One of my favorite parts of the early years of parenting was reading aloud with my son. I believe that you can't start this too soon - hook 'em young, I say! - and while bedtime reading with my son was a ritual by the time he was a year old, that wasn't the only time we read together. By the time he was four, he was able to read by himself, but we kept the bedtime-reading custom going for a couple more years. I give a lot of credit to our read-aloud time for his early reading development, but that's far from the only benefit that children - and parents - can gain from reading together. Pam Allyn, an award-winning reading instructor and children's literacy advocate, elaborates on the benefits, as well as effective strategies and tools for reading with kids, in What to Read When.
When Allyn talks about reading with your child, she's talking about what she calls "the read-aloud," which many of us parents may think of as reading to our children. But she offers suggestions and strategies to make that reading time a more interactive, engaged experience for both kids and parents - one that we can, and should, continue well past the time when our kids have learned to read by themselves. As she notes, there are books that a child may have the skill to read before he has the maturity to comprehend them fully, and those are ideal for read-alouds with a school-aged child.
Allyn starts off the book with a discussion about why parents must read to and with their children, outlines what she calls the "four keys" to developing a lifelong reader, addresses common concerns about supporting a child's reading life, and provides instruction in how to read aloud effectively. (I wish I'd had that back in the day...) She then gets into the real meat of the book - "what to read when."
The author addresses "when" in two different ways. First, she takes a chronological approach that she calls "the Reader's Ladder," and offers a range of suitable reading suggestions for every age from birth to ten years old. In the next, longest section of the book, she considers fifty "themes" that come up in the course of children's lives and offers books that address each one, including "talk about it" sections for some that may help the parent and child get the most from the book. Particularly in the "themes" section, she repeatedly makes the point that books are a great means to get conversation going and help kids understand the world. Allyn's reading recommendations are both contemporary and classic, fiction and nonfiction, culturally diverse, and offer every reading level and stage of development a variety of suggestions. They're also entirely optional; she has compiled a resource for parents, not made a "required-reading" list. The reading advice is helpful, not prescriptive, and aimed at fostering the read-aloud experience.
I accepted this book for review even though my own days of read-alouds are well past (although I may get another chance with grandchildren - some day) because I really believe reading to and with our kids is important. I was impressed with Pam Allyn's book and feel comfortable recommending it; I think she has put together an excellent guide for parents who really want to make read-alouds something that we used to call "quality time" when my son was young, back in the '80's.