A great quote can pack as much power as a good book. When both come together in one package, then you have it all. That’s Jim Trelease. That’s The Read-Aloud Handbook.
“People would stand in line for days and pay hundreds of dollars if there were a pill that could do everything for a child that reading aloud does. It expands their interest in books, vocabulary, comprehension, grammar, and attention span. Simply put, it’s a free “oral vaccine” for literacy.”
Yes, they would! This author is, and always has always been, a strong advocate for reading aloud. Fortunately, he is a terrific writer and researcher. His million-copy bestselling book, The Read-Aloud Handbook, is now in it’s seventh edition. It is packed with research that should make every parent and teacher run to the library. It is also full of stories that bring reading aloud alive. I have written two of these stories on my blog; “Reading Aloud Makes a Big Difference. Here’s Proof” (11/23/2014) and “Reading Aloud; A Source of Making Cuban Cigars” (12/5/2015). Please read, because you will be a glued as I was.
I love a good story. Here is the story of how I came to be a reader and a writer. More importantly, here is a story of making a difference in the education of young children. It’s not about me, I just happened to be the educator who did all those important things. Jim Trelease played a big role:
“It happened like this…”
When my children were little, three things happened; on our first trip to the library after moving to New England, my daughter saw Jumanji by Chris van Allsburg (fairly new at the time) on the book shelf and exclaimed, “That’s the book my kindergarten teacher read to us!” That began my love of our library and Gerry, the librarian who always knew just the right book for any child. Next, I began teaching preschool, and my head teacher handed me Swimmy by Leo Lionni and asked if I would read aloud to the children every day. Finally, a fellow teacher put a book in my hands, The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease.
I call this a hat trick, or more accurately a grand slam (because those three home runs led to reading and writing).
Over the next few decades it was obvious to me that reading aloud made the biggest difference in the lives of children. Not only did they learn and become good students (and readers), they were always drawn to books. And, I was, too. The more I read to them, the more I became excited and engaged in the stories. I began stopping to ask questions. It became common to have long conversations about new vocabulary words and about the subtleties of morality, not to mention all the ‘W’ questions. Reading had become far more than reading. It had become the foundation for my teaching, and the link to everything I taught in the classroom. There was always a book handy to give children both the visual and the auditory tools of learning. Books cemented my curriculum.
I wrote newsletters to parents. All the teachers were required to do so, and that is a good thing. Then, I would include a paragraph about what happened in the classroom, what we read, or how we learned something new. That’s when I began becoming a writer in earnest. I wrote about our class pet dying, and why it was important for children to grieve and ask questions. I wrote about lunchtime conversations, geography using satellite maps, and of course about reading aloud.
I started chapter reading at rest time, and wrote even more newsletters to families. Then I attended a teacher conference, and Jim Trelease was the keynote speaker. I had (and loved) his book, so I looked forward to hearing him speak. Well, I was thunderstruck. His presentation was as good as his book. Every word was electrifying. I wanted to stand up and scream at the packed house of teachers and yell, “Are you listening to this man? He’s telling you the most important things you will ever need to know. Listen to him!” They were listening, but not like I was.
When I returned to school, I wrote Jim Trelease a thank you letter and included one of my newsletters about chapter reading. I wanted him to know that some teachers were doing exactly what he was teaching. Time went by, and I received an email. The seventh edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook was in the works, and could he possibly visit my classroom. He did! Yes, I’m in the book. When I turned out the lights at chapter reading so each child could ‘make the pictures in their head’, he smiled. He understood.
To this day, my gift to a new baby is a copy of Goodnight Moon, and a copy of The Read-Aloud Handbook to the parents. Best gift any new parent could get. Guaranteed!
This post was originally published May 1, 2016.