This is an excerpt from Chapter Six of
The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (Penguin,
2006, 6th edition). For a list of all topics covered here
and in the print edition see Chapter Six list.
Chapter 6: In Their Own Words —
From time to time my wife reminds me there's a fine line between
being enthusiastic and being obnoxious. I've sometimes had a hard
time keeping my enthusiasms to myself. So when I fell in love with
reading to my kids, I wanted everyone else to feel that too, sometimes
even a stranger.
I don't expect that you will remember me, but 20 years
ago, I was a 25-year-old manager of a Radio Shack computer
center across the street from your employer, the
Springfield Newspapers. You purchased a computer from me and I went
to your home to install it. While there, we had a great conversation
regarding the importance of reading to your children. I was the father
of a six-month-old son at the time.
My response was, "No, not yet—he's only six months old".
You said he was not too young and that I should start immediately.
Eight months later, my wife and I had a daughter and a few years later
another son and then another daughter. I have read countless books
to them. By third or fourth grade, we were reading books together,
taking turns reading, and rewarding our accomplishments by watching
the movie version of the stories. For example, we would read The
Incredible Journey and then watch "Homeward Bound". I am probably one
of the few 45-year-old men who has read Little
I understood the value of reading from an educational perspective
but the quality family time was an added bonus that may be obvious
to you but looking back now, it was some of the most cherished time
I've had with my kids.
I then decided to become more involved in their formal education.
When my son started kindergarten, I ran and was elected to the school
committee where I served until he was in high school. I left for a
few years and I am now back on the school committee in my community.
I wanted to personally thank you for your influence 20 years ago
in the basement of your home. Please know that the work you do had
a profound effect on at least four kids in Rehoboth, Massachusetts.
One of the areas where government's "business" model
falls short in schools is in its failure to recognize
that children are not like planes and trains—they all don’t
arrive or depart on time. Some need a little more
time than others, kids like Brad. It's possible you
have a Brad in your house. But does your house have
a mom like Brad's?
When we met in Leeds, Alabama, I promised to send you the story of
my family and reading aloud.
First of all, besides being the proud mother of two sons, I am an
educator with 35 years of experience in elementary education and library
media, with four degrees in elementary education, and one in library
and information studies. I know first-hand how important parental
involvement is in the lives of children.
. . . he did not score high enough to be placed in the regular class.
I felt like a failure as a mother and teacher.
When my first son, Matt, was four years old he got a little brother.
By this time Matt knew all the letters of the alphabet, recognized
beginning and ending sounds, and was reading signs and some words.
In kindergarten he was one of the first to read, and loved every minute
he was reading.
My younger son, Brad, was more active. He enjoyed running, jumping,
attacking, and was rarely still. We tried reading with Brad, but after
a few pages he lost interest and wanted to "get down and play." I
would have been worried, but when he was two and a half, to my husband's
and my amazement, he pointed out all the letters of the alphabet on
his educational toy, the one that said the letter of the alphabet
when the string was pulled. He could randomly identify all the letters,
so we just knew he would read early and eventually enjoy it as much
as his brother.
When Brad was almost five, he came to Mother's school to take the
standardized entrance test for kindergarten. Imagine my horror and
chagrin when I found he did not score high enough to be placed in
the regular class. I felt like a failure as a mother and teacher.
s I was discussing my disappointment with
my friend, the teacher of the gifted resource class Matt was in, she
asked me point-blank, "Do
you read aloud to him?" I had to admit that with my taking graduate
classes for my education specialist degree, and after
helping Matt with his homework, I was just too tired to battle with
Brad, getting him to be still to listen to me read. She sternly
told me, "Well,
choice for read-aloud surprised us all but he learned
After that, I tried—and tried. At first his father or I had
to bodily hold him down to read to him, or forcefully
hold him as Matt read to him. Then I had the bright
idea of asking what he wanted me to read. Surprisingly
enough, he wanted The
Wonderful Wizard of Oz. We read the whole set as he learned to
be still and listen. At first I only read a few pages,
but he gradually listened to a chapter at a time, then
When Brad entered kindergarten, he was not at the top of his class
in reading but he managed to keep up. At the end of the year he was
beginning to read in a pre-primer. During first grade he made good
progress, but his scores on the standardized test taken in the spring
showed that, although he was way above average in math and spelling,
he was high average in reading comprehension, just average in reading
vocabulary, and below average in listening skills.
By the time Brad was in the third grade, he was the first to learn
his multiplication facts. On the standardized test taken in the spring,
he was in the 99th percentile in math, 94th percentile in language,
but his vocabulary skills were still too low. However, we were still
reading aloud nightly, taking turns reading.
At the end of Brad's fourth grade, his brother had been accepted
at the district's high school for gifted students and this became
Brad's dream. Although he continuously scored well above the 90th
percentile on his achievement tests in all areas except vocabulary
skills, he just couldn't get past the final screening for admittance
into the gifted program, a prerequisite for entrance into the magnet
By this time he was putting undue pressure upon himself and trying
too hard. When Brad was in eighth grade, he asked to
be tested again. This time, instead of the district's
diagnostician, we decided to let an expert from the
local university test him and this time he passed.
Four years later, through hard work, perseverance, and yes, reading
aloud, Brad, the former failure on the kindergarten pretest,
became valedictorian of his high school class. In 2005,
Newsweek ranked that high school the best in the U.S.
Now when I teach a children's literature or library media class for
the University of Alabama, I tell Brad's story. I emphasize the importance
of reading aloud to students, as well as having parents read aloud
to their children. Matt and Brad were both full scholarship students
in college, graduating summa cum laude in engineering; but that was
not always the way things were. No one said reading aloud would be
easy, but it is oh, so important!
Topics covered in Chapter 6 of print
and Web editions of The Read-Aloud Handbook:
- A California kindergarten teacher tries SSR with her students, even
though she's certain it won't work. Surprise!
- A Cincinnati dad with learning
disabilities reaches out to his third-grade son who
hates to read—by reading to him every night.
Result: two "hooked" readers.
- A California teacher with a Master's
in education faces a daunting task: her fourth-grade
son with auditory processing problems is reading on
only a second-grade level. The idea of forcing or requiring him
to read each night was too painful for her—until her "mother
bear" took over.
- Twenty years after a chance basement encounter between the author
and a computer salesman, the latter writes to share
its impact on his family.
- A California kindergarten teacher has
always read to her class and her own children but she's
never read a chapter book to her daughter who is deaf. After hearing
the author, she decides to give it a try using American Sign Language.
- When a Minnesota resort manager discovers that his small town
is short of books, he organizes an ingenious local campaign that
annually garners $20,000 for books in the community.
- With 35 years of experience in elementary
education and library media, including four degrees in elementary
education, and one in library and information studies, this
mother thought her little boy was more than ready for kindergarten—until
he failed the entrance exam. True, she'd never read to him but
he was too restive. In fact, he hated to be read to. So
she and her husband forced it, day after day, month after month.
Twelve years later he graduated first in his class from the
number one high school in America.