Postman Bear Storytelling Basket

Postman Bear book and teddy bear

I’ve read so much about storytelling baskets that I just had to have a go at putting together one.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, storytelling baskets, or story sacks, are a way of using props to read books with your child.

I went for one of our favourite books, Postman Bear by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. (As you can tell from the pictures, being a bilingual family means that we have the German translation, with a somewhat lengthier title, at home.)

Postman Bear book and storytelling props

I went through our toys and collected those that feature in the story: the eponymous bear, his friends, squirrel, mole and frog, and a cake. A letter (or three, if you know the story) would have been useful too. As you can see, there is no basket to put the toys in but I don’t think this was a problem for us!

My toddler was immediately drawn to the book and toys which I had set out in the living room. We read the book together and I got her to pick out and name the corresponding props for each page. In typical toddler fashion, she then went off and continued to play with them on her own!

It was a fun little activity, and easy to set up too. I’m looking forward to putting together more storytelling baskets. Maybe I’ll even find an actual basket for our props!


Nursery rhyme bag

I’m currently on the look-out for ideas to entertain a two-year old for the times when I’m stuck on the sofa feeding her little baby sister. Our new nursery rhyme bag is an idea I copied from story time at our local library. Nursery rhymes are fun – we love singing in this house – and they also help with developing early literacy. It’s only been a few days but the bag has been a great hit so far.

The concept couldn’t be any easier: you find a bag and hide a few toys or other items that represent various nursery rhymes inside. Below is what we went for. Can you guess the nursery rhymes?

Canvas bag

Selection of small toys

  • Turtle: I had a Little Turtle
  • Hare: See the Bunnies Sleeping (but we also use it for a German nursery rhyme*)
  • Fish: We alternate between a German nursery rhyme** and 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Once I Caught a Fish Alive
  • Bus: The Wheels on the Bus
  • Crocodile: I’m using this for a German nursery rhyme*** (but I guess it would also work with Row Your Boat)
  • Sheep: Baa Baa Black Sheep

At our library, the kids take turns to pull out a toy from the bag. Obviously, at home my toddler gets to pull out all the toys! I’ll ask her what she’s got, and then we (mostly me at the moment!) sing the corresponding nursery rhyme. The staff at the library also use much bigger items such as cuddly toys, which makes sense if you have a bigger audience that needs to be able to see what’s been pulled out of the bag. I like the smaller items for our setting at home. But really, there are no limits as to what can go in your nursery rhyme bag (well, as long as it’s vaguely related to a nursery rhyme).

* Häschen in der Grube, in case you’re interested!

** Zwei kleine Fische

*** Das Krokodil-Lied

New parents? Read this first.

(Photo via Pexels)

So I’m a few weeks into being a mum of two. Life is a bit crazy (but also incredibly lovely) right now, but it is nothing like the upheaval we felt when we welcomed our first child into our lives. I truly believe that nothing, not even the best antenatal class, not even seeing your friends have babies before you, prepares you for the massive life-changing event that having your first baby is – the sleepless nights, the constant feeding, the heavy feeling of responsibility for a tiny human being. Back then, reading helped to keep me sane. So here are a few resources that might be helpful for new parents. I’m not referring to the more traditional parenting guides, but to books, blogs and newspaper columns that are reassuringly honestly about what it means to become a parent:

Sarah Turner, 2016, The Unmumsy Mum. London: Transworld Publishers. (Also see her blog The Unmumsy Mum.) I think this author as well as the following one are often misunderstood as “slummy mummies” who don’t like their kids very much and knock back the gin. However, reading their blogs and books makes it perfectly clear to me that they love their kids dearly and are deeply grateful for them – but at the same time they are simply being honest about how hard parenting can be at times (especially when you are new to the job).

Katie Kirby, 2016, Hurrah for Gin: A Book for Perfectly Imperfect Parents. London: Coronet. (Also see her blog Hurrah for Gin.) Like The Unmumsy Mum, read this and you’ll feel instantly reassured that you’re not the only one who finds it hard to be a parent sometimes. Hilarious “stick man” illustrations.

Victoria Young, Justine Roberts, Adele Parks, 2015, Things I Wish I’d Know. Women Tell the Truth about Motherhood. London: Icon Books. This is a very frank and often brutally honest (but also funny) collection of essays about becoming a mother.

Stuart Heritage, “Man with a Pram” column published in The Guardian. Funny, witty, honest observations by a (then) new dad.

Robyn Wilder, “Up with the Kids” column published on The Pool, (accessed 25 March 2018). Another frank and hilarious account of motherhood, from coping with a newborn to how to juggle life with two kids.

As I said, reading helped (well, helps!) me to keep my sanity during the early baby days. And of course another extremely lovely thing to do is reading books to your new baby. They might not be interested at such a young age, they might not even be awake. But I find there is something beautifully calming in reading to your newborn. And even a sleeping baby will love the cuddles and hearing mummy’s or daddy’s voice. Here are a few suggestions (I’m sure they would make lovely presents for new babies too):

(Photo: own)

Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess, 2010, Blueberry Girl. London: Bloomsbury. A beautiful poem/prayer for a new baby girl.

Emma Dodd, 2015, Love. London: Nosy Crow. With gorgeous illustrations, this book is about the love between mummy rabbit and baby rabbit.

Oliver Jeffers, 2017, Here We Are. Notes for Living on Planet Earth. London: HarperCollins Children’s Books. A non-fiction book about our planet, for very young readers. Beautiful illustrations which will also give you lots to talk about when your baby has grown into a toddler.

Finally, a bonus recommendation which is probably worth every parent’s time, or indeed worth the time of everybody who has some kind of role to play in a young person’s life:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2017, Dear Ijeawele. A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. Glasgow: Fourth Estate. A short read on how to raise your child a feminist, originally written for the author’s friend who had recently given birth to a baby girl.

Have fun reading!

Noteworthy #4

A few Library-related things that I have come across on the Internet recently… (Yes, I am still here, by the way.)

Having a young toddler means I’m reading a lot of children’s books these days, and quite naturally I’m often thinking about the best ways to encourage literacy. I came across a lovely post published on The Imagination Tree on “The Importance of Rhyme in Early Literacy Development” (click here). This is not just about books that rhyme, but also about singing nursery rhymes together or telling rhyming stories:

By singing and re-telling familiar rhymes and rhyming stories we teach or children: – auditory discrimination – listening skills – a rich range of language – concentration skills – oral storytelling / poetry skills -phonemic awareness

The article has some lovely practical advice on how add more rhymes to your toddler’s life, e.g. making a fairy tale story basket.

And, a bit of personal advice from me: take your child to storytime at your local library, because there you’ll get nursery rhymes, stories, interaction with other children and much more – for free!

Secondly this week, I was encouraged to read in The Guardian (click here) that Neil Gaiman and many other prominent authors have written an open letter in support of CILIP’s campaign to stop the decline of school libraries. You can find the full background to the story on the CILIP website (click here):

England currently ranks 23rd out of 23 OECD nations for teenage literacy. We are the only OECD nation where the literacy of 16 -24 year olds is below that of people aged 55 and over. Despite this, school library services are facing disproportionate cuts, resulting in the loss of an estimated 30% of the school librarian workforce.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a tweet by author Matt Haig that really struck a cord with me:



CILIP, 2017. Dear Education Minister, it’s time to stop the shocking decline in our school libraries. [online]. Available from: (accessed 25 November 2017).

FLOOD, A., 2017. Neil Gaiman leads authors demanding action to halt decline of school libraries. The Guardian, 23 November 2017. [online]. Available from: (accessed 25 November 2017).

HAIG, M., 2017. Reading isn’t important because it helps get you a job. It’s important because it gives you room to exist beyond the reality you’re given. Reading makes the world better. It is how humans merge. How minds connect. Dreams. Empathy. Understanding. Escape. Reading is love in action. [Twitter]. 17 November. Available from: (accessed 25 November 2017).

RANSON, A., 2016. The importance of rhyme in early literacy development. The Imagination Tree, 8 March 2016. [online]. Available from: (accessed 25 November 2017).

Public libraries – more than ‘just’ books

What a silly title for a blog post. Books are never ‘just’ books. Books are one of the best things in the world, if you ask me. And my parents would have gone bankrupt, had they had to buy all the books I took out from the public library as a kid. And yet, public libraries offer so much more than ‘just’ books.


(Image via Pexels)

As part of this term’s module on ‘Managing Library Services’, I have been thinking about public libraries a lot. Since I started the MSc, I have always been more interested in academic libraries – very predictable perhaps, since I work in higher education. This term, however, has been an eye opener with regards to the millions of things that public libraries do other than lending books.

Perhaps this is a good time to remind ourselves of the value of libraries, given the news about the plans of Lambeth Council to turn two of its libraries into gyms. What follows is a random list of some great stuff going on in public libraries – just some articles I’ve come across on the internet. And it’s in no way extensive. Of course it’s not. As I said above, there are millions of innovative things that public libraries do!

1. There is the Reading Well Books on Prescription scheme. This is a scheme, delivered by the Reading Agency and the Society of Chief Librarians, by which GPs and other healthcare professionals use self-help reading – with the books being available from the library – to treat mild to moderate mental health conditions. I have just read that the scheme has been extended to young people.

2. A bit further away from home (I did say this would be a random list), San Francisco Public Library’s mobile kitchen, the Biblio Bistro, is used to teach users how to cook food.

3. Libraries also provide information and support for start-up businesses and entrepreneurs, for example through the British Library’s Business and IP Centre National Network. The Enterprise Hub run by Northamptonshire Libraries is part of the network and has won the CILIP Libraries Change Lives Award in 2014. (I could go on about this forever as my current assignment is all about enterprise services. Probably best to stop here though.)

4. Once again looking to the States, libraries are hiring outreach workers for homeless users.

5. Back at home, the Library of Birmingham has been the stage for a play – Hamlets.

6. And New York Public Library users can borrow WiFi hotspots, through the Library HotSpot programme, bringing the internet to many people who would otherwise be on the wrong side of the digital divide.

7. Staying with the theme of technology, more and more public libraries offer Makerspace workshops, were users can try out technologies such as 3D-printing. For example, looking to my home country, the Cologne Public Library.

There we go – just a few examples. I would love to hear about other examples of libraries being innovative. This list has the potential to become very long!


Baby’s first trip to the library

childrens library

(image via pixabay)

Personally, I believe you can’t start early enough taking your child to the library. Consequently, I got my lovely baby daughter a library card when she was just over five weeks old. As we happened to be in the city centre that day, we went to the magnificent Library of Birmingham, which of course you can see on the picture below. They have a lovely Children’s Library  on the lower ground floor and even a small collection of German books for kids of all ages. Since German is my first language, this is pretty cool.

Library of Birmingham

(image: my own)

On a daily basis, however, other libraries are much closer to where we live. Stirchley Library is in walking distance, and we are yet to check out their weekly Story & Rhyme sessions on Tuesday mornings – we’re already going to Baby Sensory classes that day. (Yes, my baby has a better social life than me.) But a couple of my friends with babies have been and I have heard that the sessions are very popular and well worth going too.

And last Friday, we made the short car journey to Northfield Library to go to the monthly Book-a-Boo! session. My baby might have slept through the whole hour of stories and nursery rhymes, but I like to think that she’ll grow up to see libraries as an exciting place full of stories and fun, if we continue to visit them. It was lovely to see the older kids engage with the stories too. And it’s all free!

I had a quick browse of the board books at Northfield Library and got quite excited about all the books – I’m sure we’ll be making best use of the collections in the not so distant future. For now, the baby is quite happy with the small selection of high contrast black-and-white books we’ve got at home.

In short, our libraries are great places (despite all the painful cut-backs on funding) – take your children there! I certainly will continue to do so.

Have baby, will study

If you read back through my older posts, you’ll see that I took leave of absence from my Masters programme last semester. Well, I had a very good reason, I think – I was pregnant with our first baby.

Fast forward to March 2016: our lovely baby daughter has been here since the start of the year and I’ve been back to studying since February.

I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t been worried about returning to study. I wasn’t sure whether I’d find the time to study with a newborn baby, and I wasn’t sure whether I’d even be interested in studying. After all, you only have your first baby once.

Well, so far, things have turned out fine. After all, my course is a part-time programme, so by definition the workload is less than it would be for a full-time programme. And although looking after a young baby is pretty hard work, at least I’m at home in the day and can sit down to study whenever the baby naps. It also helps that I’m still fascinated by the world of information and librarianship. I’m not saying studying with a baby easy – it’s really hard. But here are some things that have helped me in the last few weeks:

  1. This first tip is actually from my coursemate who was in a similar situation a year ago – only that she didn’t even take time off when she was pregnant. That woman is a hero! Read papers on your phone whilst breastfeeding. Especially at night, when there really isn’t much else to do.
  2. This goes along with 1.): use mobile technology. I use Mendeley to organise my references and PDFs, and it’s pretty nifty how you can access your PDFs on any device that runs Mendeley, such as my mobile phone. No doubt other reference managers do similar stuff.
  3. Get yourself a sling. My baby loves sleeping in the sling. She’s close to me, and I have my hands free to type on the laptop. We both win.
  4. Enjoy the ‘me’ time. Most of the time, studying isn’t a chore for me, but something that I really enjoy doing. (It certainly helps that my current module on managing library services is massively interesting.)
  5. Be organised. So, know when your deadlines are. Stay on top of your weekly workload. Easier said than done – but it’s important not to fall behind.
  6. Get support from your family. I couldn’t do this without my amazing husband.
  7. Don’t expect to be perfect. Not an easy task if you’re a perfectionist! But my mantra whilst writing my current assignment has been: you just need to pass, you don’t need to achieve a top mark. (Incidentially, this also applies to being a new parent in general!)

My first assignment is due next week – wish me luck!