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Top Tips for Reading Aloud to Your Child

Posted on 12th December 2023 by Mark Skinner

Reading out loud to your children has undisputed benefits for both adult and child alike but a lot of parents and guardians can find it a daunting prospect. Fortunately Nick Campbell, Waterstones' very own guru on books for younger children, is here with some top tips for making reading aloud a pleasurable experience for all involved, as well as a great list of titles with which to get started. 

If you’ve resolved to read to the child in your life, we’re here to help. Most parents will have heard about the benefits: it’s an opportunity for closeness between you, where you both focus on the same thing, often having a laugh together or talking about something important. It can boost language skills and help build future booklovers.

But lots of parents are worried about “getting it wrong”. As booksellers, we’re here to support you at times like this. Come into our stores and ask a bookseller for guidance: they can give recommendations or help you seek out books you remember loving as a kid. There are board books and picture books for all ages, with varied subject matter and mood. 

We’ve picked a small selection of new titles and old favourites, and we’ve also got some simple tips to help you get started.

Tip 1: Don't put pressure on yourself 

It doesn't have to be an extravaganza – ten minutes or so is ideal for most attention spans, and you can leave your audience wanting more. Turn off the TV so you’re not competing with anyone. If you mispronounce something, make mistakes, or use a completely different voice for a character halfway through the book, your child won’t care. They’ll still enjoy it. 

This is especially the case if you begin when they’re babies or toddlers, when pictures and the sound of your voice (maybe a few animal impressions) will be more than enough. You can start as young as you like. After that, you can take all the years you want becoming a bedtime reading maestro. Oh, and once you choose a book they like, don’t worry: you’ll read it so many times you can do it with your eyes closed.

Tip 2: Choose a book you'll both enjoy

Does your child have a favourite subject at the moment like cats, mermaids, or dinosaurs? Do you get a warm glow when you think of Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy or Peace at Last? If they see you enjoying the book, they’ll like it even more. Check that it’s right for their age: some picture books are too wordy for younger children, or sometimes deal with subjects that are still for the future. Some books are suitable for a whole span of ages, but sometimes they can be specifically for the young. Children’s publishing has also made great strides in diverse representation in recent years, so if you want to, you should be able to find a character they identify with. 

Or perhaps you prefer a bear? There are also many bears.

Tip 3: Slow down

This may not take long, but you won’t want to rush it. Slow your reading pace and get expressive – a bit like if you were on a phone with bad reception. You may feel silly the first time, but again – your child won’t care (in fact, they’ll love it if you get silly). Feel free to leave pauses (sometimes the book will helpfully split text across the page to remind you to do this). 

It’s a good idea to read the book through to yourself before you read it aloud – this will take you two minutes, but it means you’re prepared (is there an action scene where I could speed up? Is there a dramatic twist where I should stop completely?) You don’t have to turn the pages right away. You can linger. Do sound effects. Breathe.

Tip 4: Don’t be shy about audience interaction

If it’s a book with some repetition (especially after the first reading) you can pause and let them fill in the last word of the line. Or they can give you the whole line! This also works if there’s lots of rhyme in the text.

Enjoy the pictures. That’s the bit your child will be reading for themselves. Take a moment to look at the detail. Books can be a window onto a world that is ever-new to them, and in some books, there’ll even be things you’ve never seen before. 

Take time to sprinkle in the odd question. What do you think will happen next? What do you think this character’s thinking? What would you do here? Or you can comment on what’s going on. I wasn’t expecting that. That cake looks delicious. That Gruffalo looks like your teacher.

Really, all of this can be boiled down into choosing something that you like and taking time to share it with your child. We've put together a selection here of great books to read aloud: new and long-established titles for the young or very young, some raucous, some more suited to bedtime. But there are so many books to choose from: just ask our booksellers (no, really, ask them, they love it). This resolution may well be the start of a big exploration for both your child and yourself.

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Jeffers' understated story of loneliness and the friendship between a boy and a penguin is a charming picture book fable which tugs on the heart-strings to just the right extent.
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One of the best-loved tales from the picture book dream team of Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Cops and Robbers is a riotous rhyming extravaganza focusing on the most devious criminals of London town.
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Rocket returns in the third effervescent picture book from the Waterstones Children's Book Prize-winning team of Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola, in which our irrepressible heroine organises a peaceful protest against the closure of her local library.
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The author-illustrator of Mabel and the Mountain delivers another pitch-perfect story encouraging little ones to embrace their feelings, as the last woolly mammoth starts to get a bit nervous about her place in the herd.
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A classic picture book detailing a family's outdoors adventure in pursuit of a bear, Rosen and Oxenbury's beloved favourite makes playful use of repetition, rhythm and sound for an unbeatable read-along experience.
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The first instalment of the hugely popular series focusing on animals' seating arrangements, Oi Frog! is a genius concept done with wonderful rhyming panache.
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A wonderfully warm tale of an ambitious snail, this endearing picture book comes with a charming message of the importance of believing in your dreams.
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Wryly hilarious and eminently relatable for both children and adults alike, Murphy's magnificent story of Mr Bear's disturbed sleep makes for perfect bedtime reading.
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Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's debut collaboration is a delightful rhyming fable about being thankful for what you've got, as an old woman unsatisfied with the size of her house takes a wise man's sage advice.

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As the petals fall from David's hair his best friend remains by his side and finds a way to restore David's colour in this beautifully handled and visually gorgeous story of friendship and vulnerability.
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Zany, vibrant and brilliantly interactive, Willems' fast-paced account of a bird desperate to get behind the wheel has deservedly become a modern picture book classic.
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Boasting gorgeous illustrations from Alexandra Finkeldey, Doyle's gently reassuring picture book centres on a wise and thoughtful horse who shows his anxious friends that not everything is as frightening as it seems.
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Reading Aloud

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