I recently re-read two very helpful books on the subject of reading aloud: The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction by Megan Cox Gurdon, and Jim Trelease‘s Read Aloud Handbook (8th ed.). The Enchanted Hour is written from the perspective of a parent and children’s book reviewer, while Jim Trelease’s Read Aloud Handbook was originally written from the perspective of a parent and educator. The most recent edition of Trelease’s book was edited and revised by Cyndi Giorgis, who is a professor of children’s and young adult literature and previously served as a school librarian. Both books detail the benefits of reading aloud to students of all ages that most school librarians already know:
- It builds vocabulary
- It conditions a child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure
- It creates background knowledge
- It provides a reading role model
- It instills a desire to read (Trelease 2019, 6)
- The more kinds of reading material are in a home, the higher the child’s reading scores are in school (Trelease 2019, 77)
But do parents know any of this? School librarians are trained to develop instructional partnerships with teachers, but we don’t hear much about how they might also develop instructional partnerships with parents. The following excerpts from The Enchanted Hour and Jim Trelease’s Read Aloud Handbook caused me to realize that school librarians are missing a great opportunity:
“A noble objective of the government’s No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and Every Student Succeeds Act was to reduce the divide between children’s achievement levels. The success of these initiatives depended entirely on bridging the vocabulary gap. The most efficient way to do that is to tap into the 7,800 hours the child spends at home. Imagine the impact if even half the parents of children who are at risk were reading to them from library books beginning at infancy (or listening to recorded stories and audiobooks if family literacy is a problem). A second strategy would be for the classroom teacher to read aloud from high-quality literature that contains richer language than decodable texts” (Trelease 2019, 26).
“Reading storybooks turns out to be an extraordinarily efficient and productive way to cause messages to zing from one part of the brain to another, creating and reinforcing those important neural connections. Reading aloud is so constructive in this regard, in fact, that in 2014 the American Academy of Pediatrics advised its 62,000 member doctors to recommend daily reading aloud to the parents and children they see in their medical practices. ‘Reading regularly with young children,’ the group’s policy paper read, ‘stimulates optimal patterns of brain development, strengthens parent-child relationships at a critical time in child development, which, in turn, builds language, literacy, and social-emotional skills that last a lifetime.’ Optimal patterns of brain development! Stronger parent-child relationships! Skills that last a lifetime! If reading aloud were a pill, every child in the country would get a prescription” (Gurdon 2019, 9-10).
“Imagine what could be done if someone were pushing to reach parents advocating the benefits of reading aloud and promoting it from the rooftops. Imagine what government could do with its reach and millions in funding if it thought parents and families were worth it. Imagine if we promoted parent education the way we endorse the Super Bowl or the newest reality show” (Trelease 2019, xvi).
School librarians often lament that classroom teachers have no time to collaborate with them and students (especially in the upper grades) don’t frequent the library unless required to do so by their teachers. So why not partner with parents to take advantage of the 7,800 hours children are spending outside of school to improve their literacy? If reading were a prescription, then school libraries might be the dispensaries and school librarians the pharmacists.
To get started, school librarians should read The Enchanted Hour and Jim Trelease’s Read Aloud Handbook. Then plan one or a series of family literacy nights in which parents are invited to visit the library to learn about the rich guidance provided in these books. During these events, school librarians can model reading aloud and demonstrate how to engage children in discussion about books they enjoy. Finally, they can show parents how to help their children select books of interest, make sure they take several home, and invite them back to replenish their supplies on a regular basis. Imagine how student literacy would improve if all school librarians promoted parent education in this manner!
Gurdon, Meghan Cox. 2019. The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction. New York: HarperCollins.
Trelease, Jim. 2019. Jim Trelease’s Read-Aloud Handbook, ed. Cyndi Giorgis. Penguin Books.
Author: Melanie Lewis Croft
Melanie Lewis Croft is an assistant professor in the College of Education at the University of West Georgia and program coordinator for its fully online School Library Media Program. Dr. Croft has worked with all grade levels and subject areas across a variety of learning environments in public, private, urban, and rural school systems. She served the K-12 field of education for 17 years as a state-certified elementary level classroom teacher, secondary level library media specialist, and district administrator of technology, library services, and curriculum. Since 2014, Dr. Croft has worked at the university level as both a faculty member and program coordinator of two graduate education programs in school library media. She currently serves AASL as a member of the School Library Research Editorial Board and contributor to the Knowledge Quest Blog.