Ask a Storytime Ninja: Performance vs. Discussion

Another edition of Ask a Storytime Ninja is here! Check out the archives for past editions.

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The Question:

“At the Caldetots session from ALA Annual, Megan Lambert of the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature rhetorically asked the audience if storytime is meant to be a book discussion or a performance. What say ye?”

This week’s question came from the Storytime Underground Facebook page (thanks Kelsey for asking it!). See more responses there.

The Answers:

Sara (@plsanders) says:

I’d say that to agree with either would be denying the true power of storytimes and the librarians who host them. Storytimes are an interactive literacy experience: parents and children are engaged in a book or four, sure, and may be talking about the book or listening to it being read. But storytimes provide a safe place for families to practice literacy skills together. They’re singing, listening, talking, and rhyming; they’re listening for alliteration and assonance, and other word tricks that make language so fun to use.They’re absorbing the librarian’s models for prosody and think-aloud comprehension. They might be predicting what will happen next, or talking about book preferences. They’re learning what books are developmentally appropriate for what age levels, and which aren’t. These are all things that help parents create a culture of literacy at home, and help children get reading ready.
But I guess doing all this while assuming the guise of a Fun Time at the Library makes it a pretty good performance!

Kiera (@libraryvoice) says:
Is Storytime a book discussion or a performance? Both. Neither. It’s a little bit country, a little bit rock n’ roll. It has elements of a book discussion in the sense that we do dialogic reading (“What do you think will happen next?” “How do you think Harry the Dirty Dog feels now?”) and picture walks with the children in our storytimes. And it is a bit performance in the sense that we have an obligation to not only educate, but entertain (and that goes triple for a room full of 80+ active toddlers.) I tend to think of myself as an educator rather than a performer, but singing, puppetry, movement and music activities are all a form of performance. Those gifted children’s librarians who play an instrument and can sing in key (sadly, I’m not one of those) raise the level of that entertainment aspect while simultaneously educating.
But what erks me about the “book discussion vs. performance” divide is that it does not hit upon what I consider one of the most important aspects of storytime: early literacy building. When we sing songs and fingerplays, recite bouncing rhymes, and read aloud we are helping children develop key skills such as letter knowledge, vocabulary, phonological awareness, visual literacy, etc.

Lisa (@lmulvenna) says:
It should really be a mix of both.  You need the performance aspect to keep the kids entertained and coming back.  The book discussion comes into play because one of the skills that we work on in story time, both with the kids and modeling for the parents, is talking in terms of early literacy.  There are many times I don’t read a book straight through from cover to cover.  Think of the book Bark, George by Jules Feiffer.  Don’t you ask the kids what noises George should be making and what animals he sounds like?  How about Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr.?  Half of the fun of this book is to let the kids tell you what color and animal they are looking at.

Miss Meg (@theemegnificent) says:

I believe it is a performance.  As someone who enjoys reading about early literacy and incorporating it as much as I can into storytime, I have structured my storytime’s to be as guidelines for parents and caregivers on how they should interact, read, and learn with their child.

Angela (@annavalley) says:
For years, I have described storytime as “book discussion for the preschool set”. So yes, I see reading a book at storytime as a way of discussing it. But I also find myself performing it as well. SO both! For discussion, I do ask questions here and there, but not on every page. Often, I will ask a “What happens next” type of question before turning the page. If a child points out something or asks a question, I try to engage them. But always, the BOOK comes first — I keep the focus on the book, bring them back to the book. I try to never let it get out of hand– you know, when the comments turn to “This morning my cat puked”, then it is time to be the adult and bring it back to the book in hand. As for performance, any chance I get to get kids off the floor, moving, singing, chanting, making animal sounds, clapping, I take it. Interactive book discussion, perhaps?

Sara H. (@hathawse) says:
Storytime for any age is based on sharing – sharing information, stories, resources and ideas. Information may, and should, be presented in a variety of formats and some of that may include performance-like aspects, but storytime is all about expanding minds and starting dialogues.  The level of discussion will vary based on your audience’s moods, ages and interests that day, and you may implement certain rules for discussion – such as “Could you wait until the book is done to ask your question? Thank you!”  or providing an opportunity for caregivers to sit and talk after the program.  But children and caregivers are curious, humans are born to ask questions and storytime is the perfect opportunity to engage in dialogues around various topics.   Don’t limit yourselves to just books – talk about anything and everything that is at all related!  Communicating with customers of all ages is key to building lasting relationships and providing more effective service.
With that said, it can be important at times to have structure in your programs.  Storytimes can be big, loud, fun and crazy and still support discussion.   A conversation allows time for both sides to speak and present their ideas.  It is okay to ask children and caregivers to wait with their questions, but it is important that you return to those questions at some point and give everyone a chance to share.

Mary (@daisycakes) says:

I think storytime is both performance and book discussion, but in my opinion, one leads to the other. The performance of the book is what hooks the kids and gets them engaged in the story, which enables the reader to ask those discussion questions. I am over the top silly with my storytime performance, which the preschoolers love, and when I’ve got their attention, THEN I can ask them about a character’s emotions, what they think will happen next, etc.

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