Being The Paper Bag Princess by Tracy Bryan
I was one of those kids that didn’t really fit in. The other kids in my life seemed slimmer, more confident and better looking than me. At least, I felt that they were all of these things, compared to me. I felt different.
How did I deal with this? I read. I became my characters.
I was from a middle-class family and this allowed me to go to good schools and have access to many books. I spent most of my tweens absorbed in my books, searching for a character I could actually relate to. It wasn’t until my teens that I met Elizabeth.
She was spunky, confident and brave. The part I liked most about her, was her paper bag dress. I happened to be reading it to a child that I was babysitting, and instantly I fell in love with Elizabeth. Whether I realized it at the time or not, she became my new mentor. Not only was she happy with who she was, but she also represented strength and a new kind of feminism for girls everywhere. Thank you, Robert Munsch!
During my late teens, I got a job working as a counselor at a summer camp. I was in charge of 10 little girls aged 6-8. I loved it! It was wonderful having all these little girls need me. I needed them too and the only problem I came across that summer was homesickness.
Crying little girls are kind of like dominoes-one falls apart and they all start to fall one after the other. I had 10 little crying and homesick girls on my hands! Not quite sure what to do, I used my instincts and started reciting out loud, in my best character voices, the story about the Paper Bag Princess. Gradually, all the crying ceased and those little girls wanted to hear more about Elizabeth. I told that story every night that summer to comfort my girls and every night each little girl fell sound asleep.
Years later, I read The Paper Bag Princess to my own kids, when they were little, and they were just as empowered by it as my camp girls and I were. In case your wondering… this Elizabeth didn’t end up marrying Ronald either. I found a magical prince who I’ve been with for over 25 years and we live happily ever after…
How Can YOU be a Great Storyteller/Reader?
Anyone can read a picture book in silly character voices if they really want to. Reading in character takes a little imagination and practice, and learning the essential elements of storytelling can help anyone be a master at the task.
This is an important element when reading in character. Set the tone right away and stay consistent with it. The tone of a story has a lot to do with the theme or plot of this story. If the story has a calm theme, keep the tone light and whimsical. Emphasizing certain words or phrases is key. Or if the story is darker, keep the tone darker and more mysterious. Possibly use a deeper voice on certain words/phrases.
Setting the tone by putting emphasis on certain words also helps to show the possible emotions that a character is feeling. For example; He sat in the corner and sneered. Emphasis on this feeling word helps get across that he is not happy.
Another great way to set the tone of a story is by taking advantage of the sound effects words. Make the sound of the word that is describing the sound effect.
The speed of how the story is read also impacts how the listeners will react to it. Reading a story at different speeds can create different effects on your listeners. If you deliver it slower, this builds mystery and leaves them wanting to hear more. Reading it faster or even just certain words faster, creates action and the feeling that something is happening right in front of you.
Depending on the age group, most picture books (at least for younger children) should have a nice balance of this. Too much action creates listeners to become too rowdy or hyper. While too slow, leaves them frustrated with too much anticipation. Similar to tone, read at different speeds according to what the theme or plot of the story is. Using silence or pausing in the story as you read adds drama too. This can be applied to all the elements-tone, volume, and speed.
Love You Forever is a great example of the capacity to use speed when storytelling. Even though it’s kind of a sad tale, it has a great message and begs to be savored. Reading a little slower or faster at different parts, can evoke such wonderful emotion for the reader and listener.
This element of storytelling/reading first depends on where you are. Obviously you’re going to read at a moderately low volume if you’re inside a school or public place, but, if you’re in your own home and the story calls for a loud voice… be loud. This is really great for audience participation too-have your listeners repeat what you read REALLY LOUDLY!
For picture books with repetitive words in them, say these words louder and louder each time you read them. A lot of the time, kids want you to read the same books over and over and chances are they already know all the words in the story. If this is the case, next time leave out certain words when you are reading and let them yell them out for you. This empowers kids and they really feel part of the characters and the story. A great example of a story that inspires kids to yell it out is Mortimer by Robert Munsch.
The most important element of being a great storyteller is to read by example. Read out loud, read silly, read often and…listen to when kids want to read to YOU!
More Recommended Read Aloud Picture Books by Robert Munsch
Tracy Bryan is a self-published author for kids aged 4-12. She writes whimsical non-fiction picture books about emotions, mental health, and other relevant social issues. Tracy will be releasing her debut fiction picture book late this spring called Put Away Your Phone! This quirky and important tale about modern technology stars a little girl and her dislike for grown-ups who are always on their phone. To learn more about Tracy and to preview any of her books, please visit her website here.