The Read-Aloud Handbook is not a new book. In fact, the first edition was published in 1979, and my mom used that edition as a reference for choosing books to read aloud to me when I was young. But the information that Jim Trelease includes in the handbook is arguably even more important today as it was when he first wrote the book.
Required Reading for Us
The Read-Aloud Handbook should be required reading for every parent, teacher, school administrator, and politician. Jim Trelease powerfully argues the benefits of reading aloud to our children in a relaxed, casual writing style. He also includes an invaluable list of exceptional read-alouds at the end of the book. He was not an educational expert when he began this journey of advocating for reading aloud. He was a parent, who could see the importance of reading aloud to kids and saw that other people didn’t realize the importance. Over his 30 years of writing, lecturing, and advocating, he gained more and more evidence for the reasons why reading aloud is so effective. Although he has now retired, his book and website are still available as resources for us to use. Let’s read them, use them, and spread the word on how important reading aloud to our children really is.
“This is not a book about teaching a child how to read; it’s about teaching a child to want to read…It is about raising children in love with print who want to keep on reading long after they graduate.” Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook, 6th edition, p. xviii-xix
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I have owned two editions of The Read-Aloud Handbook. I used the first when I was a classroom teacher and a new mom. Later, I bought the second when my youngest son was about a year old and have used it as a reference ever since. I had read it before, but last month I decided I wanted to re-read it all the way through. This time, I took notes as I read, so I could share what I learned with you here on Bookity Split.
About once a month, I will be reading and reviewing a book and reporting back to you about what I’ve learned. I often try to read a non-fiction/parenting/self-help book in conjunction with the books I read for fun. If I read a little bit each day, I can work through some great books that I may not have chosen as my first choice, but definitely want to read. This method seems to work well for me, as I work through my ever-growing to-be-read list.
The edition I just finished was the 6th edition, published in 2006. As I refer to page numbers, they are the page numbers from that edition. Although some of the statistics Trelease includes and some of what he writes about technology 11 years ago are now outdated, much of it still holds true for today. Note: That the links I have included in this article are to the 7th edition, which was published a few years later.
Take-Aways from The Read-Aloud Handbook
As I read, I took notes on important points the author made about reading aloud. I’m including quotes relating to those important points here.
Jim Trelease on WHY We Should Read Aloud to Our Children
“Whenever an adult reading to a child, three important things are happening simultaneously and painlessly: (1) a pleasure connection is being made between child and book, (2) both parent and child are learning something from the book they’re sharing (double learning), and (3) the adult is pouring sounds and syllables called words into the child’s ear.” Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook, 6th edition, p. 33
Not only are we reading aloud and learning new information and vocabulary together in a shared experience, we are also bonding with our child with special one-on-one time.
Reading aloud also has future academic advantages. Trelease quotes Tom Parker in his book as saying, “The best SAT preparation course in the world is to read to your children in bed when they’re little. Eventually, if that’s a wonderful experience for them, they’ll start to read themselves.” The Read-Aloud Handbook, 6th edition, p. xii
Trelease includes multiple examples throughout the book of children who experienced great academic success. These children were regularly read to or had parents who fostered a love of reading in their children. Some of these children were not expected to do well in school, but overcame the odds and became success stories. Their parents (and Jim Trelease) credit reading aloud with their children’s success.
“Reading is the ultimate weapon, destroying ignorance, poverty, and despair before they can destroy us. A nation that doesn’t read much doesn’t know much. And a nation that doesn’t know much is more likely to make poor choices in the home, the marketplace, the jury box, and the voting booth. And those decisions ultimately affect an entire nation—the literate and the illiterate.” Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook, 6th edition, p. xxvi
Knowledge is power and as we read aloud to our children, we are equipping them to be prepared for their future.
Jim Trelease on When Parents Should Start Reading to Their Children
“Begin reading to children as soon as possible. The younger you start them, the easier and better it is.” Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook, 6th edition, p. 75
Photo by N8tr0n
“If a child is old enough to talk to, she’s old enough to read to.” Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook, 6thedition, p. 23
I love the section in the book where Jim Trelease answers parents who ask him when they should begin reading aloud to their child with another question, “When did you start talking to the child?” They answer, “We started talking to him the day he was born.” He says most people do start talking to their children right away, but many can’t imagine reading to those same children.
Photo by Neeta Lind
“Reading aloud with a young child shouldn’t be a solitary, passive experience. As much as possible, you want the child to interact with you and the book.” Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook, 6th edition, p. 52
Trelease says that reading aloud should be all about asking and answering questions, examining the pictures together early on, and as the child gets older, taking turns reading. It should all be very interactive and engaging. Read more about interactive reading here.
Jim Trelease on Building Attention Spans
“The best tool for expanding attention span is one-on-one time with the child; it is by far the most effective teaching/bonding arrangement ever invented.” Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook, 6th edition, p. 34
“When a child has little or no experience with books, it is impossible for him to have a concept of them and the pleasure they afford. No experience means no attention span.” Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook, 6th edition, p. 35
When we spend one-on-one time snuggling with a child and reading aloud, we can model how to sit through a story. If we make the storytime engaging, the child will start to find pleasure in it and want to sit and listen.
“Thanks to our primal need to find out what happens next, read-aloud is a particularly effective tool in stretching children’s attention spans. Just keep in mind that endurance in readers, like runners, is not built overnight; start slowly and build gradually.” Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook, 6th edition, p. 60
Trelease recommends starting with picture books when children are young, and work up to longer and longer books with more text on a page until you can begin reading short chapter books and then eventually novels.
Jim Trelease on Reading to Older Children and Teenagers
“Almost as big a mistake as not reading to children at all is stopping too soon.” Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook, 6th edition, p. 36
Keep reading! Read as long as your kids will let you read to them, and if they start to push away, try to find something you can read together that you will both enjoy.
“Beyond the building of attention span and vocabulary, something else is built during these one-on-one hours with a child. When you get to the “heavy stuff” in books, it usually brings to the surface some of the child’s own “heavy stuff”—his or her deepest hopes and fears. And when that happens, if there is not an obnoxious older sister or younger brother present, children will tell you their secrets. And when they share their secrets, the chemistry that occurs is called “bonding”—and that’s what really holds families together.” Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook, 6th edition, p. 40
We want to build meaningful connections with our children that will continue as they grow into teenagers. Bonding through reading aloud is a great way to connect.
“It is far easier to convince a parent to begin reading to an infant than it is to convince people to begin (or continue) reading to older children, yet the older the child, the more complicated the books become, and the more enjoyable or meaningful they are for the adult reader as well.” Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook, 6th edition, p. 40
Some of the middle grade and young adult novels I’ve read are better than many adults books that I have read. I promise, you will both enjoy reading these books! Here’s a list of great read-alouds from Jim Trelease.
“The perfect time for a teenage to hear a read-aloud? While doing the dishes.” Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook, 6th edition, p. 72
Jim Trelease writes that he read to his teenaged children while they were doing household chores, and much of what he read to them wasn’t from books. He read newspaper and magazine articles that he thought they would find interesting. We could read to our older children in the same way today with interesting articles we come across on our phones or other devices.
The Read-Aloud Handbook also includes important discussions on required reading, book clubs, series, graphic novels, comics, movies that were based on books, audiobooks, and technology. In 2006, Jim Trelease explained how much he loves and uses technology daily. But he cautions parents:
“…Media is very much like the medications in your medicine cabinet. Helpful as they might be, they definitely need parental oversight and controls.” Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook, 6th edition, p. 157
“…Technology is here to stay. Whether it wreaks wonders or havoc will largely depend on whether we allow it to work on us or for us.” Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook, 6th edition, p. 175
Check It Out Today
If you are a parent, grandparent, teacher, school administrator, or really anyone with a connection to young children, and you haven’t already read The Read-Aloud Handbook, I encourage you to check out this book from the library or buy a copy for yourself to read. Or if you don’t think you have the time to read the whole book, please consider reading through Jim Trelease’s website. The Treasury of Read-Alouds in the back of the book is available on the website, as well as information on some of the other topics he discusses.
This message is important, and the impact is clear. Reading aloud to our children is something we must make time to do. It is something that we cannot forget about and leave behind in this new era so dominated by technology. It is something tangible we can do to help our children succeed in school and in life. And the best part is that reading aloud is easy to do and can be completely free if you check out books from your public or school library! All it takes is time. The simple act of snuggling up with your child and reading a good book together will have a huge impact on both of your lives.
Trelease, Jim. The Read-Aloud Handbook: Sixth Edition. New York: Penguin. 2006. Print.