When I (Lynne Stringer) was about seven years old the teacher in my class started to read aloud from Charlotte’s Web by EB White. It was my first encounter with this classic, and I fell in love with it instantly. I’m not sure if that was just because of White’s brilliant prose, either. I think my teacher also played a part in it.
When she read the book, she really read it. It was clear she was familiar with it. The ‘voice’ of each character in the story had a different sound. She would change the way she spoke when reading the dialogue of different characters and was expressive in the way she read it. It felt like we were seeing the story unfold in front of us, rather than hearing someone read aloud.
Unfortunately, before she finished the book, this teacher left the school. A substitute teacher took her place. She read aloud the next chapter of Charlotte’s Web. I remember it as well as if it was yesterday. It was an appalling change! It was clear this new woman wasn’t much of a reader. The book went from being something magical to being something dull simply because of the lack of expression and interest she put into reading it. I could tell that she took no joy in what she was doing and that feeling was passed onto the class.
If you are reading to children I commiserate with you if reading is not something that you are fond of doing. That makes it difficult for you. I’m fortunate that I enjoy it and am enthusiastic about it. But I know it can be a chore for some, but the more effort you put into it, the more your child will get out of it.
Try reading the book before you sit down with your child so you know what happens and where it goes. Then try and think about how you would say the lines of dialogue if you were in that conversation yourself. We all speak differently depending on what we are saying and who we are talking to, and it will help keep your child engaged if you try and put that in your voice.
Does a character in the book seem old and crotchety? Try and make them sound that way. Does one seem prim and proper? Is there some way you can express that? Try and imagine it as a movie and how it might play out. This may help you as you try to express it to your child.
As many children’s books are now being made into movies you may wonder if it serves any purpose to do this, but nothing will beat the pleasure your child gets from experiencing the book with you, especially if you try and bring the characters to life for them. It may be something that stays with them forever.