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Winters are long here in the San Luis Valley. We get lots of cold weather but not much snow (it’s actually a desert up here at 7600 feet). So storytimes on winter, the cold, animals, and the exciting times when we do get snow tie right into a child’s daily experience here.

Here’s what I’m currently doing for wintertime storytime. The kids and I are enjoying it!

Books we are reading include:

  • Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester
  • Sleep, Big Bear, Sleep by Maureen Wright
  • Here Comes Jack Frost by Kazuno Kohara

Before I start reading Tacky, I show the kids my penguin stick puppet. He’s simply made out of black and white foam with a yellow beak (some kids love pointing out that he has no eyes). We talk about his colors and what he is covered with–fur? feathers? scales? hair? Once we’ve figured out penguins have feathers, we can talk about other animals that have feathers–birds! And then we can talk about birds that fly–and birds that swim like penguins!

Lots of talking happening, and of course, only for as long as the kids are interested. It’s easy talking, though, and easy for the kids to join in with their thinking and ideas and words.

Then my puppet acts out this rhyme (pardon the bullet points, WordPress inserts double spacing otherwise):

  • Little penguin black and white,
  • On the ice, what a sight!
  • See them waddle, see them glide.
  • Watch them as they slip and slide.
  • Little penguins black and white,
  • On the ice, what a sight!

Then we read Tacky with lots and lots of expression! After Tacky we talk about what other animals do in the winter and bears and sleeping come up. Before reading Big Bear, though, I tell the kids I’m going to tell the same story two different ways (a great way to build narrative skills, btw).

First I do this rhyme to the tune of  “Up on the Housetop.” As a sing through it, I place first a picture of a brown bear, then of a blue cloud with a face drawn on it (like Old Winter in Big Bear), and finally a bear sleeping in a cave onto my makeshift flannel board (I use pictures printed in color from MS Publisher and place them on a white memo board with double sided tape).

  • There once was a bear who love to play (Put up brown bear)
  • In the woods most every day.
  • But then the winds began to blow (Put up winter wind picture)
  • And soon the ground was covered with snow.
  • Oh, oh, oh, ice and snow,
  • Oh, oh, oh, I better go-o
  • Into my cave to sleep all day (Put up bear in cave picture)
  • Until the cold winter winds go away.  Jean Warren

I’m amazed at how much the kids love this! Then on to the Big Bear book. We follow it with some snow fingerplays (see the left hand side bar for those) and wrap it up with Jack Frost. Don’t let this book fool you though! It looks far too simple to hold a bunch of squirmy kids attention but it works like a charm. And they love puzzling out the ending!

There you go, lots of conversation, vocabulary, print awareness (especially in the final pages of Big Bear, narrative skills,  and phonological awareness through rhymes. All wrapped up in one winter package.

Stay warm,


Yes, of course.  End of blog post. How about a nice cup of tea now?

Guess that won’t do, now will it? 😉

Questions from non-librarian folks do me good. They bring me back to the real world and out of my tunnel vision land of assumptions.

She was ordering books online as gifts for two children. One of the books was listed as a board book. “What is a board book?” she asked.

Gooood question! 🙂

Here’s the nutshell on board books:

  • They are primarily for children ages birth through 3-ish.
  • They are small (usually), the better for little hands to handle them.
  • They are made of heavy, thick materials so that they can endure the hazards that happen at these earliest ages when one is learning about books. These include mouthing, early attempts at page turning, and juice cup spills among others.
  • They usually have a few clear pictures or drawings and few words.
  • Many have no actual story. Why? Because children ages babies to 3-ish aren’t really ready for stories yet. Their eyes are still learning to focus and they are still learning to recognize the “things” of their world. They love and prefer pictures of babies and activities of their daily life (eating, taking a walk, playing with blocks, seeing a puppy, hearing a fire engine, etc.). Of course, as they get closer to age 3, shorter stories become interesting as well.
  • They are also ideal as special books that begged to be played with–for instance, books with cutaways and holes for peeking through or poking into.

Board books give young children the best chances for success as they begin learning about books. Asking children to do something they are not yet ready to do (like keeping things out of their mouths or turning pages gently) sets them up for frustration–and can lead adults to fussing at them. Negative experiences and emotions get associated with the book and the reading, leading to a decrease in interest in books and reading years later.

Finally, learning takes time and lots and lots of repetition. Playing with, exploring (poking, prodding, chewing, dropping etc.), pretending to read, and yes, even being read to can happen over and over and over again with board books for many years.

Board books are real books. They are real books for real kids of a certain age with certain needs and certain interests. Simply because they are age appropriate doesn’t make them less a book. You would never give a one year old a Neil Gaiman novel to read nor What is on My Head? to a sixty-five year old, yet both are equally a “real” book.

So feel confident this holiday season as you shop for babies through three year olds, that board books are a great choice for them!

Happy Holidays,


Some books are so amazingly put together that one can’t help but wonder if the author and illustrator were totally aware of what they were doing–or if they got a little lucky.

I know they most likely knew what they were doing; people who are great at what they do make it look so simple and easy.

Yet I am still blown away by the book Maggie’s Ball by Lindsay Barrett George for the seamless way it puts together a good story with several early literacy skills.

Maggie is a dog with a yellow ball who is looking for someone to play with. The ball gets away from her, though, and rolls into town. Here’s where the fun begins.

The double page spread of the town has four shops around a circle. Lots of people are in town, doing and carrying a variety of “things”–hoops, scooters, dumbbells, wheelchairs. There are poodles, balloons, drums, easels, lollipops, monkeys. These illustrations provide lots and lots of “things” to talk about, encouraging conversation and building vocabulary.

What makes the picture different, though, is that virtually every image involves circles.

What’s special about circles? A circle is a shape and letters are made of shapes. As a child plays with, talks about, and recognizes shapes, he or she lays the foundation for recognizing letters years down the road.

Maggie goes to town to look for her ball and visits each shop. At each one there are many more circular “things” to talk about and name. There’s cakes, cookies, clocks, pizzas, pets, balloons. There’s also practice with discrimination skills. Is the lemon her ball? It’s yellow, and it’s mostly round. How do we know a lemon is not a ball?

Print on these pages is very succinct and very clear, building print awareness on each page, until finally a girl finds the ball and asks Maggie to play.

Remember how I mentioned that shapes build the skill of letter knowledge? Here it’s masterful: The girl has the round yellow ball in her hand. She says “Go fetch” across four pages. The “O’s” in “Go” are stretched out though, each letter “O” set clearly and distinctly across the four pages, even bouncing like a ball until the last “O” turns into Maggie’s “O” shaped, yellow ball.

The girl and dog play ball, become friends, and end the story by sitting together reading a book, an ending tying it all up with a dash of print motivation. I mean, if I could play and read with a dog as darling and expressive as Maggie (pages where where she is sad about losing her ball and then the ones where she is happy finding her ball just tug at you), I’d certainly want to read!

So there you have it: five of the six early literacy skills effortlessly wrapped up in one fun book. (Recap of the skills included: print motivation, vocabulary, print awareness, narrative skills, and letter knowledge).

Maggie’s Ball works on so many levels. I hope you’re kids will enjoy too!


I’ve had folks ask for specifics on the storytime that turned into such a great moment for developing the early literacy skill of print awareness (read more here).

I start off with a picture of a real sheep; her name is Miss Molly. And I have a bag of her wool. While the kids pass around and feel some of it (you may have to teach them “passing around” :-)), we talk about what wool is and what it’s used for. Then we read stories about sheep!

Here are the books we read:

The Surprise by Van Ommen: This is the wordless book I start with. The first spread is great for beginning to discern whether the kids have a sense of print awareness or not. It shows a sheep standing on a bathroom scale–and nothing else! The entire background in solid yellow. No distractions. Can they recognize that there are no words on the page?

Where is the Green Sheep? by Fox: If they can’t “see” that there a no words in The Surprise, show them Green Sheep and read a few pages. What’s neat about it is that you’ll have page with words and picture, another page with words and picture, another page with words and picture–then! boom! page with only words. Can the kids “see” the words on the picture-less white page?

The two books were just made for each other and made for highlighting print!

After reading both, we read Snow Lambs by Gliori. It takes a little preparation; show them the map on the end papers. Point out the house and river and tree on it. Various pages through out the story need some pointing, highlighting something in the picture, just a few extra words of explanation. But don’t overdo it. The kids may start off squirmy, but it’s a good story, well told, and they will be quietly engrossed if you give them time. They all want to know what happened to Bess!

Songs we sang:

  • Baa, baa, black sheep
  • 1 little, 2 little, 3 little lambies
  • Cows on the the farm (go moo, moo, moo) to the tune of Wheels on the Bus

This is one of my favorite storytimes! The kids love it, the teachers love it, and I love it! Try it with your groups!


Today’s storytime was a chance to see print awareness, or lack of it, in action. Print awareness is exactly what it says: the awareness of print on the page–letters, words, sentences–and understanding the connection between the print on the page and what is read aloud.

It sounds really easy, really obvious, really simple. And in a way, it is–if you are read to, if you have an adult to talk with you about books, if you are already a reader.

But for kids between the ages of birth and age five, print awareness has to be developed. They do come “pre-wired” with the  drive and ability to learn language (and reading’s one part of that development) but we as adults have to provide the means for the learning to happen. Children are not born with print awareness.

In today’s storytime with kids from a local preschool,  I’m holding up and talking about the book, The Surprise, by Van Ommen. The kids recognize that it’s a sheep on the cover. We talk about wool, and I pass around samples to feel. I show them the first pages. A sheep is standing on a bathroom scale. We laugh at it and talk about what the sheep is doing.

Then I ask them, “What’s different about this book?” I get blank looks.

“What do you notice is missing on the pages?” More blank looks.

I’ve asked them these questions because The Surprise is a wordless book. But the real surprise?  Not one child could tell me that there were no words on the pages. (And it’s not because they are shy; they answered previous questions easily.)

We look at more pages in the book. I hold up another book that does have words and ask them what is different.  (Remember those same and different puzzle sheets you did as a child? Here’s one reason why.) They come up with some very good answers. The other book has a jeep in the picture, it has grass in the picture, there is a bird in the picture.

Do you see a trend here? Everything is about the pictures.

When I finally cover the picture up and ask again what’s different, they all study and study some more.  And at last, one little boy finally gets it. He shouts it out–WORDS!

And then we spend more time looking at the two books’ pages and talking about what words are for, why they are there, how they are different from pictures. They are fascinated as they should be because they are learning something so vitally important about language and how it works.

And without that knowledge in another couple years, they would be lost as they tried to figure out what reading was, how it worked, and why they wanted to learn it.

Final point, the fact that ALL the kids were clueless suggests to me that building print awareness is not happening in those classrooms. And that’s why librarians have storytimes and model to teachers and give tips about what it is and how it works. It’s why we go out into the community and teach classes about early literacy and talk every chance we get about these very simple but essential skills.

If we don’t, it simply will not happen. And that’s no surprise.

Talk on!


I have spent the last couple years looking for not too wordy versions of basic fairy tales to read aloud. And I could just kiss Lucy Cousins for putting together Yummy.

You’d think that fairy tales would be the most natural thing in the world to find in children’s books. But somehow most authors turn them into very wordy stories with terribly complicated illustrations. It’s like they don’t trust the stories to be enough on their own.

But Yummy is different. The illustrations are in Cousins’ signature style–bright, colorful, and simple. And the tellings give just the essentials and nothing more. Yummy includes eight tales from Little Red Riding Hood to the often overlooked Henny Penny. This will be a favorite with your kids for years to come.

Bonus points? Words and sentences that develop print awareness! 🙂



Want to share with parents and caregiver adults what encourages early literacy? Don’t quite know what to say?

The American Library Association’s Every Child Ready to Read @ Your Library website has taken all the work and worry out of the process for you!

Research based tips with scripts have been written for all six early literacy skill areas. They are available on the website free for your use. Stories, rhymes, and songs are suggested and tips are organized by age groups as well (babies to 2 year olds, two’s and three’s, four’s and five’s).

As with all teaching helps, you do not have to feel locked in by the script. Try it in your own words. Adapt it to your audience. And keep your eyes open for when “teachable TIP moments” happen–and point them out! They are some of the most exciting (oh, this stuff really happens! it really works!).

Now the bad news. I find them incredibly difficult to find on the website. So here are the links to take you there. 🙂

What can I say? tips (all ages)

Early Talkers tips (birth to 2)

Talkers tips (2 to 3)

Pre-readers tips (4 to 5)

Happy Tipping!





If you look at the headers at the top of the page under Sunglass Gal or scroll down the left-hand column, you’ll see a new header for Storybox Special.

All info and articles about Storybox will located here for your convenience. 🙂

The best part (I hope) is that I have posted the book lists for each box. They aren’t fancy looking, but each book is categorized by the early literacy skill that it encourages. There are also books to help children with development growth points (like potty training, new sibling) as well as bilingual books, seasonal books, and books to support the child care providers.

There are eight boxes now with more on the way so check back over the months for new ones (or subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed or email notification at the top of the page).

And as always, if you’d like more info on Storybox Special, feel free to contact me.

Happy Travels,


That’s what my grandmother called it when our handwriting was tip tipawful–“chick’n scratchin’.” And that’s what I imagine print on a page looks like to children who are still figuring out what books are all about.

Print Awareness is one of the six early literacy skills needed by kids before they are able to begin learning to read.

If a child has print awareness, they realize that the “chick’n scratchin'” on the page is more than scritchy-scratchy marks on the paper. They realize that the marks make shapes and that a shape is either the same or different  from another shape. And all those shapes together represent the sounds of the language they hear, day in and day out.

You have to think like a child, figuring it out for the first time, to truly appreciate the remarkableness of the discovery.

While any book with words printed in it can encourage the development of print awareness, some make print a little more noticeable. Words might be in color or in a different type style from the rest of the text. They may wander, fly, or splash across the pages. The words may be very few and far between, very big or very small. What they all have in common is that the print somehow stands out, making it more likely a child will notice  and start seeing the print as separate from the pictures–and not just a bunch of “chick’n scratchin’.”

Here are some of my favorites:

  • I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More by Beaumont
  • Freight Train by Crews
  • Tip Tip Dig Dig by Garcia
  • Yikes! by Florczak
  • Rain by Stojic
  • A Visitor for Bear by Becker

Which books do you think are especially helpful in building print awareness?


We had fun with “Mouse and Mice” in storytime today!

We read:circle time

  • Mouse Mess by Linnea Riley has nice rhymes and lots of pictures to talk about.
  • A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker develops print awareness and narrative skills plus you can add fun voices and a suspenseful build-up.
  • Mouse Paint by Ellen Walsh is great for playing with colors afterwards.

We played and sang:

  • Hickory, Dickory, Dock stand-up game
  • Little Mousie fingerplay
  • and Buenos Dias and If You’re Happy and You Know It since it was a new group.

Rhymes, games, songs, and fingerplays are all available under Rhymes & Fingerplays; scroll down the left-hand column.

Have fun!


It was a quiet group today but raucous books!punk farm

On the reading list were books about sounds, music, and dancing.

  • Punk Farm by Jarrett Krosoczka
  • Barn Dance by Bill Martin, Jr. and
  • Click, Clack, Moo by Doreen Cronin

Of course, we had to sing Old MacDonald with the kids picking the animals. And I did finally get them to be a little noisy, filling in the moo’s on click, clack, MOO!

Early literacy skills today included:

  • Print awareness (Click, clack, moo)
  • Narrative skills (sequencing) (Punk Farm and Old MacDonald)
  • Phonemic Awareness (rhymes) (Barn Dance, animal sounds, and Old Mac)

The school year’s still young. They’ll soon learn that it’s ok to talk about books with the librarian and sing and play along. They always do!


This is so cool that Washington State and its law enforcement get the big policepicture here as reported by Molly O’Connor on Birth to Thrive Online. Washington’s definitely to be commended for seeing the larger picture.

Early literacy initiatives see similar results in graduation rates and crime prevention. If children have been read to regularly in the years before they enter school, they are able to learn to read. If not, the vast majority never get the hang of it, leading to everything from dropping out to teen pregnancy to jail time. For kids who are not being read to home, preschools are a lifesaver.

Why does reading aloud work? Reading aloud gives children the chance to develop six early literacy skills that are the groundwork for learning to read. Nothing really has to be “taught” in a formal sense. Read, talk about the pictures and the story, have a good time, and the skills develop.

Here they are:

  • Print motivation (liking and being interested in books)
  • Vocabulary (knowing the words for “stuff”)
  • Print awareness (noticing those “scribbles” on the pages and more)
  • Narrative skills (relating sequences and telling stories)
  • Letter knowledge (familiarity with the alphabet)
  • Phonological awareness (hearing individual sounds and sound units)

Check out my tags for more about the six skills.

Mostly though, go find a kid and read a book!


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