7 tips for reading to groups of children

Last week, I was invited to read My Silly Mum to sixty school children aged four to five years old. I’m no stranger to reading to children, having run a weekly storytime session at my current workplace for a couple of years, as well as running playgroups for several years (once upon a time).

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Here are my tips for reading to young school children:

1. Rent a laughing child: If your book is funny, you need that one child who kicks off the giggles. It doesn’t matter if it’s as soon as you open the book, or after the first word – trust me, it’s affirming because that kid gets it. I had one of those children at the book launch also, and his “her-her-her-her” certainly revved up the crowd.

2. Dare the kids: Kids love a challenge. Do I have the silliest mum in the world? Or do they?

3. Pause to ask questions, locate the hidden mouse, and so on: Children love to interact with the story, so include them! In My Silly Mum, the mum makes up weird songs (my son will confirm I did indeed do that). On the morning of the book launch, I made up a silly song over coffee, refined it while I did my hair, and Veronica and I taught it to the kids as part of the reading. I’m keeping it as part of my repertoire.

“I have a dog:
His name is Bill.
He gutsed his food
Till he was ill.
He sicked it up
On Mum’s clean floor,
And Mum let out a mighty roar…”

4. Let your inner child out to play: Make faces, use funny voices – ignore all the teachers and parents at the back of the room (pretend they are cabbages if you have to). They are not judging you. And if they are, too bad. It’s the kids you really need to impress.

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5. Own the audience: You need to win that audience over fast, but you can do it. During the reading I was brave enough to tell my best joke. Those kids were dying to hear the punch line.

Me: Knock Knock

Kids: Who’s there?

Me: Bear!

Kids: Bear Who?

Me: Bear … I can’t tell you, it’s a bit naughty …

Kids: Tell us!

Me: Oh all right. Bear … Bum!

6. Have fun. Chances are, if you’re having fun reading, the kids will, too. If you have your boring face on, you get the picture.

7. Expect random questions and stories: At the school visit I was asked, ‘When did your mum die?’ The next five children told me about their cats who eat ‘mousers’ and their mum who yells a lot. You might want to come up with some techniques for moving those informative stories on: ‘That’s a great story – now, who has a question?

A final tip – if there is any chance of a photographer at your event, scan the room first to make sure there are no half nude men on banners behind you. Sadly, when I shared my photos, more of my friends were interested in who the man/dude/sexy chest was (see non-photoshopped picture below) and what he had to do with the book (no, he is not a book-buyer’s extra) than the brown-haired writer reading her book. True story.

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My Silly Mum was launched (see below for more pics) on Mother’s Day at Rockingham Arts Centre, as part of the Rockingham Book Fair. It’s available from Amazon and Serenity Press, and soon to be in selected bookshops.

PS. If you really want the dude, he’s free from author Demelza Carlton on Amazon here.

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