spacer The Read-Aloud Handbook
by Jim Trelease
• Chapter 4 excerpts •
cover of The Read-Aloud Handbook
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This is an excerpt from Chapter Four
The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (Penguin, 2013, 7th 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 of Read-Aloud


  • 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 the word.
  • parent reading to child

  • 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 doesn’t happen overnight.
  • 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?”
  • adult reading to child
    "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?”
  • Follow through 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.
  • Occasionally read 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; they’ll 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.
  • cover of An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco

    No one is too old for a good story, even a picture book,
    and these two books will prove it with teens.

    cover of Johnny on the Spot by Edward Sorel

  • 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.
  • image of Jerry Spinelli being "googled"
    Books aren't written by machines.
    Prove it by bringing the author alive.
  • 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 by machines.
  • 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 Lentil.
  • 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 set.
  • image of pencil When 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 writing.
  • Encourage relatives living far away to record stories on audiocassettes that can be mailed to the child.
  • Reluctant readers 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 you?)
  • 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.
  • Fathers should 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 estimation.
  • 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 into practice.
  • 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 too big.
  • 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.
  • television minitor with closed-captioning Regulate 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 development.
  • 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 down.

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