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Jim Trelease

Jim Trelease, esteemed author of The Read Aloud Handbook passed away last month. His legacy should never go unnoticed particularly given the statistics about literary rates. Depending on who you read and who interprets that data, American adults have languishing literacy.

What exactly do we mean by literacy and why is it important? Briefly defined in the world of experts, literacy means the ability to read, write, speak and listen to effect communication. According to Michael Nietzel commenting on a recent Gallup poll conducted by the Barbara Bush Foundation, “low levels of adult literacy could be costing the U.S. as much as $2.2 trillion a year”.

But don’t we teach children to read and write in school? So the fault must be with teachers, right?

Not so fast. British A. Robinson, president and CEO of the Bush Foundation states, “America’s low literacy crisis is largely ignored, historically underfunded and woefully under researched, despite being one of the great solvable problems of our time.’

What are the reasons that the lowest rates continue to exist within the poorest communities and low literacy “prevents millions of American from fully participating in our society and economy as parents, workers and citizens? It lies at the core of multigenerational cycles so poverty, poor health and low educational attainment.”

Complicating this dilemma are the reading wars that have been waged in schools and universities for far too many years. This battle for control of the methods of teaching reading continues to prevent the strategies and practices that arm young people with the skills and attitudes that they need to be readers, to be members of what Frank Smith always called the literacy club. If you are reading this article then you are a member of the club and he would ask you to make sure you invite as many people to join you as possible.

The arguments are too emotional and angry for this short piece and because of the lack of agreement within the education community many who are not readers have been the victims of this war. The authors quoted here are correct that the literacy crisis can be solved but it would take a clear vision and the absence of politics and money to make that change

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But Trelease had a solution and an inexpensive one. And one that should never create the war-like battle that exists in our schools and school boards. And it was genius and it works!

Read to children. That’s it. Read to them. Put them on your lap, and read, sit next to them and read. Stand in class and read. Read everything; the newspaper, comics, advertisements, cereal boxes. Read just like you do as a member of the literacy club and invite everyone to join you. Here are some favorite quotes from Trelease.

“We read to children for all the same reasons we talk with children: to reassure, to entertain, to bond, to inform or explain, to arouse curiosity, to inspire. But in reading aloud, we also: condition the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure; create background information; build vocabulary; and provide a reading role model.

He was infectious and his love of reading has influenced thousands of teachers, parents and children. Today when we need thoughtful, informed citizens, being literate matters perhaps more than ever.

A nation that does not read much, does not know much. And a nation that does not know much is more likely to make poor choices in the home, the marketplace, the jury box and the voting booth. And those decisions ultimately affect the entire nation… the literate and illiterate.

To honor his work and his memory find a kid and a book and read. And don’t stop. And don’t forget to support our libraries.

RIP Jim