“Read it toopid!” I can still hear the little munchkins’ imploring voices. These were the kids I babysat when I was a teen. My favorite time of the evening (and theirs, too, I suspect) was bedtime, when I’d read a few books aloud to them. Since Jake and Adrienne had somewhat of a fixation on Babar, let’s just say that after a couple of dozen times through the book, I not only developed distinctive speaking voices for each character, but occasionally even veered from the storyline so that Babar and Celeste engaged in some activities Jean de Brunhoff never committed to paper. Diverting from the regular text was a popular technique, affectionately dubbed “reading it toopid!” (‘toopid’ being toddler-speak for ‘stupid,’ of course).
As the years passed, I headed to college. As more years passed, and as I discarded one major after another, I finally settled on a field of study in which I could read aloud, for pay: teaching.
Sure enough, my favorite portion of the day when I taught elementary school was the time just after lunch, when I’d read aloud to the kids. We time-traveled back to the nation’s pioneer days thanks to the Little House books, and explored our native Indiana’s environs with “Freckles” and “Bears of the Blue River.” I never could make it through the spider’s death in “Charlotte’s Web” without getting a bit choked up.
What is it about reading aloud? It is not, as some suspect, a talent natural to everyone. Listen to a struggling reader tripping over names during the scripture recitation at church, or shudder as an uninspired librarian reads through a children’s book with no inflection whatsoever, and you’ll appreciate just what a difference fluent, nuanced reading can make.
I no longer teach for pay, but I’m happy to report that my own children have grown up with all the advantages that a wide range of read-aloud sessions can bestow: lessons from the Bible, brought alive through Bible storybooks … America’s past, made real by hearing “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn” read after dinnertime … and of course, humor as well, courtesy of many readings of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.”
Now that my girls are too old for many read-alouds, I find myself anxious for other children to read to. My piano students frequently become targets of a picture book that might relate, however tenuously, to a musical concept. Always, always, the characters sound friendly, or scary, or quirky. There are sound effects, pauses, and maybe even laughter or tears.
Because that’s what good oral reading involves. If the kids happen to fall in love with books — as I did — so much the better. Who knows? It may even lead them into a job.