Remembering My Mentor and Hero, Jim Trelease


Jim Trelease visiting my classroom.

Jim Trelease, the man who put reading-aloud on the map as #1 for children, has died. I had his million copy bestseller book since my kids were little. When I heard him speak at a teacher conference, I wanted to stand on a table and yell at all the teachers in attendance to listen to this man, because I knew he was spot on. I wrote to him, and a year later he wrote back. The rest is history…

It happened like this…

Back in the 80’s I found The Read-Aloud Handbook.  It was my ‘bible’ when our kids were little.  At the same time my reading aloud in the classroom became the best part of the day, because it made the biggest difference.  My head was always spinning and my heart was always overflowing.  The children couldn’t get enough.  I started reading chapter books when the lights went out and it was rest time.  I told children that the words go into their ears, then into their brain so they can make the pictures in their head.

The first chapter book I read to children was Charlotte’s Web.

I attended a teacher conference, and Jim Trelease was the keynote speaker.  He was powerful, dynamic, and as good of a speaker as he was a writer.  I was mesmerized.  This was heaven.  I looked around at the teachers in attendance, and many were chatting away with each other.  I wanted to scream.

What?!  This man is telling you everything that’s important.  This is the Holy Grail in teaching.  Pay attention!

Instead, I wrote a letter to Jim Trelease telling him that there are teachers who do what he writes about.  I included a copy of a newsletter I sent to parents about reading aloud and chapter reading.

That was that…until a year later.  Jim Trelease contacted me.  ME, as in OMG!  He was doing the 7th edition of his million-copy bestseller.  He asked if he could visit my classroom.  Well, yes!  He spent the whole morning with me and the children.  He took notes and watched us do an impromptu play performance of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  I remember him being behind the sofa as I read aloud The Magic Porridge Pot.  He watched me tracing the words with my fingers.

Jim spent lunch with fellow teachers at school, asking many questions, and with past parents.  I was not there.  He returned to my classroom for chapter reading- that’s what he was most interested in seeing.  When I turned out the lights he was surprised, and I told him that helps children hear the words and make the pictures in their head.  I also told him that the head of the English Department at the prep school in town does exactly the same thing when she reads to her seniors- heads down, lights out.

Jim returned to take photos and ask more questions.  I am included in the 7th edition.

I highly recommend this book, because it includes remarkable stories of reading aloud.  My favorites are the junior high school teacher in Boston, the kid from Russell, Kentucky, and Cuban cigars.  Here is the story of how reading aloud made Cuban cigars great:

https://jenniefitzkee.com/2017/11/30/why-reading-alou…ban-cigars-great/

Oh, there’s more…

I was born and raised in West Virginia.  When my childhood friend died, my sister who still lives in West Virginia sent me her obituary.  At the end it said “in lieu of flowers please send donations to Read Aloud West Virginia.”  Wait, I’m the queen of reading aloud, and I’m from West Virginia, and I’ve never heard of this organization?   I immediately typed ‘read aloud Massachusetts’, ‘read aloud New Hampshire’ and quickly realized there was only one- in West Virginia.

I emailed the director to tell her about my friend who had died, and to tell her that I read aloud in my classroom.  We had a long conversation, and I asked her if she knew Jim Trelease.

Well, Jim Trelease helped to found Read Aloud West Virginia.  Who knew?  What a connection!  Since then, I have been a strong supporter of Read Aloud West Virginia.

Oh yes, it gets even better…

Jim came to my school to do a conference for families.  He was terrific!

Recently I was invited to be a guest on the Kelly Clarkson Show.  I talked about reading aloud, and more.  It was terrific!  At the end of the show, one of my former students spoke (that was a moment), and Dollar General donated $50,000.00 to Read Aloud West Virginia.  Yes, I jumped up, screamed, and cried on the show.

Jim Trelease, you have come full circle.  Because of you, I read aloud and make a difference.  Because of you, I connected with Read Aloud West Virginia, and because of you, they are the recipients of much needed money.  Most importantly, you were my friend.  Thank you!

This is my favorite of your many quotes:

God Bless you, Jim. You have inspired and changed lives across the world.

Jennie

About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty 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 am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in Book Review, chapter reading, Early Education, Giving thanks, Inspiration, Jim Trelease, literacy, Quotes, reading aloud and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

109 Responses to Remembering My Mentor and Hero, Jim Trelease

  1. Brenda says:

    Brilliant and fascinating. You’re right, Jim is right … children need to gain a passion for books at a young age and that carries into adulthood. I find it frustrating that my students are so resistant to reading books.

    For me there’s nothing quite as magical as deciding what my next book is going to be

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you so much. He was the guru of reading aloud. Brenda, one of the biggest ways to grow readers in your class is to read aloud. If you read aloud to them every day, you will plant the seed of growing readers. Resistant readers benefit from their teacher reading aloud (thank you, Jim). There is one story of his that hits the nail on the head. It’s about an underperforming school in Boston, ready to be taken over by the state. The ‘last chance’ effort was a young energetic principal. He began by making teachers read in the classroom. If you search my Jim Trelease posts, it’s there! BTW, what grade do you teach?

      • Brenda says:

        I teach in what you’d call a community college … mainly 18yrs plus. But I’m about to get a lower level class with our new block, reading might be effective with them though.

      • Jennie says:

        I can guarantee it will. Read aloud a great story that is a little under their age level. Poor readers will both love the story and not feel that they can’t read. Make sense? I recommend Wonder, by R.J. Palacio

      • Brenda says:

        I’ll see what I can do to fit in with the curriculum… im teaching business studies, but I can always write my own story as its something I want to do this year anyway

      • Jennie says:

        Jim Trelease said even 10 minutes a day makes an enormous difference.

  2. GP says:

    I know it’s difficult to lose someone you think so highly of, but you have the cherished memories of meeting him.
    The world has lost one of the good guys, my condolences.

  3. This is a wonderful tribute. I’m a firm believer that the majority of people in the world are good. However, we don’t often encounter those who take us to another level … and in your case, gets passed on (unknowingly so) to countless others. Condolescences to you and the other he influenced – yet smiles for his message that lives on.

    • Jennie says:

      Beautiful, Frank. Thank you. Like you, I believe most people are good. If we’re lucky enough to encounter those who take us to a new level, the lives we touch become dominoes, and we pass along goodness in many forms. Yes, smiles that his message lives on.

  4. Don Ostertag says:

    He left behind a great legacy. So happy that you actually became friends with him.

  5. Oh I love this, Jennie. And, you know I love what you do for children. While reading this I had some lovely flashbacks to when my children were little and our cherished read-aloud moments. Some of them include reading the Nancy Drew mysteries with my daughter during a long airplane flight, and taking turns reading the Harry Potter series as a family, we would each read a chapter (children included) while sitting by the fire pit. Thank you for the memories and for reading to children every day. This brought tears to my eyes. 💕

  6. beetleypete says:

    You gave Jim a wonderful tribute, Jennie. He would have been proud to read this.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  7. My heart aches a little at the loss the world has now experienced. He lived a very full and powerful life and I’m so happy to got to share a part of that life with him in such a small but impactful way. I know you are carrying on his work by doing your own. Single handedly, you have changed generations just like he did. I looked him up before writing this note so my tears would have time to stop. Now, for your memoir, I’m sure he and the Kelly Clarkson show will be part of it. I saw the show and almost stood up with you. Love and hugs, M

    • Jennie says:

      Oh, Marlene…you have such a wonderful way with words. You are one of a kind, and a breath of life. Thank you. I could never fill Jim’s shoes, but I can carry on doing his work. And yes, he and the Kelly Clarkson Show will be part of my memoirs. I must come up with another word. Maybe my memoirs should be titled “It Happened Like This.” Just a thought. I have a big summer of writing ahead. Much love and many hugs!

  8. celebrate his legacy, life and accomplishments would be the best way to honour him.

  9. petespringerauthor says:

    You have come full circle, Jennie. This is the ideal way it’s supposed to happen. Jim inspired you, and now you’re doing the same with others. Hopefully, they will carry the mantle to the next generation.

    Like you, I read Charlotte’s Web and books with higher reading levels to younger children. It’s one of the best ways to build vocabulary and leads to many great discussions. Using context clues is something all readers do. A good story is a good story, whether we’re reading to children or seniors.

    One of my favorite stories about vocabulary comes from a little 2nd-grader named Kaden. My jaw dropped when he used the word haberdashery correctly when he was describing a setting. Of course, one of the other kids said, “What’s that?”

    I swooped in like any good teacher would do, and showed them how to use a dictionary to look it up. Kaden was a rock star but modest about the whole thing.

    • Jennie says:

      Pete, you are right. That’s how it’s supposed to happen. Jim would see it that way, too. He often talked about how listening comprehension was far ahead of reading comprehension- thus the importance of reading aloud. I just started our newest classroom chapter reading book, Mr. Popper’s Penguins. Thanks for the story of Kaden. Wow! And showing them a dictionary- that’s real hands-on learning.

  10. A very special friend, Jennie. I’m sorry for your loss.

  11. quiall says:

    This is the ultimate story of paying it forward. He started with an idea and ended with a legacy. You are part of that. I am so sorry for your loss and pleased for your inspiration.

  12. So sorry to hear of the passing of one so ‘good’ on so many levels. My condolences to you, Jennie, as his friend in this time of grief.

  13. I wish every parent and teacher would know his work.

  14. beth says:

    this brought me chills and and tears and joy all at once. what a treasure and you are so lucky to have connected with him personally. he will be greatly missed by so many.

    ‘I told children that the words go into their ears, then into their brain so they can make the pictures in their head.’ I love this quote from you and would like to use it with my class, thank you so much.

  15. Darlene says:

    The world has lost a special person. Once in awhile, someone makes positive changes in the lives of many. Jim Trelease was one of them. You were indeed fortunate to have met him in person. A modern-day hero!

  16. This is a beautiful tribute to him, Jennie! Through you and others like you his legacy will live on. 😍

  17. I didn’t know he died. That is a huge loss. Reading aloud has so much power we never suspected before people like Jim Trelease put a spotlight on it.

    • Jennie says:

      You are so right! His death is a huge loss, and he absolutely put reading aloud on the map- thank goodness! It has so much power (I can attest to that). Thank you, Jacqui.

  18. A brilliant post, Jennie. I got goosebumps at the end. So hard to say goodbye to an icon and mentor and wonderful human being

  19. who has made such a difference in the world (sorry, I hit wrong button as I was writing, above). Interestingly, in my creative writing classes to adults, I have us each read our (short) stories aloud to each other in the group (just 9 in each class). Reading aloud is just as important for adults, it seems!

  20. I’m so sorry Jennie. Thanks for sharing these beautiful memories. Hugs.

  21. I just went back to the ban cigars link and it isn’t working now. Not sure what happened. I’ll try a third time later today.

  22. Norah says:

    What a wonderful tribute to Jim Trelease. He will live on through the wonderful legacy he has left. I love that quote too.

  23. sjhigbee says:

    What a wonderful article, Jennie. Reading aloud is so important in the classroom. And at 65, I love that I now get to be read to every night as I go to sleep, courtesy of audiobooks – what a treat! But for children, it has to be a real live person right there with them. And your tribute to Jim Trelease is inspiring – a a strong reminder to all parents, carers and teachers that the power of the written words is greatest when it springs off the page and comes out of someone’s mouth…

    • Jennie says:

      Thanks so much, Sarah! No wonder audiobooks are so popular. Reading aloud is a powerful thing for children, and I will be its champion forever. I’m glad you enjoyed my tribute to Jim Trelease. He was the best!

  24. Hi Jennie, it is always sad when a person passes and Jim obviously made a real difference in the world. 💗

  25. Dan Antion says:

    Jennie, this is a great post, but I want to point out that you also change the lives of many children.

  26. frenchc1955 says:

    Jennie, thank you so much for this wonderful tribute!

  27. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    Here is a wonderful tribute to Jim Trelease by the extraordinary teacher, Jennie!

  28. Annika Perry says:

    Jennie, in the midst of loss and sadness there is knowing the absolute good he did with all his life. Jim changed so many lives, and it is wonderful how you both became good friends and helped others along the way. I love your reaction as the monetary donation was revealed – priceless. Jim’s quote at the end is spot on and yes, always a huge yes, to this ‘oral vaccine – they are the best moments for a child and for the adult reader too! A beautiful and engaging tribute, Jennie!

    btw. the link to the story to your blog post does not seem to work for me.

  29. That’s a heck of a tribute, Jennie. I have never heard of Jim Trelease, but he sounds like an inspiring, lovely, guy. What a life! Reading aloud is important – I’m sure it helped me and I get so frustrated when I meet people who don’t do it with their children. It’s all too easy for them to get lost on a tablet or game.

    • Jennie says:

      Thanks so much, Mike. Before Jim wrote his famous book he had another career, nothing about books or reading. He was invited to a school to talk about his career, saw a children’s book on their bookshelf in a classroom, one that he had read to his own kids, and asked the class about the book. The kids couldn’t say enough wonderful things. Then Jim went to a different classroom, and there were no books displayed. When he talked with the children about his career, he could tell the difference between the two classes. That lit his fire. He knew that reading aloud made the difference…but he had to do research and prove it. He did, and as much as I appreciate the detailed research, I love the stories- like Cuban cigars. Yes, lovely guy, and what a life! The children in my class love reading, because books are always there for them, anytime, and because I read aloud. The families know and support this, so it’s a big help to ‘combat’ (poor choice of words) tablets and online games. Yes, you were lucky to have books read to you.
      Apologies that I went on way too long, Mike.

  30. What a lovely tribute with so many heartfelt connections resulting in a lasting legacy, thank you for telling us about this wonderful “read aloud” person and speaker, I love his quote!

  31. A great post and a wonderful tribute to Jim. It is sad he has passed on, but what a legacy he leaves behind. If we all hope we’ll leave the world just a little bit of a better place for our having been here, Jim certainly made the world a whole lot better.

  32. What a wonderful inspiration to you and tens of thousands of teachers everywhere, Jennie. A lovely tribute and a great loss.

  33. S Greene says:

    What a visionary! He changed the world and made it a better place. I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing. His legacy will live on ❤️ My mom read aloud to me and my sister for at least an hour every night. I remember her reading the first few Harry Potter books to me when I was in 4th and 5th grade. In college, I was an English major, and now, I’m a writer! Reading aloud really does make all the difference 🥰

    • Jennie says:

      Yes, he was a visionary and put reading aloud ‘out front’. I wish my kids had been in elementary school when Harry Potter was published. Oh, I can only imagine how thrilling that must have been for you. I read aloud the Little House books to my children. That was wonderful, yet any reading aloud between parents and children is special. I’m not surprised you were an English major, and now a writer. Kate DiCamillo (children’s book author) talks about her mother reading to her as a child and the huge impact it had in her life. So, for me, I get the pleasure of reading aloud to my students every day. Deep down inside, I know I’m making a difference, thanks to Jim Trelease.

      • S Greene says:

        I love this so much! You are 100% making a difference for your students! After fifth grade, we didn’t have reading aloud to the classroom anymore, which was a huge shame! I remember reading aloud to my stuffed animals after school when I was in middle school. I made them participate too! 😂 I was a very imaginative child and am still very creative in adulthood 😊 I thank my mom every day for that!

      • Jennie says:

        That is very kind to say. Thank you! It’s a shame that teachers stop reading aloud when kids are able to read on their own. The head of the English Department at a prep school here in town still reads aloud to her students. Heads down, lights out. Kudos to your mom!

      • S Greene says:

        You’re very welcome 😊 it really is a shame, but I’m happy that at least a few teachers got the memo! My mom reading to me was always my favorite part of the day! 😃

  34. The Hook says:

    Where would we be without heroes, mentors and friends?

  35. Pingback: Remembering My Mentor and Hero, Jim Trelease – Urban Fishing Pole Lifestyle

  36. I am so sorry for this loss! Thanks for the remembration on him, Jennie! What would we do without such brilliant people? But we can see there is also the need of supporters and fascinated teachers like you. May he rest in peace! xx Michael

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