One of the things that I really love about my new status of Stay-at-Home Mom is that I have ample opportunity to check out what the city has to offer in the way of children's entertainment. There are people out there doing something pretty amazing things in the name of enriching our children's youth and bringing us together as a community, if you know where to look. And, if you have a lot of money. Of course, I'm talking free entertainment here, people. (No salary = No money.) One of the things that is really popular in my neighbourhood is the Chapters Storytime. I'm trying to stay open-minded about it because I really (truly!) appreciate what they're doing, but most of the time this half-hour of my life leaves me feeling cold...and bored.
And, although I think what they are doing is fantastic and would be disappointed if the program was axed, I am fully aware of at least one of the reasons behind its inception - to make money. The more people come into the store, the more they buy books. The more they associate the store with a community sensibility, the more they will feel inclined to purchase books only at that store, out of a sense of loyalty. But to my mind, if that is indeed their goal, then the execution of said goals leaves something to be desired.
You have to engage your audience. You can't simply read a book and expect that the children will be interested. You must be animated and engaged. You have to make the pages of the book come alive. At our Storytime, there are constant reminders for people to be quiet. Kids are naturally noisy, the reminders are not generally targeted at them. The nannies and parents are all talking amongst themselves, oblivious to the stories being read. I don't know if it's because their main purpose in coming to Storytime is to socialize, but I can pretty much guarantee that if the reader was compelling enough, not a peep would be heard.
To that end, obviously, Chapters should choose their Storytime leaders with care. But, to be perfectly fair, not all books are created equal. Being an actor, I have some mad reading skillz (when I choose to perform), but some books are really a challenge to make interesting. Many people are huge fans of the Mercer Mayer books, for example, but I find the phrasing awkward and the stories quite dull. The Baby Einstein books are awful. I can't get my mouth around them - there are just too many words. And old or new classics don't necessarily equal great read-aloud fun: The Runaway Bunny and Night Cars are snoozers (hence why I read them only at bedtime). Don't even get me started on books that are derivatives of Disney animated features...ZZZZZ...Whassat? I just fell asleep for a second.
There are some fantastic and dramatic reads out there, though, here are some of my favourites for the preschool and under set:
- Wild Boars Cook by Meg Rosoff and Sophie Blackall I picked this up at a book sale for a dollar because it fit in well with the cooking theme I was working on for Christmas. The boar characters are hilarious, and everytime I read it to my preschooler (or anyone else, for that matter), I get requests for repeat reads.
- Sir Charlie Stinkysocks and the Really Big Adventure by Kristina Stephenson This one reads almost like a script, and is so funny that even adults will chuckle.
- Wild About Books by Judy Sierra and Marc Brown This is an award winner that truly makes the grade. It's funny and informative and an all-around pleasure to read.
- Grumpy Gracie by Sam Lloyd I love books where I can make voices for different characters. And if anyelse like me has some crankalicious children sometimes, this is a great lesson book.
- Silly Sally by Audrey Wood I've read this so very many times, and yet I'm not bored of the simple rhymes and silly pictures. Two thumbs up.
- Belly Button Book by Sandra Boynton Well, who doesn't like Sandra Boynton. I mean, really? This is one of my personal favourites.
And I can't wait untill the kids get older and we can delve into Robert Munsch, Dennis Lee, Shel Silverstein and the ultimate 70's classic (which has been re-released complete with CD): Free to Be...You and Me.
What good kiddie reads get your blood pumping?
(Oh, and if anyone at Chapters is wondering whether I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is - challenge accepted! I'd rock your Storytime! ...But... do I have to wear the uniform? I don't do unisex uniforms. It's so Star Trek.)