Friday, March 27, 2009

What Happens in Storytime, Stays in Storytime

Sometimes storytime can be a bit of a zoo!

Storytime is a time-honored tradition in libraries, and most children's librarians will tell you it's among their favorite parts of the job. It's so rewarding to share the perfect story with a receptive audience, and watch their delight. When storytime is good, it's the best feeling ever for the librarian. But when it takes an unexpected turn or veers completely off course, well - it makes for a good story all on its own.

I'm the first to admit that storytime isn't rocket science or brain surgery, but there is a certain skill and experience level involved in selecting appropriate stories and delivering them in a way that engages the audience. Guest storytellers have sometimes learned this the hard way. At a library that shall remain nameless in another city that shall remain nameless, a famous ex-player for a storied sports team that shall remain nameless appeared at storytime as a guest reader. This player was charming, funny and intelligent, but his choice in story selection was a little questionable. The book he chose to read to an audience with an average age of four years? A Farewell to Arms. (just a passage, thankfully.) I was a bundle of nerves in the corner of the room, fervently keeping my fingers crossed that the squirmy little ones could keep it together for the presentation. And miracle of miracles, they did. If they were a bit unimpressed with the reading, all was quickly forgiven when hats featuring the logo of the team were distributed to all. But I was secretly pleased when a kid, proudly wearing his new team hat, approached me after the program and asked "so when does storytime start?"

Not every book is designed to be read aloud to a group. Take Dr. Seuss - a beloved author with numerous classic titles. But for me, The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham work much better read one-on-one versus to a large group. Tastes and reactions vary, too - some books I adore and excitedly share with an audience have bombed big time. Frank Was A Monster Who Wanted to Dance is about a lovable little monster that boogies so hard that his body parts start falling off. It's really cute and funny, I swear! Except it wasn't so cute and funny to a certain group of first graders, who looked at me in shock and horror as I cheerfully read about Frank's brain flopping out on the floor. Oops. Lesson learned.

I'm not proud of this, but I have made a child cry in storytime. The trigger of the tears? Brightly colored shaker eggs used during music time. The little girl didn't get the color of egg she wanted, and bravely tried to hold back her sobs during the song. It may seem cruel, but trust me - had I stopped to give her the desired egg, every other kid would want another color and pandemonium would ensue. In storytime, time and crowd constraints sometimes require us to enforce the mantra learned in Pinkalicious - "you get what you get, and you don't get upset."

Storytime is a live performance, and children are unpredictable. With that combination, anything and everything can happen. Every librarian has stories. A former colleague chose "sickness" as a storytime theme, and read books about your typical sniffles and sneezes. Children, as they are known to do, share (and overshare.) One young participant was inspired to tell the group about an affliction he developed on a body part in which no one should be ashamed, but usually isn't discussed in polite company.

Santa Clara City Library offers storytimes for babies, one-year-olds, toddlers, preschoolers and families. Click here for our schedule, or ask at the youth services desk. Our storytimes require no registration, so just drop in! You never know what might happen.

posted by spb