The librarians did it. You could say they’re the reason I became a writer. Every Friday morning at 10:30, I took my infant son to the Rockrimmon library for storytime. The sweet red-headed Laura was my favorite children’s librarian, but I considered them all genius-fairies who knew everything about books and children and could protect my child the rest of his life from all possible disasters and minor scrapes.
But really, they simply knew how to choose good picture books and read them out loud to half a dozen or a few dozen children and their mothers sitting cross-legged on the carpet.
The storyteller did everything right to make it a magic hour. She had us sit on the floor, for one thing. I like to sit on the floor anyway. Lying belly-down on the carpet is how I grade papers, read, write letters, balance my checkbook, fold origami, and talk on the phone.
She sat in a billowy old armchair, the kind of chair stories should be read aloud from: wing-backed, lovingly worn in the center of the seat cushion, faded retro upholstery. On one side of the Storyteller’s Chair was the black flannel board on an easel. On the other side stood a small square table where three or four books were partially opened so they would stand. More books, stacked with covers obscured, waited their turn—which was part of the magic because I couldn’t see the titles and had to wait, too. That stack teased us into wondering, What books are those?
Every storytime had a different theme—ducks or seasons or snow, if it had snowed recently, or penguins or fire trucks, if it was Safety Awareness Week. Or trains. I remember the first time a librarian read Donald Crews’s Freight Train to me. She turned the pages slowly and showed us the vibrant colors of each kind of train car. Red caboose at the back. Orange tank car next. More storyteller magic: the hushed intensity of her voice when she spoke the final words: Going . . . going . . . [slow page turn] . . . gone!
Freight Train has no plot, really. Yet it has movement, buildup, and climax—just with a handful of adjectives (all colors), train car names, and illustrations. How did he do that?
Enamored. That’s the word I use when I try to explain what happened with me and children’s literature. I decided to write picture books, not because I thought I could but because I wanted to be part of that world.
So, you could say, I am a writer because of the librarians.
After storytime, my son and I went to the picture-book section and chose books to take home in plastic grocery-store bags. We checked out so many books that the scrunched-up plastic handle dug red welts into my palms. Eventually, I switched to a durable canvas shoulder-tote.
Why go to a children’s storytime if you’re not a child or have no young children? Remember the Albert Einstein quote: “Play is the highest form of research.” When you go to storytime, you become like a child at play with words. This is one form of the writer’s research. Here are five more reasons you might want to consider storytime this week.
1. Hear a story out loud.
No matter what genre or age group you’re writing for, reading your work out loud is one good step in the refining process. When you hear a storyteller read aloud someone else’s book, you begin to know what sounds, rhythms, and patterns you find pleasurable.
2. Relax and be read to.
Consider it a treat, like a visit to the hot tub or coffee shop. When was the last time someone read aloud to you? When did you recently sit down for nothing but the joy of hearing good words artfully woven together?
3. Practice noticing.
Listen to the words. Find details in the illustrations. Tune your ear to the storyteller’s inflections and why she chose to read in that tone.
4. Support and encourage librarians.
How many children’s librarians have seen an adult sit in on a children’s storytime without any children? This would make their day! And to support a librarian is, indirectly, to support authors. Besides, storytime gets you in the library, and you’re likely to walk out with a sack of books.
5. Transfer the practice to your own work.
This goes back to #1 above. Remember the sounds, rhythms, and patterns you found pleasurable at storytime. Then see how you can work the same effects into your own writing.
Monica Sharman is a home educator, freelance editor, and author of Behold the Beauty: An Invitation to Bible Reading (forthcoming in 2015). She invites you to connect with her via Twitter (@monicasharman), Facebook, Google+, or monicasharman.wordpress.com.