Hobbit Read Along, Week 1: How to Read For an Audience

Are you interested in joining our Hobbit Read Along?  Sign up to receive weekly emails during the event either below or in the comments of our introduction: Hobbits, Hot Chocolate, and The Bookshelf Giveaway.  Or see Hobbit Read Along, Week Two for the next installment.

A Good Beginning

Welcome, trolls, elves, and burglars alike, to the inaugural Hobbit Read Along post!  Preparing for this has been a labor of love on my end, and I’m so happy to finally crack open our books and start the journey!

Before we go any further, let’s rehearse a few ground rules in case you’ve forgotten.  Today, Nov. 5th, 2012, we’re launching a read along of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit which will end the week of Dec. 3rd-7th.  (That’s the week before the Peter Jackson movie comes out.)  There will be no grades, no quizzes, no term papers–we’re doing this for FUN, not credit.  I hope it’ll be something you and your family will remember for years to come.

Three Books I’ll be consulting are 1) The Hobbit, 2) Finding God in The Hobbit by Jim Ware, and 3) Lord of the Elves and Eldils: Fantasy and Philosophy in C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.  These last two books would be great additions your library, as they not only shed light on The Hobbit, but they present some of the most important apologetic ideas of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.


When you’re curled up on the couch reading a great book, what’s more fun than hot chocolate?  Each week I thought I’d offer a new recipe for us to sample together.  A sort of chocolate adventure, if you will, for us to take as we follow Bilbo on his.

For the record, though, if your family has another favorite treat, why not use that to set the mood instead?  I’ve found that kids with something to eat/drink during a family reading time–popcorn, chips and dip, or hot cocoa–are more likely to sit still and listen.  (And for those trying out the family reading thing for the first time, a tasty snack builds a positive association both with reading and books!)

For this week’s recipe, what could be more adventurous than a recipe by The Hairy Bikers?  The recipe I’ve included in the download below will help us put a vanilla twist on an English classic.  So ya’ll let me know how you like it (or if you have a better recipe!), and happy toasting!

Guest Host: John Erickson

Each week I’ll either invite a guest host to enrich our reading or provide some research I dug up myself.  This week, I’m thrilled to welcome John Erickson, author of the Hank the Cowdog series of books for all ages, to talk to us about his own journey as a writer, as well as how he learned to narrate his own books.  The man does dog, coyote, and buzzard voices, for Pete’s sake, so I figured he, if anybody, could help us learn to effectively voice the elves, hobbits, dwarfs, and trolls in The Hobbit.

Before I hand him the mic, though, here are some pointers I picked up from other successful authors like Mem Fox, who has her own extensive How-to-read-aloud post:

  • Use Your Eyes: If the goal is to read in an expressive way, a way that captivates your hearers, don’t forget to use your eyes.  As Mem says, “Animation in the eyes isn’t difficult. We can widen them, narrow them, use them to “think” with, to be “shocked” with, to be “scared” with, to “listen” with, to be “happy” with, to show fright with, and so on.”
  • Use Vocal Contrast:  You can bring a lot of interest and emotion to a story just by using contrast in the tone, quality, and speed of your voice.  In other words, talk slower in the thoughtful parts but faster during chase scenes.  Talk louder in a storm but whisper around a campfire.  Again, Mem says it best, “We can do at least seven things with our voices to keep our listeners engaged. Six of these seven vocal gymnastics are contrasts: loud and soft; fast and slow; and high and low. And we can p-a-u-s-e.”
  • Use Context Clues:  John would agree with Mem on this one.  You don’t need special training to be an arresting reader.  Just pay attention to what you’re reading, listen to the author’s cues, and consider the context.  You’ll likely find that the story itself will prompt you as you go along.
  • Background Noises: Don’t forget background noises–sounds of people splashing through mud or slamming a door.  These can add a lot of detail…and humor at times.  Don’t be afraid to put one of your little people in charge of these sounds.  They can be primed ahead of time to make a howling wind sound or a barking dog sound on cue.
  • Assign Parts:  And if you really want to have fun, get an extra copy or two of the book from the library, and assign your kids to read certain characters.  One could read all the dialogue by Gandalf, while another reads everything by Thorin.
  • Listen to Radio Theater: There’s no better way to get ideas for your reading style than listening to nifty audiobooks or even great radio theater.  John says that he grew up listening to shows like The Shadow (fair warning, some of these are scary) and other family radio shows.  For kids 8-12, the Adventures in Odyssey series airs in a lot of areas and is fairly entertaining radio.  Listening to these stories helped shape his ear for good storytelling.
  • Just Do It!  John says that he learned mostly by doing.  By getting in front of audiences and trying things out.  So, don’t worry if you’re a novice, or if your troll voices sound weird, just give it a shot, have fun, and learn as you go.  And worst case scenario, you’ll probably get a lot of laughs along the way.


THE PODCAST w/ John Erickson

If you’re not a professionally trained actor, you’re in good company this week!  In our interview, John explains how he came to narrate his Hank the Cowdog books without ever receiving any formal training.  AND best of all, he gives us a taste of his craft by reading a bit of one of his recent books for us on the fly.  Something that required him to put his own advice to us into practice:

Throw yourself into it, forget who’s watching, and be bold enough to experiment with your voice.–John Erickson

[powerpress] ***podcast currently unavailable***



These are the resources you may want to print off if you’re actually doing the read along.  (I hope the rest of the post will be interesting for folks regardless.)  It includes the read along schedule, the week’s main idea, games/discussion questions, a contest, and of course, the week’s hot chocolate recipe.  Hope you enjoy!

CLICK HERE to download as .pdf.



One last quick note: if you like what we’re doing, there’s a quick and easy way to support us.  Next time you want to buy something on Amazon.com, click through any link to Amazon on our site and make your purchases (for instance, the widget on the sidebar).  You pay nothing extra, but we get a very small kickback for every dollar you spent.  Unfortunately, we won’t have any way to thank you personally, but please know we appreciate it more than we can say.

And don’t forget, tonight (Nov. 5th) at 7 pm is our Bookshelf Giveaway.  If you’re new to our site, you might be interested in some of our earlier read alongs, including one on C.S. Lewis’s Abolition of Man and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.   I’ve also written a good bit on finding Christ in literature here.

As you start the reading, feel free to post questions, thoughts, and insights below for other readers to share!  Can’t wait to finally get going on this!

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  1. Mary Kelly on November 5, 2012 at 9:35 am

    I thought I had requested the emails in the previous post, but I haven’t received one – so just making sure I’m on your list!

  2. emily on November 5, 2012 at 11:09 am

    So glad you’re checking up on this, Mary! Actually, the emails will come out probably Wednesday. They will mostly be a reminder of what’s going on that week at the site–i.e. a quick peek at the week’s read along post and maybe a few extras. It’s just a way for the info to come to you each week, rather than having to remember when and where to look. So, yes, you are on the list, and hopefully we’ll get that first email to you Wed. Thanks again for asking!

  3. Jessalyn on November 5, 2012 at 11:46 am

    I’m so excited! Thanks for putting all this together Emily! And I LOVE the hot chocolate recipes to go along with it! You are awesome.

  4. Christina on November 5, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    We use audacity in homeschool. I don’t know if I can talk my son into recording him reading The Hobbit though:) He laughed at the suggestions for an alternative name for the dragon:) Thanks for putting so much time into this series!

  5. Amy on November 5, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    Hi! We’re late in joining, but we’d love to receive your emails for the read along. Thanks!

  6. Emily on November 6, 2012 at 9:18 am

    Please sign me up for the emails! Love this idea. Thanks so much.

  7. emily on November 7, 2012 at 10:54 pm

    Hey guys! I just scheduled the first Hobbit Read Along email to hit your emails Thursday morning, Central time. Our sweet intern, Nathan, and I had to enter all these emails in by hand, though, so please let us know if you don’t receive yours. We double-checked, but I suspect there may still be one or two mistakes. (Hopefully, next time we’ll find a way to do this automatically! Until then, thanks for bearing with us.)

  8. Joey Espinosa on November 8, 2012 at 9:16 am

    My kids have loved chapter 2, when the company meets the trolls. They thought the trolls were funny.

    And I especially got there attention as I grab my 5-year-old (gently) by the shoulder/neck at the same time I was reading about the troll grabbing Bilbo.

  9. emily on November 8, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    Glad they liked the trolls, Joey! I would love to have seen the look on your kid’s face when you grabbed him. I bet that was hilarious! (Although, I have to say, my husband did that once during a scary movie, and I still haven’t forgiven him yet. ha)

  10. What We Were Made For | on November 11, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    […] this fun Hobbit study my friend is doing […]

  11. Jane Birkelbach on November 12, 2012 at 7:01 am

    I know I’m a little late, but I’d love to jump in and read along if that’s alright – I’m a fast reader ;)! Thanks!

  12. Ann on November 13, 2012 at 8:46 pm

    Please add me to your email list! Thank you!!

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