Ask a Storytime Ninja: Art in the School Library

This week’s Ask a Storytime Ninja is for all you amazing school librarians. Looking for some ideas for incorporating art and music in your library? You’re in the right place!


The Question:


What are some ways to go about incorporating music and the arts into an elementary school library?


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The Answers:


From Bryce:


What a great question! While I work at a public library at the moment, I spent years working in and with elementary schools. With the school library experience I’ve seen in mind, here’s a few ideas you can try:


1. Passive programming involving art and music: Once the kids are done checking out, they’re maybe waiting for their classmates to finish, and this can sometimes cause behavior problems. One way to keep them occupied while incorporating the arts or music could be a table or cart that would be engaging and self directed. In our public library, we’ve had success with day camps using a “Stories in Action” table for kids who aren’t checking out. I could definitely see this type of thing translating well to an elementary library. And if they’re well-behaved, maybe a reward could be bringing out materials that can be used as instruments for some noisy learning fun!


2. Focusing on books that specifically have an art component, like graphic novels or books with songs in them: that way you can incorporate the art portion into your book-share. Books like Pete the Cat  or Diary of a Wimpy Kid can tap into interests kids already have while extending their learning to more artsy endeavors.


3. Getting kids to shake their sillies out through song: From “The Freeze Song” to “The Watermelon Song” to even “Cha-Cha Slide”, kids can pick up rhythms and have fun while you don’t have to wonder when their last recess was (hint: probably 2 days ago). You can even bring out exercise through dance to signal a transition (from book-share to check out, from passive programming to lining up). The one thing to remember about this method is that you really have to sell it; if you’re not ready to be a goofball yourself, you won’t get that 5th grader in the back of the class assuming they’re too grown to dance on board (I just came back from an outreach where I got a group of high school juniors to play I-Spy with me, so I feel like I know what I’m talking about there!)


With the arts becoming more and more of a luxury in schools, I want to tell you that I really appreciate this question, and YOU! Good luck.


From Lisa: 


Can I just say ditto to everything that Bryce said? 🙂


Let me preface this by saying that I have never worked in an elementary school.  Here are some things that I have tried in a public library setting that may work for you:


  • Can you bring in a special guest, such as an artist or a music teacher?  If you don’t know anyone, search your staff and see if they have a connection.  We brought in a college student who was just graduating with a degree in art and she showed off her paintings made out of weird or interesting stuff (such as painting with Legos).  My brother is a high school band teacher and he brought in a variety of brass instruments.  After demonstrating the ranges of notes on each, the kids were able to try out the instruments.  The tuba was a giant hit!


  • Can you take a picture book illustrator and create art in their style?  If you are not supposed to do actual projects in the library, can you work with an art teacher to create a unit together focusing on various illustrators.  We have had great luck with making collages like Eric Carle.  We have also made leaf creatures like Lois Ehlert.  By adding extra components to the literature (like art), you are actually making the stories more memorable for the children.  I still have kids who come into the library and ask when we are going to do “that caterpillar guy’s art project again”.



From Anna Francesca:


Can I say how much I love this question! I am a public librarian, but I am our system’s liaison to schools and a longtime supporter of arts education.  There are some great books about visual art, performing art, and music that make for wonderful displays and read-alouds.  Here are just a few suggestions that I have in terms of stories to share with younger elementary kids:


  • Art by Patrick McDonnell works for Pre-K students up first grade. It focuses on a boy named Art who paints all kind of designs, patterns, and objects.  His art fills his dreams on my favorite spread—one with no words.  Then, his mom hangs his art on the refrigerator.


  • M is for Music by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Stacy Innerst goes through the alphabet with terms from across the spectrum of musical types.  While each letter has a featured word, others terms starting with that letter are on the page, too.  Pre-K to third grade kids will get a kick out of this one.


  • The DotIsh, and Sky Color are fantastic books by Aaron Reynolds about people discovering that there are many ways to be artists.  The drawback to these books is that have pictures that are too small for group sharing.  If your library subscribes to Tumblebooks and if you have a projector, you can show students The Dot or Ish that way.  Tumblebooks suggests these books for kindergarten to third grade.


With older kids, it can be great to book talk some chapter books or non-fiction books. These also make for great displays. Here are just two examples, but there are a plethora of options.  Stage Fright on a Summer Night from the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne is a good early chapter book that gets into a bit of Shakespeare.  My name is Celia : the life of Celia Cruz = Me llamo Celia : la vida de Celia Cruz by Monica Brown with pictures by Rafael is a bright biography.


In addition, the library space can double as a wonderful display area for the students’ creations.  Partner with your school’s art teacher to brainstorm how you will do this.  Also be sure to post flyers for upcoming plays and concerts that your school is doing. Another way to make the library a home for art is to play music softly as children are checking out. You can have a contest where students who correctly identify the type of music (i.e. jazz, classical, Broadway, country, etc.) can either win a small prize (like a bookmark) or be entered into a weekly drawing for a bigger prize (like their own CD, headphones, or an MP3 player).


Whatever you do, thank you for incorporating the arts into your library curriculum.



From Sue:


The other responses were terrific.  I don’t feel as I could add a thing to them.  Just a happy face and a hearty “I concur”.  Local artists are often willing to help out.  You might find that one stay-at-home-mom who does music or art on the side.


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