Any child can tell you the best story times come just before bedtime, involve wearing comfy pajamas and require your friends — even stuffed ones — to be nearby.
All those elements come together for a fun time with the Stuffed Animal Story Time and Sleepover beginning at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Miller Branch Library, 8701 S. 28th St., according to Tiffany Nelson, branch manager at the library.
"This is our third time," she said of the event. "We always hold this on spring break." That week is ideal for the special story time event because children are out of school, families are looking for activities and the library is open later than usual that Tuesday evening, she added.
Nelson said she got the idea for the event online. It includes several stories, some songs and a craft project, just like other story time events at libraries across the region, and it is open to all ages.
"I just say 'children of all ages,' but probably preschoolers and elementary age children are going to enjoy it more," Nelson said. Children ages 2-9 make the best audience, she said, because they still have an interest in having stories read to them and an interest in stuffed animals.
"Last year, I want to say we had some older kids come," she said. "One was 10, and we've had a few babies, too."
What makes this event different is children are encouraged to come dressed in their pajamas and to bring along their favorite stuffed animal friends for a fun-filled sleepover. Once they get to the library, children are asked to fill out a form about their stuffed toy friends. The forms ask for things like the stuffed animal's name and his or her favorite food. The children are also asked to draw and color a picture of their stuffed animal to serve as an identification picture and to make a name tag for their stuffed animals to wear.
For the stories, Nelson said she always reads "Goodnight Moon," written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd, which is a personal favorite. The craft this year will be based on "Goodnight Moon" as participants make a window looking out onto the night sky like the window the characters in the book look through.
Otherwise, "I try to switch it up each year," she said. Other stories this year will include "Knuffle Bunny" by Mo Willems and "Llama Llama Red Pajama" by Anna Dewdney.
"We usually sing a couple of songs," Nelson continued. "I usually use a flannel board and stick a star on there, and then we sing 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.'" Another favorite song is "These Are My Glasses" by The Laurie Berkner Band.
"I just love that song, and the kids respond well to it," she said.
Parents can plan on staying at the library anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on their interest level, Nelson said. Once the crafts and stories are done, they are free to remain and look through the books the library has to offer.
When the story time is over and everyone is ready to leave, the children can say goodbye to their stuffed animals for the sleepover. Sometimes this can lead to second thoughts.
"There's always at least one (child) every year that doesn't quite want to let go of their stuffed animal," Nelson said. "In the past, there was even a parent who was trying to get his kids to not be so attached to the stuffed animals."
Christina Walrod of Fort Smith brought her children to last year's Stuffed Animal Story Time and Sleepover. There's Evelyn, 8, twins Rhett and Hutch, 6, and Dwin, 3. The 3-year-old had a hard time leaving her stuffed animal — Dwin said he is a "nice crocodile" — last year, Walrod said, but all of the children had a good time.
Walrod and her husband also have an 18-month-old, and Walrod is pregnant with twins once again. Finding free, family friendly events at the library is very important to them, she said.
"We do have to be frugal about how we spend our money," Walrod said. "People get too caught up in 'There's nothing to do around here.' You've got to look for things. Free stuff like events at the library, that keeps us going."
Anxious children can pick their stuffed animals up at any time Wednesday after the sleepover.
"We're open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. the next day," Nelson said. "We usually have a couple kids there when we open the doors, but they can pick them up at any time the next day."
The first thing Evelyn Walrod did when she got her sock monkey, Socrates, back after last year's sleepover: "I hugged him," she said.
Along with their stuffed animals, children will also get pictures of the things their furry friends did during the sleepover. Some pictures from last year's Stuffed Animal Sleepover show the various creatures crawling over the stacks of books, checking out the indoor book drop slots, reading more stories and sleeping in a pile on the floor with Nelson when they called it a night.
"One of the perks of my job here is all of the fun things for kids," Nelson said. "I just like handing them a stack of funny pictures with their stuffed animals."