Watch Stars Read Classic Children’s Books: Betty White, James Earl Jones, Rita Moreno & Many More

As if we need­ed the competition—am I right, parents?—of some very excel­lent children’s books read by some beloved stars of stage and screen, and even a for­mer vice pres­i­dent. With Sto­ry­line Online, the SAG Foun­da­tion, char­i­ta­ble arm of the Screen Actor’s Guild, has brought togeth­er top tal­ent for enthu­si­as­tic read­ings of books like William Steig’s Brave Irene, read by Al Gore, Satoshi Kitamura’s Me and My Cat, read by Eli­jah Wood, and Patri­cia Polacco’s Thank You, Mr. Falk­er, read by the fan­tas­tic Jane Kacz­marek. There are so many read­ings (28 total), I could go on… so I will. How about Bet­ty White’s irre­sistible read­ing of Har­ry the Dirty Dog, just above? Or Rita Moreno read­ing of I Need My Mon­ster, below, a light­heart­ed sto­ry about our need for dark­ness? Or James Earl Jones, who touch­ing­ly dis­cuss­es his own child­hood strug­gles with read­ing aloud, and tells the sto­ry of To Be a Drum, fur­ther down?

I won’t be able to resist show­ing these to my three-year-old, and if she prefers the read­ings of high­ly acclaimed actors over mine, well, I can’t say I blame her. Each video fea­tures not only the faces and voic­es of the actors, but also some fine ani­ma­tion of each storybook’s art. The pur­pose of the project, writes the SAG Foun­da­tion, is to “strength­en com­pre­hen­sion and ver­bal and writ­ten skills for Eng­lish-lan­guage learn­ers world­wide.” To that end, “Sto­ry­line Online is avail­able online 24 hours a day for chil­dren, par­ents, and edu­ca­tors” with “sup­ple­men­tal cur­ricu­lum devel­oped by a lit­er­a­cy spe­cial­ist.” The phrase “Eng­lish-lan­guage learn­ers” should not make you think this pro­gram is only geared toward non-native speak­ers. Young chil­dren in Eng­lish speak­ing coun­tries are still only learn­ing the lan­guage, and there’s no bet­ter way for them than to read and be read to.

As a mat­ter of fact, we’re all still learning—as James Earl Jones says, we need to prac­tice, no mat­ter how old we are: prac­tice tun­ing our ears to the sounds of well-turned phras­es and appre­ci­at­ing the delight of a story—about a dirty dog, a mon­ster, cat, cow, or lion—unfolding. So go on, don’t wor­ry if you don’t have chil­dren, or if they hap­pen to be else­where at the moment. Don’t deny your­self the plea­sure of hear­ing Robert Guil­laume read Chih-Yuan Chen’s Guji Guji, or Annette Ben­ing read Avi Slodovnick’s The Tooth, or… alright, just go see the full list of books and read­ers here… or see Sto­ry­time Online’s Youtube page for access to the full archive of videos.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Inter­na­tion­al Children’s Dig­i­tal Library Offers Free eBooks for Kids in Over 40 Lan­guages

Stephen Fry Reads You Have To F**king Eat, the New Mock Children’s Book by Adam Mans­bach

Rolling Stones Drum­mer Char­lie Watts Writes a Children’s Book Cel­e­brat­ing Char­lie Park­er (1964)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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