Notes From Story Time

Even though I am mostly an adult services librarian, I was lucky enough to be sit in on a few days of story time training led by Gay Ducey. Il Ducey has been a children’s librarian for 30 years, folks, and in between that has traveled the nation telling stories on stages large and small.


Here’s the kind of experience she’s got: In addition to being someone who’s provided library service to Eldridge Cleaver, the blurb on her bio is:

“Everyone should tell stories like Gay Ducey tells stories” – Mr. Rogers.

Here’s the kind of librarian she is: People show up at the library asking,

“Is Gay Ducey here? I used to go to her story time. I just wanted to let her know that I just got my first job as a librarian (sometimes they say teacher), and it’s because of her.”

Here’s the kind of person she is:  She says

“Children are my natural peer group.”

Kids light up like a Christmas tree when they see her behind the desk.

She’s got a lot of library knowledge, to say the least.

The training is for a program called Books for Wider Horizons. This program trains community members to visit preschools as volunteer story readers.  It is provided through the Oakland Public Library as part of Oakland’s Head Start program.  It started in 1994!  If you’re interested in reading to kids, and live in the East Bay, you should consider donating your time.

Here are some of my notes from the training.

Day One

Story time is not for teaching children; children spend so much of their lives being taught, that they don’t need that from us.  During story time, we don’t teach children, but they still learn. Learning is what children do naturally.

Story time is to induct children into the private joy of reading. Our primary job is to model the pleasure of reading.

Some education is ok, but avoid leading kids to listen for the right answer, rather than enjoying the story. Don’t create pressure to identify vocabulary words, or right or wrong choices.

When reading is no longer an assignment, when they someday leave school and no longer “have to” read, they will not pick up a book, if they have not already, discovered the private pleasure of reading.  Story time creates positive memories of reading that last into adulthood.  You remember having a good time reading.

Everyone has trashy reading – a juicy mystery, a gossip magazine – its ok for kids to have trashy reading too.  Not everything needs to be a high quality classic.

If you’re interested in rhymes and meaning, Iona and Peter Opie have a good book on it.

Our society is big on levels of competence.  If you ask a five year old “can you sing?” she will say “yes of course.” If you ask a ten year old, she may say yes.  A fifteen year old will often say “no way!”  And by the time we are adults, many of us “can’t sing.”  But you can sing.  Everyone can sing.  Singing is our birthright.  All five year olds can do art.  Art is everyone’s birthright.

SONG: “I Have a Dog and His Name is Rags

*Note: there were multiple requests by participants to do this one again, at the end of the class and on day two.

Songs implant memories -> singing is also literacy. Songs are another way to implant literature.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time before age 2.

beware of the frog

BOOK: Beware of the Frog by William Bee.  Illustrations = primary colors.  3rd grade is about the youngest that “gets” this book.

Test the waters.  Not all your favorites will be kids’ favorites.

Kids that want repeated readings are taking something new each time the book is read to them, and its none of our business what that is.

bark george

BOOK: Bark, George by Jules Feiffer.  Notice colors -> muted.  Just a few words on the page.  2-5 is an ok age range, but 4 is best age.  Understanding the sounds are wrong takes the sophistication of a four year old.

little black crow

BOOK: Little Black Crow by Chris Raschka. Natural colors, 4-6 years. Even though it ends “are you a boy like me?” girls can identify with the story as well.

Don’t point out small secrets in the illustrations, let kids discover them.

Kids do have an appetite for quiet. Although, kids don’t necessarily like this book.

Repetition is a tool for learning and kids like it.


BOOK: Froggie Plays Soccer by Jonathan London and Frank Remkiewicz. Visually complicated.  Age 6 or even later.  Tough to read -difficult choice for story time.

If there are several images on a page, you can point to them as you read to help children see the progression.

come along daisy

BOOK: Come Along, Daisy by Jane Simmons.  Ages 2-5.  Beautiful book, good story, excellent story time.

Doesn’t use paper clips, turns every page.  My theory: Gay’s not afraid to go slowly and take time, she knows the children will come along with her.  It gives them room to think and process.  Children need more time for this than adults do.

How scared do you let kids get during a story?  Not very.

an egg is quiet

BOOK: An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long. Pretty illustrations, long paragraphs of text, a little complicated but maybe still ok.

Kids like to know.

Skipping some text is ok.

Put some room for socializing after the story time. Give kids a chance to talk to you after story time, but otherwise don’t really respond to interrupters.  This is not an interactive program.  The rules are different during story time.

Day Two

SONGS: “My Rhinoceros” and “Down in the Valley Two by Two

Songs get us excited, involved and happy.

a snowy day

BOOK: The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.  Spare, abstract illustrations. 3-5 year olds, even twos.  Book for children – they understand it, adults don’t.  A solitary adventure.  No hint of violence.

Gay says the author’s name at the beginning (e.g. This book is called Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats). Sometimes she will say the illustrator’s name at the end.

Just a little bit

BOOK: Just a Little Bit by Ann Tompert. Action packed, voices. Up to 2nd grade. Bug detail on the cover Gay never mentions – it would spoil the story.  Children have come up to her weeks later and pointed it out.

You can stop reading and look at a picture.

Pan slowly occasionally.  Not every page, just once in a while.  Good when there’s a double page illustration.

Hold the book so it doesn’t go anywhere.  Two fingers on the spine.  Gay rests the corner on her should to anchor it (my note: this also puts the book on the same level as her face).

Read slowly.  Children need you to go about three times as slowly as you think you should.

The story can do the work.  No need to tart it up with voices, etc.  You can a little bit, but you don’t need to.  The story is the focus.

Gay sits on a low chair.

Know what distance you need between you and the children and keep that space.

Soft cover books are generally too much trouble.  Giant books are cool but hard to handle. Caveat Emptor.

The order of presentation can help a book succeed.

Songs can be used to focus or quieten.

Themed story times are nice but not necessary.

Transitional activity first, in between each book and at the end.  Gay only reads three books.  Middle can be quiet, or can be a song, or song with props.  Flannel Board.

Religion teaches us how to put things into the head.  Ritual prepares you for a certain type of experience.  Story teller should create a safe, quiet space where grown-ups don’t interfere. **STORY TIME IS DIFFERENT THAN ALL THE OTHER TIMES** You have to help kids understand how it is different and what it is like. Becomes an enchanted space. **Create a beginning and an ending that is the same each time. ** Knowing how something begins is reassuring, understanding how something works.

SONG “Good Morning, Dear Earth” (Gay’s opening)

Take control of the end.  Never go “that’s it good bye!” Ease them out. Take time. End song could be anything.  Have seen: Splish Splash, KISS, Phil Collins, Na Na Na Na…

Childhood is Revealed Secrets.

Took a pledge never to use a book we haven’t read first.

Day Three

Missed it because I had a program at my other job (Easy Peasy Super Easy Seeds to Save). Got a summary from Gay the day after.  Participants chose books and read to each other. They also learned some fingerplays, which grown-ups think are weird and dorky, and kids really enjoy.

Assignments for next week: attend one story time.  Work out what your opening and closing will be (use same ones every story time, to create the story time ritual).

Gay also told me this story, when we were talking about introducing the pleasure of reading.

One day a child she knew and liked a lot came in to find a book.

Gay noticed that the child was looking at Tuck Everlasting, one of Gay’s favorites.

Gay said, “Ohhhh, do you like that one?”

The child said, “We read it in school. I hate it. I hate that book.”

Crestfallen, Gay asked, “What do you hate about it?”

The child responded, “The worksheets.”

School ruined a perfectly wonderful book for this kid.  Worksheets after every chapter aren’t the way to create lifelong readers.  The value of story time is in creating positive experiences.

How Can We Sleep for Grief? And Other Ideas About Weeding.


Last weekend my mother said to me, “I just don’t understand why libraries have to throw away books.”

I said, “Well Mom, public libraries aren’t archives. It’s important that the collection is of use and interesting to the community. Think about if you were browsing a shelf of twenty musty old books, and one interesting one. Do you think you would find it? It’s more important that people are able to find and use books, than to hoard every book the library has purchased.” I said some other stuff too. I was very eloquent.

My mom said, “Yes, well can’t they just keep them? If they aren’t keeping books, I worry about the ones we will lose forever.”

Oh, Mom.

My mom is a wonderful, gentle person, who thinks learning and reading are incredibly worthwhile pursuits. She is an excellent library patron. She uses them regularly, and she taught her kids to use them too. I wouldn’t have become a librarian if my mom hadn’t hadn’t nourished my own love of libraries. My mom is the kind of person that libraries owe their living to. I think I just said I do, too.

How do you tell a person who loves books that you will be throwing them away on a regular basis?

And more, how do we reassure people that the books we throw away aren’t lost forever?

I talked to my mom a little bit about the weeding process. I talked about criteria that we use before we get rid of books and how now before we get rid of a last copy we can look on WorldCat, to see if anyone else has it, or on Amazon to see if used copies are cheap and plentiful. I talked about how certain libraries do give themselves archival missions, for example the entire core of the Main branch of the Oakland Public Library is devoted to storing fiction, and if you want to read all the Perry Mason novels, that is the place to visit.

Here’s another library secret that I’m not sure we should share: some books are really crappy. Some books probably aren’t worth saving. If you are a serious lover of books, I think it’s difficult to realize this until you become a librarian looking at the breadth of your collection, and discover that no one has ever checked out your Sunset guide to knitting because it’s a thin volume smack in the middle of 15 different editions of Crafting with Ducks. This is a made up example, but it is still true. You don’t need all 15 editions. One or two will do. And after the duck crafting craze goes away, you may not even need those.

And of course books don’t always get thrown away. There are library book sales, and charitable organizations, and sometimes you just put a big box in the lobby with a “Free to Good Home” sign. And personally, I do like to keep a very small percentage of musty old clunkers on the shelf. This is part of the library experience. You want patrons to discover a tucked away old treasure: to open up a book and see check out dates and signatures from 1965, or 1944 or even earlier. This is like the flaw the rugmakers put in, because only God can be perfect. This keeps the library human, and reminds people that they are next in a long line of their community’s thinkers and readers. I know I sound a bit like a whack-a-doodle here, but this is part of the art of collection development.

But musty old books should be a miniscule part of an otherwise limber and useful collection.  At the library, books need to work for their keep.

Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia has a bit where the main character learns about the burning of the library at Alexandria. She says:

“….the enemy who burned the great library of Alexandria without so much as a fine for all that is overdue. Oh, Septimus! — can you bear it? All the lost plays of the Athenians! Two hundred at least by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides — thousands of poems — Aristotle’s own library!….How can we sleep for grief?”

Her tutor reassures her:

SEPTIMUS: By counting our stock. Seven plays from Aeschylus, seven from Sophocles, nineteen from Euripides, my lady! You should no more grieve for the rest than for a buckle lost from your first shoe, or for your lesson book which will be lost when you are old. We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it. The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language. Ancient cures for diseases will reveal themselves once more. Mathematical discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time again. You do not suppose, my lady, that if all of Archimedes had been hiding in the great library of Alexandria, we would be at a loss for a corkscrew?”

Change happens in libraries too. The books go out, and the books come in again.

Photo By Ambrose Dudley, (fl. 1920s) (The Bridgeman Art Library, Object 357910) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons