15 Children's Books With Character Voices For You To *Really* Get Into
Every parent wants to be the best at reading stories to their children. We all fancy ourselves a bit like Robin Williams as we play out the characters, but we could use a little help. Since practice makes perfect, I have a list of the best children's books with character voices for you to get really into.
One of the many jobs I took while working as an actor was narrating audiobooks. While I mostly narrated romance, one of my favorite ways to try out new character voices was by reading children's books. Typically, there are only a few characters, and they often repeat phrases, or speak in verse, which is actually really helpful. However, my grandmothers always end up sounding like Eric Idle in Monty Python's French Tickler sketch.
The best way to get better, and tap into your inner Robin Williams (or, apparently, Eric Idle), is by practicing, so I have collected my favorite books with a wide range of characters in a variety of styles to help you get started. Have fun with it. Make it big, make it silly, and help build your children's vocabulary and love of books at the same time.
One note: I would not pick books where your children already have expectations for how the characters should sound to practice new voices. Pooh, Elmo, and Grover are stuck in their minds already, so it's best to give them those.
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1. 'Green Eggs and Ham' by Dr. Seuss
This obviously has to be on the list for a variety of reasons. First, it's an easy back-and-forth between two characters, one cheerful and one grumpy. It also has a cadence that spurs it along, as well as increasing levels of excitement from both characters to make things interesting.
2. 'Fortunately, the Milk' by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman writes character-driven books, and his kid lit is no different. This book takes readers on a wild ride, and between the narrator and children, provides quite a bit of fodder for voices. Plus, it's really just a joy to read, and both of my children were huge fans.
3. 'Imani's Moon' by Janay Brown-Wood
When my daughter was 3 or 4, she was absolutely obsessed with this book about a young Masai girl who wants to touch the moon. It's a stunning story so gorgeously illustrated by Hazel Mitchell, and it's full of characters young and old to help you practice your voices.
4. 'The Cat From Hunger Mountain' by Ed Young
The Cat From Hunger Mountain is devastatingly beautiful, with haunting imagery and a deeply rich storyline. It's told through animals, so there is a lot of leeway for how voices could sound. Ed Young really pulls you through the journey with his illustrations, and it's a joy to read.
5. 'Ten Magic Butterflies' by Danica McKellar
I like this book for a lot of reasons. Chief among them, it's a counting book I don't hate. (I can't stand most of them.) Second, there are 10 characters and a fairy you'll get to voice, and since they're all flowers, you can really go wild with them. And lastly, it really has a sweet message about being happy with who you are.
6. 'A Bad Case of Stripes' by David Shannon
I love this book, and read it over and over again to my two children. There are plenty of fun characters to read, but again, the best part of this book is how it teaches kids to accept themselves, and love themselves how they are. But there's still plenty of opportunity for fun escalation of excitement, and voices with deep irritation as well.
7. 'Rabbit's Snow Dance' by Joseph & James Bruchac
This book has a fun story, a great cadence, and plenty of disapproving animal characters for you to voice. It also gives a wide range of emotions to play with, as well as working in themes of belief and struggle.
8. 'The Day the Crayons Quit' by Drew Daywalt
This book became an instant classic upon its release, and it's no wonder why. What if all the crayons quit, deciding they no longer want to color? Well, that's exactly what happens in this gem of a story, with plenty of opportunities for you to hone your voice skills.
9. 'Lucia the Luchadora' by Cynthia Leonor Garza
I have no idea why this book isn't wildly popular. My daughter absolutely loved it, and it was the first book she read aloud to me cover-to-cover without stopping. There are fun characters to play, and the storyline is absolute perfection. Who says that girls can't be wrestling superheroes?
10. 'The Hula Hoopin' Queen' by Thelma Lynn Godin
This book is a lovely tale about setting your expectations, making goals, and believing in yourself. The characters are primarily children, but you'll find opportunities for grandparent and parent voices as well. The overall tone of the story lends to a lot of different emotions, which is great for learning your reading rhythm.
11. 'The Library Lion' by Michelle Knudsen
Arguably, this book only features a few voices, but what it lacks in number, it more than makes up for in heart. The librarian, the assistant, and the lion are all such wonderful characters, and the book teaches children a valuable lesson about why you need to break the rules — sometimes.
12. 'How I Became a Pirate' by Melinda Long
"Arrrrr..." It wouldn't be a read aloud post if I didn't include at least one classic pirate book, would it? No, it would not. This one is particularly fun because the storyline follows a boy who is plucked from the obscurity of making sandcastles into the unwieldy world of pirate life. Plenty of fun vocal shenanigans happening.
13. 'The Bagel King' by Andrew Larsen
This book lets you work out your inner New York grandfather voice, and it's wonderful. The story of a Zaida and grandson who share bagels every weekend, and what happens when that is interrupted, is light and fun. Plus there's an interesting look at Yiddish words and phrases that everyone should know.
14. 'Auntie Uncle: Drag Queen Hero' by Ellie Royce
This book is a verified sensation — and for a good reason. Not only is it hilarious, it teaches a beautiful story. The characters are few, but they are just as exciting and fun as you'd expect. The book is a whole journey, and every kid should get to hear their caregivers read it to them.
15. 'Mina Vs the Monsoon' by Rukhsanna Guidroz
Soccer-loving Mina just wants to go outside and play, but the monsoon season is keeping the little girl indoors. She talks to her parents and adults to find out why it's happening, to understand why she can't play. The book is a huge win for sports fans, as they'll be able to relate to Mina in her plight. It's a win for parents, because you really get to make a pretty whiny voice. (Turnabout, and all that.)