December 7, 2010


I come from a family that believes in reading aloud.

My dad's childhood home had a round landing at the top of the stairs from which all the bedrooms opened. My Grannie would sit in the landing and read out loud to her four children, all snuggled in their respective beds in the various bedrooms.

One of my earliest memories is my mom sitting beside me on my twin bed while she read the entire Little House series to me late into the night, Merrick snoozing in the next bed over.

In fact, she read so much to me that year that she lost her voice entirely and never fully regained the phenomenal singing voice she had prior to that (I think it was worth it; I hope she does too).

Later, she read us classics like The Wind in the Willows and Peter Pan. We read The Midnight Fox and Redwall and Charlotte's Web and Mary Poppins (she's not nearly as lovely as Julie Andrews makes her out to be).

We read the first three Harry Potter books all together, but when the fourth one came out and Harry Potter was really becoming a big thing, she told us we should probably each read it ourselves as quickly as we could to avoid having it spoiled for us.

That suggestion got shouted down very quickly. We had to have her read it to us, a chapter or two a night. There was no other option.

We made it through the entire book without anyone telling us how it ended. We'd beg her to read us one more chapter and she'd agree to do so if we'd paint her toenails.

As part of our homeschooling curriculum, she read individually with each of us every day. Even through high school, she and I read classics together, alternating pages back and forth (it wasn't until then that I realized what a different skill reading aloud is from reading silently). We read Treasure Island and Pride and Prejudice and The Time Machine (neither of us liked that one) and A Tale of Two Cities. I have vivid memories of lying on the living room floor coloring the workbook pages from my anatomy book (what a joke of a class that was) while she read Jane Eyre to me. I cried when we finished.

My dad didn't read to us as much as my mom did, but he read aloud to us the books he most treasured from his own childhood. One of my fondest memories of my dad is him reading, just to me, The Phantom Tollbooth, a book I still count as one of my favorites. And Five Children and It and Cheaper by the Dozen.

And Bart's mom was no different, although her reading, from what I understand, mostly took place during breakfast, rather than at bedtime. Bart tells me that when his mom was reading them The Chronicles of Prydain, his friends would ask him each morning to relay what had happened in the book that day (Bart now tells me he has no memory of this, but whatever. . . I'm leaving it in).

Bart and I have done a fair amount of reading aloud together too -  we read The Screwtape Letters together when we were dating, and later The Giver. I read the last two Harry Potters aloud to him, both in a matter of days. When we were both going to school, we listened to a number of books on CD together as we drove (favorites including The Thief Lord, Skulduggery Pleasant, and the Bartimeaus Trilogy (the new book in that series is coming along with us on our Christmas trip - we both think Simon Jones ranks right up there with the famed Jim Dale as a narrator)).

Now it delights me that Ella loves being read to. If I need to plow through those last cranky thirty minutes before bedtime, a stack of books will do the trick almost every time. When we lay on the floor together and I open up a book, she starts kicking her legs and smiling as I turn the pages. She looks carefully at both sides of the page.

And in a few years when we start reading chapter books, well, I can only hope my heart is up to the excitement. I cannot wait. It seems to me that nothing is more magical than a book that has been read aloud to you.


  1. love it!

    What I need to do is slow down, to take the time to read! You do that so well. It is such a calming, peaceful joy in your life.

    Absolutely love this post.

  2. What a wonderful gift that your mother gave you and you are giving your daughter! When we have kids, I hope to do the same.

  3. I am in need of a do not miss it read aloud list for my kids so we don't waste our precious read aloud time on something less than awesome. This is a great start. Maybe I'll ask your mom if she remembers any others . . .

  4. It is a crying shame that it isn't a requirement of parenthood to read aloud every night to your children until they tell you to stop. My teenagers still drop by my little ones room if I'm reading something special to them...Harry Potter drew them in when we read that last summer. Loved reading all your favorite titles!

  5. My parents read to us at night also. My dad would read about 1/2 a page and then fall asleep. We would have to keep poking him awake and he'd always claim he wasn't asleep, just resting his eyes.

    My mom would speed read through sections of the book and just give us the gist. I'm not sure if this was because she wanted to make it through reading time faster or if she just wanted to know how the book ended and didn't want to wait so long...

  6. Beautiful. Couldn't agree with you more.

  7. I so agree that reading aloud is an entirely different skill than reading silently, and it is a skill I do not posess! So sad, even reading my portion of scriptures at night I feel like an idiot! I guess there is room for improvement right. It is so sad to me how much less I read to Ivy than I did to Gwen. You've reinspired me to try to be better:) At what age did your mom start reading you chapter books?

  8. That's wonderful! In my house I grew impatient with reading aloud once I could read faster than my parents, but we still read the same books and talk about them. Thanks for reminding me of so many of my childhood favorites!

  9. This is one of my favorite posts ever.

    My mom read to me and my brother. It's why I love books and words and writing and stories.

    I may have to "steal" this idea from you and write about it at some point, if you don't mind... It makes me all warm and fuzzy just thinking about it.

  10. I loooove this. I think reading aloud is going to be important in our family too, especially for Torsten as we don't have a ton of books in German yet so he may have to do some translation of English books. That should be fun for him.

  11. My dad always read aloud to me. When I was seven he read A Christmas Carol, doing all the voices and explaining the words and phrases that didn't make sense to me. He continued to read it every Christmas to me until my senior year when I graduated and moved out of state. I have read it for the last 6 years by myself and as I do I hear my dad's explanations, his voices, the emotion in his voice when Tiny Tim is one of my most treasured memories. I started reading it aloud last year to my four month old and again this year as she turned 16 months. It is hard to do but it is a tradition that is precious to me and my dad.

  12. I remember sitting on the windowsill watching my neighborhood while my mom read Little Women to my sisters and I. I quickly opted to start reading books on my own because I could consume more pages per hour, but I love the memories of being read to aloud.


  13. I also have tender memories of my mom reading aloud to us. My dad would read aloud to the boys... things like The Official Baseball Rulebook (which they loved) and we would read books like Little Women.

    When I was in high school I started reading aloud to my little sister (who is ten years younger than me). We read lots of fairy tales and Roald Dahl (I can NEVER spell his name right without looking, sorry).

    Now, I LOVE reading aloud to Raymond. He carries books around, flips through pages on his own, and is always willing to snuggle in my lab for a book. It almost always calms him down if he's upset by something. I can't wait to start chapter books!

  14. What a sweet tradition! The girls didn't want to read books as babies. They wanted to eat them. But baby boy is enthralled if I read him a board book. This is a good sign!

  15. E likes to be read to as well, from a very young age. :) It's kind of fun! I'm glad that you had such a fun tradition with your mom. I hope to do the same for E. She will even "read" to us. It sounds more like "bababababa" "babab" with very good intonation. :)

  16. I was just reading today from one of my favorite "classics" called Leadership Education by Oliver and Rachel DeMille and saw this passage:

    "What you hear read out loud has the most impact on your ability to write well later in life. Beyond the educational benefits, reading out loud may be the most bonding of all possible family activities. Families which learn together also think together and feel together, thus creating powerful lasting bonds and improving life-long relationships."

  17. Oh, I agree! Read aloud was my very favorite time of the day when I taught. Thus far illustrations have failed to capture Jillian's attention, but she likes looking at me and hearing my voice when I read to her.

  18. Love it!

    My mother is quite terried of thunder and lightning storms. When I was young, if a storm was coming, she'd tell my siblings and I to go into our rooms and get a stack of books. We grab a quilt from our bed too, and then all sit together on the floor of the hallway, where there were no visible windows, and she'd read to us until the storm was over. Our dog would come too, who was also afraid of the storm!

  19. I can't wait to start reading aloud chapter books. But I need to figure out what are the good kids books for boys. I only know the girl ones (Alcott, LM Montgomery, Laura Wilder, etc)

  20. Not that you need convincing, but I love "The Read Aloud Handbook" by Jim Trelease. He has some great information and I think his book should be required for all parents to read! :0)

    I don't know that there is anything more important than reading aloud to your children. I'm glad you have such fond memories of your parents reading to you!

  21. Its amazing how hard it is to read a whole novel out loud. My family started Harry Potter out loud on a car trip (apparently we had never heard of an audiobook). We got through two of them. Its a skill you've got to practice!

    Now, for most of my favorites, I end up getting a read-with-your-eyes version, which I tear through (Harry Potter or Hunger Games), then the audiobook to listen to at a more rational pace to appreciate. Jim Dale is my hero. The lady that does the Outlander series is pretty great too. Although, I do get a little embarrassed listening to some of those scenes out loud - I think, listening in my car by myself, "I hope no one can hear this outside!" tee-hee. Not a kids book, for sure.

    I love the Dark Materials series, but I couldn't stand the audiobooks. They are done with several actors instead of one reader. It was surprisingly disorienting, more like listening to a play or a radio show from another era rather than just a "reading".

    The best $110 I EVER spent was for a book reading. Pretty steep, but it was my last hurrah before I graduated college in NYC... and really, how often do you get to hear Stephen King, John Irving and J.K. Rowling read from their greatest to Radio City Music Hall? If I could pick a relation based solely on their ability to narrate a story, I would beg John Irving to be my grandfather. He was incredible. I wish I had had that while growing up.

    I count your kid in the lucky column. Very cool.

  22. My son just turned 18 and went away to college. I truly believe that one of the reasons he did so well in school is because we always read together (just as my mom read to me). I also think it helps bond a parent to a child in a special way in the sharing of different adventures. There simply is NO reason good enough for not doing it!

  23. Ah, you've reached my center. Sounds like your center resembles mine as well. Nobody has stepped up to the plate to take Jim Treleasea' place--that's not counting Mem Fox who is so far away!! I've added Sculpey clay to my reading aloud in 7th grade this year. Who knew that "savage beasts" could be soothed so thoroughly with a good book and a lump of white clay...

  24. hey- will you send me your new address. I could send your Christmas card to MA...but that would do nobody any good. Thanks!

  25. Reading aloud is so important! It's also a wonderful way to get snuggled up close.

    You mentioned your "home school curriculum". Did you mean that literally or in the sense that your parents felt the responsibility to teach you about things that they felt were important?

    Don't rush into chapter books too quickly. There are so many beautiful picture books to share with Ella.

    I like to read aloud to kids in class but don't get much chance to do that in the lab.


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