TRC Read to Kids

Welcome to The Reading Connection’s blog, where you’ll find the best guidance on reading aloud to kids. Whether you are a TRC Read-Aloud volunteer, parent or student, the book themes and crafts ideas, child development guidelines and recommended websites will expand your world. For 25 years, The Reading Connection has worked to improve the lives of at-risk kids by linking the magic of reading to fun experiences that inspire a passion for learning. Visit our website at

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

This book is just right...

There's an art and a bit of a science to choosing a good Read-Aloud book. The Reading Connection (TRC) has spent more than 20 years reading with kids, and we've identified some essential elements of a quality book for reading aloud.

The next time you are choosing books to read with kids, look for these elements:

Fun or interesting topic
Will the topic appeal to kids? What you think is fun might be different from what your listeners think is fun.

Is the topic appropriate? Be sure to read, or at a minimum, carefully look through any book you choose before you read it to kids. Look for content or story twists that would be inappropriate or that you would feel uncomfortable discussing with a child. For example, a book about pirates might include a section on drug smuggling or human trafficking. Really.

High-quality writing and a good story
Less is more. The amount of the text of the page should be appropriate for
the age of the listener. Generally speaking, the younger the child, the less text the page should have.

Rhyme and repetition can be fun and keep the listeners engaged.

If the book is fiction, is the story interesting? Can kids relate to it?

If the book is nonfiction, is it accurate? Is it concise or wordy?

High-quality illustration
Are the illustrations appealing? If you are reading to a large group, are theillustrations easily visible from a distance?

Do the text and pictures work together to tell the story?  Do they enhance each other or detract from one another?

Simple isn’t always bad.  Elaborate isn’t always good. If you've ever read one of Mo Willem's Pigeon books with a kid, you've seen how this simple fellow packs a lot of moxie.

Design and writing that encourages interaction
  • Page breaks or writing that support prediction or create suspense
  • Rhythmic writing or energetic pacing that move the story along
  • Physical design that demands active reading (questions, flaps, instructions)
  • Writing or illustrations that encourage movement or verbal interaction

Lack of Preachiness
Kids are smart. You don’t have to beat them over the head with a moral. If the story is well written, it conveys a message on its own.

The world is full of all kinds of people -- people with different shapes, sizes, colors, beliefs, abilities and lifestyles. Look for books that have diverse characters and settings. Books should be both windows to the whole, wide, diverse world and mirrors where kids can see themselves and their families reflected. (This is such an important topic that we'll devote an entire blog post to it.)

The “special sauce” --  that something special that makes you smile or nod
Beyond interesting topics and high-quality writing, illustration and design, really great books have something extra -- something that catches your attention or your heart.  It makes you want to read the book again and share it with someone else. You'll know it when you see it, but here are a few examples:

  • Characters you relate to
  • Humor
  • Twists or unexpected elements
  • Universal truths or experiences

When you are looking for the right book, libraries and bookstores can feel overwhelming. Don't hesitate to ask booksellers and librarians for help in finding books kids love. Jim Trelease's Read Aloud Handbook and Valerie & Walter's Best Books for Children by Valerie V. Lewis and Walter M. Mayes are excellent references.

Once you have separated the wheat from the chaff, book-wise, then you can start assessing which books would be good for various audiences, age groups and situations. Stay tuned for another blog post describing that process. In the meantime, happy hunting!

To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Jim Trelease's Read-Aloud Handbook

If there is godfather of reading aloud to children, that man is Jim Trelease. Trelease first wrote The Read-Aloud Handbook in 1982 after being intrigued by the connection of reading aloud to kids and their motivation to read more. All of the information he could find on the topic was written in hard-to-understand academic jargon. His book made that research accessible to parents and teachers.

Shortly after the first edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook was published, the US Department of Education's Commission on Reading stated in Becoming a Nation of Readers that "the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children." This study directed immense interest toward reading aloud and Trelease's handbook became the bible.

Currently in its seventh edition (published in 2013), the Handbook includes easy-to-read research on the importance and impact of reading aloud along with implementable tips for parents and teachers to make it a reality in their homes and classrooms. The newest edition includes chapters on digital reading and the impact of TV and audiobooks on the reading culture.

So many people feel lost about how to make reading aloud interesting and accessible to young kids. Trelease presents a simple list of Do's and Don'ts for reading aloud. Do's include reading as often as possible, starting with simpler books then moving toward more complex ones and taking time to expand the learning experience by allowing time for discussion or investigation into interesting parts of a story. Don'ts include reading a book that you don't enjoy yourself and using reading as a punishment.

One of the most useful parts of the Handbook is the immense treasury of read-aloud titles at the back of the book. Since Trelease encourages folks to read aloud to children well past the picture book stage, the bibliography includes short stories and novels as well as books that can be read in one sitting. All of the books listed include a age range for which the book is best suited. 

Whether you're just beginning to spend time reading to kids or you've been doing it for years, The Read-Aloud Handbook is a valuable resource that will enhance your experience and that of the children listening. 

To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.