Thursday, September 5, 2013

Beloved Read-aloud Books

When I was a kids librarian, I had a list of things I looked for in books to read at Storytime. 
Once I'd shortlisted by theme, I'd look for wow factor, so pop-ups were great, not too long, and interactive was a big plus. I wanted as many books as possible with things to encourage kids to look and comment and yell out. And the stories had to read well, I didn't want to be tripping up on words or having to change too much.
Handa's Surprise by Eileen Browne was one of my favourites. It's about a little girl who takes a basket of fruit to her friend in the next village, but along the way different animals steal her fruit, until at the end the basket is refilled in a very surprising way. The kids love yelling out 'the elephant's stealing the mango!' and 'the monkey's stealing the banana'! while the illustrations are beautifully vibrant.
Now, as a parent, my requirements have changed.
While I still love interactive books, pop-up books are a tad delicate for everyday use and come out on special occasions. When I'm not trying to keep the attention of sixty odd wayward tots, 'short' is no longer on the list of requirements. Stretching my kids imagination and enlarging their world, I try to read increasingly longer and more complex stories.
What remains is the read-aloud-factor. If I'm going to read a book aloud a hundred odd times (or more), I want it to flow. I want it to almost trip of my tongue and feel good.
There's a definite delight in finding a picture book that reads well. You would assume that they all would, as basically, that's the main point. Picture books are meant to be read aloud, ideally cuddled up in bed. But it doesn't take a lot to jolt the rhythym, and while there are certainly some that almost seem to read themselves, others I find myself cutting out some words and changing others. 
When I was a kid I used to love listening to my Dad read stories, not picture books, but chapter books. The Jungle Books, the Narnia Books, The Lord of the Rings trilogy (he pretty much skipped everything that Strider wasn't in as too dull, which possibly explained my perplexion when I came to read them later,) The Magic Pudding.
He has a strong Glaswegian accent and he'd roll the 'R' reading Kipling's Rikki Tikki Tavi, as if he was really savouring it. I read Rikki Tikki Tavi to my Poppet recently (my Sprocket was around, but as he was climbing the furniture, rather than tucked beside me, I don't know if it counts), which was the first story without pictures I've tried. She listened enraptured. The words were strong enough. I did change some to make it a little easier for her, but really, I don't know if I needed to. Dad had strong preferences for bedtime reading based on how books read aloud, and how enjoyable they were to read aloud, and now I get it.   
Authors that truly understand the read-aloud are Julia Donaldson (The Gruffalo, The Gruffalo's Child, Cave Baby) and Mem Fox. (Where is the Green Sheep, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes
Both authors make strong use of rhyme and rhythm, and it makes such a difference. I love the beat and flow, and the kids love it too. They can guess the words that come next, they can recite whole passages, there's a familiar structure through the books and lots of repetition. The story can be clever, but the rythym and rhyming is soothing, for them and for me.
Do you have favourite read-alouds? 


  1. Ah, this brings back memories!
    Have you read them: A Squash and a Squeeze by Julia Donaldson? That was a favourite of ours. And a great Aussie book (not so popular with Kiwis!) is Possum Magic by Mem Fox, which has the most delightful illustrations as well.

    1. I'll look out for A Squash and a Squeeze - I'm loving Julia Donaldson! And I can see why Possum Magic might not be such a hit in NZ! I found books about cute, talking rabbits didn't go down well with country kids in Australia!

  2. I totally agree. Some books do just roll off the tongue. I love Mem Fox, she is fabulous. I also like Dr Seuss, especially the Lorax. Lynsey Dodd's Hairy Mclary and Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are are also some of my favourites. Oh, oh, oh, and Eric Carl

    1. Where the Wild Things Are is the best. Some of the lines are just brilliant - almost like poetry - and the illustrations are wonderful! We've been reading a bit of Dr Seuss, but I'll have to dig out Hairy McLary - I bet they'll love him!