This is the latest edition of the classic book, first published in 1982, and regularly updated since then. I thought I’d try the new edition because Jen at Jen Robinson’s Book Pages was so enthusiastic about it, which led to my own thoughts on reading aloud.
The Read-Aloud Handbook (7th edition) by Jim Trelease. Penguin, 2013.
Trelease is a huge cheerleader for reading aloud, with much of the information in his book available on his website and in printable brochures as well as in his invaluable book. In the first half of the book, he talks about why reading aloud is important and how to do it, backed up with all the latest research. To sum up, read aloud starting ideally at birth, and don’t stop, especially not abruptly when children are first able to read on their own. (With teens, he says to play it by ear – some will still want to read aloud together, while others will prefer silent side-by-side reading.) Everyone involved in a child’s life should be reading aloud to them – mothers, fathers, and teachers. Reading separately to kids of widely different ages is a good idea (here I feel validated in spending such a large proportion of each evening reading first to the younger and then to the five years older child.) One of the very most important things that every child needs to succeed in life is a love of reading. Reading aloud is key, but Trelease also talks about other ways to encourage a love of reading: making sure the child know the adults love reading, that there is always plenty to read in every room, that there is time in the schedule and freedom from distractions to do it. (I think I need to move my son’s bookcase close enough that he can reach it from his bed, since his loft is too high for a bedside table.) Setting limits on screen time is essential, and Trelease has several field-tested suggestions on how to make this happen, especially discussing it as a change for families used to unlimited screen time. There are some cool ideas of little things that have been proven to help children love reading. Finland, for example, broadcasts mostly English-language TV shows, even the kids’ shows, so children have to learn to read quickly to understand their favorite shows. In the US, we can just remember to turn on the closed captioning. However, since our boy is already a fan of Japanese monster films, our plan is to show him more of these subtitled instead of dubbed. Trelease is also a fan of comic books and audiobooks, both on CD in the car and on iPods for individual listening.
The second half of the book (actually slightly more than half) is bibliography, with recommended fiction, nonfiction, and poetry books for kids from infants through teens. Most of the books have a short summary, though there are some shorter themed lists that are just titles and authors. I’d say the book is slightly slanted towards books with high boy appeal, a fine thing given that boys are more likely to be reluctant readers. I found the lists interesting enough that I went in planning to skim and ended up reading straight through. They were a quite respectable mix of classic and more recent titles, with a nice selection of diverse books included throughout. I brought a stack of his recommended nonfiction picture books, a great success. My son read the whole stack through right away, and brought some to school for his teacher to read to the class, which I hear also went over well. This is an inspiring book, jam-packed full of things both useful and interesting, and a great thing for every parent or teacher to read.
My own experience leads me to believe that many people want to start reading to children after they start talking a little, which is definitely too late. Not no-recovery too late, but it’s just easier to start reading before they want to get away. I confess that I waited until about six months to really get reading to my own, though, which seems to have worked out OK. Early infancy, if you have the inclination, though, is the time to read your favorite adult texts aloud, whether it’s Shakespeare or Stephen King. On the other end of things, I wrote a paper in library school on when and why people stop reading aloud. I found that most parents stop reading aloud once their kids are reading confidently – and that this corresponds to a huge drop in children reading for pleasure. Reading aloud isn’t the only factor, of course, but reading aloud to older kids does a lot of important things. It’s wonderful bonding time, first off, especially precious as kids are increasingly independent the older they get. Trelease points out that stopping reading aloud is like stopping advertising reading – and you don’t see any successful companies stopping their marketing campaigns just because people have already bought their products. And, because listening comprehension is always higher than reading comprehension, reading aloud lets kids listen to books above their reading level, gaining familiarity with the concepts and vocabulary ahead of time. I have fond memories of reading Robin McKinley to my twelve-year-old brother when I was home from college, and plan to read aloud to my kids as long as they’ll let me. Right now my nine-year-old’s consistent answer is that he’ll listen as long as I’m willing to read to him.