Our Town Books Review: The Read-Aloud Handbook

Read-Aloud Handbook The Read-Aloud Handbook
by Jim Trelease.
351 pp. Penguin Books. $17.

The Read-Aloud Handbook is on Penguin Books’ list of the seventy-five most important books it has ever published, which is saying a great deal considering that Penguin has also published Moby Dick and Pride and Prejudice.

Penguin first issued Jim Trelease’s handbook on introducing children to the pleasures of reading in 1982 and reprinted it three times that year alone. The seventh edition, which he calls his “retirement” edition, is now available. I was pretty sure it would contain reviews of the latest children’s books—and it does—but I wondered what else might be new. A lot has changed in the world of children’s literature in the past 30 years.

The new edition reflects those changes in well-documented chapters such as, “Digital Learning: Good News and Bad,” and “The Print Climate in the Home, School, and Library.” The latter chapter asks, “Does the Disappearance of Newspapers in the Home Have an Impact?” and “If Libraries are So Important, Why are They the First to Get Cut in Hard Times?” Good questions.

Trelease ask other good questions as well: “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?” I was struck by the realization that children who live in families where most reading is done online, rarely see their parents with printed materials in hand. When your child knows that you are thoroughly taken with a book or magazine, you’re sending a message that reading is quite a grown-up–and therefore very desirable–activity. It’s more challenging to send that message with digital materials. Quite a change.

What hasn’t changed since this book’s first appearance is the importance of reading aloud to children. Research from the 1980s still holds true today: “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” The Handbook helps parents and teachers with the whys and hows.

Reading is more than mere matter of translating letters into words and words into sentences; a child must also have reasons to do so and to keep doing so. As Trelease points out, listening to you read a few pages of a book provides a daily moment of warmth and closeness, humor and laughter—and strong motivation to become a reader. And that, of course, is what matters most.

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