Radio Storytime

After the Associated Press published a story about my Radio Storytime, I’ve had several librarians ask me what it looks like. After 6 weeks of hosting the program on KBBI AM 890, our public radio station, I’ve found something that works for my community and is low impact on radio station staff who welcomed me into their system.

And to any publishers reading this,

Thank you for helping me provide storytime. Families (and grownups without kids) love and need it. The calls from kids, videos of at-home dance breaks between stories, and emails all tell the program’s success.

Please extend your gracious read aloud permissions at least through the summer. Families are going to be stuck when school, and the formal support of teachers, pauses for the year. Remote library programs like storytimes, whether via radio, internet, and even phone, will be a bright spot in all this chaotic darkness.

Please also specifically include audio, not just virtual video, storytimes in your permissions. Live storytimes led by librarians on public radio stations have the ability to reach library families with limited or no internet access. The digital divide is getting WWWIIIIDDDDDDEEEEERRRR and young children need the early literacy support and community connection storytime can offer NOW MORE THAN EVER.


I’m going to be honest here. This weekly, hour long family storytime takes me several hours to prepare. As many of you are experiencing, tasks I used to be able to do with little effort are now taking more time, new tools and skills, and a whole lot of learning. I’m not even cutting out felt pieces or prepping art supplies! For me its worth it, but it’s not a program I can take lightly.

Remember: kids can’t see you!

What I need to prep each week:

  • 3 engaging books whose text carries the story without the help of images and, when read aloud, last about 7-10 minutes. (Consider publishers’ read aloud permissions and fair use as it applies to storytime during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
  • Questions or prompts to get the audience thinking about each story. (Think dialogic reading without the actual response.)
  • 6-7 recorded songs, with times, for the movement breaks in-between stories, the beginning and end of the program, and for filler if books are shorter than expected or not many kids call-in. (I can play recorded music because of the radio’s license.)
  • Transitions for between all segments to set up the story or introduce specific actions for the movement breaks.
  • Prompts to engage kids during the call-in portion (talking on the radio is strange, even if kids recognize my voice).
  • Library updates.

Remember: the fundamentals of an engaging storytime translate to radio. You’ve got this!

The Key Parts of Radio Storytime
I try to script out what I am going to say much more than I would for an in-person storytime. My time slot is one hour and the program has to start and end at a specific time. I can’t start late or go over. I make sure the combination of books and music can fill about 40-50 minutes. No audience to make conversation with takes getting used to so I practice books, transitions, etc. a lot more than I would face to face.

Opening Music (changes every week), 2-3 minutes 

Intro: Welcome the audience. Say hello to radio station staff if they are on air with you. Thank the station. Introduce the storytime plan and if there is a theme. I keep it real by talking about how I am feeling or what’s going on that week in the community weather or health wise. (Channel Ella Jenkins or Fred Rogers.)

If You’re Ready for a Story (unknown)
If You’re Ready for a Story bend (to touch your toes) and stretch (like a sea star).
If You’re Ready for a Story bend and stretch.
If You’re Ready for a Story, If You’re Ready for a Story,
If You’re Ready for a Story, bend and stretch. 
(Note about singing on the radio: I am not a good singer. This is the only “song” I sing. Kids know it from storytime so I keep going for it. I prefer to to leave all of the other singing to the recorded artists.)

Transition: Let’s read! Find a comfortable spot where you can hear the radio. Snuggle up with a grown up, a brother or sister, a stuffy or even your pet. I love to read with my dog. 

Book 1: Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes (thanked the publisher, HarperCollins)
Chrysanthemum is the tale of a girl mouse who feels perfect in every way until she faces ridicule for her unusual name. Can you say Chrysanthemum? Do you know what a chrysanthemum is? 

Transition: Yesterday’s rain made me think about our first dance break song. The ants in this song are marching to a beat made with all sorts of percussion. Can you find something to be a drum? Maybe a pot from the kitchen and a wooden spoon? Or your clap your hands together? I like to slap my hands on the tops of my legs to keep this beat as a march dance around. If there are a few of you at home, march and play your impromptu instruments in a line around the house. Don’t forget to march squatting low to the ground like the ants do! The singers will tell you when.

Dance Break: “The Ants Go Marching” by Rhythm Child (3:30) 

Book 2: The New Small Person by Lauren Child (Candlewick Press)
This is Elmore’s story. He is an only child who finds himself with a new small person in the house. And he doesn’t like it. Or does he? 

Transition: That was a long story so let’s do the hokey pokey! Grab anyone at home and form a circle or pretend you’re with us in the station. We’re going to dance with different parts of our body called out by the singers in this blues version of a classic.

Dance Break: “Hokey Pokey” by Mr. Eric & Mr. Michael (2:23) 

Book 3: Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen and Dan Hanna (Farrar Strauss Giroux) This is a very popular book about a fish who is so sad and frowns all the time. His sea friends do all they can to turn that frown upside down into a smile. Get ready for some fun rhyming words!I am reading this book on an iPad and I checked it from the Alaska Digital Library with my library card. 

Transition: While we get ready for the call in part of the show, it’s time for some twisting! This is a new, acoustic version of an old song that involves twisting your body. To do the twist you turn your hips one direction while at the same time turning your shoulders in the opposite direction. 

Dance Break: “Twist and Shout” by Rob Newhouse (2:20)

Call in: What’s your name and Where are you calling from?what do you see out your window right now? 

Library Updates: If you want to remember the book titles I shared today you can visit the library’s website and look for the Radio Storytime page. You can find the song titles there also or check out the HPL Storytime on KBBI playlist on Spotify.

Extra music: “Freestyle Groove #1” by Rhythm Child (3:06), “Jamboree” by The Okee Dokee Brothers (2:24)  

Closing Song: “Goodbye, Goodbye” by Joanie Leeds (2:00)

Miscellaneous notes:

  • I am the only children’s services librarian at my library. I lead storytime, am planning the summer program, manage collection development for kids and teens (physical and digital) and other duties as assigned. I’m comfortable trying something new with a learning curve and multiple iterations, like this.
  • My program airs at 10am on Thursdays, similar to one of the in-library storytimes I typically offer. I physically go to the station right now, but I will do the program from home, if need be. I m in the station with one other staff person. (I live only a short driving distance from the station and we take the necessary health precautions while I am there.)
  • This program is only available live. It is not recorded for future listening.
  • Right now is a great time to collaborate with library staff, community partners, etc. for many reasons; in case you get sick, to share resources, reach more families, etc. We have had a good relationship with the radio station for a long time, so we jumped at the chance to join forces for storytime.
  • The radio station needs the book and song information for their records (radio license.) I email it to them before every storytime. I also post the same information on the library’s Radio Storytime webpage and on the Spotify playlist (songs). Families have asked for the info ahead of time so they can follow along with the paper book if they have it at home.
  • The station can give me stats on live-streaming, but not information on how many people are listening to the show on radio. Consider how you will determine storytime is a success. How will your library, and the radio station, measure the program’s impact?

ALSC has a forthcoming guide to virtual storytimes which has some of my general considerations for audio only storytimes. The sections are being release one at a time and should be available in its entirety soon.

What questions do you have? Post them in the comments and I’ll add to this post as needed.

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