Reading with your child: The drama of books

So I have always loved to read out loud.  Even as a very young child, alone in my bedroom, I'd read anything from chapters in children's novels to sections of American history out loud for my own entertainment. I would mainly do accents, I would sometimes read as though I didn't know how to read well, and I would mentally put myself in dramatic situations and discover how I would read the passages. Of course, as I got older and the amount of reading I had to do increased, I didn't read aloud as often (we all know it's much faster to read in your head). But I also had theatre to replace this drive, and loved acting, performing, reading parts with friends, and I began writing my own plays at 8 years old. But the point remains: reading out loud can be a lot of fun.

I now have my own small children, and I love reading to my kids. Thankfully, they both are huge book fans and if I get bored reading the same book over, I will try to read it as though I were performing the book for an audience, vary it up, look for different ways to add new elements to the story. I do lots of voices, carry lots of appropriate emotion, love Dr. Suess tongue twisters, love the musical rhythm of other stories, and I love reading dialogue of characters.

Now I'm at the point where I have a young reader myself. My oldest son is 6 years old and just started 1st grade.  He will read the age appropriate books and there are some good ones (and there are some not-so-good ones). My 6-year-old has inherited a keen sense of drama and reads with great inflection and a sense of characters' feelings. But there is only so far you can get with many of these easy readers.

Enter Mo Willems.  Yes, here is a fabulous children's author of everything from The Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed to the Knuffle Bunny books, to the ill-behaved Pigeon series, to Edwina, Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs...I mean, really...I had several of his books independently before I started to realize all these great books were from the same author. Now there is no mistaking his wit, humor and poignancy. The books are fun to read for adults, great for kids, sometimes have a nice message, and I'm glad this generation has a name like this.

And the drama. Do you want to have your child get his/her first taste of reading parts? Of going through a range of situations and wants?  Try the Elephant and Piggie series. These books are so much fun to read with a child. The language is simple, so while they may not be labeled "easy readers," they certainly are. But they are not boring or repetitive. They're told in word bubbles, and often have only 2 character (Piggie and Gerald, the elephant), with a few cameos of other animals here and there. It's the perfect way to start your child in reading for theatre. Try having your child read Piggie while you read Gerald. Then have him/her read Gerald for the next book while you read Piggie. The desires of the characters are often clear, but if not, you can easily discuss them with your child so they feel comfortable taking on that role.  And when you're done, presto. You've performed a little scene with your child. You can take it to the next level and even role play these scenes without the books. Hide behind a rock while you wait in I Will Surprise My Friend.  Stand up and act out the robot, cowboy and clown in My Friend is Sad. Pretend to be pretending with each other in I Am a Frog.  It is fun. It is active. It is engaging. It is theatre.

Tonight, my 6-year-old and I read A Big Guy Took My Ball. He played Piggie and the Whale, while I played Gerald, and we gave each other a big theatrical high-five when we finished our scene. Thanks for making our job as parents that much more fun and that much easier, Mr. Willems.

(But we won't mention all those annoying phrases my 3-year-old picked up from the pigeon having tantrums...yeah...we had to stop that series...)

Share your thoughts: What drama-filled books do you love to read to your child? Do you enjoy reading out loud as an adult? Did you as a child?