I've gone back and forth on the themes-in-story-time debate this spring. I've done a handful of story times with themes, but I've also done a few programs using just new books or my favorites. All of the programs went over well, which indicates to me that the issue of themed story times is more a librarian's preference than a best-practices discussion. Regardless of what your preferences are in terms of using themes in your story times, however, I think we can all agree on one thing: kids love stories about animals.
I put together the following animal-themed story time for an evening program that draws a younger (~2) crowd and a mom's group with mostly 2-year-olds. It went over well, what with the variety of interactive elements in the books and the enjoyment my audiences got from sharing animal noises throughout. I'll be adapting this animal story time for the summer, adding in a few books for older listeners and trimming out the craft component as I take this program to outreach locations.
What are your favorite animal-themed books, songs, and fingerplays?
Opening Song: "Open, Shut Them"
Mouse, Cow, Pig, and Duck are playing a friendly game of toss-the-ball when their ball rolls into the doghouse. Oh no! Mouse makes a big deal of who he sends into the doghouse after the ball, emphasizing each of his friends' brave qualities as they timidly head into the doghouse. One by one they enter, and to Mouse's alarm they do not come out! When Dog steps outside to let Mouse know he's having Duck for dinner, Mouse panics. But, in true Jan Thomas fashion, it could all just be a funny misunderstanding... Kids of all ages enjoy getting in on the joke in this book, and they are captivated by the fact that Thomas's narrative illustrations begin immediately on the inside cover.
Story: Dancing Feet! by Lindsay Craig
This great story with simple, repetitive text and guesses at animal recognition on the page turns has proven to be a big hit with all sizes of audiences. With the smaller groups, we get up and dance the different beats of the animals (the ladybug dances a tippity beat, the elephant a stompity one, etc.), and we end up in a sort of crazy animal dancing parade. With larger groups, we experiment with using our hands to make the different dancing noises--fingertips for the ladybug, flat palms on thighs for the elephant, and so on. The interactive options for this book are many, and the simple text itself is rhythmic and wonderful. We all know how important rhythm is in developing pre-reading skills!
Song and Dance Break: "Willoughby Wallaby Woo" on Singable Songs for the Very Young by Raffi
While Raffi is singing this classic, silly children's song from our boombox, our group takes turns having Horton, our stuffed elephant, sit on everyone's heads. I usually start off with Horton on my head before setting him on a child's, and then within a few seconds--possibly with some parental encouragement--everyone gets the hang of the activity. Mom! There's an elephant on your head! Now it's on my head! How silly! I've found the song is generally long enough to get Horton on the head of every attendee--you wouldn't want any kids to miss out on a one-of-a-kind elephant hat, now would you?
Story: Moo, Moo, Brown Cow! Have You Any Milk? by Phillis Gershator
I must say, I love this relatively new book. Using the format of "Baa, baa, black sheep," the book takes readers through a colorful, calming exploration of many farm animals as they prepare for bedtime. As we meet each animal, we get a plethora of child-friendly information about it: its name, what sound it makes, what color it is, what it produces, and what we make from that product. Example: "Baa, baa, black sheep, have you any wool? / 'Yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags full.' / Does wool make a blanket for my bed? / 'Yes, sir, yes, sir,' the black sheep said." We meet a grey goose with down feathers for our pillows, a brown cow with milk for a bedtime drink, and other animals, too. It might seem like there's a lot going on in this story, what with the animal recognition, animal noises, colors, and more, but the repetitive rhyming text and clear, lovely illustrations make the whole book very accessible to even young children. I highly recommend it.
Fingerplay: "Five Little Ducks"
Anywhere I go, whatever story time group I'm addressing, everyone is familiar with "Five Little Ducks." Because it's a familiar fingerplay and song, everyone is always excited to sing and mime along with me as the little ducks go wandering over the hill and far away. Kids get really into the counting element of the song, too, and they work those fine motor skills to hold up the proper number of fingers each round. Librarian gold, this fingerplay is.
Craft: Duck Puppets
I use duck stick puppets to accompany the "Five Little Ducks" fingerplay, so why not encourage kids to do the same at home with their very own puppets? I try to keep this craft as simple as possible, using just a handful of supplies: ducks die-cut on yellow cardstock, fat popsicle sticks, glue dots for putting the puppets together, and crayons for decorating the puppets. And never fear, those of you who like a craft to take at least ten minutes--while assembly is quick, decorating five little ducks can take a while!
Other books I had on hand in case they were needed:
Ten in the Bed by Jane Cabrera
Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed by Eileen Christelow
Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin