My favorite book

November 12, 1998

By KATE COLEMAN / Staff Writer

photos: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

Angel BreakdallAngel Breakall, 8, likes the book "The Principal's New Clothes" because it's really funny.

"It's kind of like 'The Emperor's New Clothes,' " she says.

Aleah KimmelAlthough she hasn't "exactly" finished it, 9-year-old Aleah Kimmel chooses "Titanic Crossing" as a favorite because it's a mystery.

David Bugosh likes the book "Fourth Grade Rats."

He relates to the character Suds, the younger brother of the bossy Joey Peterson. David, 9, has an older brother.

--cont. from front page--

Jason DavidJason David's book pick also is close to home. It's "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing," and he says he likes it because it's funny.


He says the character Fudge is like his little brother. They have "mischief" in common. Jason, 9, says he also likes mysteries when people have to find clues, and he likes fantasy because it's make-believe.

David BugoshDo you detect a common thread here?

These children, all fourth-grade students at Bester Elementary School in Hagerstown, like to read. They are not talking about books they are reading because they have to. They are reading because it's fun.

Jim Trelease would approve.

Author of "The Read-Aloud Handbook," the best-selling guide to children's literature for parents and teachers, Trelease, a former newspaper artist and writer, has traveled around the country for more than 20 years speaking about the importance of reading. He's not talking about teaching your child how to read. He's talking about teaching your child to want to read.

Mary Downing Hahn, author of 19 children's book, says she read constantly to her two daughters.

The book from her childhood that Hahn remembers reading five times is "Lassie Come Home." It was a Christmas present when she was in fifth grade.

A line from "Shadowlands," a movie about writer C.S. Lewis, captures the reason for reading for her: "We read to know we're not alone."

Reading facts of life

There are two reading facts of life, according to Trelease. One is that reading is an accrued skill. Like sewing, fishing or driving, the more you do it, the better you get, he says.

The other is that human beings are pleasure-oriented. If reading isn't pleasurable, kids aren't going to read.

In his book, Trelease cites plenty of academic research to bolster his theory. A 1988 study on how literate fifth-grade students spend their free time outside school reported that 90 percent devoted less than 1 percent to reading and 33 percent to watching television. Trelease says the study holds up 10 years later.

The challenge, for home and classroom educators, is to get more pleasure into reading. School's message that reading is work needs to be counterbalanced, Trelease says.

He has a simple solution: Read aloud to your child for 15 minutes a day. He calls this uncomplicated tool one of the greatest intellectual and emotional gifts you can give a child. He also believes it's the cheapest way to ensure the longevity of a culture. He wants a national campaign of the proportions of the anti-smoking message. It's that important, he believes.

In his approximately 120 talks a year - half to parents, half to teachers - Trelease says he sees more parent involvement than he saw 20 years ago.

But the involvement is by the "haves," people he says are professionals. He sees the gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots" widening.

"Smart kids are getting smarter," he says.

It has nothing to do with genetics or brain skills, according to Trelease. He attributes a lot of the disparity to exposure to words and to the availability of printed matter in the home. Four-year-old children of professional parents hear about 45 million words.

Kids of the same age in a poverty family hear only 13 million.

Pat Sweeney has been sharing words and her love of reading as a school librarian for 29 years. During the past two summers she has taught a teacher education class, "Teaching with Children's Books," at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa.

Although she has students in her libraries at several different Chambersburg Area School District elementary schools only for one period a week, she makes it a point to read aloud to all of her classes, kindergarten through fifth grade. Silent, sustained reading time, time for students to read what they like, is a part of the regular class time, and Sweeney tries to save at least five minutes at the end of the library period for silent individual reading. She reads at that time, too, providing a model for the children.

The Bester fourth-graders all have parents who read to them, and they are carrying on by reading to younger siblings. Aleah's dad loves history and brought some magazines home from a trip to Williamsburg, Va.

Angel and David say their moms read big, fat books every time they get a chance. Jason recalls his mother falling asleep on the couch reading a magazine.

Aleah likes to read in a living room rocking chair or the chair beside it, away from the TV. David admits to staying up past his bedtime to read books. They all remember the first books they were able to read by themselves.

Trelease remembers books from his childhood. He calls Jack London's "Call of the Wild" his "home-run book" - the first big book of his life.

Parents and teachers shouldn't give up on kids who are not readers, Trelease says.

"Not all kids hit their home run their first time up," Trelease says.

The "how" to read is important, but it's only a quarter of the answer. Motivation is the rest, according to Trelease.

He calls Oprah Winfrey the No. 1 reading teacher in America today. She's reaching reluctant and unmotivated readers.

"That's what English teachers should be doing," Trelease says.

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