The Joys of Reading Aloud

I do love a good celebration, and March 7 is World Read Aloud Day. Although I loved my years as a classroom teacher, I have not once missed writing lesson plans, grading papers, or filling out report cards. Truthfully, I have only missed my relationships with my students and reading aloud. No matter what age I taught, reading aloud was part of the day.

My kindergarteners and I sat in a circle where I held the book for them to see the pictures and read upside down. They chanted with me the Gingerbread Man’s refrain, “Run, run, as fast as you can…”, empathized with the friendship of Frog and Toad, and giggled over Petunia’s belief that merely owning a book made her wise. Reading aloud was the central part of the day.

I read to my second graders at the end of the day. No matter what the day had held – hard math problems, turnip greens for cafeteria lunch, or skinned knees on the playground – the read aloud assured a happy ending. They loved Tikki Tikki Tembo and worked hard to say his whole name (Tikki Tikki Tembo No Sa Rembo Chari Bari Ruchi Pip Peri Pembo) correctly to earn the reward of borrowing my book. And how they loved the story in each chapter of All-of-a- Kind Family, especially the surprise when their friends Charlie and the Library Lady find their lost loves – each other – at the family Succoth celebration! One parent helper even changed her volunteering time to be there for the read-aloud. Her favorite was Stuart Little.

I started my junior high classes daily with the read aloud. It gave us connections. They enjoyed the chapter in Cheaper by the Dozen when Mr. Gilbreth, the autocrat of dinner table conversation, declares that the cute new boy at school is “not of general interest” for discussion whereas any topic of world affairs is acceptable. Afterwards, when these junior high jewels began to chase rabbits to get me off language arts topics, all I had to say was “not of general interest.” They laughed and returned to the subject – no doubt classifying me as the autocrat of the classroom.     
    Perhaps my favorite was the character tracking we did on the overhead as we kept up with the multitude of characters in Tale of Two Cities. The day came when Jerry discovers the man who had been missing from the grave he robbed, alive and well in Paris – and up to no good. What fun I had watching as the light came on in the students’ faces one by one as they joined the important discovery by the almost forgotten minor character with the rusty nails.
    One Monday, a student came in to bemoan one of her friend’s bad decisions over the weekend. She laughed at herself. “I said to myself that she was thinking just like Jeff until I remembered Jeff wasn’t real.” He was the naive protagonist in A Solitary Blue by Cynthia Voight, a favorite read aloud for this teacher as well as her students.
    Then there was the day the assistant principal came in to do his unannounced observation of my teaching during the read aloud. He forgot that his status as a fly-on-the-wall and jumped right into the middle of the ensuing discussion. (I wound up with an extra unexpected older student that day!)

There are solid educational reasons for reading aloud, but for me, the most important reason is the sheer pleasure for the reader and listeners. After all, in the end, isn’t the purpose of teaching reading to turn students into lifelong book lovers?