Saturday, 10 November 2012

What I've learned from reading aloud, by Jane Clarke

Picture books are designed to be read out loud by an adult sitting next to a child – and I adored reading them that way to my sons when they were small. Later on, as a library assistant at Antwerp International School, I read face to face, holding the books open and reading the words upside down and sideways, so that a whole class of children could see the pictures.  I often do that today, on author visits to schools.



Back them, I had no idea that I would end up writing picture books – but without realising it, I absorbed the pace and cadence of a picture book, and I learned:

Different characters have different voices.

From Trumpet the Little Elephant with the Big Temper, illustrated by Charles Fuge

Page turns have drama.


From Creaky Castle, illustrated by Christyan Fox




There are opportunities to vary the speed and tone of the reading.
From Knight Time, illustrated by Jane Massey

Words can be enjoyed for their sound and rhythm.

From Dance Together Dinosaurs, illustrated by Lee Wildish

Jokes and puns in the words and the pictures can be quite sophisticated and enjoyed on two levels – the adult and the child.

From Gilbert the Great, illustrated by Charles Fuge. Charlie slipped in some pictorial references to the Jaws movies.


It’s fun to join in a refrain (but don’t overdo it).

From Stuck in the Mud, illustrated by Garry Parsons

Reading out loud is an important part of the process when you’re writing picture books. It helps highlight where the text isn’t working. I find it hard to read into thin air, but I can usually find an audience of some sort...


Some picture books work best snuggled up quietly, some work best shared with large groups of noisy youngsters. What picture books do you love to read out loud?

23 comments:

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    1. She has to be heavily bribed with doggy choc drops, Ruth

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  2. I often get told off by my nephew who just loves to be read to. When I stop reading to ask him questions about the images I get told very firmly "just read the story!"

    'Roar' is one of my favourites and his.

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  3. I adored reading the Dr Xargles to my kids - in fact anything by Jeannie Willis - but also Shirley Hughes, Dogger was my daughters favourite for months, we knew it inside out and back to front - completely different styles but both perfectly pitched for the stories they were telling.

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    1. Oh yes, I read Dogger over and over - and Dr Xargles Book Of Earth Hounds is one of my all-time faves.

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  4. Can I have more than one?! I love reading Winnie the Witch and The Old Bear Stories out loud. Current favourites are The Pirates Next Door and The Kite Princess which give me lots of scope for using different voices :o)

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    1. Yes, please do have more than one, everyone.

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  5. When my kids were young, many, many years ago, they used to tell me off for using silly voices for the characters. But then I spent two years teaching in a nursery class and they loved my silly voices. Your dog is adorable.

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  6. I read loads of picture books to a whole range of ages when I was a teacher. Older ones loved Sitting Ducks by Michael Bedard. But two books that always went down well, are by David McKee, Two Monsters and Not Now Bernard; plenty of opportunity for silly voices and over acting. But lately, working on a community allotment, the one the toddlers choose over and over, is by Jill Atkins, The Greedy Snapjaw. It’s only avail. as a tiny book which is a shame :)
    Cath Jones

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    1. Thanks for the plug, Cath. I agree with Kathy about Dogger. I've read that with my class at school, my own kids and now grandkids and I never fail to get emotional every time. Jill

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    2. Not Now Bernard is another favourite of mine - and I shall be sure to get hold of a copy of Jill's book.

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  7. The best picture books are where the child never has to tell you off for skipping bits, because there are no words that you want to skip. I loved reading to my children when they were small - The Mog books, Burglar Bill, Noggin the Nog (though he belonged to my own childhood), the list is long. So good that the picture book tradition continues in safe, exciting, colourful hands like yours, Jane.

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  8. And, as well as playing with the voices (I did dire Scottish accents for Katie Morag and co, but of course my innocent children knew no better, bless them!), there's the fun of changing the words to make your own family version. Owl Babie sin our house soon got called Annie, Mary and Susie - my daughter's names - rather than Sarah, Percy and Bill. Lovely post, Jane.

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  9. I love reading anything by Dr.Seuss, as the rhythm just sweeps you along,and encourages you to be a bit theatrical, and also Iggy Peck, architect by Andrea Beaty.

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    1. I adore Dr Seuss, Jo. In fact I'm hoping my son will let me read 'Oh the places you'll go!' at his wedding reception!

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  10. I like Dr Seuss too - in fact I know most of them off by heart by now! Noisy Nora by Rosemary Wells is wonderful to read aloud and the illustrations are beautiful and funny. The best written picture books for me are like music; they have a cadence and flow that sweep you along and a rhythm that sticks in your mind long after you have finished reading.

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  11. As it is some time since I did it I loved anything by Allen Ahlberg especially the poems. Also Winnie the Pooh for which I had really good voices

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  12. Jane, you've got me thinking!
    I adore saying, "Peepo" in the Ahlberg book of the same name. And Campbell's 'Dear Zoo' was also fun as I could put so much excitement and disappointment in my voice.

    Don't be put off by the title - I remember having great fun at Christmas reading aloud Nicholas Allan's 'Jesus' Birthday Party' - lots of grumbling and moaning, with repeated huffing and puffing as the innkeeper runs up and down the stairs to answer the door. Hilarious and the book feels deliciously naughty.

    Plus 'We’re Going on a Bear Hunt' remains a huge favourite when reading aloud to an easily distracted child or groups of children. The clear structure, lovely words (swishy swashy…), building excitement and drama of the bear all allow variations in tone and the speed of reading. Plus at the end we can discuss if the bear just wanted to be friends or was chasing them because he wanted to gobble them up (that depends of the children!).

    I could go on and on. Reading aloud is such fun.

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  13. What a lovely post -and great to see new book suggestions for me to read, as well as some familiar, and some very familiar (thanks, Catherine!) ones. Two of the ones I love to read aloud are Someone Bigger by Jonathan Emmett and Adrian Reynolds, and Malachy Doyle's Charlie is My Darling (illustrated by Stephen Lambert). I also love loads of the other ones mentioned: Dr Seuss, etc and I've recently been re-reading How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen, by Russell Hoban and Quentin Blake to my children, which has the best ever name for a character, which was created to be read aloud again and again and again: Aunt Fidget Wonkham Strong.

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  14. Yes, yes, yes! What fun reading out picture books can be for adults as well as children. What a great opportunity for everyone to play deliciously. And play = mental wellbeing. So reading picture books out loud = happiness all round. Going to find Aunt Fidget Wonkham Strong now. She is going to make me and mine happy, no doubt!

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  15. Like you, I also didn't realise I was studying my craft while reading hundreds of picture books over years to my class of children and now to my own two girls. Unfortunately(?!), they now want to read to me and show me how they read 'longer' books so I have to creep off and do my own PB reading.

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  16. Thanks to everyone who visited and took the time to leave a comment. I've enjoyed reading them all. The books I don't already know I have put on my must read list.

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