For Teachers: Identifying Books for Live and Recorded Storytimes with Students

Carla Hayden reads to children in the Young Readers Center on Sept. 16, 2016. Photo by Shawn Miller.

Carla Hayden reads to children in the Young Readers Center on Sept. 16, 2016. Photo by Shawn Miller.

School closures across the country are forcing more and more teachers to switch to remote learning for their classes. As a member of a family with several elementary school teachers, and the parent of a six-year-old, I understand how important it is for young students to have face-to-face interaction with their teachers. Beyond any increased learning that take place when students can see and receive hands-on instruction and feedback from teachers, the simple fact of being able to see and hear from their teachers directly helps to reassure students that their teachers are still there to help and guide them, an important and bolstering message for them to receive during these uncertain times.

As the Library’s poetry and literature specialist, last week I received an Ask a Librarian inquiry from a teacher interested in continuing face-to-face reading activities with her students. She asked:

During this time, as teachers we are planning distance learning for our students as schools are closing. Is there a list of authors that give permission to teachers to video themselves reading their books to post for online lessons?

This question is not as simple ask it looks: While the COVID-19 pandemic has led many authors to offer free online “storytimes” in which they live stream or record themselves reading books for students, U.S. copyright law makes it less clear which contemporary children’s books teachers themselves are permitted to read to their students as part of their online programming. Typically, permission needs to be obtained from the book’s publisher or author, one of which is likely to control the rights to the work. Usually, starting with the book’s publisher is the best option.

The process of obtaining permission from a publisher for any form of reuse of their works is often time-consuming. Fortunately, and encouragingly, many publishers have recently begun to grant teachers permission to live stream or record themselves reading books to their students as part of storytime or read-aloud sessions. Several online resources now offer compilations of which publishers are granting these permissions to teachers, and specific restrictions that may apply. These include:

Each of these resources, for instance, directs educators to Penguin Random House’s statement on “Open License Online Story Time and Classroom Read-Aloud Videos and Live Events” to learn more about how they can use Penguin Random House books for storytime events.

Jason Reynolds, 2020-21 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Photo: James J. Reddington.

If you aren’t sure whether you have permission to offer a virtual storytime for your favorite read-aloud book, try checking its publisher’s or author’s official website to see if one of them has a released a statement about read-aloud permissions.

More generally, you can also try searching Twitter on a string such as permission teachers share to locate additional authors who have granted permission. For example, I learned through Twitter that the current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Jason Reynolds, confirmed with his publishers the circumstances under which teacher recordings of his books may be made.

Though this post is focused on teacher-led read-alouds and storytimes, there are of course many virtual storytimes being offered by public libraries, publishers, and individual authors. I encourage you to contact your local public library to learn more about some of the storytime opportunities available to you, and your students, through it.

4 Comments

  1. Donna Bennard
    March 24, 2020 at 3:08 pm

    Can I freely read aloud, on You Tube, books whose copyright have expired?

  2. Peter Armenti
    March 24, 2020 at 4:55 pm

    Dear Donna,

    While the Library of Congress cannot grant or deny permission to use specific books in YouTube read-alouds, if you can establish that a book is in the public domain and no longer protected by copyright, the book should be free to stream or record online. As noted in a blog post by our U.S. Copyright Office, “once in the public domain, anyone can use a work without permission from the author.” This extends to online readings and recordings of that work.

    Best,

    Peter

  3. Clarisa Hyson
    May 4, 2020 at 10:03 am

    I’ve been reading Dr. Seuss books on FaceBook Live. I wasn’t aware I needed permission. Who do I contact for permission?

  4. Peter Armenti
    May 5, 2020 at 11:18 am

    Dear Clarissa,

    Books by Dr. Seuss are published by Penguin Random House, which provides guidelines for teachers, librarians, and booksellers on creating and sharing story time and read-aloud videos and live events during the pandemic at https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/penguin-random-house-temporary-open-license/. The guidelines note that you need to contact Penguin Random House directly to obtain permission to read one of its book online, and provides a direct link to a permissions form you can complete to request approval. I suggest you review the guidelines and contact Penguin Random House to see if you can obtain permission to read the Dr. Seuss books it publishes through Facebook Live.

    Best,

    Peter

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