Wednesday, September 29, 2010

French storytime = French boring-time?

You may remember how excited I was to learn that the Boulder Public Library was offering a French storytime twice a month.

And how I promised to report back right away on what we did and how it inspired me and how it motivated Griffin to speak French with francophone children his age.

And you may have noticed that three weeks have gone by without any mention of the French storytime.

The bad news: it was not good. It was uninspired, uninteractive, and boring.

The good news: it was so bad, in fact, that another mom and I are going to start our own French storytime at the library where I work!

Delphine (the other maman, whom I know through the French playgroup on Monday mornings in Boulder) and I were commiserating afterwards about how disappointed we were:

--45 minutes where the storytime volunteer, a woman from France, just read one book after another aloud to the squirmy kids--much too long for preschoolers to sit through
--no connection among the books--just a random assortment of children's picture books and board books in French
--no songs, nursery rhymes, or fingerplays
--no involvement on the part of the children or their grown-ups
--no movement
--minimal interaction (she would occasionally ask a child to pick the next book or ask the group what color an object in an illustration was)

Delphine and I agreed on everything we didn't like about it and found ourselves saying, "We could do a better storytime than this one." And a few minutes later, we decided we should! One week later, we have obtained permission to meet at the Lafayette library on Friday afternoons twice a month to read and sing and play in French.

Our plan is to ask a different parent to lead "L'heure du livre" (or whatever we call it) each time. We'll provide a format for a 20- to 25-minute session, and they'll plug in the stories, songs, comptines, and activities. (I'll write more about my ideas for the format later.)

Of course, it's nerve-wracking to think about being in charge of a storytime that real live native-speakers of French would attend with their children: I do speak with a noticeable American accent, and I have trouble staying in tune when I sing. But Delphine said something that made me feel a lot better: she told me that she'd much rather have her daughter listen to me read books than the native speaker we endured that morning, because she's heard me read books to Griffin and has seen how I get him involved when we read together.

Besides, knowing that I'm nervous about doing this helps me empathize with other potential volunteers. And hey, if the French moms turn to each other afterwards and say, "oh là là, what an abyssmal accent this woman is exposing our enfants to," we can say, "well then we really need your help! Sign up here to lead the storytime next month."

(Suggestions for a good name for our storytime? for what we should do or not do? for how to publicize it? Please share them via your comments! And if you're a Denver-Boulder-Longmont Francophile and would like to be on our mailing list, please email me at babybilingual AT gmail DOT com.)
Follow-up: to read more about what we ended up doing for our French storytime at the Lafayette Library, click on the label "storytime" below, and you'll see all the related posts in reverse chronological order.


  1. "The good news: it was so bad, in fact, that another mom and I are going to start our own French storytime at the library where I work!"

    Well how cool is that?! I am excited you are taking this on.

    And uhhhh, no offense to anyone French, but when I read the list of characteristics of the French storytime, I thought it sounded, well, very French, lol.

    I know some very good preschools & teachers in France and know that they also prize interaction for young ones, and making things inspired for them, but the storytime you described sounded pretty "old school" French, with little kids needing to sit and listen quietly. There is a lot more of that which is expected in French school than in interaction-heavy American ones.

    Anyway, it's great that you are taking on the storytime. I would say get a Facebook page for it, for sure, and a Twitter would help, too. I use Facebook a lot for reading up on events of places where I want to do things. I "Like" their page, and then know I can always check there for events and so on. It's easier than a webpage in updating that info, IMHO.

    If you make a page, I will "Like" it. :) You never know which of my friends in Colorado might just show up!

    Good luck with it, and you knowwww, if you need help getting books and so on, I'm just down the street from a few good bookshops and can easily order from Just sayin'. ;-)

  2. French for kids (especially non-native French folk) should be fun and engaging. I totally understand why you thought it was horrible.

    You should let us know how your own French reading group goes. I'm sure it'll be amazing!

  3. I was reading through some other France-based blogs and ran into this article backing up what I was writing up there:

    I thought you might be curious to see it!

  4. This is my first time here and I'm excited. My toddler speaks two languages fluently and a third so-so. I've always wanted to learn french and teach it to my baby as well.
    I'm so glad I found your blog. I'm following and am going to use it for guidance in my French journey.

  5. Oh!!! I wish I were close enough to bring my boys! I would, in a heartbeat!!! Maybe when I'm in the area for Torie's wedding....

  6. Good luck, Sarah! I've often wondered about getting something like this going, too - but never did for various reasons.

    I hope it works out and I'll be interested to see how it goes!

    Bonne chance!

  7. Pity you're not in Lafayette, LA. Then you'd have more francophone friends and the French would be local!

  8. Thanks, everyone, for all these great ideas and comments!

    @Karen--You're very right to point out that "sit-quietly-and-listen-to-teacher" is, culturally, very accurate for France. My storytime cohort points out that she's never even heard of "storytime" at a French library, perhaps because preschool is France is free starting at age three and the teachers cover that sort of thing so the librarians don't have to.

    As for FB and Twitter, hmmmm. I'm a reluctant FB user and have never Tweeted before in my life. I have considered a FB page connected to this blog, however, which could be a place to share French storytime info. It's true that it would be super easy to update. I'll think about it!

    The article you linked to was a real eye-opener--makes it sound worse than I had ever heard about. Looks like the book isn't available through Amazon yet (though I'm not sure I'd want to read it).

    And thank you for your offer to help find materials! That's awfully nice of you.

    @Bilingual Baby Momma--Thanks for your vote of confidence! (BTW, I didn't realize that your company had a blog on the website--I'll check that out.)

    @nmaha--Welcome! So glad you dropped by! I look forward to reading your blog too. Good luck with your family's journey to multilingualism.

    @Netta--Yes, please do! Are there storytimes (in any language) in Italian libraries? Or can you at least take the boys to storytimes on base?

    @smashedpea--I know you didn't have too much success with the German playgroup. I'm hoping that the structure of a storytime (a firmly established day and time, with a public meeting place, plus a theme for each meeting) will help avoid some of the common playgroup pitfalls.

    @leaning tower--No kidding! I keep telling my husband we need to take a family trip to Louisiana (and also Quebec).

  9. Hello, Sarah:

    I am so excited to tell you I just bought 32 T'choupi books for my daughter. They were translated in Chinese. And the T'choupi books are very popular in China. My daughter loves them too!

  10. How wonderful! Can you also find the T'choupi videos online? Griffin likes watching them on YouTube.

  11. Hi Sarah, if you need any French book suggestions, let me know. Suzanne continues to be a bibliophile and is very up on current literary trends among French kids :) PS If you want to do an update on her profile and her brother, let me know. There is so much interesting stuff going on.

  12. Thanks, Reb! I'll need suggestions for the next installment of my series for Multilingual Living, first, actually--I'm looking for titles of books in French about homes, rooms in homes, types of homes, household chores, and so forth.

    I would indeed like to do an updated profile of your family! I don't think I have your current email address, though--could you please email me and I'll send you the questionnaire! (babybilingual at gmail dot com)

  13. I was also excited to read about your local library offering a French storytime and was inspired to ask my local public library to offer one. They have just agreed to do so, a Francophone friends has agreed to help, and we are about to start discussing the logistics, so I will be reading and re-reading the posts you've made about your storytimes very carefully! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences so that others can made a great start! I know that my community, which has a very strong French heritage, really needs a successful series of French-language programs for children.

  14. Magnifique! So glad that it will work out for you (and your community). Bravo to your library for being receptive to the idea and to your friend for offering to help plan. Can't wait to hear about how it goes! Will you be writing about it on your blog?