Read-alouds are an integral and much enjoyed part of family life here in our Peaceful Home. We have lots of different sorts of read-alouds too. At bedtime we read a variety of books from Jemimah's bookshelf. Recently during this time we've revisited a number of our old favourites; Charlotte Voake's beautifully illustrated edition of Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep by Eleanor Farjohn; Graham Oakley's The Church Mouse; and Jack and the Beanstalk retold by Edith Nesbit and gorgeously illustrated by Matt Tavares are titles that we return to again and again when bedtime rolls around. Currently we're reading Holling's Tree in the Trail, an Ambleside Online selection that we turned into a read aloud when we Australianised AO2. Jemimah generally chooses these when I am chief reader; Daddy prefers to select his own from the shelves.
Jemimah reads aloud to me. I think of this as reading practice; she doesn't. She regards it as a way that she can entertain me, and she makes quite a performance out of ensuring that I am listening to and enjoying the story. Because this is 'reading', I chose the story based on her current reading level. She is currently midway through Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and just about to begin Kate Di Camillo's The Tiger Rising. (We have loved Despereaux and Edward Tulane as well in the past.) I delight to see how her reading is improving - and how her love of reading is developing!
I get to choose the family read-alouds as well (Oh the joys of being Mummy!). Mostly we read these during the long journeys between our Central Victorian home and our holiday place in Melbourne, a three hour journey that we make about two weekends in three. We can get a lot of books read in this amount of time. We use the Charlotte Mason methods of short readings of several books, prolonging the agony, as it were, but also allowing us for form a relationship with the characters. Currently we're reading The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle (oh how we all love this story!); Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce (oh how we all adore this story!); Mistress Masham's Repose by T. H White (oh how we all delight in this story!) and The Complete Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (many of which we like and some of which leave us quite bemused - What the Moon Saw is a case in point.) Andersen wrote 168 Tales, and we're ¾ of the way through.
We read at other times too in addition to our school books. We're that kind of family, and I am well aware that the time for this amount of reading aloud is short. In only a couple more years Jemimah will be reading her books silently to herself, and read-alouds will become an indulgent treat. Sad though it will be, this transfer of responsibility is critical according to Miss Mason:
It is a delight to older people to read aloud to children, but this should be only an occasional treat and indulgence, allowed before bedtime, for example. We must remember the natural inertness of a child's mind; give him the habit of being read to, and he will steadily shirk the labour of reading for himself; indeed, we all like to be spoon-fed with our intellectual meat, or we should read and think more for ourselves and be less eager to run after lectures.Until this time, reading time is a wonderful time in our life. I read aloud a lot. And I think I read aloud well.
Reading out loud well is a skill. Even with children's picture books. Reading aloud a book with rich language like Mistress Masham's Respose is harder still. Some books can be downright difficult. Have a look at a paragraph or two of The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle to see what I mean. How do you think you'd handle it? (If you want to know the context of the story it takes up just at the end of Jemimah's narration.)
"Yea, good father," said Robin, "but thou seest that my clothes are of the finest and I fain would not get them wet. Methinks thy shoulders are stout and broad; couldst thou not find it in thy heart to carry me across?"Now this is a very funny passage. In it Friar Tuck decides to beat the arrogant Robin Hood at his own game. So what do we have? First we have pompous Robin Hood. Next we look at Friar Tuck's reaction. At first he is self-righteously indignant. Next he is introspective, and then at the end he is piously amused. Very amused indeed as he considers what is going to happen next...in his imagination at least. Ah, but does anybody every really outwit Robin? At this stage through the story we would find that rather unlikely.
"Now, by the white hand of the holy Lady of the Fountain!" burst forth the Friar in a mighty rage, "dost thou, thou poor puny stripling, thou kiss-my-lady-la poppenjay; thou--thou What shall I call thee? Dost thou ask me, the holy Tuck, to carry thee? Now I swear--" Here he paused suddenly, then slowly the anger passed from his face, and his little eyes twinkled once more. "But why should I not?" quoth he piously.
"Did not the holy Saint Christopher ever carry the stranger across the river? And should I, poor sinner that I am, be ashamed to do likewise? Come with me, stranger, and I will do thy bidding in an humble frame of mind." So saying, he clambered up the bank, closely followed by Robin, and led the way to the shallow pebbly ford, chuckling to himself the while as though he were enjoying some goodly jest within himself.
Look again at the passage. It is difficult. It is written in language that we no longer use. It has archaic words and phrases: 'thou seest'; 'Methinks'; 'dost thou'; 'quoth he'; 'goodly jest'...I could go on. It also has quaint old fashioned words: fain (desirous); poppenjay (a vain 'parrot' of a person); jest (amusing prank). What do we do with these? We certainly cannot explain them all. This is not an isolated difficult passage in an otherwise easy book. It was picked at random. We must do better than this.
This is where the reader can either make or break the book. Your voice is all you have to convey the excitement on the passage. Sometimes with a read aloud you also have facial expressions and body language - widened eyes, leaning forward, looking into the eyes of your little one or two person audience, but I mostly read Robin Hood in the front (passenger) seat of the car. I have only my voice.
So this is what I do. This is my way to read the Classics of a Charlotte Mason Childhood. It may not be yours. If it is not I'd love to hear your read aloud tips in the comments. This is the Jeanne way. Are you ready?
I perform it.
No silly voices, mind you. Not most of the time anyhow, but I act it all the same. You should hear me as the vain arrogant Robin who is so sure that he can convince Friar Tuck to carry him across the river so that he doesn't get his fine clothes wet. I am quiet. I speak slowly and precisely with a wheedling, cajoling tone of voice. Then you should hear the indignation of Friar Tuck. Like the good Friar I too burst forth - not in a mighty rage, but in a loud, indignant tone of voice. I speak quickly, accentuating the 'thous':
"dost THOU, thou poor puny stripling, thou kiss-my-lady-la POPPENJAY; thou--thou WHAT SHALL I CALL THEE? Dost THOU ask me, the HOLY TUCK, to carry THEE? Now I swear--"Ooh it is fun!
Next I pause. The great silence is great fun. Just when there is something exciting to anticipate I stop and wait, building the excitement. I don't say anything. That is the author's job not mine, I just wait. Then I read on.
I never stop to explain a word. If there is something Jemimah really wants explained she knows to wait until the end of the story - or end of the scene before interrupting. Nothing destroys the flow of a good story as much as stopping to explain the words. Do you really need to know the meaning of 'poppenjay'? Did you know the dictionary definition of this archaic word yourself? No, of course not, but you still know what it means, because of its context. Actually it's a delicious word, poppenjay. I might just start to use it myself. It's onomatopaeic - it sounds vain.
"You Poppenjay you."
I read slowly. Books like these contain complex images and ideas. Your audience needs time to internalise what you're saying. Sometimes I need to consciously remind myself of this. It is too easy to race along to the end of a section just so it is done. I make myself stop.
I sing. My voice is not that good, but if I know the tune - or one that fits, I'll give it a burl. On the other hand, the songs in Robin Hood are so long that both my audience and I would die a slow painful death if I attempted singing those. I turn them into poetry.
Finally I relax and enjoy the story. If I am not enjoying a book I will really struggle to read it so that my audience will. I had to put extra effort into What The Moon Saw, for example, and neither Jemimah nor her Daddy enjoyed it very much. The content of the story didn't help, but I probably didn't read it very well either.
The bottom line is whether your audience understand and enjoy. And how can we tell that? Ah ha - narration. Jemimah's exam narration of this book shows she remembers, understands and enjoys it.
I have done my job. The rest is up to the author.
On the weekend Jemimah had her best friend P over for a sleepover. The two girls were buddy reading in the back seat, one page each.
"No, no, P," Jemimah exlaimed as P was reading, "You don't read like that. (in a monotone 'school reading' type voice.) You have to put some excitement into your voice. That's what makes you a good reader!"
Now maybe I need to do something about my daughter's poppenjay-like attitude towards her friends, but I don't think I'll need to teach her how to read aloud, with feeling. I think she has that down pat herself.