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The Musical Booktalk
For a typical book and story-filled one-day school visit, grades PreK-6, I can present up to three 60-minute assembly programs with 80-200 kids per program. I love to incorporate interactive storytelling, songs, poetry, jokes and riddles, creative drama, wordplay, and booktalks in a spirited exploration of the power of words, with lots of audience participation.
I'll demonstrate how stories travel the world and come from everywhere, and encourage children to join in on chantable refrains and help me with telling and singing. I bring along a "magic box" filled with intriguing props, and tell an eclectic and ever-changing assortment of stories, including ones that incorporate paperfolding, objects, draw-and-tell, and music, for which I use Bigfoot, my skinny little guitar. The focus of my programs is reading motivation and the importance of hearing, reading, and telling great stories. We'll fool around with words and get swept into the landscapes of some wonderful tales, both written and told. The stories we grownups tell and read to our children can stay with them forever.

If I'm presenting separate assemblies for grades K-1, 2-3, and 4-5, each program will be different, geared to the ages and interests of each group, and paced accordingly. For instance, with the youngest children, I use puppets and props and wonderfully silly songs and stories to help develop listening skills and a sense of humor. I might tell "Wide-Mouthed Frog" or "Abiyoyo" or "The Squeaky Door," three examples of sequence stories with chantable or singable refrains, repetition, and a structure that enables children to retell the whole story themselves long after the program is over.

With children in grades 2-3, the stories will be a bit more sophisticated, like "Hoimie the Woim," a slyly funny story they can hear once and tell forever; or a pourquoi or how-and-why story like "Why Dogs Chase Cats." I might have them do some "air writing," on-the-spot composing of new verses for nonsense songs like "The Corner Grocery Store" or Dennis Lee's "Alligator Pie," which we'll then sing with gusto. And I'll booktalk some stellar new or recent children's books to get listeners excited and eager to read them. I bring my own copies to show, but I also love to raid the school library beforehand and pull some good titles from the shelves to talk up.

For listeners in grades 4-6, the wordplay and plot of the stories will be still more complex and thought-provoking, such as "The Revenge of the Terrible Black Snake" or "Prinderella and the Cince." I might recite a narrative poem, or sing a couple of songs where listeners have to solve a mystery, such as "Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder?". For the second half of the hour, I'll elicit children's strategies for picking memorable books to read. We'll compile a chart called "10 Ways to Pick a Great Book" and I'll booktalk examples of irresistible books that fit their categories. Usually, after this assembly, a group of students will, on their own, rush to the front of the room, wanting to examine up close the books I showed them, and tell me about what they've been reading. I hope each teacher will continue this book-inspired dialogue with the class long after I'm gone.

To go along with the student assemblies, I bring several handouts:
  • a master copy of my annotated bibliography of 100 best recent children's books that you can duplicate as a handout or as a holiday or summer reading list for parents, teachers, and children
  • a booklet for teachers of some of the songs, stories I've used in my program, and additional reading ideas to use as a follow-up.
  • If it fits into your schedule, and I hope it does, I will also include (at no extra charge) a one-hour after-school teacher or parent/teacher workshop on motivating children to read with an overview of some of the best new recent children's books and ways to use them across the curriculum — along with another very nice handout, an annotated bibliography of the titles to be covered. Yes, you can also invite teachers from other schools in the district to this workshop.