Summer Reading Club

Hints & tips for reading to children

Nette Hilton’s Hints & Tips on reading to children

Nette Hilton is one of Australia’s leading authors of literature for children and young adults.

Her work includes classics such as Proper Little Lady published in 1989 and The Web  published in 1992, both by Harpercollins and both still in print. Her most recent work, The Innocents, Random House 2010 has been awarded Notable with CBC, 2011, and long listed for the Prime Minister’s Awards 2011, and is undergoing film development. Other work includes Sprite Downberry, which was short-listed for both New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards and Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards, CBC short-listed works and Honor books as well as being consistently listed as CBC Notable. In her previous life she has been a primary school teacher for more years than it is polite to mention.


Tip No. 1 for Reading To Children

Love reading! It is that simple. The libraries are full of fantastic kid’s books – many of them written by authors clever enough to make sure their stories are adult inclusive (and addictive). Have a look at Emily Gravatt’s Meerkat Mail – there’s enough here to keep everyone amused.

Tip No. 2

Laugh out loud. Or smile. Or cry. And share with young readers why this is funny or sad. Let your fingers trace over the hidden text in the illustrations so young listeners’ eyes are drawn to details that they might have overlooked.

Tip No. 3

Without it becoming too much of a chore – and most kid’s books are way too delightful to be labor intensive – try to familiarise yourself with the text and the illustrations. This way you can perform the work. Something as simple as The Three Bears is way more fun if the father bear is gruff and grouchy, and mamma bear is soft and smoochy and baby bear – just go for it. This is especially true if you are reading a chapter book to older kids. Voices, pauses, facial expression – all of this add to the meaning of the story, the feel for it and, ultimately, your child’s positive, joyful experience of it.

Tip No 4

Don’t forget that fairy tales and traditional stories are important. Many books for middle school are built around these stories, especially in a humorous way. The True Story of The Three Little Pigs is not so funny if you don’t know the story of The Three Little Pigs in the first place.

Tip No 5

Little kids read with different expectations to older readers. They like to know about the pictures and the cover and the ending, and an understanding of the role each plays in story making is a beginning stepping stone to understanding reading. Before you start a new book, or with books sent home for homework practice, share the cover and ask what this book might be about. Look at some of the illustrations and talk about them. Being able to anticipate the story for young readers is reassuring and confidence-building when their guess proves to be right.

Tip No 6

Homework reading can be a pain – if your child is not a good reader then do him/her a huge favour and read the book for them and with them. Make sure you show them how to use the pictures to inform them about the text. Point to words as YOU read – make comments like ‘Wow, this is the same word that was written on the other page.’ Then go back and check. Many ‘learn-to-read’ texts are predictive – and they SHOULD be. This means they should have lots of word patterns repeated – so, hey, we can guess the next word (cheers and chocolate are suitable rewards for this). Predictive texts have pictures that are intended to help young readers. If the text is about a goose getting a bath then the goose should be there having a bath. Draw young readers’ attention to this so they know they should be using that picture to help them ‘guess’ (read) the words. Above all, whatever they are reading must make sense. Interrupt if they’ve lost the plot – read it for them…no punishments (just chocolate and hugs for having a go).

Tip No 7

Read your middle school reader’s books after them. You can have discussions about it – real discussions like you would have with a book group. Use words like ‘Didn’t you love that bit when….happened?’ Sometimes middle school readers get stories a bit muddled and it’s an easy way for you to make sure that they are reading for enjoyment and understanding and not just doing because they have to. And…if they have to read it and that’s that…well, read it with them. Don’t let them lose a love of reading before they develop it.
And don’t forget that picture books are always there for middle age and older primary aged students. Check out Wolves by Emily Gravatt (again, sorry – but she is pretty brilliant)

Tip No 8

In a high-tech world books are very tactile. They have paper that invites hands to glide across it. Some books have a lovely booky smell. Words in books give clues about how authors wanted them read…LARGE words call for a big voice and words drifting down a page ask you to drift along with them in a floaty voice. Let kids play with books. Build houses with them, make stepping stones, copy pictures from them, copy letters and words. Use them to find words that young writers need. Put favourite words around the room. Love words. That’s all there is to it. Just love words.

Tip No 9

Don’t forget poetry. Try Allan Ahlberg, Michael Rosen, Elizabeth Honey. All these poets (and so many others) use text to lead your voice into great performances. Kids can quickly join in with rhyming verse and can learn to chant along. This, of course, becomes invaluable when you’re on a word search for young writers…leave the poetry books open. Older readers love Haiku and more sophisticated verse – and children are very comfortable with writing poetry and verse. Check out How to write poetry – diamonte poems are fun, preposition poems, limericks… heaps of ways to read and then write your own and then…read again.

Tip No 10

Open the book and just jump right in…you’ll be glad you did.