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Storytime 101

by Krista Biggs 

*This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Kids & Books.*

I don't know how anyone else's career in a public library children's department began but "pandemonium" might best describe mine.  Everything seemed good. Arrive in town. Check. Move all of my belongings into my new apartment. Check. Call the Louisville (KY) Free Public Library's Main location to make sure when and where to arrive. Check. 

See? Completely prepared.

Since my apartment was a mess, I returned to my brother's house with my parents to spend the night…and woke up to snow. Snow everywhere. Snow that wasn't going away any time soon. I dug out my car and after several adventures accompanied by colorful language, I arrived at the library.

My background was in elementary education so I thought that storytime and other forms of programming would be a snap. Little did I know… After an introduction to the philosophy of children's work, discussion of several useful resources, and the general format of a storytime, I was sent home because more snow was on the way. By the time the roads were clear -- days later – and I could get to my location, Valley Station Branch Library, I had forgotten most of the information that I learned. (Check?)

When it came to storytime, I had to learn by doing. Here are my top five tips for storytime survival when you're starting out and might have no idea what you're doing.

  • No one wants you to fail. In fact, your co-workers have a vested interest in your success! If you're at that location, they don't have to fill in.  And if the last children's person has transferred to another branch, he or she is a fantastic resource.
  • Build on other peoples' work. Most likely your predecessor set aside a nice selection of resources for his or her own use.  (My all-time favorite is an oldie but goodie: Crazy Gibberish and Other Story Hour Stretches by Naomi Baltuck. Several of the songs and chants in the book were huge hits with storytime crowds of all ages.) And while the Internet wasn't quite the repository of all things wonderful that it is today, there were still some great sites. Just search for the word "fingerplays" and you'll see what I mean.
  • Don't get carried away.  I once stayed up most of the night before a program to cut out (freehand, I might add) a flannel version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It was beautiful, but you know what?  The kids would have been just as happy if I had read the book. 
  • You are going to screw up. I remember preparing – I even made myself a "lesson plan" form -- and feverishly selecting books, constructing flannelboard stories, and writing fingerplays on index cards.  ("Oh, no!  I need a craft that goes with my theme!") And what do you know…it just wasn't the smoothest storytime. I was nervous, the materials I selected didn't work together as well as I hoped, and the sun still rose the next day.
  • Stop worrying. Kids are a forgiving audience.  They are there to be entertained and trust me, you are going to make them laugh at least once.  That's what they'll remember.

And one extra:

  • Glitter makes you a rockstar. Which, while true, doesn't necessarily make it a good idea.

I know that all of these tips might seem obvious, but they didn't occur to me in the first few months. Share them with your newest children's staff and ease their minds.

For ideas on classic books that are always storytime winners, NoveList can help! Check out this list of Storytime Classics (also available inside NoveList). 

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Krista Biggs is an adult content specialist with NoveList. She misses working with kids in the library.