I love reading stories! Especially to eager little ones who sit before me wondering what magic will happen before their eyes once the cover is opened. When a captivated audience is hanging on every word and every turn of the page, it seems as if the half hour story time is only five minutes long. Literally the time flies by! Children along with this Librarian are having one heck of a blast. Comments I usually receive after story time is that I make it look so easy. Well, hate to admit it, but it actually is easy when it's fun for everyone involved. In March, when the schools in our area ask parents to be a guest reader in their child's class, there is an influx of parents in the children's room looking for picture books for themselves. Some parents are hesitate to take on the opportunity while others readily volunteer to read. However all parents have the same problem: they are overwhelmed with the decision of what book to read. Which leads them to ask advice about what books would be best to read aloud. On this "World Read Aloud Day" of 2011, i offer the novice storyteller a few tips on reading to a group of children. These tips will serve well for children of any age or grade.
1. The story should be interesting to you. When reading to children, whether you have an audience of five or seventy-five, choose a book that you like. Your enthusiasm and enjoyment of the book will show in your tone of voice, facial expressions and eye contact with the audience. It is actually no different than speaking in public. However, children tend to be an easier audience than some adults.
Don't Be Afraid To Engage Your Audience Some books are meant to be discussed while the book is opened and others can be discussed when the reader has said "The End." Either way, encourage children to discuss what they have heard and seen during the story. A new favorite book which uses the shapes of hearts to creatively tell a story is Michael Hall's My Heart Is Like A Zoo. Before turning the page, I always stop and ask the children if they can spot the hearts in the pictures and how many can they find. Once the hearts have been counted, the entire group will watch for my signal (usually me pointing to the audience) and say, " Next page, please". Another favorite book to read aloud is Brian Lies' Bats at the Library!. This is a great title that allows children to engage in discussions at the end of the story. This tale is fun to read because of the rhymes but mostly because each of the bats are display different characteristics. Some have glasses so they can read and others find fun games to play like shadows on the wall using an overhead projector. After reading this book, I invite the children to tell me which picture they liked best. The answers of course vary but the outcome is always the same. They each would want to take at least one of the bats home with them to keep as a pet.
Lastly, Trust Your Own Instincts. If you think a book may be too long for children to sit through, you are probably right. There are many picture books that I have used where I wouldn't read the entire book. In some cases, I've left out parts of the story that added background to the plot but not essential, as in The Velveteen Rabbit.. When this happens, I've confessed to my audience that I didn't read the entire book due to lack of time and invite them to read the entire story when they have the opportunity.
In all my years of reading to children, there is one undeniable truth that can not be ignored. Children love to make new friends. Books provide a bridge to begin a friendship and ignite conversations. What other tool can encourage total strangers to share their opinions and emotions? Remember that the stories we share reveals a little bit of ourselves to the audience and what we may have in common with each other.