3.4.6 Crazy Uncle George

I’m a big fan of reading aloud to kids, and even adults. My parents read aloud to me, and I have read aloud to my nephews, nieces, students, and others over the years, including reading aloud to my wife. The best book on the why, what, and how of reading aloud is The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. It’s filled with useful tips and inspiring stories. I even co-authored Read Aloud Asia, a sort of unofficial mini-version of Trelease’s classic.

One of the best tips on how to read aloud is to make the read aloud session into a conversation, a conversation about what happens in the book, and also a conversation about whatever ideas the book sparks in the minds of the reader and the listeners. Thus, reading aloud isn’t about starting on Page 1 and reading, reading, reading a book to a child or a group of children till you reach “The End”. Instead, reading aloud is a journey, not a race; the longer it takes to read a book – even a 12-page book with one sentence per page – the better.

I like reading aloud for several reasons. It’s a great way to model for kids the joy of reading and to encourage them to be readers themselves. Reading aloud is also a way to inject some drama into our lives by adding variety to our voices as we read aloud the book, just as actors do when they read scripts.

Maybe the #1 reason I enjoy reading aloud is that there are so many great children’s books. I feel sorry for the adults – and it seems to be a large number of adults – who don’t appreciate children’s literature. And, reading aloud isn’t restricted to fiction. There’s a lot of good nonfiction for kids, and when reading aloud to adults, we can read from newspapers, websites, etc.

Reading aloud fits with many other ideas I like in Education, such as learners having a hand in choosing their own reading materials and studying according to their interests, because kids can choose what we read to them, and they can bring their interests into the while-reading discussions.

Another idea I like to apply to reading, whether aloud or silently, is thinking skills. The slogan here is “Go beyond the information given.” In other words, when a book is being read to children and the reader asks simple questions that solely require the listeners to repeat or find what is in the book (such as “What color is Sparky’s shirt?”), those questions are not going beyond the information given. Such questions are memory / retrieval questions, not thinking questions. When I’m reading aloud, I like to ask mostly thinking questions.

The first child I read aloud to on a regular basis was the eldest child of my sister-in-law, Kim. Kim was the main person reading aloud to her daughter, and later her son, but my wife and I helped out regularly. One day, when the girl was about 3 years old, I was reading aloud a book about a rabbit. This was a brightly illustrated book; plus, some of the illustrations had the additional feature of simulated rabbit fur.

After reading aloud for a while, I stopped and asked, “What if the rabbit hopped out of this book and into the room here? What would you do?” This question was greeted with a look of incomprehension, not because the child had any trouble with my English, but because she found it very strange that a character in a book could leave that book and join the people reading the book. My wife was sitting nearby and smiled at me approvingly, as she encouraged thinking “outside the box,” or, in this case, outside the book.

Our niece didn’t know that Fong was a co-conspirator, and she looked to her auntie for support, whispering to her, “Uncle George crazy.”

Fortunately, our niece needed little encouragement to start applying her imagination to reading and other areas of life. For instance, soon she started to have imaginary friends, such as an elephant. She also would play pretend with her stuffed animals, for instance being their teacher or chef. In other words, no longer did she consider me to be Crazy Uncle George.