Lately, I’ve been doing these storytimes at a local wildlife rescue museum. Once a month, I go there and do a fifteen minute storytime in front of a plexiglass wall. Behind me are all the rescue birds that can’t live on their own in the wild.
It’s not the easiest storytime conditions, because the ceilings are high and it’s loud in there and I end up shouting the whole thing through a mask, but it is nice to go somewhere fun and have an audience that is appreciative. And now, I’ve gone enough times that the kids who visit the rescue museum regularly know me.
I’ve been doing library storytimes for around ten years now. There’s definitely a few secrets to providing a good storytime, but I think the most important one is that you can’t care about what you look like while you’re doing them. You can’t be self-conscious about how weirdly you’re moving your body or your singing voice or how aggressively cheerful you’re being. Kids are like sharks and they’ll smell the blood in the water. If you’re not all in, if you’re not totally committed, if you’re not wholeheartedly being as silly and open and friendly as possible, they’ll find that crack of self-consciousness and bust it wide open. There’s nothing more painful that looking like a fool for a crowd of disinterested three- and four-year-olds.
At my library, before we shut down for the pandemic, we were doing five storytimes a week for groups of 65-125. As enriching and fulfilling as that could be, it was also completely exhausting. A storytime for a group of 20 is an interactive literacy experience. A storytime for 125 is a performance with a large heaping side of crowd control. A storytime for 125 is something you just try to survive and get through with your voice intact and without sweating to death.
By the time we shut down, I was happy to never do another storytime again. I was so burned out on storytime that I worried that I personally had manifested the pandemic simply so I could have a break from the grind. And I’ve spent the last two years not missing storytime in the least.
But I will say, doing these little outreach visits to the rescue museum has been nice and has reminded me that it’s not storytime that I grew tired of, necessarily. It was the set up and the clean up. It was the planning and preparation. It was the unengaged caregivers who felt entitled to whatever they wanted out of me. Do you know how often I was asked to babysit or perform at birthday parties? And when I politely declined, people got WIERDLY mad about it.
But it was absolutely never, ever the children. I love the children. I love their little faces and their wonky movements. I love to watch them develop and grow and bloom. I love to get to know them and for them to trust me. I love to meet them as little babies and sing to them and read to them all the way until they go off to school.
Being a community helper is a big responsibility. I’ve never taken it lightly, which is how I burned myself out being a human storytime machine. When we come back in the summer and start it up again, I hope to find a way to make it enjoyable for little ones but more sustainable for me. I can’t wait, though, to meet the little ones I’ve missed for the last couple years. To look ridiculous as I read them stories and sing them songs and give them stickers and goodbye hugs and fist bumps.
Because as we say in the storytime industry, the more we get together, the happier we’ll be.
(And yes, there are online storytime recordings of me and no, I won’t tell you where they are.)