A few thoughts on reading out loud

Now that I’m an official PhD student, I am officially researching children’s literature. It is terrifying, awe-inducing and a privilege, all at the same time. It’s letting my mind race, hugely, nervously, tentatively, into odd places and to self-indulgent places because I’m able to do what I enjoy. And what I enjoy is talking about books. Children’s books, in particular. (I know, for those of who have been following my blog for a while, I hope you were sat down for that revelation 😉 )

So let’s talk a little bit about reading out loud.

Why? Well, why not. But, what I sort of want to do with this post is tell you a little bit about what reading out loud is, and what it can do, and what we’re engaging in when we do this thing that we sort of tend to accept as just what we should be doing and because of that, it’s so ingrained in our consciousness that we don’t really pause to see the great wonder of what it is that we are doing..

(I’ve just had a Twix. Can you tell? Let’s do this!)

Okay. So. Reading out loud to our children, with our children, is a beautiful thing. It is a shared act of reading. It is us introducing them to literature, framing it through our presentation of it to them (oh look at this! isn’t this exciting!) and it is our way of helping literacy develop in our children. It is not the only way, but it is one of our big ways. We bathe our children in words, we let them wash over them from day one, we name our children and we talk, talk, talk to them and with every word, we’re pulling them into the world.

That’s one of the things that reading out loud does (and to be fair, it’s not just one – there’s a multitude of things to be unpacked in that paragraph above), but it’s not the only thing that it does, and this is the part where it starts to get interesting for me. Interesting-er, if you will.

When you read, you’re bringing a story to life. One sentence: “We’re going on a bear hunt”, uttered in real time, to a face or a crowd, and you’re affirming literature. You are bringing the imaginary into the real world because, for that brief and glorious moment of reading the story, you are the story. The story is you. The text in the page doesn’t exist on the page any more, it exists in you.

How amazing is that? It’s like a superpower that we all have: we can be story. 

It’s through that speech act, that simple click and furl of your tongue, that you do it and you do it every day. You bring story to life. You say to your kids, or the kids you look after, or the kids you teach, or the kids that come into your library, that stories are real. You take the time out to go – look at this artefact, look at this thing that I believe in so much that I’m taking time out of my day to read it and let it live, and here’s the thing, here’s the utterly brilliant kicker, you can do it too.

You can make this story happen. You’re making it when you mouth the words along with me, or when your finger runs along the page. You are story and the story is you. 

Every time we read out loud, we’re letting the imaginary live. We’re making it real. We are affirming our belief in the necessity of literature in our world. We believe in fairies. We believe in magic. We believe in words. 

3 thoughts on “A few thoughts on reading out loud

  1. Too true. And we mustn’t forget that in that audience listening to the words come tumbling out is also the reader — you, me — for whom the act of recreating the drama, recomposing the sense of the words, has just as much power.

    It’s for this reason that all our words for practical magic — spelling (Old English spellian “to tell, speak, discourse, talk”), enchanting (from ‘chant’, the act of singing) and glamour (Scottish, “magic, enchantment”, variant of ‘gramarye’ from ‘grammar’ meaning any sort of scholarship, especially occult learning) — involve words. It’s clear — telling stories is a form of magical power.

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