Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Getting Ready for Readalouds

Michelle Obama reads to children! Photo by Official U.S. Navy Imagery

As I was getting ready to go to this week's Afterschool visit, I started thinking about the things I do to get ready for storytime. My baby storytimes and preschool storytimes are almost always planned out weeks (or farther) in advance, while I pull my Afterschool books a bit more on the fly. Whether I'm planning in advance or day-of, there are some things I always do to get ready (and really regret when I skip!).

First, I read through all the books I'm planning to read, the scripts of any felt stories, and the text of any rhymes or songs. This may sound basic, but I make sure to read all the way through every book so that there are no surprise endings. My children's services professor in library school told a horror story of picking a dog book on the fly and realizing as she's in the middle of reading it to a group that the dog is not going to make it... Don't let that happen to you! This is also a great chance to make sure that you have all the props you need and put felt pieces in order for easy retrieval.

Especially for new-to-me readalouds, I will often read the book out loud before my program. If there are people in the office, I may make them listen. If I'm prepping at home, I will read to my cat (he is scared of my "wolf voice"). Reading the book out loud helps me catch any bits where the phrasing or emphasis matters. Reading the book out loud all the way through helps me remember where the story arc is going, which may call for a certain reading style. It also helps me determine whether I'll use voices and if I have voices in mind, it helps me solidify them. Of course, sometimes the voice that comes out when I read to a group is slightly different than what I've practiced (which is fine!).

A note on voices: if it works for you, do it. If it doesn't, don't. There are all kinds of ways to read a story and there's no reason to stress yourself out trying to force yourself into a style that's not you. Reading aloud, whether using voices or not, is great for modeling to parents. Both librarians and parents should read in a style they're comfortable with. But also, if you are interested in incorporating character voices, one great way to find inspiration is by listening to audio recordings of the stories. It's not cheating to copy the inflections of the actors or authors reading them!

When you're reading a book out loud before your program, you may discover words that you're not sure how to pronounce. This gives you the chance to look them up and practice before you perform. This is also a great opportunity to make sure you know what tricky words mean so that you can define them for your audience. Don't skip harder words! Defining them for your audience is a great way to increase their vocabulary (and maybe yours, parents', and teachers', as well!).

Putting together all my storytime elements before I perform it (even if it's only an hour before) allows me to figure out what my transitions between books will be or if there is any information I need to share with my kids before reading a book. I'll make an example of the book Carnivores by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat (Chronicle Books, 2013). I love this book and couldn't wait to share it with my Afterschool group, but it flopped a little bit because I hadn't taken the time to read it out loud before I went. I also discovered that many of the kids in my first group had no idea what a carnivore is, which is necessary to understanding the story. Lesson learned!

What are some ways you prep for storytime?