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Adventures in early literacy


My Favorite Storytime Jams

This post has been sitting in my Drafts since 2013. So, I guess it’s time to finish it! Library patrons frequently ask me about the music I play before, during and after storytime. It is great for our CD circulation and if you have a database like Freegal, it can help boost usage there, too.

You’ll notice I play a lot of kid friendly adult music. There are three reasons for this: 1) Music is a universal language and doesn’t fit into “age groups.” All ages can enjoy all music (obviously, I don’t play stuff with the swears but if it’s clean, it passes), 2) I like to think of music the way I think of books for kids. The best ones treat kids with the respect they are due. Music is the same way. Kids know when music isn’t great. They know when it’s being dumbed down for them. Give them great music with complex rhythms. It will help them develop a love for different kinds of music! and 3) Caregivers respond really well when you tell them they can play any kind of music with their kids. The point is to sing and dance together. To experience music together. Singing and listening to music builds early literacy skills, so let’s get them involved in that any way possible.

Probably, most of this is not new to you, but maybe you’ll discover a new gem. What are your favorite songs and artists?

During Storytime:

Barenaked Ladies: Their Snacktime album is amazing. I love playing Popcorn (from the Snacktime Trilogy) while jumping and playing with scarves.

Eric Litwin and the Learning Groove: all their albums are fabulous! I LOVE Shake With You.

Laurie Berkner: We Are the Dinosaurs is a participant favorite, though The Goldfish is totally my favorite.

Caspar Babypants: YES! He’s on Freegal!! OMG, the only thing that might make me happier is if Jim Gill were on there, too! Run, Baby Run, is by far the most loved song for a storytime activity. It is toddler crack.

The Wiggles: Shimmie Shake is a current storytime favorite, though my husband is a big fan of Hot Poppin’ Popcorn (he’s so weird)

Imagination Movers: Shakeable You is great for preschool storytime

Jim Gill: Alabama, Mississippi; List of Dances; Hands Are Clapping; oh just everything! Who doesn’t love Jim Gill?!

Kathy Reid-Naiman: I use We’re Tapping a LOT in toddler storytime. They LOVE it. She has fabulous stuff for baby storytime, as well.

Neil Sedaka‘s Waking Up is Hard to Do album (LOVE LOVE LOVE this-perfect for Dancing and there are books to accompany some of the songs-Dinosaur Pet is my favorite)

Raffi. Duh.

Bobby Darin: I play Splish, Splash and blow bubbles at the end of every storytime. Everyone in the room starts wiggling and moving with the music. It’s pretty awesome.

Before and After Storytime (AKA Mood Music):

Hot Peas ‘n Butter: Bilingual and some really great, upbeat rhythms perfect for Dance Party. Campo and Baile are two favorites.

Peter, Paul, and Mary: Peter, Paul and Mommy albums. Puff the Magic Dragon is a great one because most caregivers know it. This goes a long way in helping them feel comfortable in the space.

Recess Monkey: really anything

For the Kids album

Elizabeth Mitchell: Blue Clouds album is lovely

Los Lobos: I actually really like their Disney stuff.

Paul Simon: Graceland and You Can Call Me Al are great

Dogs on Fleas: They have some really interesting stuff. I love Cranberry Sauce Flotilla.

Milkshake: From their Great Day album, Shake it Up is awesome. You can also play it during storytime with shakers but mostly I use it for mood music.

Rockin’ Robin, Hound Dog, ABC, Footloose and other oldies but goodies are great for Dance Parties as well as storytime mood music.

Daddy a Go-Go: I love Rock of Ages.

Pharell Williams: Happy. Everyone LOVES hearing this one.

Smash Mouth: I’m a Believer. No really, I am. But it’s also a great song.

They Might Be Giants: I love all their albums, really. Such great vocab and the music is ROCKIN’! My favorite song right now is Why Does the Sun Shine?

Wham!: Play Wake Me Up Before You Go Go and just see if no one notices. You’ll see the smiles.

Who Let the Dogs Out is always a hit.

Movie Soundtracks with lots of instrumental stuff, like Star Wars, are SUPER fun during school age programs, or after storytime. A former co-worker turned me on to this and the kids love it.

Other 80’s jams like Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and Get On Your Feet are always fun.

Ok, what else should be on my list? Share, share, share!


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Upcoming Presentation Excitement!

September is going to be one of the busiest months of my life. And October is shaping up to be about the same. But, I’m super excited because it’s all because I’m doing lots of my favorite thing: presenting! And I hope you’re like this cat after you attend. But mostly I just thought this cat meme was funny.

I’m hoping to see many of you virtually in one of two upcoming webinars and some of you in real life at the Weave a Tale Preconference in Kansas City, MO. Details below!

Storytime Underground: A Peer-Created Community, co-presenting with Cory Eckert and Soraya Silverman, Tuesday, September 15th at 10am Pacific/1pm Eastern, will be archived

Successful Programming for Babies and Toddlers, co-presenting with the fabulous Brooke Newberry, Tuesday, September 22nd at 12pm Pacific, FREE, will be archived

Weave a Tale Storytelling Preconference: Fabulous Early Literacy Programs for Infants and Toddlers, KLA/MLA Joint Conference, Wednesday, September 30th from 8:30-11:30am

I wouldn’t be doing my job as Joint Chief of Storytime Underground if I didn’t remind you that if you attend any of these you can earn a badge!!

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Superhero Training Camp and Obstacle Course

As I am a solo children’s librarian in my very busy branch, I’m always looking for ways to pull off super cool programs with as little prep as possible. Now, I’m also super lucky to work in a system where the other children’s librarians are extremely helpful and collaborative. AND, my branch got a summer reading intern who is beyond fabulous and was SO much help. Biggest props go to Michelle for making the awesome duct tape weights, bowling set, and rings of fire. She used the props in several programs throughout the summer, as well, giving them lots of mileage!

For the Obstacle Course we had these stations (75 in attendance):

Make a Superhero Bookmark


Strike Out the Villains

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Jump Through the Rings of Fire


Leap Over Buildings in a Single Bound


Laser Maze

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Crawl through the Cavern of Doom

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Photo Op and Weight Lifting

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That’s it. They did it over, and over, and over, and over. It was hilarious.

The next month we held Superhero Training Camp with these stations (98 in attendance):

Make a Shield

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Make a Cape (the lame L one is mine, the S one is by our intern-props to Nicole for the idea!)

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Rings of Fire


Spiderweb Maze

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Attack the Villains

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Leap Over Buildings in a Single Bound (repeat)


Photo Op (including the “boulder” that crushed some buildings before)


Certificate and Prize! They become official superheroes, all planning to use their powers for good. (Thanks to Nicole for the Superhero Certificate template!) We had a bunch of stickers and things from those 8×8 paperbacks so each kid got to choose something from the table.


Books on Display, Of Course! All but two were snapped up.


These were both awesome programs. And having some repeat stations made it super easy to pull them both off.

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Passive Program for May: Fortune Teller Reader’s Advisory

In April, I set out another “Book in a Jar” for teens to guess. It was a LOT harder than the first, Diary of a Wimpy Kid Jar, but three teens still guessed the correct book.  Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.

I wanted to do something different for May, and also more interactive. I went hunting around Pinterest and found this blog and love her fortune teller reader’s advisory idea, so I stole it!


The best part is I can use this in both the teen and juvenile sections.

There were supplies and instructions for making a fortune teller on the Children’s Desk. A few kids did and I saw people using the fortune tellers in the stacks-hooray!

Planning to re-use in the fall sometime.


Self Care Sundays: Epic Road Trip 2015

I’ve been self caring a little too much on Sundays and haven’t even had time to blog about them!

In April I spent a weekend planning an awesome adventure into Oregon. Over the 4th of July weekend we took that trip. It was AMAZING.

Because pictures speak volumes and all that, here’s the photo tour. The one sentence summary: 13 McMenamins in 3 days, a day at Crater Lake, a night in a Florence campground, a night in a Roseburg hotel, and a tired dog.


Crossing into Oregon/Portland


View from McMinnville McMenamins -our first stop


One of the things we had to do for a passport stamp


So many gorgeous ocean and beach pics. We just pulled off the 101 pretty much every chance we got between Lincoln City and Florence.

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Our breakfast on the road to Crater Lake after camping.

The gorgeous Umpqua River!

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Almost to Crater Lake. Now, stop taking pictures and drive, Mom!


Crater Lake- gorgeous but a huge tourist trap so we probably don’t ever need to go back. Plus, VERY dog unfriendly. You can’t walk dogs on any of the trails. GRRRR.

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Some gorgeous falls on the way to Roseburg from the lake.

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And… the beer. And the gorgeous river front McMenamins in Eugene. This is just a sampling of what was consumed. Surprisingly, Sierra had none.

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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 bet 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?