I am back on my early literacy soapbox, thanks to the checklist someone passed to me of how library staff in one library system are being rated on their storytimes. The checklist is entirely based on Every Child Ready to Read standards. It includes things like: “Presenter makes connections between letters in children’s names and in alphabet book or book title”.
Reading is important. Building reading skills is important. Getting young children ready to read using the six skills of early literacy is important. But the most important thing is story.
Schools have to implement No Child Left Behind styles of teaching reading to get funded. But I think many of us in Youth Services would agree that focusing too much on the mechanics of reading is a huge mistake. Are we falling into that same trap in libraries?
It’s the stories that count the most. Story is fundamental iin humankind–it’s why we pass them along for hundreds of years. It’s why we tell them to our children over and over. Stories help children become loving, connected, ethical human beings by what they tell about how people relate to each other. (Often the “people” are animals in picture books, but it means the same thing.) Stories are also how children can broaden their experience out of their own family into the whole big world out there of the past and the present and the potential future.
I love building early literacy elements into the library space. And any good storytime provider is going to work the six early literacy skills into their story programs naturally, because books are made out of words and words are made out of letters and leading children into talking about the stories and predicting what’s going to happen are just the sorts of things you do while reading with children.
But you have to start with good stories. In my Storytime for Big Kids program this week (ages 4-K) these kids, like so many others I have worked with over the years, were amazed and delighted by Keiko Kasza’s The Wolf’s Chicken Stew. I could have spent a lot of time talking about how the wolf was making 100 of each food to feed the chicken to fatten her up; we could have speculated on whether the foods were nutritious or discussed if one of the children in the room had a name that began with W, same as Wolf….but all of that would have sidetracked the surprise that makes children burst out laughing, when the Chicken introduces “Uncle Wolf” to the 100 chicks he’s been inadvertently feeding.
It’s the story that counts. It’s the story that provides the foundation, and the phonological awareness, letter knowledge, print motivation and so on get swept in with that great belly laugh and the longing to read the story again and again. So please, put “Did the presenter use some great stories” on your storytime checklists. Otherwise, all we are providing is No Child Left Behind @ Your Library.