Tips for Shy Storytime Groups


I filled in for a colleague’s toddler storytime at a local daycare centre, and my goodness, talk about a tough crowd. Imagine a room full of adorable little toddlers staring at you as if you have two heads, shocked into complete silence by your terrifying visage.

Being the teacher I am, my first thought (after “woah, tough crowd”) was – this would make a great teachable moment!

And so, without further ado, here are a few thoughts on warming up shy storytime groups!


Sharing names can be a great way to break the ice with a shy group of kids. One of my favourite name songs is Heckety Peckety Bumble Bee, because it gives you a lot of opportunities to practice the children’s names, but if the location you’re visiting has a favourite circle time name song, that’s even better. Being on a first name basis can warm up a frosty crowd, and can help make children feel welcome and included in the program. If the kids are too shy to tell you their name, they can whisper it to their group leader to say aloud for them, or ….


A cute and friendly puppet can do wonders for winning over a nervous audience. A strange grownup might be scary, but a soft-spoken, fuzzy puppet can act as a non-threatening intermediary, especially if the puppet is shy too. Children who are too shy to speak directly to an unfamiliar adult might be willing to whisper their name to a cuddly stuffed animal, or whisper it the answer to a question. This leads nicely into another suggestion:


Singing audience members’ favourite songs can be a great way to help elicit any kind of response from a group that feels practically catatonic. The tide in my shy toddler time started to turn when one of my little toddlers whispered to the puppet that he loved the alphabet song. Once again, shy kids can whisper their favourite songs to their group leaders or to the friendly puppet.


If your audience members are reminiscent of deer caught in headlines, now is probably not the time to roll out your shiny new material, complete with complicated lyrics and hand actions. Think of yourself as a ’90s popstar on a comeback tour – audiences want to hear your classic material, not your new songs. Familiar, much-loved, well-known songs can be comforting and soothing for nervous little ones.


My normal storytime approach is pretty high energy. I’m loud, I’m active, I bounce and jump and sing and make a lot of noise. With a shy group that’s already wondering where their beloved regular librarian is, my usual over-the-top, boisterous approach can lead to stunned silence at best, and terrified screams at worst (come on, who hasn’t made a kid cry in storytime?) Read the tone of the audience, and if your audience is quiet and nervous, like mine was, a quieter, gentler approach might be in order. It’s remarkable what a soft voice and a gentle smile can do to engage a reticent audience.

So, good luck to all my fellow substitute storytimers, and remember, sometimes your storytimes rock the house, and sometimes they…..don’t!



Storytime Songs with Crossover Appeal

Being a parent or caregiver can be a tough. Finding the time to memorize dozens of different songs, rhymes and bounces to share with your child as they grow up just isn’t always in the cards.

Fortunately for the families at my storytimes, I am all about the efficiency. Why learn 24 songs when you can learn 6 songs and learn how to adapt each of them in 4 different ways (woah, that’s enough math for one day…)?

In all seriousness, though, repetition is a vital part of supporting early literacy, and having an arsenal of multipurpose rhymes and songs at your disposal is always a good thing.

Here are a few of my favourite songs and rhymes with crossover appeal.

Zoom Zoom Zoom / The Elevator Song

Caregivers get an arm workout lifting their babies, and toddlers/preschoolers/kindergarteners get to work off some of that energy by jumping in these storytime classics. Everybody wins!

Sleeping Bunnies

I just tested this preschool classic out as a lap bounce with at the families my babytime, and it worked like a charm. We rocked the babies gently on our laps for the first part of the song, then hopped them up and down like like bunnies for the second part – lots of fun.

My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean

Now this one’s a real classic. When I was little we sang this song in school, and every time we sang a word that started with the letter “b”, we jumped! As you might imagine, the line “bring back my bonny to me” had us in stitches! It’s a great way to reinforce listening skills and letter sound recognition while burning off some energy. In a babytime, caregivers can lift babies into the air every time they sing the word Bonnie, making for another great arm workout.

Tick Tock Tick Tock / Toast in the Toaster

Have I mentioned that I’m a big fan of jumping in storytimes? I’m a big fan of jumping in storytimes. Kids will spend much of their school lives being asked to sit down and sit still, so why not let them express their natural exuberance while they still can? Both of these songs work brilliantly as lap bounces in babytimes, and as high energy movement songs for older children.

London Bridge is Falling Down

You get the picture – babies are lifted and lowered, kids drop themselves up and down. This song makes for a nice change from lifting songs, though, as it’s a lowering song, and you can take a walk around for the second verse.

Head and Shoulders

Sometimes songs become classics for a reason – this song works as beautifully with babies as it does with toddlers, preschoolers, and even kinders (especially when you pick up the pace). It’s also a fantastic song for introducing different languages into your programs, or for encouraging families to share their languages with a group. My partner taught me how to sing Head and Shoulders in Japanese so that I could share it at my storytime, and it works brilliantly in so many different languages.

Do you have any favourite all-purpose storytime songs? I’d love to hear them!



Painting in the library, or, Fortune Favours the Bold

As part of an Early Reader Book Club the group read Squish: Super Amoeba, by Jennifer and Matthew Holm.


Our book club meetings usually include an informal discussion and some themed activities. Since this was our last meeting I wanted to do something a bit special, and a bit out of the ordinary.

The answer? Paint.

Like many individuals who work with children, I’m afraid of paint. Paint gets everywhere. On kids. On clothes. On furniture. And in a library, on books. Paint is scary.

But, fears are meant to be challenged and thus overcome. So, I ventured on to Pinterest in search of painting activities that I could connect with our theme.

Sufficepaint1.jpg to say there’s a severe dearth of amoeba-related children’s craft activities out there on the internet.

I managed to find a few “germ” related activities (by the way, while I appreciate proper hygiene, I think we might be raising a generation of overly-paranoid germaphobes with some of these classroom activities….) that I thought I could adapt to make them amoeba-related, especially this one: blow painted germs. Kids use straws to blow water-thinned paint and create abstract designs.

To create our “amoebas”, the children traced their hands on pieces of paper to create amoebas like “Pod”, and traced their socked feet to paint3create amoebas like “Peggy”, while Squish we would simply draw free-hand in a cloud-like shape.

My coworker and I covered every inch of the children’s tables in newspaper. Now this part is key : DO NOT RELINQUISH CONTROL OF THE SOURCE OF PAINT. I carefully rationed out small amounts of paint to each child, which I think helped keep the mess making to a minimum, as each painter had a controlled amount with which to create.

I did this program with a group of 8 children, aged 7-8 years old, and it went smashingly. I made sure to tell the group that I was trusting them with potentially messy paint because I knew that they were grown-up enough to respect themselves, their space and each other. I wanted to set them up for success, rather than threaten them with potential punishment.

When it comes to paint, fortune favours the bold, so give it a go!

Circuit Bugs – STEM Activity

Another craft idea that was shared at the recent YAACS makerspace workshop was brought to us by Jen Lee, a children’s librarian with the Vancouver Public Library. Circuit bugs are a simple and fun way to introduce children to electricity and circuitry, and tie in well with a STEM-based curriculum.

Although the circuit bugs are simple to make, this craft is probably better suited for older kids, as the fiddly bits require some fine motor skills, and you’ll be working with electricity and circuits. Safety first, kids!


You can find full instructions on building circuit bugs here, and here


  • 2 LED Lights
  • Insulated Copper Magnet Wire
  • Batteries – CR2032 3V
  • Electrical Tape
  • Clothespins
  • Pipecleaners
  • Popsicle Sticks (Optional depending on your design)

Jen left us with some valuable tips:

  • Connecting the circuits can be fiddly, so it’s a good idea to keep your group size on the smaller side, and have extra teens/adults on hand to help out. Also, make sure to schedule plenty of time for this activity, so kids don’t feel rushed.
  • Affordable supplies can be found in the unlikeliest of places – Jen got a great deal on batteries at IKEA, and LED lights can be bought in bulk online. We’re all working with limited budgets these days, so it pays to do your research and shop around.
  • Make sure to order extra supplies in case some of the batteries or LED lights are duds, and have all the kids test their supplies before they start constructing their bugs.
  • There’s no on/off button, so if the kids leave their circuits connected the batteries will run out.

Sounds like a fun activity for teachers to share with science classes, too!

Rain City English – Let’s Get Writing!

Here’s a simple writing activity that I use to help students build and practice their vocabulary skills while thinking creatively.


Write the letters of your name in a column (like an acrostic poem).





Pass your paper to the left.  Look at the letters on your new paper and write a word starting with each letter.





Pass your paper to the left again. Now, look at the words on your new paper and use each word in a different sentence.

                            Kangaroos like to jump.

                            You won’t like me when I’m angry.

                            I want to go to North Vancouver.

                           Did you ride an elephant?

Depending on the language level/age of your students and the length of your program, have students write their first and/or last names. My last name has 11 letters, and I am lazy, so for the purpose of this example we’ll be sticking with first names only. 

You can change this assignment up in all sorts of ways to suit different topics, themes or language levels. Ask students to use specific tenses in their writing (simple past, present continuous, etc.), or amp up the challenge by asking students to create paragraphs using all of the words on their paper. This could be a great warm up activity for a creative writing class. 

I used this activity with my ESL students, but I’m sure it would be a fun little writing prompt or ice breaker for students of all levels. Enjoy!

Wire Tree Sculptures

I recently attended a makerspace workshop hosted by YAACS, the Young Adult and Children’s Services section of the BC Library Association. Three youth services librarians shared a number of simple, cost-effective crafts and activities to share with teens and tweens in the library.

A teen services librarian from the Burnaby Public Library, Rachel Yaroshuk, shared this beautiful and incredibly inexpensive craft, which she made with kids and teens at her library:  miniature wire tree sculptures!



  • Thin wire (The lower the gauge, the easier it is to twist the wire)
  • Wire cutters / pliers
  • Rocks (for your base)
  • Hot glue gun (optional but recommended)
  • Tissue paper

You can find complete instructions for making a wire tree sculpture here, though for our craft we simply cut one long piece of copper wire and looped it over on itself, cutting the loops at the top and bottom to create our branches and roots. We also glued our roots to the rock, though if you’re working with kids this might be a job for the grown-ups in the room to take on.

We then used pieces of tissue paper to create little leaves and blossoms for our trees.

How cute is this craft?!? Wire can be purchased very inexpensively from home supply stories and electronics shops, and rocks can be found just about anywhere, making this a fantastic activity for budget-conscious librarians.


Have you ever made a craft like this at your library? I’d love to know how it went!

Harry Potter Party Ideas


I’m working on a Harry Potter character party template for our library (we currently have character parties for Geronimo Stilton, Fancy Nancy and Percy Jackson, among others). While researching Harry Potter party ideas, I came to a not entirely earth-shattering realization:

parents can be insane

Holy smokes, the lengths some parents go to when planning birthday parties for their children is absolutely staggering. Don’t even get me started…

Anyway, the point of this post is to share some of the Harry Potter program ideas I found while trolling Pinterest. These activities are inexpensive, don’t require any specialized equipment or extensive crafting abilities, and are quick and easy to set up and run. Perfect for library kids’ programs, and suitable for even the least knowledgeable Harry Potter readers (like myself).

Transfiguration Practice

Kids pull animal names from a hat and have to act them out, while their teammates have to guess which animal they’ve been transfigured into. It’s animal charades with a fancy name.

Harry Potter Corner Book Mark


Cute, easy striped paper book marks for marking your next Harry Potter read.

Harry Potter – Would You Rather? Game


This easy printable game gets kids guessing and choosing between two Harry Potter-themed options – definitely better suited to more knowledgeable fans, though. I needed a translator to get me through some of the questions…

Origami Sorting Hat


This printable makes a Harry Potter-themed cootie-catcher / fortune teller that can sort kids into their houses. Easy to make and fun to use on each other.

Pin the Scar on Harry Potter


It’s pin the tail on the donkey for a new generation.

Toilet Paper Roll Owl

Pinecone Owl

Sock Owl

Paper Plate Owl

Make your own Hedwig owl with one of these cute owl crafts.

Running a Harry Potter party at your library can be easy and affordable with these quick, simple, fun activities! Good luck!

Rain City English – Fun with Mr. Wuffles

When I’m not librarianing it up as the Rain City Librarian, I work with international students as an English tutor. Teaching is something I’m passionate about, so I’m excited to start sharing some of my experiences here on my blog, in between my book reviews of course. 🙂

Getting to Grips With The Past Tense, Featuring Mr. Wuffles

mr wuffles

One of my students was eager to practice conjugating verbs in the past tense (the simple past, to be precise). This is about as thrilling  a process as it sounds.

To make things a bit more interesting for the both of us, we looked at the 2014 Caldecott Honor Book Mr. Wuffles, a nearly wordless picture book.

This activity couldn’t be simpler – analyze each spread and describe what happens. Descriptions can be as simple (“The cat was black. The cat had yellow eyes. It sat on the floor”) or as complex (“The black cat was lounging on the hardwood floor, soaking up the warmth of a sunbeam, when its yellow eyes caught a sudden flash of movement”) as a student can manage, and can be expressed verbally or in writing.

While most wordless picture books can work well as writing and discussion prompts, Mr. Wuffles works particularly well because each of David Wiesner’s images is complex and carefully orchestrated. There is simply so much to see and describe.


Mr. Wuffles works so well with adult students too because it isn’t a “childish” picture book. The story is complex, and the illustrations are realistic and beautifully rendered. The plot can be explored through different perspective and lenses, and can lead to fascinating discussions and interpretations. It touches on issues of language and culture, with language barriers, intercultural cooperation and understanding, and differences of perspective playing vital roles in the progression of the story. Adults might very well interpret the story very differently than their younger counterparts.


When it comes to teaching, don’t be afraid to think outside the box, or the textbook. Inspiration can come in the most unlikely forms, and lead to the greatest and most rewarding successes.

Believe me, a beautiful picture book can make even verb conjugations more enjoyable.

Spring Booktalking: Part II

I recently visited an all-boys private school and shared some stories with the grade 1 and 3 boys. I decided to stick with picture books, because I just love sharing picture books with older children. They really seem to enjoy the experience of being read aloud to, and you can have some pretty awesome discussions with kids about the stories and the images in the different picture books.

Here’s what I shared with the Grade 3 boys:

Moo! / David LaRochelle

I adore this book, I absolutely adore it. The listener response to this story was fantastic. Without any prompting the kids all joined in with me as a I read, and we became an enthusiastic chorus of mooing cows. It was a really neat experience as a librarian to see the kids join in so confidently and naturally.

Warning: Do Not Open This Book / Adam Lehrhaupt

Who doesn’t love ignoring directions and going against the rules? The kids loved this one too, though I think I startled them half-to-death when I accidentally slammed the book closed at the end with considerably more force than I’d meant to…..

Oi Frog! / Kes Gray

Silly rhymes make this another hilarious title for sharing with a group. Lots of opportunities to ham it up, though you have to be a bit creative with your pronunciation at times to make the rhymes work – sofas and gophers and lions and irons!

Here’s what I shared with the Grade 1 boys:

Open Very Carefully / Nicola O’Byrne

This title’s similar to Do Not Open This Book in that the narrator speaks directly to the reader, who then has to participate in fixing the story and saving the book. Cute, funny, and not too scary, this is a great read-aloud for younger audiences.

Gigantosaurus / Johnny Duddle

Dinosaurs!  Rhyming text! Six/seven-year-old boys! Yeah, sometimes I go for the low-hanging fruit and take the path of least resistance, what can I say.

Spring Booktalking : Part I

I recently visited three awesome classes at a local all-boys private school for some stories and some book talking. The kids were fantastic and super excited to talk about books!

Here are the books I shared with the Grade Six kids:

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard / Rick Riordin

Magnus Chase has been on the run ever since his mother was killed, living on the streets and trying to avoid any adults.

When his mysterious uncle appears with strange stories of gods, ancient warriors and powerful monsters, Magnus discovers that he’s not just a regular teenager, he’s actually the relative of a real Norse God. Magnus will have to learn how to use his powers, and fast, before a terrible villain destroys the entire world. And you thought your family was a pain….

The Last Kids on Earth / Max Brallier

It’s been forty-two days since the monster apocalypse hit town and pretty much everyone ran away or got zombiefied. Average 13-year-old Jack is holed up in his tree house fortress, which he’s armed to the teeth with catapults and a moat, not to mention a nearly endless supply of Oreos and Mountain Dew scavenged from abandoned stores.

But Jack alone is no match for the hordes of nasty Dozers and Winged Wretches and disgusting Zombies, and especially not for the eerily intelligent gargantuan menace he’s dubbed Blarg. Jack needs to gather a team of whatever kids he can find, and whatever monsters will show him loyalty. With their help, Jack is going to slay Blarg, become the ultimate post-apocalyptic action hero, and finally be an average kid no longer! That is, if he doesn’t get squashed, mauled, munched, or zombified first….

The Mark of the Thief / Jennifer A. Nielsen

When Nic, a young slave, is forced to venture deep into a sealed cavern in search of Julius Caesar’s fabled lost treasure, he stumbles across something far more incredible than gold or jewels – an ancient bulla, a powerful amulet filled with an unimaginable power once wielded only by the gods. Armed with this deadly magic, Nic is determined to free himself and his younger sister from slavery. Instead he finds himself drawn into a complicated and ruthless conspiracy to overthrow the Emperor, which could bring Rome to its very knees. Desperate traitors and cunning spies will stop at nothing to use Nic’s new power for their own destructive aims, and only by harnessing the ancient bulla can Nic hope to save Rome and all who live within it from total annihilation.

Masterminds / Gordon Korman

Everything is perfect in the small town of Serenity. Everyone lives in perfect houses, with perfect laws, perfect pools, perfect basketball hoops set in perfect straight lines. Nobody steals, nobody complains, nobody lies. Crime free, garbage free, pollution free, Serenity is the safest and nicest place to live in the entire country.

But something dark lurks beneath the surface of this ideal community. Something dangerous. Something deadly. And when Eli stumbles upon a terrible secret at the very edge of Serenity’s borders, everything he has known, trusted and loved threatens to come crashing down around him. With no one to trust, a small group of kids must uncover the truth about Serenity, if they’re going to make it out alive.

The Bamboo Sword / Margi Preus

13-year-old Yoshi dreams of joining the fight to expel the Outsiders who have entered the forbidden waters of Japan, but as a lowly servant he is forbidden to become a samurai or even carry a sword. When the arrival of the foreigners turns Yoshi’s world upside down, he is forced to flee for his very life. Yoshi’s world becomes one of adventure, assassins, secrets and spies, as he joins forces first with a mysterious samurai, and later with a strange American boy. Only by joining forces can they untangle a dangerous web that threatens to bring down Japan itself.

School for Sidekicks / Kelly McCullough

13-year-old Evan Quick is obsessed with superheroes. Every morning when he wakes up he checks to see if he’s developed superpowers overnight, and every morning it’s the same – no flying, no super-strength, no heat vision, no telepathy, no magic, NOTHING.

But when Evan manages to survive a supervillain’s deadly death ray attack, he winds up at the Academy for Metahuman Operatives – a top-secret school for kids with exceptional powers. It’s not quite all its cracked up to be, though – instead of Superhero High, the Academy is more like a school for sidekicks! Instead of learning how to be Batman, Evan is stuck learning how to be Robin….lame.

Evan’s got one chance to become an actual superhero, but to do it he’ll have to convince a washed-up old superhero to come out of retirement and start fighting evil again. And getting that to happen might just be the ultimate test of Evan’s super powers….

The Nest / Kenneth Oppel

The mysterious angel-like beings who visit Steve in his dreams promise they can cure Steve’s baby brother Theo of his rare and terrible condition. All Steve wants is for everything to be normal – for his brother to grow up healthy, for his mother to stop crying, for his father to pay attention to him again. The creatures seem to be the answer to all of Steve’s hopes and prayers. But everything comes with a cost. How much is Steve willing to pay to save his brother’s life? And if the cost is too high, too terrible, can Steve undo what he has set in motion?

Fuzzy Mud / Louis Sachar

There’s something strange about the mud in the woods behind Woodridge Academy. Something growing. Something fuzzy. Something so small you can’t even see it without a microscope. But so powerful it can kill. Don’t get it on your skin. Don’t get it in your eyes. Whatever you do, don’t touch it. Because the mud isn’t just fuzzy. It’s deadly.

You know you’ve done your job when kids come into the program rolling their eyes and smirking, and leave ready to enter into fisticuffs to be the first to borrow the books you’ve book talked.