No time to read to your kids? Hire someone else to do it for you

“The first time I worked as a storyteller, it was for my neighbor’s child. The parents had some errands to run until late and paid me VND100,000 to read three volumes of Doraemon to their six-year-old baby girl,” says Le Thi Quyen, a professional storyteller and co-founder of storytelling group Doc Sach Thue. “To my surprise, we both enjoyed the experience very much and I must have done a good job because the girl asked me to read stories to her again, and before I knew it I was working as a storyteller/babysitter for a third of the parents in the neighborhood.”

Professional storytelling has been around for centuries in many countries around the world. In Vietnam, however, it has only just started to quietly spread in popularity. Originally a service for the elderly and those with disabilities who unable to read for themselves, reading services have emerged in Hanoi and Saigon several years ago in response to a demand amongst parents who find themselves too busy to read to their children at nap- or bedtime. Doc Sach Thue is the first group to establish itself in Ho Chi Minh City, with Quyen, her younger brother Duc Tan, teachers, librarians and a handful of students working to fund their college tuition, as the core staff. One-hour sessions cost VND50,000 during weekdays and double that on weekends. If the books are not in Vietnamese, depending on the language, the price per hour increases significantly.

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The majority of Quyen’s clients are elder people who have problems with their visions or simply desire the companionship provided along with the reading session. They often prefer classical books and foreign literature translated into Vietnamese. In general, they like to hear stories about history, culture and families. Storytellers work in the early morning reading daily newspapers or in the evening reading other kinds of books. However, during weekends or holidays, her clientele list switches to children whose parents are either busy with work or want to provide a different experience for their kids. Naturally, children have different storytelling demands. They like to listen to comic books, fairy tales and funny stories.

“Our party package is very popular on Saturday nights and during the summer,” says Quyen. “For roughly VND500,000, we host a small slumber party for three to five children where we read them stories, play games and feed them healthy homemade snacks. The stories and books we use can be anything the children or parents request. The amount isn’t much if the parents pool their money, and the kids are always happy when they hear stories in a group.”

According to Quyen, storytelling is not as easy a job as it may sound. “Anybody can pick up a book and read from it but it takes more than that to truly breathe life to a story and retain the children’s attention. It’s an art similar to voice acting. Storytellers are often also great communicators or orators. You need to have a clear and evocative voice, you need to know how to engage your audience, and you need to be able to get the soul of the story across.” For stories to live, they need the hearts, minds and ears of listeners. Without the listener, there is no story.

In recent years, as the industry slowly grows in popularity, many groups have sprung up. A few offer more sophisticated services, merging storytelling with babysitting, nannying, tutoring and private nursing. The appearance of these new companies and services has in turn attracted more workers, business opportunities and prospective clients to their industry.

While Doc Sach Thue is currently not taking on new clients, storytellers can be hired through  www.ibookstop.vn, or a nursing group run by Ms. Mong Tu 090 444 7844.