When it came to reading in front of a group in elementary school, the only thing I was comfortable doing was reading aloud. When it was my turn to volunteer, I’d always raise my hand and speak in a low voice. Books and I got along well. I’ve never been much of a performer in the sense of performing voices or being openly goofy, even as I became less shy in my daily life. However, after having children, I found a newfound enthusiasm for including voices and sound effects into my reading sessions.
When we reach a comical point, and I hear yells of “again! again!” from the audience, it gives me those moments that parents hope for, when it appears like we’re doing okay. Finding the perfect books for you to read aloud is, in my opinion, the key to a successful read-out performance. Here are a handful of my favorite picture books…
The Day the Crayons Quit and The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
It’s not just that these books are visually appealing, but that each crayon has its own story and consequently its own personality. When beige is voiced in a heated debate between orange and yellow over who is the genuine color of the sun, it’s a lot of fun to watch. Parents who read to their children with extra vigor their favorite color’s story win extra points.
The Pigeon Series by Mo Willems
The Piggie and Elephant books by Mo Willems are some of our family’s favorite childhood favorites (and those characters are great for silly voices). For me, Pigeon is the funniest character since he continually wants something and never seems to be able to obtain it. A single picture book depicts the complete spectrum of human (or, more accurately, avian) emotions: hopeful, proud, begging, angry. When it comes to reading these novels to my sons, I can confidently declare that Meryl Streep pales in comparison.
I Don’t Like Koala by Sean Ferrell, illustrated by Charles Santoso
In this story, Adam hates his toy koala, who adores him. For me, good content begins with a book’s emotion (see Pigeon above). Laughter can be had between Adam’s protests and Koala’s overtures and attempts to win her over.. Koala’s position in the book is non-speaking, but I enjoy adding amusing grunts, “hmms,” and other sounds to the proceedings. It makes me laugh out loud if I pull out a large two-page drawing of Koala’s face and show it to her by accident. Priceless.)
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, illustrated by Lois Ehlert
In certain cases, a book’s rhythm is more important than its characters. As you shimmy and dance your way through this riotous alphabet adventure, you can experiment with tempo, tone, and timbre. For those of you who think Adele and Taylor Swift are catchy, you haven’t heard the rhythms of Martin and Archambault—be prepared to have the song in your brain for days.
Instructions by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Charles Vess
Let your Morgan Freeman, your Oprah come out of you with this book. Gravitas is required for Neil Gaiman’s fairy tale-inspired life advice. Even when you’re reading aloud, it feels like you’re a participant in a magical experience.
The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak
How are you going to sell this to your children if there are no graphics or characters? Aha! By forcing the adult reader to utter whatever utter gibberish appears on the page in order to understand. Try as you might, you can’t avoid sounding ridiculous while reading this book aloud. What about that? Isn’t that one of the things our children like most of all?
Rosie Revere Engineer
Rosie is a talented maker of gizmos and devices who aspires to be a great engineer, even if she appears quiet during the day. Once she learns that her great-great-aunt Rose (Rosie the Riveter) still has one unfulfilled ambition: to fly, Rosie gets to work creating a device to fulfill her aunt’s wish. Rosie, however, finds the innovation a failure as her device only hovers for a few seconds before crashing. The only way Rosie’s invention can be considered a failure, according to Aunt Rose, is if she gives up.
When a hungry fox, an owl, and a snake interrupt a mouse’s promenade through the deep, dark woods, the mouse flees. In order to protect himself from being eaten by the Gruffalo, the mouse devises the Gruffalo! This creature had dreadful claws and tusks in its terrible mouth, as well as knobby knees and turned-out toenails, as well as a toxic wart at the tip of its nose, as described by Mouse. However, Mouse appears unconcerned. It should be noted that a gruffalo does not exist…
Miss Clavel is in such pain! There are 12 girls in Miss Clavel’s care, the youngest of whom happens to be Madeline, a naughty little spitfire. Fearlessly mocking the tiger in the zoo, she frightens Miss Clavel with her daring activities. Regardless of her size. Doctor Cohn rushes appendicitis-stricken Madeline to the hospital, where she discovers a scar on her stomach two hours after she awakens the entire family with her wailing. They find Madeline’s scar, as well as the flowers, toys, and chocolates sent to her by her father, fascinating when they make a special journey to visit her. Children love Ludwig Bemelmans’ melodic lyrics, and the strange, curiously flawless drawings of the sisters in “two straight lines” give this timelessly popular children’s book a delightfully Parisian flair.
Mike Mulligan And His Steam Shovel
As a metaphor of industrial America, Mike and his steam shovel Mary Anne excavate canals for boats to move through, carve mountain passages for railways, and excavate the cellars of buildings for the metropolis. But as technology advances, new machines will replace them, and the once-inseparable pair will be out of a job. It’s up to Mike and Mary Anne to prove Mike wrong and save Mary Anne from the scrap heap by digging as much as a hundred men can in a week. Everything that happens after that is a testament to their friendship, as well as old-fashioned hard work and creativity, in the small town of Popperville.