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Adventures in early literacy

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You Must Be Joking! Literacy through Laughter

A couple weeks ago I talked about my idea for getting kids into the library by asking them to visit and tell me a joke in exchange for a sticker. I honestly had no idea how well it would work out, but so many have been taking me up on the offer.

More than once this has been the exchange:

Kid: There she is!!

Adult: The library lady you were talking about?

Kid: Yeah, we have to go sign up!

Adult: Ok, but what is it?

Me: I’ll tell you all about it.

Kid: WAIT! I have a joke for you!!

Me: Ok, I’m ready!

Adult: Oh my gosh, this is why he’s been practicing jokes all day.

Me: Yay! I’m so glad you remembered to come tell me a joke!

Kid: *tells amazing joke and gets sticker*

So, not only has this proven to be effective in getting kids in the library, talking about the library with their caregivers, and creating a relationship between me and the joke teller, but it also helps with literacy development. Now, I haven’t found any research on jokes specifically but I put them in the narrative skills category. In order to tell a joke you have to understand humor and dialogue and story. A joke has a beginning (the joke), a middle (a I don’t know, what?) and an end (the punchline). If you do not understand the basic structure of a story, you will have a hard time telling a joke. A joke should be humorous (ok, that’s generous, but they should at least warrant an eye roll) and humor is not something everyone is born understanding. To realize a joke is funny you have to understand puns, know a little something about the joke’s subject matter, or be able to understand the riddle if it’s that kind of joke. All of this means you have to have, at least, a basic grasp of whatever language you are joking in. THIS is why I encourage kids to tell jokes. It helps them build their language skills and THEY DON’T EVEN KNOW IT. Obviously, lots of kids just memorize them without truly understanding them which is why I like telling them jokes, as well. That way we can talk about it to make sure they get it and aren’t just laughing to be polite. Doing that is almost as fun as hearing their jokes in the first place.

This is usually me:

A lot of times these exchanges happen in the stacks and I forget to write down the jokes, but I’ve included the ones I did get written down here. You will recognize many of them. Just remember, it’s the first time they’ve ever heard the joke. Some just don’t even make sense. Even when I asked for them to explain they still didn’t make sense. Making things up, FTW!

What do you call a funny owl? A hoot

What do you eat while watching a scary movie? Ice cream

What has a bottom at the top? A leg (Took me almost a day to realize she said LEG not LAKE-boy was I confused.)

What is the tallest building in the city? The library. It has the most stories.

Knock Knock. Who’s there? Orange. Orange who? Orange you glad I didn’t say banana? (mind you, this was the only joke he told so he had not already told the banana one)

Why was six afraid of seven? Because seven ate nine ten. (from a young man age 6)

Knock knock. Who’s there? Interrupting cow. Interrupting cow… MOOOO! (I swear if another kids tell me this one…)

Why did the chicken cross the road?  To get to the nail salon. (I don’t know. She said cuz they have nails. Which is true. Kind of.)

Knock Knock. Who’s there? Cash. Cash who? I prefer peanuts, thanks.

Why did the turkey cross the road? To prove he wasn’t chicken. (Heard this one twice.)

Why did the fish blush? Because it saw the boat’s butt.

Why did the skeleton cross the road? To get to the body shop. (I legit LOL’d on this one)

Why did the turkey cross the road? The chicken was out of town

What time does a duck wake up? At the quack of dawn!

What is brown and sticky? A stick (heard this one 3 times!)

What did the nut say when he finished his prayers? Almond

What did the umpire say to the batter? You have foul breathe

Early Literacy Messaging Graphic


Early Literacy Messages in Action: Be Enthusiastic and Engaging

This post is part of a blog tour discussing the use of early literacy messages in storytime and other early literacy programs. Each stop on the tour will include practical information for ways to include messages and why we feel it is important to do so. The tour round up can be found on on Friday, June 19th.

Early Literacy Messaging Graphic


I’m going to start with the why. For many of us, and for many caregivers, reading, talking, singing and playing with children is natural. Why wouldn’t we do those things? Not everyone gets it. They understand their child will need to learn how to read and write. Which might include the alphabet and numbers and learning how to sit still. This knowledge might have brought them to your storytime. Where they believe all the learning about reading and writing will happen for their child.

We know better. What a child sees and hears in a storytime will not make them readers alone. It will help, sure, but to truly develop all the skills they will need for learning to read and write in school, they will need their caregivers to continue reading, singing, talking, playing, and writing with them outside the library. Some caregivers already know this and their knowledge and actions will be affirmed when we talk about early literacy in storytime. Those who don’t might hear just the thing to spur them into sharing an extra book this week and singing a song at the bus stop next week and talking about all the things they see in the grocery store the week after that. Maybe not. But wouldn’t it be better to share our knowledge? Because it could be just what they needed.


I often hear concerns that sharing messages will sound preachy or like a lecture. It really doesn’t have to, and in my opinion, it shouldn’t. If it feels like school you’re doing it wrong. The key to success for me (everyone has their own style hence the blog tour!) is being enthusiastic and conversational.

From the moment a patron walks into the storytime room I engage with them. “Hello! How are you today? Please give yourselves nametags (these are for caregivers AND children) and then you can join me on the storytime rug with all these books!” Every participant gets basically the same welcome. Even if I’m in the middle of an enthralling board book on colors, I look up long enough to welcome them to the room.

This creates a welcoming, comfortable environment. Newcomers and old timers alike hopefully feel as though they belong the moment they set foot in the room. They like this feeling, and in turn, they like me for making sure they never had a chance to feel awkward (oh my goodness, what do I do, do we get a nametag, do we go sit down, where do we sit, ACK).

When I first began delivering messages in storytime I would write notes to myself on a sticky note and stick it to the back of a book. For example, if I was singing a book that day my note might say “Song books for short attention span, helps break up and slow language so easier to hear parts of words, vocab, calming, rhyming, quit when not interested or keep singing.” I would not address all the parts of this but the note helped me remember some key talking points so that when I was at a good place to give a message I didn’t have to think so hard about what to say.  That message might come out as “When you share song books like this one at home you are helping expand your child’s vocabulary. So many synonyms for “twinkle!” Plus, song books are great for toddlers because when they wander away from you you can just keep singing, or ditch the book completely without interrupting a story.” 

Now that I am more familiar with early literacy principles I don’t write notes and my messages are a little more conversational and don’t always happen during a book. I especially love talking to caregivers during transitions. That way I don’t lose them if I turn around to grab something AND I can explain what is so great about the next activity in regards to early literacy. It might look like this:

“Ok, it’s time to sing Twinkle Twinkle! Now, I’m going to play on the ukulele so I am going to need you all to twinkle your fingers, like this, since I won’t be able to. Grownups, we do fingerplays and other activities with fingers with our kids because it helps build the muscles necessary for writing later on. *play and sing a verse* Ok, now who knows another word for “twinkle?” Flicker! Yes! You remembered from the book we shared last week! Ok, now let’s flicker our fingers. Flicker extra for me while I play. Great! Grownups, you can change lots of songs to include new and interesting words to help build your child’s vocabulary. You might even learn some new words yourself!”

This gets me lots more head nods and feedback than the old way ever did. Not only do they trust me and like me because I have been nothing but welcoming from the start, but I’m including them in the entire experience rather than being the talking head at the front of the class. They are having fun when I talk to them about early literacy so they are more likely to remember what I’m saying. After storytime a few weeks ago a mother asked “Do you have any suggestions for songs that would be good for changing the words to?” So, she heard the message! And we developed a deeper relationship.

Moral of the story: know your stuff, be open and welcoming from the beginning, and HAVE FUN! Relationships and trust will develop quickly. Enthusiasm is contagious so be excited to share what you know!



Summer Reading Visits: What’s My Name?

Summer Reading visits are right up there with storytimes for my favorite part of my job. The kids are always so excited to talk about books and see someone from the library. Books and reading are so cool and fun! And even though they always love hearing about the Summer Reading Club, and swear they want to sign up, we all know that not all of them do. Now, there are lots and lots of reasons keeping kids from signing up for the program, but I vowed long ago that I would not be one of those reasons. I want them to want to come in the library SO bad they beg their caregivers to take them. But how?

Our collection is cool, but it isn’t always cool enough to get them in. I need more. Ok, the prizes are cool, too. But what kids really love is knowing someone important and feeling important themselves. In my library, I am the only children’s librarian. And I’m not always on desk. So if kids come in they would need to ask for me if they wanted to talk, etc. This occurred to me half way through a class presentation last week. So, at the end of the presentation when I did my pop quiz about dates and other things related to SRC, I also asked “What is my name?” They were stumped! I always introduce myself, but they hadn’t thought to listen for that detail. After many guesses, and the teacher winning the pencil at stake, they ALL knew my name.

But that’s not good enough. How do I make them USE my name to get me to talk to them in the library? Without being Heisenberg.

I’m placing my best on jokes! Kids love telling jokes probably more than they love food. Ok, maybe not that much, but a lot. I always end my presentation with a bad joke. And they always want to tell me theirs. So today I said this: “Come into the library, ask for me (what’s my name? KENDRA!!!!!! they scream), tell me a joke, and I’ll give you a sticker.” They’re already making plans with their friends about which joke they are going to tell me after school today. I’ll be ready for them, so fingers crossed I get to give away LOTS of stickers this summer!

And, of course, while they’re here, they can get signed up for Summer Reading.

What are you doing to get kids jazzed about coming into the library?

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April Display: Poet-tree!


For National Poetry Month I put up this interactive display using brown packaging from shipments to the library and green paper leaves. I posted a few “how to” information sheets for haiku, acrostic, and rhyme. Patrons were invited to write a poem on a green leaf OR write the name of their favorite poet or poem on a leaf and give the leaf to a staff person to hang up. The tree was fairly bare most of April, but once we got a few up there, more and more have been trickling in. Poetry books are displayed below the tree.

How did you celebrate April?

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Self Care Sundays: Outside Adventures

I’m so behind on my posts for this topic so this is from a few weeks ago. We took advantage of a rare sunny day in April and took a lovely walk at the Tacoma Nature Center. We got some decent pictures (and went home and immediately purchased a real camera) and treated ourselves to hot dogs after. It was a great dose of forest and sunshine!


Lots of flowers!

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You can’t really see, but a mama duck and her babies! Plus, turtles sunning!

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The Big Kahuna from The Red Hot. Oh YUM!

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Play, Baby, Play! No Paper? No Problem! Bodies as Canvas

Play Baby

Brooke and I have both written about this activity before, but I just can’t get enough! This time, we did this activity in all storytimes: Preschool, Baby, Preschool again, and Family. Surprisingly to me at the time (though on reflection I guess not) the squirmiest, seemingly uninterested in any books or songs, group was the one that really got into this activity the most. Wonder if you can guess which one that was? :)

For the older kids this is great writing practice and for the younger wonderful modeling. Plus, vocabulary and community building!

Supplies: In the past I have used Crayola washable markers this time when I tested them they did not wash off well AT ALL. So I ended up using Rose Art and Mr. Doodle markers. They both washed off super well. Face paint crayons and oil pastel crayons work REALLY well. I haven’t tried it but another librarian suggested tub crayons. It is SUCH a blast!

Preschool and BabyStorytimes

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Preschool Storytime #2

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This is my arm. Apparently, just drawing on mom and herself was not enough for one participant.

Family Storytime


This guy had several faces throughout the morning, this was the only one I could catch.

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This mom was drawn on by more than the toddler in her lap. Such a good sport!

My favorite part was how many people talked about wanting to do this at home or for a birthday party. It’s a cheap, easy activity with a huge reward!

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Play, Baby, Play! Boxes

Last year during ALA Annual 2014, Brooke (from Reading with Red) and I presented an Ignite session all about playing with babies at the library. It is one of our favorite presentations (together or separate), to this day. After talking about it for months, we decided to start blogging about all of our crazy ideas for babies! We can’t really figure out how we weren’t doing this all along. We’re calling this new series, “Play, Baby, Play!”

Play Baby

This week I’m writing about using boxes for a post storytime free play and art activity. Box play encourages imaginative play, narrative skills, and vocabulary building. When children have an opportunity to pretend using ordinary objects like boxes they use symbolism, which is an important pre-literacy skill, showing how one thing can stand for another. They make up stories about the box, possibly engaging in dialogue, and explore words to describe their play to participating adults.  Even babies and toddlers who are not yet talking are hearing so many new words and developing engineering skills, fine motor skills, social-emotional skills, and more! All these literacy skills from just a few boxes! Plus! Re-using! Recycling!

For another idea for using boxes check out this post from Annie about a Toddler Drive-In.

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All you need is a big pile of boxes and some markers (for decorating boxes if they so desire).


And they will take care of the rest!  You will notice some kids decided to get in the box and decorate while others opted for outside of the box play. Everyone was moving around so much it was difficult to grab a good picture, but take my word that there was lots of cooperative play and stacking throughout the 20 minutes or so they played.

Even though I’m not normally into themes, some of my favorite books are box themed. For this storytime we read Not a Box by Antoinette Portis and Meeow and the Big Box by Sebastien Braun.  I also love The Birthday Box by Leslie Patricelli but I skipped it this go around.

Happy playing!!