How to Read (Behowl the Moon) to a Kid... or Anyone Else

Now that Behowl the Moon is published, I am hoping children and caregivers will be reading it over and over and over again. (Hey... it's Shakespeare.) Here's my best advice on how to make that happen--if you have more, better, different strategies, please shoot me an email! I'm enparekh at I'll put them in the list, but mostly I want them for selfish, chair-based reasons. 

The categories below are rough guidelines and the age delimitations are mushy and arbitrary, but if you know your listener well you will likely know the methods that will click when you see them. 

READING TO AN INFANT (~0-3 months)

Use a soothing voice and hold the baby close. Read naturally and as regularly as you can manage... or do a big dramatic turn as Puck three nights running and forget about it for another week. Have fun, and start thinking of your little one as a listener. 

READING TO A BABY (~4-9 months)

Cuddle and be enthusiastic when reading. Use lots of sound effects: animal noises when mentioned or when the animals seem to catch the baby's eye, snoring for the ploughman. Use motion: mimic the action in the illustrations, such as throwing your head back to howl, putting up a hand to say "stop" at "not a mouse," smoothing the baby's hair at "if we shadows have offended." Clap the baby's hands at "Give me your hands" (thanks @kimskitchensink!). Emphasize rhymes and turn pages quickly. Point out and identify animals and concrete objects.


Give silly performances and use funny voices. Animal noises are key here, and the child is starting to really follow storylines. Use rowdier motions (except maybe at bedtime). But be careful what you make part of the routine, because you are entering "Read it again!" zone. Ask what a donkey says. Most likely you are still going to be answering yourself, but some kids may volunteer or repeat noises. Ask "Do you see the owl?" and other object-identifying questions--you might be surprised when the answers start coming. 

READING TO A PROPER TODDLER (~18 months-2.5 years)

Read with lots of atmosphere--a bit of spookiness is fun, or accents, or a call-and-response game. Ask the child to make the animal noises, like a Foley artist for your reading. Let the child point out objects of interest and talk about them, turning pages at the child’s rate. Once the book becomes familiar, try changing words as a joke. Play animal and color identification games. Ask how many small animals they see. “Where is the donkey? Can you find a purple animal?” Interrupt the reading if child seems to want to linger on the page; if the child seems invested in the “what happens next” aspect, read at a normal pace and wait for questions. "Frolic" with a little shake-dance or ride in the rocking chair. 


Ask the child to tell you what’s happening in the pictures or what the animals want. Play “spot the fairies” or "spot the mouse." If you are worried about the graves open wide on page 8 consider substituting “waves;” likewise “shroud” (page 6) can become “cloud.” Play rhyme games: what else rhymes with “glow”? Give extremely hammy performances of the text. Talk about what the words mean and how they make the child feel. Some kids will want to play "What letter is this?" and "What sound does this make?" proto-reading games, others won't. Ask the child to take the part of one of the animals and give them cues to roar, hoot, or squeak at times when that animal appears on the page. Demonstrate showing emotion through tone of voice and gesture and lead the child to choose and project emotions through the animal. Talk about how that animal is feeling when the action happens, then talk about how a different animal feels. Let the child make up the story and tell it to you.


Ask the child to tell you what is happening on various pages, and speculate about what's going on off the page. Define words as needed. Practice roles and cues ("Okay, now I'll be the lion. You be the donkey." "Who do you think is telling the story?") and consider using the book as a script to create a game of Theater. Have the child read to you, or just let them enjoy the book solo. 


Behowl the Moon makes an excellent introduction to a bite-sized portion of Shakespeare that is not condensed, translated, or otherwise adulterated, so if you know a child with an interest in or upcoming experience of Shakespeare, this is a great way to prepare. Talk about word meanings and archaic language. (If you get stuck, try here and here for context. No Fear Shakespeare provides a colloquial modern "translation" here which is an interesting Starting Point for Discussion but does not really map too well to Behowl the Moon). Consider choosing another version of A Midsummer Night's Dream (a live performance, a movie, a condensed kid's version, selections from the text of the play) and comparing it. 


For adults and teenagers, Behowl the Moon can become a lens to think about A Midsummer Night's Dream and Shakespeare as an active influence on modern culture, a piece of interpretive art, and a self-contained story open to a number of interpretations.

Students, actors, philosophers, and second-language learners may find Behowl the Moon helpful to considering this section in depth and from several different angles. Translating the text into modern language is an interesting challenge, and comparing different, equally defensible versions can open up further avenues for discussion. 

Talk about A Midsummer NIght's Dream as a whole, and whether any other bits could become small stories unto themselves out of context. What themes and connections from the play do you see in Behowl the Moon? What is the role of animals in A Midsummer NIght's Dream? How does that reflect into Behowl the Moon? The art in the book consciously reflects folkloric practice and themes from the play itself, but there are other elements deliberately excluded. What tensions are at play between premodern European tradition, the "canon," and the cultural touchstones you or the caregivers you know want to pass on to the next generation? What do you think of, reading alongside the original illustrations? What images stick with you? What's the tone of Behowl the Moon versus A Midsummer Night's Dream versus the feelings you get looking at the art without pairing it to the text? 


Where the little girls aren't: Gender imbalance in board books

When I analyzed the board books in our house, the imbalance between genders was striking: in 30 books, we have 14 male protagonists and 4 female. Distribution of speaking parts for characters was even worse. But I'm not ready to toss good books for bad gender politics. I have a few strategies to decrease the gap.