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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Readalouds and the Pregnant Children’s Librarian: A Study

Illustration by Ali Douglass

By the way, I’m having a baby in late May.  Did I fail to mention that before?  Having a blog is so awfully odd, because you’re never quite certain how much to tell (and the case of Melissa Anelli just drills that home).  That said, I’ve been running into a lot of friends and folks who have been struck with honest astonishment when they see the sheer size of my current girth.  I am much with girth.  I am girthified.  As they say in Comedy of Errors:

“ANTIPHOLUS: Then she bears some breadth? DROMIO: No longer from head to foot than from hip to hip: she is spherical, like a globe.”

But that’s not what I came to talk to you about today.  No, I came to talk about readalouds.  Particularly, reading aloud picture books.  Because I think I may have just solved a mystery that many a children’s librarian should note.  This is not my first pregnancy, it is my second, and so I’ve much to compare it to.  Last time I was pregnant there were things I did better.  Eating.  Exercising.  This time I’ve had a hard time keeping myself to task.  Partly this is because I have a different job from the last time I was pregnant.  In 2011 I was a children’s librarian working in the Children’s Center at 42nd Street.  Not long after the birth of my child I became the Youth Materials Specialist for the system.  On the plus side, this meant buying books for the system (something I had always longed to do).  On the downside, I wasn’t seeing the kids anymore.  And I was sitting on my rear for a lot more of the day.  A typical children’s librarian, particularly one who works in a branch that is two city blocks long, can get a lot of exercise in just by doing desk work.  A materials specialist has far less road to travel and a whole lot more time for butt to meet chair.

Most importantly, I was no longer doing storytimes.  Why is this important?  Well, it all boils down to a recent blog piece I saw on 100 Scope Notes.  The title?  I Have Read Aloud Hand.  In his post, Travis Jonker identifies a problem that some of us may have faced, but few have put a name to.  His readers were able to confirm his pain with similar tales of Read Aloud Shoulder and Read Aloud Arm (to say nothing of School Visit Voice).  And as I read it slowly dawned on me . . . read aloud hand . . . read aloud hand . . . read aloud . . . OH MY!

You see, back in 2011 my pregnancy was awesome.  I went to Bologna (note the pregnant me in the drawings) and, yes, my ankles and legs did swell up to the size of elephant calves but it was totally worth it!!  Then I got back to the States, resumed my job, and found myself in a bit of a pickle.  Apparently there’s a form of carpal tunnel syndrome that strikes pregnant women.  It’s temporary and goes away a couple weeks after the pregnancy but brother it HURTS!  I remember having to wear a brace on one of my hands, even when sleeping, it was so uncomfortable.  Naturally at the time I blamed my typing and my blog (forgive me, little Fuse #8).  And maybe that was part of the problem but you know what?  Having to do multiple storytimes in a week, always with the same hand, probably didn’t do me much additional good.

So heed my warning, pregnant children’s librarians of the world! Though you may be as healthy as a horse thanks to your job, beware the Read Aloud Hand.  Go to Travis’s blog and read the ways to avoid getting it.  Because what they never tell you, and what I had to discover the hard way, is that carpal tunnel syndrome in pregnant women probably isn’t helped much by the fact that you’ve been holding up your books in an awkward position week after week after week.

All this was inspired by a reference question today asking if my readaloud reviews were cataloged somewhere on this site.  Kinda.  I will tag picture books I think make good readalouds.   You can see a whole swath of them here:

I also for a while did a series of YouTube videos of me reading my favorite picture books aloud.  It was a series I called Storytime Suggestions.  I did The Noisy Counting Book, Rhyming Dust Bunnies, Fortunately, Me Hungry, and Joseeica Souhami’s version of Old MacDonald.  They give a good sense of how NOT to hold the books over and over again on the job.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Mazel tov, Betsy, on your happily girthified state!

  2. Congrats, Betsy!!

  3. Mazel Tov mama!

  4. Congratulations! 🙂 Glad you’re protecting your wrists now! I remember wearing guards on both wrists for 3 months before having my kiddo and have terrible memories of diapers, wrist guards, holding and rocking for the first few months after birth… probably from holding a book wrong during read alouds right up to my last day of pregnancy! Super careful now…

  5. Feel for you. I still have a bit of carpal tunnel from when I broke my wrist. I’m so thrilled about the next birdie in the oven. You’re always the Best Bets in so many ways.

  6. Yes, many congratulations Betsy

  7. Congratulations! Never mind the achy body parts, I am incapable of reading any story that has a hint of emotion out loud when pregnant. I start to well up, my voice cracks, and I feel the years coming. I read Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson to my grade ones today. Mistake.

  8. Mazel tov – another Wee Oiseau! Although, I’m going to have to up my game and come up with another name…

    I must admit that my hand gets all tweaked out, reading to the nephews, and THANKYOU for pointing out Travis’ cure.

  9. Karen Gray Ruelle says

    Another hatchling! Before you know it, Baby Bird #1 will be reading picture books aloud to Baby Bird #2.

  10. Yes, indeed, many congrats!

  11. Congratulations! How exciting!

  12. On a positive note, think of how many books your baby has heard just because he/she is always along for the ride 🙂

  13. Congratulations!!

    I had my second in November 🙂

    My first pregnancy was very different from my second. Like you, I was much healthier the first time around but I was also less stressed about the unknowns with the second. Even though pregnant children’s librarians may be inflicted with the dreaded read aloud hand, on the upside they’re already starting the ritual of reading aloud to their wee babes. I had a conversation about this with a few children’s librarians via Twitter, which lead to a blog post about reading aloud to your bump:

    Congrats again on your happy news!

    And thanks for sharing the link to your read aloud videos. Love the Noisy Counting Book.

  14. Congratulations!

  15. Congratulations! I think it is great that your good news with your readers. I am continually impressed by how much you do. You really are Superwoman 🙂 All the best.

  16. Congratulations, Bets! Great to know that another little reader is coming into the world.

  17. Aw. My third daughter was born in late May–perfect perfect time to hatch!