Category Archives: Storytime Guerrilla of the Month

Meet Joel Nichols, Storytime Guerrilla of the Month

Joel makes all of his storytimes so much fun, and you can totally tell that by his happy photo.

Joel makes all of his storytimes so much fun, and you can totally tell that by his happy photo.

Ninjas, meet Joel Nichols, an outstanding storytime provider and our May Storytime Guerrilla of the Month!

Joel Nichols is a Children’s Librarian and Branch Manager at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Past jobs there have included the Parkway Central Children’s Department and the Techmobile, a computer lab on wheels. He is the author of iPads in the Library (2013) and Teaching Internet Basics: The Can-Do Guide (forthcoming 2014), and also writes fiction. Recent stories can be found in the weird fiction magazine Phobos and in With: New Gay Fiction. He has an MSLIS from Drexel, an MA in Creative Writing from Temple, and BA in German from Wesleyan University. He lives in Philadelphia with his boyfriend and their child.

Q: What’s your philosophy for choosing books and activities for storytime?
Joel: For books, the art and book design have to catch my eye. The pictures need to tell the story. The text has to be clear and work on many levels: a preschool-appropriate message level, the right vocabulary level, to start, but it also has to offer something to adults in the group and, for the best ones, also in terms of symbology and reference to other texts.

For songs and rhymes: they have to be something I can sing/remember/recite! I’m no singer, so simple tunes work for me. I’m also drawn to anything about the moon and space, elephants, whales, insects, dinosaurs, and lots of other stuff.

That said, I test books out in storytime all the time that I don’t even necessarily like, but that have interesting connections to real-life events or other books. The final part of my philosophy for planning storytimes is that I try out lots of stuff and keep doing whatever seemed to work, whatever kids enjoyed, whatever they ask for, etc.

Go away, Big Green Monster!

Go away, Big Green Monster!

Q: If you had free reign to try anything in storytime, what would it be?
Joel: Crafts and writing activities. I work in a small branch and do storytimes on the floor. I wish there were appropriate space and furniture for preschoolers to have a chance to write/draw/make about something we just read or talked about in storytime. I’m constantly pairing storytime books that have lots of intertextual resonance, like Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown and Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester, and then asking kids to talk about the stories and books and what was the same and what was different. I’d love to be able to do more of that, but with big groups of preschool classes, it’s challenging.

Q: What piece of advice would you give to librarians just starting out in youth services?
Joel: Think of your professional practice and development as a “see one, do one, teach one” field, and observe as many other librarians doing their work as you can. Watching, assisting and asking questions to learn about the practice of others teaches you new practical skills and builds confidence through repetition.

Q: What one storytime skill are you really great at? Okay, you can share two things.
Joel: My favorite thing is being like a narrator for an amazing literacy experience. Sort of like Levar Burton on Reading Rainbow: setting the scene, introducing the books, and then also asking about and discussing them…I like taking storytimers on a magical journey where they are seeing some things and learning about some ideas for the very first time. That’s what I really enjoy.

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?
Joel: Sometimes people just don’t get it because they haven’t experienced it. You could ask her to join you in giving a storytime sometime, or just invite her to watch yours. In my community, storytime is a place where kids get access to a world of books, stories, art and ideas that’s more interesting and different (and maybe better) than the other media they are exposed to. It can be frustrating that this work is so often reduced to “reading with kids” by people who don’t understand the 5 early literacy areas and the role of children’s librarians in supporting literacy development, but go read to some kids and you’ll feel better.

Meet Dana Sheridan, Storytime Guerrilla of the Month

Dr. Dana has the best take on those stereotypical "librarian glasses."

Dr. Dana has the best take on those stereotypical “librarian glasses.”

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!


Meet Kevin Delecki, Storytime Guerrilla of the Month

Ninjas, this month’s featured guerrilla is a former storytimer who now advocates for the importance of storytime from a management position. We all do our jobs best when we’re flexing all our muscles to promote early literacy–both in storytimes and to our communities and administrators. Our March Storytime Guerrilla of the Month, Keven Delecki, can share some perspective on just that topic.

The Hulk is a fellow enthusiast of flexing one's storytime muscles.

The Hulk is a fellow enthusiast of flexing one’s storytime muscles.

Kevin Delecki has worked in libraries for 10 years, first in Michigan and now in Ohio. He began his career as a Children’s Librarian and moved into management 6 years ago. He is chair of the 2015 Theodore Seuss Geisel Award committee, and served on the 2011 Randolph Caldecott Award Committee. Even though it isn’t his main focus any longer, he is still active and involved in service to children and young adults, including storytime/storytelling, reader’s advisory and STEAM programming. In his spare time, Kevin spends as much time as possible with his wife and three adorable children, and is active on Twitter @NYALibrarian.

Q: What is your current position at your library?
Kevin: I am the Head Librarian (Branch Manager) of the Cedarville Community Library, a small library in a rural college town that is part of the Greene County (Ohio) Public Library system. Due to the size of the library, I am fortunate enough to be involved in all aspects of the library, including circulation, reference, outreach, programming, and youth services.

Q: What is your background as a storytime practitioner?
Kevin: I spent my first two years in libraries working with and studying under an amazing librarian who was a Professional Storyteller for 25 years before becoming a Children’s Librarian. I then began my professional career in a small inner-city branch with no history of children’s services. My focus there was to build interest and attendance in children’s programming. I began my first storytime series with 1 child and her grandmother –and it was just the three of us for three months! This was before the proliferation of Social Media and blogs focusing on Youth Services, so I learned as much as I could from other local librarians, listservs, and massive amounts of trial and error. Three years later, after a lot of work and immeasurable support from my manager and coworkers, I left the library with 10 children every week at our Baby Storytime, 25 children at Toddler Time, and 25 children at Preschool Storytime.

Q: How do you advocate for youth services at your library from your current position?
Kevin: Most importantly, I do whatever I can to ensure that the Children’s Librarian at my library has what she needs in order to succeed. That includes working with the budget, managing her work and desk schedule, ensuring she has the personnel support necessary, and providing opportunities for training and enrichment. Also, I spend a great deal of time advocating to parents/patrons in the library, as well as with stakeholders in the community–emphasizing to them the importance of quality Youth Services. Finally, I work with the rest of the staff of the library–reference, circulation, library aides–ensuring that they understand the importance of Youth Services and encouraging their support though their interactions with patrons, their participation in programs, and the building of their further knowledge.

Q: Unfortunately, not every library has administrators who understand or value what happens in the children’s room. What advice would you give to these YS staffers to help them advocate for their work to their administrators?
Kevin: This may sound counter-intuitive, but my first step would be to stop focusing on the views of the administration–at least at first. That’s not to say to be insubordinate or disrespectful, but instead to focus on yourself, and begin to grow and develop what you are doing. Get the pulse of your community, expand your Personal Learning Network, utilize the amazing online resources to help develop programs that specifically meet your community’s needs. Nothing builds vocal library supporters more than outstanding youth programs. In time, invite members of the administration–preferably starting with those more disposed toward Youth Services–to visit or assist with programs that you know will be successful, or will be attended by your more vocal supporters. You may not change their views or preconceptions quickly, or even at all, but demonstrated value goes much farther than just being told what should be important.
Also, surround yourself with local and virtual colleagues who understand the importance of Youth Services. Having people who truly understand and appreciate the important work that you do is vital to keeping you moving forward, innovating, and providing amazing service to the youth in your community.

Q: What do you miss most about leading regular storytimes?
Kevin: So much! Storytime/storytelling, both in the library and in the community, was the central focus and biggest joy of my job as a Children’s Librarian. I did between 8 and 15 storytimes a week, including three straight hours every other Friday. I taught myself ukulele, learned to storytell both on my own and with a 3-foot tall marionette and overcame my fear of singing in public. Most importantly, I got to be a part of so many children’s lives–helping them learn to love books, helping them learn to read. I worked in daycares and shelters where the children had never, in their entire lives, had a positive interaction with an adult male, and worked for months to help them build trust. Storytime encapsulates so much of a library’s importance, and it will always be one of my favorite experiences as a librarian.

Q: What’s been inspiring your library work lately?
Kevin: So much of what has been inspiring me is watching the current generation of librarians and library workers transform library service. Groups such as Storytime Underground and Flannel Friday, advocacy like Guerilla Storytime, being able to interact through Social Media with awesome, creative, innovative, exciting people, and being in a position where I am able to mentor and help encourage those new to, and excited about the profession–these are the things that energize and inspire me! Regardless of the doom and gloom predicted by news outlets with a 1967 view of libraries, I feel as if we’re in one of the most exciting times for library services–technology is giving us unprecedented access to patrons and ideas, and yet even with the changes, Gallup has found that we are more popular than baseball and apple pie! Libraries, and especially Youth Service librarians, truly have the ability to change and improve lives, and I am grateful every day to be a small part of that.

Meet Laura Arnhold, Storytime Guerrilla of the Month

Laura Arnhold knows how to do a tree pose in Yoga Storytime.

Laura Arnhold knows how to do a tree pose in Yoga Storytime.

This month, we’d like you to meet Laura Arnhold, a children’s librarian at the Upper Merion Township Library in King of Prussia, PA (outside of Philadelphia). Laura has been in that position for five and a half years, and she spends a lot of her time answering reference questions, leading story times, and planning programs for children in Kindergarten – 8th grade.  Laura got on our radar for Storytime Guerrilla of the Month after she shared some great details and ideas for Yoga Storytime at the Guerrilla Storytime at ALA Midwinter this past January. She’s recently written a great summary post about her experiences doing Yoga Storytime and resources so you can, too; find the post at her blog, Literacious. Laura wanted to be a librarian since she was little, and she’s pretty sure she has the best job in the world. In her spare time, she loves to cook, spend time outdoors, and of course try to read as much kid’s lit as possible.

Q: What one storytime skill are you really, really great at? Okay, you can share two things.
Laura: I’m not afraid to stop in the middle of storytime and go “off script;” sometimes things are just not going the way you planned and you need to mix it up a little bit. I’m also a big fan of encouraging what I like to call “managed chaos.” A parachute, some “popcorn” balls, and 20 toddlers can get pretty crazy at times, but it’s worth it when the kids are giggling up a storm and the caregivers are having a good time too!

Q: What’s been inspiring your library work lately?
Laura: I was lucky enough to attend ALA Midwinter and I loved the ideas coming out of the Guerrilla Storytime. I also follow a ton of great blogs and other librarians on Twitter who are doing amazing things across the country, and I think it’s a really exciting time to be in the field.

Q: If you had free reign to try anything in storytime, what would it be?
Laura: I’m lucky to work in a library that allows me to try new ideas all the time! We’ve begun a parachute storytime program as well as a yoga storytime, a STEM storytime, and a sensory storytime. I think I’d like to try adding more exploratory play after storytime to encourage families to interact together and as a way to teach early literacy skills in a more personal setting where I can talk to a few families at a time.

Q: What piece of advice would you give to librarians just starting out in youth services?
Laura: Don’t be threatened by previous librarians in your position; you’ll often hear something like, “It has always been done like this…” Storytime always works better when you’re comfortable with the songs, stories and activities. And don’t forget to read as much as you can. It’s a major help when planning storytimes and offering suggestions too!

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…
Laura: Blogs have been a great resource for me lately, and some of my favorites include Abby the LibrarianThe Show Me Librarian, and Storytime Katie.  These are just a few of the story time blogs I follow. If I’m looking for early literacy information to enhance my storytime, I always head over to Saroj Ghoting’s website for great resources about the importance of early literacy.


Do you want to be a Storytime Guerrilla of the Month, or know someone who should be? Send us an e-mail and tell us a bit about those crazy storytime skills!

Meet Brooke Rasche, Storytime Guerrilla of the Month

Brooke rocking a baby read-aloud. Peek-a-YOU!

Brooke rocking a baby read-aloud. Peek-a-YOU!

Ladies and gents, meet Brooke Rasche, our January Guerrilla of the Month. Brooke has been a children’s librarian for 2 years. Her first job was in Virginia, where she programmed for ages 0-19. Now, she’s in Wisconsin and programs specifically for ages 0-5, but she also jumps in and helps where she’s needed. Brooke’s passion is early literacy and she loves to talk about it with anyone who will listen, including on her blog. In her non-librarian life, she enjoys reading, watching horrible reality tv, and maybe sewing (she just got a machine for Christmas!). Brooke absolutely adores her job and truly thinks it is her calling in life.

Q: What’s your philosophy for putting together a storytime?
Brooke: The main thing I consider when I look for books and activities is will it add value to my storytime. Will kids respond well to it? How about parents and caregivers? Does this fit with the early literacy tip I want to focus on? I also try to keep my storytime content fresh. Some parents are with me for 24 months before moving on to the next storytime provider and I want to make sure they are not hearing the same 15 books and songs for 2 years.
I also think it’s important to make sure that you are enjoying yourself in storytime. It is easy to get stuck in a “storytime rut” or to get burned out when you do it for months on end. If you dread storytime each week then it will be noticeable by the caregivers and children.
In Wisconsin it can obviously get very very cold. If my families are getting their children ready, walking out in freezing weather, and coming to the library specifically for storytime I want to make sure they leave feeling like it was worth their time.

Q: What’s your favorite thing to do with kids in storytime, and why do you do it?
Brooke: I currently do 3 baby storytimes (11-23 months) and 1 infant storytime (0-10 months) each week. My absolute favorite thing to do with them is playtime! It is a great opportunity to really connect with the caregiver and child. I make sure to spend a few minutes with each child playing and talking to the caregiver. It is a great time to chat with participants who are normally more introverted or new to the group. I am kind of a “matchmaker” with my parents and introduce newer moms to some of my more veteran ones who match their personality.
I have a few very young mothers who attend my storytimes and they’ve expressed how awkward it can feel to play with their child. This is also a great time to show them playing can be as simple as putting your hand over their eyes or just talking to their baby with a silly voice. Simply interacting with your child and speaking to them is such a huge step for a lot of parents!
This time is also really special because it gives parents a chance to talk to one another about their lives. Whether it’s concerns about their child not hitting a milestone, to ask about feeding schedules, or to simply talk about lack of sleep- there is usually at least one other mom who is experiencing the same issue.

Q: How do you go about continuing to develop your storytime skills?
Brooke: I am very active online and I’m constantly looking at what other storytime providers are offering. My blog list is numerous, but Mel’s Desk, Jbrary, Storytime Katie, and Read Sing Play are my first stops when I am looking for new content.
I also keep an eye on webinars and what is being offered by local universities. I took storytelling classes in graduate school, but I haven’t really used my oral storytelling skills at all. So I decided to sign up for a class this semester to refresh myself!

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?
Brooke: I always begin talking about child brain development and the importance of what we do in storytime. My favorite study to refer to is the “30 million word gap” that children can experience. It usually ends up being a much longer conversation than the librarian ever wanted to have, but what we do is so important! I truly could go on about the importance of storytime for hours.
In other librarians’ defense, I think a lot of them are just uninformed rather than rude (there are exceptions). From the outside looking in, it can definitely look like all we do is sing and play with kids. That’s why events like Guerrilla Storytime are so important! When people ask me “What do you do all day?” this is one of the websites I tell them to check out.

Q: If you could travel through time, what one piece of storytime advice would you give your new librarian self?
Brooke: Be yourself! I am naturally a very loud and extroverted personality. However, other librarians I watched do storytime were not, so early in my career I tried to mimic their style rather than discovering my own. Once I finally realized that I wasn’t meant to have a calm and quiet storytime they became so much more fun! I think everyone has a unique storytelling style and should embrace it. Sometimes it takes a while to find, and it can definitely change over time—but when you find it you’ll enjoy storytime more, and so will the parents and children!