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Vol. LXI, No. 41
 
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
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Schools, Parents, and Library Collaborate, Bring “Read Aloud” Author to Princeton

Linda Arntzenius

On Thursday, October 25, Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, will spend the best part of the day in Princeton talking to parents, teachers, and library patrons about the importance of reading aloud to children for their future school success.

Mr. Trelease’s visit is the result of a significant collaborative effort by library staff, local parents, and the school district.

His visit is being co-sponsored by the Princeton Public Library, Princeton Regional Schools, and the PTOs of Princeton Regional Schools, the Princeton Charter School and Cranbury School District.

While parent groups have worked together in the past to organize joint presentations, food and warm clothing drives, this event is a first in bringing together eight parent groups: the six PTOs in the district plus one each for the Charter School and the Cranbury School.

“Reading Aloud: Motivating Children to Make Books Into Friends, Not Enemies,” — the last of Mr. Trelease’s public speaking engagements before he retires — will take place in the Princeton Performing Arts Center at the high school at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. The first is a presentation for educators. The second is geared toward parents and caregivers.

Praising the collaboration for making the visit possible, Youth Services Manager Jan Johnson said that the library had been trying to arrange a speaking engagement for Mr. Trelease for years. “Jim has made it his mission to inspire parents and teachers to read aloud to children and encourage them to become avid readers,” she said.

Seeking co-sponsors for the event, the library reached out to Kathryn McIsaac, President of the PTO Council, the association of the presidents of all the PTOs. The PTOC provides a means of communication between the schools, the superintendent and the school board via monthly meetings.

With the support of Superintendent of Schools Judith A. Wilson, the library’s initial idea of inviting the author and educator to speak to a public audience was extended to include a second presentation specifically for teachers. Both presentations will take place at Trego-Biacosino Hall.

“There is a great deal of mutual respect between the members of PTOC and our school district administration,” said Ms. McIsaac. “The PTOs have always worked closely with the school district and the same can be said for the library and its programs. PTOs will advertise library programs that have parent interest, schools often go to the library for field trips, and there are a plethora of after-school programs at the library that benefit our children.”

A frequent keynote speaker for numerous national education conferences, Mr. Trelease addresses common parent concerns about the demands upon children’s time due to activities from television to sports. He suggests ways of building nurturing reading environments and offers selected readings, including his own compilations: Hey! Listen to This, for kindergarten to fourth grades, and Read All About It!, for preteens and teens.

“I have been fortunate enough to attend Mr. Trelease’s presentations twice in the last 15 years and they are exceptional,” said Ms. Wilson, who expressed appreciation of the library staffers whose enthusiastic efforts made the event happen.

The former journalist self-published the first Read-Aloud Handbook in 1979 based on his experiences as a parent and school volunteer. The book was on The New York Times Best Seller List for 17 weeks and is still the all-time best-selling guide to children’s literature for parents and teachers. There are nearly two million copies in print, with six U.S. editions of the book, along with British, Australian, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese versions. It inspired PBS’s Storytime series.

“American literacy scores are due in large part to the fact that two-thirds of our children don’t like to read,” said Mr. Trelease, who has been featured on The Larry King Show, and profiled in Smithsonian, Reader’s Digest, and U.S. News & World Report.

“No player in the NBA was born wanting to play basketball,” he has said. “The desire to play ball or to read must be planted.

“The last 25 years of research shows that reading aloud to a child is the oldest, cheapest and most successful method of instilling that desire. Shooting baskets with a child creates a basketball player; reading to a child creates a reader.”

Reading Aloud

Research indicates that reading aloud may be the single most important factor in a child’s educational success. The best readers are those who were read to most frequently. Mr. Trelease read aloud to his own children as he had been read to by his father.

According to Ms. McIsaac, “Reading a book aloud helps with listening comprehension (information retention), imagination, and vocabulary. These are the foundations that lead to lifelong reading and learning skills for school work and life. The pleasures of reading are a gift I would wish to bestow on children and adults of all ages.”

A 1963 graduate of the University of Massachusetts, the New Jersey native (he was born in Orange in 1941 and now lives in Springfield, Massachussetts, Mr Trelease was an award-winning artist and journalist before turning his career toward education.

After six publishers had turned his book down, Penguin USA published an expanded version in 1982. In 1989, Mr. Trelease was honored by the International Reading Association as one of the eight people who made the largest contributions to reading in the 1980s.

“The message about the importance of reading aloud is not just about bedtime stories for young children,” said Ms. Wilson. “That is only a small slice of Mr. Trelease’s work and recommendations. The message and models pertain just as much to middle schoolers and to disciplines such as poetry, science, and social studies as they do to elementary children. Not only are the lessons for all of us timeless, they are more critical than ever as students are faced with a wide range of text to comprehend, respond to, and enjoy.”

“The Trego-Biancosino Hall holds about 700 people,” said Ms. McIsaac. “Wouldn’t it be awesome to have standing room only.”

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