How To Read To A Child

Many of you who come by here often visit Shelly over at  This Eclectic Life.   When she isn’t spending hundreds of volunteer hours running a marvelous charity called Share A Square or solving all of the world’s most pressing problems past and present, she actually has a career traveling all across Texas as a storyteller. Well I have to talk with her. You see I don’t remember learning to read and I think it just may be a story teller’s fault.

Somewhere between the day I was born and the Christmas before I turned three, I picked up a new book just given to me and read a poem out loud for the first time. Well to tell the truth, the little, obnoxious brat I was sometimes known to be at the time, grabbed the book from my mother and said, “I’ll read it to you this time!”. I can even remember the very first poem:

A was once an apple pie,
Nice insidy
Apple Pie!

Now I was bright, one of those non-children children who look at adults speaking baby talk as if they have lost their minds, but not genius level smart – just a bright kid. So why was that child an absolutely hopeless bookworm before ever entering the first grade. Well a storyteller did it. It’s all her fault that my house looks like an exploded library.

All the manuals tell you to read to a child every night. They don’t tell you that this is your chance to practice all those acting skills you’ve been saving up for when Hollywood comes to call with that multi million dollar contract. Bees buzz, the wind howls, wigglies and squigglies crawl up legs and arms. Carriages rock back and forth as high speeds carry you away from danger. Shadows and gloom descend, swords flash and slash, and animals of every kind oink, honk, neigh, moo, and whinney. What good is a dragon if your eyes don’t open wide when it breathes its terrible fire, and how can a princess go to a ball if you aren’t dancing around the room.

…And I’ll huff and I’ll puff
…Open Sesame
…The better to see you with my dear
…An Elephant’s faithful one hundred percent

There are picture books and then there are just written books where the storyteller paints the pictures. You’re competing with the TV set for goodness sake … instant noise, instant music, and instant pictures … ones you don’t have to work to see, but a great storyteller shows a child black letters on white paper and says … “here there be magic.” All the miracles of the universe are waiting to dance across your brain, you just have to see the pictures the letters are painting.

… the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas
… By the laughing big, sea water

So the next time you read to a child, rub the latern to release the genie and look up as the smoke billows to form the huge, smokey shape. Quivver under the covers in fear of the growling, giant stalking the room with a fee fi fo and fum. Shriek, laugh, sigh, whisper, and moan, and then at the absolutely most appropriate time kiss first the left eyelid and then the right eyelid, and then the forehead as you send baby out to sail among the stars with letters in their head that spell:

Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes,
And Nod is a little head,
And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies
Is a wee one’s trundle-bed.

If all else fails and nodding does not occur … remember the warning to ill behaved children …

The Goblins ‘ll get you ef you don’t watch out!


About Jamie

Retired Writer Editor - Loves Books, Musical Theater, politics for a good argument, genealogy, Scotland and owls
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One Response to How To Read To A Child

  1. Travis says:

    This essay captures my early fascination with those black marks on the page. I had to know what they meant. I had to be able to understand them. And I had to be able to make them myself.

    I used to read to my sister. It’s a great feeling to have a child’s fascinated attention.


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