Why Reading to Your Kids Works: An Interview with Celebrated Storyteller Jim Weiss
By Valerie Koehler

Jim Weiss, a nationally acclaimed children’s storyteller, was first a story listener. Growing up, he was enthralled listening to the classic stories that his father told on a level of understanding for children. “Twenty-five years later,” says Weiss, “I am still telling stories that show people learning to grow, people faced with challenges based on who they are.”

After recounting these tales, his father always told him that if he wanted to know more he could read a book, available at the library or bookstore – a mantra that Weiss now repeats to his listeners at the end of each of his best-selling storytelling tapes and CDs.

Storytelling to Feed the Soul

In 1989, Weiss and his wife Randy created Greathall Productions in order to retell classic stories from our collective culture for the family.

“I came home from my job one day and talked to my family about the need to feed my soul and contribute to the world,” Weiss recalls. “We started with five story tapes.” Now with 33 tapes currently available and more on the way, Weiss has received multiple awards by storytelling organizations, parenting organizations and nationally recognized educational groups.

His stories include classic Greek myths, Shakespeare plays, Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and Aesop’s Fables. Upcoming stories include the lives of famous scientists, inventors, and other historical figures. Children can listen to Weiss tell these stories again and again. His multi-faceted voice creates vivid pictures of the place, the characters and the action. He knows the importance of our collective history and culture, and strives to impart that knowledge with every story he tells.

Why Reading to Kids Works

Imagine driving in your car, listening to the news. You hear reference to a Trojan horse, a Herculean task and the Midas Touch. To be able to recall these allusion, at some point you would have to have heard or read classic Greek mythology. This is why Weiss has chosen classic storytelling, and why we read to our children every night – to tell them where we come from and who we are. These stories build bridges of understanding of all the cultures of our world.

“Read to your child every day” is a suggestion we hear constantly from educators and parenting experts. It seems so simple, and it is. The benefits have been widely proven Reading comprehension grows when a child learns the structure of stories or develops the listening skills associated with hearing a story told or read aloud. It is certainly “quality” time with your child, snuggled close and not distracted by the outside world.

Storytelling: Something for Everyone

But the best part is the selfish part: you experience the story too. I first met the children of Narnia not as a child, but as a 35-year-old. I couldn’t wait to read to my boys at night to learn where we were going next, rooting for the good guys, jumping into the action packed adventures, and stopping to savor the quiet moments. I loved every minute of it, and I am convinced that the three of us benefited from all the time we spent together.

Whether you are revisiting childhood friends such as Anne of Green Gables and Encyclopedia Brown, or meeting new friends such as Harry Potter and Junie B. Jones, you’ll have a friend, and a history, in common to with your child.

“Parents sharing stories are forming deep bonds with their children,” says Weiss. “In a sense they are giving a part of themselves.”


Greathall Productions: Contact Jim or Randy Weiss for storytelling tapes and more at or 1-800-477-6234.

Houston Storyteller’s Guild: Contact Brian Herod at


Valerie And Walter’s Great Books For Children (2nd ed.), Harper Collins, March 2004.

How To Get Your Child To Love Reading: For Ravenous and Reluctant Readers Alike, by Esme Codell, Algonquin Books, 2003.

D’Aulaires Stories of Greek Myths, by Edgar Parin D'Aulaire and Ingri D'Aulaire, Yearling Books, 1992.

Read All About It

For more on children’s literature, authors and the art of storytelling, check out:

Behind the Pages - Seven noted children’s book authors share their childhood memories and influences

The 100 Greatest Children’s Books of All Time – See whether your favorites made our list. If not, then add yours in our Best Children’s Books Family Forum.

What Makes a Great Children’s Book? – A look at why great children’s books strike a chord and stay with us through adulthood.

The Very Creative Children’s Book Author – A Conversation with the inimitable Eric Carle.

Why Reading to Your Kids Works – Celebrated storyteller Jim Weiss discusses how sharing books and stories fosters deeper parent-child bonds.

Reading Begins at Home – Partnership for Reading helps parents help their children during the critical years of learning to read.

Reading to Two – How and what to read to siblings.

More Books and Beyond

From United Parenting Publications, July