helping them learn to love books, helping them learn to read. I worked in daycares and shelters where the children had never, in their entire lives, had a positive interaction with an adult male, and worked for months to help them build trust. Storytime encapsulates so much of a library’s importance, and it will always be one of my favorite experiences as a librarian.

Q: What’s been inspiring your library work lately?
Kevin: So much of what has been inspiring me is watching the current generation of librarians and library workers transform library service. Groups such as Storytime Underground and Flannel Friday, advocacy like Guerilla Storytime, being able to interact through Social Media with awesome, creative, innovative, exciting people, and being in a position where I am able to mentor and help encourage those new to, and excited about the profession–these are the things that energize and inspire me! Regardless of the doom and gloom predicted by news outlets with a 1967 view of libraries, I feel as if we’re in one of the most exciting times for library services–technology is giving us unprecedented access to patrons and ideas, and yet even with the changes, Gallup has found that we are more popular than baseball and apple pie! Libraries, and especially Youth Service librarians, truly have the ability to change and improve lives, and I am grateful every day to be a small part of that.

Meet Laura Arnhold, Storytime Guerrilla of the Month

Laura Arnhold knows how to do a tree pose in Yoga Storytime.

Laura Arnhold knows how to do a tree pose in Yoga Storytime.

This month, we’d like you to meet Laura Arnhold, a children’s librarian at the Upper Merion Township Library in King of Prussia, PA (outside of Philadelphia). Laura has been in that position for five and a half years, and she spends a lot of her time answering reference questions, leading story times, and planning programs for children in Kindergarten – 8th grade.  Laura got on our radar for Storytime Guerrilla of the Month after she shared some great details and ideas for Yoga Storytime at the Guerrilla Storytime at ALA Midwinter this past January. She’s recently written a great summary post about her experiences doing Yoga Storytime and resources so you can, too; find the post at her blog, Literacious. Laura wanted to be a librarian since she was little, and she’s pretty sure she has the best job in the world. In her spare time, she loves to cook, spend time outdoors, and of course try to read as much kid’s lit as possible.

Q: What one storytime skill are you really, really great at? Okay, you can share two things.
Laura: I’m not afraid to stop in the middle of storytime and go “off script;” sometimes things are just not going the way you planned and you need to mix it up a little bit. I’m also a big fan of encouraging what I like to call “managed chaos.” A parachute, some “popcorn” balls, and 20 toddlers can get pretty crazy at times, but it’s worth it when the kids are giggling up a storm and the caregivers are having a good time too!

Q: What’s been inspiring your library work lately?
Laura: I was lucky enough to attend ALA Midwinter and I loved the ideas coming out of the Guerrilla Storytime. I also follow a ton of great blogs and other librarians on Twitter who are doing amazing things across the country, and I think it’s a really exciting time to be in the field.

Q: If you had free reign to try anything in storytime, what would it be?
Laura: I’m lucky to work in a library that allows me to try new ideas all the time! We’ve begun a parachute storytime program as well as a yoga storytime, a STEM storytime, and a sensory storytime. I think I’d like to try adding more exploratory play after storytime to encourage families to interact together and as a way to teach early literacy skills in a more personal setting where I can talk to a few families at a time.

Q: What piece of advice would you give to librarians just starting out in youth services?
Laura: Don’t be threatened by previous librarians in your position; you’ll often hear something like, “It has always been done like this…” Storytime always works better when you’re comfortable with the songs, stories and activities. And don’t forget to read as much as you can. It’s a major help when planning storytimes and offering suggestions too!

Q: When you have a storytime problem, who/what do you turn to for advice or support? It can be a person, a blog, a website, a resource…
Laura: Blogs have been a great resource for me lately, and some of my favorites include Abby the LibrarianThe Show Me Librarian, and Storytime Katie.  These are just a few of the story time blogs I follow. If I’m looking for early literacy information to enhance my storytime, I always head over to Saroj Ghoting’s website for great resources about the importance of early literacy.

~*~

Do you want to be a Storytime Guerrilla of the Month, or know someone who should be? Send us an e-mail and tell us a bit about those crazy storytime skills!

Meet Brooke Rasche, Storytime Guerrilla of the Month

Brooke rocking a baby read-aloud. Peek-a-YOU!

Brooke rocking a baby read-aloud. Peek-a-YOU!

Ladies and gents, meet Brooke Rasche, our January Guerrilla of the Month. Brooke has been a children’s librarian for 2 years. Her first job was in Virginia, where she programmed for ages 0-19. Now, she’s in Wisconsin and programs specifically for ages 0-5, but she also jumps in and helps where she’s needed. Brooke’s passion is early literacy and she loves to talk about it with anyone who will listen, including on her blog. In her non-librarian life, she enjoys reading, watching horrible reality tv, and maybe sewing (she just got a machine for Christmas!). Brooke absolutely adores her job and truly thinks it is her calling in life.

Q: What’s your philosophy for putting together a storytime?
Brooke: The main thing I consider when I look for books and activities is will it add value to my storytime. Will kids respond well to it? How about parents and caregivers? Does this fit with the early literacy tip I want to focus on? I also try to keep my storytime content fresh. Some parents are with me for 24 months before moving on to the next storytime provider and I want to make sure they are not hearing the same 15 books and songs for 2 years.
I also think it’s important to make sure that you are enjoying yourself in storytime. It is easy to get stuck in a “storytime rut” or to get burned out when you do it for months on end. If you dread storytime each week then it will be noticeable by the caregivers and children.
In Wisconsin it can obviously get very very cold. If my families are getting their children ready, walking out in freezing weather, and coming to the library specifically for storytime I want to make sure they leave feeling like it was worth their time.


Q: What’s your favorite thing to do with kids in storytime, and why do you do it?
Brooke: I currently do 3 baby storytimes (11-23 months) and 1 infant storytime (0-10 months) each week. My absolute favorite thing to do with them is playtime! It is a great opportunity to really connect with the caregiver and child. I make sure to spend a few minutes with each child playing and talking to the caregiver. It is a great time to chat with participants who are normally more introverted or new to the group. I am kind of a “matchmaker” with my parents and introduce newer moms to some of my more veteran ones who match their personality.
I have a few very young mothers who attend my storytimes and they’ve expressed how awkward it can feel to play with their child. This is also a great time to show them playing can be as simple as putting your hand over their eyes or just talking to their baby with a silly voice. Simply interacting with your child and speaking to them is such a huge step for a lot of parents!
This time is also really special because it gives parents a chance to talk to one another about their lives. Whether it’s concerns about their child not hitting a milestone, to ask about feeding schedules, or to simply talk about lack of sleep- there is usually at least one other mom who is experiencing the same issue.

Q: How do you go about continuing to develop your storytime skills?
Brooke: I am very active online and I’m constantly looking at what other storytime providers are offering. My blog list is numerous, but Mel’s Desk, Jbrary, Storytime Katie, and Read Sing Play are my first stops when I am looking for new content.
I also keep an eye on webinars and what is being offered by local universities. I took storytelling classes in graduate school, but I haven’t really used my oral storytelling skills at all. So I decided to sign up for a class this semester to refresh myself!

Q: You’re in an elevator and an adult services librarian says something about storytime that makes it clear she just doesn’t get it. What do you say to convey the importance of storytime?
Brooke: I always begin talking about child brain development and the importance of what we do in storytime. My favorite study to refer to is the “30 million word gap” that children can experience. It usually ends up being a much longer conversation than the librarian ever wanted to have, but what we do is so important! I truly could go on about the importance of storytime for hours.
In other librarians’ defense, I think a lot of them are just uninformed rather than rude (there are exceptions). From the outside looking in, it can definitely look like all we do is sing and play with kids. That’s why events like Guerrilla Storytime are so important! When people ask me “What do you do all day?” this is one of the websites I tell them to check out.

Q: If you could travel through time, what one piece of storytime advice would you give your new librarian self?
Brooke: Be yourself! I am naturally a very loud and extroverted personality. However, other librarians I watched do storytime were not, so early in my career I tried to mimic their style rather than discovering my own. Once I finally realized that I wasn’t meant to have a calm and quiet storytime they became so much more fun! I think everyone has a unique storytelling style and should embrace it. Sometimes it takes a while to find, and it can definitely change over time—but when you find it you’ll enjoy storytime more, and so will the parents and children!

Meet Kristen Bodine, Storytime Guerrilla of the Month

Trains and a Chicka Chicka Boom Boom tree--no wonder Kristen is a top notch story timer!

Trains and a Chicka Chicka Boom Boom tree. It’s no wonder Kristen is a top notch story timer!

Please allow me to introduce you to December’s Storytime Guerrilla of the Month, Kristen Bodine. Kristen is a children’s librarian at the Louisville Public Library in Louisville, Colorado. She is on the Steering Committee of the Colorado Librarians for Early Literacy (CLEL) and blogs weekly early literacy tips on CLEL’s blog. She’s been a children’s librarian for a year and a half, and before that she was a teen librarian. Kristen loves storytime and thinks she has the best job ever. In her spare time she reads, is trying to finish this year’s NaNoWriMo novel, crochets, and loves to cook.

Q: How did you come to be a storytime practitioner?
Kristen: I started my librarian life as a teen librarian. I always wanted to work in youth services, and I loved working with teens, but when I was offered the chance to work with children, I was really excited. I think early literacy is so important, and wanted the opportunity to work with the really young to hook them on books and reading right away. Luckily for me, when I started my job, I had a few months to settle in before I was responsible for running my own storytimes. I used that time to read, read, read as many picture books as possible, and observe storytimes to see what might work for me. It also gave me time to think about the differences in working with teens and kids and how I could apply what I had learned with teens to kids. I feel like the most important thing I’ve figured out is that there’s a huge amount of overlap—both kids and teens can often feel like their voices aren’t heard and are looking for someone to really listen to them and engage with them. That’s something I try to keep in mind in my daily work and in my storytimes.

Q: What’s your philosophy for putting together a storytime?
Kristen: I would say my general philosophy is to make it valuable, make it fun, and make it age appropriate. I do three storytimes a week: babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. That gives me the opportunity to really gear storytimes to all of these unique age groups and their developmental needs. I want to make sure that parents are walking away with knowledge about early literacy and how storytimes support that. I also want to make sure that the books/rhymes/etc. that I’m choosing are going to work with the age group for whatever storytime I’m planning. What’s most important to me is that I make it fun! Storytime is one of my favorite things every week, and I try to make sure that everything I’m doing in storytime is fun for me, which usually translates to being fun for the kids. So my first questions are: “Am I basing this around early literacy?” and “Is this age appropriate?” After that, I have to ask: “Is it fun?”

Q: What one storytime skill are you really, really great at? Okay, you can share two things.
Kristen: I love being a goofball and getting silly with the kids. I think I get at least as excited as they do when we sing the banana song or do Zoom, Zoom or some of my other favorite action rhymes and fingerplays. I also pick lots of silly books, because yelling, flailing, and overdramatic crying are some of my favorite things to do in storytime. I think another skill I have—and this is definitely a learned skill that I’m honing with every storytime I do—is being incredibly flexible with the storytime plan. If something isn’t working, I’m not afraid to stop it, and move on to the next thing and try that instead.

Q: 
If you had free reign to try anything in storytime, what would it be?
Kristen: I’d really love to have more instruments and live music in storytime. I saw a presentation by a music teacher who showed us all how she did a drum circle with kids and that made me want to buy a set of storytime drums so badly! My coworker plays the guitar and when she brings it to storytime the magic of live music is so wonderful to watch. I’ve been thinking about trying my hand at learning an instrument of my own to bring that element in—maybe the ukulele.

Q: How do you go about continuing to develop your storytime skills?
Kristen: I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as I’ve realized that I’ve become so much more comfortable with storytimes over the past few months, but that every storytime is a learning experience. And I hope I’m never NOT trying new things in storytime and building upon my skill set, to keep it fresh for me and the kids. Trying new things, and learning from them, is the best way to keep getting better at providing storytimes. I also have a wonderful coworker who has a lot of storytime experience, and has been a great sounding board for me to figure out solutions to problems, suggest great books that work really well, and think about how to continually make my storytimes better. I try to attend as many storytime swaps as I can, and whenever I meet another children’s librarian I make sure to ask about his or her favorite books and activities. And the blogosphere has been hugely helpful to me. Children’s librarians are so generous in sharing what they do—I love to read about what other people do in storytime and I’ve learned so much from different blogs that help me to create engaging storytimes.

Meet Jerri Heid, Storytime Guerrilla of the Month

Jerri with Dewey BearOur November Storytime Guerrilla of the Month is Jerri Heid, Youth Services Specialist at the Ames Public Library in Ames, Iowa. Jerri was born in Iowa and considers herself a true Iowan at heart, even though she’s also lived in Alaska, Alabama, and Kentucky. She founded the Corner Programmers (a group of Northwest Iowa Children’s Librarians), and she loves  presenting programs to children and their families as well as to fellow librarians, which allows her to share what she has learned in her career and what she believes could work for other librarians. Jerri is the mother of 2 and grandmother of 3 girls, ages 9, 7, and 1.

Q: You were nominated for Storytime Guerrilla of the Month because of your dedication to using music in storytime. How did you get started integrating music in your programs?
Jerri: It’s a funny story how I began even thinking of singing in a story time. At the Cherokee Public Library, a Vista Volunteer assisted me at the Library. She was a wonderful volunteer who was very gifted in music–her major was Music Education. Her project was twofold: begin an outreach program to daycares in the community, and begin a toddler program. Because she was so gifted in music, she was able to share and sing Mother Goose songs so easily. One of the things that I didn’t think about was that eventually her hours would be completed and there would be an expectation that I would (and should) continue. She and I discussed this at length in her last few weeks. Just how was I, a person who could not carry a note and was scared to sing in front of anyone, going to present a musical program? I didn’t know how to read notes and have never had any sort of rhythm or an ability to keep a beat. With her continued reassurance, we found two musical cds that have carried me through more than 14 years! They are Toddler Time and Toddlers on Parade, both by Georgiana Stewart. I eventually have added many, many more and have quite a variety now that include songs using scarves, lumni sticks, bean bags, and more.
One of the exciting things that happened when I went to Clive was that toddlers were everywhere! I went from starting with offering 3 programs a week to 18 each week. Preschoolers were everywhere there, too, which resulted in 4 Preschool Storytimes each week. All programs had an average of 20-30 in attendance. As time went on, planning and presenting the programs got easier. Using the cd to “back me up” musically gave me enough confidence to present confidently. So each time I would “walk” the audience of toddlers and caregivers through the songs, talking about what we were going to do, and then practicing. Then I would turn the song on and we would all go through the actions as the song played. Because of my personality and presentation expectations of myself, I also sing along with the music all the while keeping great eye contact with the kids and sharing lots and lots of smiles.
Additionally I have a good puppet friend named Dewey Bear who greets the kids at the beginning and gives them hugs and high fives after we sing “Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear.”

Q: What tip would you give to librarians who feel self-conscious about their singing voices/acting silly in front of grownups/etc.?
Jerri: I have always followed the philosophy that if I sang wonderfully and beautifully that I might intimidate those caregivers who can not sing. Because I can not, this way the caregivers of these toddlers see someone who is not necessarily the greatest at singing but still feels that it is that important to sing to my child in public so I, as a parent, can and should sing to my child. Hopefully they feel empowered! I figure they see me and think, “Wow, I know I am better than that, maybe I can do that, too.” The CDs playing in the background also provide a different experience than anyone singing acapella. Combined with all of it–the caregivers singing, me singing, and the music playing–the toddlers not only have a great time listening but also moving and having fun. The caregivers do as well. A wonderful experience for all.

Q: When you have a storytime problem, who/what do you turn to for advice or support? It can be a person, a blog, a website, a resource…
Jerri: When I have needs and questions to be answered, I have always had the pleasure and luck of having great mentors in my life. When I first began my career, other librarians in the state shared their expertise and experiences in conversation or at workshops. Now most of them are retiring, and many new young librarians are taking their places. They have much to share as well. The way of the world now with Pinterest and blogs and listservs creates an even more inviting way of improving one’s skills and assisting in creating the best program.
But I have to say that the people that I rely on the most of all are those who are under 4 or 5. When they give me big smiles during a program, I know what I am doing is working. In fact, I had one parent who actually recorded her son sharing a toddler time to his stuffed animals. When I saw the DVD and saw him use his bear giving hugs, talking through the actions, pretending to turn on his CD player, and singing Tony Chestnut, besides being very touched, I also saw that I evidently had my back turned quite a bit. So I took it to heart and changed how I was presenting. Of course the CDs are now iPods and a dock, but the same needs are satisfied.

Q: Complete the following sentence: “It’s not storytime until we…”
Jerri: It’s not a story time until we get hugs and high fives from Dewey Bear and start singing Tony Chestnut. I have started my program with this song for so many years–I figured one time I’ve sung it almost 10,000 times! I have often wondered whether I should change it. Then I think about all the literacy skills it helps the kids practice and their enjoyment, and I can’t take it away. I cannot tell you how many times  I have been told the story about how a child. out of the blue, has started singing Tony Chestnut in his or her car seat. I guess they will have to sing it at my funeral!

Q: What’s been inspiring your library work lately?
Jerri: Technology! While I have not implemented iPads in my programming yet, I can’t wait until I can. Our library is in the middle of many changes–a new director, in a temporary location and building/renovating project, new ILS, and many other technology changes, just to mention a few. I can’t wait until I can actually implement this great experience. I also can’t wait until I can share the knowledge that I am reading on the Little eLit blog and others, the Fred Rogers Center website, as well as the Underground, in my workshops. As I have mentioned before, I love sharing what I can with other librarians and caregivers and daycare providers through workshops/presentation. Many of the other 500 plus librarians in the state cannot attend national conferences nor have time to keep abreast on the new topics and possible trends. I feel that is part of my responsibility: to give them the highlights and assist them, too. As I grow older and not quite as capable and limber in my programming, I feel this is a great way to share.

Q: How did you get to where you are in your career today?
Jerri: I began my library career as a Library Assistant at the Cherokee Public Library shortly after graduating from Teikyo-Westmar University. Shortly after that, I began full-time as the Children’s Librarian. I was the founder of the Corner Programmers (a group of Northwest Iowa Children’s Librarians), presented workshops, and traveled the state presenting the summer program workshops. Shortly after the latter experience, I moved from Cherokee to Clive, a suburb of Des Moines, to take part in the opening a new library for their community as their youth librarian. After developing and presenting more than twenty programs each week, I took another leap a few years later to be the Youth Services Specialist at the Ames Public Library in Ames Iowa, home of Iowa State University and the tenth largest library in the state.

Meet Rick Samuelson, Storytime Guerrilla of the Month

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Both Gerald and Rick look excited for storytime.

The only think spooky about October’s Storytime Guerrilla of the Month is how supernaturally superb he is at storytime services. Rick is Youth Services Librarian for the Washington County Cooperative Library Services in Hillsboro, Oregon. His regular duties include supporting library staff and conducting youth-based outreach to at-risk and underserved populations. Rick is actively involved in tons of library association work and is desperately plotting his freedom. In his non-library life, he enjoys archery, canoeing, hiking, swimming in mountain lakes and telling scary stories. In short, he wishes the world was one big summer camp. He (rarely) twitters at @iceskates and (regularly) blogs fingerplay videos and early literacy tips at http://kids.wccls.org.

Q: What piece of advice would you give to librarians just starting out in youth services?
Rick: Never forget: It’s all about the kids! Get involved in professional associations and committee work, but always try to reflect on how your experiences will help you better serve the kids in your community. Place extra value on hugs and high fives you get from kids. Frame every thank you picture an adoring storytime attendee draws for you. In the grand scheme of things, these tokens of gratitude mean more than a great big stack of librarian of the year awards. Beyond that, have fun!!

Q: What one storytime skill are you really, really great at? Okay, you can share two things.
Rick: Engaging with kids. I mean really getting down on their level and listening to them and having conversations with them about what they’re interested in. I go out of my way to stick around after every storytime so I can talk with kids individually. During storytime, I try to look each kid in the eyes so they understand that I value each and every one of them. I guess all of those years watching Mister Rogers really influenced my early childhood education philosophy. Every child is special and deserves to feel appreciated. Oh. I also do some pretty funny voices.

Q: If you had free reign to try anything in storytime, what would it be?
Rick: I’ve been fortunate to find myself in storytime environments where I’m free to try anything that strikes my fancy. At present, I don’t have a regular storytime schedule. I mainly substitute and provide outreach storytimes. If I had a weekly gig, I would like to try incorporating regular melody play. I recently purchased a set of 25 glockenspiels and I’ve identified more than a dozen songs that can be played on an 8 note C major glockenspiel. I would like to pass them out during storytime for caregivers and children to explore while I demonstrate a simple melody. Research about the benefits of early music experiences is very strong. I would love to expose kids to different aspects of music beyond the rhythm-based shaker games and music play we often do in storytime. Since my own child was about 16 months old, I have listened to him hum refrains (like “Old MacDonald” and “Twinkle, Twinkle”) over and over until he masters them. Absolutely fascinating!

Q: What’s your favorite thing to do with kids in storytime, and why do you do it?
Rick: I am obsessed with action rhymes and fingerplays. The bouncier the rhythm and the bigger the movement, the better. I love sharing rhymes in storytime because they really get kiddos involved, up and moving. I firmly believe that nursery rhymes can do it all. They have the power to inspire a love of language. They showcase pattern and model good social behaviors like turn-taking and self-regulation. In my opinion, rhymes are the greatest takeaway we have to offer to parents and caregivers. Children are naturally drawn to the sounds and rhythms. When parents share rhymes one-on-one, they are inviting their child into a special and fun time of bonding. Best of all, rhymes are super-easy to share. You can do them in line at the grocery store, in the car… pretty much anywhere!!

Q: How do you go about continuing to develop your storytime skills?
Rick: Having a toddler in the house is definitely the best storytime preparation around. If you don’t already have one, I suggest you look into it. Beyond that, I try to push myself to explore new material. I’m constantly looking for new books to try out, new stories to tell and new songs to sing. I find that (when left to my own devices) I tend to fall back on familiar favorites. This can be great. It definitely gives one the opportunity to really nail the presentation. But, it’s also quite limiting. In my experience, doing the same thing over and over will eventually lead to burnout. Finally, I try to keep up on storytime blogs… although, I’m between blog aggregators at the moment.

Meet Mary Kuehner, Storytime Guerrilla of the Month

Guerrillas, it’s time to get acquainted with Mary Kuehner. This fab librarian–our September 2013 Storytime Guerrilla of the Month–is a Kids and Families Outreach Librarian in Jefferson County, Colorado (the western suburb of Denver), and she has been working as a children’s librarian for 14 1/2 years. Holy cats! She loves playing the ukulele, everything Mo Willems and Jan Thomas write, and has a Pete the Cat tattoo. Online, she can be found on the twitterz: @daisycakes; and she sporadically updates her blog.

Mary in full Dr. Seuss regalia

Mary in full Dr. Seuss regalia

Q: If you could travel through time, what one piece of storytime advice would you give your new librarian self?
Mary: Hmm. I think I’d tell myself to relax, read lots of books (and find the ones that I really loved), and have fun. I’m a lot more outgoing in my performance style than when I started out, and I think some of that comes from knowing what kind of books really work for me and from just enjoying the kids’ reactions. I was probably a lot more uptight when I started as a librarian (14 1/2 years ago!) and concentrating on reading “quality” literature. While Where the Wild Things Are is an amazing book, it doesn’t work as a storytime read-aloud for me or the kids I work with. And that’s okay! Oh! And sing some songs. I had virtually NO storytime training when I started out, so I didn’t know much about songs, fingerplays, etc. It would have been nice to have those in my repertoire.

Q: You’re in an elevator and an adult services librarian says something about storytime that makes it clear she just doesn’t get it. What do you say to convey the importance of storytime?
Mary: I actually had a similar experience recently. A co-worker and I revamped our storytime training and we had our first session of the new version, and a couple of primarily adult services librarians attended. One of them actually said that she had always wondered why we do baby storytimes, but after the training, she “got it.” What was her lightbulb moment? The information we shared about baby brain development. I think understanding how much development is going on in a young child’s brain, and how what we do in storytime aids that development, and how much it affects future success, is a really powerful bit of knowledge. The first 5 years of a child’s life can determine the course of their future success. How mind-blowing is that? And what we do in the library can play (and does play) a big part in helping parents understand that and give their children the tools for that future success.

Q: When you have a storytime problem, who/what do you turn to for advice or support? It can be a person, a blog, a website, a resource…
Mary: My colleagues at my library, of course, who are amazing sources of ideas. My twitter “family” is a wonderful resource as well, especially Mel (@melissazd), Anne (@sotomorrow), Kendra (@klmpeace), and Seth (@sethers). I’ve gotten SO MANY great ideas from them, as well as the Flannel Friday Family. Whenever I’m feeling uninspired about a storytime, I check out the Flannel Friday Pinterest page and I’m revived! Thank goodness children’s librarians are so generous in sharing their ideas. And now, of course, Storytime Underground, about which I am telling EVERY children’s librarian I know.

Q: What one storytime skill are you really, really great at? Okay, you can share two things.
Mary: I’m really good at making a fool of myself. No, seriously. I’m often told by the kids: “Miss Mary, you’re funny!” and I take that as high praise. It’s usually after I’ve done something really silly, like pretend to blubber like a dinosaur who doesn’t want to go to sleep or argle-blaggling and flailing my body around like Leonardo the Terrible Monster trying to scare Sam. I’m also kinda pretty good at ukulele in storytime. But honestly, it doesn’t take much to be good at ukulele in storytime. A few chords, a willingness to make mistakes, and enthusiasm is all it takes.

Q: What’s your favorite thing to do with kids in storytime, and why do you do it?
Mary: I absolutely adore sharing a new story that I love with the kids for the first time, and seeing their reactions. I’m always hopeful that they’ll love it as much as I do, and it gives me great joy when I see their happy faces if the story has gone over well. I love to share puppets as well, and I’ve found that they work as a great “opening” to my storytimes. The kids know that we don’t start (and they don’t meet the puppet “friend”) until they’re all sitting and quiet, and since they’re always SO excited to see who it is, that works really well as an introduction. I love how the kids will tell me “you’re making it talk!” but then react to it as if it were a real living, breathing creature. They know that it’s a puppet, but still are able to suspend their disbelief. That’s a magical thing. By the way–my best puppet friend is a monkey named Sammy. He says “Hi.”

Meet Kirby McCurtis, Storytime Guerrilla of the Month

Fellow guerrillas, please meet Kirby McCurtis. In addition to rocking her day job as Youth Librarian at library mecca–I mean Multnomah County Library–Kirby has been sharing her expertise as one of the Ask a Storytime Ninja ninjas here at Storytime Underground. She answered a few questions to help us get to know her and her awesome better.

Kirby with author Simone Elkeles at ALA Annual

Kirby with author Simone Elkeles at ALA Annual

Q: What’s been inspiring your library work lately?
Kirby: Honestly, I’m still buzzing from ALA. I heard a number of”light bulb” ideas, had some amazing conversations, and connected with some great people that I had not yet met in real life. A lot of the conversations and ideas are turning into actual projects & programs.

Q: If you had free reign to try anything in storytime, what would it be?
Kirby: As simple as this sounds, I would really like to co-present a storytime. I feel like there are a bunch of activities that are best done with more than one person (especially puppet play). Having two librarians presenting storytime would be so much fun for all participating, and the early literacy asides and conversations would be richer due to the collaboration.

Q: What one storytime skill are you really, really great at? Okay, you can share two things.
Kirby: I have A LOT of energy, so I would say I am really great at getting everyone to participate. Storytime participants, parents and children alike, feed off my energy & enthusiasm and really enjoy themselves. Last week I had a storytime mom tell me I needed to have my own show. Most folks aren’t used to my brand of “Yah!” so my storytimes are a completely new experience for them. When I talk about the early literacy skill “Playing” I have no trouble finding and demonstrating examples for parents and caregivers.

Q: Complete the following sentence: “It’s not storytime until we…”
Kirby: Said “Hello” to our bubbles and had a movement activity. Each age group has a certain song that we get up and move/dance to. I’m quite terrible at sitting still and I don’t expect any of my storytime friends to be good at it either (children OR adults). I thrive on “organized chaos” and I really love to dance.

Q: If you could travel through time, what one piece of storytime advice would you give your new librarian self?
Kirby: “Don’t stress when your new coworkers start sentences with ‘So & So always did ….’ They are having a hard time adapting to change and it has nothing to do with you. If you like the storytime routine the past librarian created–keep it. If not, develop your own program and RAWK IT! The families will love you and your plans if you are your most authentic self.”

Kirby McCurtis is a Youth Librarian for Multnomah County Library. She has worked as a youth librarian at Multnomah County Library’s Midland branch since January 2012, focusing on service to the African and African American communities. She is a 2013 Library Journal Mover & Shaker for her efforts in community building. Prior to coming to Multnomah County Library, Kirby worked at San Diego Public Library, where she helped launch the Cuddle Up & Read program – storytimes for pregnant and parenting teens. She is active in ALA, serving on ALA Council and is currently NMRT (New Members Round Table) Secretary. You can find Kirby on Twitter @kirby_mcc
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