Blogger Katie Salo

To Theme Or Not to Theme?

Cheesy blog title aside, I’m wondering about whether or not to use themes in storytimes.

When I first started doing storytime in my library, I needed to have a theme in mind in order to narrow down the myriad of books, rhymes, and fingerplays to choose from.

Then, during the ridiculous Chicago winter weather, I only had two families show up for a storytime and I didn’t want to use a theme and craft that I had prepped for twenty on just two families. Instead, I grabbed some of my favorite books and flannelboards from our in-house storytime collection and presented a “Miss Katie’s Favorites” storytime. It was one of the best and most fun storytimes ever!

Does this mean I’m ready to leap head-first into letting go of themes? No, not really. I’m still new enough to storytime that I haven’t burned out on themes. And there are still a ton of themes that I want to explore! (Especially some of your suggestions for Unusual Storytime Themes!)

But, the spontaneity of choosing books that I’m in the mood for, or simply books that I want to share immediately after finding them — without waiting for a perfect theme — is definitely alluring.

So, what about you? Have you ditched themed storytimes? Or can you not imagine leaving behind the themes? Let me know!

– Katie Salo
Youth Services Manager
Melrose Park Library


  1. Linda M.

    Years ago, when I worked as the only children’s librarian, my six week sessions would have four sessions with themes and two without. Of the two without, one would feature “Old Favorites” and the other “New Books.” I would throw in a “Librarian’s Choice” occasionally as well.

  2. Becky

    When I first started, I did themes. But we’re a fairly small library with a comparatively small collection and I’m the only librarian for children and teens.

    I found that doing themes, #1 caused me to use books that weren’t the best. By looking for books on just owls or snow or farms or whatever, I’d often end up with a book that didn’t hold the kids’ attention or wasn’t that great. #2, looking for just the right book, rhyme, flannel board, etc., took a lot of time and without a lot of extra help, that time is pretty valuable. And again, sometimes those specific rhymes and songs just weren’t as good as the classics. Besides which, I think kids enjoy learning a rhyme or song that we’ve done a few time throughout the year and we wouldn’t necessarily repeat a rhyme about a narrow theme.

  3. Jennifer Wharton

    I tried themes for my preschool storytimes for two years, but realized that the parents didn’t care, the kids didn’t care, and it was too limiting to try to fit everything in together! Now I use a structure:

    long story
    movement (usually a rhyme or interactive storytelling)
    movement (usually a song)
    short story
    goodbye song
    process art project

    I include a flannel in there somewhere – often as part of the nonfiction book. I do still do holiday-themed storytimes and include seasonally apt books and projects, but otherwise I’m free to throw in favorite new books, fun rhymes that don’t fit anything, it’s just so much easier than mashing everything into a theme!

    You can see my Preschool Interactive storytimes here

    1. Katherine Regeimabal

      Wow Jennifer, your website is a great resource! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Natalie

    This is a very empowering conversation to read—not sure whether I am ready to take off the training wheels (aka themes) but this is encouraging indeed.

  5. Sarah Bean Thompson

    I’m still new to storytime as well and my library does themes. I like them and I don’t. I agree with Becky that sometimes with themes you end up picking a book based on theme instead of it it’s really a great read aloud.

    What I’ve started doing is a theme that I have one or two books and a craft that ties in. Maybe a song as well-but I don’t stress as much about the song since those can be harder to find for the theme. Then I repeat one book every week for the month and try to tell it in different ways (one week we read it, one week we sing it, one week I use a flannel board, etc). I also use the same fingerplay, song and closing book every week. This gives me a nice mix of repetition which works well for my toddlers but also makes it an easier way to use a theme since I’m not trying to find four books, songs and fingerplays all around one theme. So far it’s worked pretty well!

  6. Abby

    At my first librarian job, we did not do themed storytimes. At my current library, we do have themes for our toddler and preschool storytimes (we don’t use themes for baby storytime or our afterschool storytimes). Apparently at my library, we used to have an overarching theme for our preschool storytime sessions and then each weekly theme fit into that session theme. We’ve moved away from that, but since the community expects themes, we still do weekly themes. I do think it can make planning easier, as well as stretch me to discover books I might not otherwise have looked at. I really could go either way!

  7. Sarah West

    I sometimes do themes. And sometimes I don’t. In a given session I always do an alphabet storytime, a food storytime, animal storytime and then a seasonal storytime…or two. The rest of my storytimes I do a mish mash of favourites. Themes are good but they can be limiting at times. I refuse to do a book just because it fits a theme. Even if I do a theme I don’t always match all my fingerplays and songs to the theme. There are 11 of us that do storytimes in my system…we all do them different. We all have our own way and I have found that no one way is right or wrong. It is more important that the kids enjoy themselves.

  8. Kathy Buchsbaum

    I find that even when I don’t plan on doing a theme a theme emerges.
    Or sometimes I start doing a theme like dinosaurs and it becomes even more specific such as dinosaurs sleeping.

    But really I have only theme for storytime, FUN!! 🙂

  9. Robbi

    I’ve started using broader themes than I used to so I could incorporate more and like another poster said, I don’t worry as much about the song fitting perfectly. But I don’t think I could leave themes behind as I find it to be one of the most common answers on our evaluations for what they liked best about the story time. But I’ve definitely done Miss Robbi’s Favorites and one session (lasting a month) recently I did my favorites the first week and had little slips of paper for them to fill out with their favorites and those are the books I pulled and chose from to read for the other three weeks of our story time session. That was one of my favorites, hands down. I’ve also done color themed books. So, I’ll do books with red covers, for example, which is nice because they can be about anything!

  10. Robbi

    Oh! And I’m digging the New Books idea and also using the same story but telling it different ways! I will have to try those out! Thanks!

  11. Gina Meinl

    I find this post SO refreshing and validating! I have been in Youth Services for 3 years and I recently decided to ditch themes. I find them so restrictive even though it’s helpful for finding stories, songs, and crafts. I feel like children today are themed to death in school, so why add to that when we can choose whatever we want? I have found that even when I’m not trying to do a theme, one will sometimes emerge, and that’s really fun when a listener points that out. I’ve also incorporated more music into my story time. Generally I follow this format: Opening song, story, fingerplay & body rhyme, story, songs with shaky eggs, flannelboard story, parachute, and closing song. I repeat the same songs for 3 weeks, then switch it up. I think the bottom line is that as long as we’re enjoying what we’re doing, the kids will too!

  12. Liz

    The most fun I had was my “Friends Eating Friends” storytime. Ugly Fish, Tadpole’s Promise and I had a couple more I can’t think of right now.

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