What is in your back pocket? I don’t mean gum or lint. I mean, what tools or skills do you have that you can use at a moment’s notice? When I was growing up, I was serious about acting. Constant advice to all of us theatre kids was to “always have a few monologues in your back pocket.” That way, if the director wanted to hear something else, we could showcase our preparedness and versatility.
When I interviewed for the position in Las Vegas that eventually led to this career, there was a section that tested candidates’ flexibility. First, they asked how I would showcase books about a non-fiction topic in a program for school-aged kids. After answering that, the interviewers threw me a curveball. How would I change that program on the spot if preschoolers showed up for it instead? I was going to use butcher paper to make a giant volcano as a side-view with Earth’s layers visible. Once the younger set arrived, though, I was going to shift from facts to imagination by leading a sensory-filled description as we took a hike through the various strata. (Example: “Ooh! Tiptoe quickly. This magma is hot!”) I didn’t preplan any of this. It has been a decade since the interview. With all that I have forgotten, somehow that stuck.
While the program that I planned was not in my back pocket, several parts of it were. I had created displays with butcher paper when I was a dorm resident assistant. I had read several non-fiction books with fascinating illustrations of Earth’s layers. My childhood was rife with imagination games. I remember taking a movement class in preschool where we were supposed to move as if the floor was coated in honey. See? I pulled from a pocket filled with experiences that were useful in that specific situation.
Improvisation is not just a specialty for actors. There is a reason that library conferences host Battledecks competitions. It isn’t just because seeing the “Hey girl…” memes while hearing librarians giggles is a riot. (Though that, too). It is because, as much fun as thinking on your feet is, it is also an essential skill for us.
This morning, my colleague, Clare, realized that she had double-booked herself. She asked me if I could cover her story time for a visiting Pre-K group. I agreed. This was at 9 a.m. The group arrived at 10:15 a.m. My colleague had prepared a craft and selected books based on the teachers’ requested theme. However, it was up to me to find some “back pocket” linking songs. I had to find appropriate ways for kids to vocalize and to move.
The theme was “Community Helpers in the Library.” “If you’re happy and you know it…” became “If you love the library and you know it…” We did the American Sign Language (ASL) sign language for “library.” One of Maisy’s friends in Lucy Cousin’s Maisy Goes to the Library, sings “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly.” So, we sang that song and did the accompanying movements when the book was done. I also couldn’t find a CD that features the library songs that I wanted. So, I did a chant/rap in call and response style. All along, the stories were participatory. Kids repeatedly crossed their arms and said, “I don’t want to!”–the refrain from Beatrice Doesn’t Want To by Laura Numeroff and illustrated by Lynn M. Munsinger. They roared like lions during Library Lion by Michelle Knudson and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes.
Guess what? My “back pocket” is not only stuffed with stories and songs. I also have a bit of academic know-how there. The American Library Association’s Every Child Ready to Read served as my guide. Once they drew on Clare’s lion-mask craft, the kids had participated in all five types of activities with me (talk, read, sing, play, write). Of course, there is still room there. I constantly have more to learn. A “back pocket” is ever-expanding. What do you want to put in yours?
Your back pocket is:
- Always with you, wherever you go
- Available anytime anywhere
- Your repository of skills and knowledge
- Always keep filling that pocket.
- Use it.
*Many thanks to Clare Hollander for editing this blog.
Anna Francesca Garcia earned her Master of Library and Information Sciences Degree from the University of North Texas and has worked for almost a decade in public libraries in Nevada and Missouri. She earned the nickname “Jukebox Banana” because her “back pocket” in college was full of Broadway show tunes. Now, Anna Francesca shares this music with her seven-year-old daughter. The girl prefers Kidz Bop.