Top secrets of truly great storytime readers and storytellers

Top secrets of truly great storytime readers and storytellers

We’ve written a lot about the joy and benefits of reading aloud with kids. As we draw nearer to celebrating Father’s Day it seems like a good time to rejoice in the great job hundreds of thousands of father’s and grandfathers all around Australia are doing every day and every night reading stories to children of all ages. Especially if they do the silly voices and the actions!

But seriously, it is extremely important that children see that the men in their orbit value reading as a fun activity. It helps to break down any myths in their tiny minds that “books are for girls” as one young student once told me. Without doubt the best way to show that reading is for everyone is by their role models actually reading books – not just telling the kids to do it!

But what makes ‘good’ reading aloud? And how do you handle tricky situations like reading to a wriggly, jiggly child who can’t keep still, or reading to more than one child at once?

Melissa of Honey Bee Books posted an interesting article about attending storytime with the extraordinarily talented Australian author Boori Monty Pryor.

Melissa says Boori ‘is the most charismatic, passionate and engaging storyteller I have had the pleasure to listen to. He weaved his storytelling magic and captured the imaginations of the entire audience, who all happily joined in the storytelling experience. As I looked around the young audience, they were simply spellbound! Laughter filled the library!’

I’ve also been lucky enough to watch Boori perform on several occasions. I’ve seen him tell stories to children of many different ages, in large and small groups. I’ve watched him keep a group of international publishers enthralled (they came from places as distant as South America, Iceland and the UK; and all of them – even the most corporate, navy-jacketed types – got up and “did the actions” when Boori asked).

Of course, very few of us will ever perform to the sorts of challenging audiences Boori does! (If you feel  a little nervous reading aloud to your own child, remember they will be your most adoring, uncritical audience, ever.)

But there are definitely some tips we can learn from his performances.

The first is: have fun! If you’re having fun, your enjoyment will be evident to your child and they’ll associate reading with good things.

Boori plays a lot of gentle tricks and makes jokes with his audience. Melissa of Honey Bee Books recounts this one:

‘After introducing himself, Boori asked the audience a series of questions, getting everyone to put up their hands up in response:

‘Hands up if you love your Mum?

‘Hands up if you love your Dad?

‘Hands up if you love eating chocolate?

‘Hands up if you love eating chocolate frogs?

‘Hands up if you love eating real frogs? EWWW!’

When reading at home you can use funny voices, pause dramatically before rhyming words to give kids a chance to predict and say them out loud, hunt for favourite elements in the illustrations and play games searching for letters on each page (such as the first letter of your child’s name).

Boori’s joke about frogs also set the scene for the particular book he was reading: My Girragundji, the story of an Aboriginal boy and his friendship with a little green tree frog.

If your kids are a little bit wriggly and jiggly and find it hard to settle, then introducing some of the book’s themes and plot before you start reading  (‘this is a book about …’) can invite them into the story and help them keep track of the plot.

Something else Boori is terrific at is dealing with the fidgets by getting kids (and adults) up and moving, performing simple actions and dances. This is a great strategy when reading to a large group. And if you have a fidgety kid at home, letting them move around (or just giving them something to do with their hands while listening) might help. You can also get them involved by asking them to show you things in the illustrations, or selecting books like the I Spy series, Get Out of My Bath or Press Here, which specifically invite readers to interact with the story.

Boori is very much aware that there are elements in each story and performance which have universal appeal, and others which speak to specific age groups. He includes both in his storytelling.

Which leads us to the challenge of how to read aloud to two or more kids of different ages?

At home, one simply strategy is to alternate who gets to choose the book to be read each day or each bedtime. Older kids can be given the choice to read their own book quietly while their younger sibling listens to a story (but will often actually enjoy ‘listening in’). Younger kids might need another quiet activity, like drawing, to keep them occupied while their big brother or sister listens to their story.

We hope you found this article useful: if so, please consider sharing it as we #spreadmagicnotgerms and support each other through COVID-19. 


Publisher details

Shake a Leg
Boori Pryor, Jan Ormerod
Allen & Unwin
Children’s Picture Book
01 October, 2010


From pizza shop to bora ground, here is a joyous celebration of food, dance and cultural understanding.

When three young boys go to a pizza parlour and meet an Aboriginal chef who can speak Italian and make a deadly pizza, they're in for a surprise!All you fellas watching, come up, join in, warrima.Clap your hands, little ones.Stamp your feet, nannas.Get down and dance, you smart young things, mummas and daddas.Let's get the whole town dancing!Boori Monty Pryor is a storyteller, dancer, writer and educator, and Jan Ormerod is an internationally acclaimed picture-book author and illustrator. This glorious book is the first one they have cooked up together.

Publisher details

My Girragundji
Boori Pryor, Meme McDonald
Allen & Unwin
Children’s Fiction
01 October, 1998


The story of an Aboriginal boy whose house is invaded by a Hairyman - a spirit the old people call a Quinkin. When a little green tree frog lands on his windowsill, he knows she has been sent by the ancestors to help him face his fears.

'I wake with a start. The doorknob turns. It's him. The Hairyman...'There's a bad spirit in our house. He's as ugly as ugly gets and he stinks. You touch this kind of Hairyman and you lose your voice, or choke to death.It's hard to sleep when a hairy wrinkly old hand might grab you in the night. And in the day you've got to watch yourself. It can be rough. Words come yelling at you that hurt.Alive with humour, My Girragundji is the vivid story of a boy growing up between two worlds. With the little green tree frog as a friend, the bullies at school don't seem so big anymore. And Girragundji gives him the courage to face his fears.
Boori Pryor
About the author

Boori Pryor

Boori Pryor is from North Queensland. His mother's people are Kunggandji and his father is from the Birra-gubba Nation. Boori is a performer, storyteller and writer.

Books by Boori Pryor


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