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Choosing Books and Reading Aloud with Children

Choosing Books and Reading Aloud with Children
Posted on October 11, 2022 by CHS

Reading books aloud with children is a wonderful way to spend time together. As you read books with your child and have conversations about the stories, they develop language and literacy skills. This is also an opportunity for you and your child to spend time together and learn about each other’s interests. Reading together encourages conversations that teach children how to listen and take turns speaking. It also expands their vocabulary, introduces grammar knowledge, and provides children with information about the world. Start by choosing the right books to read aloud with your child.

General Tips for Choosing Books
When choosing books for your child, consider the following three items:

  • Is the book appropriate for your child’s age? Choose books that contain words that are mostly familiar to your child, but that also include some new words. Read the stories first to determine if the topic is appropriate for your child’s level of understanding. Visit the Reading Rockets website for more tips on choosing appropriate books by age.
  • Would the story be interesting for your child? Select books that have a theme or pictures that would appeal to your child, or books that connect your child to things they see at home or in the community. For example, when you go for walks outside, you notice your child is interested in the birds they see. Choosing a book with a bird as one of the characters in the story would likely be interesting to your child.
  • Does the book reflect the values and beliefs you want to introduce to your child? For example, selecting books representing different cultures, ages, abilities, and gender identities can support your child in learning about diversity. Can your child see themselves in the book?

Choosing Books to Read Aloud
When you are choosing books to read aloud to your child or a group of children, the following items can make the story more fun and encourage participation:

  • Illustrations: Are the illustrations easily visible if you are holding the book up in front of a group of children, or sharing the book with one or two children seated with you on a sofa or large chair? This is important because if children cannot see the pictures, they may become frustrated and lose interest. Seeing the illustrations is also important because they give children the opportunity to interpret vocabulary or concepts that are unfamiliar.
  • Interactive: Does the book invite children to participate by using phrases that repeat, words that can be connected to a movement or gesture, or rhyming words that provide a rhythmic sound for chanting or singing? Are there ideas in the book that inspire children to make predictions or ask questions?
  • Clear narrative: Can children easily identify the story’s beginning, middle, and end (narrative)? Identifying the parts of a story and putting them in order is an important language and literacy skill.
  • Variety: Choose a variety of genres, or types of books. For example, use a mix of fictional stories, fairy tales, nursery rhymes, autobiographies about someone’s life, graphic novels, or poetry. Exposing children to different styles expands their knowledge about literacy and encourages them to develop their own preferences.

Tips for Reading Aloud
Read the books by yourself first. If you are familiar with the story, you will feel more comfortable and can spend more time focusing on the children than on trying to read the words. Reading the story ahead of time also gives you an opportunity to discover the points in the book where children can participate, or identify words that children may not know and be prepared to explain them.

Try changing your tone of voice to grab children’s attention. You can make your tone of voice louder for exclamations, or softer to indicate suspense. Use different tones or styles of speech to represent a variety of people in the story to help children understand which character is speaking. Exaggerated facial expressions, gestures, and body movements can also help bring the story to life.

For example, in the book Mortimer by Robert Munsch, a child who is supposed to be asleep in bed keeps making noise. The family takes turns going up and down the stairs telling him to stop and go to sleep. You can use your voice to mimic going up and down the stairs by going from a low tone of voice (bottom of the stairs) to a higher tone of voice (top of the stairs). This helps illustrate movement in the story. Children can be invited to sing the chant Mortimer repeats throughout the book.
The most important thing is to have fun and enjoy reading with your child. If you are unsure of which books to choose for reading aloud, ask the children and youth librarian and your local public library to help guide you. The resources below offer more information about language and literacy development, tips for making reading experiences meaningful, and resources for reading aloud.

References and Resources

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