Blog Archives

The Obsolescence of Picture Books and Reading to Children

I’m a children’s librarian.  In library school, I learned how to pan books around the room during storytime. I know the importance of dialogic reading.  I cringe when parents come to the desk and ask for a DVD that can teach their kids to do something. I don’t think Dora or the Magic Treehouse books are good literature, but the kids are ravenous for them, so I show them where to go.  My 3 year old has mostly Caldecott winners or honor books in his personal collection at home. I use music heavily in my early literacy programs because kids love it, and when they love it, they learn. I can recite the 6 early literacy skills by heart. I support literacy like a boss.

I am NOT out to replace picture books, or reading generally, with technology. Why do so many children’s librarians think that because there are new tools to enhance a child’s use of the library, that the next step is to throw out every other tool we have? Reading books comes first.  I agree. Children reading together with parents, as early as possible, is the best thing for developing brains.  I agree.  Too much time in front of screens is a bad thing.  I agree. Reading a print book is not the same as reading a digital book.  I agree.

Yay! We all agree! We’re friends! We all love books and reading! So stop getting all up in my grill when I say that it makes more sense to project an iBook on a screen so that everyone in the room can see it, not just the 5 big kids in the front.  Stop making that squinty face when I recommend a good-quality book-based app. Parents are downloading stuff on their smart phones and tablets anyway; would you rather they show their kid the crappy stuff with in-app purchases, bad interface, rampant consumerism and potentially inappropriate content? Step up, grab your library’s iPad, and start using the same content that your customers are using at home.

I am not threatening the 30 years you have spent being very good at your job by suggesting that we learn about new formats for children’s books.  I am not advocating that people read solely on their devices.  I am not making you obsolete. I am not suggesting that we remove ALL physical elements from a  storytime in favour of digital facsimiles.

The digital marketplace is FLOODED with content for kids and people need our stewardship more than ever.  This is an opportunity to expand our skill sets and learn about useful tools that can make us more effective and relevant as information professionals and experts in early literacy.

Read this article from the Guardian. The assertion is that the same things that makes a kid’s book great are what makes kid’s apps great: Great storytelling. Strong characters.

This, hopefully, will head off the crotchety commenters who appear whenever I write about children’s apps for The Guardian, saying things like “You idiot! Children should be reading BOOKS, not staring at a screen!” Ridiculous, since children in even the geekiest households are doing both, not replacing the former with the latter.



I’ve been trying to think of a good name for my digital storytelling project. I brainstormed with a friend and we came up with the following:

  1. eStorytime
  2. iStorytime
  3. iStorySongs (my storytimes are very musical… I wanted it to sound like a high tech, musical storytime)

I wanted to go with iStorytime, but that’s taken. iStorySongs looks good (to me…) but sounds weird when you say it out loud.  So I think the winner is eStorytime.


(Help wanted. Better ideas apply below.)

Feedback from eStorytime Staff Demo

As mentioned in my previous post, I recently demonstrated a digital storytelling session for staff at the Campbell Library.  I got lots of good input from the children’s librarians and managers who were present.

Can we put this up on the website?

I love that this was the first question I got, mostly because I feel that I’ve missed my calling as a rock star and I really want to record some of my storytimes and develop a storytime app that’s available through my library’s website.  Seriously, though, it’s important to define one’s terms. What IS digital storytelling? What my colleague was asking about was what I refer to as virtual storytelling, which is traditional storytelling that is available in a virtual environment, usually through YouTube, an app or some other video streaming service.  The Edmonton Public Library has done a bang-up job of this in their Storytime Station.  We do have ideas about developing some virtual storytelling, but that’s a separate initiative. “Digital Storytelling” refers to using digital media within early literacy programming (storytime!).

What about Public Performance rights for iBooks and  Apps? 

Fair Use applies to apps and iBooks, as far as I understand it (I am not a lawyer, but I think we’d have heard about it if there was a big stink about the rules changing, or modified for a new format). The library is a non-profit institution, the content is used for educational purposes and no money is made.

For what age groups is digital storytelling appropriate?

I’m going to stick to preschool, family and school-aged storytimes for now when it comes to using iBooks and Apps. The NAEYC and AAP are slowly revising their hard-and-fast rules about screen time for young kids, but it’s still generally accepted that screen time for under 2 year olds should be kept to a minimum, and that even after 2, screen time should be limited.  That said, in a digital storytime, there is so much more going on that just showcasing an app; the librarian is talking, singing, moving around, there are other kids, other parents etc.  It’s not the same thing as sticking your kid in front of the TV to keep them appeased for a few minutes. In my personal opinion, an app or iBook projected on a huge screen so everyone can actually see the words is no more screen time than projecting a transparency.  I know of librarians who use powerpoint slides with lists of resources projected on a screen for Book Babies programs (but no other digital content within the program itself). I still don’t really feel good about doing a digital storytelling program for toddlers, though.

Will you be surveying the parents?

Yes! As a part of our pilot project we’ll be surveying the parents to see if/how they liked the inclusion of high-quality digital media in our early literacy programming.  Our library uses zoomerang, so I’ll be working with the head of children’s services at the Campbell Library to develop a brief but telling survey that a) people will actually fill out and b) will let us know what they really think about the program. A grand ambition if I ever had one!

What apps are you using?

I’ll be making sure that all the libraries in my library system who want to partake in digital storytelling goodness have their iPads synced to the iPad that I’m currently loading with fabulous apps and iBooks. I’m also developing a small cache of ready-made digital felt boards that can be used by my colleagues so they have some content that’s ready to go.  Like a storytime in a box, only digital.

For my demo I used the following:

Presentation App: Keynote
Book Based App: Blue Hat Green Hat
Storytelling App: Smoothie Felt Board
iBook: Pete the Cat
Scanned copies of musical notation and Nursery Rhymes

Digital Storytelling Staff Demo

This morning I demonstrated an iStorytime at the Campbell Library for some of my colleagues.  It did not go completely smoothly, which is good, because it means that I can now make a checklist of things that I need to make it go smoothly next time.  What happened was the TV (it was a large Samsung HDTV thing; not sure of the make but will check back on that later) didn’t seem to register the AppleTV.  Turns out all I had to do was change the channel from within the input settings and it would have worked fine, except that the AppleTV was not able to connect to the library’s WiFi (no splash page to sign in on). So next time I need to make sure I have our MiFi with me. I ended up using our projector and a VGA adapter , which meant that I was tethered to the projector (tripping hazard), but given that there were no actual children in the room (it was a staff demo) it worked fine.

So in this no-tech library I would need to have the following technology for a wireless digital storytelling program on the Samsung TV:

iPad: Contains all content
MiFi: both the AppleTV and iPad have to be on the same network and our AppleTV had trouble connecting to the library’s wireless (could also use an ethernet cable)
HDMI cable: to connect the AppleTV to the TV (AppleTV doesn’t come with it, which I think is odd)
AppleTV: little black box that allows you to project content from the iPad onto screen/TV wirelessly

If I wanted to use the projector (on a book cart in the middle of the room: tripping hazard!) I’d need the following:

Projector (with VGA cable)
VGA adapter 

For music I used the iPad and a Logitech Mini Boombox, which is a teeny little bluetooth enabled speaker. I was a bit rushed, so I wasn’t able to sync both the iPad and my Nexus S with Spotify app. That meant a little more fumbling with the iPad (exit Keynote or  iBooks to get to music icon), but we grooved to Hot Potato anyway.

Digital Storytelling App: Very Cranky Bear

The Very Cranky Bear is a tree book staple at our house for bedtime reads, and I was jazzed to find out that Wheelbarrow had turned it into an app.  The app itself is mediocre; some of the interactivity is distracting (collecting character cards that pop out from random places, which accomplishes not much more than making my 2 year old poke the screen maniacally instead of reading the story).

BUT…. this app is great for digital storytelling.  I turn the sound off (the narrator does have a pleasing Aussie accent, but in storytime the librarian is the one telling the story) and read the app through without poking the screen.  There are a number of places where you have to wait for the text to appear, so you have to run through it a few times to get to know where those are.  There is a part that is a wee bit scary (think dark cave with a very cranky bear in it) but I think this would still work for preschoolers, family storytime or class visits.

Digital Storytelling: More iBooks








Yep.  It’s official.  The more I work on this Digital Storytelling Project, the more I realize that a lot of the content I’m going to be using will be iBooks as opposed to apps. There are a few reasons for this:

1. iBooks are closer to “real” books. You can read them straight, just like you would with a book, and ignore any animation, narration or interactivity. Some of my digitally skeptical colleagues report that with iBooks it is more obvious to them that the content is the same, but the format is much more flexible.

2. There’s a lot of good stuff available; I’ve found a number of Caldecott winners and storytime standards like Caps for Sale, Click Clack Moo and Strega Nona. (I’ve been disappointed with app versions of some Caldecott winners; Freight Train is pretty terrible)

3. They load quickly and you don’t have to fiddle with them too much.

Here is my Digital Storytelling iBook Collection so far.  I’ve downloaded a whole bunch in the past few days and I can’t wait to use some of them in my upcoming pilot projects. They’re a little more expensive, but they can be synced to a number of devices, so think of it as 5 books for the price of one!

iBooks in Storytime

I was frustrated trying to find Dan Yaccarino’s Five Little Pumpkins in the App store.  I love the board book and I did it as a rhyme frequently in my Book Babies program. Our Music Together teacher Tricia also does it around October when things get a little spooky. Five Little Pumpkins is not in the app store because it’s not an app; it’s an iBook. What confused me was that’s it’s only $5.99, while other iBooks are usually closer to $11.99.  I got permission to download a few iBooks and I now have a small collection:

Brown Bear Brown Bear
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
Duck and Goose
Five Little Pumpkins
Pete the Cat

I foresee that these might be easier to whip out during a storytime, but I’ll have to give it a go and report back.

Storytime Plans go Digital

Back when I was trained by the fabulous children’s librarians at the Stanislaus County Library to do storytimes in my branch library, I was handed a preschool storytime template by the incomparable Carol Blomquist. I have used this template in various forms ever since, with some modifications for class/school visits and younger ages groups. My challenge now is to take a traditional storytime format like this, and to use digital elements which enhance the program.  Part of my job will be to foresee possible technical snafus and make the process as easy as possible for the children’s librarians who wish to incorporate digital media into their ongoing storytime offerings.

I will be presenting programs in a number of different libraries in our system, so to make this pilot project successful I will have to  keep in mind the following factors (some of which are relevant even without the use of high tech gadgets):

  • age of the kids: preschool or family storytime
  • the size of the crowd: 10 kids or 100? the kinds of apps I choose will differ depending on the size of the crowd
  • lighting: can we see what’s projected onto the screen?
  • outlets: where will we plug in the projector?
  • music: can I just plug my ipod into the wall or are they still using CDs and a boom box?
  • space: is there room to wiggle?

I want to incorporate SOME digital media into the program, but I have to be very thoughtful about where and how.  There are a number of options (yay! more bullet points!):

  • book-based apps
  • ebooks (Axis 360, OverDrive, Ebsco are options, but picture books are few and far between and they’d have to be checked out for a finite period of time)
  • iBooks (expensive, yes, but as my manager points out, when you are able to sync the content among 5 devices, you’re basically getting 5 copies of the book)
  • scanned lyrics, rhymes, photos etc

I’m going to put together some Digital Storytime plans and post them on under the Digital Storytelling Toolkit and I’ll report back on how the implementation of these plans go.

Digital Storytelling: May the Downloading Begin!

I’ve downloaded my first Digital Storytelling iPad apps at the Santa Clara County Library District. We will be running some pilot project storytimes at some of our libraries in the next few months.  These will be special storytimes, not during regularly scheduled programming, probably evening and weekend timeslots. I’ll be using non-digital props as well and using my standard storytime outline (more on that forthcoming).  Next steps for me are to try to locate digital books (not interactive books) through Axis360 or elsewhere (possibly ICDL?) and to play with Keynote and Felt Board.

Here’s what I’ve downloaded so far:

Book Based Apps

A present for Milo $5.99
Bunny Fun Head2Toes $3.99
Blue Hat Green Hat $3.99
Don’t let the Pigeon run this app $4.99
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore $5.99
Freight Train $0.99
Go Away, Big Green Monster $2.99
Monster at the end of this book $3.99
Pete the Cat: School Jam $0.99
Press Here $1.99
Very Cranky Bear $4.99

Other Apps
Felt Board $2.99
KeyNote $9.99

Total: $53.87

Digital Storytelling Collaboration

We have 7 libraries in our library system, all of which have robust early literacy programs and experienced children’s librarians. It’s a big district, though, and children’s staff only gets together once a year (the managers get together monthly).  So the task has been put to me to investigate ways to enable collaboration among all of our children’s librarians.  I had already begun eliciting input from our children’s staff about how they use music in their programs, and I’ve got a running list of apps I’m going to download, so I made it a little more official and added some forms so staff can submit suggestions directly.  Check out the Digital Storytelling Toolkit to see what it looks like.  Anyone is welcome to recommend must-have music or apps for storytime!