En Route to the ALSC Institute!

Today I am sailing off to Oakland for the 2014 ALSC Institute!


I went for the first time 2 years ago and feel super lucky to be going back. Compared with ALA or PLA, or even with our state library conference, the ALSC Institute is an intimate and focused event. Everyone is connected to youth services in some way. The serendipity quotient is high and the conversations are fabulous!

This year I’m presenting with a personal dream team: Amy Commers, Marge Loch-Wouters, and Amy Koester, three incredible children’s librarians I’ve had the privilege of working with and learning from over the past several years. We’ll all be in the same room for the first time ever to share “Thinking Outside the Storytime Box: Building Your Preschool Programming Repertoire.”

When our notes go live, I will share them!

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Storytime Resources Page: Update 3

Another round of blogs newly added to the Storytime Resources page and Google Custom Search!

Piper Loves the Library
–Another blog that should have been listed a long time ago! Jane is a Flannel Friday regular, with great ideas to share that go beyond storytime into collections, displays, programs, and more. If you need an energy boost, read this blog!

Hey There Library
–A new blog from a new children’s librarian! Nikki blogs storytimes, Flannel Friday, programs, and book reviews.

Adventures of a Bookgirl
–Nadine blogs a little about everything in her children’s & teen services job!

Destination Storytime
–Kim blogs her storytime plans and a few other types of ideas as well. Plus she started blogging for Flannel Friday this year!

Felt Board Ideas
–Christine has several blogs for Early Childhood ideas & resources; this one is all about flannelboards!

Last but NOT LEAST for today:
–Lisa has created a phenomenal early literacy resource with her blog. Check it out for early literacy based activity stations, programs, storytimes, materials, and more. Then steal all her ideas and make them happen at your library!

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Storytime Standbys

Since our new team of storytime providers will be subbing for each other (which they are used to), but they may now have to sub at short notice at a different branch (which they are not used to–yet), I asked them to all prepare an Emergency Storytime Kit to keep in their cars.


Then if I need to contact them in the morning to step in at another location, they can go straight there with a storytime ready to go, and not worry about stopping off at their desks to grab materials or use someone else’s storytime that they haven’t practiced.

We told everyone that we’d purchase 2 books for each team member to start their kits, and I loved seeing what titles they selected. Then yesterday Cory asked on the Facebook Storytime Underground page, “What 5 picture books (new or old) do you think every children’s collection absolutely must own?” and I loved reading THAT list too!

Which made me think you might have fun seeing the tried-and-true books the team selected, so here you go:

About a Bear, Surplice (x2!)
Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes, Litwin (x2!)

Bear’s New Friend, Wilson
Press Here, Tullet
Pigeon Needs a Bath, Willems
Mud Puddle, Munsch
Seals on the Bus, Hort
Let’s Go for a Drive, Willems
Mama Why? Wilson
Except If, Averbeck
Edwina the Dinosaur, Willems
Duck on a Bike, Shannon
Bear Snores On, Wilson
My Bear Griz, McGinniss
More More More Said the Baby, Williams
Giraffes Can’t Dance, Andreae
Boy and His Bunny, Bryan
Don’t Play with Your Food, Shea
What Will Fat Cat Sit On? Thomas
I Want My Hat Back, Klassen
Kid Tea, Ficocelli
Butterfly, Butterfly, Horacek
Bear and Bee, Ruzzio

What books would you put in an emergency storytime kit?

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Our Picture Book Reorg Categories

My library is just completing phase one of our own picture book reorganization! Piloted by the Darien Library, a picture book reorganization project sorts your picture book collection into broad subject categories instead of alphabetizing by the author’s last name. It is intended to help families browse more easily to find topics of interest to their children–and help children be more independent in finding books as well.


I was not the architect of our initiative, so rather than outline all the logistics, I will point you to others who have written about their projects: Katie and Amy and the ALSC Blog or the Darien Library slideshow.

The Thomas Memorial Library in Maine even ran a little survey to help decide what to call each section! Or check out the Picture Book Project pages from the Marin County Free Library.

I will say that we managed to do our reorg across multiple branches with a floating collection and with no library closures, so while it seems like a huge undertaking, it is totally doable.

I read this post recently: From the Short Stacks, which provides an update on their reorg project and a reporting on a few tweaks they made to the categories, and it inspired me to at least share our categories, in case you’re about to sort all YOUR books, and one more perspective helps you clarify your thinking!

Every library does this a little differently! Here’s the 10 categories we ended up with, and the little blurbs I wrote to describe each one.

There’s so many things for children to do and try! In this section you’ll find stories about play, sports, arts and crafts, reading and the library, music, and dance. And more!

Young children are fascinated by the creatures that share their world. This section includes stories about animals at the zoo, in the wild, under the ocean, and on the farm–as well as pets, insects, and dinosaurs.

Some special days are different than others! Find out why with the books in this section about holidays, religious observances, and events such as birthdays and weddings.

Children begin learning and thinking about the world by putting objects and ideas into categories. Look in this section for books about colors, shapes, letters, and numbers, but also other ideas such as time, opposites, sizes, and patterns.

Growing Up
Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers experience one major “first” after another! Books in this section will help them explore important milestones, rituals, and relationships. Topics include potty training, welcoming new siblings, making friends, starting school, establishing bedtime routines, learning about their bodies, as well as books about family members.

More to Explore
The best thing about books is making new discoveries! There’s something for everyone in this section, such as books about real people, and books set in other times and places. You’ll also find longer stories, including Dr Seuss books, and fun surprises such as monsters, ninjas, and pirates.

Nature and Science
As children grow older, they become more and more interested in the world around them. Encourage their wonder with the books in this section about the weather, seasons, mechanics, outer space, geography, and ecosystems.

Popular Characters
It’s so much fun to find a familiar face in a book! Look in this section for characters from movies, TV shows, toys, and new and classic picture book series.

Rhymes, Songs, and Tales
Children’s picture books draw on a rich history of traditional literature. Explore that heritage with books in this section that showcase classic folklore and fairy tales, as well as new twists on old tales. You’ll also find familiar children’s songs, Mother Goose rhymes, and poetry.

Things That Go
How do we get from here to there? Books in this section are full of cars, trucks, trains, planes, construction vehicles, bikes, boats, and even balloons.

A Few Notes:

Animals is intended to be, broadly, animals-acting-like-animals (as much as possible) otherwise half the picture books in the world would end up here.

More to Explore is our “Misc” section. We put monsters over here in the hopes of helping families who wanted to avoid them. We tried really hard to put authors in a subject category, to save our Popular Characters section just for favorite characters, and not favorite authors too. So Richard Scarry is in Concepts and Eric Carle is in Animals. Dr. Seuss is our exception, and is our only author collected in More to Explore.

Growing Up turned out to be way huger than we anticipated. The way we described it, EVERYTHING is about “growing up.” O.o I think my advice here would be to consider separating out the books about families, or maybe friends and families, which would leave the “milestones” topics by themselves.

No, we don’t have a Princesses category! We have Disney princesses in Popular Characters, and all other princessy books go in Rhymes, Songs, and Tales.

We’re still getting used to it, patrons and staff alike, but I love that we did this! How about you? Are you planning a reorg project?

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Early Literacy Storytime: Wordless Books

It might not seem like wordless books have much to do with getting children ready to read print on a page, but they do! One study found that parents used richer language and more complex sentence structures with their children when talking about a wordless book than they did when sharing a picture book with words, giving their children a little oral language exposure boost.

As A Librarian Less Ordinary says in a recent post, “I actually really enjoy using wordless books for storytime, the kids always impress me with their level of engagement and focus.”

I also liked Erin’s quick comment about recommending wordless books to parents, how they can be successful because parents and children are “both in the same position of deriving meaning from the illustrations.”

Many parents feel less confident choosing and using wordless books, though, so modeling how to “read” one in storytime can be a big help.

You can often find these titles by using “Stories without words” as a search term. Or find a few lists online. Nearly wordless books, such as Goodnight Gorilla by Rathmann or Hug! by Alborough will also work for this activity. Go through the book before storytime and practice “reading” it on your own. Think of a sentence or two to describe each page. Prepare a few open-ended questions about what is going on in the story.

If you’d like, you can introduce the book like this: “Our next book is a little different because it doesn’t have any words for me to read to you. We’re going to have to tell the story ourselves. Will you help me?” I observed a storytime recently from one of our providers, and she pretended to be surprised by the fact that there were no words. She opened the book, and turned a few pages, then said: “Oh my goodness! Miss Elisabeth did something a little silly…she chose a book to read to you that has no words in it! Do you think you can help me read it anyway?”

When you’ve finished your book, say something like this to the adults: “Parents, when you share wordless books with your children, there’s no limit to the conversations you can have together! Taking part in lots of conversations helps your child learn new words, gives them a big vocabulary, and helps them become good readers. Talking with your child will help them get ready to read.”

What are your favorite wordless books to share in storytime? Have you ever made a display of wordless books?

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Research Link: Wordless Books

Over the last few years, I’ve spent a lot of time surfing and following research breadcrumb trails to find interesting studies to share with parents and staff. Often the results aren’t huge and sweeping, but instead provide a little aha! moment about one small corner of the early literacy universe. I love it when the findings are bite-sized and accessible and can be dropped easily into presentations or conversations with parents.

One study at Utah State from a few years ago compared how mothers interact with their toddlers while reading both wordless picture books and picture books with text. One of the researchers says, “We found that when creating a story or just responding to pictures, the parent used many words and complex sentence structures while engaging with their child. That level of engagement wasn’t as present when reading books with text.”

Along the same lines, here’s an article from Early Childhood News that describes what teachers observed when they started using wordless picture books intentionally in their classroom centers.

The Utah State study was focused on young children with developmental disabilities, but the findings about the parents’ language usage I think are more broadly relevant. With parents who aren’t sure how to “read” a wordless book with their children, it’s powerful to be able to share with them that the important thing isn’t “getting the story right” but instead being able to use the pictures to prompt conversations that might use new and different words and ideas. We can tell parents that conversations DO help prepare children to be readers. Since all of our written language skills are based on oral language skills, hearing lots of different words and different types of sentence structures are some of the things that help children build a solid language foundation that will help them when they start to learn to read.

Wordless books are also wonderful to share with ESL families, because with few or no words, the books can be “read” and support conversations in any language.

After I drafted this post, I found that Kristen Remenar already pointed to the same study in a great post for the Nerdy Book Club, and recommended some favorite wordless picture books, so check that out too!

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Baby Storytime: Mice


One plus about doing storytimes for so long is that there’s a lot of plans in your files to reuse when you’re busy. One minus about doing storytimes for so long is that you can get a little tired of reusing your plans! I challenged myself to make an all-new storytime for my babies, and here it is!



BOOK: Where? by LIONNI
I grabbed up this set of four Lionni board books earlier this year. I used Where? today because I wanted to keep the focus on the mice, but there’s also When?, What?, and Who? In this one, we look for the mice in the grass, trees, and in shoes.

I found this on Storytime Source Page, always an amazing resource for me!

Where are the baby mice?
Squeak, squeak, squeak (Cover eyes)
I cannot see them
Peek, peek, peek (Peek-a-boo)
Here they come from a hole in the wall (Make hole with fingers)
1-2-3-4-5… That’s all! (Count fingers)

TICKLE: Hurry Scurry Little Mouse
“Now that we’ve found the baby mice, where are they going to go?” You can find this one all over the place, but I like this pdf booklet from Pierce County.

Hurry scurry little mouse
Starts down at your toes
Touch baby’s toes

Hurry scurry little mouse
Past your knees he goes
Walk fingers to baby’s knees

Hurry scurry little mouse
Past where your tummy is
Tickle baby’s tummy

Hurry scurry little mouse
Gives you a mousy kiss
Touch baby’s lips then give a kiss!

FLANNEL SONG: A Hunting We Will Go*
Today we used mouse/house, along with other small creatures like snail/pail, bee/tree, and bug/rug.

I did cartwheels when I discovered this series! I prop the book on my four fingers and stick my thumb in the puppet and wiggle it a bit while I read the simple text on each page. The wiggling and the cutouts help engage the babies and the stories aren’t too long to share with them. Plus there’s a ton of them! Bear, owl, ladybug, goldfish, dolphin, monkey…I’ve been slowly stocking up!

Grownups, books like this one with interactive elements, puppets, popups, lift the flaps, cutouts–all give your children something new and fresh and extra to explore while you read together. We want our babies to think books are fun and exciting, so look for ways to mix up your reading time! Reading with your babies is the number one best way to help them become readers later on.

BOUNCE: I Had a Little Mouse
“Do you think the mouse liked to nibble on the pumpkins in her patch? What else to mice like to eat? Cheese! Except for the mouse in this rhyme. Let’s bounce and find out!” I learned this song from the Deschutes Library.

I had a little mouse that never would eat his cheese
All he ever wanted to do was bounce upon my knees
Bounce upon my knees, bounce upon my knees
All he ever wanted to do was bounce upon my knees

ACTION RHYME: This is Big Big Big*

CLOSING SONG: Sneeze Game*

*Check out the My Baby Storytime page for the words and/or citations for these weekly activities!

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Intentional Storytimes

Storytime Today

In January, I ran a reader’s survey, asking among other things for feedback from you on what Mel’s Desk content is most valuable. As it happens, an unexpected opportunity to step into a supervisory role at my library seriously derailed my plans to use the survey responses to refresh and refocus Mel’s Desk this year.

However, one thread about “best practices” from the survey has been frequently in my thoughts, even if I’ve been unable to address it yet here. When I asked, “What other types of posts or topics would you like to read?” One thoughtful reader said, “[About the] research underlying practices,” and followed that up with, “1) Make purpose or expected result of practice crystal clear 2) use comparative analysis to show a particular practice is best possible for purpose. We need stronger comparative analysis to know what is best in our practice.”

I’m not sure exactly what context this reader was thinking about in terms of practices–he or she may be thinking of programming, customer service, reader’s advisory, any number of things. But of course when I read it I thought of storytime.

As a storytime trainer I’ve been wrestling with the idea of best practices for a long time. Way back in 2010, after a round of storytime observations, I asked, “What aspects of storytime fall under “personal style” and what fall under “best practices”?” In other words, is there anything about a storytime performance that we can label objectively ideal?
This is exactly the kind of appealing idea that the survey reader raised–that we can test and measure different approaches to how we present our services, possibly including storytime.

I still go back and re-read the comments to that post as well as the ones to my follow-up post “What Not To Do,” because your thoughts were so valuable to me as I developed a set of storytime competencies to guide training and mentoring at my library.

As we worked out those storytime competencies, though, my boss and I realized that they depended completely on our vision of storytimes, not as a platonic ideal, but for our particular library. Our goals for storytime for our community impacted what we wanted our competencies–our “best practices”–to be. I talked about this, how various goals for storytime affect the assessment of storytime, in a 2012 post, “Storytime Questions and Storytime Goals.”

Now here we are in 2014! I am still completely invested in the idea that storytime practices–for any storytime, at any library–can and should be regularly assessed for areas of improvement. I believe this and I have also come to believe that given the great variety of libraries, staff, communities, and missions, that working to discover a universal set of “best practices” for all storytimes is not the best strategy for me to use to improve storytimes at my library.

As I start a new adventure with a dedicated team of storytime providers, I will be challenging myself not to think about “best practices” but instead about “intentional practices” and “best questions.”

Intentional practices: Given our goals for storytime and for our community, how can we be thoughtful and deliberate about every aspect of storytime so that we meet our objectives? As the survey reader said, “Make the purpose of the practice crystal clear.”

Best questions: What can we ask ourselves about planning, preparing, and delivering storytimes to clarify the impact of our practices on our goals?

I’ll be observing (and presenting!) even more storytimes than ever in my new job, and I promise to post the questions my team and I ask ourselves as we work to bring even more thought and intention to the work we do.

What questions do you ask yourself about your storytimes? How do you choose to be intentional about what you do in storytime?

Update 9/4/14: Yesterday Abby wrote an excellent essay for the ALSC Blog about owning the educational and developmental benefits of storytime and being intentional about communicating those benefits to your community. It’s a must-read!

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Flannel Friday SHARK WEEK: Three Little Fishes

A few years ago I decided I wanted to tell “Three Little Fishes and the Big Bad Shark” by Ken Geist for summer reading school visits. In this version of The Three Little Pigs, the fishies take refuge in a seaweed house, a sandcastle, and finally, a big scallop shell as they escape from the shark.


The before & after images of the seaweed and sandcastle houses gave me the idea to make front-and-back pictures to show as I told the story. Using clip art cartoons as my patterns, I put together several sets of pictures, using cut out construction paper pieces and cardstock bases.

We needed a shark, of course:



And three little fish:

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Here’s the seaweed house, before and after destruction:

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The sandcastle before and after utter collapse:

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And the scallop shell, open and closed.

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And at last, the shark, sans teeth, after trying to get at the fishies in the scallop shell:

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These are about 9×9 each. I glued them back to front (The three fish are the only ones that are one-sided) so the shark with teeth was on one side, without teeth on the other; seaweed tall on one side, short on the other, and so forth. I stuck a paint stirrer stick thingy from Ace in each one as a handle:

Three Fishes Cards

And I marked up the base of the handles, so I could tell which picture was which while I was in the middle of telling the story. Dots are the “front side,” dashes are the “back side:”

Evernote Camera Roll 20140805 141528

What I did was sit in front of the kids, and put the pictures handles-up in a box in front of me. Then I started the story, holding up the right picture at the right time. When the houses got destroyed, I just flipped the pictures from one side to another while I was holding them up. When the shark went after the scallop shell at the end, I showed the shell open and shut with one hand, then the shark before and after with the other.

It took a little practice to be able to manipulate the pictures while I was telling the story and interacting with the kids, but in the end it was worth it and it was a slightly different way to present.

Here’s all the images together:


Happy Shark Week! The round up is at Sharon’s place this week, head on over and see all the other sharky goodness!

You can always find everything Flannel Friday at our website.

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A Partial List of Things I Am Doing This Summer That Apparently Does Not Include Blogging

1) Starting a new job as a supervisor
2) Scheduling a 13-person team
3) Going to meetings
4) Answering email at work during the day
5) Revising the schedule
6) Talking with other supervisors
7) Attending training sessions
8) Planning training sessions
9) Updating the revised schedule
10) Finishing projects from my old job
11) Answering email at home in the evenings
12) Learning new software on which to publish the updated revised schedule
13) Binge-watching 836 episodes of Midsomer Murders in puddle of exhaustion

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