On Saturday and Sunday I packed up some of my favourite story time books, grabbed a stamp, set up a folding chair and some floor mats in a shiny, cavernous hallway, and delivered my first ever mall story times – four of them, to be exact – as part of a library fundraising and outreach event.
Following my own advice I initially planned a simple story time that would feature lots of familiar songs and action rhymes and two books I knew like the back of my hand. I brought five books so I’d have a bit of flexibility, but I expected to spend most of each thirty-minute session on my feet moving around.
Well, as Robbie Burns said, the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley. Instead of rowdy groups of bouncing preschoolers, I peered into the serious faces of school aged children, who sat criss-cross-apple-sauce in front of me in rapt silence. And what did my little audience want, you ask? Did they cheer when I announced it was time to wake up our hands with a shake, shake, shake, or jump with joy for Zoom Zoom?
No. No they did not. For the first story time, I did try to incorporate some singing, some rhymes, and even the Elevator Song, but the response was lackluster, at best. You know what my audience did keep saying?
“Read us another story! Read us another story!”
They didn’t want to sing. They didn’t want to dance. They didn’t want to jump up and down. They wanted to listen to me read them stories.
At first I read two stories, interspersed with some singing and movement. Then I read three, with fewer interruptions. For the final story time I began with a hello song, finished with a goodbye song, and read four books in between. I’m pretty sure I could have read even more, if I’d had the time!
The small group sizes (usually 10-12 kids) allowed for very intimate, interactive story times. When we read “Bark, George”, for example, we all made delightful animal noises, mimicked George’s mother’s priceless expressions, and reached deep, deep down like the vet. For “Dear Zoo” we debated whether or not we should keep each animal or send it back, and suggested reasons why a camel or a lion might or might not make for a good pet. It was interactive, it was engaging, it was hilarious, and the kids didn’t want it to end.
Side note: The absolute highlight of the whole story time experience was a little boy who experienced “Dear Zoo” for the first time. Every time I dramatically revealed what was behind each flap, his whole body just shook with excitement, and his whole face lit up with joy. I think he could have watched me read that book all day.
As a colleague of mine suggested, as children grow older, they often don’t get read aloud to as much anymore. The children in the audience obviously relished the simple joy of experiencing a story together, and I saw several children twice or even three times over the course of the weekend (they didn’t seem to mind that I read several stories several times!).
Here are the books we shared, to much delight and audience approval: