A love of reading: tips to make storytime a success

Felix Clayton sits on Julie Long's lap as she reads a story to to the rest of the class at the Wiradjuri childcare ...
Felix Clayton sits on Julie Long's lap as she reads a story to to the rest of the class at the Wiradjuri childcare centre at the University of Canberra. Photo: Dion Georgopoulos

Story time is about so much more than reading. It’s a time for readers and listeners to bond: a book, a lap, a connection that sets up a positive relationship not only between people, but with books as well.

It begins with babies enjoying the warmth of your company and the sound and rhythm of a voice, long before they can understand the words.

But anyone who has ever tried to nurse a squirmy toddler knows story time can be fraught with danger.

Check out storytime at your local library.
Check out storytime at your local library. Photo: Supplied

Julie Long has a Bachelor of Education majoring in children’s literature and is the president of the ACT branch of the Children’s Book Council of Australia. She is also a life member of the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature, based at the University of Canberra.

On May 9 she’s presenting a session on Engaging with children through picture books for educators, parents, grandparents and everyone who loves sharing books with children.

“If storytime is a relaxed and happy time, it helps build positive relationships between the reader and listener and shows that reading is an enjoyable thing to do,” Long says.

“Storytime develops children’s imaginations and can give them opportunities to escape from the real world into colourful, safe imaginary places.”

Here are some of her secrets for a successful storytime.

Know your product

Read and re-read the story yourself so you are familiar with the voices in the story, the places for dramatic pause before you turn the page, where to vary your pitch, tone, speed, accent and volume.

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Many picture books have enlarged print as a clue for you to speak louder or small print where the author wants you to be quiet. But you need to know where these come up in the story to have maximum effect and to engage your listener with the action.

Feel comfortable reading out loud. Read aloud with passion because you are engaged in the process of reading too. It’s about the listener. Be prepared to read and re-read their favourites. Have fun reading yourself and children will pick up on this.

It’s all about routine

Have a reading routine or ritual and keep to it as best you can. Have a time, place or particular chair (or couch or cushion) for reading time. Be prepared to use this in times of stress for soothing or distracting a child.

Libraries have a range of activities including craft days with a book theme.
Libraries have a range of activities including craft days with a book theme. Photo: Richard Briggs

Model a love of reading even if it is simply newspapers, magazines, shopping catalogues, the television guide or recipes. You are modelling lifelong reading as a skill and a natural part of daily living.

Love your local library

Drop in and let the children browse and borrow without rushing. By being allowed to borrow, children learn that they are partners in the reading time. They will start to think of books as something they have the power to make decisions about. Take them to Story Time sessions. Look out for free holiday program brochures at the library. Libraries have a huge range of free activities which have nothing to do with books. Check out your local library and see what is on offer.

Mix it up

It doesn’t always have to be a book. Check out Story Box, which is a subscription based website where books are read aloud by some of Australia’s best storytellers such as Justine Clarke, Andy Griffiths and Alison Lester. Download audio books for the car, look for apps for devices, or computer games. Keep your eye out for book launches at libraries and bookshops.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak has been a favourite since it was published in 1967.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak has been a favourite since it was published in 1967. Photo: Jay Cronan

Books matter

Show that you value books by giving them as presents to other children, cousins and adults. Make books and other reading material visible in the home and make them accessible from birth. Teach children to treasure books and look after them.

The information session will be held at ALIA House, Deakin, Canberra from 4.30-6.30pm on May 9. Cost is $35 and registration is essential via ncaclmeetings@gmail.com.

Julie Long’s favourite books

  • Koala Lou by Mem Fox, illustrated by Pamela Lofts, 1988
  • Bob the Builder and the Elves by Emily Rodda, illustrated by Craig Smith, 1998
  • Let the Celebrations Begin by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Julie Vivas, 1991
  • Tashi series by Anna Fienberg, illustrated by Kim Gamble, 1995
  • Where is Bear? by Jonathon Bentley, 2016
  • Busting! by Aaron Blabey, 2017
  • The Waterhole by Graeme Base, 2001
  • The Rabbits by Shaun Tan, 1998
  • Ducks Away! by Mem Fox, illustrated by Judy Horacek, 2016
  • Who Sank the Boat? by Pamela Allen, 1982
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, 1967
  • Rose Meets Mr Wintergarten by Bob Graham, 1992
  • Tomorrow When the War Began series by John Marsden, 1993