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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 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!


Traditional Digital Musical Storytime, by Tom Schween

Digital technology is an exciting new tool in the magical storytime treasure chest that I may choose to take out and play with when the situation calls for it. I want to identify those opportunities and push storytime services forward into new territory.

Photo credit to Janice Gartin

Photo credit to Janice Gartin

My musical storytime today integrates edited soundtracks for each program, children’s sing/move/play-alongs, musical transitions, background music, sound effects, instruments, and theatrical props. I utilize new media tools such as my iPhone, iTunes playlists, wired and wireless speaker devices (bluetooth), Garage Band sound effects, and apps. I am also very keen on finding ways to seamlessly use screens and integrate visual technology.

Stories, songs, and serving up make believe to make learning delightful for children during their wonder years is what storytime is all about (at its core). I am conscious not to make the technology I use the focus. When technology interferes with keeping listeners engaged, it does them a disservice.

New media provides us with new vessels for tried and true early-literacy storytime practices, like reading-aloud, singing-along, and felt-board storytelling. Using technology also has the added benefit of cultivating family computer and media literacy. Storytime, with the addition of new audio-visual layers, has the potential to simultaneously cultivate multiple literacies through the imaginative delivery of both traditional and digital materials.

Photo credit to Ricardo Sfeir and Sandra Chow-Zhang

Photo credit to Ricardo Sfeir and Sandra Chow-Zhang

21st century technology not only offers exciting new options for my storytime repertoire, it’s also a powerful way to promote the benefits of library storytime and at-home reading routines to caregivers. Now is the time to utilize new media tools (such as ebooks, apps, audio playlists, and digital audio and video channels) to expand storytime into digital native turf.

In digital storytime, I can still root today’s young children in tradition. But by looking beyond storytime technophobia, I believe I may reach and teach them even better while cultivating the next generation of storytime devotees (who will undoubtedly take storytime to even greater heights).

Over the past eight years, Tom Schween has delivered more than a thousand musical storytime programs to pre-k classrooms across the San Francisco Bay Area. He is a graduate student studying the crossroads of children’s librarianship and technology at San Jose State University. Tom began volunteering as a certified story reader with Oakland Public Library’s “Books for Wider Horizons” in 2006. He became a licensed Kindermusik educator in 2009, currently works as a principle backstage technician at Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon in San Francisco, and wrote a free online guide to storytime called the Magic Carpet Handbook at
Little eLit is a collaborative think tank of professionals thinking about the topic of young children, new media, and libraries. Individuals who share their viewpoints, experiences, and presentations in Little eLit blog posts are expressing their personal views and do not represent Little eLit as a whole.