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—
Inspirational stories from parents and teachers
Despite all the research included
in this book, nothing rings truer than real-life personal
testimony. With that in mind, I offer a small collection
of correspondence from parents and teachers who have
allowed me to share their personal stories. Most share
a common theme—that one person, one comment,
or one conversation can make a difference in literacy.
In October 2002, I heard you speak to our PTA in
Cincinnati, Ohio. When you said "reading fathers" were your
pet project, I decided to write you about my husband, Bill McMahan,
who, in his mid-fifties, discovered the immense pleasures of reading
As a "fifth-time" father, Bill has experienced
healing through reading to our son nightly for the last five years.
Our son is now 12 and the two of them continue to find great pleasure
in reading together (no plans to stop!)
Let me start by saying that I’m an English professor
who has always loved books. When I had my first (and only) child, Gabe,
I surrounded him with books and read to him. I taught him finger-plays,
read to him daily, kept a “print-rich” home, etc. In spite
of all these efforts Gabe reached third grade complaining, “I
hate to read.”
Then Bill decided to get involved.
As a child, my husband was an unmotivated student
who never enjoyed reading, probably because of undiagnosed learning
disabilities. He discovered a few favorite writers while in Vietnam,
yet never developed a passion for reading. Ours is his second marriage;
with his first four children, he worked long hours and didn’t
understand the value of reading aloud.
Their nightly read-aloud sessions sparked a special bond
between Bill McMahan and son Gabe.
and son Gabe formed a special bond when Bill began reading aloud to
his son. When our son Gabe was seven, someone gave him an Animorph action
figure, and Bill decided to check out the Animorph series by
K. A. Applegate. He began reading an Animorph book to Gabe
and soon discovered they both liked the kooky humor and the science
embedded in these sci-fi stories about kids with a mission to save the
earth from the Yeerks—kids who could morph into animals.
Soon Bill and Gabe were curling up every night at
bedtime to read for an hour or longer about the Animorphs' adventures.
Eventually the Animorph series led to Harry Potter and
later to Lloyd Alexander’s fantasy books and the Deltora
Over the past five years Bill has read aloud more
than three hundred books to Gabe, some of them more than once! Reading
has created a huge bond between them and greatly expanded their imaginations.”
Gabe is now 12 and I can happily look back over five
years of the two of them reading together in bed 30 to 60 minutes almost
every night—thousands of pages (at least 30,000 pages). Most nights
I fall asleep to the blessed sound of my husband reading aloud to my
I serve as their vocabulary resource—we often
pause to talk about word-connotations. (They keep a dictionary handy,
too.) Books have become a huge bond between my son and his father. Characters
like Hermione and the Weasley family (from Harry Potter) are like members
of our own family!
Once a reluctant reader, in his
fifties he developed a missionary zeal for reading aloud to kids.
In time, Gabe began to read more willingly on his
own; he has re-read most of the same books that Bill reads to him. Gabe’s
now in seventh grade and despite a diagnosis of ADHD, he consistently
excels in language arts and independent reading and tested in the ninety-ninth
percentile in language arts in national proficiency tests (I hate those
tests). Gabe sees himself as a smart kid because he’s a reader;
he no longer shies away from thick books; and his vocabulary is more
advanced than most of my college students.
An equally amazing change has come in Bill. Once a
reluctant reader, in his fifties he developed a missionary zeal for
reading aloud to kids. He often tells friends and family members the
storylines of the books he and Gabe are reading; to other dads, he extols
the pleasures of reading aloud. For a while, Bill and I published a
school newsletter called “The Fourth-Grade Booklovers’ News.” He
also became a school volunteer who conferenced with kids about their “independent
reading” (SSR in grades 3-5), steering them toward great books.
In addition, the sci-fi interest has motivated Bill
to read some college-level textbooks on biology, physics, and chemistry,
which, in turn, have led to conversations about black holes and the
archaebacteria around the dinner table!
Of course, living with Bill and Gabe has pushed me
to broaden my own reading tastes beyond the Newbery winners. All this
reading has been motivated by pure pleasure, not by “shoulds.” Although
Gabe has other hobbies, including sports and art, I feel confident that
nothing in his life has opened his heart and soul as much as reading
aloud with his dad!
Professor of English