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Archive for read alouds

Read Aloud Magic – Ignite a FLAME that becomes a Passion for Lifelong Reading

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*Warning, the post you are about to read is VERY long, but just may bring a little reading magic to your child’s life!

As parents, caregivers, and teachers we are bombarded with information about the need to read to children every single day. I believe in children needing to be read to like I believe in their need for nutritious food, for shelter, or for warm clothes in the winter. Reading to children is THAT essential. There is so much information about the benefits of reading aloud to children that I don’t need to write about it here. Many other people have already written about it so well. Here are just a few great places to learn more about both the benefits of reading aloud to children, and the research statistics that back up those claims.

Jim Trelease - The Read Aloud Handbook

Jim Trelease is the Grandfather of the read-aloud movement. He has written, The Read-Aloud Handbook, and it is one of the definitive books about reading aloud to children, Mr. Trelease has spent much of his adult life traveling the country trying to convince people of all walks of life to read more great books to children. If I were to recommend just one book about reading aloud to anyone, it would be his book. He also has a website, and lots of good information about the importance of reading aloud.

Reading aloud to kids, flame read alouds, read aloud magic, mem fox

Another great book about reading aloud is Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by the terrific Australian children’s book author Mem Fox.

reading aloud to kids, how to get your child to love reading, flame read alouds, read aloud magic

One more resource that I really love is How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell.  It is filled with fun ideas and activities to pair with books.  She has a website too.

Some more good information from The Children’s Reading Foundation

Even more good stuff from Reading is Fundamental (RIF)


But what I want to write about is how to make the most out of the time you spend reading aloud. It is one of the things that I am especially passionate about, and there are many simple ways that you can take an everyday read-aloud experience and SUPERCHARGE it, so that it has the magical power to draw your child into the life-long love of reading club! I don’t want to scare you. I know that you are overworked and underpaid! Sometimes it is really difficult to even get the reading time in, now I’m telling you to BOOST it up? To do even MORE? Don’t panic! I’m not here to stress you out. I just want to provide you with some information that you can use to make some simple additions to your read-aloud routine that will really make a difference for the children in your life.


I made up an acronym for my read-aloud plan to make it easier to remember. I’m using the term FLAME read-alouds because I want kids to be soooo passionate about books and about reading that they are drawn to them like moths to ….er, well, a flame.


To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.
—Victor Hugo


Tracy, I read to kids EVERY day! Why should I go to all of the trouble of creating special read-alouds?

~ Read-alouds are the VERY best teaching opportunities in your trick bag! They are the greatest occasions  you have for enticing a child into the world of reading.

~A child who wants to read will read, a child who reads has the WORLD at his or her fingertips!

~Even when a child has a disability that makes learning to read difficult, if s/he loves books, and loves stories, it will make him or her more likely to put in all of the extra effort needed to learn.


Frederick Douglass reading quote, reading to kids, read aloud magic,

This is one of my favorite places, right outside my favorite bookstore.

Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.
   —Frederick Douglass

So what does FLAME stand for?:








F is for FUN!

Fun is the first thing you should keep in mind when planning a FLAME read-aloud!

Why fun? Because, if books are not fun, children will not want to hear them, or read them. If they do not read they will not be readers.

Read aloud magic, flame read aloud, babies reading

Don’t these sweet boys look like they are having fun?


A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.
—Mark Twain

Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty.  It should be offered to them as a precious gift.

—Kate DiCamillo

Read aloud magic, flame read alouds, babies reading

A room full of toys, and this boy wants books!

L is for LOVE

LOVE is perhaps the most important part of a FLAME read-aloud.

~Children learn to love reading when someone they love reads to them. The love transfers!

~Children learn to love reading when the people they love and respect love to read.

The LOVE is contagious!

Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.
—Emilie Buchwald
I would add any person that children love and care about

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Grammas make lovely READERS too!

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This guy likes to choose his own books.


A is for Active!

~Children should be active participants in the read-aloud experience (this includes being actively engaged in making book selections).

~Active is the root word for activity, and I think there can always be an interesting activity for a book that enhances and extends the experience. These special activities make a book memorable, and build the LOVE and the FUN.

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After reading activities involve children in the entire experience of a story. The best ones deepen understanding, and should be FUN. Because…

M is for Movement and Music!

~Kids need to move. If kids want and need to move, and we don’t let them, they will see read-alouds as restrictive. Restrictive = NOT FUN! Why not build FUN and organized movement into your read-alouds for young children?

~Music is fun, most kids love it, and it is another wonderful way to add activity, engagement and fun into your read-alouds. Music could include sing-alongs, recorded music, songbooks, or instruments.


A book is a device to ignite the imagination.
–Alan Bennett

Make the most of it.

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E is for Engagement and Entertainment

You want to try to make the book so fun, so engaging, so interesting, and so memorable that kids are completely invested in hearing it. You want them to feel there isn’t anything that they would rather do!

There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.
—Jacqueline Kennedy

Did you notice I didn’t mention learning?

But Tracy, What About the Learning?  We need to choose books children can learn from!

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You cannot open a book without learning something

You don’t need to choose books with good morals, good values, good lessons to learn, good vocabulary. Just choose good books! Kids WILL learn from them.
It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations—something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own
—Katherine Patterson

Good books are the books that children LOVE!  Don’t worry about learning!  Worry about love!

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Only Two Things Truly Determine the Success of a Read–Aloud…
1. The Book

2. The Reader

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1. Pick a Great Book!

A book with high entertainment value should be:

~a book YOU love, really like or have enthusiasm for.

~ Appropriate for the age, development, interests, and number of children in your audience
~ a story with a strong plot (that begins quickly and moves along with good action), interesting characters, and an engaging problem/solution
~ well illustrated (if illustrated)
And will most likely be one or more of the following:
~ silly
~ funny
~ timely (matches an interest, activity, holiday, situation, etc., that is timely)
~ written with a strong, rhyme, rhythm, cadence, and/or drama

 reading to kids, read aloud magic, flame read alouds

  1. Read It Well!

This will take reading the book beforehand, and a bit of prep, but it is worth it!

~Make it a performance, but don’t stress. Fluency and effort go a LONG way.

~Look for ways to emphasize cadences, rhythms, sound words, or special words.

~Identify places where you can punch up a text with your voice…
~character voices and vocal sound effects
~changing the volume (both soft and loud)
~focusing on, and changing pacing (fast/slow) as appropriate.


The more you read, the better you get, the more better you get, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it.
– Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook


So, how do you create a FLAME worthy read aloud?

Why with three easy planning steps of course!

1.Planning for BEFORE you read

 2.Planning for READING

3. Planning for AFTER you read


Setting the Stage – Planning for BEFORE reading

~Choose your book very carefully.

~Make it a great “fit” for your audience.

-What does your audience like? What can they relate to?

~What is going on in the lives of children that you can tie a book to?

-How complex a story can your audience handle?

-Is this a story that will knock their socks off?

~Do a dress rehearsal. Practice the book out loud before you read it to an audience!!! This is a very important step!


A read-aloud is a very special experience, with amazing possibilities. There are many books that are wonderful, but are not the right fit for reading aloud.

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Ready to perform?! Yes, I am dressed like a wizard to read to my son’s preschool class!

Time to READ! Time to Perform!

It really does help to think of it as a performance

~ Use your voice!

~Use your facial expressions.

~Use gestures.

~Use pacing effectively. Use pauses to create drama, suspense, humor, etc.

~Use props when appropriate (puppets, signs, pictures, flannels, etc.)

~Think about how you can encourage your audience to participate (questions, allowing children to call out a predicted word, use hand movements, etc.)

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AFTER Party – Celebrate the Book!
There is always a cast party; why not throw a book party!

~Find a way to celebrate the book in some way…

~Talk about parts you liked or didn’t like.

~Put the book out for children to explore independently later.

~Extend or enhance the story with fun activities such as cooking, a craft, an art project, read a related book or poem, sing a related song.

~Retell the story with: puppets, flannel board, play mats, dramatic play, photographs, student created video, etc.

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Make the experience ENGAGING and FUN.

I’ve got just one more question for you…

How will you help spark the LOVE of reading for the children in your life?


Cat in the Hat, Seuss, read aloud magic, flame read alouds, reading to kids

A winning performance!


If you are looking for ideas…I have been collecting some great ones.  I have created a list of

“Shining Star” read-aloud books that are all kid tested, and have always been winners with everyone I have read them with.  To check the list out, just click here.   I have also have many boards on Pinterest that are filled with ideas for activities.  Here are some of the boards, with great ideas from all around the web, that might spark and idea or a flame!

Real Dads Read!

#DadsRead, the importance of fathers reading to their kids, dads read books

My husband, Mr. Mad Scientist, is a fantastic and dedicated father.  He has a very demanding job, but he always makes time for his boys.  It is very important for him to build relationships with each of his sons, and that looks different with each child.  The one thing that he does to build strong relationships with all of his children is to read with them.  He has such an amazing reading bond with the kids, and he takes his reading VERY seriously.

When I heard about the #DadsRead campaign that was created by ZooBean and the Good Men Project to highlight the importance of fathers in supporting the literacy development of their children, I knew I had to ask the Mad Scientist to get involved.  I asked him if he would like to participate, and he stayed up (very) late that very night to write out his thoughts about reading with his children.  It was amazing to me that he had given so much thought to his reading, and it brings me practically to tears when I think about how much reading together means to all of my boys (including the big one).

What follows is what he wrote in response to my questions to him about how he felt about reading to his kids, and why it was important that HE read too.  The words, thoughts, and comedy bits are all his.  I hope you enjoy…


If you are a dad like me, you are constantly looking for ways to spend meaningful ‘quality time’ with your kids. But with no time for bear wrestling or building log cabins from Canadian white pine, what’s a busy dad to do? Admittedly, I don’t fish, any power tool in my hands is a dangerous weapon, and I am still waiting to see the Cowboys vs. the Indians compete in the “Summer Classic.” And, after all, how many rounds of “Hi-Ho-Cherrio” can you play before both you and your kids ask, “Is this really fun for the whole family?” The answer, my friend – believe it or not- is READING. I am not talking about flipping through the latest issue of Sports Illustrated or looking at the Surgeon General’s warning label on that bottle of beer. I am talking about BOOKS. Now, before you say reading is for librarians, nerds, home school moms, or Nobel Laureates, I’d like for you to consider my experience.

I am a highly educated male with several advance degrees, which is only important for you to know because I have built my entire career on reading. As a (admittedly introverted) teen, I spent hours alone in my room reading Tolkein, Asimov, and Clarke. As a high school and college student, I dutifully read Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Faulkner, and Dickens (and secretly enjoyed it). In my professional training, I did nothing but read textbooks and journal publications. Ironically, I am not a terribly proficient reader. My skill with a novel is only slightly better than that with a miter saw or a golf club. But- I love to read. Unfortunately, as a ‘grown up’ with career and family responsibilities, I have little time for recreational adult reading anymore. Also, because of my middle aged, and deteriorating eyesight, whenever I do have time to read a novel, it is usually an eBook on some mobile device at that font setting (I think it is 72) where you get only four words per screen page. (And you can imagine how long it takes to get through a 500-page novel at that rate). The incredibly satisfying solution for me has been recreational reading with my kids; enjoying reading vicariously through children’s literature.

#DadsRead, Harry Potter, Series of Unfortunate Events, the importance of fathers reading to their kids

Favorites from when Big, Big Brother was a bit younger.

For example, while I have many fond memories of the times that my now 17 year old son and I spent together at little league baseball games, summers at the beach, and pizza/bowling birthday parties, none of those will compare to the evenings that we spent together before bedtime, month after month, reading the Series of Unfortunate Events or Harry Potter novels together in the comfy chair. Now that I have a six-year-old and twin two-year-old boys who are eager to read, I am absolutely giddy at the prospect of being able to do this all over again. To be certain, like all good parenting, reading to your children on a regular basis is an effort, but- good news- it is probably easier than changing a diaper or scraping the mac and cheese off of the dining room floor. Here are a few tips I have for you on how dads can make reading with their kids an enjoyable, daily ‘sporting event.’


#DadsRead Mo Willems fathers read to kids

Mo Willems is a true favorite!

  • Select your material judiciously. If you just grab the latest release from Scholastic Book-of-the-Month club as a read aloud, you (and your kids) are likely to become bored with reading. Personally, I think it will even dull your brain. Spend some late night hours (as I am doing right now) looking for the perfect read- yes, they do exist. Of course, the material you select will depend upon the age and interest of your children, and may be different for each child- because, yes, they really are special snowflakes. Fortunately, compared to even a decade ago, there are a plethora of budding children’s authors who are writing smart and captivating books that resonate with children of all ages.   These books offer subtle, often humorous and visual appeal to the adults that are reading them. At all costs, avoid those books that are based on (i.e. marketed for) commercial franchises (like Disney) or television shows. These are usually the books for which your local library (or this may just be our local library) has hundreds of copies proudly on display, and are featured prominently at school book fairs. These books have immediate, but not long lasting kid-appeal. “Easy / Early Readers” have their place too I guess (so the experts tell me), but unless for some unfortunate reason, you yourself are an easy or early reader, avoid these. Look for award winning books (unlike the Oscars, children’s literary critics seem to know what they are talking about). You can be safe with some real ‘stand out’ authors – Mo Willems, Judith Viorst, Elisha Cooper, Sherri Duskey, and Jonathan London are some of the current favorites for my six-year-old boy. But remember, just because an author hasn’t written a 27-book series doesn’t mean that they haven’t penned a classic.  Even more importantly, find something that will be fun for you and your kids to read. Look for interesting art work, creative but simple narrative, and perhaps- as a bonus- a “don’t hit me over the head with it” simple life lesson. Large, easy to read text (for both me and my kids), is always a plus, even if it is more than four words per page. Lastly, if the book features stickers- run away.
#DadsRead, importance of dads reading to kids, Elisha Cooper

Current Favorites with Big A.


  • Read what you live. Reading with your kids gives you the chance to relate and discuss things that you enjoy together in everyday life with what you are reading. I think professional educators call this “text to self.” Whatever- it makes reading time more fun and engaging, and relatable to what you enjoy (but may not always have time to do) with your kids. My six-year-old and I enjoy a good doughnut once in a while (or maybe more often) and so what more riotous and relevant read than Laurie Keller’s graphic tale of “Arnie the Doughnut” (2003, Harry Holt and Co.). We are in the process of building our own model railroad layout, largely inspired (at least in my mind) by Elisha Cooper’s beautifully illustrated book, “Train” (2013, Scholastic (surprise) ). It doesn’t matter if your (and your kids) real life interests involve sports, pets, music, fishing, or square dancing. With some research, you are sure to find a good piece of children’s fiction that will grab your collective interest. New baby in the house? No problem. There are hundreds of “New Baby in the House” books out there. (Although, as a cautionary note, only a small fraction of them- in my experience and opinion- are worth reading; see my note #1 above). Moving to a new city? We’re not, but Judith Viorst’s “Alexander, Who’s Not (Do you hear me? I mean it!) Going to Move” (1995, Antheam) is still one of our favorite reads this month.


  • All the world (or at least the armchair) is a stage.   I will admit that I am a closet thespian. You may be too. It’s OK to admit it; nobody is watching. Reading to your kids gives you a chance to ham it up and fulfill that dream that was once crushed when you weren’t cast for the leading role in your high school musical (no bitterness here). Use character voices and act out suspenseful or humorous narratives. Think of it as Karaoke night, every night, without the five-dollar draft pitchers. Nobody is listening, except your kids, and they will be the most impressed and appreciative audience that you will ever have. More importantly, it will engage them in reading and make the act of reading enjoyable for all. Recite some passages or talk about the book you read the previous night, at the dinner table or while driving in the car. It will impress upon your kids that reading is not just about sitting for 15 minutes in a chair, but that it is pervasive throughout their day-to-day lives.


#DadsRead, the importance of fathers reading to children

The “Boys Book Basket” which is curated entirely by Big A. and Mad Scientist.

  • Your local library. If your house is like mine (and it probably is), you have a precious few moments to spend reading to your kids. You don’t want to spend all of that time hunting for a good book to read, especially if you have to sift through a pile of book-of-the-month coaster books. I now keep a wicker basket next to our favorite comfy chair stocked with our favorite books. (BTW- Just to be clear, iPad, Kindle, and Nook (although Dr. Seuss might think so) are not books). If you can afford to create your own hand-picked selections, that’s great. Otherwise, we interleave our own books with library picks for the month. Keep a supply ready at hand and swap them out every other month or so.


  • Do the math. If you like math and statistics (and I sure do), it will be easy to realize that reading to your kids for just fifteen minutes each day will mean that by the time they reach high school, they will have read a billion books, enough books stacked to reach the moon and back- or something like that. (I said I liked math and statistics; not that I was good at it- see my note about reading above). The point is: if you are invested in reading, if you do the prep work, if you embrace it as if it were a game of golf, if you practice it as a daily ritual like flossing (at least for some of us), you can do so much good for your children in such a small amount of time each day (even if you don’t have time to build that log cabin).


Teach a child to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. Teach a child to throw a baseball, and maybe you can get them signed with the majors. Teach a child the love for reading and you ensure a lifetime of personal growth and success no matter what they choose to do. Come on- be a man!