Friday, December 18, 2009

Reading Aloud: A Shared Adventure

When I first launched Twenty by Jenny back in April, I mentioned that some of my favorite memories of growing up involved my brother and me sitting on either side of my mother as she read aloud to us. She often read books that would have been difficult for me to read by myself at the age of seven or eight, and my brother wasn’t reading yet. But as long as there were plenty of photos or illustrations, we both had a way into the story or subject.

Similarly, when I was teaching third grade and I read aloud to the students, I always tried to select books that were slightly more challenging than what they might choose on their own. In reading class, naturally, we read together books that most of the children could comprehend and read aloud themselves with relative confidence. But when I read to them, I wanted to pick books that would expand their vocabulary and take them to new places, both literally and figuratively.

Reading aloud was a big part of our holiday celebrations. In a tradition that began with my father’s family, everyone who came to celebrate with us at both Thanksgiving and on Christmas Eve had something to read. We family members all had established readings. My father always read “The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers” by Felicia Dorothea Hemans, and his brother Chris always read “When the Frost Is on the Pumpkin” at Thanksgiving. For Christmas, my mother always read “Dear Virginia,” and her mother would read “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas” with all of us cousins flanking her on the couch so we could see the pictures--Heather, the youngest, sat on Gramma’s lap. Immediately, even first-time guests felt a part of the celebration (shy guests could choose a four-line poem with a punch line).

All of this to say that the holidays are a perfect time to read a good book together aloud. (If you’re feeling hesitant, here are a few tips.) Harry Potter reminded us how wonderful it is to dive into another world with the entire family along for the journey. A break from school and some time off from work creates another opportunity to enjoy a book together as a family, and Yummy and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon are two books that the entire family can enjoy. Each has self-contained shorter sections, too, which allow you to dip in and out or read the whole book—depending on whether it’s a bedtime ritual or an afternoon-long adventure (in the case of MountainYummy you could still finish up rather quickly). If you will be spending the holidays with older children, ages 12-up, then The Book Thief is an excellent read-aloud choice. Remember: You are never too old to be read to.


  1. Yes, my 7th grader still looks forward to my reading aloud at bedtime, and it is a great way to get my fussy reader to expand her horizons, not to mention get some serious together time with me. Just finished The Graveyard Book and working on When My Name Was Keoko.

  2. I am always so happy to learn others continue reading aloud to older children. Thank you for this.

  3. Linda, I'm delighted to hear that you're reading aloud to your 7th grader! Have you read The Book Thief aloud together yet? Because it's a book about books, it's especially fun to talk about as you go along. I also love When My Name Is Keoko. It's probably my favorite of Linda Sue Park's books; I had no idea what the Koreans had gone through under the Japanese occupation before I read it.

    Caroline, I still love being read to.

  4. Just an update: my college girl came home, caught me reading to her sister and asked me to read aloud some from the book she was working on! And The Book Thief is on the shelf waiting for us.

  5. My parents were reading The Little House in the Big Woods to me and my sister when we were 5 and 3, and so we insisted our youngest sister be named Laura (we were successful!) Fast forward about 10 years, and my step-sister and I used to read aloud to each other when we were in the shower so that the person in the shower wouldn't have to lose those 20 minutes of reading time!

  6. Linda and Carin, your stories are so terrific! I love that your college girl still loves being read to, Linda. And reading aloud to each other while you shower! That's a new one--and fabulous, Carin!