Do I HAVE to do voices?

10 Oct

I was asked this once, by a Head Start father, via the site’s Family Support Worker.

My response: No. You don’t HAVE to do voices.

But when sharing books with young children, here’s what you HAVE to do: HAVE FUN. Personally, I don’t think I really do “voices”. I think I have one voice, and all the characters are a variation on that one voice.  It gets higher, lower, louder, softer, or more child-like or adult. But to me, it sounds very much like the same voice. Others have told me differently. But what I KNOW I do is have fun, and so the kids have fun too.  Having fun with books is so important. When kids think books are fun, they are motivated to learn to read on their own. If books are boring, uninteresting, or a chore, well, who in their right mind would want to pick one up and read it?

I tell people that no, you don’t have to worry about creating different character voices and keep track of them all. But if a character says he’s sad, make him sound sad. If he’s excited, he should sound that way! The book’s text and illustrations give lots of clues how to read a story: print size, the character’s face, if something was shouted, or whispered, etc. Make animal sounds or truck sounds. Be silly.  Make the story go beyond words on a page and come to life.


Pages from Maybe a Bear Ate It by Robie H. Harris


Take a look at this page, from Maybe a Bear Ate It by Robie H. Harris, illustrated by Michael Emberley. It gives pretty clear clues about how to read the story: in the first illustration, the little bear/cat/creature is obviously sad. In the second, he’s gone from sad to out-and-out crying. Also, the text gives clues: the hyphens on the first page make us pause between words, and the text in the second is larger, making the words more insistent and louder.  While you don’t need to go full-on shakespearean for this passage, you can easily make the creature sound sad, and more distressed at the loss of his book.

Beyond your storytime performance, though, what’s most fun for a young child, though, is the chance to snuggle up in a parent or caregiver’s lap, and hear a story, look at pictures, and talk about the book. It’s that one-on-one sharing time with a loved one that really helps the learning take place, and the child will forever equate books with that warm feeling. And when they’re ready to learn to read, they will, if they’ve had enough of that quality time with books.

4 Responses to “Do I HAVE to do voices?”

  1. missmaryliberry October 20, 2010 at 9:26 pm #

    It’s so true! And now I want to meet Morris. He sounds like an awesome pal. Just added you to my blogroll – what a great blog you’ve got!

  2. Cate Levinson October 15, 2010 at 11:12 pm #

    absolutely! I couldn’t agree more. The same goes for puppetry too. Sometimes I get embarrassed because I am the world’s sloppiest puppeteer; and yet every time I bring out Morris (the lopsided moose) at rise and shine storytime, 20 3&4 year-old go completely bananas.

  3. missmaryliberry October 10, 2010 at 2:05 pm #

    Kate, thank you! Your kids are living proof that reading aloud to kids and having fun with books is just what is needed to get ready to learn to read and become life-long readers and lovers of language and books. Keep up the good work!

  4. kateshrewsday October 10, 2010 at 1:57 pm #

    Lovely post, couldn’t agree more….I have been reading with my kids since day 1, and they are now seven and ten. We started with Meg and Mog and The Tiger Who Came To Tea, and now it’s How To Be A Pirate, the Narnian Chronicles and Pride and Prejudice.

    The rewards for having fun with books are showing, now for me, because my kids know words everyone else their age can only gawp at. They know how our language works because they have heard it read out loud and learned to love sentences and the way they work.

    For anyone just starting out, keep reading, even when they can read, and the rewards will be out of this world.

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