For the past four years, Oak Park library patron Lindsay Olson has hosted a weekly Zoom storytime with her granddaughters on the West Coast.
“We were so grateful we had our storytime sessions in place when the pandemic hit,” Olson says. “Not seeing our family for two years was made easier by our Sunday storytimes.”
Everything was going smoothly until this spring, when Olson says they hit “a storytime conundrum.” So she reached out to the library for help.
“The girls chew through about 12-15 books in our weekly time together, so finding enough material is a challenge,” Olson told us. “Humor, fiction, nonfiction, space science, and horticulture are all subjects both girls like. Can you help me please to find books that will engage our older granddaughter?”
Solving ‘a storytime conundrum’
Olson needed help striking the right balance for her granddaughters, who are almost 3 years old and 5 years old. She wanted to find books with complex ideas and stories, but also with plenty of pictures and not too many words.
Elementary School Services Librarian Genevieve Grove got right on the case. She responded with a mix of picture books with and without words, poetry, fiction, and nonfiction (see below). And, as Olson told us, the recommendations worked!
‘You have helped us save storytime’
“You have helped us save storytime, and as long-distance grandparents who want to stay in touch, this was a big gift!” Olson told us, thanking Grove for all her recommendations. “These girls devour books!”
“You are helping us stay engaged with our family and this means so much to us all,” Olson added. “Thank you for being there for us and our community! Our library means a great deal to us and has sustained us through thick and thin!”
Books to read aloud together
Here’s a selection of books recommended by Elementary School Services Librarian Genevieve Grove:
- Any title by Jason Chin (including Andrea Wang's Watercress, illustrated by Chin)
- Wordless picture books like Flotsam by David Wiesner, or ones by Suzy Lee, Aaron Becker, Bil Thomson, Pete Oswald and Barbara Lehman
- Picture books and highly illustrated nonfiction by Oak Parkers Candace Fleming and Eric Rohman, such as Papa's Mechanical Fish, Giant Squid, Honeybee, and Clever Jake Takes the Cake
- Fractured fairy tales like The True Story of the Three Little Pigs or Stinky Cheese Man
- I'll Read To You, You Read to Me series by Mary Ann Hoberman
- Poetry like Once I Ate a Pie, or anything by Jack Prelutsky and (of course) Shel Silverstein
- Lovely illustrated versions of single poems, like Gwendolyn Brooks' Bronzeville Boys and Girls
- Guardians of Childhood stories by William Joyce
- Nonfiction authors Seymour Simon and Steve Jenkins, plus Dianna Hutts Aston's A Seed is Sleepy (and her whole series)
- Jorge Argueta's cooking poems ("Maybe you can read them together, cook the recipes over the week and discuss next week what they thought of them?")
- Other food-based storybooks, like Waffles and Mochi's Follow that Food
- Mo Willem's Elephant and Piggie series (you could read a different one every week)
- More from our library's Kids Reading Lists, which offer choices by grade level, plus titles by identity and great read-alouds
Five tips for a smooth virtual storytime
Olson and her family have been sharing Zoom storytimes since well before the pandemic. Here are her tips for a smooth storytime!
1. Make sure both parties can hear well
The computer we use has a mic that only picks up voice when you are right in front of the computer, so it's awkward for two people to talk. We use an external mic on our end that is unidirectional (something like this works well). We also have an external speaker because the computer speaker does not have good sound projection.
2. Choose books with strong graphics
Some of our book choices have included humor, cooking, nonfiction, vivid storytelling, adventures on Earth and in space, things that go, nature, and, lately, we are diving in with sign language books.
In the first year, both households tried to get the same books so that the kids could see close up. We abandoned this because of the sheer volume of books we ran through in an hour. It works pretty well, holding a book up to the screen.
3. Open and close with a song
We also include songs that relate to any of the books we are reading. We did a series of mouse books and sang "The Old Gray Cat Is Sleeping" and everyone loved that. [Watch and hear the song, courtesy of King County Library System.]
4. Roll with the not-so-good storytimes
Some weeks, everything falls apart: the books did not engage the girls, they did not have a snack first and were cranky or restless. Your patience, persistence and consistency will yield a huge reward.
The best situation happens when the girls have had some physical exercise before storytime and have been fed a snack. But even then, be prepared for things to fall apart.
5. Build in silly times, and blow kisses goodbye
Recently, in between books, our granddaughters want to run around and blow pretend horns. Then we regather for the next book. Songs, finger play, even yoga are things we have baked into our times together.
And after the bye-bye song, we blow kisses.