Becoming a Storytime Producer, by Tom Schween
My name is Tom Schween and I have always been fascinated with musical television commercials and music videos (so YouTube playlists make me very happy). I also began collecting children’s picture books when I was a toddler. I got my undergraduate degree in advertising from Loyola and had the good fortune to work on Madison Avenue (as an Account Executive at BBDO) and in Times Square (as a Promo Producer at MTV) in my twenties.
In my thirties I left New York to go west. I took a job working behind the scenes with a musical theater company and studied recreation/leisure at San Francisco State. During this course I was given the greatest academic assignment ever, to volunteer at doing anything I wanted to do for fun. I wanted to read to kids.
During my story reader training for the Oakland Public Library’s Books for Wider Horizons program I was bitten by the storytime bug. Through storytime, I realized I could use my expertise as an advertising and promo producer to promote the values found in children’s picture books and music (versus promoting soft drinks and MTV values). Over the past ten years I have conducted over a thousand storytime enrichment programs in classrooms across the Bay Area.
I look at storytime through the eyes of a producer. Producing musical storytime is a lot like producing musical commercials, musical theater, and music television. You do it in layers: script, visuals, actions, music, and special (magical) effects. It’s your job to find and employ the best tools for each of these layers. By looking at storytime beat by beat, you can weave a program that transfixes your audience. You combine these layers in a live setting to create a dynamic and highly textured sensory (story, music, and movement) experience that ebbs and flows in response to your audience’s needs (check out my Magic Carpet Handbook for how I do this). As Irving Mills wrote, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing!”
Once I realized that I could help others produce entertaining children’s programs, I enrolled in SJSU’s School of Library and Information Science. At SJSU I am now working toward becoming a “go to” expert on producing effective and relevant storytime programs for young children in the digital age. I look at storytime first through the eyes of a producer and a showman, and second as a student of child development and new media. I am interested in producing: 1) programs that entertain and engage audiences; 2) programs that are effective because they take into account the whole child; and 3) programs that employ digital tools in a healthy and appropriate way.
I recently co-authored a presentation that I want to share with the Little eLit community along with my thanks to Cen Campbell and the Little eLit team for their pioneering work in digital storytime. I hope you find it helpful and informative. The presentation is entitled “Digital Storytime: A New Frontier in Early Literacy.”
For my digital storytime music video recommendations, check out the Children’s MusicVideoWOW collection at StorytimeWOW.com. You can find blog posts about each of these videos in the sidebar menu.
Finally, here’s a bit of fun for you. It’s my “great musical commercials” YouTube playlist. Enjoy!