Miss Anastasia’s Tips and Tricks for Creating the Best Storytime

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    Bookseller, storyteller, and TEDx speaker Anastasia McKenna of The Twig Book Shop in San Antonio, Texas, provided booksellers with a wealth of tips and tricks for creating the best possible read-aloud event during the session “The Craft of Storytime” at last month’s ABC Children’s Institute.

    McKenna, who is known as “Miss Anastasia” to her young storytime participants, hosts a regular event at The Twig and is also a traveling storyteller, who arrives armed with books, baskets of crafts, and costumes. At each event, McKenna reads books aloud to the children, then initiates a craft project, and ends with a snack. A sample of the day’s craft project is displayed early on so that parents can decide if they’ll be staying for that portion of the program. “It sort of communicates what I’m doing and the order I’m doing it,” she said.

    To begin a storytime event, McKenna recommended booksellers sit down at eye-level to chat with the kids. “I visit with them, I notice their new shoes, I notice when they’re wearing a cupcake t-shirt and we’re reading about cupcakes. I try not to be that scary stranger who’s five-foot-nine with glasses,” she said. She then sings a call-and-response song, “so what I am doing is establishing myself as the leader of storytime, and they are mimicking me, which is also showing me that they are following along.”  On display behind McKenna are several titles facing out on bookshelves for parents to look at, alongside a box of cookies from a local restaurant, reserved for snack time.

    Before getting into the story, McKenna holds open the smallest book she’ll be reading and encourages the kids to rearrange themselves and get comfortable in a place where they’ll be able to see. She also recommended that booksellers only read books that they are familiar with. “Never go cold,” she said. If a child asks her to read something that she doesn’t know, she will offer to practice it and bring it back for another event or will sit with the child after storytime for a one-on-one reading.

    McKenna also suggested that booksellers employ several techniques to enhance or expand upon the story to make it entertaining and interactive for children. “You don’t know how many faces you already make,” said McKenna, who suggested using a camera to discover what facial expressions might add effect to the story. While reading, McKenna picks out words and text that are written in eye-catching fonts for the kids to say out loud, and she will add songs, find moments for counting objects in the book, and repeat fun phrases. McKenna also uses noises and pauses to control the energy of the room, letting kids get riled up with loud sound effects and then slowing down the story to settle them down.

    Key elements to creating the best craft time start with allowing the participants to be creative. “I do a very lame sample,” said McKenna, whose own artwork is crooked, scribbled on, and has glue exposed so that kids of all skill levels feel the freedom to create whatever they want. For supplies, McKenna relies on recycled items from the store, clearance buys, and off-season products. She creates junk bags with one-off materials to give out for mosaic or mapmaking activities. If parent has to get going before the child is done with their craft, McKenna fills a plastic bag with supplies and sends them off to finish it; if a child hasn’t finished by the end of storytime, McKenna will clean up around them and let them complete their project.

    McKenna is always looking for ways to add flair to storytime and craft projects, and she has found that local environmental or educational agencies can help out. “These people have budgets that you can only imagine. It’s wonderful for them that you have invited them into your bookstore,” said McKenna, adding that participating groups are able to share a couple of comments with the kids, and then stay to talk with parents afterward. McKenna also invites people in who have a particular passion, interest, or hobby, then tells them to “make it pint size” so that the kids can get excited about it as well.

    To find inspiration for storytime and craft ideas, McKenna uses social media and follows local mom bloggers, who can help awaken her creativity. “I look at those ideas and sometimes it just reminds me of something I already did, or it actually inspires me to try something that I wouldn’t have ever thought of,” she said. One of McKenna’s tried-and-true ways to get kids excited about storytime is to break out costumes, like a tutu, a feather boa, or a colorful pair of rain boots.

    Booksellers can follow Miss Anastasia on Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest and learn more about her traveling storytime at www.thestorytimechicks.com. Stay tuned to Bookselling This Week for news about the availability of a video of “The Craft of Storytime” session, made possible by a grant from author James Patterson.