Friday, February 24, 2012

A loud reader...

I am a firm believer in reading aloud.  Not just to babies and toddlers and elementary-aged children, but from cradle to grave.

I have great memories of piling into my parents' bed with my sisters, cuddling up between my parents, and listening to my dad read aloud from Journeys Through Bookland by Charles H. Sylvester.  He read really fast.  You had to pay attention, or you'd be lost.

My mom read aloud to us, too.  The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken had me leaning forward with anticipation as my mother's voice floated over my bed.  I remember crying as she read aloud from The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom - my first exposure to the Holocaust.  

It is probably no surprise that I carry on this tradition with my own boys and Husband.  As graduate students in Venezuela for a year, sleeping in hammocks and studying the monkeys and the fish from an island, we read Stephen King's The Langoliers out loud (from his Four Past Midnight collection) and Husband (then Boyfriend) was hooked.  Then we tackled The Stand.  Yes.  All 800 plus glorious pages of The Stand.  Did I mention there was no electricity out there on the island?  No TV?  There was no better way to spend the hot hours of siesta than to read aloud.  Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire came next, then Dean Koontz's Twilight Eyes.  It wasn't our choice to focus on horror, those were simply the paperbacks left laying around the apartment reserved for graduate students.  So we devoured them.  And they were good.

As a middle school and high school teacher, I read aloud to my students.  There are lots of English teachers out there, bolstered by research, that believe that hearing a work read aloud, and read aloud well, helps students to become better readers themselves.  So I would start the year by reading Dark Water Rising by Marian Hale aloud to my 7th graders.  This great author of historical fiction for young adults chronicles the 1900 Galveston Hurricane.  The beginning of school every year coincided with hurricane season, which gave this first read aloud a sense of urgency where I taught on the Texas coast.  They loved it.  It sometimes took a while for them to relax and enjoy being read to, but they were surprisingly well behaved.  They were allowed to sit on the classroom carpet and just listen.  And gradually, some of the most reluctant readers would race into class on Fridays (reserved for Read Alouds) and exclaim, "I can't wait to hear what happens!  We stopped at the best part last week!" And the inevitable follow up questions, "What other books has this author written?" and "Do we have them here in the library?"  Success.  

After seeing how effective reading aloud was with my middle schoolers, I didn't see any reason not to try it with my more world-weary 11th graders in U.S. History.  We read Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin  when studying the Civil Rights Movement and Jim Crow laws.  It was always quiet on Read Aloud days.  Some of them fell asleep - of course they did.  But some of them got to experience a book that they otherwise never would have read.  And they didn't have to struggle to do it.  It was an enjoyable experience.  And isn't that what reading is supposed to be?

When it was first announced that C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia would be adapted for the big screen, I made sure I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to my three boys before we saw the movie.  These books were made to be read aloud.  When the characters began to appear on screen, Hayden leaned towards me and said, "That's Lucy!" as soon as he saw the redhead appear.  Satisfying.

The boys and Husband and I have made our way speedily through The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins.  We're waiting for Husband to return home to move on to the last book in the trilogy, Mockingjay.  And we cannot wait to go and see the movie based on the first book.  I showed the boys the official trailer that was released on Youtube.  And do you know what their reaction was?  "That's not what Katniss looks like!" and "She's supposed to be younger!" and "That can't be District 12's fence!"  So many images in their minds did not match up to what they were seeing on the screen.  But I also heard, "They got the train right, though." and "That must be Cinna!"  We're excited, can't you tell?  

As we wait for Husband to return (52 days at sea and counting...), we've turned to a book I discovered when I participated in the Association of Texas Professional Educators Book of the Month Club.

I cannot say enough good things about The Great Wide Sea by M.H. Herlong (check out the book's website).  It's on the 2009 Texas Lone Star Reading List.  My 7th grade classroom served as the Guest Readers for this amazing book, reading it and creating discussion questions.  (You can see a pic of some of my former students with the book here.)

I'm now questioning the wisdom of reading a shipwreck story while Husband is out there on a shrimp boat, but it is just so good.  Some parts get me so emotional that I choke up while reading.  The boys completely identify with the main characters in the story:  three brothers that have a hard time getting along.  We're almost done with it.  And Ms. Herlong?  If you're reading this?  Your book rocks and should totally be made into a movie.    

I'll continue reading aloud to my children, Husband and students.  Hell, I'll read aloud to anyone who will listen.  It calms me.  I enjoy it.  And the listeners seem to as well.  This is our family's bedtime ritual.  It has always been - we've just graduated from picture books to chapter books.  I highly recommend it.

As long as I'm making recommendations, here's a list:

Top 10 Middle Grade Books to Read Aloud

1.  Dark Water Rising by Marian Hale
2.  The Great Wide Sea by M.H. Herlong
3.  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
4.  Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
5.  Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
6.  The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
7.  The Giver by Lois Lowry
8.  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
9.  The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
10. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan



  1. Thank you for this post. I just discovered in my mother-in-law's basement the 1959 set of Journey through Bookland. She is a retired teacher. I'm looking forward to reading them to my daughter, whom I am homeschooling.

    1. You found a treasure! Thanks for reading and commenting. Happy Reading!