Reading your work in front of a live audience can be nerve-wracking, but absolutely nothing helps you understand syntax, inflection, and pacing better than oral reading. When that audience is a class full of first graders, you’d better be ready to rock!
After the teacher starts the “criss-cross applesauce 1-2-3” chant, you have about 30 seconds to capture your audience. Make eye contact, make your tone engaging, and make your reading interactive. Stop the story and ask questions. Incorporate physical movement both as a reader and for your listeners. Trust me, the kids will let you know if you’re getting it right…or wrong.
Of course, reading for children has its own special challenges. Presenting to a group of 1st graders is a whole different ballgame than reading for a group of 12th graders, or even—Lord help us all—a passel of middle schoolers. No one will give you more immediate, or more brutal feedback. When I got the news that one of my novels took honorable mention in an international book competition, the immediate response from my 13-year-old was “That makes you the first loser, Mom.” The 15-year-old, not missing a beat, deadpanned, “Actually, Mom’s the 3rd place loser.” Aren’t they supposed to be my biggest fans?
Whether you’re reading for kiddos or reading at a wine tasting (super fun!), the general idea is the same. Read with personality at a leisurely pace. Use volume, pitch, and pace to color the words you are reading. Stop and provide a little commentary. Absolutely do the voices as you read the dialogue. If you’re nervous about changing the vocal quality of your reading voice to represent different characters, at least tap into the emotion or conflict of the passage. The richer the listening experience you provide for your audience, the more interest you will cultivate for your book.
This takes practice! Even if you don’t plan on reading in front of a live audience, testing your passages out loud will give you a very good feel for the way readers will experience your story and will help you lend authenticity to dialogue in particular.
Getting recognized for a job well done is great no matter what your craft. A review in the form of hugs and high fives from a class of first graders, though, that’s a special kind of awesome!
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