Books can take us to another land. They have the potential to evoke an imagination that brings the unreal to life and can captivate the hearts and minds of even the most uninterested readers.
Great storytellers have been sharing their surreal worlds with young minds for centuries. And the beauty of reading to children is immeasurable. The words, when expressed with the feeling with which they were written, can create a roller coaster of emotion and intrigue. Have you ever read a book that you were unable to put down – even though you knew bedtime was long overdue?
Or perhaps you can recall the torturous anticipation when your class teacher told you it was home time, as you sat on the carpet having just had read to you, the next chapter of your end of the day story?
There is a real gift in how good storytellers tell their stories, not just in how they write. But how they pronounce, intonate and pause in their delivery of what they have written.
Fantastic stories deserve to be read with the passion with which they were written and even a simple story can take on a whole new lease of life when it is read aloud in a compelling way.
As adults who read to young children, it is our duty to make reading one of the most compelling skills to learn. To make books appear more than just black letters on a white page and to use every ounce of our energy, acting and intonation to fully engage with the story and its characters.
Consider the difference between the two examples below:
(Read this paragraph aloud or in your mind in a monotone voice. Do not express any words or voices.)
‘The flea bitten monster once again scratched his large, hairy belly that hung over the dirty cloth which covered his rude bits.
“No!” He exclaimed. “No one makes it out of here alive. That’s the rules.”
Sophia paused to think, cleverly disguising the thought-pause with a long intake of breath as if she were building up to say something profound and important. Only she had no idea until she reached her entire lung capacity what that profound and important thing would be. All she knew, as she slowly drew in that breath, was that it was her most important breath she would ever take. The oxygen that filled those lungs needed to oxygenate her brain enough to come up with a very smart idea. An idea that was so good, it would save her life.’
If you’re a great storyteller you would have found that to be a very difficult exercise!
Now tell the story with the commands inserted below. Notice how it feels different to read the story and be the recipient hearing that story.
‘The flea bitten monster once again scratched his <next 3 words say them slowly with an air of disgust> large, hairy belly that hung over the <emphasise> dirty cloth which covered his <elevate your voice as if you are surprised> rude bits.
<With aggression> “No!” He exclaimed. <emphasise “no one”> “No one makes it out of here alive. <Stagger the words as if there is a full stop between each word> That’s the rules.”
Sophia paused to think, <pause as if you are thinking, then say the next few words speedily to add drama> cleverly disguising the thought-pause with <breathe in long breath staggering the new few words between your breath as you do it> a long intake of breath as if she were building up to say <state in a profound way – as if making a pledge> something profound and important. Only she had <emphasise no idea> no idea until she reached her entire lung capacity what that profound and important thing <drop tone as if disappointing that you do not yet know> would be. All she knew as she <slow down> slowly drew in that breath, was that it was her <emphasise ”most important breath”> most important breath she would ever take. The oxygen that filled those lungs needed to oxygenate her brain enough to come up with a <emphasise very> very smart idea. An idea that was so good, <pause and say the last few words slowly> it would save her life.’
It’s not a skill that comes naturally to all, but it is a skill that anyone can learn. When you know how to deliver stories in an engaging way, every book can become a masterpiece and the reader can glean as much entertainment from reading it as the audience can from listening.
By Gemma Bailey