So, in my professional life, I’m a children’s librarian. And what’s more, I’m a children’s librarian who does a pretty awesome story time. My favourite thing is to walk into a room full of kids anywhere from 4-10 with a bag of books, and give them more fun with reading and singing than they ever knew was possible. If you’re an experienced children’s library staff person, you probably won’t learn much from me, but if you aren’t, yet need to read aloud to groups of kids, keep these things in mind.
1. Silly is always a good thing. My favourite brand of silly is Mo Willems (especially Elephant and Piggy) or Jan Thomas: you can read aloud There’s a Bird on my Head or The Doghouse to almost anyone, so long as you do it dramatically enough, and you will be a rockstar. I’ve done both books with kids up to grade six, and they all always think it’s awesome. This leads to my next thing:
2. A little (or a lot) of drama never hurts. Unless you’re reading aloud to infants, you should always really scream, shout, yell, roar or sing when the character in the book does. This works especially well with school groups, who aren’t used to apparently normal grownups suddenly making tons of noise.
3. You need to take Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes to every story-reading event you do for children four and up. And you need to make sure you know the song, really well, and be prepared to read this more than once. This is a book that gets grades K-3 classes on their feet screaming for more.
4. For grades 2 and up, Once Upon a Motorcycle Dude is a pretty awesome title.
5. With babies, sing. Especially if it’s in a daycare setting where the babies outnumber the adults. Even if you aren’t much of a singer, learn some simple songs and just sing your heart out.
6. Never underestimate the power of the parachute: they are awesome things to have at story time, and any old nonsense will do as a parachute song: I just sing things like “we wave it very fast”, “we wave it very slow”, etc. to the tune of the Farmer in the Dell, and everyone thinks it’s fabulous. A lot of baby bouncing rhymes work really well, too.
7. For a large group, a dramatically told flannel board story is a must. Just remember to be really loud, gesture a lot, and try and get some jokes for the adults to laugh at in (and I don’t mean inappropriate stuff, just little digs that the kids won’t necessarily understand), and have a good sappy happy ending. It doesn’t matter what your flannel board pieces look like, it matters how you tell the story.
8. For large story time groups (50+), have as many action songs as possible (and use a recording to sing along with if you can), do things like singing ABCs and spelling or counting on a flannel board, and don’t try to read too much–a couple of simple books like Brown Bear, Brown Bear… or I Went Walking plus a flannel board story are the limit. I did very successful story times for 50-250 people for several years in the US, and if you’d like a more detailed idea of what to do if you’re looking at crowds like that, don’t hesitate to contact me.
9. Never be afraid to just stop if something isn’t working.