Jane Kennedy shares how she makes storytime count with her kids

Many parents have fond childhood memories of cuddling up to hear one or more storybooks before they go to sleep. Actress and Producer Jane Kennedy is no different. “I was very much a child brought up on Enid Blyton. I especially loved her books about gangs of kids hanging out together like The Famous Five or Secret Seven.

These books inspired me to start a club with my sister and neighbour. We would roam the neighbourhood in the days when you could leave the house at 9am and not return until dinner time. If that was the case today - I would have ended up on the news as a missing child!” And as a mother of five Jane has had ample opportunity to pass her joy of reading onto a new generation.

She found quite a few of her favourite books ‘passed the family test’. “Harry The Dirty Dog was a favourite of mine which the kids loved too. Also Robert The Red Rose Horse and the good old Very Hungry Caterpillar”. And over the years Jane’s children experienced more familiar names. “The Gruffalo has always been huge at our place. Dr Seuss has also been a winner, and a crazy book called Hungry Hungry Hungry.” It’s a feeling shared by many parents, the excitement of being able to read classics like Green Eggs and Ham and The Tale of Peter Rabbit to our own children, along with newer favourites like Diary of a Wombat. And our pint-sized audience is just as enthusiastic.

Actress and Producer Jane Kennedy is this year’s special guest storytime reader for National Simultaneous Storytime.
Actress and Producer Jane Kennedy is this year’s special guest storytime reader for National Simultaneous Storytime. Photo: Supplied

Children love having books read to them. They love the fun characters and illustrations; the rhymes and repetitions, the simple act of spending one-on-one time with you. And research has demonstrated sustained storytime activities give lifelong benefits in literacy, language, pattern recognition, numeracy and thinking skills. But parents are busier than ever and it’s easy to forget the importance of storytime.

Hence the creation of National Simultaneous Storytime. The Australian Library and Information Association says the event aims to promote the value of reading and literacy, along with Australian writers. And for thirteen years now, thousands of children have gathered simultaneously around Australia to read the same home-grown picture book. Last year, over 430,000 children gathered at over 2,500 libraries, childcare centres, schools and bookshops to read The Wrong Book by Nick Bland. Today at 11am, they’ll assemble again, in their thousands to read Too Many Elephants in This House by Ursula Dubosarsky and Andrew Joyner. And there’s a number of other ways families can get involved.

Libraries around the nation are holding ‘elephant-themed’ events. For families in Sydney, The National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) is presenting a live version of Too Many Elephants in This House at NIDA’s Parade Theatre in Kensington until this Saturday. And for multilingual families, SBS Radio has recorded audiobook translations for thirteen languages including Arabic, Cantonese, German and Somali. They’re all available from the SBS radio website. That’s a whole lot of elephants.

Too Many Elephants in This House by Ursula Dubosarsky
Too Many Elephants in This House by Ursula Dubosarsky 

And this year’s special guest storytime reader couldn’t be happier. Jane Kennedy reflects on the appeal of the grey lumbering beasts. “Children understand the absurdity of having a heap of elephants in a house. Kids have a great sense of humour and this is a funny book. Besides, elephants just look hilarious!”

As a member of the prolific Working Dog team, Jane sympathises with adults who struggle to make time available for reading with children and sees National Simultaneous Storytime as a great opportunity for families. “With busy lifestyles, often the luxury of hearing a parent read a story is not possible for a lot of kids. I think the chance for children to hear someone read a story to them is a wonderful alternative to flicking pages by themselves.” And when parents do find time for storytime, Jane has a tip or two.

“My motto has been 'a fast game’s a good game'! I'm happy to read but you have to be clever in choice of book! Don't fall for the ‘thirty minute read’ unless you have time up your sleeve. Thirty minutes times five kids is a whole night gone! Be a bit entertaining [in your reading] if not speedy.” Mind you, as a little girl Jane Kennedy was not always a model storytime participant. “I think I was a bit of a brat and used to suggest to mum (who is not so outgoing) that I should be in charge of reading at night instead of her. Poor mum!”

National Simultaneous Storytime is being held today at 11am at thousands of libraries, schools, pre-schools, childcare centres, bookshops and family homes around Australia.