When you read to children you become a vital link between the book and the child. It’s your job to bring the two together, so that through your presentation, any ‘magic’ within the pages of the book will reach out and cast its spell on the child.
The physical act of reading sets up the background for this ‘magic’ to happen; you are giving your child your undivided attention, you are sitting together, breathing together and you are sharing an experience. All you’ve got to do is make sure the experience is as good as it can be.
The best books, with their rhythms, rhymes and fantastic characters to give voices to, almost demand to, be read out loud. They invite you to throw away inhibitions and go for a real no holds barred performance. The more you are willing to do this – the easier it will be for the child to ‘get into’ the book. And the great thing is, while you are both having all this fun together they are also learning to read.
That is why buying quality picture books is such an investment- because if the magic is in there, no matter how many times you read it, it never wears out. With each reading the child is going further into what the book has to teach it about sounds, shapes, colours, words, feelings – you name it!
So what gives a book that magic? For me there are two parts to this. Firstly, a book must express something which is true. Whether it’s the grumpiness of a Grinch or the innocence and Zen-like wisdom of a Pooh Bear, what is important is that the observations of the subject are true to how life is – so the book has that ‘I know how that feels’, or that ‘I know someone like that’ factor.
The second part is how well those observations are simplified and caught on the page using the two complimentary tools all picture book artists have at their disposal: words and pictures.
When all these ingredients click together then the magic can happen. You will know when it has because as you read you will become aware through their gasps, their mesmerised eyes or their attentive silence – that your audience is feeling all kinds of feelings.
Of course it helps if you (the adult) enjoy the book as well. Somewhere inside us is the same wonder at the world which children have in abundance. The best picture books speak to that part in us – whatever age we are. So sometimes you may find yourself feeling things too! It’s all part of the sharing. So enjoy the performance. Happy reading – happy sharing!
Jez Alborough is an award-winning author of children’s books. Watch and listen to Jez reading “Nat the Cat’s Sunny Smile”