Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Public Reading, Number One. Check!

"Listen with your ears and imagine with your brain." she whispered to the group of  four year olds seated like pretzels on the wooden floor beneath her.

Yesterday was the first time I read one of my manuscripts publicly and in front of an audience of its intended age group. My daughter is "child of the week" at her preschool. Yes folks. This means she gets to stand at the front of the line on several different occasions throughout out the week as well as share her special toys and  pictures of her life. She also has taken it upon herself to remind us lowly folk at home of her special powers,  as she delegates where each family member will sit at the dinner table or notifies us she gets to butter her own bread. "I'm child of the week", she proclaims.

During this week, many parents when it's their student's turn to be "child of the week", present special things related to their child's life. A daddy park ranger lugged in a beautiful piece of wood, native to the area he works. A farmer grandpa and his duck serenaded the class with a guitar song he had written about his grandson, (FYI the duck was just there for moral support-no serenading done on his part. ) Immediately I fantasized about my husband,  being the involved and silly daddy he is, to go in front of her class to play one of his instruments or do magic tricks, etc. Unfortunately, the man has to work.

So what could I offer as the ambassador of my family? I brainstormed and came up with a multiple choice quiz for you. (WARNING: Former teacher in me resurfacing)

I could...

a) do some Salsa moves I learned abroad, where my movements might slightly resemble Elaine's exotic  moves from Seinfeld.
b) relive my sixth grade experience of singing solo in front of a cringing audience of parents, teachers,   and students
c) share my first silly story I ever wrote in my whole, entire adult life 
d) all of the above
e) none of the above

If you guessed (d), you are absolutely WRONG! The correct answer is (c)!

The hours leading up to the reading were intense. My hands were sweaty. A big part of me was doubting if I could pull off reading a story, without any pictures, to a group of preschoolers.  I kept asking my daughter, "Are you sure you want me to read the story today?", half-hoping (keyword = half), that she might give me a good reason to back out of the promise.

As I practiced my reading in front of the mirror and repeatedly recited the mantra: "I am a capable person. I can read to four year olds. I am a capable person. I can read to four year olds", I tried to snap myself out of those nagging feelings of insecurity and to remind myself  of the fact that I am a former high school teacher for Pete's sake!

Then I realized, it wasn't about speaking in front of  kids. It was about sharing my own story with those for whom it was written. This was to be my first test. Would my story stand a chance?
As I sat before the small audience of four year olds, teachers, and parents, before I began to read, I glanced over to my daughter seated on the stool next to me for some reassurance. She yawned. Not a good sign.

And then it came back to me. Just like they say, it's like falling off a bike, I mean, riding a bike.  I found myself prepared to read just as I would if I were reading something  for the first time with a group of my own students.

The following reading practices came back to me just in the nick of time (hallelujah!):

a) pre-reading questions to ensure comprehension of key vocabulary in the reading
b) silly questions to engage listeners in the content of the book
c) check for comprehension questions throughout the reading

Well, I am still alive and kicking and I must say that these three, last minute components really helped me along in this first adventure. (Not to mention a whole lotta coffee!) 
I would love to know, what experiences have you had reading your work to audiences? What helped to make or break your experience?

P.S. I would love to deliver a quick, too-late disclaimer for a previous post...
Conversation between husband and wife:

"Zombies? You called your blog readers zombies?"

What? Is that what is sounds like? No! That isn't what I meant! There was that picture at the top? The women in the picture reminded me of some batch of creepy Twilight Zone zombies. They were wearing rather large clocks that reminded me of all the deadlines fast approaching! Uh oh."

That is the problem of the digital age. You don't have the opportunity to explain yourself or to see the reactions of your comments in person, as I did with the audience of little four year olds seated in front of me just yesterday.

I would never think to call any person a zombie unless they were a tad grey and trying to eat me. I apologize for any confusion and disgust I may have caused. =)


  1. As a children's book author presenting at schools,I'm suppose to be entertaining the children but more often than not, the children entertain me. For example, on a past school visit, as I stood in the auditorium waiting for the children to file in and take their "seats" on the floor, I heard a boy make a comment to his friend.. "Hey!" he said, "She looks just like a real person!" You gotta love kids :)

  2. Great tips! I bet the kids loved it.