Monthly Archives: January 2015

Reading: Make it DRAMATIC!

Take advantage of sound possibilities as you read with children. Pump up the drama in your voice to make the words exciting. Children will imitate your example.  As adults, we find that readers who speak dramatically on commercially produced “books on CD” draw us into the story in very compelling ways. At home or in school, our own dramatic reading does the same thing. Research shows that children who read expressively have greater understanding of what they read and are more interested in independent reading. Your expressive reading is a model for children to emulate.

Here are some ideas to help you get started.

With its repeated (and short) refrains, Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb by Al Perkins with illustrations by Eric Gurney, has many possibilities for engagement and bringing words to life for the younger set. Written with a strong beat, the story easily lends itself to rhythmic reading. The repeated refrain     “Dum ditty     Dum ditty     Dum dum dum”   as well as multiple rhyming couplets (thumb-drum; hum-drum) invite participation. As the millions of monkeys gather to play their drums, the reader escalates the tempo as well as the volume to reflect the changing scene.

Hand Hand Fingers Thumb

In the Wild with stunning poetry by David Elliott and gorgeous woodcut and watercolor illustrations by Holly Meade can build interest in poetry as a means of describing the world. We especially like the analogies suggested in the poetry. For example, did you ever think about likenesses between an elephant and a cloud? By reading the poetry with expression and perhaps even a touch of drama, you help to elevate the power of the words and the illustrations. We’ve found that that this book resonates with teachers and students alike.

In the Wild

For older students, the Carl Sandburg poem Jazz Fantasia ( offers a great link to reading with a recording of jazz music. Listen to a variety of music to find something that “works” with the feeling of the poem.

Adding Sound Effects is another great way to “up” the interest in reading. For example, as you read a train story, create the sounds of the train. Repeat in an almost whisper voice: “Chug-a, Chug-a”; add a “Whoo-oo” for the train whistle; how about a “Shhh—ooo” for letting off some steam in an old-fashioned train? Putting these sounds together creates a Soundscape that gives us a “sound picture” of a train.  Try creating a story and adding sounds to  Train in Snow,  by Claude Monet, 1875.

Monet, Train in Snow, 1875

Playing instruments to “tell” a nursery rhyme, song, or story is a great way to help children focus on the essence of the rhyme. Click here for a video of Mary and Susan performing a “mystery” nursery rhyme. Can you identify it from the sounds only? Keeping the steady beat of this rhyme allows children to “think” the rhyme as they play the sounds to accompany the words that they are hearing inside of their heads. Talk about brain development!

The Napping House by Audrey Wood with illustrations by Don Wood allows readers to choose sounds to represent the action in the story. When these representative sounds are played together, children are creating a Soundscape, or collage of sounds, that helps to advance the mood of the story. Select instruments to represent the characters in the Napping House: snoring granny (softly play the guiro or other notched instrument); dreaming child (gently “swish” wind chimes); dozing dog (scrape fingers over a drum head); snoozing cat (lightly twirl maracas); slumbering mouse (tap the rim of a tambourine); and that wakeful flea who changes the scene (crashing of finger cymbals.) As characters are introduced in the story, sounds are added until all sounds are playing together. Things get frantic (louder and faster) when the wakeful flea arrives! No instruments? Try using “found sounds” (things in the environment such as paper flapping, crumpling, or tearing) or “vocal sounds” (such as snoring, whistling, heavy breathing.) You’ll be greeted with “Let’s read it again.” Truly music to a parent’s or teacher’s ears!

Imagine going to the movies and hearing no sounds other than the voices on the screen. The result probably wouldn’t draw you into the story. To remedy this, enter the Foley artists (who create and record natural, everyday sound effects in a film), the sound designer (who produces the special audio effects), and sound producers (who put it all together in a professional soundtrack for the movie.) An added bonus: adding sound effects and soundscapes to reading can provide a unique career exploration opportunity!

Whether reading at home or at school, try videoing a reading with your own sound effects and soundscape to heighten the interest. Click here to hear a Soundscape created by teachers at a recent workshop presented by Mary and Susan. This Soundscape brings Van Gogh’s Farmhouse in Provence to life.

Sounds really do bring a story, rhyme, poem, or dramatization to life. Often children’s interest in books and reading is ignited by the opportunity to experiment with sounds to help tell the stories.

We hope that you’ll share some of your favorite dramatic reading materials with us.  Through the ARTS… read on!

Mary and Susan



An elementary school student’s burgeoning interest in science inspired some awesome art making. The book Coral Reef: A City that Never Sleeps, by Mary M. Cerullo, motivated us to learn about reefs.

Coral reef book

With a long piece of paper for a mural (taped up on a window wall), father and daughter went to work at creating a reef of their own. We needed a large space since the reef had such a variety of aquatic life. We couldn’t fit a whole reef into a small space!

Drawing coralDrawing Reef

Together, we noticed that coral came in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. The father/daughter team of artists started with branch coral and tube coral.

Scuba diver and fishDad's coral and fish

The wide variety of beautiful fish reminded us of the seldom-visited world on the ocean floor. In her red and black wet suit, a young scuba diver is going to take a closer look at the brightly colored fish. There are only a few of each kind of fish on a reef, so their neon colors are meant to help them attract mates, (With too many of the same species in one spot, competition for food would diminish their chances for survival.) The brilliant colors help the fish find each other.   Once the fish pair up, their sparkling colors make it easier for them to defend their territory.


There’s lots more to do before we’re finished with our reef mural, but this framework was a good start.

Next time we’re going to take a look at Christopher Still’s painting, Beyond the Seven Mile Bridge (, which is a wonderful and well researched mural currently hanging in the chamber of the Florida House of Representatives .

Still, Christopher - beyond the seven mile bridge

Christopher Still said that the coral reefs in the Florida Keys were a resource to be protected, and no doubt the presence of this detailed underwater scene reminds legislators every day of our state’s treasure. Still paints from direct observation, so he engineered special equipment to use for his underwater sketching.

Still’s painting is another rich example of life on the sea floor. Using a variety of resources builds depth in children’s thinking about a subject. Talking about the overall underwater scene as well as the detail observed will enhance the artwork created.

Turn up the impact of your ocean reef by adding music. Choose music that helps to take artists and viewers into the image. Listen to music in order to decide on a “fit” for this image. Sometimes composers create music specifically to describe a person, place or feeling. French composer Camille Saint-Saens wrote a collection of short pieces, The Carnival of Animals. These pieces describe particular animals and scenes.   While viewing the coral reef mural, we love playing “Aquarium” to help to create the feeling of underwater life. This music is readily available at online resources and elsewhere. In addition, there are many children’s books about The Carnival of Animals suite. Two choices that include a CD of the music are: The Carnival of the Animals by Jack Prelutsky, United States Children’s Poet Laureate; and Carnival of The Animals: Classical Music for Kids by Sue Williams.


Whether at home or in a classroom, mural making can be a great time for collaborative planning and doing.  In addition to learning more about coral reefs, the experience of art-making helps to open eyes.  It’s surprising how many murals you’ll suddenly see around your town once you delve into mural making!

We hope that you’ll dive in to an ocean reef. The water’s fine – and so are the sites and sounds!!

Susan and Mary