Live, from Your Friendly Neighborhood Library! The Dynamic Return of Read-Alouds

After the flat screens and glitchy technology of the last several months, in-person story times are back, with all the dynamism of live theater. We've got the read-alouds; storytellers, get ready for your close-up!

Character art: Getty Images/Virinka

Read-alouds promote a valuable, open awareness of the interpretative powers all readers hold, no matter their age. They become a shared time between educators and participants, letting listeners interact with the book, its elements, and fellow audience members and opening communal space for queries, laughter, observations, and discussions, whether they take place at home or in school. While educators, authors, illustrators, and celebrities generously made virtual story times a cornerstone of the pandemic era, in-person story hours are the return of live performance, and no two are quite the same.

Picture books challenge readers of all ages to see themselves and others from new perspectives. Melding complexity, diversity, and artistry, read-alouds with picture books provide intricate, immersive avenues through which readers may learn from and about the world. The expressive influence of a picture book is not limited to what is said in a literal sense; rather, the design elements, from art to typography, call attention to what is seen, illuminating the story and becoming an integral part of each reader’s experience.

Read-alouds model reading fluency and vocabulary, while the interplay of visual and verbal elements builds understanding of story forms and the impact of diverse narratives. The following picture books dive into both familiar and new experiences, like braving a doctor’s visit or grieving a loved one. The core of the in-school read-aloud experience rests in the assurance that reading means connections and that such connections can be made together. When conducted in person, story times can be experienced to full effect: The whole classroom can be heard and seen, looks can be exchanged, a pause can be dramatized for effect, instead of due to a Zoom glitch, and educators can take advantage of these bonds in the rediscovered shared space missing and much mourned in the months of remote learning.

From the left: The Paper Bird;Three Ways to Be Brave; A Life by Hand:The Story of Ruth Asawa

ALBER, Diane. Scribble Stones. illus. by Diane Alber. Diane Alber Art. 2019. ISBN 9781732934641.
K-Gr 2–Illustrated with mixed media, real-world objects are personified with bubbly animated faces in a tale of a stone who embraces creativity and community. As colors literally pop onto the pages, readers will be inspired to follow the stone’s example and act on ideas that spread happiness to others.

ANCHIN, Lisa. The Paper Bird. illus. by Lisa Anchin. Dial. 2021. ISBN 9780593110225.
K-Gr 2–A joyful tribute to self-expression, this is a hopeful story of a Black girl named Annie who overcomes self-doubt to inspire others with her creativity. Readers will want to speak up for Annie as she loses her spark and will applaud her colorful positivity, which fills up and transforms every page.

BLACKBURNE, Livia. I Dream of Popo. illus. by Julia Kuo. Roaring Brook. 2021. ISBN 9781250249319.
K-Gr 2–Beautifully illustrated with warm colors and gentle, flat art forms, the special bond between a young Taiwanese girl and her grandmother is brought to life. This poignant and powerful story will stay with children and open conversations about emigration, love, language, and family connections near and far.

CLARK, Karla. Three Ways to Be Brave. illus. by Jeff Östberg. Penguin Workshop/Rise. 2021. ISBN 9780593222423.
PrS-K–Clark tells three short stories about familiar childhood experiences that can weigh heavily on young minds, like a first day of preschool. Short rhymes and expressive faces capture the moments, assuring readers that their own worries can be overcome.

D’AQUINO, Andrea. A Life Made by Hand: The Story of Ruth Asawa. illus. by Andrea D’Aquino. Princeton Architectual. 2019. ISBN 9781616898366.
Gr 2-5–Honoring the brilliance of Japanese American sculptor Ruth Asawa, D’Aquino’s collage and drawn elements pair with spare text to convey the subject’s curious nature and early artistic inspirations. A wonderful example of how diving into another’s life story offers readers an opportunity to learn from history and value others’ ideas.

HOLUB, Joan. Little Red Writing Book. illus. by Melissa Sweet. Chronicle. 2013. ISBN 9781435111899.
Gr 2-5–This whimsical retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” will easily spark discussions about words and writing styles as readers trail after Little Red, a brave pencil looking to compose an adventure story. Among collage components and parts of speech, Little Red battles grammar mistakes and a hungry pencil sharpener.

KITAMURA, Satoshi. The Smile Shop. illus. by Satoshi Kitamura. Peachtree. 2020. ISBN 9781682632550.
K-Gr  –Busy lines and lively details capture a bustling market where a young boy loses his pocket money and looks into a “Smile” shop, hoping to buy a smile. Instead, he and readers will learn that kindness is priceless and can be freely given.

From the left: Goodnight, Ganesha; Untitled

SALOMON Nadia. Goodnight, Ganesha. illus. by Poonam Mistry. Philomel. 2021. ISBN 9780593203613.
PreS-Gr 1–Two children prepare for bed at their grandparents’ home in India, content in the love surrounding them and reflecting Hindu influences Luminous illustrations with awe-inspiring patterns convey the relatable comfort of bedtime rituals, told in a poetic style similar to Margaret Wise Brown’s ­ Goodnight, Moon.

SELTZER, Eric. Diner Dogs. illus. by Tom Disbury. S. & S./Simon Spotlight. 2021. ISBN 9781534493858.
PreS-K–In this delightful “Ready-to-Read” rhyming book, a busy family of dogs experience a typical day, running a diner and serving happy animal customers with homey care. Dogs of every shape and size move comfortably in light, concisely painted spaces, paired with a great helping of action verbs for early emergent readers.

YOUNG, Timothy. Untitled. illus. by Timothy Young. Schiffer Kids. 2019. ISBN 9780764357084.
K-Gr 3–In this wonderfully unpredictable and humorous postmodern book, two animals take control and openly converse about the author-illustrator’s choices of setting and story. Subtle nods to story creators and witty quips will enthrall readers, as will the very premise of dialogue about story elements and unbounded imagination.

Rachel Mulligan, a certified New Jersey elementary educator, is a Rutgers graduate student in the MI School Librarianship program.

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