Telling in a Library

FYI: The Orem Public Library's storytimes are presented by a 'staff' of volunteer storytellers. Local moms, teachers, etc. Give us a call if you want to know more. 801-229-7161

Worst Case Scenarios for Laptime and Storytime
at the Orem Public Library
compiled by Gina Clark
(who has lived through more than one of them)

1. Your own children (if you have them) decide suddenly that Mom's "Laptime" means they get to be on Mom's lap.

This is surely a parenting issue, but it's something that comes into play a lot since moms are often volunteers. You know your children better than anyone, so plan on how to prepare them for the mornings when you are center stage and not sitting in the audience with them. Perhaps you are comfortable with them being on your lap or by your side while you do storytime. The key is to not go in assuming that they will behave a certain way. Librarians are often a great help with this. It's also nice to invite a friend in the audience to keep an eye on them. Be advised, though, that it's never a good idea to let your children loose unattended in the library. If you think they are a flight risk, plan accordingly.

2. The props you prepared end up in a child's mouth.

I think it's best to hide props or keep them out of reach until they are needed. Also, put them away when you are done. This is especially an issue during laptime, since there is no real barrier between the laptime teller and the kids. Another good idea is to tell the children when you first bring out a prop that afterwards they may come up to the front and get a closer look.

3. You are trying to sing "I'm a Little Teapot," but all that comes out of your mouth is "Once There Was a Snowman."

Practice. Practice. Practice. Also, don't fret. There is always someone in the audience who can pick out the tune for you if your mind suddenly goes blank. If you are uncomfortable singing, don't hesitate to use the library's wonderful collection of music. One of the primary purposes of all library programming is to introduce patrons to the library's collections. So it isn't cheating if you play a favorite children's CD from downstairs and sing along.

4. Four minutes into your retelling of "1,001 Arabian Nights," the audience simultaneously melts down.

What is it the experts say about a child's attention span--age in years equals ability to pay attention in minutes? That may be true, but on any given morning in the OPL there is a group of three year-olds who can only make it a minute and a half. Don't give them more than they can handle. Keep it short and simple. There are many wonderful folktales, fables, and original stories from picture books that can be put into very simple words. Older children and adults may relish complicated plots, but the preschool set isn't likely to pick up on the subtleties. Repetition doesn't bore the little ones. They like the pleasure of anticipating what comes next, and seem to pay more attention to simple, repetitive tales. If you find yourself loosing the audience, don't hesitate to end quickly and move onto something else.

5. A small person on the front row raises her hand (or doesn't raise her hand) to offer random particulars from her life every time you pause.

If the child isn't shushed by a parent, then perhaps the best thing is to be kind, direct, and clear. Ask the child to save her comments for the end, when you would love to talk to her personally. Ignoring the child usually just makes her more anxious to be listened to.

6. A trio of young moms just three feet from you persist in loudly discussing their children's sleep habits--even as you (and your puppet) glare at them.

The librarians have made a point of encouraging good etiquette from the adults in the audience, too. It's often still a challenge in laptime, which is less formal and more chaotic. Encourage adult participation by inviting parents, grandparents and other adult caregivers directly to take the child on their laps and do the activities along with you. Model this with a child. Repeat the fingerplay so the adult can learn it. Moms can get distracted and chatty if they don't have anything to do--so give them something to do.

7. You glance at the clock and discover that your slate of stories and songs didn't quite fill up fifteen minutes and you don't know how many more rounds of "The Wheels on the Bus" the adults in the audience can take.

Always over-prepare. Fingerplays don't take as much time as you anticipate. But there isn't anything wrong with ending a minute or two early, especially if the crowd is contagiously fussy.

8. The flannel board story you prepared suddenly becomes all flannel board and no story.

Anytime you introduce props into your storytimes and laptimes, plan for the logistics of it all. Make sure the stuff you think will stick actually sticks. There is nothing more annoying than to see a great story flop because your magnets aren't as powerful as you thought they were, or the library's easel isn't as big as you imagined.

9. A small boy (who happens to know nothing about the willing suspension of disbelief) begins crying inconsolably when you: a). pull out your favorite sock puppet; b). mimic the popping of a balloon; or c). say hello to him.

This happens rarely, but it does happen--especially in laptime. This is where Mom steps in and hopefully comforts the child. But, it pays to develop a tough skin. Don't be offended when the kids don’t seem to like you , or even notice you. Don't be surprised when they are more interested in the contents of Mom's purse than the fingerplay you cleverly invented, orchestrated, and illustrated using hand-colored and laminated visual aides. Consider yourself lucky to be performing for the most sincere audience on earth.

10. Just as you are about to begin singing (and dancing to) the "Go Bananas" song, you are paralyzed by stage fright.

One of the best things about the OPL storytimes and laptimes is that they are almost always done by volunteers. While many of us lack the polish of professionals, we are full of personality. Don't feel that you have to imitate anyone else. If you aren't comfortable hamming it up to silly songs, then take a quieter route. As a mother, I love how each teller offers something different. Sometimes what's best is how much a teller loves a story. Eight years ago when I began taking my first child to storytime, there was less storytelling and more reading of stories. What I loved then was how much the "tellers" loved the books they had selected. I was introduced to many wonderful books by readers who were anxious and delighted to share them with a young audience.

A big thank you to Gina who compiled and created this wonderful list and gave me permission to share.