From the archives — The Fine Art of Reading Aloud, 4, Older Kids

October 20, 2012

This was first posted on elizabethannewrites on June 23, 2011.

One of my favorite memories of sixth grade is of the half-hour or so after lunch time, when our teacher read aloud to us. For the most part, all the students were able to read for themselves, but this was different. This wasn’t work. This was learning to appreciate books for the joy they could bring. This was someone caring about us and our interests enough to choose books that we’d enjoy, and to take time out of the school day to just read for pleasure.

It’s so valuable to continue to do this with kids, even when they are well able to read, even when they (as I did) spend much of their free time with their nose in a book. It signals to the child that this gives the adult reader pleasure as well, that it’s a special time for connection, that there is more to reading than earning grades or praise (or the opposite), that reading can be that necessary “time apart” during the day which can revive one and set one at one’s tasks with renewed vigor.

By this stage in a child’s life, age 10 and up, it is not necessary for the adult to be always the reader, either. A friend of mine, whose son is now thirteen or fourteen, still reads to him — and he to her. One night she reads to him the designated portion of the book they’re enjoying together, the next night he reads to her. They’ve been having their nightly read-aloud in this shared manner since he was ten or eleven. He now reads aloud to his grandmother, and both of them get a great deal out of that time together. (Edit: I’ve been informed that he’s 12 now. How’d I think he was 13 or 14?)

For kids who roll their eyes at being read to at such an advanced age, the read aloud can be enlarged to include the entire family, choosing books that will appeal to a broad range of ages and tastes. My next post will look at some books that work well for this approach. Or do a play-reading, sharing the parts between you. If you are a writer, as I am, it’s a great opportunity to have the older child help in the writing and editing process by trying out one’s book, chapter by chapter. One can quickly tell what works and what doesn’t!

As with other age groups, Emma’s book Raising Bookworms (link on the right sidebar) gives many ideas of both how to read to kids at this stage, what to read, and how to encourage them to read on their own.

The sixth grade teacher who created such great memories of read-aloud times chose a variety of books to read to us, including Hardy Boys mysteries (no doubt to appease the boys, who may not have been as keen on the reading time as I was), but the books that resonated with me the most, and that have stayed in my mind and heart since, were Mary O’Hara’s My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead, and Green Grass of Wyoming.

Unfortunately, the latter two books are out of print, although they would surely be available in most public libraries (or through the online used book market). They are well worth searching out. My Friend Flicka begins the story of a ten-year-old boy, Ken McLaughlin and his filly, Flicka (which means “little girl” in Swedish, the language of one of the hired hands on the McLaughlin ranch). I am currently re-reading the book, and particularly enjoying Ken’s dreaminess and imagination, as he plans for the colt he hopes to have one day. When his father, who tends to treat Ken’s dreaminess with exasperation and often anger, finally decides to give Ken a colt, Ken chooses Flicka, and he learns and grows through the challenges of taming and training his horse. This book will appeal to any child who dreams of having a horse (and children in cities have this dream just as children in the country do), or any child who feels that they do not meet adults’ expectations in some way. The descriptions allow one to practically breathe the clean, crisp mountain air, to hear the hoofbeats of the horses racing around the pasture, to feel Ken’s pain at his father’s anger, or his joy at having his own little filly, his own little Flicka. Thunderhead is the story of Flicka’s colt, sired by the wild albino stallion that causes Ken’s father much trouble and annoyance. Green Grass of Wyoming completes the trilogy, following Ken into early maturity. The first two books of the series are likely to have the most appeal. My Friend Flicka was made into a movie in the mid 1940s, a movie which has stood the test of time, and tells the story well, although as with most movies, some changes have been made in order to condense the story and make it more screen-friendly. Ken’s older brother, Howard, has morphed into a pesky younger sister, for one example. There is also a 2006 version, in which Ken McLaughlin has become Katy McLaughlin. It would be interesting to first read the book with kids, then watch both films, and talk about the differences, what works, what doesn’t, how they might do things if they were making the book into a screenplay. (Obviously this can be done with many books that have been made into movies.) NOTE: Some portions of this book are harshly realistic, and I’m quite sure my teacher must have toned down the language in some places — one would do well to read it oneself prior to sharing it with kids.

Biographies or autobiographies might hold appeal for this age group as well. Kids who have enjoyed Jean Little’s books might enjoy exploring her autobiographies, Little by Little and Stars Come Out Within. With Jean’s skill in writing, these books would come alive in read-aloud.

Kids who find it difficult to pay attention to a full-length book, or who lose the thread of the story between one day’s reading-time and the next, might find that short stories appeal more to them. Bev Brenna has written a collection of short stories that will appeal to a wide audience, Something to Hang On To. Stories range in subject from dealing with death, to getting one’s toe stuck in a vacuum cleaner (based on a real-life experience — Bev is as uniquely creative in her real life as in her writing!), to a re-telling of a Cree legend, to — for those who are fans of Taylor, the young woman with Asperger’s Syndrome featured in two of Bev’s YA novels — a story about Taylor.

With care, and thought, and sensitivity to the needs of this age group — along with a sense of fun — reading aloud can continue to be a joy throughout a child’s growing up years.

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