Author interview: Jim Trelease champions reading aloud to children
AT a time when more and more educators decry illiteracy in America, author Jim Trelease remains a staunch advocate of reading aloud as a way to stimulate children's interest in books. In the six years since Mr. Trelease self-published his 30-page pamphlet of recommended read-alouds, he has spoken to innumerable librarians, teachers, and parents. His book, ``The Read-Aloud Handbook'' (Penguin, $6.95), is in its second edition by a commercial publisher. Amazingly, the first edition was on the New York Times best-seller list for 19 weeks.Skip to next paragraph
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Trelease's unassuming, almost professorial presence belies his intense commitment to reading and literacy among children.
``What you really want is learning that lasts . . . a lifetime,'' he said in a recent interview with the Monitor. ``If you learn to love reading -- and it lasts a lifetime -- that is the most important thing the kid is ever going to learn in that classroom.
``What we make children love and desire is a whole lot more important than what we make them learn in the classroom. Because if a kid wants to learn, [if] he wants to read, [if] he wants to find out the answers, then he can teach himself.''
Trelease points to the many poignant stories included in his handbook of children whose lives have been changed because a parent or teacher has read to them.
``I think you read aloud to children for all the same reasons that you talk to children,'' he says. ``To inspire them, to guide them, motivate them, to stir their curiosity. Those are things that you can do talking to kids, but you can't whet a child's appetite to want to read by talking. You've got to read aloud to that child . . . ''
One example Trelease cites is that of a sixth-grade teacher assigned to a class of remedial students. As part of her curriculum, she began reading aloud. The students were insulted -- they could read themselves and did not want her reading to them. But she persisted. Soon the class was reminding her not to forget to read aloud.
The biggest breakthrough came later. One of the slowest readers in the class checked out the book the teacher was reading to the class and finished it himself. He came to school the next day and told the class how it ended. The teacher didn't care that the student gave away the ending. What mattered to her was that that book had been the key to open that boy's mind.
Trelease insists that with the steep competition from television, time for reading is often crowded out of children's lives. Those children who are read to by a parent or teacher are given an experience that will remain with them throughout their lifetime. Regular reading aloud, according to Trelease, will strengthen a child's reading, writing, and speaking skills, enriching the overall primary education process and laying the foundation for improved literacy skills.
Trelease, a former cartoonist for the Springfield (Mass.) Daily News, became an avid advocate of reading aloud when his daughter was a young child.
``I started to choose books that I was as much interested in as she was because of my art background,'' he says with a smile. ``I was picking Mercer Mayer books and Maurice Sendak books and Edward Ardizzone books because I loved the way they drew.'' Trelease was soon reading such books as ``Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel'' and ``The Tale of Peter Rabbit'' for the very first time.