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Jim Trelease Bio Page

"A"graduate of the University of Massachusetts ('63) and native of New Jersey (Orange, Union and North Plainfield), Jim Trelease was for 20 years an award-winning artist and journalist before turning his career toward education in 1979 when he wrote the first edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook.

While working for a Massachusetts daily newspaper (the Springfield Daily News, now the Springfield Republican) as an artist and writer, he began weekly volunteer visits to community classrooms, talking with children about journalism and art as careers. At the same time, he and his wife Susan were raising their two children (Elizabeth and Jamie). A daily ritual for Jim was reading aloud to his children, largely at that point because his father had read to him. (On the eve of retiring in 2007, he donated his personal collection of 2000+ children's books to the library at Mary A. Dryden-Veterans Memorial School, the school where he made is first volunteer visit and now named after the fourth-grade teacher who invited him to visit her class.)

Soon, however, the nightly ritual would coincide with one of his classroom observations.

Most of the students he visited (about 40 schools a year) didn't read very much for pleasure, but the ones who did nearly always came from classrooms where the teachers read aloud daily and incorporated SSR time (sustained silent reading) into the daily routine.

Making Connections

Thinking there might be a connection between being read to and how much the child wanted to read, Jim investigated to see if any research was available on the subject. Sure enough, there was lots of it— but nearly always published in education journals or written in academic language that would be foreign to the average parent or teacher.

image of Jim and neighbor as chidlren, reading a comic book

Jim's proselytizing on behalf of reading aloud can be traced as far back as the early 1940s, as seen in this photo of him reading a comic book to a neighborhood friend. (Whether Jim had anything to do with the boy's broken foot is a story for another day.)

The dearth of accessible material inspired him to write and self-publish the first edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook in 1979. "I self-published because I never thought any of the major publishers would be interested in it. At that point, 'reading aloud' was too simple and not painful enough to do the child any good. At least, that's what many educators thought," he says in hindsight. But that mindset would soon change.

Discovered accidentally by a then-fledgling literary agent named Raphael Sagalyn, the book came to the attention of Penguin USA after six other publishers turned it down. In 1982, they published an expanded edition. Touted by "Dear Abby" in February of 1983, it spent 17 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. (Covers and details of all U.S. and international editions can be found at Read-Aloud covers.)

By 1985, the U.S. Department of Education's Commission on Reading was calling "reading aloud to children" the single most important activity one could do to raise a reader.

"T"he first Penguin edition of the Handbook was followed by six more U.S. editions, along with British, Australian, Spanish (Manual de la lectura en voz alta), Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Indonesian versions. It was the inspiration for PBS's "Storytime" series, and is now the all-time bestselling guide to children's literature for parents and teachers — nearly 2 million copies sold to date world-wide. (The current edition is excerpted at this Web site.) In 1989, Trelease was honored by the International Reading Association as one of the eight people who made the largest contributions to reading in the 1980s.

img=cover of The Read-Aloud HandbookThe Handbook is now used as a text for future teachers at more than 60 colleges and universities. In addition, the Japanese edition introduced the concept of Sustained Silent Reading (chapter 5) to public schools there and it became the basis for more than 3,000 elementary and secondary schools adopting SSR as a regular part of the academic day.

In 1983, Trelease left daily journalism to lecture and write full time.

Featured on "The Larry King Show," profiled in Smithsonian (Feb. '95), Reader's Digest (July '95), and U.S. News & World Report (Mar. 17, 1986), Trelease was one of the U.S.'s most sought-after education speakers, addressing parents, teachers, and librarians on the subjects of children, literature, and television. He presented in all 50 states and was a frequent keynoter for national education conferences. His final year of public lectures and seminars was 2008 but he continues to maintain his Web site with reviews of new children's books.

Between 1979 and 2008, Trelease's work was a pivotal force for numerous read-aloud movements in both the U.S. and abroad. Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, Nebraska, and Hawaii launched state-wide campaigns based on Jim's book and seminars, as did one European country. The founder of that particular movement can best explain the circuitous circumstances of that effort:

In years 1994-2000, my husband served as the Polish Ambassador to the United States. In Washington, DC, I was very involved in educational and charitable activities. First, I started a Breast Cancer Awareness Program for Poland, but, after we initiated the Breast Cancer Coalition in Poland, my foundation focused on emotional health of children and adolescents.

In 1995 in a waiting room of my dentist in Washington, DC, I read an article in the Smithsonian Magazine about Jim Trelease and his teaching. It was a turning point in my work. Reading aloud to children seemed to me as a powerful tool of emotional health, and I decided to start a national movement on reading to children.

In 2001,  the national  campaign, "All of Poland Reads to Kids" was initiated. It immediately grasped the media and public attention. Celebrities and the media were and still are eager to support the campaign. In our work, we have used posters, television ads, songs, series of short spots, written materials, television, radio and press interviews, as well as lectures and workshops.

After six years, we have over 2400 volunteers throughout the country, over 1400 Reading Schools, which have introduced daily reading to students, and over 1300 Reading Kindergartens. In 2007, over 1500 cities and villages participated in our VI National Week of Reading to Children , in comparison with 150 in the year 2002. According to the polls, over 85 percent of Polish people know our reading campaign and 37 percent of parents of preschoolers report they are reading daily to their children. In 2006 in China, our Foundation was awarded the prestigious international IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award at the 30th IBBY Congress.

— Irena Kozminska
President, ABCXXI -
All of Poland Reads to Kids Foundation

 

The origin of the article that inspired Mrs. Kozminska's campaign is a story unto itself and can found here at Smithsonian.

Jim's seventh and final edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook was published in 2013. It included a chapter devoted to the new technology and its challenges for literacy: iPads, e-books, and online reading and learning. None of those items existed when the first Penguin edition of the book appeared in 1982.

Now the grandfather of three boys and two girls, he resides with his wife Susan in Enfield, Connecticut.

Jim retired from public speaking after three decades in 2008. In his retirement letter here, he offers a retrospective look at those 30 years, including the highs and lows, his most harrowing moments, and the people whose friendship and guidance were so important to him.

Trelease also has compiled two popular anthologies (Penguin) of favorite stories for reading aloud (both excerpted here):

im-cover of Hey! Listen to This img=cover of Read All About It!

"A"lthough Jim Trelease remains a critic of sports-obsessed fathers who think the purpose of school is to put a "ball in the hoop" instead of a "brain in the head," he remains an enthusiast for sports as coached by the John Woodens rather than the Bobby Knights. From his former career in journalism, his sports cartoons are included in the permanent collections of the Basketball and Baseball Halls of Fame. But his most enduring sports "achievement" was with one of the most famous games in NBA history: On Mar. 2, 1962, Trelease tape-recorded in his UMass dormitory room the final quarter of the radio broadcast in which Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points.

Although he didn't realize it until 30 years later, that recording would become the "Zapruder" tape of that historic game — the only recording of the game's famous moments, as noted in Gary M. Pomerantz' book, Wilt, 1962: The Night of 100 points and the Dawn of a New Era (Crown, 2005, p. 203). Trelease's personal explanation for his decades-long association with Chamberlain can be found at Wilt and Me. American Public Radio's "Weekend America" interviewed him about the historic taping on June 4, 2005; that four-minute interview can be heard at:
     http://weekendamerica.publicradio.org/programs/index_20050604.html#wilt.

Another sporting event occurred to Jim during his nation-wide travels: a kind member of his audience in California one night heard him mention that his childhood idol was Vin Scully, the famed Dodger announcer. Several years later when she saw that he was returning to the area, she secretly arranged for him to have coffee with Mr. Scully. That, in turn, became the subject of a public radio story that can be found at Dick Gordon"s The Story (see second half of show).

 If you believe a person also should be known by his/her excesses, then be it known that Jim Trelease is excessively enthusiastic about the following:*
  • nuns
  • grandchildren
  • cafeterias
  • White Castle hamburgers
  • chocolate layer cake
  • Malomar cookies
  • black & white photos
  • the Gettsyburg Address
  • the Jersey Shore
  • The New York Times
  • Broadway shows
  • reading while eating
  • biographies
  • Internet radio
  • Vin Scully
  • Robert Duvall
  • Maya Angelou
  • PBS, NPR, and BBC
  • Susan Stamberg
  • Scott Simon
  • "60 Minutes"
  • Golden Corral restaurants
  • all things BBC

  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Apple computers
  • podcasts
  • Pasadena, CA
  • New York City
  • London
  • Santa Barbara
  • Michael Moore
  • Jimmy Breslin
  • David McCullough
  • reading his iPad on the treadmill in the gym

* Note there is no mention of anything affiliated with "Fox News."


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Trelease on Reading is copyright, 2011, 2014 by Jim Trelease and Reading Tree Productions.
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