When I was a kid, getting read aloud to at bedtime was a sacred tradition. My brothers and I would dig into our family’s bookshelf and spread the kids books all over the floor like an epic milk spill in an effort to choose our just right reads. Then we’d all squeeze ourselves onto the couch around our parents to hear our stories read aloud. As we got older, our parents would continue to read aloud to us at bedtime, moving from picture books to children’s chapter books. I remember my brothers getting The Hardy Boys, while I listened to Nancy Drew. By the time I reached about 5th or 6th grade though, those read aloud nights stopped. I still bookmarked plenty of time to read my own books independently, but I was no longer read aloud to.
In school, it was much the same. I lived for the moments my teachers would read aloud to our class as a kid. While I might be sitting in my classroom chair, in my head I traveled into the worlds of those read aloud books. Growing up, I was always an imaginative kid, concocting stories in my head while on long car rides, doing chores around the house (which was often), or trying to help myself fall asleep at night. I think those read aloud experiences in my early years helped contribute to my visualization skills and imagination.
As I grew older in school though, the times my teachers chose to read aloud to us began to peter out as well. Sure, I had plenty of years of cringe-worthy popcorn reading in school, where the teachers called on random students to read aloud book passages. Unfortunately, the stress of waiting for your name to be called ruled out a bit of the fun of listening. I do have fond memories of reading ahead in my English classes during those popcorn reading days, and my best friend turning around in her seat to point to the right page for me whenever my name was called.
So why do parents and teachers often stop reading aloud to kids as we get older? It could be that once we become readers, we’re expected to read on our own. And fair enough, I did plenty of that growing up. But there’s something truly special about the read aloud experience. You don’t travel on your own into the worlds of your books, but you travel there with someone. “It’s so much more friendly with two,” as A.A. Milne says.
A few years ago, I was reminded of the joy of reading aloud with someone during a road trip from Connecticut to North Carolina with my brother. While we did make a harrowing excursion into New Jersey during midday traffic to grab a book on CD at a Barnes & Noble, both of us were in the middle of books that we wanted to finish. We didn’t want to start reading our books, though, and leave whoever was driving with the prospects of either dying from boredom or actually dying from falling asleep at the wheel.
With this in mind, we came up with the idea to read aloud to each other from the books we were in the middle of. Not only did we get to continue enjoying our own books, but we couldn’t stop laughing from our attempts at character voices. Honestly, I am still quite impressed with the voices my brother came up with for the characters in the fantasy book I was reading at the time. It even inspired me to dig into how to become an audiobook narrator. That day was a pleasant reminder about how fun it can be to read aloud with someone. Sharing a book world together is an adventure in itself.
A few years after that, I visited my aunt, uncle, and another brother of mine. We checked out a quirky bookstore (my favorite kind of excursion), and my aunt and uncle bought a book of scary stories. That night, while the four of us cooked dinner together, my uncle suggested we take turns reading aloud from the book. I’m pretty sure I shied away from my own turns reading aloud. Now that I write this piece on how wonderful it is to keep reading aloud to each other, I’m also scolding past me for not participating more during that time. My brother valiantly stepped up to do more reading than me, and it made for such a fun evening. Stories read aloud do bring people together.
So, I’ve come here today to send out the idea into the universe that we should be reading aloud together more! Read alouds with someone can feel special no matter your age, and I’d imagine it could bring you closer, too.
Now that I’m a mom, I love reading aloud with my preschooler each night. While we still do picture books, we’ve started to choose a couple of early kids chapter books, too. Just the other day, his teacher asked me if we were planning a vacation to Egypt. I started laughing and told her that we’d just read two different books involving pyramids and Egypt, so that must be where my son drew his inspiration from. In a way though, we did take a vacation to Egypt. The books we’ve read have taken us there, and it was made even more special because we enjoyed these adventures together.
As my child gets older, I aspire to keep up our read aloud tradition. With my friends and family, I hope to read aloud more with them, like my brother and I did on that epic road trip. Which book will you read aloud next? And with whom?