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>Reading aloud and alone

>Twitter is atwitter with responses to Richard Peck’s remark in Notes that

“over and over [kids are]telling me that the books I wrote for them to read are being read to them by their teachers. And hearing a story read doesn’t seem to expand their vocabularies. If a teacher is going to take limited classroom time in reading aloud (and even giving away the ending), the least she could do is hand out a list of vocabulary from the reading to be looked up and learned.”

While I think Peck was complaining about classrooms where kids’ only exposure to trade books was hearing them read aloud, some teachers have articulated thoughtful responses, among them Monica Edinger and Sarah, who blogs at The Reading Zone.

I’m just grateful that Peck is still doing so well in his dual roles, as a novelist both respected by critics and enjoyed by kids, and a provocative voice in the shaping of young people’s literature and its importance for readers. Thirty-five years ago, in American Libraries, he wrote one of the most cogent responses I’ve seen to Cormier’s newly published The Chocolate War. And, with the Grandma Dowdel books, I’m loving his renaissance of books for younger readers–remember Blossom Culp?

Also, I predict that this Twitter tempest will seem but teacup-sized once the p.c. police get wind of Mrs. Dowdel’s charade, in A Season of Gifts, with the bones of the alleged Indian princess. Pass the popcorn.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. fibercontent says:

    >I don't tweet–though I am a Robin–so I have no idea what other folks are saying.

    I have to admit that I was a little irked with Richard's comments yesterday. I am a big fan of his work and of him as a person, but I was taken aback by his comments about reading aloud. I don't have time to join the discussion in earnest because my second graders are due to arrive at any second.

    I understand your clarification, Roger, but I still get a pit in my stomach when I think of teachers ruining a perfectly wonderful read aloud with vocabulary sheets. It's such an ugly picture.

    When I read aloud, I stop to discuss unfamiliar vocabulary as needed and make every effort to use the word in conversation or book discussions in the future. That's enough.

    It's been my experience (and I am approaching Mrs. Dowdel's age) that children love to read the books I have read aloud, often over and over. I feel quite sure they will take in the vocabulary that way.

    Back to school,
    Robin Smith

  2. >Oops, there goes A Season of Gifts's Newbery nod!

    OK, now can you explain what he meant by "our last defense against the blog"?

  3. Roger Sutton says:

    >I thought that was Oldman Crankypants talk for how bad the Internet was.

  4. >In urban districts we are BEGGING parents (and teachers) to read aloud to students. Why? Because as a college interviewer who sees High School students struggling with only an elementary reading ability – I encounter a lot of students aren’t hearing advanced language at home (or school) and need to hear it spoken in context. Dry vocabulary word sheets are great ways to turn a student off of reading for pleasure. Been there, done that.

    Children who are read to at least 15 minutes a day enter school with a vocabulary that is 10x higher than those who are not. And their ongoing literacy rate is higher.

    I have advocated that parents who are too busy to read to their children, use audio books as a substitute and listen together – keeping the book at hand "just in case." And now I've noted that RIF, for example, has started a challenge for the public to log 3 million minutes reading to children.

    Mr. Peck – Having also taught adult literacy in Boston, I only wish MORE people would read aloud to children. It would solve two literacy issues at the same time (the adults and the youth they are tasked to raise). But if parents don't have time to do it – then teachers and librarians are our only hope for intervention.

    As others have stated – sometimes reading aloud is also a way to catch a readers attention. I remember a local reporter telling me she had a hard time with a Sunday School class filled with boys. So she started reading Maniac Magee. After two chapters they kept begging for more and week after week, attendance improved and the boys began reading the book on their own.

    Likewise – I struggled with a Newbery award winning book. Just couldn't get past the first chapter. Then I heard someone do a dramatic reading from the climax. I pulled the book off the shelf, couldn't put it down, then gave it to my husband who had the same reaction. When the author came to town, my husband bought his own copy to be autographed. Now we read everything that author writes.

    And – if I remember – my first introduction to a certain author was someone reading a hilarious scene from A Year Down Yonder. Made me a fan of the writing and the writer.

    There's more than one way to hook a reader and build vocabulary, Mr. Peck. Lighten up.

  5. fibercontent says:

    >Old Man CrankyPants.
    Too funny.

  6. >Oh, Richard Peck. He does love to sneer. In this case, he's sneering at children. They don't read books on their own, their teachers read the books for them. So, fine, he's bitchy. He's always been bitchy. I like him anyway. When I read his comment in the Horn Books notes, I rolled my eyes and moved on. If I were going to tweet about it, I'd ask "What do YOU do when your favorite author turns out to be a puppy-kicker?"

  7. >Peck's books, historical fiction with an adult protagonist, appeal more to adults than to children. He'd better hope adults read them aloud to children, because children sure aren't going to read them on their own.

  8. Monica Edinger says:

    >Anon 1:10 — I actually did consider your final question in my post.

  9. Joseph Sottile says:

    >Mr. Peck is wrong for sure. Kids of all ages need to be read to by their teachers, librarians, and community volunteers on D.E.A.R. {Drop Everything And Read) Day. It shows them that the adults in their lives value reading. And what they actual read speaks volumes about them. Jacquie Mc Taggart in her wonderful new book, IF THEY DON'T LEARN THE WAY YOU TEACH…TEACH THE WAY THEY LEARN,says in Chapter 7 (Just One More Chapter–Please!) that her only regret in reading to her class for 42 years twice a day was "…I always kept the chapter book that I was reading tucked away in my desk drawer…I thought it spoil the suspense." It won't. When you hear a good song, you want to hear it again and again. And don't we watch our favorite movies more than once? Kids love to be read to and laugh at funny poetry. Kids bond with those who read to them. That's why I read to my elementary classes for 33 years.

  10. >Anon 2:06, where do you get that idea? I haven't counted, but I think most of Peck's books do have child protagonists, and they are VERY popular with kids in general.

    …and sure, kids HATE adult protagonists. You know, like Mary Poppins, and Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, and Amelia Bedelia. Bleah.

  11. Kathryne B Alfred says:

    >Anon 2:06, I LOVED Richard Peck when I was a kid. Checked out every one of his books from the library multiple times, and bought the books the library didn't have.

  12. Jean Mendoza says:

    >Not to change the subject or anything…
    Roger!! Are you seriously saying that being critical of Peck's "Indian princess" garbazh makes one part of the "PC police"? One of our nieces who is Muskogee Creek is married to a Kickapoo man who has served 2 tours in Iraq. He drives and repairs tanks. He has an official Kickapoo Nation of Oklahoma license plate on his pickup, and he's a great guy. I'd hate to inflict Peck's "Kickapoo princess" stuff on him, but based on previous conversations, I can guess what he'll think of it: not much. And he will tell you why, and he'll be right. Is that what you mean by "PC police" ?

  13. Roger Sutton says:

    >Hi Jean–well, you tell me what you think is precisely wrong with Peck's "Indian Princess garbazh" and I'll tell you whether I think you've joined the P. C. Police! I think Peck's use of the trope is cunning and Twain-like and not at all disrespectful of Indians but I know there are some people who when they see the words "dead," "Indian," and "princess" anywhere within shouting distance of one another, start writing tickets and then spontaneously combust.

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