Read to Your Kids/How to Raise a Reader

I chose to combine these two topics because the main way to raise a reader is to read to him as a child.  This is the number one and most important factor in encouraging kids to read later on, and it greatly increases their chances of enjoying individual reading.  The benefits of reading aloud to your children can not be overstated.  The US Department of Education Report on the Commission on Reading declared, “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” And, “It is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.”

I was thoroughly convinced of this fact after reading Jim Trelease’s influential book, The Read-Aloud Handbook.  This post will go over the main benefits of reading aloud that Trelease outlines in his book; all of the quotes are from this book. If you have a deeper interest in this topic I highly recommend reading the whole book.  It is divided into two parts.  The first section reviews the research and reasons for reading aloud.  The second half is a “treasury” of read aloud book titles, including reading level and a summary of the content.  This list is immensely helpful for choosing books to read to your children.

There are two reasons reading aloud has such an impact on future reading skills: it builds vocabulary and it associates reading with pleasure or happiness.  Listening to books naturally and easily builds a child’s vocabulary.  They hear you speak the words of the book over and over, and those words come to mean something.  But there is another reason reading to children is far superior to speaking for vocabulary building.  There are thousands of words used in books that people do not use in day to day speaking.  The large majority of words used in normal conversation with a child come from the most commonly used 1000 words.  Even adult to adult conversations use only 5,000-10,000 words.  No matter how intelligent a parent is, the vocabulary used in books is much more varied that what he or she speaks to a child.  “Regular family conversations will take care of the basic vocabulary, but when you read to the child, you leap into the rare words that help most when it’s time for school and formal learning.”

Words that children have heard repeatedly will be easier for them to recognize when they start learning to read.  “Inside the ear words collect in a reservoir called the listening vocabulary. Eventually, if you pour enough words into it, the reservoir starts to overflow – pouring words into the speaking vocabulary, reading vocabulary, and writing vocabulary.  All have their origins in the listening vocabulary.”

Furthermore, “Written words are far more structured and complicated than spoken words.  Conversation is imprecise, rambling, often ungrammatical, and less organized than print.  In listening to stories being read aloud, you’re learning the standard English of books, the classroom, and most of the workplace.”  Watching TV or listening to every day conversations is not going to teach your children that type of language.

At the same time you fill your child’s brain with the sounds of words, create the listening vocabulary reservoir, and acquaint her with standard, grammatically correct English, you also connect reading with enjoyment and happiness.  Trelease states, “There are two basic reading facts: 1. Human beings are pleasure centered. 2. Reading is an accrued skill.”  In reading aloud we condition the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure.  The comfort of having a nightly reading routine, of sitting cozily next to mom or dad, and of listening to the voice of the person they love the most is highly enjoyable to children.  Creating this pleasant experience night after night is a great investment in your child’s future love of reading.  When he gets to the difficult, boring parts of learning to read he will have the happy memory of reading together with mom or dad to sustain him.  He will have the determination to continue trying until reading to himself becomes as pleasurable as listening to his parent read to him.

Hopefully it is clear to you that nothing else you do as a parent has as great an impact on your child’s future reading ability and enjoyment as reading out loud to him does.  It is essential to his education.  It is also a loving, bonding act that can be highly enjoyable for both parent and child.

There are a few other ideas Trelease mentions to “raise a reader.” First, have a variety and a large quantity of printed materials in the home – books, magazines, newspapers.  There are studies that show that fathers reading the nightly newspaper have a large, positive impact on their children’s future reading.  I’m not sure how that will be affected by online newspapers.  Also, take children to the library regularly.  The library is like the reading store.  Going there shows your child the importance of and your commitment to reading.  It gives the child the opportunity to browse and be exposed to a larger variety of books than you could have at home.  Lastly, be an example of a reader.  Parents who read tend to have children who read more and who enjoy reading.  Talk about books with your children – ask them about theirs, tell them about yours.

I can confirm the immense power of reading aloud to children.  My husband and I knew the importance of doing this from the very beginning.  We made sure to read to each child individually each night, usually for 15-30 minutes, in addition to many sessions of reading books during the day.  We read out loud to them until they were in fourth grade.  Obviously they could read to themselves by this time, but we enjoyed this time together and knew the benefits of reading aloud well beyond the time our children learned to read.  Our girls have come to love reading independently and have done very well in school.  It has been a routine we loved doing with and for our daughters and have been grateful to see the ample rewards of our efforts.

To conclude this post I want to list some books that we have enjoyed reading to our children over the years.  These are our favorites that we have made sure we read to each girl.  Many of them might appeal more to girls than boys, so I apologize that I don’t have an equal list for both genders. I’m not including any picture books, although obviously that is what you will be reading to your children from birth through about 1st grade.

I would love to hear about books you have enjoyed reading to your children – picture books or chapter books!  Leave a comment!


FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN (preschool-2nd grade)

(All of these have a series of books)

A to Z Mysteries (Roy)

Magic Tree House (Osborne)

Horrible Harry (Kline)

Cam Jansen (Adler)

B Is for Betsy (Haywood)

Judy Moody Gets Famous (McDonald)

Happy Birthday, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle (MacDonald)

Trouble according to Humphrey (Birney)

Time Warp Trios (Scieszka).  Similar to Magic Tree House but a slightly higher level. The trio of friends goes back in time and learns about different cultures, etc.

Amazing Days of Abby Hayes (Mazer)

Katie Kazoo, Switcheroo (Krulik)

FOR OLDER CHILDREN (1st-4th grades)

There are a few different ways to find out the level of individual books.  You can look them up in the Trelease book I mentioned.  You can search for them on  Or, some school or public libraries have AR levels or another way to level books.  This can get complicated and difficult, but one easy way is just to start reading the book to your child.  If it holds her interest, it’s the right level!  Try some higher level books occasionally, you might be surprised.  Don’t worry if she doesn’t understand all the words or concepts.  It’s good just to be exposed to them.

Caddie Woodlawn (Brink).  A prairie pioneer story – more interesting and succinct than Laura Ingalls.

Hattie Big Sky (Larson)

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (Konigsburg)

The rest of the books have many books in their series or the author has other great books.

First Farm in the Valley (Pellowski).  A series of four books all set in Wisconsin, about a Polish-Catholic pioneer type family that immigrates to America.  The books are all based on the author’s ancestors, and there is even a family tree in the front cover of one of the books.  The series takes you from the first farmers to almost modern day.

Birchbark House (Louise Erdrich).  A series of three books about the Ojibwe Indians in northern Minnesota.  The stories are so interesting and you learn so much about the Native American culture.

Ballet Shoes (Noel Streatfield).  A series of three books all set in London in the 1940s – about three adopted girls and their experiences in ballet, theater, dance.

All of a Kind Family (Taylor).  A series of five books about a Jewish family with four daughters living in the tenement houses in the upper east side of NYC, around 1910.

Little House on the Prairie (Wilder).  These can be hard to read because she explains how they do everything down to the last detail.  But if your child has the patience for them they are very interesting.

Betsy-Tacy (Lovelace).  Many books in this series, all of them wonderful.  They chronicle the lives of two little girls growing up in a suburb of Minneapolis around the 1920s.

The Saturdays (Enright).  Four-book series about a family in New York City and then the countryside, about 1930s.

Ella Enchanted (Levine)

Ramona (Cleary)

Ginger Pye (Estes)

The Penderwicks (Birdsall)

Princess Academy (Hale)

Mary Poppins (Travers)

Wizard of Oz (Baum)

The Great Brain (Fitzgerald)

2 thoughts on “Read to Your Kids/How to Raise a Reader

  1. Jen May 29, 2015 / 1:16 pm

    Love this! I am passionate about reading to the kids and having them read. I remember my mom read to us even into our teens! I especially liked “Hank the Cowdog”. I own Trelease’s book, but I haven’t been through it lately, so I’m glad you mentioned it. It feels like I go in waves with reading a lot with the boys and not…. so thanks for the motivation.


  2. Heidi June 13, 2015 / 1:13 pm

    Max has really enjoyed the “beast quest” series with us this last year which is geared towards boys. And the first two Harry Potters, as well as The Lion, witch and wardrobe.


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