Ninjas, today I’m pleased to introduce you to Dana Sheridan, our April Storytime Guerrilla of the Month. When we put out a call for folks to feature in this monthly series, Dana asked if we would only be featuring librarians. I was pleased to reply, “Nope! Anyone who does storytime in any capacity is a storytime guerrilla in our books.” We want to feature the full range of storytime practitioners, from volunteers and paraprofessionals to librarians and folks from other fields besides librarianship. If you’re doing awesome storytimes, we want to give you a platform to share it. And thus we came to feature Dana herself.
Dana Sheridan–or Dr. Dana, as she’s referred to when on duty–received her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Virginia. While her academic work focused on how children learn in free-choice environments, her professional passion has always been the design of dynamic hands-on programs for children. She has worked in a variety of settings, including a children’s hospital, special collections library, children’s museum, science center, and a major city zoo. Additionally, she has been a guest lecturer at literary society meetings, children’s literature classes, and education courses. She currently works at the Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton University, and blogs about her creative literacy work about her creative literacy work (including storytime project fun!) at Pop Goes the Page.
Q: How did you come to be a storytime practitioner?
Dana: I’d worked with kids in various contexts (museums, schools, hospitals, camps) before I came to Princeton University, but I had never done a straight-up storytime until I arrived at the Cotsen Library eight years ago. Since then, my storytime technique has evolved into what you see today–semi-dramatic readings with vocal characterizations, audience participation, questions & answers, using the book as a prop, etc. I’m starting to teach librarians and teachers how to use these techniques. My first workshop is next week! Wish me luck!
Q: True or false: A storytime is a storytime is a storytime.
Dana: It depends on what you believe. You can have a storytime with all the bells and whistles and it’s not worth one whit if you don’t believe in what you’re doing. You are absolutely allowed to be nervous, hesitant, terrified, and overwhelmed when you’re new to the storytime trade, but you can always learn storytime skills and find your voice. Even if you flub the first few and sweat your way through The Very Hungry Caterpillar, if you believe that books, children, and literacy are important, that belief is going to radiate out from you and make an impact on your listeners.
Q: What’s been inspiring your library work lately?
Dana: I’ve been doing a lot of nonfiction work lately. Currently, I’m researching six web mini-documentaries that feature Cotsen’s special collections. The mini-documentaries are aimed at middle school students. Some of them are basic, like what is a rare book, what are primary and secondary sources, what is book conservation, etc. Some are more complicated, like Victorian childhood and how toys reflected social status. Or the introduction of Communism in 20th century China as seen through a series of popular children’s publication. What’s inspiring are the materials from Cotsen’s collections. The stuff is just amazing, both visually and historically. I can hardly wait to teach kids about them.
Q: What’s your favorite thing to do with kids in storytime, and why do you do it?
Dana: My favorite thing is to read dramatically to kids and watch them react to a story. Gasps, laughter, hands over the eyes during the exciting parts, little squeals during scary parts, the offering of unsolicited advice to the characters. I will never tire of it. Never. Ever. Coming in a close second are the creative projects we do at storytimes. It’s always thrilling to help kids make a concrete, tangible, and inspired connection to the book, and to have them take their creations home for further fun.
Q: How do you go about continuing to develop your storytime skills?
Dana: By watching other story tellers, librarians, and teachers. And not just what they do during storytime but also during the transition times of the program! For my character vocalizations, I always keep my ears tuned for interesting voices in crowds. I snag voices from the videos my kids watch too. I’ll just add here that Captain Barnacles from the Octonauts is the man. Or more accurately, he’s the bear!