Top Five Reasons to Read Aloud to Older Kids

When my children were little, storytime was a high-ranking ritual on my Mommy List. I wanted to foster a love of reading in my children, so from the time they were babies until third grade, I always read a book to them before bedtime.

We want our kids to get excited about reading, and to gain the skills needed to read independently. We are proud when they start reading chapter books, and encourage them to read on their own. 

After a hiatus of reading to my novel-loving daughter, we set out on The Story Road together. I revisited some of my childhood favourites with Teagan, then had fun discussing the topics that came up in the stories. Reading aloud to her was a rewarding experience for both of us. 


Here are the top five reasons why parents should read to their middle-grade children:

5.     Older kids may not have a reading level that equals their listening level.

When GreatSchools.net Interviewed Jim Trelease, author of the Read-Aloud Handbook, he explained: “A child's reading level doesn't catch up to his listening level until eight grade. You can and should be reading seventh-grade books to fifth-grade kids. They'll get excited about the plot and this will be a motivation to keep reading.”


4.    Kids learn new words and expressions that facilitate reading more challenging books.

    In an article for Archives of Disease in Childhood, researchers show that “Reading aloud familiarises children with the language found in books and stimulates vocabulary growth… Children with greater vocabulary knowledge and understanding of spoken language tend to have less trouble with reading.”
 

3.    Most kids, the little and the big, associate books to a special, worthy experience. 

The evidence-based, non-profit organization www.reachoutandread.org promotes the “one-on-one attention from parents during reading aloud” time because it “encourages children to form a positive association with books and reading later in life.”
 

2.    Reading aloud offers both you and your kid a chance for closeness.

When reading together, parents take time off their busy schedules of work, meetings, and errands, while kids get to have down time away from school, activities, and computer screens. Both get to snuggle close and spend quality time together. When our kids grow up, we tend to give up a storytime routine. But according to SheKnows writer Abbi Perets, this tendency “means giving up a chance to end each day with some closeness and reassurance right when your child needs it most.”
 

1.    It’s fun!

Sometimes, kids aren’t interested in the books they read in school because they view them as work. Writer Shannan Younger reminds us that if kids “see a parent enjoying reading, the chances of them enjoying it too go up. Also, by reading aloud, parents can be great salesmen of both reading and particular books.”
 

So grab your middle grader, find a book, and get reading!


CAROLE BESHARAH

Once upon a time, Carole Besharah catalogued picture books as a library technician in primary schools. With a B.A. and a lifetime of reading under her belt, she now writes children’s stories of her own. Carole lives at the foot of the enchanted Gatineau Hills with her husband and their two children.

Twitter  |   My Book Review Blog  |  Another website I follow: A Mighty Girl

Don't Call Her Carrots

  Our brand-new edition of Anne of Green Gables features paper art by Elly MacKay. Check out her lovely creations at www.ellymackay.com.

Our brand-new edition of Anne of Green Gables features paper art by Elly MacKay. Check out her lovely creations at www.ellymackay.com.

"You'd find it easier to be bad than good if you had red hair... People who haven't red hair don't know what trouble is."

- Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

 

After my daughter Teagan and I finished reading Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery —the longest and most challenging novel we ever tackled— we celebrated our literary feat by watching the CBC TV adaptation starring Megan Follows. 

I remember having watched that production with my mother when it first aired on television in December of 1985. We had sat together stringing beads into Christmas garlands while giggling about Anne’s misadventures, especially those revolving around her “carrot” hair. It should be no surprise that I got emotional watching Anne with my daughter, nearly thirty years later. If my ten-year-old self had known she would one day have a beautiful, red-haired girl who’d be a dead ringer for Anne, she’d have been thrilled.

I was curious about Teagan’s reaction to red hair being Anne’s “lifelong sorrow.”

“So, Teagan, like Anne Shirley, you’re a redhead. Can you relate to Anne’s trouble accepting her red hair?”

“No. I love my red hair. Maybe a hundred years ago, girls with red hair weren’t [considered] lucky. They are today. People are always telling me I’ve got pretty hair.”

“Do you think that, maybe, there was something more to Anne not liking her hair?”

When Teagan looked at me with a furrowed brow, I explained that Anne’s dislike of her hair is strongest at the start of the novel. It helps reveal her negative self-image.

“That makes sense,” Teagan said. “She was rejected by everyone in the beginning. After her parents died, no one wanted her. She felt bad when nobody loved her.”

“It must be difficult to love yourself when you don’t feel loved,” I said. 

Anne needs to find a reason for being cast aside. It’s easy for her to blame her temper and bad behavior on the striking hair that makes her different from other girls. Still, the longer she lives at Green Gables, the more she accepts herself and her red hair.

“Why do you think Anne learns to embrace her hair, in the end?”

  Anne Shirley (a.k.a. Teagan) said, “Oh, mom, you won’t really add this photo to your blog, will you? That hat is just… Too. Much.”

Anne Shirley (a.k.a. Teagan) said, “Oh, mom, you won’t really add this photo to your blog, will you? That hat is just… Too. Much.”

“She finds love. Marilla and Matthew love her like a daughter. Diana Barry becomes her bosom friend.”

“Are you saying that by letting others love her, she learns to love herself too?”

“Yep.”

“It’s a great story about learning to love yourself, isn’t it?”

“Yep.”

“Remember when Anne tries to dye her hair black? Would you ever dye your hair another colour?”

Teagan wrinkled her nose and said, “No way! Three things make me stand out: having red hair, having blue eyes, and being left-handed. I love being special.”

Apparently, my daughter has just the right amount of moxie.  Anne Shirley would approve, don’t you think?


CAROLE BESHARAH

Once upon a time, Carole Besharah catalogued picture books as a library technician in primary schools. With a B.A. and a lifetime of reading under her belt, she now writes children’s stories of her own. Carole lives at the foot of the enchanted Gatineau Hills with her husband and their two children.

Twitter  |   My Book Review Blog  |  Another website I follow: A Mighty Girl

A Lone Girl's Isolation

What I remember most about reading The Island of the Blue Dolphins at 11 years old was the heroine’s resilience against her unimaginable isolation. 

Scott O’Dell’s best-selling novel was inspired by the story of the last-known member of the Nicoleño tribe, the “Lone Woman of San Nicolas." She inhabited an island off the coast of California alone, from 1835 to 1853, after the rest of her dwindling tribe was relocated to San Pedro Bay.

 Teagan reading the 50th Anniversary Edition of the book.

Teagan reading the 50th Anniversary Edition of the book.

We do not know the real name of the famous Nicoleño woman. O’Dell named his lone girl Karana, and invented most of the details about her past and solitary life. After all, no one could speak the real-life woman’s language, nor understand her well, once she was found. 

“I liked the way Karana looked at the world,” says Teagan. “She described things she saw by using [cues] from nature. Because she lived by herself on an island, the animals became her family. By spending a lot of time with Rontu [the wild dog that she tamed], she stopped feeling lonely.”

Teagan and I both enjoyed the first-person narration of this story. We felt Karana’s loneliness, fear, pride, and happiness. We marvelled at the way O’Dell used rich figurative language to express her unique internal life and understanding of the world.  Whether Karana compared her island to “a great fish sunning itself,” or the huts to “ghosts in the cold light,” this romantic view was always captivating.

Still, I was often uncomfortable with the author’s cultural appropriation. The most problematic example is Karana’s changing moral attitudes. She stops hunting otter, sea elephants, and birds for their meat, hides, and feathers. Near the end of the story, she says, “animals and birds are like people, too, though they do not talk the same or do the same things. Without them the earth would be an unhappy place.” The protagonist ignores her survival instincts and traditions to become a pescetarian and a nudist —a reflection of the author’s environmentalist philosophy. I expressed my frustrations to Teagan, explaining why I disapproved of a white man’s condemnation of Nicoleño tradition and lifestyle to voice his strong views of seal and otter hunting. 

Archeologist and historian Steve Schwartz gave a lecture on his recent, exciting discovery of a cave and artifacts believed to have been those of the Lone Woman of San Nicolas.

The Island of the Blue Dolphins is a classic story of survival we both loved. Still, if parents and educators choose to share this novel with children, they should consider taking the time to explore the true story of the Lone Woman and the Nicoleño tribe. We watched a fascinating lecture by US Navy archeologist and historian Steve Schwartz, who claims to have found the cave the lone woman lived in and tools she used. Schwartz’s revelations got Teagan and I talking about how the author could have shaped his novel differently to better portray the Nicoleño culture. By knowing the real history of this lost tribe, we can help dispel the myths this 50-year-old book helped shape.


CAROLE BESHARAH

Once upon a time, Carole Besharah catalogued picture books as a library technician in primary schools. With a B.A. and a lifetime of reading under her belt, she now writes children’s stories of her own. Carole lives at the foot of the enchanted Gatineau Hills with her husband and their two children.

Twitter  |  My Book Review Blog  |  Another Blog I follow: A Mighty Girl

Playboys, and Periods, and Bras, Oh My!

Girls who grew up in the '80s will remember that some adults viewed Judy Blume’s novel Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret. as an inappropriate, scandalous “sex book.” Thanks to Ronald Reagan’s administration, it was even banned from libraries across the United States. Of course, its censorship made us all the more interested in reading it.

When I explained the negative attitude surrounding the book during my youth to my daughter, Teagan, she was quizzical.

“What’s the big deal? Things that happen to Margaret happen to all the girls my age. It’s normal.”

Normal for lots of girls, indeed.

Margaret and her friends helped make peeking inside our dad’s Playboy, wanting our breasts to grow, and getting our long-awaited “menstroo-ation” feel normal. It’s no wonder that a number of thirty- and fortysomething women recognize Margaret Simon as the heroine who helped us survive puberty. Now, we want to share this novel with our own tween daughters so they too can feel reassured.

According to Teagan, today’s girls still relate to Margaret regardless of references to her knee socks and hair curlers. Our heroine was a late bloomer who worries about her sexual development. She even prays to God about it.

“The book has a first-person point of view,” Teagan said, “so we know what Margaret says and thinks at all times. It’s like we are right there with her while she waits for her first period.”

My daughter was comfortable reading this coming-of-age novel with me. We spent as much time discussing it as we did reading it. I was surprised at how knowledgeable and mature she was about girls’ changing bodies. Her response to my surprise? “No kidding mom. I read my The Care & Keeping of You books at least 10 million times.” To which, of course, I smiled. 

And boy, did we ever laugh; especially when Margaret and her friends practised their breast-growing exercises while chanting, “We must—we must—we must increase our bust!” 

In a recent interview with the author, Lena Dunham described Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. as a “bible for girls” that turned Blume into “the voice assigned to all the young women developing breasts in the world.” Dunham has a point. Generation after generation of young women still relate to Margaret on her journey to grow into a young woman —and into her bra.

 "Hey! Teagan!"

"Hey! Teagan!"

 "We must --we must--"

"We must --we must--"

 "...we must increase our bust!"

"...we must increase our bust!"


CAROLE BESHARAH

Once upon a time, Carole Besharah catalogued picture books as a library technician in primary schools. With a B.A. and a lifetime of reading under her belt, she now writes children’s stories of her own. Carole lives at the foot of the enchanted Gatineau Hills with her husband and their two children.

Twitter  |  My Book Review Blog  |  Another Blog I follow: Judy Blume On The Web

 

An Oddball Battles the Forces of Evil

  Teagan reading  A Wrinkle in Time .

Teagan reading A Wrinkle in Time.

"What's an oddball?" My daughter asks.

We’re snuggled on the couch reading Madeleine L’Engle’s science fiction novel A Wrinkle in Time. It’s a dark tale in which a hot-tempered misfit protagonist, her telepathic brother, and a newfound friend travel the fifth dimension of time to save her missing father from the evil It.

Other kids in the novel refer to the heroine, Meg Murray, as an oddball. My daughter, who attends a French school in Quebec, has never encountered this outdated colloquialism.

“Someone who is different, who doesn’t fit in,” I say.

She furrows her brow and pushes her glasses up her freckled nose. She asks, “So, Meg is different because she has outbursts at school and gives Mr. Jenkins a hard time?”

I smile. Teagan zeroes in on Meg’s communication problems: She is a stubborn math genius who gets in trouble for mouthing off when confronted by peers and teachers. This behaviour stands out to my easy-going daughter. Teagan’s a positive, confident kid who feels comfortable in any setting and welcomes new challenges.

When I was 12 years old, I perceived Meg’s homeliness and awkwardness as the defining traits that made her different. She wore glasses and braces that made her feel "repulsive-looking." She had dark hair and few friends.  Like Meg, I was a four-eyed, brace-faced girl with a tangle of frizzy black hair. A girl who often spent recess huddled in a corner, alone, counting down the minutes until the bell rang. I was her real-life dead ringer. I was Meg.

Both Meg’s stubbornness and a pair of enchanted eyeglasses help her summon up the courage to battle It —the villain Teagan refers to as “the disgusting and wiggling giant brain." In the end, Meg’s big heart allows her to conquer evil.

In August of 1963, Madeleine L’Engle received the John Newbery Medal for A Wrinkle in Time. In her acceptance speech, the writer claimed the best children’s books “partake of the universal language, and this is why we turn to them again and again when we are children, and still again when we have grown up.”

Whether reading A Wrinkle in Time after finding a tattered copy in the library in 1986, or here and now with my daughter, Meg remains a relatable misfit. She’s a brave girl who conquers self-doubt during her journey, an endearing oddball who still delights girls like my daughter.


Carole Besharah

Once upon a time, Carole Besharah catalogued picture books as a library technician in primary schools. With a B.A. and a lifetime of reading under her belt, she now writes children’s stories of her own. Carole lives at the foot of the enchanted Gatineau Hills with her husband and their two children.
 

Twitter  |   My Book Review Blog  |  Another website I follow: Judy Blume on the Web