Matt Renwick’s Top Ten Takeaways from The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (Penguin, 2013)

Starting in January, parents and staff at Howe Elementary School will join me in reading The Read Aloud Handbook, 7th edition by Jim Trelease (Penguin, 2013). Our goal is to create more awareness of the importance of reading aloud both at home and at school. At each meeting, we will also be taking home some of Jim’s suggested titles to try out.  In preparation for our monthly conversations, I have listed my top ten takeaways from this resource. These conversations will take place every first Tuesday of the month at 5:30 P.M., both in person and on Twitter at #ptchat (thanks to Joe Mazza for encouraging us to use this hashtag). We hope you can join us!

  1. Being a proficient reader is the best indicator of success in school and in life. This seems to be a no-brainer. But Jim Trelease is not just referring to K-12. He cites findings from the Brookings Institute that shows the best investment anyone can make in today’s economy is finishing college (xxvii). The author deftly connects proficient readers with future economic and social success.

  2. Reading aloud is the best way families can raise readers. Put away the flashcards, turn off the computer games, and forget tutoring. For emerging readers, the best way to foster literacy in the home is to read aloud to them every day for at least fifteen minutes. The specific benefits include building vocabulary, associating reading with pleasure, creating background knowledge, providing a reading role model, and planting the desire to read (6). The bonding that has occurred between my own kids and me through reading aloud to them provides some of my fondest memories. For example, my son and I are having great conversations as I read aloud Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling to him.

  3. There are four consistent factors present in nearly every home environment of early readers (32-33).

    1. The child is read to on a regular basis.

    2. A wide variety of print material is available in the home.

    3. Paper and pencil are readily available for the child.

    4. The people in the home provide time, attention, and resources for the child’s interest in reading and writing.

  4. A picture book should be on the reading list at every grade level. There is a reason why they are called “everybody books” now. They provide not only excellent stories for many age levels, but also contain cultural and historical references (63). Two books he references are Oranges for Frankie by Patricia Polacco and The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles.

  5. Fathers should read aloud to their children. So far, I am the only male that is taking part in our parent-teacher book club. Some of our parents plan to share the statistics and research about reading aloud with their families. Hearing and seeing a male reading shows kids, especially boys, that books and literacy in general are not just for girls.

  6. Sustained silent reading (SSR) is reading aloud’s natural partner (p 80). I cringe when I hear stories about principals discouraging independent reading during school. What other activity produces stronger gains in reading achievement and engagement? (This question is rhetorical; the answer is “none.”) Kids need time to practice the skills and strategies teachers and parents have demonstrated. If the argument made by Jim Trelease is not enough to convince administrators to allow for independent reading, I recommend they check out Richard Allington’s seminal Educational Leadership article “Every Child, Every Day” (ASCD, 2012) and Donalyn Miller’s new title Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2014).

  7. Access to books is critical. As Jim states, “It is difficult to get good at reading if you’re short on print” (p 107). He cites research that shows that the best readers have 1) access to books, 2) personal ownership of the books, and 3) self-selection of the books. Summer seems to be the most important time to get titles into the hands of our students. Our school is making strides in this area by putting up Little Free Libraries ( in our community with the help of a grant. The titles we are exchanging during this book club will end up in these boxes. As this nonprofit organization out of Madison, Wisconsin states on their website, people can “give a book, take a book.”

  8. The author likes technology…to a point. The author readily admits that most of his research for this final edition was found online. He has an iPad, iPad, and laptop (p 131). Jim appreciates the posterity that eBooks will provide all titles. He also notes the benefits for readers with significant challenges, such as the visually impaired. What worries him is all the multi-tasking that can occur when trying to learn with our gadgets. A reasonable approach. If Mr. Trelease does happen to read this post, I would encourage him to check out the end of Cris Tovani’s book So What Do They Really Know? (Stenhouse, 2011). She highlights a book conversation she had with one of her English students about The Great Gatsby, via text messaging.

  9. Limit screen time. There is really strong evidence that as kids watch more media, their learning achievement decreases. Regardless of what is on the screen, kids’ brains need time to read print, socialize with others, and just reflect. Boredom isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  If there is a magic number, the limit seems to be no more than two hours of screen time per day, and no screen time before the age of two.

  10. Focus on interest and engagement. Many of us can recall a book that turned us on to reading. Often times, that book was read aloud to us by a teacher or family member. For me, it was Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume, read aloud by my third grade teacher. Once we have hooked students into the pleasures and rewards of reading, the rest tends to take care of itself.

Matt Renwick is a principal of an elementary school in Central Wisconsin. He regularly visits his teachers’ classrooms to share great literature with students. Prior to becoming an administrator, Matt was a 5th and 6th grade teacher. You can follow him on Twitter at @ReadByExample and read more of his posts at