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In praise of reading aloud

South African author Linda Rode is well known in the children’s book world as an avid collector and lover of fairytales.  Having authored three prize-winning children’s books of her own, compiled and contributed to a further 12 children’s anthologies and translated numerous of books and stories for children, her storytelling style is perfect for reading aloud:

Since it’ll be three to four years before the eye is ready for reading, the best source for brain building is through the ear [. . .] Those meaningful sounds in the ear will help the child make sense of the words coming later through the eye. Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook.

It is an undisputed fact that a child being read to regularly is a child happily progressing towards literacy. And the reading can start as early as during pregnancy! Quiet nursery tales, especially sing-songy ones with rhyme and rhythm, are among the best “cradle songs” you can get.

The emotive aspect of reading aloud can be very beneficent – the inflections of the reader’s voice add nuances to the words and enhance the child’s emotional development. Being read to is also an immense help in developing listening skills – a much neglected art nowadays.

Stories with rhymes and a pronounced rhythm are among the best tools to develop a child’s ear for music. There is one indispensable rule for writers of such stories: always read it aloud before you consider it done. To yourself; to your resident cat if needs be. But for a more reliant, really professional evaluation, read it to the nearest kid on the block.

Weaving some possibility of child participation into stories for young ones can be very rewarding. Repetitive phrases engender anticipation in the listeners and prompt them to fill in these phrases themselves along the story-line.

Rhymes as part of the story are also easily picked up and remembered. Any chain story like the Scandinavian folktale of the hungry cat who gobbles up everything in its way is always a favourite, provided the reader invites audience participation. I have had listeners clamouring to be “eaten” every time the “humongously hungry” Gobbledegook meets someone and declares: I have eaten So and So . . . and NOW I think I’ll eat . . . YOU too! Of course, stories like these can become a rollicking affair and are best not read during the bed-time slot.

Reading a story to a child is probably at its most functional at bed-time, when quirky electronic toys and devices are at last switched off. A far better and more enduring gift than the latter is the warmth of the human voice transporting a child to Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘pleasant land of counterpane’.

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