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Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books. See the archive for focus pieces from previous months.
Duet Reads: Hoberman and Beyond

Stories and poems to be read aloud by two (or more) voices offer a unique opportunity to young readers to be full partners with another person in a reading activity. Aspects of the text such as rhythm, inflection, and repetition come to the fore in duet reads, working a mysterious alchemy that wakes up all the senses and makes reading an act of magic rather than a chore. That magical experience can be quiet and private in a corner in a library, or vibrant and commanding on a school stage or in a community theatre. The following books are intended for a range of readers, but they hold in common this principle: text read aloud is more than the sum of its parts. It is a dance of words.

Currently, the best known such works are written by Mary Ann Hoberman in her trio of works. She began with You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Stories to Read Together , a series of illustrated poems, each with some degree of narrative arc. Spirited and genial, the bi-vocal poems celebrate with wordplay the pedestrian aspects of a child's life, such as building a snowman or bathing the dog. Her next offering for two voices, the 2005 Gryphon Award Honor Book You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Fairy Tales to Read Together , offers wry commentary on familiar tales with stories told by characters with a lively sense of the ironies of their situation. Some standard plots are even turned on their heads, such as when the third little pig pops the wolf into a stewpot and turns up the heat as he levels accusations of porcicide at the nervous lupine. Text shorts are categorized by color according to reader, making visual interpretation that much easier. Just released in July, Hoberman's most recent two-reader offering, You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Mother Goose Tales to Read Together follows the successful color-coded format and revisionist style established by Very Short Fairy Tales.

John Ciardi's You Read to Me, I'll Read to You is a collection of thirty-five humorous poems illustrated by Edward Gorey. These sly, ironic poems arranged for two voices offer a clever commentary on the world's delights and dangers that readers familiar with the Struwwelpeter stories or Lemony Snicket's sinister series will appreciate.

Judy Blume's The Pain and the Great One was originally part of Marlo Thomas's Free to Be You and Me but was later published as a picture book. In it, two siblings express their frustration over their rivalry. First the older sister describes over the course of several pages how her parents and even the cat pander to her brother; then, in the last half of the book, the brother complains that his sister gets all the breaks. The last straw for both is finding out that life isn't much fun without the other around to pester and play with. Though it is more a joining of monologues than a duet read in the strictest sense, this story nevertheless offers young readers a chance to participate in a dual venture that mirrors the message of the book.

Paul Fleischman won the Newbery Medal for his 1988 Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices , a poignant, witty collection treating the life and death experiences of insects. Rhythm and repetition create layers of significance in these poems, which read just as powerfully the tenth time as the first. Fleischman has an earlier duet poetical read, I Am Phoenix, which includes some poetic gems that bear seeking out; for those seeking more challenging sharing opportunities, Big Talk offers poems that orchestrate four voices like music.

David L. Harrison entered the duet read ranks in 2000 with Farmer's Garden: Rhymes for Two Voices, a picture book of short poems written in the voices of farm animals and insects. These brief verses are led by the inquisitive farmer's dog, who asks all and sundry why they do what they do. The conversations are occasionally random, apparently organized more to rhyme than to make complete narrative sense, but the verses carry a repetitive, comforting warmth, which, combined with the farm theme, will appeal to many young readers (and their parents).

While this article by no means covers the whole range of works available for multiple readers, it at least provides an introduction to the variety that exists. Online searching for such texts can be difficult; keywords such as "duet read" or "two voices" aren't always fruitful. Perhaps the best way to gather a list of reliable, magical reads is by word of mouth\a powerful tool in any context.

\Timnah Card, reviewer

Selected Bibliography:

  • Hoberman, Mary Ann. You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Stories to Read Together; illus. by Michael Emberley. Little, Brown, 2001. (BCCB 10/01)
  • Hoberman, Mary Ann. You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Fairy Tales to Read Together; illus. by Michael Emberley. Little Brown, 2004. (BCCB 5/04)
  • Hoberman, Mary Ann. You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Mother Goose Tales to Read Together; illus. by Michael Emberley. Little, Brown, 2005. (BCCB 9/05)
  • Ciardi, John. You Read to Me, I'll Read to You; illus. by Edward Gorey. Lippincott, 1962; Harper, 1987. (BCCB 5/63)
  • Blume, Judy. The Pain and the Great One. Bradbury, 1984. (BCCB 11/84)
  • Fleischman, Paul. Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices; illus. by Eric Beddows. Harper, 1988. (BCCB 2/88)
  • Fleischman, Paul. Big Talk; illus. by Beppe Giacobe. Candlewick, 2000. (BCCB 4/00)
  • Fleischman, Paul. I Am Phoenix; illus. by Ken Nutt. Harper, 1985. (BCCB 10/85)
  • Harrison, David L. Farmer's Garden: Rhymes for Two Voices; illus. by Arden Johnson-Petrov. Wordsong/Boyds Mills.


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This page was last updated on October 1, 2005.


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