Last night, I had an idea for a spontaneous storytime experiment. Recently, we had a flood of new materials coming into the department, and the new materials shelves are overflowing. The pages get frustrated when they run out of room. I decided to brainstorm on this question: “how can we push new materials out the door?” It occurred to me that I could combine this problem with another question I often ask myself: How can I capitalize on busy times when no events or storytimes are scheduled. We have always been a busy play space for young children, and this has increased since the library underwent a major renovation. I decided to riff on the brilliant Rebecca Zarazan Dunn’s spontaneous storytime experiment at Chattanooga Public Library.
In Rebecca’s case, she implemented “spontaneous storytime” as a way to introduce herself–the newest librarian on the 2nd Floor–to the community of patrons who frequent the library. I’ve been working at NPLD for five years, so the kids know me well. I wanted to see if Spontaneous Storytime would work the same magic on “new books”, as it did on “new people”. Here’s what happened…
New-Book Spontaneous Storytime
Method 1: Groups, big and small
Step 1: Go to the new books shelf.
Step 2: Grab a bunch of new picture books or interesting-looking Juvenile nonfiction & put them on a cart.
Step 3: Take them to the play pen.
Step 4: Set out the books on a table or on top of the picture book shelving.
Step 5: Ask each participant to pick 1 book they want to hear. (I’d like to find a good way for the kids to pitch a book that isn’t working for them without hurting the feelings of the child who chose it. This is a delicate situation. I don’t want anyone to have their feelings hurt)
Step 6: Sing a introductory song. I made up a version of If You’re Happy and You Know It. It went like this:
If you want to read a new book clap your hands If you want to read a new book clap your hands If you want to read a new book all you’ve got to do is choose one If you want to read a new book clap your hands
Step 7: Read the books selected by kids.
Step 8: If the book is a big hit, give the selector the 1st chance to check out the books. If he/she doesn’t want it, put it up for grabs. If several kids want to check it out offer to put it on holds.
Step 9: Closing song. I sang The More We Get Together.
As I was getting ready to put the books away, I thought of an alternative method to try using 1-on-1 read-alouds.
Step 1-3: Same as Method 1
Step 4: Find a single kid, & offered to read 1 book of his or her choice 1-on-1. Since it was just us, we stretched out with the book on the floor. There is no step 5-8 because the kids natural curiosity and enthusiasm led the way to a whole set of interesting results.
Method 1: This worked really well with a group. I had tons of participation from kids and their parents. The experience was full of happy accidents. For instance, I sang the song on the fly, and the lyrics weren’t perfect. But my dorky blunder got a laugh from the parents. As a librarian, I try to see these moments as my best moments. I enjoy the process most when I embrace mistakes, and laugh my way through them. It rarely fails to put a group at ease. I think in some area of my brain, I’m taking a loosely interpreted cue from the great Studs Terkel. In with Harry Kreisler’s 2003 Conversations with History interview at UC Berkley, Studs said something that has always stuck with me:
I’m very inept mechanically. I’m not a Luddite, but I’m just learning to use the typewriter. I really am. It’s an electric typewriter. It’s very exciting, you know. I hunt and peck. But the fact is, I use a tape recorder, and sometimes I press the wrong button. I can’t drive a car. I fall off bicycles. And so I press the wrong button sometimes, and the person is seeing and says, “Look, he is not somebody from Mount Olympus, and he’s not from 60 Minutes, and he’s not Baba Wawa. No. He’s just a guy.” And the person says, “It’s not moving,” when I had reel-to-reel. “Well,” I said, “Well, I forgot about it.” So I’ve lost Martha Graham. I’ve lost Michael Redgrave. I almost lost Bertrand Russell. This was in North Wales, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. If I did, I’d have put my head in the oven, you know. But I finally caught it. So that defect that I have — like my not hearing and getting the truth — so my ineptitude sometimes works in my favor because that person feels I need him.
I think the same thing goes for library patrons. Working with patrons is all about connection, not perfection. All the preparation in the world can’t prepare you for what a preschooler or toddler will say. I live for these moments. I learn the most about what it means to be a librarian when I expect the unexpected.
All too often, patrons walk on egg shells around librarians. This is a very new experience for me. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to the reputation for organization and restraint I suddenly acquired when I got my MLIS. As a kid, my own mother referred to me her “little Tasmanian devil.” I’m a world-class mistake-maker. So, whenever I meet a new patron, I do whatever I can to encourage them to see the library as a place that welcomes and–as Mr. Rogers said– “likes them just the way they are.”
Anyway, I know that’s a lot to pack into what was essentially a weird little song. But my aim is to put patrons off the notion that I am operating under a set of undisclosed rules that they, or their kids, are expected to follow. It’s all about creating joyful, playful literary experiences in a stress-free setting.
Method 2: We got about 2 pages into the book before a whole new group of new kids plopped down around us to listen. Then a few more kids picked non-new books for me to read. A toddler brought me the Farmer in the Dell from the nursery rhyme section & the whole room sang along as I read.
Next, an 8 year-old girl brought over a chapter book she had in her “maybe pile”. Her mom started to break in to discourage her, saying, “Don’t be silly, she can’t read the whole book. Anyway, this is just for little kids, you can read that yourself.”
I knew she was just trying to “follow the rules”. She thought her daughter was out-of-bounds. But I saw the cover, and it’s one of my all-time favorites. I couldn’t resist giving it a whirl. (Psst! Guess the book! Hint: the best Newbery winner ever! See the answer written in this hideous pinky-purple at the bottom of the post.) YAY IMPROV LIBRARIANS WIN!!! I think that will be my new favorite hashtag… #improvlibrarianswin
I said, “Well, how about I read just the first page aloud? Reading the first page is a good book-choosing strategy. Plus, it will give the younger kids a chance to see the kinds of books older kids read. Those are, after all, the books they will be reading in the future.”
I read the 1st page aloud to the whole group. All of the kids were on the edges of their seats. They would have sat listening to more, but I like to leave them wanting more. So that I stopped after one page. I also told them we have a bunch of copies on the shelf, and an audiobooks on CD and Playaway if they would rather listen to an expert reader. Perhaps it will encourage a few more parents to look beyond the picture books for good read-alouds.
Finally, a little girl asked the $20,000,000 question: “Ms Cate, when are you going to choose a book?” I lunged at one of my new favorite nonfiction books:
I introduced this brilliant nonfiction book as one that may look as “it’s not for little kids”. But I encouraged parents to see beyond the text when it comes to choosing books for their kids. The art in this book offers meaningful insights into beauty & science of bird biology on its own. The text is brilliant; but studying the images carefully is every bit as educational as reading the text. And that lead me to offer up an anecdote from my early experience as a reader and lifelong book lover. Learning to read was a major struggle for me. In fact, I learned late in life (around 28) that I’m dyslexic. I remember thinking my classmates had an easier time learning to read that I did. But I also remember being deeply determined to master this skill. I have wonderful memories of perusing books long before I could read them on my own, and this built in me a desire to become a reader. I don’t know that I would have had the drive to overcome the headaches, embarrassment, & misery learning to read caused. Those early no-pressure prereading experiences motivated me to persist through the hard times. I think this may be another digression… So I will stop there.
A few more thoughts:
This was a fun experiment, and I want to try it a zillion more times. I am thinking the kids’ responses lend itself to an unconventional rating system for the blog. Well, it isn’t a scale as much as a it a description of the response I had from a single reading:
Takers: Book checked out as a result of New-Book Storytime.
Put-On-Holders: The book was checked out immediately, and there were several kids clamoring to check it out. They had to settle for putting it on hold.
FRANCO: Fun Read Aloud Not Checked Out. This rating is reserved for times that the book was a big hit in storytime–but for whatever reason–no one checked it out.
Meh: kids were bored, and we either stopped half way.
Obviously, the rating system is a work in progress. If you have an better idea, I’m all ears. Here’s a question I haven’t been able to answer yet, how should I record the stats for this?
So, did you guess the book? The answer is The One and Only Ivan OF COURSE!!! No me-balls for this brilliant book!