Raising Your Children in a Read-Aloud Community

by Rebecca Ripperton

​January 14, 2019

​To instill in your child both a love and lifelong habit of reading, you will likely find it helpful to enlist the support of your community. One way to do this is by asking other adults to read to your children outside of the home, as well.

Children look both to their own parents and to other trusted adults to determine their norms, so when you read aloud as a family and this practice is reinforced in other settings, books are firmly established as being an integral part of the fabric of our lives and relationships. Reading aloud with other people in the community can also help children recognize that it is much more than just an activity parents do to help them fall asleep at night. Likewise, reading is not necessarily a solitary activity that removes us from others. Reading – particularly reading aloud – should ultimately bring people together, forming the basis for shared experience, as well as shared conversation and thought.

So, whom should you ask to read to your children?

If your children’s grandparents are active in their lives, you can begin by asking them to read aloud to your children before bed or for a quieter afternoon activity. In our experience, reading aloud with grandparents can create wonderful memories for all parties involved. When we were growing up, my older brother and I absolutely loved going over to our grandmother’s house, which was 5 miles away, and spending time with her. She read to us at every visit and we still cherish the books we read with her, as well as the memories we have of reading them together. (A list of our all-time favorites from her house is at the bottom of this post!)

If your child’s grandparents don’t have children’s books in their house already, consider giving them some to keep for when your children visit. Let them know that reading aloud to your children is important to you and why. You could even ask them what some of their favorite books were when they were growing up and then use a resource like AbeBooks to find copies. If you have purchased one of our ​ebook treasuries, you may share it with one set of grandparents at no extra charge. Contact us here for more information.

​Next, whenever you hire babysitters, be proactive about setting books out for them to read to your children before bed, and let them know that this is an important routine in your family. If your babysitters are young enough to still live with their parents or are now in possession of their childhood books, you could even ask them to bring one or two of their favorite books from when they were your child’s age to read aloud before bed. (We bet they’ll actually be thrilled to do this.)

​You can ask older children to read to their younger siblings, as well as enlist the help of aunts, uncles, the parents of your children’s friends during sleepovers, etc. – really, anyone who is an influential figure in your child’s life or who regularly spends time with them, is fair game. We’ve also found that most schools, churches, and synagogues offer numerous read-aloud opportunities for children.

What other resources are out there, and what if you have older children?

Most public libraries host regular read-aloud events for children of all ages. You can check out your local library’s website to find out what they offer, and if you don’t like what you see, contact their children’s desk to suggest better titles or to get more involved. 

​Lastly, if your children are older, two great resources to investigate are universities and local bookstores. Both often hold readings that are open to the public and that can serve as an introduction to new titles, authors, and even genres. Sometimes coffee shops will also host poetry nights (which still count as read-alouds in our book), and many theatres will periodically hold “stage readings,” where you can watch and listen to a troupe of actors read a play aloud, with no or minimal costumes and movement.

​Share your experience

​Please let us know in a comment below what strategies have worked for your family and what suggestions you have for other parents who are hoping to raise their child in a read-aloud community!

When we were growing up, our Greek grandmother – Giagia – kept a shelf of books just to read to her grandchildren. She didn’t have many books, but the books she had were outstanding and ones that we loved wholeheartedly. Some of our all-time favorites were Corgiville Fair – which I’m fairly certain we asked our grandmother to read to us every time we came over – and Jennie’s Hat. We also read the Dr. Dolittle and several L. Frank Baum books with her, and as we grew older, she would periodically order new titles from the Dover Children’s Thrift Classics, like The Boy Who Drew Cats for us to read together. (My brother and I found secret delight in the fact that her corgi, Bandit, was fond of gnawing the Dover books when no one was looking so their bindings often looked rather the worse for wear.) In all, reading aloud with our grandmother was a wonderful experience and gave us memories we both treasure to this day.

Our Favorite Read-Aloud Books

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Introducing Chapter Books: Burgess Bedtime Story-Books

by Lisa Ripperton

​January 10, 2019

This on-going series – Introducing Chapter Books – is intended to highlight books that are ideal for families who are just beginning to read chapter books aloud with their children. In our experience we have found that children are typically ready to undertake the challenge of listening to stories without illustrations on each page around age five, and all of the books mentioned in this series have been selected with this age and purpose in mind. A later series will discuss books to use when your child is transitioning to reading chapter books independently.  

After enjoying picture books for ​several years, ​children are typically ready to undertake the challenge of listening to stories without needing to see pictures on every page​ by the time they are five. In our experience, this age marks an ideal time to introduce books with fewer illustrations and more text, if you haven't done so before. 

The key to success is to choose books that capture your children's interest and attention. We've found over the years that most children love the Burgess Bedtime Story-Book series​ ​– spirited stories about the animals who make their home in the Green Meadow – and we recommend that you try a title from that series first. (You can start with any one of the 20 titles, but children may prefer to read them in order once they discover that the last paragraph of each book reveals the name of the next one in the series.)

In the first book of the series, young Reddy Fox is sent to Granny Fox "to learn the things that every fox should know." He also encounters Johnny Chuck, Peter Cottontail, Unc' Billy Possum, and others, all of whom will be memorably featured in later books of the series. Granny Fox has all sorts of clever ways of teaching Reddy, and the other animals in the Green Meadow help out in his training too, alternately playing tricks on, and looking out for, one another. ​

​Everything is done with such a spirit of fun and good humor that most children find these tales to be absolutely delightful. The listener also can't help but absorb information about how the different animals act, how they gain sustenance, where they live, what dangers they face, and how they avoid them.

Although the titles in the Bedtime Story-Book series are excellent ones to read aloud to begin strengthening your children's listening skills, they may not appeal to everyone. The children who love them really love them, but the ones that don't, well, don't. If your child falls in the latter category, don’t worry – there are plenty of other books to read aloud to this age group, and we’ll be posting more on this topic soon! (Please also email us here if you have questions about specific titles. We love helping people find the perfect books to read with their children!)

And, even if your child loves the Bedtime Story-Books, we suggest that you don't read more than a half dozen or so aloud to them. This way, in a year or two when your child is ready to begin reading independently, they can return to this series with gusto, and reading will be all the easier for them because of their familiarity with the vocabulary and way sentences are structured, as well as with the characters and setting.

We hope your children will join the generations of children who have enjoyed the books in Thornton W. Burgess's Bedtime Story-Book series since they were first written over a century ago – give them a try and be sure to leave a comment below to let us know how it goes!

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