This is an excerpt from Chapter Four
The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (Penguin,
2006, 6th edition). Non-profit groups may freely reprint this chapter in its entirety
as long as it is not sold
and due credit is given to the source (see first sentence
of this paragraph) and noted that
it is used with permission of the author.
Chapter 4:The Do’s and Don’ts
Begin reading to children as soon
as possible. The younger you start them, the easier
and better it is.
Use Mother Goose
rhymes and songs to stimulate an infant’s language and listening. Begin
with simple black-and-white illustrations at first, and then boldly colored
picture books to arouse children’s
curiosity and visual sense.
With infants through toddlers, it is critically
important to include in your readings those books that contain repetitions;
as they mature, add predictable and rhyming books.
During repeat readings of a predictable book, occasionally
stop at one of the key words or phrases and allow the listener to provide
Read as often as you and the child (or students)
have time for.
Set aside at least one traditional time each day
for a story.
Remember: The art
of listening is an acquired one. It must be taught and cultivated gradually—it
Start with picture books, with only a few sentences on the page, then
gradually move to books with more and more text, fewer pictures, and build
to chapter books and novels.
Vary the length and subject matter of your readings,
fiction and nonfiction.
To encourage involvement, invite the child to turn
pages for you when it is time.
Before you begin
to read, always say the name of the book, the author, and illustrator—no
matter how many times you have read the book.
The first time
you read a book, discuss the illustration on the cover. “What
do you think this is going to be about?”
"What do you think is
going to happen?"
As you read, keep
listeners involved by occasionally asking, “What do
you think is going to happen next?”
with your reading. If you start a book, it is your responsibility to continue
it—unless it turns out to be a bad book. Don’t
leave the child or students hanging for three or four days between chapters
and expect interest to be sustained.
above children’s intellectual
levels and challenge their minds.
Picture books can be read easily to a family of
children widely separated in age. Novels, however, pose a challenge. If there
are more than two years (and thus social and emotional differences) between
the children, each child would benefit greatly if you read to him or her
individually. This requires more effort on the part of the parents, but it
will reap rewards in direct proportion to the effort expended. You will reinforce
the specialness of each child.
Avoid long descriptive
passages until the child’s imagination and attention
span are capable of handling them. There is nothing wrong with shortening
or eliminating them. Prereading helps to locate such passages, and they can
then be marked with pencil in the margin.
If the chapters
are long or if you don’t have enough time each day to finish an entire
chapter, find a suspenseful spot at which to stop. Leave the audience hanging;
be counting the minutes until the next reading.
Allow your listeners
a few minutes to settle down and adjust their feet and minds to the story.
If it’s a novel, begin by asking what happened when you left off yesterday.
Mood is an important factor in listening. An authoritarian “Now stop that
and settle down! Sit up straight. Pay attention” doesn’t
create a receptive atmosphere.
No one is too old for a good story, even
a picture book, and these two books will prove it with teens.
If you are reading a picture book, make sure the
children can see the pictures easily. In school, with the children in a semicircle
around you, seat yourself just slightly above them so that the children in
the back row can see the pictures above the heads of the others.
In reading a novel, position yourself where both
you and the children are comfortable. In the classroom, whether you are sitting
on the edge of your desk or standing, your head should be above the heads
of your listeners for your voice to carry to the far side of the room. Do
not read or stand in front of brightly lit windows. Backlighting strains
the eyes of your audience.
Remember that everyone enjoys a good picture book,
even a teenager.
Allow time for class and home discussion after
reading a story. Thoughts, hopes, fears, and discoveries are aroused by a
book. Allow them to surface and help the child to deal with them through
verbal, written, or artistic expression if the child is so inclined. Do not
turn discussions into quizzes or insist upon prying story interpretations
from the child.
Remember that reading aloud comes naturally to
very few people. To do it successfully and with ease you must practice.
Use plenty of expression when reading. If possible,
change your tone of voice to fit the dialogue.
Adjust your pace to fit the story. During a suspenseful
part, slow down, and lower your voice. A lowered voice in the right place
moves an audience to the edge of its chairs.
The most common
mistake in reading aloud—whether the reader is a seven-year-old or a forty-year-old—is
reading too fast. Read slowly enough for the child to build mental pictures
of what he just heard you read. Slow down enough for the children to see
the pictures in the book without feeling hurried. Reading quickly allows
no time for the reader to use vocal expression.
Preview the book by reading it to yourself ahead
of time. Such advance reading allows you to spot material you may wish to
shorten, eliminate, or elaborate on.
Books aren't written by machines.
Prove it by bringing the author
Bring the author
to life, as well as his book. Google the author to find a personal Web
page, and always read the information on your book’s dust
jacket. Either before or during the reading, tell your audience something
about the author. This lets them know that books are written by people, not
Add a third dimension
to the book whenever possible. For example, have a bowl of blueberries
ready to be eaten during or after the reading of Robert McCloskey’s Blueberries
for Sal; bring a harmonica and a lemon to class before reading McCloskey’s
Every once in a
while, when a child asks a question involving the text, make a point of
looking up the answer in a reference book with the child. This greatly
expands a child’s knowledge
base and nurtures library skills.
Create a wall chart or back-of-the-bedroom-door
book chart so the child or class can see how much has been read; images of
caterpillars, snakes, worms, and trains work well for this purpose, with
each link representing a book. Similarly, post a world or U.S. wall map on
which small stickers can be attached to locations where your books have been
children are old enough to distinguish between library books and their own,
start reading with a pencil in hand. When you and the child encounter a passage
worth remembering, put a small mark—maybe a star—in the margin.
Readers should interact with books, and one way is to acknowledge beautiful
Encourage relatives living far away to record stories
on audiocassettes that can be mailed to the child.
or unusually active children frequently find it difficult to just sit and
listen. Paper, crayons, and pencils allow them to keep their hands busy
while listening. (You doodle while talking on the telephone, don’t
Follow the suggestion
of Dr. Caroline Bauer and post a reminder sign by your door: “Don’t Forget
Your Flood Book.” Analogous to emergency rations in case of natural disasters,
these books should be taken along in the car, or even stored like spares
in the trunk. A few chapters from “flood” books
can be squeezed into traffic jams on the way to the beach or long waits at
the doctor's office.
Always have a supply
of books for the babysitter to share with the child and make it understood
that “reading aloud” comes
with the job and is preferable to the TV.
make an extra effort to read to their children. Because the vast majority
of primary-school teachers are women, young boys often associate reading
with women and schoolwork. And just as unfortunately, too many fathers
would rather be seen playing catch in the driveway with their sons than
taking them to the library. It is not by chance that male school scores
have taken a dramatic downturn in the last three decades. A father’s early
involvement with books and reading can do much to elevate books to at least
the same status as sports in a boy’s
Arrange for time
each day, in the classroom or in the home, for the child to read by himself
(even if “read” only means
turning pages and looking at the pictures). All your read-aloud motivation
goes for naught if time is not available to put the acquired motivation
Lead by example. Make sure your children see you
reading for pleasure other than at read-aloud time. Share with them your
enthusiasm for whatever you are reading.
When children wish
to read to you, it is better for the book to be too easy than too hard,
just as a beginner’s bicycle is better too small rather than
Encourage older children to read to younger ones,
but make this a part-time, not a full-time, substitution for you. Remember:
The adult is the ultimate role model.
the amount of time children spend in front of the television. Research shows
that after about ten TV hours a week, a child’s school scores begin to drop.
Excessive television viewing is habit-forming and damaging to a child’s
When children are watching television, closed-captioning
should be activated along with sound. But for older children who know how
to read but are lazy about it, keep the captioning on and turn the volume
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