Book Club in a Bag: Narwhal & Jelly Kit

Take-and-make kits; craft kits; programs to go: whatever your library calls these programs in a bag that have become a staple of no-contact offerings, one thing is fairly standard: these kits are well loved, but they take time to make. I love creating materials for kits and thinking about how a family might interact with program materials at home. I’ve introduced a new pair of kits for ages 6-11 this month: Book Club in a Bag (also known as Leap Off the Page, since we already have book club kits at our library, and the original name became confusing). First up: Narwhal & Jelly Kit.

The Book Club in a Bag kits look a bit different from some of my previous kits. Instead of focusing on just one book universe, these kits each feature four characters, hopefully some old favorites as well as some new, diverse characters.

In May, these featured characters or books included (links provided as the bag contents are shared on Book Cart Queens):

Check out these previously featured Book Club kits:

Elephant & Piggie (Mo Willems)
Mindy Kim (Lyla Lee)
Yasmin (Saadia Faruqi)
Azaleah Lane (Nikki Shannon Smith)
Wings of Fire (Tui T. Sutherland)
New Kid (Jerry Craft)
Phoebe and Her Unicorn (Dana Simpson)
Shuri (Nic Stone)

Each bag contains some repeated resources:

  • List of kit contents
  • List of books in the featured series
  • List of readalike books
  • Discussion questions
  • Swag item (button, sticker, bookmarks)
  • 1-3 crafts, games, activities

Narwhal & Jelly Kit

The Narwhal & Jelly Kit can be as simple or as elaborate as you’d like. Most of this kit can be re-created simply using a printer, with the addition of extra items depending on your budget.

Want to use make an Narwhal & Jelly Kit at your library? Download the PDFs at the links below, or write a comment or send an email ( for editable files.

Narwhal & Jelly Kit General Materials

Each bag contains some of the same basic materials, and the Narwhal & Jelly kit is no different.

Slideshare not working? Download the PDF featuring all kit activities here.

Slideshare not working? Download the PDF listing all book titles here.

Slideshare not working? Download the PDF listing readalikes here.

The Narwhal & Jelly readalikes bookmark features these titles:

Slideshare not working? Download the PDF listing discussion questions here.

The Narwhal & Jelly Discussion Questions included:

  • General Questions:
    • What is a Narwhal? Are they real? (Research narwhals to find out!)
    • Who was your favorite character? Why?
    • Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?
  • Sample Story Questions: Super Narwhal & Jelly Jolt:
    • How does Narwhal cheer up Jelly? Have you ever cheered up a friend? What did you do?
    • What superpower does Narwhal end up having? How do you know?
    • There are some made-up words in this book that sound like real words. Can you find them? What do you think each word means?

This bag also included some 1″ buttons as swag. Download printable PDFs to make those yourself here.

Narwhal & Jelly Crafts, Games, and More

First up: make your own Narwhal & Jelly! This craft was inspired by the paper plate craft from this awesome blog. I don’t have the time or patience to paint paper plates for 50 take home kits, so I turned this into a printable template.

I realized afterward that the sizes are a bit disproportionate, but the craft still works. Everything was printed on white cardstock.

Slideshare not working? Download the PDF of the craft template here.

Slideshare not working? Download the PDF of the craft instructions here.

I also included two printable activity books. One includes a variety of Narwhal & Jelly activity sheets, mostly from the Narwhal & Jelly website:

Download below:

Slideshare not working? Download the PDF of the activity booklet here.

And finally, make your own Narwhal & Jelly comic book. Practice drawing Narwhal before filling in the provided comic panel templates with your own story:

And download below:

Slideshare not working? Download the PDF of the comic activity book here.

Blog Update & It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

Hi everyone! I’m gotten some very good news regarding the results of the recent ALSC ballot–I’m not 100% sure what I can share yet — but the ALSC Election Results are public, and some of you have reached out with congratulations (thanks!) — so I wanted to give a blog update. (If this feels very vague, I’ll update the post once I’ve gotten the final go ahead to do so. But pending final approval, I’ll be a part of an upcoming ALSC award committee!)

Between the requirements of this new committee work, and a personal desire to slow down the pace of my blogging, you’ll notice some changes to the weekly Book Cart Queens blogging routine:

  • Book Review Tuesdays are going on hiatus.
  • It’s Monday What Are You Reading Posts will continue until July.
  • Expect some new Book Club in a Bag Kit posts really soon, and then a break in program-related posts for a while. While there will be new posts each week, the frequency of posts will slow down.
  • Starting in July, my posts will become more infrequent and not in any way book-related.

BUT–none of that means this blog is going to sleep. Michala will be dropping back in with some awesome teen kits, and a NEW blogger will be joining our team!

Sarah Simpson contributed some of her amazing flannel work a few months ago, and she is going to be joining us as a regular blogger featuring her own programs as well as her extensive knowledge of kids lit.

Welcome Sarah! I’m excited for some Book Cart Queens changes, while still sharing awesome content. More to come, but for now, on with the books!

We participate in the blog trend of Monday posts about what we have read during the last week (4/12/2021-4/18/2021).

Annamarie’s Reading

Board Books, Picture Books, and Readers:

Everything Else:

Rambling Thoughts: My big updates are at the top of this post, but I’ll also share that I gave up waiting for Baker & Taylor to ship things to my library, and instead I’m getting a lot of already-released books from other area libraries. Expect these posts to grow fairly long over the next few weeks as I continue to share some great titles with you all until July 1.

Reading by the Numbers:

  • 25 Books Read This Week
    • 18 Books with Main Characters of Diverse Backgrounds (72%)
    • 16 Books by Authors of Diverse Backgrounds (64%)
    • 15 Books by Own Voices Authors (60%)

Favorites of the Week:

Storytime: Movement Rhymes

Rhymes designed to get kids up and moving are a staple of any storytime. These aren’t quite Fingerplays (but there may be a lot of overlap). Sometimes they can include Flannel or Magnet pieces. Rhymes are often (but not always) shorter than a song, as they are often used as short breaks to get some wiggles out between longer material. They often develop fine and gross motor skills, practice following directions, and can also connect to any number of other concepts like counting, letter sounds, animal sounds, and more.

I separated Baby Bounce Rhymes, designed for babies in arms or in laps, into a different post. Find those here.

Rhymes with Problematic and Racist Origins

You won’t find many nursery rhymes on this list. The problems with Five Little Monkeys (which derives from Shortin Bread) and Ten Little Indians are talked about fairly frequently. I don’t regularly see Eeny Meeny Miny Moe used in storytimes but, just in case you do use that tune, know that some of the original words were racial slurs. Do You Ears Hang Low has a dark history. You may think differently of Shoo Fly Don’t Bother Me when you read Urban Dictionary’s definition of “fly in the buttermilk.”

Beyond the songs that had racial slurs in their origins–stop and think for a minute about the words in Baa Baa Black Sheep or I’ve Been Working on the Railroad. Goosey Goosey Gander made me pause when I first heard it in a Mother Goose on the Loose storytime–and the suggested origins of that rhyme don’t make me want to teach it to babies and toddlers.

Before I get further into this conversation, check out this wonderful document with many sources cited regarding the history of some of the songs and rhymes mentioned above and more. I’m sure there are more popular tunes I have missed too. Please comment below, and I’m happy to add and adjust.

I understand that there can be value in the rhythm of Mother Goose and other “traditional” nursery rhymes–but frankly, I grew up only learning a handful of these, and I don’t think I lost much of my childhood from not growing up with the Mother Goose canon. There are plenty of other songs that can teach kids how to count or practice identifying body parts–and once you become aware of the origins of certain songs, they are easy enough to avoid.

But what about the familiar tunes (changing those words)? For me, this comes down to the grandmother in one of my in-person Baby Storytimes who proudly sang “Indian” instead of “finger” when we sang “Ten Little Fingers” to the tune of “Ten Little Indians.” She told her little one that she was so excited to sing a song she grew up with–so she sang the words she knew instead of the words on the screen behind me. The short answer is–let these rhymes–and their tunes–go.

I struggle with this just as I am sure some of you do. Put Your Hands Up High is my hardest rhyme to let go of because I love the motions so much, and it is part of my default, go-to storytime routine. But, it is to the tune of Do Your Ears Hang Low. I’m sure that other problematic tunes have slipped through too in my work–on this post and others on this blog. But there are plenty of other rhymes out there–on this blog and many others–that none of us have an excuse for continuing to use these problematic works.

Looking for more storytime tools? Check out our Storytime Resources page for links to more content.

Movement Rhymes

Baby Hokey Pokey

You put your arms up,
You put your arms down,
You put your arms up,
And you wave them all around
You wiggle, wiggle, wiggle,
And you tickle, tickle, tickle
That’s how the baby pokey goes (clap along)
Yeah! (arms in the air)

Continue with: legs, whole baby

Bananas Unite

Bananas unite!

Peel bananas.
Peel, peel bananas.
Peel bananas.
Peel, peel bananas.

Continue with: Chop, Mash, Eat


Bubble Bubble Pop

One little red fish
Swimming in the water,
Swimming in the water,
Swimming in the water.

One little red fish
Swimming in the water,
Bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble (roll arms)
POP! (clap)

Bubble, Bubble, Pop: Baby Shark

One yellow baby shark, Swimming in the water,
Swimming in the water, Swimming in the water.

One yellow baby shark, swimming in the water,
Bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble pop!

Continue with:
One blue daddy shark
One pink momma shark

Clap, Clap, Clap Your Hands

Clap, clap, clap your hands,
Clap them now with me.
Clap your hands, let me see!
Clap them now with me.

Continue with:
Tap your knees
Shake your feet
Tickle your tummy

Clap Them

Clap them, clap them, clap them so.
Clap them high!
Clap them low.
Clap them left.
Clap them right.
Clap them, clap them, out of sight!

Continue with: roll them, shake them

Clap Your Feet

Clap, clap, clap your feet.
Clap your feet together.
Clap, clap, clap your feet.
Clap your feet together.

Clap them high!
Clap them low.
Clap them fast!
Clap them slow.

Clap, clap, clap your feet.
Clap your feet together.
Clap, clap, clap your feet.
Clap your feet together.

Cool Cat Boogie

Slide right, shake your tail!
Slide left, shake your tail!
Now clap, clap, clap.
Jump front!
Rock and roll!
Jump back!
Rock and roll!

Dino Ditty

A hungry dino walking down the street
Singing dino ditty ditty dum ditty do
He’s looking for something good to eat
Singing dino ditty ditty dum ditty do
He’s big! (He’s big!)
He’s strong! (He’s strong!)
Won’t be hungry very long…

Do You Like to Jump Around

Do you like to jump around?
Jump around,
Jump around?
Do you like to jump around?
Jump and now let’s FREEZE!

Continue with:

Five Little Eggs

Give it a whack, (clap)
Hear it crack, (hand behind ear)
Drop it in the middle, (pat hands on your lap)
One egg frying on the griddle.

Galoomp Went the Little Green Frog

Galoomp (hop) went the little green frog one day
Galoomp (hop) went the little green frog
Galoomp (hop) went the little green frog one day
And his eyes went blink blink blink

Repeat with new line added on each time:
Arms went flop, flop, flop
Feet went splash, splash, splash

Head and Shoulders

Head and shoulders baby 1, 2, 3
Head and shoulders baby 1, 2, 3
Head and shoulders,
Head and shoulders,
Head and shoulders baby 1, 2, 3

Continue with:
Knees and ankles
Tummy and back
Fingers and toes
Shake them all

Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes (audiation)

Head, shoulders, knees, and toes, knees and toes!
Head, shoulders, knees, and toes, knees and toes!
And eyes and ears and mouth and nose!
Head, shoulders, knees, and toes, knees and toes!

Horns and Fangs

Horns and fangs, knees and claws,
Knees and claws, knees and claws,
Horns and fangs, knees and claws,
Eyes, ears, tail, and paws!

I Wake Up My Hands

I wake up my hands with a clap, clap, clap,
Clap, clap, clap,
Clap, clap, clap,
I wake up my hands with a clap, clap, clap,
And I wiggle my wiggles away!

Continue with:
Feet…stomp, stomp, stomp
Belly…beep, beep, beep
Body…wiggle, wiggle, wiggle

If You’re a Pigeon

If you’re a pigeon and you know it, flap your wings!
If you’re a pigeon and you know it, flap your wings!
If you’re a pigeon and you know it,
And you really want to show it!
If you’re a pigeon and you know it, flap your wings!

Shake your tail (shake, shake)
Eat your cookies (nom, nom)
Drive the bus (zoom, zoom)

If You’re Fancy and You Know It

If you’re fancy and you know it give a curtsey!
If you’re fancy and you know it give a curtsey!
If you’re fancy and you know it and you really want to show it,
If you’re fancy and you know it give a curtsey!

Continue with:
Take a Bow
Wave to All Your Fans
Shout Ooh La La!

If You’re Ready for the New Year

If you’re ready for the new year, clap your hands!
If you’re ready for the new year, clap your hands
If you’re ready for the new year,
If you’re ready for the new year,
If you’re ready for the new year, clap your hands!

Continue with:
Stomp Your Feet (Stomp, Stomp)
Wave Bye-Bye (Bye Bye 2020)
Give a Shout (Happy New Year!)

I’m a Little Dump Truck

I’m great big dump truck
Full of rocks.
Here is my engine.
Here is my box.
When the crew is ready,
Here me shout,
“Pull the lever and dump me out!”

Magic Butterflies

Five fuzzy caterpillars spinning cocoons
Hoping spring will come real soon!
With a little bit of magic
And the warm sunshine–
Clap, clap, clap, there’s a butterfly!

Mix a Cake

Mix the batter, stir the batter
Shake some flour in
Mix the batter, stir the batter
Pour it in a tin

Sprinkle in some chocolate chips
Put it in to bake
Then open wide the oven door
And out comes the cake!

Mix a Pancake

Mix a pancake.
Stir a pancake.
Pop it in a pan.
Fry a pancake.
Toss a pancake.
Catch it if you can!

Move Your Arms

Move your arms up and down,
Up and down. Up and down.
Move your arms up and down,
Just like me!

Move your hands and clap, clap, clap.
Clap, clap, clap. Clap, clap, clap.
Move your hands and clap, clap, clap,
Just like me!

Continue with: feet…stomp, body…up and down

My Heart Is A Zoo

Sometimes my heart wants to clap like a seal.
Sometimes my heart wants to hop like a bunny.
Sometimes my heart wants to jump like a frog.
Sometimes my heart wants to roar like a lion.
Sometimes my heart wants to fly like a blue jay.

One, Two, Peek-A-Boo!

One, two, peek-a-boo!
You see me, and I see you.
I see your nose; yes I do!
Time to play peek-a-boo!

Continue with: Hands, Feet, Belly

Open Shut Them

Open, shut them.
Open, shut them.
Let your hands go clap, clap, clap!

Open, shut them.
Opem, shut them.
Drop them in your lap, lap, lap!

Walk them, walk them,
Walk them, walk them,
Right up to your chin, chin, chin!

Open up your little mouth,
But do not let them in!

Pinkalicious Turn Around

Pinkalicious, Pinkalicious turn around.
Pinkalicious, Pinkalicious touch the ground.
Pinkalicious, Pinkalicious jump up high!
Pinkalicious, Pinkalicious touch the sky.

Pinkalicious, Pinkalicious bend down low.
Pinkalicious, Pinkalicious find your nose.
Pinkalicious, Pinkalicious dance to the beat.
Pinkalicious, Pinkalicious take a seat!

Put the Beat On

Put the beat on your toes, on your toes.
Put the beat on your toes, on your toes.
Put the beat on your toes,
Put the beat on your toes,
Put the beat on your toes,
Now we stop!

Continue with:
In your hands (clap)

Roll Roll Sugar Babies

Roll roll sugar babies,
Roll roll sugar babies,
Push and pull
And clap, clap, clap!

Roll roll sugar babies,
Roll roll sugar babies,
Push and pull
And clap, clap, clap!

Roll up high!
Roll down low.
Roll real fast!
Roll real slow.

Roll roll sugar babies,
Roll roll sugar babies,
Push and pull
And clap, clap, clap!

Roly, Poly

Roly Poly, Roly Poly,
Up, up, up!
Up, up, up!

Continue with: Down, Out, In, Fast, Slow

Row, Drive, Fly

Row, row, row your boat (sway)
Gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream.

Drive, drive, drive your car
So quickly down the street
Merrily, merrily, merrily
Driving can’t be beat!

Fly, fly, fly your plane
Fly your plane so high
Merrily, merrily, merrily
Way up in the sky!

Chug, chug, chug the train
Goes quickly down the track
Merrily, merrily, merrily
Hear it click click clack!

Slowly, Slowly

Slowly, slowly, very slowly,
Creeped the garden snail.
Slowly, slowly, very slowly
Up the wooden rail.

Quickly, quickly, very quickly
Ran the little mouse.
Quickly, quickly, very quickly,
Round about the house!

Show Me How You Move

Show me how your hands can move,
Your hands can move,
Your hands can move,
Show me how your hands can move,
Now show me how they STOP!

Continue with:

There Was a Crocodile

There was a crocodile,
An orangutan,
A flying eagle,
And a silvery fish.

A bunny,
A beaver,
A crazy elephant,
Da na na na na na
Da na na na na na

This is Big

This is big big big.
This is small small small.

This is short short short.
This is tall tall tall.

This is fast fast fast.
This is slow slow slow.

This is yes yes yes yes.
This is no no no no.

Tiny Tim

I have a friendly frog.
His name is Tiny Tim!
I put him in the bathtub,
To see if he could swim.

He drank up all the water!
He ate up all the soap!
And now he’s home sick in bed,
With bubbles in his throat!

Bubble bubble bubble
Bubble bubble POP!
Bubble bubble bubble
Bubble bubble POP!

Repeat with tiny frog and giant frog.

Up, Down, Turn Around

Up, down,
Turn around.
Touch the sky!
And touch the ground.

Wiggle fingers,
Wiggle toes,
Wiggle shoulders,
Wave hello!

We Clap and We Clap and We Stop

We clap and we clap and we stop
We clap and we clap and we stop
We clap and we clap and we clap
We clap and we clap and we clap and we STOP!

Continue with: Wave, Jump, Roll

Well Hello Little Baby

Well hello little baby, can you touch your nose,
Touch your nose,
Touch your nose?
Well hello little baby, can you touch your nose?
Touch your nose.

Continue with:
Clap your hands
Stomp your feet
Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle

Where Is Big Toe

Where is big toe? Where is big toe?
Here I am! Here I am!
Wiggle waggle big toe.
Wiggle waggle big toe.
Here I am. Here I am.

Continue with:
bendy, bendy elbow
squishy, squishy tummy
happy, clappy two hands

Where Oh Where

Where oh where are baby’s fingers,
Where oh where are baby’s toes,
Where oh where is baby’s belly button,
Round and round it goes!

Additional verse, not shown:

Where oh where are baby’s eyes,
Where oh where is baby’s nose,
Where oh where is baby’s belly button,
Round and round it goes!

Zoom Zoom Zoom

Zoom, zoom, zoom,
We’re going to the moon.
Zoom, zoom, zoom,
We’ll get there very soon.

If you want to take a trip,
Climb aboard my rocket ship.
Zoom, zoom, zoom,
We’re going to the moon.

In 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

Zoom, Zoom, Zoom A New Year’s Coming Soon

Zoom, Zoom, Zoom
The year is changing soon.
Zoom zoom zoom
The year is changing soon.

If you want to make a wish,
Hold it tight inside your fist!

Zoom zoom zoom
The year is changing soon.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Happy New Year!

Little People Big Dreams Storytime: Malala Yousafzai

As part of our virtual programming, I run a monthly school age storytime, designed for ages 6-8. This program highlights a different individual from the Little People Big Dreams book series. In April, this program featured Malala Yousafzai.

Each program features 1-2 books on the famous individual (one book being their matching title from the Little People, Big Dreams book series). I also highlight music from Black artists and include a link to an at-home packet to continue the fun and learning.

Note: I did not present this program–my fantastic coworker presented this for me since I was out sick. I’m still happy to share these resources with all of you!

Explore More Little People, Big Dreams Storytime Outlines:

Ella Fitzgerald
Harriet Tubman
Jean Michel Basquiat
Martin Luther King Jr.
Muhammad Ali
Rosa Parks

Find additional storytime content at the links below:

Storytime Resources (includes all storytime outlines)
Virtual Preschool Storytimes
Virtual Baby Storytimes
Virtual Toddler Storytimes
Virtual Family Storytimes (including themed special events)
All Virtual Storytime Outlines

In the event description, I included the link to the printable at home activity packet.

Storytime Outline

Intro: Teddy Bear by Jazzy Ash

First Book: Malala Yousafzai by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara (Little People Big Dreams)

Malala Yousafzai (Little People, Big Dreams) - Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara,  illustrated by Manal Mirza - 9780711259027 - Murdoch books

Movement Break: Super Shaker Song by Culture Queen

Second Book: Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai

Malala's Magic Pencil: Yousafzai, Malala, Kerascoët: 9780316319577: Books

Closing Rhyme: See You Later, Alligator

See you later, alligator
In a while, crocodile
Give a hug, ladybug
Blow a kiss, jellyfish
See you soon, big baboon
Out the door, dinosaur
Take care, polar bear
Wave goodbye, butterfly!

Next Time: Maya Angelou

1000 Books Before Kindergarten, Part 2

After over a year of planning, I finally launched my library’s 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program! These blog posts often focus more on day-to-day or week-to-week library activities, like reading, programs, and storytimes, but on any random day, I’m also working on a lot of large behind-the-scenes projects too. I’m thrilled to finally be able to share one of those projects with you.

Part 1 focused on the logistics of the program as well as our physical workbook. In this post, I’ll focus on our online component run through ReadSquared.

What is 1000 Books?

1000 Books Before Kindergarten is a nationwide initiative, adapted by many libraries and educational institutions, to promote reading and encourage child/caregiver bonding through reading.

The goal is simple and pretty self explanatory: read 1000 books together before your child starts kindergarten.

Why run a 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program?

A child is more successful in school when an adult actively read, spoke, and engaged with them during the 0-5 years. The more words children hear at young ages, the larger their vocabulary, and the more prepared they will be to learn to read. Setting a high goal with a concrete reward system—like reading 1000 books before starting kindergarten—encourages adults to actively and continuously engage with their children. Children who start out ahead typically end up ahead. Studies show that these early language needs are even higher in lower socioeconomic households.

Other benefits to a 1000 Books program:

  • Brings a sense of ownership and pride to reading. After completing this program, kids know they accomplished something big.
  • Builds caregiver knowledge and interest about their role in school readiness.
  • From a library statistics perspective, 1000 Books programs boost circulation numbers.

1000 Books Before Kindergarten: ReadSquared Program

ReadSquared is one of a handful of online reading program management tools your library can purchase. Using a system like ReadSquared for your online reading program management takes away some of the freedom you would have by creating your own in-house summer reading management website, but, in exchange for unlimited customizability, you get a website that is hosted offsite with a great tech team that is always available to help you fix glitches and change the design of your page.

There are a lot of pros and cons to various online reading program management tools. This isn’t a post about that, but my quick feelings about ReadSquared are that (on the positive side) you do have a lot of customization options compared to its top competitor, Beanstack, and (on the negative side) the core layout of the website isn’t really negotiable, it looks a bit dated overall, and the back side is a bit of an organizational mess. Make sure someone on your team is familiar with basic HTML and has the time and patience to dig through many menus to find the exact editing tool you are looking for.

My library uses ReadSquared for our set-your-own-goal summer reading program and our BINGO-style winter reading program. 1000 Books is our first attempt at a year-round program, and I’m really happy with where we ended up. All the programs are supposed to be able to run smoothly at the same time, though we haven’t tested that out in full quite yet.

See my library’s ReadSquared login page here.

Signing Up

Every 1000 Books reader needs a ReadSquared account. They don’t have to use it for recording, but they do need an account so that library staff can keep track of their prizes.

If a family already has an account from a previous summer or winter reading program, they can log in with that account to sign up for this program. Kids can all be linked to the same account, making for easy book logging for the caregiver.

I’m not going to screenshot every element of this process, but to make an online account, we require that participants provide their first and last name, their email address, and a username and password.

Once they login or register, they will be taken to the home page:

Home Page

Families can immediately record their reading on the home page or they can use the various navigation menus to access other features. The home page also includes:

  • Progress Bar
  • Sponsor Information
  • Most Popular Books (books recorded by other participants recently)
  • FAQs

One important note for libraries considering ReadSquared for a 1000 Books program: at the moment, ReadSquared does not allow for public users to log more than one book at a time. So if a family read 20 books in one day, they do need to add 20 individual books. However, library staff, using the admin side of ReadSquared, can add any number of books at once with one click. So, if a caregiver does not want to type in 100 book titles, they can just stop by or call the library and ask library staff to record the reading for them.

Logging a Book

Families can log a book from the Home Page or the Logging page. When they select “Log Reading” they will be asked to add some information about the book (title, author, review). All of this information is optional–they could just push “Submit” and the system will log one book read.

Logging History

The Logging History page lets families see how many books they have logged (and which titles, if they provided that information).


That is all the technical content, what about the fun stuff? For our program, readers earn virtual badges whenever they receive an equivalent in-person prize (one for getting started (when they get their workbook) and another badge for every 100 books read). These match the sticker images that they will earn for their workbooks.


Our physical workbook contains a bunch of early literacy tips for different age ranges, and we wanted to convert that information to our online format (while also promoting other library services and programs). These turned into Missions. Missions don’t earn participants physical prizes, but they do earn a virtual badge.

Our missions and activities include:

Read Together: From birth, your baby can start to learn about reading, like how to sound out words and what direction to hold a book.

  • Ages 0-2 – Read together…even if just a few pages: Choose a time when your baby is relaxed and happy. Read for as long as your baby is interested. Just a page or two is fine! Try one of these
  • Ages 0-2 – Join us for baby storytime: For a schedule of live storytimes, visit the library’s events calendar. Or watch on demand whenever is convenient for you with pre-recorded storytimes on our YouTube channel.
  • Ages 0-3 – Read a board book: Show your baby a board book. (A board book is made of thick cardboard pages.) Let them explore on their own, even if that means books get chewed on or thrown.
  • Ages 0-3 – Show babies other babies: Babies love to see other babies! Check out books featuring large, bright photographs of other babies from this list.
  • Ages 0-5 – Take a picture walk: You don’t have to read the words on the page! Talk or sing about the pictures instead. Identify the animals or colors or make up your own story–time spent with a book helps your child learn how books work. 
  • Ages 0-5 – Sign up for free books: Fill your home library with books! Mailed to your child monthly until their 5th birthday, each book is a free gift for your child to keep. This service is made possible by the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library. Learn more.
  • Ages 0-5 – Watch a storytime video: Explore book retelling videos by your favorite librarians. Watch one of these videos.
  • Ages 0-5 – Take a book; leave a book: A wooden box filled with books, a Little Free Library is a mini collection you can browse any time of day. Take home whatever catches your fancy and if you want, bring back one of your own to share with others. No library card required. No fines. No need to return what you borrow. Learn more.
  • Ages 0-5 – Read a nonfiction book: Read a nonfiction book together. Nonfiction books help babies and toddlers attach words to everyday objects and help preschoolers realize that words represent other things. Try one of these.
  • Ages 0-5 – Point out the words: Run your fingers under the words on the page as you read them. Little ones will begin to understand that those shapes on the page mean something. 
  • Ages 0-5 – Make books part of your daily routine: Make books part of everyday experiences. Place a bag of books in the car or near the table for meals, or read a book each day for a week before naptime, bedtime, or bath time.
  • Ages 2-3 – Join us for toddler storytime: For a schedule of live storytimes, visit the library’s events calendar. Or watch on demand whenever is convenient for you with pre-recorded storytimes on our YouTube channel.
  • Ages 2-5 – Read…and repeat!: Read the same books over and over again. Pause before a predictable word and ask your toddler or preschooler to guess the next word. Or ask what happens next in their favorite story.
  • Ages 3-5 – Read…upside down!: When reading, hold a book upside down until your preschooler notices. Show them how to hold a book. Talk about the book’s parts, like the cover, pages, title, and author.
  • Ages 3-5 – Join us for preschool storytime: For a schedule of live storytimes, visit the library’s events calendar. Or watch on demand whenever is convenient for you with pre-recorded storytimes on our YouTube channel.

Sing Together: When you sing, you slow down words. This helps your child hear the smaller sounds, learn syllables, and develop vocabulary. Singing also helps develop listening and memory skills. Singing together is a fun bonding experience – whether you’re a good singer or not!

  • Ages 0-5 – Dance together: Dance to music that you and your little one enjoy. Try these dance party favorites, free to stream or download with your Westerville Library card. 
  • Ages 0-5 – Listen to your favorite (grown-up) music: Listen to your favorite music – your baby may recognize your grown-up tunes. 
  • Ages 0-5 – Sing together: Sing a tune or nursery rhyme together. For a new song every day, visit
  • Ages 0-5 – Read a singing book!: Some books have a natural rhythm or rhyme that are great for singing. Read one of these.
  • Ages 0-5 – Watch a video: Bounce to the rhythm or try out one of these favorite storytimes songs. Watch one of these videos.
  • Ages 0-5 – Make up a song together: Create songs about everyday activities, such as changing a diaper or putting on clothes. 
  • Ages 0-5 – Adapt a tune: Adapt the tune “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush” to “This Is the Way We…” (put on our pants, wash our hands, etc.).
  • Ages 0-5 – Clap your name: Clap or tap your child’s name. Focus on each syllable. Encourage your toddler or preschooler to try this too–you’ll be surprised how quickly they can find the syllables themselves.
  • Ages 1-5 – Shake!: Shake to the beat of a familiar rhyme or tune. Grab an item that your baby can grasp, or make a shaker out of an empty water bottle filled with baby-safe items.
  • Ages 1-5 – Clap to the beat: Clap the syllables of words as you sing. Breaking down words into smaller parts is a useful skill when your child starts reading. 
  • Ages 2-5 – Sing fast and slow: Sing the same song at different speeds to help your little one get used to rhythm and tempo. Try singing familiar tunes faster and faster, then slower and slower.
  • Ages 2-5 – Freeze dance: Freeze songs are a great way for your child to practice self-control, focus, and listening skills. Turn a favorite song into a freeze dance by starting and stopping the music at random.
  • Ages 2-5 – Pause: “The Itsy Bitsy Spider went up the water….spout!” Pause while singing to allow toddlers and preschoolers to fill in the missing words. 
  • Ages 3-5 – Create silly songs: Create silly songs by making up your own words for familiar tunes. Let your child choose unique animals for “Old McDonald Had a Farm” and unique actions for “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”
  • Ages 3-5 – Print the lyrics: Help your little one recognize that songs are made up of words. Print out the lyrics to your favorite song, then run your fingers under the words on the page as you sing them together.

Play Together: Playing encourages your child to put their thoughts into words, tell stories, problem-solve and imagine. All of these skills will help them become better readers and writers when they start school.

  • Ages 0-2 – Play peek-a-boo: Play peek-a-boo! Peek-a-boo helps babies understand that just because they can’t see something, that object still exists.
  • Ages 0-5 – Visit the story trail: Enjoy the fresh air, a stroll…and a story. This literacy adventure builds reading skills and creates memories, from start to finish. For all ages. Visit again and again; you may find a different story waiting for you. Learn more.
  • Ages 0-5 – Watch a video: Looking for playtime ideas? Watch one of these videos.
  • Ages 0-5 – Play with mirrors: Play in front of a mirror and point to your little one’s body parts.
  • Ages 0-5 – Borrow a learning kit: Play, sing, write, read, talk and have fun with your favorite little ones while using tip cards to practice early literary skills. Learn more.
  • Ages 0-5 – Read a playing book!: Some books include games or other interactive elements that are great for encouraging play. Read one of these.
  • Ages 0-5 – Visit the imagination station: Located in the kids department at the library, this interactive display is regularly transformed into a themed exhibit intended to actively engage, entertain and educate young visitors of all ages.
  • Ages 0-5 – Play and learn around the house: Running out of ideas? Try these easy activities you can do together with common household objects. Watch now.
  • Ages 0-5 – Play…and repeat!: Repeat the same game or activity over and over again. You might feel bored, but your little one feels reassurance and builds important connections through repetition. 
  • Ages 0-5 – Play with music: Dance to an action song like “The Hokey Pokey.” Songs that name body parts build physical awareness. 
  • Ages 0-5 – Play with words: When playing, use big words and small words. Use as many words as you can! The more words your child hears, the easier it will be to identify those words when they start reading. 
  • Ages 0-5 – Moo, honk, beep!: Make noises for different toys, like trucks, baby dolls, or animals. Hearing different sounds and experiencing pitches, tones, and volumes helps your little one develop the basics of language.
  • Ages 2-5 – Play on the go: Play wherever you are! Play “I Spy” on a long car ride or in the grocery store. Introduce new vocabulary each time you play.
  • Ages 3-5 – Make open-ended art: Explore open-ended activities. Encourage imagination and problem-solving with art supplies for the sake of play, not to make a specific craft.
  • Ages 3-5 – Go on a letter hunt: Pick a letter and find five items around the house that start with that letter. Try a new letter each day!

Talk Together: When you talk to your child about different events and ideas, it helps them learn new vocabulary and to use words they know.

  • Ages 0-3 – Say my name: Babies focus on the word spoken immediately after their name. Instead of saying, “Julia, would you like to read a book?” Try saying: “Julia, book! Would you like to read a book?”
  • Ages 0-3 – Talk with sign language: Babies understand more than they can say. Using gestures, including American Sign Language, is a great way to communicate with your child. Practice words like more, stop, and no. Learn more with these books.
  • Ages 0-5 – Narrate your day: Talk to your baby all the time, even if they can’t respond quite yet. The more words your baby hears, the larger their vocabulary will grow. 
  • Ages 0-5 – Read a talking book!: Some books encourage talking. Read one of these.
  • Ages 0-5 – Watch a video: Try some of these games and activities to encourage asking questions. Watch one of these videos.
  • Ages 0-5 – Pause for 10 seconds.: Pause. Toddlers and preschoolers need 7-10 seconds to process what you asked and create a response. Give them plenty of time to think before moving on to another question. 
  • Ages 0-5 – Ask open-ended questions: When playing, ask your child open-ended questions, such as: 
    • What do you think will happen if…
    • Can you think of another way to…
    • What else can you build…
      Give them plenty of time to respond. Some responses might not be verbal. 
  • Ages 0-5 – Notice excitement: Your child will let you know what interests them by using actions, facial expressions, and speech. When they point out a window or give you a questioning look, put their action into words: “Yes! That’s a squirrel. Look at him running along the fence.”
  • Ages 0-5 – Talk with your eyes: When talking to your little one, actively make eye contact. Babies and toddlers learn to recognize emotions from facial expressions. 
  • Ages 2-5 – Dial a story: Hear a story read aloud by your Westerville librarians. A great way to entertain kids at bedtime, in waiting rooms, or on rainy days. Available via phone 24/7. Call 614-665-9696. Learn more.
  • Ages 2-5 – Oops!: Make mistakes on purpose when singing familiar songs or completing familiar activities. Let your toddler or preschooler correct you. Make sure your little one is very familiar with your activity before trying this – you don’t want to confuse them. 
  • Ages 3-5 – Talk about books: Look at a book together. What direction do you hold a book? Identify the parts of a book like the cover, title, author, and illustrator. 
  • Ages 3-5 – Tell a story: Work together to tell a story. Put a series of events in order, tell a familiar story from the pictures, or make up a story using just your imagination. 
  • Ages 3-5 – Talk about new words: Preschoolers learn new words best in context. When you discover some new vocabulary, discuss it at that moment. Try relating the word to a word they already know. 
  • Ages 3-5 – Follow directions: Encourage listening with games that include clear directions, like Simon Says. 

Write Together: Giving children opportunities to write, even if it is just scribbles, helps children understand that print can represent spoken words. It can also help children develop eye-hand coordination and the fine motor control they need to hold a pencil.

  • Ages 0-3 – Pick up sticks: Practice activities that build finger muscles, such as picking up Cheerios and grasping toys.
  • Ages 0-5 – Read a book about shapes: Learning shapes helps children more easily recognize letters when the time comes. Read a book about shapes.
  • Ages 0-5 – Watch a video: Practice a fingerplay to build the muscles needed to hold a pencil. Watch one of these videos.
  • Ages 0-5 – Read a writing book!: Some books encourage writing. Read one of these.
  • Ages 1-3 – Crumple paper: Practice activities that build finger muscles, such as crumpling paper and grasping small objects like shakers, straws, spoons, and more.
  • Ages 1-5 – Explore shapes: Explore shapes. Letters are made of shapes, so identifying shapes is a first step towards recognizing letters. Go on a shape scavenger hunt, finding three squares, three circles, and three triangles around your house. 
  • Ages 1-5 – Color and scribble: Encourage your little one to color and scribble. You don’t need a coloring page–coloring outside the lines is just as beneficial as coloring inside them. Grasping a crayon helps build the muscles needed to hold a pencil in school.
  • Ages 1-5 – Play with letters: Build finger muscles and learn to recognize letters by playing with them! Make letters out of playdough or explore letter magnets. 
  • Ages 2-5 – Complete a puzzle: Challenge your toddler or preschooler with a simple puzzle with shape cutouts. Looking for something homemade? Create a DIY puzzle out of baby-safe around-the-house objects.
  • Ages 2-5 – Write while playing: Incorporate writing into play activities. Write a pretend grocery list. Help your child pretend to take your order at a restaurant. Sign pretend receipts when you play store. 
  • Ages 2-5 – Play with tweezers: Make pick-up games more challenging with a pair of toddler or preschool sized tweezers (plastic child-safe kitchen tongs might work too). Use the tweezers to sort pom poms, cereal, dice, or other small items. 
  • Ages 3-5 – Write about your art: Ask your preschooler to write about their drawing. Even if they aren’t writing letters, this helps them recognize that written words stand for spoken words.
  • Ages 3-5 – Use scissors: Build writing muscles by practicing an important kindergarten skill: using scissors. Consider one of these activities or make up your own:
    • Cut lines in the top of a paper towel tube to create silly hair (don’t forget to draw a face too).
    • Cut along the lines separating paint chips.
    • Cut through rolled strips of playdough.
  • Ages 3-5 – Make dots with glue: Create a sheet of paper filled with evenly spaced tiny dots, about the size of the tip of a pencil. Give your child a bottle of liquid glue with a squeeze-top, and challenge them to limit the amount of glue they use–just enough to cover a single dot. 
  • Ages 3-5 – Write together: Keep a journal for you and your child. Encourage them to draw a picture of something they did that day or something they are excited about. Ask them to tell you about their drawing, and write down what they say underneath. Read their words back to them, drawing your finger underneath the words as you say them.

Reading Lists

Our last bonus feature on our ReadSquared page is our 1000 Books Reading Lists. Approximately 40 Reading Lists are filled with book suggestions to help families keep reading. Topics include:

  • Animals & Pets
  • Baby Faces
  • Baby Favorites
  • Bedtime & Bathtime
  • Beginning to Read
  • Being Kind
  • Change the World
  • Dinosaurs
  • Early Literacy: Play Together
  • Early Literacy: Read Together
  • Early Literacy: Sing Together
  • Early Literacy: Talk Togeter
  • Early Literacy: Write Together
  • Explore Outdoors
  • Family Love
  • Family Read Alouds
  • Favorite Characters
  • Getting Dressed
  • Growing Up
  • Holidays & Celebrations
  • Kids Like Me
  • Laugh Out Loud
  • Learn Colors
  • Learn Shapes
  • Learn the ABCs
  • Learn to Count
  • Lift-the-Flap & Pop-Up
  • Nonfiction Fun
  • Potty Training
  • Preschool Favorites
  • Real Stories: Biographies
  • Seasons
  • Siblings
  • Starting School
  • Talk About Race
  • Things That Go
  • Time to Eat
  • Toddler Favorites
  • Unicorns, Fairies, and Everything Magic

Access those lists and more here (without logging in).

…and that is it! All of the different parts of our ReadSquared 1000 Books website. What kind of recording do you use for your library’s 1000 Books program? Share in the comments!

Learn more about our program on our website and via the first post in this series that focuses on the physical workbook.

Book Review Tuesday

Lots of great books this week! Read the book reviews below, and learn more about my favorite reads:

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The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta (teen)
Gr. 9+. Michael has had questions about his identity since he was young. All he wants for his birthday is a Barbie, but his mom is sure a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle will work just as well. In beautiful verse, Michael shares his journey as he tackles questions about identity, toxic masculinity, gender, sexuality, and race. Finally at university (college), he discovers the Drag Society, and Michael feels like he might have finally found a space to be himself.

A wonderful book exploring and celebrating identity, Blackness, sexuality, and more. Highly recommend.


Dog Man: Mothering Heights by Dav Pilkey (graphic novel)
Gr. 2-4. The Dog Man book in which:

  • Dog Man wears a cone of shame,
  • Petey dresses up like Mister Rogers and does an interview on his life of crime and path to redemption,
  • at least three songs about diarrhea are sung with pride,
  • we interact with our very first smooch-o-rama,
  • sippy cups come to life, and
  • it gets pretty violent, making up for the “love not violence” plots of the last few books.

I didn’t like this one quite as much as the last book, but I continue to be a loyal Dog Man fan

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Fatima’s Great Outdoors by Ambreen Tariq
Gr. 1-3. Fatima is so excited for her family’s first camping trip. But she quickly learns that camping requires patience, just like school does. Building a tent and starting a fire take a bit more work than she and her Papa expect–and what about that scary, monstrous spider hanging out above their tent?!?

A lovely blend of a camping story with lots of details about Indian culture (and racism) throughout. A wonderful shoutout to Brown People Camping in the last spread.


Martian Ghost Centaur by Mat Heagerty (graphic novel)
Gr. 4-8. The Southborough Sasquatch used to draw tourists from all over the country, dreaming of spotting the mysterious cryptid. But the tourists have stopped coming, and Louie’s small town is close to drying up. Business isn’t what it used to be, and a tech company wants to turn Southborough into the home of its new headquarters. Louie’s dads aren’t ready to give up their restaurant, the Squatch Burger, quite yet, but money is tight. They may have to make a really tough decision soon.

Louie knows that she just needs to trap the Sasquatch. One of her dads got him on film when he was just a kid, and as a mega Squatch fan, she knows that she has the skills to catch the Sasquatch, get him on film, and bring tourism back to her town. But when she learns that the Sasquatch may not be quite as real as she first thought–and her dads were in on it–her heart is broken. Pile that on top of the fact that her best friend is leaving for college soon, and Louie is left trying to pick up the pieces of her life all while trying to figure out what her future holds.

This was so sweet! There needs to be more buzz about this graphic novel. Louie is adorable and the cryptid backdrop is appealing. There will be wide age appeal here–the cryptids will appeal to a younger audience and nothing here forces this to be a teen novel, but some of the larger life questions Louie is facing are definitely more teen oriented (she is 17 after all). I really appreciate the smaller messages woven throughout the book: the platonic friendship between Louie and Felix, the idea that college isn’t for everyone and that is okay, and even that your job does not have to be your passion. Great work.

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Our Skin: A First Conversation about Race by Megan Madison, Jessica Ralli, and Isabel Roxas (board book)
Toddler+. A book as much (maybe a little more) for caregivers as it is for kids. Children notice race and racism as toddlers and can distinguish skin color as babies. This book provides ways to start those conversations with your kids.

The first half works well as a board book that could be read to babies and toddlers with a lot of interactive questions. Further on, the book feels like it is perhaps meant for caregivers to read with preschoolers–the text gets a bit longer and talks about the history of racism (the illustrations also turn into examples of what appear to be elementary school students playing together).

The last few spreads contain really wonderful suggestions for continuing the conversation with toddlers, preschoolers, and older kids with great examples of ways to start and continue conversations and actively participate in anti-racist efforts. Looking forward to the rest of this series!


The Scrumptious Life of Azaleah Lane by Nikki Shannon Smith (first chapter)
Gr. 2-4. Azaleah and her sisters are thrilled to spend the weekend with their Auntie Sam while their parents are at a Food Truck Festival. They always have a great time with Auntie Sam, but this time Azaleah wants to plan something special for her parents: welcome back cookies! Azaleah convinces Auntie Sam to help them bake the cookies, but the cookies turn out all wrong. She knows she followed each step in the recipe correctly–why do the cookies taste so bad? Azaleah is determined to solve the mystery, but even after she figures out one problem, she discovers another isn’t far behind.

Lots of fun! This one didn’t feel like a “mystery” in quite the same way as the first two books in the series, but following Azaleah’s adventures and getting to know her sisters is still a joy. This is a standout first chapter book series that I will continue to keep passing along to lots of readers. More please!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

We participate in the blog trend of Monday posts about what we have read during the last week (4/5/2021-4/11/2021).

Annamarie’s Reading

Board Books, Picture Books, and Readers:

Everything Else:

Rambling Thoughts: Fewer book read this week–a combination of less holds coming in from my library, wrapping up or moving forward with various projects, and starting to slow down my planned reading. My second vaccine dose is coming soon, and I have a long list of things I want to do when my two weeks of post-vaccine time are up. I’m anticipating more audiobook listening but less reading of physical books.

Reading by the Numbers:

  • 15 Books Read This Week
    • 11 Books with Main Characters of Diverse Backgrounds (73%)
    • 9 Books by Authors of Diverse Backgrounds (60%)
    • 8 Books by Own Voices Authors (53%)

Favorites of the Week:

Storytime: Why I Don’t Use Themes

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may have noticed that I don’t theme my regular weekly storytimes. I do theme Saturday Special Storytimes, often around a popular book or television character–but you aren’t often going to find a unifying theme during my regular weekly programs.

I get asked about this fairly frequently–it is the question I receive most often via email after wanting editable program files. How do I plan without a theme to ground the program? Why don’t I theme? My thoughts are below.

Storytime History

Everyone has a different storytime back story. Some great storytime bloggers and amazing librarians have been creating storytimes for much longer than I’ve been working in librarians. Themes work for many of them, and themes may work for you too–this isn’t a lesson in why you shouldn’t theme, just an explanation of what works for me.

To give some perspective on my point of view, pre-covid, I almost exclusively presented baby storytimes for ages 0-2. Many long-time storytime presenters will admit that theming baby storytimes is particularly tough. There are a limited number of books for that age range that work in a storytime setting, especially when I had large crowds that made board books impossible. There also aren’t too many songs that limit motions in a way that work for babies that may not yet be walking (while anything can be adapted, turning around, jumping, and running are actions often used in songs that aren’t traditionally motions babies can do, even with lots of adult help). Babies don’t have the attention span for many flannels. Repetition is key, and these storytimes are filled with bounces and tickles. For my in-person baby storytimes, I focused on repetition and structure instead of themes.

Also pre-covid, I filled in for other storytimes on occasion, picking up an outreach visit or substituting for a toddler or preschool storytime only once every few months. I started theming these–I had quite elaborate outreach visits planned often themed around an animal species. These were okay, but I quickly saw that my participants responded best to stuff they knew or stuff they could easily follow. Particularly when substituting, kids were already a little uncomfortable because I wasn’t their regular storytime presenter. Soon, I started to curate the material that received the best participant response, that I genuinely enjoyed, and that connected to early literacy skills appropriate for that age range. That core set of material didn’t necessarily go together–a book about dinosaurs followed by a retelling with a dog and puppet animals and a song about shaking in between. There was no overall message, but I could use this storytime at a 15-minute notice if needed, and I knew it would work well.

Enter covid times: suddenly I’m presenting storytime for all ages (virtually) once, twice, or on the very rare occasion, three times in one week. I could have used this time to create a core collection of themes for different ages with a list of content for each theme–but I chose to prioritize my time differently. While I started out with that content that was familiar to me and our patrons, I used this time to expand my storytime repertoire while also focusing on finding materials that worked well virtually, that I genuinely enjoyed, and that developed those early literacy skills that I knew would start to drop off during these very unusual times. For me, focusing my time on early literacy skills, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, and diversity in content was more important than focusing on teaching (or forcing) a unified theme.

Why I Find Themes Limiting

There are plenty of great articles on this topic already, and I want to highlight a few of those first:

There are plenty of great reasons to theme your storytimes. Vocabulary development is a big one that I have to consciously think about adding into my not-themed storytimes, as it doesn’t flow into the conversation quite as well.

Another perk can be limiting the amount of content out there and helping you organize your plans as a presenter, though I am not a fan of using this as a reason to stay with themes. If you are on a cycle where you have the same kids week to week, it can be helpful to call back to something the week prior to make a connection rather than spending one week on dogs and the next on turtles. But, I’d also suggest thinking about narrowing down the large amount of storytime content differently. Rather than limiting the amount of content in the universe by selecting a theme, look at the content and yourself as a presenter. Do you flourish when you do a puppet activity? Does the group respond really well when you bring out a flannel set? Or do you secretly, absolutely, hate flannels? (That is okay too!)

I’m not trying to convince you to stop theming your storytimes, but I would like to convince every one of you to stop doing storytime activities that you genuinely don’t enjoy. It shows. If you hate flannels, that is fine. It doesn’t make you a bad librarian; in fact, you will be a stronger librarian for recognizing that and finding other ways to share that kind of content. If you aren’t comfortable with something, it shows. If you aren’t enjoying something, it shows. Even if your demeanor is just as chipper, your body language will reflect your frustration, and kids are experts at picking up at social cues. They will notice that their presenter isn’t fully engaged and doesn’t like the program, and they won’t want to come back.

A big exception that I want to note: generally, pick activities you are comfortable presenting. However, there are some topics that need to be discussed that may make you uncomfortable, but you need to discuss them anyway. Talk about topics like race in your storytimes. Be an example for caregivers about how they can talk to their kids about subjects that might make caregivers uncomfortable. Some great resources to get you started are Jessica Bratt’s Guest Post: Talking to Kids About Race in Storytime and the Let’s Talk About Race Toolkit and the toolkit itself. There are certain topics you need to be discussing in your programs, and that may mean pushing beyond your own personal “comfort zone.” Save your energy for the really important things instead of memorizing a three-page rhyme about a traffic light that can’t stop changing colors just because your theme of the week is traffic.

Back when I initially started theming my storytimes, music was my biggest enemy. I quickly gave up on the idea of having every single part of my storytime (except the opening and closing song) connect to my theme. I am not a person who enjoys free dancing or making up my own motions. Personally, I like having clear instructions to follow, and I like how following instructions teaches toddlers and preschoolers important skills. Some themes work better than others, but if I themed everything, all the time, when would I use Jump With Me by Bobs and Lolo again? Can I only use The Goldfish Song by Laurie Berkner twice a year, when I present a fish or ocean themed storytime?

Recently, I’ve been making an effort to diversity my storytime playlist. Promoting the voices of artists from marginalized communities is a higher priority for me than having my movement song connect to the book that I just read.

That word–“priority”–is the key to how you should plan your storytimes. Look at all of the different factors that you consider when creating your storytimes and prioritize them. You can keep your decisions personal but make a choice. Everything isn’t equal in storytime planning because every time you pick one thing over another, you are prioritizing the activity you chose. Some things that might be important to your storytime plans include:

  • Overall theme
  • Structure (what stays the same week to week)
  • Sharing voices from marginalized communities
  • Developmental appropriateness of content
  • Early literacy skills
  • Meeting state standards for early childhood development
  • Concept learning, such as a focus on the alphabet
  • Ready for Kindergarten skills
  • Audience enjoyment and engagement
  • What works best for your crowd size (very large, very small)
  • What works best with Your supplies
  • What works best virtually
  • What you have time to prep for
  • What you genuinely enjoy presenting
  • …what other factors affect your storytime planning?

Storytime Structure, Skills, Literacy Tips, and More

So how do I plan my storytimes? Well, my first step is a consistent structure. Generally, my storytime structure looks something like this:

This stays fairly consistent virtually when I am not getting participant feedback. In person, there is a bit more flexibility than this chart implies. Even with that flexibility, the core structure of my storytime is the same week to week, without fail. Virtual Toddler Storytime almost always looks like:

  • Welcome, Announcements
  • Opening Song
  • Early Literacy Conversation
  • Book
  • Movement Song
  • Rhyme or Fingerplay (most likely activity to drop)
  • Book Retelling with Props
  • Action Rhyme
  • Flannel
  • Closing Song

There is some variance, but that more often depends on the length of time those activities take up, or I will trade out an activity for a full month (instead of a flannel, we will end with a manipulative each week).

Storytime themers, I hear you! You can definitely theme and have a consistent structure each week. But, personally, I find this a little more difficult. I like that my storytime is that much more accessible by keeping this structure fairly rigid. Families know what kind of activity is coming next. If their child doesn’t like book retellings, turn the computer off after that week’s song. If they enter storytime late and we are dancing, today’s book was already read. It builds structure into the program that can be harder to stick with if I am trying to make a theme work. Maybe this theme has a particularly great flannel activity, but this month I am focusing on manipulatives instead of flannels. Or what if I just can’t come up with a great book to retell for my theme of choice? Sure, I can change my structure but that can throw off families who rely on that consistency. So, for me, consistent structure is a priority over theme.

But how do I sort my programming ideas? Enter my powerpoint. In person, I projected my storytime content onto slides behind me. Virtually, I don’t do that, but I have continued to make a powerpoint for each program so that I can keep track of what I did in a storytime and what I would like to share in the future.

My powerpoint for this week’s toddler storytime looks like this:

And my Toddler Storytime powerpoint that holds all of my content looks like this:

Slides are sorted by storytime element (early literacy tip, book, song, etc.). Each slide has the dates it was last used in the notes field (visible on the Bark George slide two images up).

Since we currently rotate storytime presenters each month, I start planning storytimes about 2-3 weeks before the new month begins. Typically this starts with a book for each week, since I make an effort to try new books at each program. Then, I start to look at what we cover in the books I selected. Are we identifying body parts? Practicing animal sounds? Completing certain large or small motions? What is already included and what hasn’t been covered yet in a particular program or in a full month?

Once I have an idea of what I want to add to my program–new fingerplays that don’t focus on counting to 5 or 10? a retelling featuring animal sounds? rhymes that focus on moving our upper body?–I look around the internet for new content, most often (lately) by watching random virtual storytime videos from other libraries. I use a combination of new material and old favorites depending what my commitments for each week look like (how much time I can dedicate to learning something new). I always focus on content that I genuinely enjoy using and learning. Do I find this rhyme fun? Then I’ll use it. Do I keep tripping over the words because I can’t get the rhythm right? Leave it behind.

Once I’ve laid out my storytimes for the month, I go back and look at each week and ask myself a few questions:

  • Does my storytime include elements of read, write, sing, talk, and play?
  • How many early literacy skills are included? (Vocabulary, Print Motivation, Print Awareness, Letter Knowledge, Phonological Awareness, Narrative Skills)
  • Have I included at least one voice from a marginalized community via a book character, book author, book illustrator, or musician?
  • Are we moving our whole bodies and practicing gross motor development?
  • What about fine motor skills? Do we practice small motions?
  • Is at least one other kindergarten readiness skill covered somewhere?

I don’t end up with a perfect storytime every week, and I’m not trying to check off every box on some large checklist. I give myself flexibility week of and day of too–I may have planned for a certain book, but morning of I really need something with a different tone. That may mean I’m not going to have the vocabulary development I was hoping for that week, but that is okay–don’t think of any of this as a reason to be hard on yourself for not covering everything in every storytime.

So, for me, the final product is a storytime where we shake our sillies out, read a book about monsters, jump with The Wiggles, identify animals eaten by one silly dog, and then roll down a hill with penguins. I’m not planning to start theming my storytimes soon–though I know many people love and thrive with themed programs. What is your preference? To theme or not to theme? Let me know in the comments below!

Dragon Egg Craft

Dragon eggs are a simple craft that can work well as an element of magical décor during a program or as an easy take home or in-person craft program. In preparation for our annual Wizards & Wands Festival, library staff are taking home baskets of egg-making supplies to craft some new décor pieces during their work from home hours.

While we are using these as decor for a large library event, this could be turned into a fun craft program for all ages. Cost will vary based on egg size (as will time needed to complete the craft), but the final product is quite pretty and a lot of fun for fantasy fans.

Dragon Egg Craft Supplies:

Dragon Egg Craft Instructions:

Start in the center of the bottom of the egg. Push thumbtack in firmly.

Create a ring of thumbtacks around the one you first placed. Make sure they overlap slightly, so that no Styrofoam shows, but they don’t need to overlap a lot—you have a limited number of thumbtacks.

Continue around and around the egg until it is entirely covered.

Optional: After egg is covered with thumbtacks, use spray paint to create a shiny colorful sheen!

1000 Books Before Kindergarten, Part 1

After over a year of planning, I finally launched my library’s 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program last week. These blog posts often focus more on day-to-day or week-to-week library activities, like reading, programs, and storytimes, but on any random day, I’m also working on a lot of large behind-the-scenes projects too. I’m thrilled to finally be able to share one of those projects with you.

This post will focus on the logistics of the program as well as our physical workbook. Check back for Part 2, focusing on our online component run through ReadSquared.

And before this gets buried in all the upcoming text, a big shout out to my library’s marketing department who designed the physical book and put up with all of my edit requests.

What is 1000 Books?

1000 Books Before Kindergarten is a nationwide initiative, adapted by many libraries and educational institutions, to promote reading and encourage child/caregiver bonding through reading.

The goal is simple and pretty self explanatory: read 1000 books together before your child starts kindergarten.

Why run a 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program?

A child is more successful in school when an adult actively read, spoke, and engaged with them during the 0-5 years. The more words children hear at young ages, the larger their vocabulary, and the more prepared they will be to learn to read. Setting a high goal with a concrete reward system—like reading 1000 books before starting kindergarten—encourages adults to actively and continuously engage with their children. Children who start out ahead typically end up ahead. Studies show that these early language needs are even higher in lower socioeconomic households.

Other benefits to a 1000 Books program:

  • Brings a sense of ownership and pride to reading. After completing this program, kids know they accomplished something big.
  • Builds parent knowledge and interest about their role in school readiness.
  • From a library statistics perspective, 1000 Books programs boost circulation numbers.

How long will this take?

Parents may be daunted by the large number, but, by just reading one book a day, a child should finish the program in less than three years. Some possible program lengths:

  • 1 book a day = 1,000 books in 3 years
  • 2 books a day = 1,000 books in 1.5 years
  • 3 books a day = 1,000 books in 1 year
  • 5 books a day = 1,000 books in 6 months

1000 Books Before Kindergarten Program Specifics

Before starting your program, there are some specifics you need to figure out. These include:

  • How will participants log their reading?
  • What are the incentives?
  • How will you fund the program?
  • Answers to Participant FAQs

How will participants log their reading?

We give participants two options: a physical, spiral-bound workbook (more info below) and an online system managed through ReadSquared (more on that in a future post).

What are the incentives?

Our incentives include:

  • Sign up = workbook & pencil
  • 100 books read = 1 sticker for every 100 books read (10 total)
  • 500 books read = free book
  • 1,000 books read = free book, backpack, graduation certificate & invitation to annual graduation ceremony  

I’ll share pictures of some of these below, but the timeline for purchasing some of these items depends on reaching certain program milestones (such as registering our first 50 kids). So, while I know what I would like to order, specific prize books have not been officially selected yet. For each prize book earned, families will have a choice between three prize book options.

How will you fund the program?

Our program is sponsored by our library’s Foundation. (Those incentives aren’t cheap!) I wanted to make this a program that would really engage our community and keep them participating over the years it will take them to finish, so we chose incentives that will hopefully encourage people to keep participating.

Answers to Participant FAQs

Your library’s answers to these questions might differ, but some of our FAQ include:

What if someone else reads to my child?
Count all reading! Books read by caregivers, siblings, grandparents, friends, teachers, librarians, and more all count. Watch a storytime and count those books, too.

What if we read the same book more than once?
Every time you read a book, count it in your reading log! Repetition is wonderful for reading development. Your child will notice new details during each reread. If you read Pete the Cat ten times in one day, that counts as ten books read!

We finished! Can we keep reading?
Of course! While you can only receive prizes once, we encourage you to keep going. Stop by the library anytime for book recommendations.

1000 Books Before Kindergarten Workbook

At sign-up, each reader gets their own physical workbook and a pencil to log their reading. I love our 64-page workbook filled with many pages to log your reading, early literacy tips and book recommendations, advertisements for various library services, and more.

Our workbook begins with a page to label your workbook in case it is lost and to track how long the program took you to complete.

The next spread focuses on how the program works and those frequently asked questions we highlighted above.

Moving on to a spread with a reminder to log online if you would like (more on that in Part 2) and the first of two All About Me pages. This page should be filled out at the beginning of the program, with the second, similar page being filled out after you’ve read 1000 Books.

Next come the early literacy spreads! I love how these turned out. Four age ranges are featured: 0-1, 1-2, 2-3, and 3-5. Each spread has an early literacy tip for read, sing, talk, play and write, as well as 12 book recommendations.

Listing books in a printing of this volume (we purchased 1000 of these logbooks at once!) was quite an endeavor. While we still ended up publishing pages filled with many of my favorite books, some of these were round two or round three suggestions. I worked with our collection development team to find books that we could bulk up on copies of now and that we would hopefully still be able to purchase (or would still own) in 3-5 years, since these log books will be sticking around a while.

Next we have lots and lots of book logging pages. Each page contains 25 images. Each image represents one book. Families can color or check off each image for each book read.

Pages marking 100-book intervals have a special spot for a sticker that participants can pick up at the library. Our marketing department designed and printed our stickers in house on label paper:

But what if a family really wants to write down the names of the books they read? There are a few pages to record up to 30 favorite titles in the workbook, and the online system encourages writing out each title.

Wrapping up the workbook, we have our second All About Me page and advertisements for some of our other library programs and services.

Learn more about our program on our website, and come back next week for more information about our online ReadSquared page!