Sharing a fabulous story with a child or classroom of children has the power to quickly draw you close to each other and develop trust. No wonder parents and children have been telling stories throughout time.
My love affair with great children’s books and beautiful poetry goes back to my own childhood. My mom was an elementary school teacher, an unpublished author and poet, and an avid collector of great books. I still vividly recall many specific books and poems she read to me that to this day, make me smile. I’ll share a few of my favorites on another post or two.
The first and most important ingredient in this process is to find a children’s book that absolutely thrills you. C. S. Lewis once said that “a children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” I could not agree more. Finding these gems requires some research and work on your part. There is so much twaddle out in our schools that it is truly disheartening. “Twaddle,”a word used famously by the British educator named Charlotte Mason, means “nonsense, trivial or foolish.” Twaddle in the form of these ubiquitous and boring “children’s” books just ensures that many young readers will just not want to make the effort it takes to learn to read. When you are mesmerized by a book’s words, the rhythm, the illustrations, the setting, the story, the meaning, or the humor, etc., your enthusiasm will ooze through the retelling and you will truly be delighted to read the pages. Your child or classroom of children will sail right into your delight.
The second most important factor in enchanting a child with a high quality story is to know it well enough to create anticipation. Children absolutely LOVE this! One of the ways I do this in storytelling is that as the tension or drama is building, I take a peek at the following illustration and say something like, “Oh my, I’m not sure I should show you what happens next…” With raucous delight the children plead to be shown the next page. The anticipation is strong and when I turn the page, a predictable ooh and aw, or laugh ensues. You can’t overuse this technique but once or twice in a story where drama is repeatedly building can add so much fun.
The third most important factor in enchanting a child with a beautiful story is to ask at least one question during the early to middle part of the book. If you as the adult ask a strategic question, the child is able to give an opinion or answer or comment and thus become even more invested in the story. Additionally, asking a question or two will let you know if clarification of a detail is necessary to the child’s understanding of where the story is going. Alternatively, if the story has a repeating phrase from page to page, ask your child or the class to repeat the phrase when you cue them. Child adore doing this!
Finally, you must bring your own tone or attitude to the story. If you love the story, there is a reason why you do. Is it sassy? Is it hilarious or sarcastic? Is it serious? Do you “get” the main character and can portray him or her well? Do you like to use different voices for the various characters? This interpretive tone communicates to children that you respect, love, or value this story and that you are a fun and interesting person.
Stories are beloved by children and adults alike. Soap operas and blockbuster mini-series are watched by millions because they tell an ongoing story and leave the hearer in suspense. Find a children’s story that enchants you and read it to a child. He or she will think you are the greatest person ever.