This week I took a bunch of kids to another world.
As I entered the classroom, the teacher introduced me. She said I was going to read to the class.
Little did she know.
Step one: Get the kids on your side. Easy to do if you’re willing to be silly with them. And so I was. “Before I read anything, I need to warm up. And I need your help. Just because I feel a little silly when I warm up all by myself. So, can you repeat after me, please? Say, ‘Red leather.’”
The class of fourth-graders repeats the simple phrase back at me, perplexed.
“Now say, ‘Yellow leather.’”
They mimic my words.
“Now put them together. ‘Red leather, yellow leather.’”
The sea of confused faces makes me smile.
I hold up a finger. “Now! We’re going to sing it a few times. Red leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow leather red.” My pitch climbs up and down and I jog through the words.
And when the class repeats me, they fall to giggles.
Go ahead. Try it. It’s not as easy as you might think!
We go back and forth a few times. They’re having fun now.
“And I’m warmed up! So, time to read!” And I take out the book the teacher’s given me: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.
I’d never read it before the previous night.
I’d gone through the first chapter, marking each character that spoke, and making sure that I gave each one a unique “voice.” Percy Jackson was my normal voice pitched just a little higher; since the book is first-person, I had his spoken lines match narration, so it had to be something very natural to me. Mr. Brunner needs respect and likability immediately, so I give him a deeper voice and a posh British accent. Grover gets a clipped Chicago accent. Just something with a little character. Nancy is high-pitched and whiny. Mrs. Dodds has a Dixie accent, so nice and also threatening.
I also marked tempo and pauses; reading action scenes faster makes sense, but knowing when to slowly begin an acceleration and when to pause for dramatic effect really helps a scene take off.
And now I stand in front of the kids and begin reading. I never program in my gestures; those just come naturally, as does my pacing. I can’t read out loud while sitting still.
And the kids? There’s one kid who refuses to open his copy of the book. He started doodling when I began reading. By page two, he’s just staring at me. In the back, one girl whispers, “This is creepy.” Another kid is nodding at just about every sentence.
I’ve taken them to another world.
Not a world of my creation, certainly. Or at least, I didn’t write it. But by reading it out loud and including little things like simple voice inflection, the kids were drawn in.
My daughter is beaming the entire time, by the way. This is her class, and she’s proud to be associated with this guy coming in and taking the class to another world.
And make no mistake, that’s what I did. The story was another world, and I got to transport this unruly class there. And they loved it. At least some of them had visited this particular world before, but it didn’t matter. They were there again and reveling. Some of them don’t particularly enjoy the work of going to another world, but they’re loving this.
And I got to take them there.
Look, school rules are necessary and may make things difficult, but if you get the chance… volunteer to read to a classroom. It’s so much fun. The kids will love it. And you? You get to be responsible for showing kids that this world isn’t the only one!