Monday, September 17, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Reading Magic

Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever (updated and revised) Mem Fox

So, this isn't a book for teens or kids or with kid or teen appeal, but it is a book on child literacy and how to make kids readers, so I think it's still a good Nonficion Monday fix.

At work this week, I wrote an informational sheet for parents about why reading aloud to your kids is super-duper important and really good for them. When I was googling around for some sources to back up the things I've been taught in my youth services career, I found a lot of references to this book. I read the first two chapters on Google books and then went to the bookstore on my lunch break to just buy it. (I would have purchased immediately if it were available as an ebook, but alas and alak.)

I KNOW reading aloud is important to kids. You don't need to convince me. In those first two chapters I had the info I needed for my project, so why did I feel compelled to buy the book to tell me something I already know?

Well, as you hopefully already know from books such as Where Is the Green Sheep?, Fox is a really good story teller and writer. I wanted to read more.

Her basic premis is that we need to read aloud to our kids all that we can and that if we do, they will easily learn to read and become life long readers. Sadly, there's a lot of "research shows..." "experts say..." "studies prove..." but NO SOURCE NOTES. No bibliography. Nothing. There's also no real data, just lots of story after story about her own daughter, her editor's son, some neighborhood kids, and other kids she's come across in her work. Fox was an early literacy prof for a number of years and as she says in her introduction, "I speak with the authority of an international literacy consultant and the intensity of a writer, but I'm most passionate when I speak as an ordinary mother" and that shows. I don't doubt the studies and experts and research exist, but I want sources (mostly so I can follow up and read that research! Because I am a literacy nerd and I need data when I talk to parents about the best way to prep their kids for school.)

Because the evidence is all anecdotal, I think she oversells the benefits of reading aloud. Although she qualifies it at the end that "most children don't learn to read at home. They learn soon after they start school..." during most of the book, her case reads that if you read to your kids a lot, and play literacy games with the text, your kid will teach themselves to read at age 3. And that's not the case. Some will (Dan did) but not all. I mean, her chapter called "The Proof" is only one story about a kid named Justin who could identify his favorite books at 6 months and sit for an hour reading 20 books in a row and at 21 months he had a speaking vocabulary of 500 words and could sight read 20 words. Fox has never met Justin, his mom just emailed her via her website.

I trust what she's saying, I don't doubt her overall point... BUT.

I think the chapter on *how* to read aloud to kids is great. New parents are freaked out about everything and tend to overthink it. The chapter does as good of a job as possible explaining vocal inflection in an entirely written medium. They're things I don't think about a lot as I've always been very good at reading aloud (probably because I was read to so much as a child) but it's a great chapter that I'd also recommend for new youth services librarians who do programming. (I had to read a story as part of my job interview. It's a skill you need to have!)

Her take down of phonics as a reading instruction method is WONDERFUL and while it's not totally applicable to the thrust of this book, I'd LOVE to hear to talk about programs like Accelerated Reader.

There are some great new-to-me points as well. She completely convinced me to never answer "well, why don't you try to sound it out" when asked what a word is. I'm not sure that's something I'd do as a librarian, but I'm sure I would have done it as a mother. But, as Fox explains, when you stop to sound it out, you lose your flow in reading. You forget the rhythm and language, plot and characters of the story. Stopping for that one word makes the rest of the book that much harder. Having someone *give* you the word lets you continue at speed.

Despite my issues with the scholarship involved, I did really enjoy the book, even though I already knew and preached the importance of reading aloud to young children (I mean, Dan read aloud to the Kung Fu Princess before my epidural wore off. Her first read-aloud experience was The Economist.) I think the anecdotes-as-proof style reads more easily/less academically to the lay person (especially as this is targeted at new parents who are probably very sleep deprived) BUT, a few pages of source notes at the end would have been most beneficial.

I don't regret buying it though. It was an easy, fast read and has me all jazzed up about why I do what I do.

Check out today's Nonfiction Monday roundup over at Wrapped in Foil. Be sure to check it out!

Book Provided by... my wallet

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