The Creative Act of Reading Aloud – adlibbing as you go

I like to adlib as I read. When we know a book well, I might add an aside – Watch out, So-and-So! – or we quote one of our favourite Mo Willems books – that is really not a good idea. Very quickly, the children have taken over and are warning the characters.  We know more than they do, stuck on their pages, and we can share the pleasure of knowledge and anticipation that comes from familiarity with the ending. In fact, reading a book that we know well can be even more fun than reading a new one together. A new book usually needs at least three reads before it starts to ‘bed down’. Our little one thrives on the repetition.  Hence the need for books that will stand up to the third consecutive reading (three is about my limit) for the fifth day that week.

Reading is a creative act. The writer creates a world, but the reader has to open that world by reading the words. The story is created by the writer and the reader in combination, in that moment. When we read aloud or read a picture book together, the creative process is a collective one.  Me and my child, and the writer and illustrator, all together make that reading experience. My voice, the tone, speed, emphasis, my accent and pronunciation, my own reaction to the book become part of my child’s experience of reading.  Reading aloud is sharing myself, creating together.  A piece of private performance art with a wholly appreciative audience – or fellow cast members – our children.

Some books particularly lend themselves to this. The ‘Gerald and Piggie’ series by Mo Willems is a perfect example. One of our favourites is I Really Like Slop – the kids know it so well now that we act it out, taking turns to adapt and play the parts: Eating pasta is part of Lydia culture.

I also adlib to personalise the book for my child, adding their name, making the character a friend, putting my child into the story. And I adlib to rescue books that I am struggling to keep reading.  It doesn’t always save them – see The Tiger who Came to Tea. But it does ameliorate the pain. (Our Tiger drank up all of Daddy’s beer and all of Mummy’s gin as well, but even that didn’t save this one for us – Mother’s Little Helper needed.)  And sometimes just for whimsical humour.  I tried adding ‘cucumber’ to every mention of Little Red Riding Hood so she was Little Red Cucumber Riding Hood and by half way through my then 5 year old could barely sit up with laughing.

I wonder if our ad-libs and riffs delight or horrify the authors – I would be very curious to know.

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