When Reading-Aloud Grows a Reader

Reading aloud to children is the most important thing I do in my classroom, every single day.  I tell parents this every year.

The fundamental constant that gives children the tools to succeed in school is language. The more words that children hear, the better they will do in school. Reading aloud to children is far more than an enjoyable experience. It increases their language development! In Kindergarten through grade four, the primary source of instruction is oral. The more words that a child has heard, the better s/he will understand the instruction, and the better s/he will perform in school. Therefore, I will always campaign to read aloud.

The books on our bookshelf are front-facing, and children have access to them any time.  This photo was last week at school.  It is a common scene in the classroom:

I read picture books at least twice a day.  I read with passion, stop to talk about what happened and why.  I laugh, I cry.  Children quickly learn to love story time and books.

If they have a question, we lookup the answer, or write the author.  In John Howe’s Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack’s mother said, “Jack, you stupid boy.”  I read it the way a mother whose son traded their cow for beans would have read it- in a very upset voice.  The children were shocked that she called Jack ‘stupid’.  They wanted to know why.  This was a toughie.

We decided to write the author a letter, but he lives in Switzerland.  We mailed our letter to the publisher, and they forwarded the letter to John Howe.  He wrote back!  Two handwritten pages!  He also wrote a letter to me.

Dear children,
My thanks for your letter which Little, Brown & Co forwarded to me.  I am sure no one likes to be called a bad name, but when Jack sold their only cow for a handful of magic beans, it certainly must have seemed a stupid thing to do… There are many things in the story much worse than that word.  Jack steals from the giant which is not a good thing to do….

John Howe goes on, and in essence he seizes the opportunity to talk about right and wrong.  He tells snippets of stories, asks them questions.  His parting sentence is, “You must be tolerant and understanding, as you would like others to be with you.”

My goodness.  Reading aloud often includes a moral compass, and the author himself reinforced that in his letter.

I read all types of books to children- Fairy Tales, rhyming, animal stories, humorous, classics… it’s a long list.  Here is my own book collection at school:

At the start of the school year we read fun, rhyming books.  One of the most popular books is Pete the Cat

Last year a child in my class loved all the Pete the Cat books, and that spurred a love for books throughout the year.  At the end of the school year, he was sight reading words.  Books were always ‘front and center’ with him.  His mother sent me this video of him reading.  Yes, reading.  She was over the moon.  I was, too.

I must say, the best picture books leave children wondering and thinking.  When fiction and animals become stories of dilemma, friendship, overcoming fear, and coming to grips with the right thing to do- they are favorites.  Why are animals so popular in children’s books?  I call it the ‘indirect method’, children love animals and can see themselves in their situations.  From Winnie the Pooh to Paddington Bear to Bruce the bear, they delight children and give them ‘the right stuff’.

I chapter read every day at rest time.  This is big.  There are no pictures.  Yikes!  You have to make the pictures in your head.  That is a huge leap in language and word comprehension.  Chapter reading is one of our treasured moments of the day in the classroom. We bring to life the imagination, the world, and the past. The anticipation of ‘what happens next?’ stirs excitement every day. Children listen and think. They ask questions.

Preschool children understand this transition from picture books.

We start the school year with Charlotte’s Web.  Year after year it is a favorite.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty-five years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I was a live guest on the Kelly Clarkson Show. I am highlighted in the seventh edition of Jim Trelease's million-copy bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital, and the Massachusetts State House in Boston.
This entry was posted in Book Review, chapter reading, children's books, E.B. White, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Inspiration, literacy, picture books, preschool, reading aloud, reading aloud, Teaching young children and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

66 Responses to When Reading-Aloud Grows a Reader

  1. beetleypete says:

    How impressive of the author to write such a meaningful letter to the children. Acts like those reinforce my faith in human nature.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  2. Dan Antion says:

    I am so glad to see the cycle of learning begin again in your classroom, Jennie. I applaud the lesson you gave by reaching out to the author, and I have great respect for him for writing back.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Dan. Yes, the cycle of learning begins. Honestly, I reach out and write letters with children often. Sometimes they’re to authors, sometimes to musicians, sometimes to museums…it’s a long list.
      Often they write back, yet John Howe went above and beyond. I’m writing back to him to thank him one again. I hope his Switzerland address is still the same.

  3. Your stories about reading are just as wonderful as book stories x

  4. In first and second grade, I was a slow reader. I hated it. But then something started clicking and I’ve never stopped. I’m so glad that my teachers kept at it, kept encouraging me and kept reading aloud in the classroom. I saw it too in my own children (now adults). My son is dyslexic and it was a chore. There were moments where we feared the worst. Now he’s reading intimidating philosophy and military texts that make my head spin … for enjoyment. Life is funny. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you for your story, Brian. Hats off to your wonderful teachers who encouraged you and read aloud. As you know, it makes all the difference in the world. Your son is a case in point. Bravo to you for hanging in there. It’s never easy, but well worth it! Like you, I was a poor reader as a child. Today I’m still a slow reader. My first year of teaching (an assistant teacher), my head teacher asked me if I would like to read the picture books every day to the children. That was the turning point for me.

  5. Ally Bean says:

    Pete the Cat looks like my kind of literature. Could you read it aloud to me? I agree with you that the ability to communicate clearly is what helps kids, all of us really, thrive in life.

    • Jennie says:

      I would love to read it aloud to you.🙂 The communication piece is huge, and with children books lead the way. Yes, that’s how we thrive in life. Well said, and best to you, Ally.

  6. Getting that letter back from John Howe is awesome. Kudos to him – that’s a classy move. Pete the Cat looks quite sporty in his white shoes. It does make sense animals are key performers in children’s books, doesn’t it? Good share, Jennie!

    • Jennie says:

      Yes, that letter was awesome. What a great guy. When I write to him this week, I hope he still has his Switzerland address. Pete the Cat is cool, and animals are what children love. Thank you, Bruce.

  7. As I was reading this post, I felt like you were talking to me through a story. And getting the idea to engage the author – wonderful and a great ending!

    • Jennie says:

      I’m so glad you felt that way, Frank. Yes, that letter and author exchange was something else! I wish I had saved a copy of the initial letter we wrote to him. Thank you.

  8. johnrieber says:

    I love this – the power of words on a page!

  9. What a beautiful response from John Howe and the way he teaches through hus letter.
    We absorb so much as children that shape our belief systems into our adulthood.
    It’s wonderful to witness your own teaching methods in shaping these new young readers enjoyment and thinking deeper in the stories these books tell.

  10. Ritu says:

    You know I love, love, love this 💛

  11. I love the unmasked smiles, Jennie.

  12. I am so pleased the author wrote back. Such a treat for the children to be shown such respect fir their question about “stupid” . A lovely post. Thank you Jennie.

  13. This was a meaningful post, Jennie. The fact that the author responded tells you the kind of person he is. It is good to see children take a fancy to books. Thanks for sharing.

  14. I think what tends to get lost in the later grades is that having a conversation about about a work of literature (whether a novel, story, or poem) with one’s peers and the teacher as facilitator provides the most personally meaningful and lasting learning about all of those important values in life.

  15. beth says:

    so much joy here, and you are a master of this –

  16. petespringerauthor says:

    My impression is that most children’s authors love to hear from kids. After all, that is their audience. We had pretty good luck over the years hearing back from them, especially when we posed questions to the author—the same as you did.

    • Jennie says:

      Yes, I think so, too. I am always encouraging teachers to write letters to authors when a ‘moment’ with children happens after reading a book. Unfortunately few teachers do…but I will keep at it. 🙂

  17. Jim Borden says:

    I love the video – how wonderful to see a child reading a book at such a young age. I also love that John Howe took the time to write back such a thoughtful letter. I guess sometimes all you have to do is ask…

  18. That’s so cool that the author wrote back and did it so wonderfully.
    I had the pleasure of reading out loud to Littlest this week, and there was one book he didn’t want to let go when we finished reading it. He wanted to keep exploring it so we did until he was finished. It was a delightful 45 minutes of fun and discovery for us both. 😀

  19. L. Marie says:

    I love that the letter was answered by John Howe! That definitely helps children see the importance of reading and the connection between authors and readers.

  20. quiall says:

    The best gift my parents ever gave me as a young child was a book. To have the author connecting is brilliant.

  21. Norah says:

    There can never be too many reminders about the importance of reading aloud, Jennie. I love the video of the boy reading. How empowering. Accompanying and assisting young children on their journey into reading is one of my greatest sources of joy. It’s magic. It’s great that you wrote to the author/publisher about his choice of words, and that he wrote back. What a important lesson, so many lessons, for children.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Norah! Yes, there can never be too many reminders. Hubby is a great editor, and when he read the first sentence of the post he said, “Jennie, you say that all the time.” I went into my ‘you bet I do, and people need to hear this all the time’ speech. He understood. I knew you would love this post. Like you, reading to children is my greatest joy. Yes, it is magic! And, what a letter from the author, writing back to the children. I have never forgotten the letter, and found it this summer while doing major clean-out and organizing of my decades of teacher ‘stuff’. The letter was written in 1996, so before I wrote him a 26 year belated thank you, I Googled him. He’s doing all the new Lord of the Rings stuff. I hope he gets my letter. I opened by saying, “It’s never too late to say thank you.” 🙂

      • Norah says:

        That’s gorgeous, Jennie. There are always new parents who need to hear about the importance of reading, so please, never stop sharing. I love that you have written a thank you letter – 26 is not too late – only never would be that. I’m so excited. I hope you receive a letter back. Somehow, I know you will. 💖

      • Jennie says:

        Yes, there are always new parents, and will always share. Always! I do hope that the author writes back. That would be very exciting! Best to you, Norah. 💕

      • Norah says:

        And to you, Jennie. 💖

  22. Veena S. says:

    What an inspiring post. And how wonderful the author replied, with even more comments, more to discuss in class. I too love to Read- aloud at the local NGO’s and discuss bits and parts. You brought out the points so well! Check out wonderful Indian publishers – Tulika publishers. great books

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you! Yes, it was wonderful that the author replied, and we had much to discuss in class. I’m so glad you read aloud! I’ll check out the Indian publisher.

  23. Chaya Sheela says:

    Lovely post.
    A retired teacher, I so miss reading to my students. One of the best parts of a teacher’s day!
    Best wishes.

  24. dgkaye says:

    What an amazing story Jennie. Leave it to you to contact the author and question. It’s a scrutinizing world for sure these days. I’m glad the children were satisfied with getting a response. ❤

  25. HI Jennie, what fun that you wrote to the author and he wrote back you you. Splendid.

  26. It’s so wonderful to see how children like to read by themselves. Therefore one only has to create the possibilities, and you are great in this, Jennie! Have you heard? Here in Germany more and more children are having problems in word finding and communication. ;-( xx Michael

    • Jennie says:

      Yes, we only have to create those possibilities to read. Well said, and thank you. I did not know that children in Germany are having problems in word finding and communication. That is so sad!

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