“Hello, hello, hello, hello. Hello my friends to you, we’re glad to see you here today to share a story or two. Hellooo,” Wadena-Deer Creek Early Childhood Family Education coordinator and teacher Leanne Ries sings at the start of the Wadena City Library’s online storytime.
The library’s storytime easily transitioned from in-person to Facebook Live on Wednesdays at 10 a.m. with Ries continuing as many of the storytime traditions as possible, from weekly themes to offering challenges at the end instead of completing a project together.
“It just feels like stories are such a great way to both make sense of your world and just to have just a little hope and encouragement and even just a little break from all the stress that the world is right now and it feels like giving that to kids is really, really important,” Ries said. “Their world has turned upside down in ways that they didn’t expect and to give them a little bit of what is normal and even a face that they usually see feels really important to me.”
Ries is joining many others reading online from teachers posting on their Google Classrooms or Facebook accounts to famous people on sites such as Twitter and Instagram. The Los Angeles Times reported actresses, actors and authors reading to kids online as Amy Adams, Josh Gad, Jennifer Garner, Constance Wu, Natalie Portman, Lupita Nyong’o, Reese Witherspoon, Gal Gadot, Camila Cabello, Kerry Washington and Dolly Parton along with paired initiatives for helping with children who are experiencing food insecurity. And Storyline Online features dozens of other actors and actresses with books available 24/7.
While the technology process was simpler than Ries anticipated since she normally doesn’t use Facebook, one of the “unique” changes is not having the kids present to give feedback. Though, Ries knows the children are talking to their devices or people around them. The online format has also garnered a larger audience, with the first video receiving 267 views, the second 200 and the third 701. The in-person story time is usually 50 people, according to Ries.
Each week Ries picks a theme, sharing the book titles with the children before allowing them to guess the theme, which have included spring, being sick, bears and wind. The storytime ends with a challenge, such as look outside your window for signs of spring and participate in #aworldofhearts.
“To be a little piece of that, a little encouraging and hope when it feels kind of scary felt like a great challenge,” Ries said.
People’s responses on Facebook and through emails have been thankful and grateful, according to Ries.
“It feels like a blessing to be able to continue to impact people’s lives with stories and just to be a little piece in their home,” Ries said. “Somebody said, ‘Thanks for being a bright spot in our day’ and to be able to bring stories of the bright spots of someone’s day is pretty cool.”
When the storytime ends for the week, an addition to the online version is Ries singing and waving goodbye, “Oh, it’s time to say goodbye to our friends. Oh it’s time to say goodbye, make a smile and wink your eye. Oh, it’s time to say goodbye to our friends. Goodbye, friends.”
Another local reader you’ll recognize is Jolene Johannes of State Farm, along with the Good Neighbor bear in her first video and now her dogs Otis and Rylie as she is working from home. Johannes decided to read stories after finding the idea through Dani Swoski and the “Wadena Area Family Fun Ideas” Facebook group.
“We want parents and children in our area (to) know that we are all in this together,” Johannes said in an email. “Plus my dogs Otis and Rylie really enjoy showing off their storytelling ability.”
Thus far she and her dogs have shared stories and poems including “Where’s My Teddy?,” “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” and “Messy Room.” Employees, including Becky Wood, have also joined the fun with books such as “The Pigeon Wants a Puppy.” While the dogs are competing for best storyteller, their voices are creatively added, according to Johannes.
“A child asked if Otis the dog really could talk. I think Otis and Rylie are the most popular storytellers. I understand that some kids have watched them quite a few times,” Johannes said in an email.
Free children’s books about coronavirus:
- Download "A Kid's Book About COVID-19" by Malia Jones on akidsbookabout.com.
- Download "Coronavirus: A Book for Children" by Elizabeth Jenner, Kate Wilson and Nia Roberts and illustrated by Axel Scheffler on nosycrow.com.
- Download "Dr. Li and the crown-wearing virus" by Francesca Cavallo on the Free Books website.
- Read "My Hero is You" written and illustrated by Helen Patuck on the Inter-Agency Standing Committee's website. The book is written for 6-11 year olds, according to the New York Times.
- Find books on hand washing and coping with the pandemic through Worldreader's BookSmart app or mobile website bebooksmart.org.