Children's Literacy and Reading News Round-Up: February 22
Carnival of Children's Literature and Poetry Friday

The Read-Aloud Handbook: Jim Trelease

Book: The Read-Aloud Handbook: Sixth Edition
Author: Jim Trelease
Pages: 432
Age Range: Adult nonfiction 

ReadAloudHandbook I've recommended Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook many times, but I've never actually reviewed it. I recently re-read the book (inspired in part by Dawn Morris' comments after her first reading of the book), and thought that I would share a few thoughts. This is more a reaction than a formal review.

First of all, I agree with Dawn that this is a book that everyone should read. Or at least every parent and teacher, aunt, uncle, or grandparent should read it, along with anyone else who has an interest in the well-being and future success of children. I also agree with Teacherninja Jim, who commented on a recent Booklights post of mine that a copy of this book should be sent home from the hospital with every new parent.

The Read-Aloud Handbook is about why it's important for children to grow up as readers, and how parents and teachers can help to accomplish this goal. My earlier reading of The Read-Aloud Handbook helped inspire me to start this blog in the first place. The Read-Aloud Handbook blends the author's personal experiences as a parent, lecturer, and advocate of reading with extensive research.

The primary arguments of The Read-Aloud Handbook are (and I'm paraphrasing for simplicity):

  • Kids spend 900 hours a year inside of school, and 7800 hours a year outside of school. It's short-sighted to put all of the responsibility of encouraging kids as readers on the schools. Parents can play a huge role by reading to their kids, making sure that they have access to books in the home, and modeling reading behavior. (Introduction)
  • The only way to really drive change is to launch a huge national awareness campaign (like the one against smoking), telling parents what they should and must do in the home, if they want to prepare their children for success in today's world. This is unlikely to happen, however, because politicians are reluctant to hold the huge voting block of parents accountable. (Introduction)
  • The National Reading Panel found that "the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for success in reading is reading aloud to children." (Page 3) This applies at home and in schools.
  • Among the many reasons to read aloud to kids, one of the most important is that it helps them to associate reading with pleasure. Human beings are by nature pleasure-centered -- we will voluntarily do things repeatedly if we get pleasure from them. And because reading is an accrued skill, spending repeated time reading is what enables us to get good at it.

Here are a couple of quotes that particularly stood out for me on this reading (out of many that I could have chosen):

"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." (Page xxvi)

"The last thirty years of reading research confirms this simple formula--regardless of sex, race, nationality, or socioeconomic background. Students who read the most also read the best, achieve the most, and stay in school the longest. Conversely, those who don't read much cannot get better at it.

Why don't students read more? Because of Reading Fact No. 1 (Human beings are pleasure centered). The large number of "unpleasure messages they received throughout their school years, coupled with the lack of pleasure messages in the home, nullify any attraction books might have." (Page 5)

After framing the arguments for raising kids who like to read, and using reading aloud as a tool to facilitate this, Trelease goes on to talk about when to begin (and end) reading aloud, the developmental stages of reading aloud, and some nuts-and-bolts dos and don'ts of reading aloud. These early chapters (especially Chapter 4, which consists of nothing but bulleted lists of dos and don'ts) are the ones that I would most encourage parents to read. If you have time for nothing else, read the Introduction, Chapter 1, and Chapter 4. This could help you to change your child's life for the better.

The later chapters get a bit more into specifics like sustained silent reading programs in schools; the effect of Oprah, Harry Potter, and the Internet; and limiting television. All of this is useful, just not quite as essential for parents as the first few chapters. I especially enjoyed the fact that Trelease intersperses his research findings with personal anecdotes, some from his own family (reading aloud to his kids while they did the dishes), and others from people he met along the way. For me, these stories often resonated more than the fact-based research.

The book ends with a "giant treasury of great read-alouds", classified by genre. The treasury takes up about 40% of the book, and is more of a reference than something that you need to read page by page. It's a great starting point, though the author also talks in the text about other ways to find books to read. [He doesn't mention the Kidlitosphere, but I'll bet that he would if there was a new edition in the future.]

The edition that I read this week was the sixth (and most recent) edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook, published in 2006. Because Trelease references so many studies on reading and literacy, it's perhaps inevitable that at four years old, the book does occasionally feel dated. At least, it does to me, someone who is constantly reading news stories about the latest and greatest reading studies. Ironically, if the book was less extensively researched and referenced, this wouldn't stand out so much (e.g. if he was just talking about his own experience, rather than tying things to concrete studies).

I do think that Trelease did a good job with this edition overall (I've also read the fourth edition), keeping many of the anecdotes that give the book its heart, but also updating to include web references, discussions about the impact of the Internet, etc. Jim is retired now, and I'm not sure whether or not there will ever be a later edition of the book. But in the meantime, I'm happy to report that the Sixth Edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook holds up well. I have every expectation of continuing to give it as a gift to new parents in the future. I hope that some of you will consider reading it, and giving it to others, too. The Read-Aloud Handbook has my highest recommendation.

Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: July 25, 2006
Source of Book: Bought it
Other Blog Reviews: Moms Inspire Learning, ABC and 123, The Homeschool Den. See also my notes from a talk that Jim Trelease gave in Santa Clara, CA. See also a personal story of the impact of this book at Original Content.

© 2010 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).