Let me tell you a story...
Reading aloud is something many primary classroom assistants will do at some point in the school day. But even if they have become old hands at telling stories, it is still a good idea to prepare for the occasion.
It is important to approach reading with obvious excitement and anticipation. The audience will reciprocate. It also helps if the assistant can overcome self-consciousness and throw themselves into the reading. Although it can feel embarrassing at first, the reader really cannot go over the top, particularly with younger children.
Readers can improve their technique by listening to one of the excellent story tapes on the market and practising in private. Dawn French's wonderfully exuberant reading of Kipper's A to Z by Mick Inkpen (Hodder, pound;7.99 book and tape) is perfect for nursery-age children. For Reception and Year 1 pupils, Hugh Laurie gets just the right balance between humour and scariness in Lauren Child's Beware of the Storybook Wolves (Hodder, pound;7.99 book and tape).
Preparation aside, having good material is vital. For the youngest children in Nursery and Reception, you cannot go wrong with a picture book by Martin Waddell. The rhythm of his text is perfectly pitched for reading aloud. In his latest, Snow Bears (illustrated by Sarah Fox-Davies, Walker, pound;10.99), three baby bears pretend to be snow bears as their mother plays in the snow with them. The fun will engage children and adults alike.
For the same age group, Shirley Hughes' The Big Alfie and Annie Rose Storybook is a wise investment (Random House pound;9.99; pound;5.99 pbk). The stories have the right amount of familiarity, but each presents a problem that must be solved.
Ian Beck's new Best-Loved Stories and Nursery Rhymes (Oxford University Press, pound;14.99) is an elegant edition from which to read old favourites. Seven traditional tales, including "Chicken Licken" and "Jack and the Beanstalk", are interspersed with 60 familiar rhymes.
For children in Year 1 with a developing sense of humour, Jill Murphy's The Large Family Collection (Walker, pound;9.99) cannot be beaten. Her endearing elephant characters are immediately recognisable to children and Mrs Large's yearning for a bit of peace, a slimmer figure, an evening out or a quiet night in has equal appeal for the adult reader.
The Faber Book of Bedtime Stories, chosen by Wendy Cope (Faber, pound;20), is a winning collection for Years 1 and 2. The 25 traditional tales and contemporary stories are by authors as diverse as Hans Christian Andersen, Terry Jones, Michael Rosen, Ted Hughes and Margaret Mahy. A particularly useful feature on the contents page is an indication of the time each story should take to read aloud.
Rhyming stories are often easier to read aloud as the rhythm carries the reader. Margaret Mahy uses rhyme to superb effect in her picture-book story Dashing Dog! (Frances Lincoln, pound;10.99, illustrated by Sarah Garland). A family shows off their newly coiffured dog, which then misbehaves embarrassingly. The humour and Mahy's creative use of language will amuse children in Years 1 and 2.
For briefer interludes or smaller groups, reading poetry aloud is a great rejuvenator of tired minds and a reliable anthology is invaluable. Adrian Mitchell's A Poem a Day (Orchard, pound;14.99) is ideal. There is a poem for every day of the year, for all ages. My First Oxford Book of Nonsense Poems, compiled by John Foster (Oxford University Press, pound;7.99), is a high-spirited collection of classic and contemporary nonsense certain to inspire a love of absurd language and ideas in children over six.
Sharing something more challenging, one or more chapters at a time, with fluent readers in Year 3 and above can be equally rewarding. Aim for slow, clear delivery, and, again, enthusiasm is everything. Re-read chapters just before you read them aloud - nothing will distract an audience more than saying something in a loud voice, then having to add "he whispered".
Michael Morpurgo's books all read aloud well. For Year 3, The Wreck of the Zanzibar (Mammoth, pound;4.50) is a thoughtful account of the hardships endured by the people of the Scilly Isles at the turn of the century. For Year 4, his Kensuke's Kingdom (Mammoth, pound;4.99) is a gripping, fast-moving adventure about a boy washed overboard from his parents' boat in the middle of the night.
Finally, there are a couple of suggestions for Years 5 and 6. Ted Hughes'
The Iron Woman is now in a Faber Children's Classics edition (pound;4.99). A companion to The Iron Man, it is an environmentally aware fable and always arouses passion and provokes thought. And for an original, entertaining and pacey read, try Geraldine McCaughrean's Stop the Train (Oxford University Press, pound;4.99). It is a portrait of life among Oklahoma settlers in the 1890s. The brilliant dialogue brings them to life and cries out for an American accent.
For more ideas of what to read, Nicholas Tucker's pocket-sized Rough Guide to Children's Books 5-11 (Rough GuidesPenguin, pound;5.99) is excellent.