Meet Mary Kuehner, Storytime Guerrilla of the Month

Guerrillas, it’s time to get acquainted with Mary Kuehner. This fab librarian–our September 2013 Storytime Guerrilla of the Month–is a Kids and Families Outreach Librarian in Jefferson County, Colorado (the western suburb of Denver), and she has been working as a children’s librarian for 14 1/2 years. Holy cats! She loves playing the ukulele, everything Mo Willems and Jan Thomas write, and has a Pete the Cat tattoo. Online, she can be found on the twitterz: @daisycakes; and she sporadically updates her blog.

Mary in full Dr. Seuss regalia

Mary in full Dr. Seuss regalia

Q: If you could travel through time, what one piece of storytime advice would you give your new librarian self?
Mary: Hmm. I think I’d tell myself to relax, read lots of books (and find the ones that I really loved), and have fun. I’m a lot more outgoing in my performance style than when I started out, and I think some of that comes from knowing what kind of books really work for me and from just enjoying the kids’ reactions. I was probably a lot more uptight when I started as a librarian (14 1/2 years ago!) and concentrating on reading “quality” literature. While Where the Wild Things Are is an amazing book, it doesn’t work as a storytime read-aloud for me or the kids I work with. And that’s okay! Oh! And sing some songs. I had virtually NO storytime training when I started out, so I didn’t know much about songs, fingerplays, etc. It would have been nice to have those in my repertoire.

Q: You’re in an elevator and an adult services librarian says something about storytime that makes it clear she just doesn’t get it. What do you say to convey the importance of storytime?
Mary: I actually had a similar experience recently. A co-worker and I revamped our storytime training and we had our first session of the new version, and a couple of primarily adult services librarians attended. One of them actually said that she had always wondered why we do baby storytimes, but after the training, she “got it.” What was her lightbulb moment? The information we shared about baby brain development. I think understanding how much development is going on in a young child’s brain, and how what we do in storytime aids that development, and how much it affects future success, is a really powerful bit of knowledge. The first 5 years of a child’s life can determine the course of their future success. How mind-blowing is that? And what we do in the library can play (and does play) a big part in helping parents understand that and give their children the tools for that future success.

Q: When you have a storytime problem, who/what do you turn to for advice or support? It can be a person, a blog, a website, a resource…
Mary: My colleagues at my library, of course, who are amazing sources of ideas. My twitter “family” is a wonderful resource as well, especially Mel (@melissazd), Anne (@sotomorrow), Kendra (@klmpeace), and Seth (@sethers). I’ve gotten SO MANY great ideas from them, as well as the Flannel Friday Family. Whenever I’m feeling uninspired about a storytime, I check out the Flannel Friday Pinterest page and I’m revived! Thank goodness children’s librarians are so generous in sharing their ideas. And now, of course, Storytime Underground, about which I am telling EVERY children’s librarian I know.

Q: What one storytime skill are you really, really great at? Okay, you can share two things.
Mary: I’m really good at making a fool of myself. No, seriously. I’m often told by the kids: “Miss Mary, you’re funny!” and I take that as high praise. It’s usually after I’ve done something really silly, like pretend to blubber like a dinosaur who doesn’t want to go to sleep or argle-blaggling and flailing my body around like Leonardo the Terrible Monster trying to scare Sam. I’m also kinda pretty good at ukulele in storytime. But honestly, it doesn’t take much to be good at ukulele in storytime. A few chords, a willingness to make mistakes, and enthusiasm is all it takes.

Q: What’s your favorite thing to do with kids in storytime, and why do you do it?
Mary: I absolutely adore sharing a new story that I love with the kids for the first time, and seeing their reactions. I’m always hopeful that they’ll love it as much as I do, and it gives me great joy when I see their happy faces if the story has gone over well. I love to share puppets as well, and I’ve found that they work as a great “opening” to my storytimes. The kids know that we don’t start (and they don’t meet the puppet “friend”) until they’re all sitting and quiet, and since they’re always SO excited to see who it is, that works really well as an introduction. I love how the kids will tell me “you’re making it talk!” but then react to it as if it were a real living, breathing creature. They know that it’s a puppet, but still are able to suspend their disbelief. That’s a magical thing. By the way–my best puppet friend is a monkey named Sammy. He says “Hi.”

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