a brief excerpt from the Introduction to
The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease
(Penguin, 2013, 7th edition).
Now available as both a paperback and e-book.
See also Handbook
How did a parent and not a professor come to write this book?
OME of my best friends are professors and they would have done an excellent job at anything they worked on, but you'll have to ask them why they didn't write this book. Here's how I came to write it.
Back in the 1960s, I was a young father of two children and working as an artist and writer for the Springfield Daily News in Massachusetts. Each night I read to my daughter and son, unaware of any cognitive or emotional benefits that would come of it. I had no idea what it would do for their vocabulary, attention span, or interest in books. I read for one reason: because my father had read to me and it made me feel so good I never forgot it and wanted my children to taste it too.
So there I was, reading to my children each night, when one day I found myself doing volunteer work in a classroom of sixth-graders (I'd been visiting classrooms on a weekly basis for several years, discussing my career as an artist and writer). After spending an hour with the class, I gathered my materials and prepared to leave when I noticed a little novel on the shelf near the door. It was The Bears' House by Marilyn Sachs, and it caught my eye because I'd just finished reading it to my daughter.
It probably was the first time any of them had ever heard an adult give a book report.
"Who's reading The Bears' House?" I asked the class. Several girls' hands went up. What followed was an unrehearsed lovefest about reading, talking with them about The Bears' House and other books I'd read to my children, and sharing secrets I knew about the authors: "Did you know that when Robert McCloskey was illustrating Make Way for Ducklings, he had a dreadful time drawing those ducks? He finally brought six ducklings up to his apartment to get a closer look. In the end, because they kept moving around so much, do you know what he did? You may find this hard to believe, but I promise you it's true: in order to get them to hold still, he slowed them down by getting them drunk on wine!")
The self-published edition, 1979
It was forty-five minutes before I could say good-bye. The teacher subsequently wrote to say that the children had begged and begged to go to the library to get the books I'd talked about. At the time, I wondered what it was that I had said that was so unusual. All I'd done was talk about my family's favorite books. I'd been giving them book reports (just as Oprah would do twenty-five years later).
As soon as I called it that, I realized what made it so special. It probably was the first time any of them had ever heard an adult give a book report. I'd piqued the children's interest by giving them a book "commercial." From then on, whenever I visited a classroom, I'd save some time at the end to talk about reading. I'd begin by asking, "What have you read lately? Anybody read any good books lately?"
To my dismay, I discovered they weren't reading much at all. But I slowly began to notice one difference. There were isolated classes in which the kids were reading—reading a lot! How is it, I puzzled, that these kids are so turned on to reading while the class across the hall (where I had visited the previous month) wasn't reading anything? Same principal, same neighborhood, same textbooks. What's up?
HEN I pursued it further I discovered the difference was standing in the front of the room: the teacher. In nearly every one of the turned-on classes, the teacher read to the class on a regular basis. Maybe there's something to this, more than just the feel-good stuff. In the libraries of the local teacher colleges I discovered research showing that reading aloud to children improves their reading, writing, speaking, listening—and, best of all, their attitudes about reading. There was one problem: the people who should have been reading the research weren't reading it. The teachers, supervisors, and principals didn't know it even existed.
It's the reason we celebrate "Dear, Dear Abby Day" in our house.
I also found that most parents and teachers were unaware of good children's books. In the late 1970s, when I realized there was nothing generally available for parents on reading aloud, not even book lists (except those included in children's literature textbooks), I decided to compile my own—a modest self-published venture (costing me $650 for the first printing—the family vacation money for one summer).
Some local bookstores took copies on consignment, and within three years the booklet had sold twenty thousand copies in thirty states and Canada. By 1982, Penguin Books had seen a copy and asked me to expand it into the first Penguin edition of the book you are reading now (seventh edition). There have also been seven foreign editions, including those in Japan and China.
When adults read to a children, they are also passing torches—literacy torches—from one generation to the next. In growth of this book, we can easily see the "torches" metaphor. A few months after the first Penguin edition was published, someone gave a young graduate student a copy on the occasion of his becoming a new parent. He then gave a copy of it to an Arlington, Virginia, couple expecting a child and for whom he was doing part-time carpentry work. This Arlington mother, though, did more than just read it. She wrote and sent an unsolicited "book report" about it to a nationally syndicated advice columnist—a woman named Abigail Van Buren. And when her letter appeared in the Dear Abby column, with "Abby's" response, on February 23, 1983, Penguin received orders for 120,000 copies of the book. Needless to say, February 23 is celebrated as "Dear, Dear Abby Day" in our house.
Questions covered in the Introduction for print
or e-book editions
of The Read-Aloud Handbook, 7th edition
See Handbook Contents for a list
of all issues and questions in the book.
In order to keep their books from becoming too heavy and thus too expensive, most authors are forced to trim their manuscript. This can be an experience not unlike being forced to trim one of your fingers. Granted, you still nine others but doggone! you do miss that tenth one. For a sample of what got trimmed for this seventh edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook, click LIBRARY MYSTERY.