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The Read-Aloud Handbook: Seventh Edition: Jim Trelease

Book: The Read-Aloud Handbook: Seventh Edition
Author: Jim Trelease
Pages: 384
Age Range: Adult nonfiction (for parents and teachers)

The 7th Edition of Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook was published in June. I pre-ordered my copy, and it arrived that day, but various things kept me from reading it until this week. I reviewed the previous edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook in 2010, having also read an earlier version before starting my blog. I was fortunate enough to hear Jim speak to parents at the Santa Clara City Library in January of 2007. My notes from that session are here. I have referenced Jim's work on encouraging reading aloud to children many times over the course of my blogging. So you may consider this more a recommendation and discussion than a formal review. 

Let me first state for the record that I believe that all parents of young children should read The Read-Aloud Handbook, as should all elementary and middle school teachers. The Read-Aloud Handbook started out as a little booklet that the author self-published in 1979 to encourage other parents to read aloud, and talk about books, with their kids. It became a phenomenon, was picked up by Penguin, and was named by Penguin in 2010 as one of the seventy-five most important books published in the company's 75 year history. It certainly had an impact on me, though I first read it long before I had a child of my own.

GBMantraThe Read-Aloud Handbook posits that instead of focusing on test-prep, flashcards, and the like, what parents and schools need to do to improve life-long levels of literacy and critical thinking, is simply read aloud to kids. I obviously agree (and posted the Read-Aloud Mantra to the left several weeks ago on my blog). 

More than 30 years after initial publication, The 7th Edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook retains Trelease's passion for reading to kids, but has a lot more references and research. The 7th Edition is about 40% changed from the 6th Edition, with new research findings, book recommendations, and discussions of the impact of eBooks and tablets. Even as someone who had read earlier editions (and follows published research studied pretty closely), once I started reading this book, I couldn't put it down. I finished it in about a day (it helps that nearly half of the book consists of a treasury of recommended read-aloud titles, which I only skimmed). 

My reading of this edition was certainly colored by the fact that I have a three-year-old daughter who I very much hope grows up to be an avid reader. I flagged a mix of items throughout the book - interesting things that I might want to share on the blog, as well as action items for myself (like getting around to putting a basket of picture books in the bathroom). I'll share some of the former here, and put the latter into a separate post. 

Here are some of the many quotes that I flagged:

"Why are students failing and dropping out of school? Because they cannot read well enough to do the assigned work--which affects the entire report card. Change the reading scores and you change the graduation rate and then the prison population--which changes the social climate of America." (Page xxvi, Introduction) 

"If we're waiting for government to save our reading souls, we've got a long wait. Ultimately it will come down to the individual student, parent, teacher, and librarian." (Page xxix, Introduction)

"One factor hidden in the decline of students' recreational reading (as they get older) is that it coincides with a decline in the amount of time adults read to them. By middle school, almost no one is reading aloud to students. If each read-aloud is a commercial for the pleasures of reading, then a decline in advertising would naturally be reflected in a decline in students' recreational reading." (Page 6, Chapter 1)

"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." (Page 7)

"What motivates children and adults to read more is that (1) they like the experience, (2) they like the subject matter, and (3) they like and follow the lead of people who read a lot." (Page 10)

"The message in this kind of research (especially the Hart and Risley study on Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children) is unambiguous: It's not the toys in the home that make the difference in children's lives; it's the words in their heads. The least expensive thing we can give a child outside of a hug turns out to be the most valuable: words. You don't need a job, a checking account, or even a high school diploma to talk with a child." (Page 16)

 "Here is a crucial fact to consider in the reading and writing connection. Visual receptors in the brain outnumber auditory receptors 30:1. In other words, the chances of a word (or sentence) being retained in our memory bank are thirty times greater if we see it instead of just hear it." (Page 43, Chapter Two). 

"So how do we educate the heart? There are really only two ways: life experience and stories about life experience, which is called literature. Great preachers and teachers--Aesop, Socrates, Confucius, Moses, and Jesus--have traditionally used stories to get their lesson plans across, educating both the mind and the heart." (Page 45)

 "(Expectation of Reward / Effort Required) = Frequency of Activity... When you maintain strong reward factors and lower the number of difficulties, you will see a higher frequency of reading... If you really want to get more reading done, then take control of the distractions: needless trips to the mall, phone calls, multiple televisions, DVD players, e-mails, computer games--each calling for immediate attention or multi-tasking." (Page 84-86, Chapter 5)

"Make sure you, the adult role model, are seen reading daily. It works even better if you read at the same time as the child." (Page 92, Chapter 5)

(On applying Oprah's example of generating enthusiasm for books) "What can we apply from this to our work with children? Well, let's eliminate not all but much of the writing they're required to do whenever they read. ("The more we read, the more we gotta write, so let's read less and we can work less.") We adults don't labor when we read, so why are we forcing children to? It hasn't created a nation of writers or readers." (Page 103, Chapter 5)

"It's difficult to get good at reading if you're short of print. Government programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top ensure that children who are behind in reading are entitled to after-school tutoring and extra help with phonics. Nice. But giving phonics lessons to kids who don't have any print in their lives is like giving oars to people who don't have a boat -- you don't get very far." (Page 107, Chapter 6)

"By the reckoning of its own Department of Education, California's ratio of school librarian to student ranks fifty-first in the nation, with 1 librarian for every 5,124 students, more than five times the national average of 1 to 916. Even the state's adult prison system does better, with 1 librarian to 4,283 inmates." (Page 109). Sigh!

(On reading blogs, tablets, social networks instead of books) "Reading, when it's done today, doesn't go very deep, and it's so private it's invisible. The trouble is, how do you pass invisible torches? How do you pose as an invisible role model?"

"...the e-book is here to stay, for very legitimate reasons. It's a win-win situation: a moneymaker for the publisher and a money saver for the buyer. It also saves time, space, student spines, and trees, to say nothing of what it does for the visually impaired." (Page 131, Chapter 7)

"The research clearly shows that we read more slowly (6 to 11 percent) from a screen than from paper. As with automobile driving, humans may get better and faster at e-reading over the years--but that could take generations." (Page 133) I did not know this, and found it fascinating.

"So what happens to the creative process when there is no disconnect time, when we and our children are constantly downloading, uploading, texting, YouTubing, Googling, or tweeting our 742 "friends"? Less "deep thinking" takes place, less creativity." (Page 139)

"It is not so much what children are doing while they watch multiple hours of TV; it is the experiences they are not having that make the viewing so dangerous." (Page 142, Chapter 8)

"A California professor, Jo Stanchfield, once told me that girls tend to be extrinsically motivated in their reading (favoring the choices of their peers, mom, and teacher), while boys are intrinsically motivated (favoring what they themselves are interested in). I agree. Call it selfish or pragmatic, but guys are drawn more to what interests them, not what interests the crowd." (Page 169, Chapter 10)

There's lots more to the book, obviously, but those quotes should be more than sufficient to give you a feel, and hopefully inspire you to want to read the rest. I feel that if you have kids, or you work with kids, you should read The Read-Aloud Handbook. If you feel like you don't have time, at least read the introduction, which sums up many of the findings discussed throughout the book. The Kindle edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook is $7.99, and you can read it on your phone. (I prefer the print edition for things like this, that I'm going to refer back to, but if cost or time is an object, e-books have advantages.) 

I'm pulling out a few other ideas from this edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook, and will be sharing them as separate posts in the coming days. I welcome your feedback. 

Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: June 25, 2013
Source of Book: Purchased

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© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook