Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The President Reads "Where the Wild Things Are"--A Lesson in Story Time

At the first Easter Egg Roll of the Obama presidency, the President read "Where the Wild Things Are" to a group of children.

I saw a clip of it, and immediately saw some great things--and some not so great things--in his performance.

And it's a great way to offer some important rules on the art of reading picture books to a group:

Rule 1: You are reading to LITTLE people! Position yourself accordingly.

President Obama is tall--really tall. At 5' 4" I am not, but I am still a lot taller than the munchkins I read to--and so are you.

The kids are on the ground. The President is standing up. Perhaps that's for a camera angle, but it's forcing the kids to cran their necks to see him--uncomfortable and certain to make the restless.
It's got to be uncomfortable for him too, having to lean down like that!

He was also too far away from the kids. Cute to have his own daughters positioned in front of him, but they were blocking the kids--and probably distracting them. Better to have them up with their mother, or in the front of the audience.

SIT DOWN!  :The President should have been seated on a chair. A low chair, if possible. I keep a small child sized blue chair--relic of a former children's room--in my story room. Surely they could have found Mr Obama a stool or a chair.

Rule 1A:It's not just how you're positioned, it's the book!

At :48 seconds and again at 2:54 Mrs Obama tells her husband some of the kids can't see the book. He is tilting it and holding it too high, partly because he is standing.

LEARN TO HOLD THE BOOK: The President has obviously done this before, but he still hasn't perfected what I might call "librarian grip"--holding the book balanced levelly on one hand in the center, while you turn the pages with the other. You can hold it with 2 hands, but it makes it awkward and you'll have to shift the book as you turn each page. If you do story times a lot, this will become natural, but at first you may need to practice a bit.

Hold the book low enough for your audience to see it easily. You can hold it to one side of you to help you see the text. If you have a large audience, you can move the book the same way you would "pan and scan" with a camera to left everyone see the pictures.

Rule 2: Don't miss a chance for audience participation!
At 2:11 the President missed the chance to encourage his audience to "roar their terrible roars", etc, etc.
This is something the kids love to do and pulls them into the story. On the up side, at 2:24, he DID pull them into "staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once", and both he and they clearly enjoyed it. He also does a GREAT version of the "wild rumpus" at 3:12!

Rule 3: Pick something you enjoy reading--and read it in advance
Mr Obama has read this book before--if either of his girls is anything like mine, he may have read it a lot.  But whether he's read it just once or twice, or at some point nightly the way I did for my daughter SC when she was 2, he'd read it before. You can see him looking away from the book as he reads parts of it with confidence--and I don't think it was on a Teleprompter. He's reading smoothly and with enthusiasm.

Rule 4: Have a great time doing what you're doing. 
He's having fun. The kids are having fun. And that's how it always should be!


  1. he might have wanted to be more familiar with the story before he read it to a group of children.

  2. I'd guess that he had read it to his girls more than once when they were little, but might have forgotten more than he thought he had.

    Probably should add a rule though about rehearsing your books. Though I've been doing this so long, I don't do it much myself :D


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