When I first wrote an article about Mem Fox, I mentioned that Mem Fox has a passion for teaching, writing, and literacy. At that time, I was most familiar with the more than two dozen children's picture books the popular Australian author has written. These include Possum Magic, Time for Bed, and Harriet, You'll Drive Me Wild! Now, having finished reading her latest book for adults, Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever, I want to recommend it for parents, teachers, and all caregivers of very young children.
For almost my entire career, I have been involved in some form of education, and for six years, I was an early childhood educator. I am the mother of two children, a daughter who embraced reading from the get-go and a son who didn't become an avid reader until late high school. I also have an eighteen month old granddaughter and a five year old grandson. When I read Mem Fox's Reading Magic, my first thought was that teachers could use the book as a blueprint for parent workshops, and parents could use it to understand the specific details of how to most effectively read aloud to their children. However, I had one big concern.
I am concerned that people won't take the book as seriously as they should because of the lack of references to studies that have confirmed the value of reading aloud to very young children. Because of the lack of all but anecdotal evidence about the benefits of reading aloud, some readers may not feel comfortable about the validity of what Fox espouses. I don't question that what she says is valid. I think Reading Magic is an important book, one that those who care for young children should both read and follow. This belief is based on my own teaching and parenting experiences. However, I think it was a mistake to omit documentation about the benefits of reading aloud.
On Target Advice About Reading Aloud
That said, let me tell you why I like the book so much. Reading Magic
is written in an easy-to-read informal style with a refreshing lack of jargon. With humor and enthusiasm, Fox covers what to read, when to read, and how to read. She suggests that you establish a nightly ritual of reading aloud to your child. The ideal would be to read three books: one favorite, one familiar, and one new book. Fox also provides some helpful tips on expressive reading, with advice on varying your facial expressions and your voice.
Fox particularly emphasizes the attitude that parents need to have. Reading aloud sessions should be relaxed times of fun for both parent and child. Fox recommends playing simple, silly games long with reading aloud to emphasize rhyming, how to hold a book, and how to turn the pages correctly. Try turning the pages from back to front or holding the book upside down and see how your preschooler responds. Fox suggests taking a familiar book, like Little Red Riding Hood, and seeing what happens when you act as if it were The Three Little Pigs. By the time you finish the book, you will agree with Fox that "The fire of literacy is created by the emotional sparks between a child, a book, and the person reading."
As you may know, the latest brain research has revealed how critically important a child's early years are. As Fox states,
"Reading aloud and talking about what we're reading sharpens children's brains. It helps develop their ability to concentrate at length, to solve problems logically, and to express themselves more easily and clearly."
Done properly, reading aloud to your children can also make them feel loved, spark their imaginations, and ignite a lifelong enthusiasm for reading. When your child is ready to read, it should be a snap because s/he will already have so many of the skills needed for reading due to your commitment to daily read aloud sessions. See my article for more about Mem Fox.