When I was teaching English and elementary grades, I had many opportunities to hear students practicing for oral interpretation events in upcoming speech competitions. I listened to “Binker” by A.A. Milne, “The Black Cat” by Edgar A. Poe, and many other dramatic readings of stories and poems more times than I can count. All of the
students did their best to bring their readings to life.
Do you do the same when you read to your children? Do you just read the story? Or do you “ham it up” by changing your voice as you become each character? Can your child tell by just your voice whether you are a frightened little pig or the Big Bad Wolf? Can you be a convincing troll as the billy goats try cross the bridge?
When you narrate a book without much conversation, do you pay attention to the punctuation? Do you read faster or slower, emphasize words, and adjust the volume of your voice to create a mood? In a book like Who is the Beast? by Keith Baker (you will find this book among those at the end of the link), can you put some fear into the lines “The beast, the beast! I must turn back. I see his stripes, yellow and black.” Can you put a sense of puzzlement into the lines “Who is the beast? Who can it be? I see no beast. I just see me.” as the tiger wonders whom everyone is afraid of?
Some books beg you to read them aloud, and as you play with the words and chants, the child will want to join in. In Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag, your children will easily pick up the refrain of “Hundreds of cats, Thousands of cats, Millions and billions and trillions of cats.” The Gingerbread Man, The Three Little Kittens, The House that Jack Built, Love You Forever, Green Eggs and Ham, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, and probably hundreds of other picture books feature these repetitive lines. Ham them up!
The Dr. Seuss books, Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner, Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler by Esphyr Slobodkina, the Steven Kellogg version of Chicken Little, and more poems than I have room to mention all lend themselves to playing with words and sounds. Children love sounds, so make the most of alliteration, assonance, rhythm, and rhyming words — with some funny faces when appropriate — and you will delight your children and probably have some fun yourself. Allow yourself a second childhood when reading and ditch your inhibitions.
If you practice these hints, not only will you be showing your child how to read with expression, you will also have a wonderful time. You may even discover you have a flair for drama buried inside. Let it out! Ham it up! And do it often!
Most books referred to above can be found at your local library. You can read the reviews of many of them and see the cover art on my web site.