How can you argue with a book with the message: Read to your child! This is so acceptable it's mother's milk and apple pie -- or is it?
James Trelease in "The Read-Aloud Handbook" says that we're not reading aloud to children anymore, not at home and not at school. Children no longer read for pleasure. In fact, many don't read at all.
Trelease says, "It's time for every educated adult to sell one product before all others in our home and in our classrooms, and that is reading." I know from my own work that adults can be terrific salespersons for this product. Children, even those stupified by untold hours of television, are ready to "buy" reading, especially from the adults they care about. Trelease does an admirable job of reaffirming the case for adult roles -- parents' and teachers' -- in children's learning.
It is the special task of the parent, says Trelease, to help children want to read on their own. This starts very early. Trelease talks about reading to children during infancy. "Until a child is 6 or 7 months old, I don't think it matters a great deal what you read." Starting that early may surprise parents, but educational research has long underscored the importance of learning in the early years.
"The Read-Aloud Handbook" is very strong in its discussion of how and what to read during a child's younger years. There's a useful "Treasury of Read-Alouds" in the back of the book, which provides an annotated list of good read-aloud books available in most libraries and bookstores.
Except for a small number of books identified for grades 6 and up, little guidance is provided about what to do to save the nonreaders of today -- the adolescents who weren't read to when they were babies. My experience has been that these adolescents still actually want to do things with their parents. Reading aloud together could well be a family pursuit, even for junior high schoolers.
Trelease is thought-provoking when he says: "If we are spending immense amounts of time and money in teaching children to read and they are not reading, we can only conclude that something is wrong. The problem is that we have concentrated exclusively on teaching the child how to read and we have forgotten to teach him to want to read."
All in all, this is a good book with the right message. Trelease supplies lots of practical ideas to bring the message home. There are some minor problems. One is a lack of junior-high material. Another is that the book addresses parents and teachers at the same time, which is sometimes confusing. It would have been better to separate the tips to parents from the tips to teachers. How to seat children in a semicircle is a teacher task; taking books along on a trip to the dentist is a parent tip. Certain other admonitions are not sufficiently spelled out. For example, "Don't read above a child's emotional level." This can be hard to know.
This book is about more than reading aloud. It's about time that parents, teachers and children spend together in a loving, sharing way. Trelease says: "When we read aloud to children, we are helping them to find themselves and to discover some meaning in the scheme of things."
And, "The desire to read is not born in the child--it is planted by parents and teachers." The best thing about this planting is that we don't have to wait until spring.