100 Scope Notes
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What’s Your Storytime FAIL?

During the annual White House Easter celebration this past weekend President Obama read Where the Wild Things Are to a group of children (I was hoping for Beekle, but oh well). Things were going great.

Then the bees attacked:

Having experienced story times interrupted by all manner of bugs (also: bodily functions, rogue runners, and once, a poorly hidden Nintendo DS), I feel your pain Mr. President.

What’s your storytime FAIL? Let’s hear it in the comments.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. If Mr. Obama wants a really good post-presidential job, I suggest one working with kids. He was awesome handling this.

    • Travis Jonker says:

      The “you’re Wild Things, you’re not scared of bees” was a good save

  2. Oh man, I’ve also been interrupted by spiders, flatulence, students throwing pebbles and such, (no Nintndo DS’s, though) but the worst for me was when I worked in a public library, and a patron came over and interrupted the storytime by shushing me and yelling me that I was much too loud. That was kind of embarrassing,

  3. As much as people like the idea of reading out loud in the outdoors, a lot can go wrong. A caterpillar got stuck on my tights once while doing an outdoor storytime. I’ve also had outdoor storytimes derailed by passing garbage trucks and people mowing their lawns. Probably the best/worst was one time I arrived at the park minutes before storytime was to begin to find a dead bird on the grass where the audience was to sit. It was the only shade in the whole area and already 70 degrees, so I had to figure out how to move a dead pigeon with items in my car’s trunk. I’m glad we don’t do regular outdoor storytimes at my current library!

    • Travis Jonker says:

      Oh, wow – yeah, you never quite know what you’re gonna get when things move outside.

  4. Wow, he is a natural librarian! Handled that like a champ!

    I am blanking on the worst fail, but yesterday I was reading The Skunk to kindergarteners. At the very beginning, where the skunk shows up on the doorstep, I asked the kids: what would you do? One said he would shut the door and never come out. “How would you get groceries?” I asked.
    “Oh, I’d just send my wife.”

    MY WIFE! You’re 5!

    The best part was that a dad was in the library volunteering and he said, “No. You should always get the groceries. Trust me.”

  5. Sam Bloom says:

    Dude, I have SO MANY that it’s hard to choose just one…

    Our meeting room has a very strange little alcove where two walls almost come together… a few months ago we were dancing to a song and a kid got his head stuck in the alcove. As you can imagine, there was a great deal of screaming involved. (His mom eventually unstuck his head, if you’re wondering.)

    I once was invited to an outreach event at the local YMCA, and in their great wisdom they set me up to do storytime in one corner of the gym… while a pick-up game was happening just a few feet away. Not a good environment for storytime!

    • Travis Jonker says:

      Ha! I love the idea of trying to read a book as a game of basketball is happening feet away. That’s never gonna work

  6. Not a story time, but baby time. I was very new to the field and it was one of my first baby times and I started I just had one mother and baby, (our branch does not get sign ups, and often low attendance for baby programs, the community isn’t to into them I guess) then about 5 minutes in another mom and baby came, so I was like ok, we will start over, going good, 15 minutes pass, another mom and baby show up, I am like umm, ok we will start over…it was so bad, and I am pretty sure I am the reason why those mom’s never came again…

    • Travis Jonker says:

      That’s a touch one – what to do when people are slowly trickling in

      • I just usually continue with the program and not start over. Sometimes if I don’t have to cover I will talk with those who came late and show them the books that were done earlier, to see if they want to check them out or read them if they are interested in staying after the program.

  7. I’ve made the mistake more than once of reading a story to my students and I’ve never read it myself! The very first time I read Morales’ “Just a Minute!” I started to cry in front of all my 1st graders. I was so choked up, I almost gave up reading it. The story is a trickster tale about a grandmother who cheats death…and for all of us who have lost a grandparent…sigh! It is a wonderful story and I read it every year. But I have to prepare myself for it.

    • Travis Jonker says:

      I see this as the best kind of fail – I think kids forever remember when the reader shows emotion during a story. Thank you for sharing!

    • I had the crying problem when I was a substitute teacher and I decided to read the kids in a 3rd or 4th grade class The Lorax, it had been years since I read it, and it hit me hard…

  8. Well, I’m doing a story time on a little beach right by San Francisco Bay this Saturday. I truly hope I don’t have a story to tell you Monday, but I may…

  9. It didn’t happen to me but my favorite fail happened to my friend Lori. She was doing storytime and a little kid (who was actually named Rocky) loved her so much that he decided to offer her the ultimate compliment. He bit her neck.

    Nom nom nom.

  10. One time I was doing storytime with a group of kindergarteners. While I was reading a group of students came into the library, and as they were leaving, one student totally tripped. He got up and left ( he was just fine), but I got the giggles and could NOT STOP LAUGHING the rest of the story. The kindergarteners had not seen it happen and had no idea what had happened to me. Pretty sure they thought I was crazy.

  11. I was reading a story about moms to a group of first graders and afterward asked a question about their own moms. A little one raised her hand and quietly told us she didn’t have a mom. She had died. Not a funny fail I guess, but forever changed the way I bring up moms. or dads, or grandmas, or …..

  12. Projectile vomiting. ‘Nuff said….. ;-)

  13. Alison L. Morris says:

    I was reading Shoes by Elizabeth Winthrop to a group of preschoolers at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis when the child closest to me tugged on my sleeve and said, “Um, excuse me – where are your boobies?” I thought maybe I’d misheard him so I asked him to repeat his question, to which he (of course) asked again, “Where are your boobies?” as the other kids stared at me expectantly. His mom, sitting across the room holding a child of breast-feeding age, did a classic face palm, while I paused for a pensive moment before replying, “They’re hiding inside my shirt right now,” to which the child nodded his understanding and allowed my reading to continue. I wouldn’t exactly call this a FAIL, but it was a memorable blip on the storytime radar – and one of those moments when I was glad I wasn’t reading to kids of mixed ages, or I’d have certainly lost half my audience to giggling! ; )

  14. Brian Wilson says:

    Ooh, I’ve had a few:
    My very first story time as a professional librarian a kid projectile vomited (like Lyne’s comment above). I was reading Froggy Gets Dressed. I read, “It was cold. Froggy woke up…” and suddenly BLAAAAAAATTTT!!! Talk about baptism by fire.

    Another one: I was recently reading Great Gracie Chase by Cynthia Rylant and I pointed out that the dog Gracie runs by a Hot Dog sign and I said “Hot Dog!” pointing to the sign. Well, this made one boy start laughing hysterically and he kept yelling “hot dog!!! hot dog!!! ” and the laughter spread to the whole group. I have no idea why they found it sooooo funny. It took me around 30 seconds to get them all to compose themselves. I said “okay, yes that’s a very funny thing to say–let’s all say it together on the count of 3–1-2-3 HOT DOG!!!” and luckily they got it out of their system. But the 30 seconds felt more like 30 minutes.

    A funny one: wild creatures don’t just wreck outside story times. I was reading to a bunch of kids in our story time room (inside) and all of a sudden a kid screamed, backing up, pointing at the floor. Then other kids started to scream. And the adults in the room screamed. There was a huge spider on the floor. I remained oddly calm (I’m not really afraid of spiders but still I didn’t want the thing jumping on me), scooped the spider up with a piece of paper, excused myself, went to our lobby, set it free outside, and then went back to the room. I answered questions like “did you kill it?” I said “I set it free”. “What if it comes back?” “Oh, I think it found another place where it can listen to stories. Now where were we?” I continued but I noticed the kids were eyeing the door as if the spider would return. I don’t remember what book I was reading, but if it had been Aaaargh…Spider! then that would have been quite fitting.

  15. Not exactly storytime but it involves a child: I was hosting an adult book club discussion about The Age of Innocence and a woman brought her son. During our discussion of all of the strict rules and morality of the Victorian setting, the boy ran in circles around us…until he stopped next to my chair…and bit me.

  16. My very VERY first babytime / storytime… A delightful little wonderer decided to slip behind me and play with the mouse connected to the overhead media projector. As I am singing along wondering why the mums sudddenly stopped singing I look over my shoulder to the horror of seeing my perfectly scheduled plan of songs simply spinning by…. Up and down up and down. My stomach churned.

  17. Shanna says:

    I once had a kid open the emergency exit and set off the alarm during storytime. By the time I got the alarm shut off, all of the families had left. :-( Luckily we were at the end of storytime and only had the craft left, but it was not fun.

  18. One boy in the day care that came to story time decided to try a hand stand and everyone had to try…