Monday, November 4, 2013

Reading Aloud

By Hilde Garcia

Several years ago, when my kids were still in diapers, I attended a lecture given by Jim Treleasean extraordinary educator. He was giving his last speech of his career and it was right here, in Burbank, two blocks from my house. My friend, Emily, said, “You don’t want to miss this.” I tend to listen to good friends, and so I joined her for an incredibly meaningful 2 hours.

He said and showed me what I had been saying all along- that reading is the key to educational success. I had been reading to my twins since they were in-utero. I read the entire Chronicles of Narnia aloud to them, all of the Harry Potter’s which at the time was only up to Book 4, the 8 volumes of Anne of Green Gables- yes, I was on bed rest for part of the pregnancy- and so many other books. I think I read every Dr. Seuss book and some very silly poems, fables, and every Peter RabbitI have the whole collection. Winnie the Pooh was there too.

I knew that they could hear me from the time they were five months along, so I read, read and read. When I went to the hospital, I packed 1 nightgown and about 5 books. As soon as they were born and the IV’s were out of my arm (so I could hold a book and a couple of twins) and no one was around, I read to them Oh, the Places You’ll Go. Well, mostly I cried. It took several times for me to get through it- I was glad it was 2am and I was alone.

But I read. I read to my brand new babies because I knew they wanted another story. They simply breathed it in much the way I imagined they did when they were still being baked. My son’s eyes were open and watching me. My daughter’s eyes softly closed with the sweetest of expressions. Now, nine years later, when I read to them, they still have those expressions.

We read almost every night. I know they can read on their own and really well. Both are in the third grade, but are reading on a 7th grade level. They have tackled quite a bit at this age already. My son’s reading Treasure Island with us now- it’s a bit tough, so we are doing it as a team. And my daughter’s on Harry Potter, for the third time, but this time in Spanish. She’s also reading Richard Peck’s, A Season of Gifts and a bunch of other books she picks up daily. She’s changed to a roller book bag because her back couldn’t take the weight of her traveling library.

 I think about Jim’s speech all those years ago and how he inspired me to continue doing what I was doing and NOT to listen to voices and people telling me that once they are old enough, they won’t want me to read to them.

“You’re kids don’t watch TV? Really, why not?”
“Well, because I would like them to develop their imagination, not deaden it. And at this young age, they should be playing and reading.” (There’s nothing wrong with TV, but there’s a time and a place and childhood is not the time, nor the place).

“But why read to them so much?”
And then I reply loosely paraphrasing Mr. Trealease’s philosophy, “We need to read to our kids about 3 to 4 years ahead of their actual reading level. This develops their listening level. IF we are reading Dr. Seuss to a 6 year-old, we are doing them a disservice. THEY can read it to us, but we should be reading ahead of their level.”

Everyone wants to see improved test scores. Do you know how that happens?


It’s the one thing that anyone, from any socio-economic level can do and what makes the most difference. 

This is a brief excerpt from the Introduction to The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (Penguin, 2013, 7th edition). He was talking about why testing doesn’t work and how everyone is looking for the magic bean that will put our country at the forefront. Well, it’s easy. Reading.

"WE start with the family of Susan and Tad Williams and sons, Christopher and David. Of the four hundred thousand students taking the A.C.T. exam with Christopher back in 2002, only fifty-seven had perfect scores—he was the fifty-eighth. When word got out that this kid from Russell, Kentucky (population 3,645), had scored a perfect 36, the family was besieged with questions, the most common being "What prep course did he take? Kaplan? Princeton Review?" It turned out to be a course his parents enrolled him as an infant, a free program, unlike some of the private plans that now cost up to $250 an hour.

"In responding to inquiries about Christopher's prep courses, the Williamses simply told people—including the New York Times— that he hadn't taken any, that he did no prep work. That, of course, wasn't completely true. His mother and father had been giving him and his younger brother free prep classes all through their childhoods, from infancy into adolescence: they read to them for thirty minutes a night, year after year, even after they learned how to read for themselves.

"The best S.A.T. prep course is to read to your children when they're little." Theirs was a home brimming with books but no TV Guide, GameCube, or Hooked on Phonics. Even though Susan Williams was a fourth-generation teacher, she offered no home instruction in reading before the boys reached school age. She and Tad just read to them—sowed (and sewed) the sounds and syllables and endings and blendings of language into the love of books. Each boy easily learned to read, loved it, gobbled it up voraciously. Besides being a family bonding agent, reading aloud was used not as test prep as much as an "insurance" policy—it ensured the boys would be ready for whatever came their way in school."

Jim Trelease in his speech shared with us dozens of stories like this. His book is wonderful and I highly recommend it. But most of all, I did what he said and I read to my kids every night. Sometimes I can’t- PTA meetings or writing groups or papers to grade- but my husband and I seem to be an effortless tag team. We are both blessed at being multi-lingual, so it’s anyone’s guess as to what language the book is in every night. Last night we read, El Grial Oculto, a new Spanish book we picked up at our school’s book expo last week, which is very Harry Potteresque with a sprinkling of Lemony Snicket.

This post came to mind when we launched our Principal’s Book Club last school year. It was such a hit. This year’s title is Richard Peck’s, A Season of Gifts. Even though it is geared for upper grade, it’s a wonderful book and younger kids can enjoy it with a little help from a grown up. I had a parent ask me if it would be too hard. "No, it's not "too hard," I replied. “It's just right." We want kids tackling challenging idioms and academic language. That's why Common Core is going to be so effective and why kids will begin to connect all they are learning through reading.

It’s what Jim had been saying all along. The best SAT prep course is to read to your children, even after they have learned to read for themselves. And now as a teacher, I have a second duty to my students, so yes, I read to them 30 minute a week, 3 times in 10 to 15 minute intervals. Our first novel is A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. (My acting skills are finally paying off).

I walk around, do the voices, stop occasionally to illustrate a point or to tie it to a lesson, but mostly, I read ALOUD. I read as I move around. I let the book hook my heart and in turn, I hook theirs.

Last year, I read Little House in the Big Woods. The kids were hooked when I read On the Banks of Plum Creek from their literature book, and we simply had to start at the beginning. And by the end, I was very moved, and so were they. They loved the magic carpet ride.

And if you think it only works on kids, well, during Labor Day Weekend, we took a day trip to Cambria and I read Moon Over Manifest by Claire Vanderpool aloud to the kids and of course, my hubby, in the car, and I had them ALL hooked. He insisted we finish it after we arrived at home. So we get out of the car, sit on the couch and cry our way through until the end. What an experience. So my very intelligent, amazing husband was drawn into this incredible story, which is geared for 12 year olds, but so universal that it touches everyone that reads it, regardless of their age.

Do I think my kids’ success with reading is directly related to my efforts and not just a lucky draw of kid smarts? Yes, I do. You create readers; they don’t grow in a vacuum. You give them an environment.

As writers, our job is to support that environment and provide the most amazing literature that will allow kids to thrive. We provide those stories that will carry them through life. And sadly we are competing with every gadget under the sun, so we must work more diligently to tip the scales back in our favor.

There are no video games in my house, no TV’s in their rooms, no computers, no iThings. There are though, oodles of books in several languages and those are always welcome. There will be time later for all the gadgets, but the love for books comes now, during these most magical of times.

What if all kids turned off the gadgets and curled up with a good book?

My daughter sleeps with hers like a Teddy Bear.

And speaking of my daughter, our junior correspondent on The Pen and Ink Blog whom we affectionately call “Spot,” she had the privilege of meeting and conversing with Mr. Peck at the SCBWI LA Conference in August.
At that time, her favorite book was A Long Way from Chicago- the chapter titled Shotgun Cheatum. I read that chapter to both kids and they nearly fell out of their beds from the laughter regarding the cat, the coffin and the shotgun. (If you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for? Trust me, it’s brilliant.)

Although now that she has finished A Season of Gifts, The Mouse with a Question Mark Tail and Secrets at Sea, she can’t decide which of his books is her favorite.

Truly, a great problem to have.

The secret to success in our family is reading and we have passed that along to our children. I hope that all of us as writers can create stories that inspire amazing readers to keep the pages turning.


  1. I used to love reading to my daughter when she was younger. I adopted her from China and I brought some books with me and started reading to her there even though she didn't understand a word I was saying. I have many fond memories of practically falling asleep reading to my daughter at night. Awesome how much you've read to your kids.

    1. Me too. I am so glad you posted. How cool to adpot your daughter from China? How old is she now? HildeD

  2. That is absolutely wonderful, and something I've always believed too. I read to my children, and my daughter reads to her children, who are reading well beyond their grade level. Thank you for the inspiration to try to write more that will keep young people wanting to read.

    1. Thank you. Now if I could only find time to revise some chapters myself, life would be swell.

  3. Great post Hilde. Your class is so lucky to have you read to them. You are a wonderful reader.

  4. Fabulous post. Every parent should read this one. Thanks!

    1. Thanks Judy and Sue. I plan to send it to my class and some other folks at school too. They all marvel at how I do this and teach their kids, but if they only knew how much I have to and want to write and how I am going to teach their kids to do the same. Thanks for your reply. Hilde D

  5. Years ago I read about a scientific study intended to find out what method of teaching reading worked best. The scientists interviewed th highest functioning students from the best colleges in the country and discovered it didn't matter what method their schools had used. The only thing they had in common was that their parents had read to them every night when they were little kids. Of course the parents must have been smart to do that, so maybe some of their success was hereditary.

  6. Thank you for a wonderful and inspiring post. As a parent and teacher, I applaud all you've done and are doing. I love reading to my daughter and to my students, and want them to enjoy my books, too.

  7. Such a heartfelt post, Hilde. You said it ALL mate - and then some! I added your post to my Parenting board on Pinterest, with a note that says, DON'T MISS THIS!

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    1. Hey Margot and Penelope- thank you, thank you, thank you for your kind wishes and such support. I firmly believe if we turned off the gadgets and turned on a book and spent time talking to our kids, they would be unbelievable verbose and smarter and heck, they'd remind of us of how we were taught. I told that to my kids today, "It used to be different kids, you had to actually look at people." They laughed, since the electronics don't exist for them, they do look at the people and have amazing conversations because they are amazing readers. If I do anything, it will be to gift that legacy to them. Thank you again. Love, Hilde D PS- Thanks for pinning me to your board!

  8. This post brings back such warm memories. I remember that each twin would cuddle up next to me for our book time. Thank you for bringing it all back!


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