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Jim Trelease

Focus of Interview:

  • Jim  Trelease Introduction
  • Tips or suggestions for parents and educators that work with struggling readers that in relation to Reading Aloud with them.
  • Relationships from the reader and to the child built with reading out loud.
  • What to do with kids that don’t like stories, kids that prefer non-fiction or comic or some other form out of reading.

Transcript of the Interview

 

Mike Mcqueen:

Greeting everyone. I’m Mike Mcqueen your friendly teacher librarian. I’m here with Jim Trelease, famous author of the Read Aloud handbook as well as a couple other titles. Jim are you with us?

Jim Trelease:

I am with you Mike.

Mike Mcqueen:

Okay thanks for taking some time to talk with us today.

Jim Trelease:

My pleasure.

Mike Mcqueen:

Jim, let’s start off for all the listeners out there that don’t know you too much, tell us a little bit about yourself with as an author and your professional background if you could.

Jim Trelease:

Well i was a journalist for twenty years and while i was a journalist I was doing a lot of school volunteer work and this was back in the sixties and seventies and into the eighties. And I was just volunteering talking to classes about journalism and art as group because i was built as a writer and an artist for the newspaper it was a daily newspaper second largest paper in the state of Massachusetts at that time although it has merged several times since I departed, nothing to do with me, thus the times in the culture. So anyway, I was a, I began to talk with kids in classes that i was visiting about what they were reading and i was reading to my two children, and the reason i read to my two children was really because of my father have read to me. He didn’t know everything that it was doing to me. He just knew that this was something you were supposed to do. He sensed them intuitively, and for that same reason, that’s why i did it with my children. Only later did i realize what it was doing for their attention span, for their vocabularies, for  their interest and appetite for reading. So i began to talk with the classes about what their teachers were reading to them and i found that in most cases the teachers weren’t reading to students and the students weren’t reading very much themselves and I began to wonder if there was a connection between how often you were read to and how much of an appetite you had for reading. And I started to investigate the research and found that there was a wealth of research showing that there was a connection. The problem was that most people weren’t reading the research so I did a little self published booklet on it the Read Aloud Handbook, Penguin saw it, liked it, and that was six American editions ago and seven foreign editions and about two million copies ago. That’s the long and the short of it.

Mike Mcqueen:

Two million copies, that’s very impressive, that’s great. I was looking at your website, its Trelease on reading dot com.

Jim Trelease:

You know every time, if this is interesting Mike, every time I start to talk with somebody, whether it’s in a ballroom, to a large audience, or whether I’m home here, they decide to cut the lawn outside the window. I don’t know if you can hear it. There’s a guy cutting the lawn outside my condominium right now. I must sense, there must be some kind of a network and they tell everybody that Trelease is on a phone, get the lawnmower out, get the snow blower out, that’s driving me crazy. So, it’s Jim dot Trelease, no let’s see, it’s www dot Trelease dash on dash reading dot com.

Mike Mcqueen:

Right, okay. And if they google your name they’ll find it and that’s how i found it.

Jim Trelease:

It’s the first thing that comes up.

Mike Mcqueen:

Yup. And it’s great website, very rich, lots of information for about your books and your lectures. So, you aren’t lecturing anymore? Are you on lecture circuits still?

Jim Trelease:

I have retired from the road.

Mike Mcqeen:

That’s what I thought.

Jim Trelease:

Another edition about Read Aloud Handbook which i’m working on which will come out and at the end of 2012 or beginning of 2013 they haven’t quite decided yet but no more lecture circuit for me. I’m too old at age seventy, I’m too old to be climbing on inhospitable airport facilities, i’m through with those and I’m tending to the home fires.

Mike Mcqueen:

Well, I read this morning, that I didn’t realize about your book. I know you’ve written a couple of other ones too; which we’ll talk about in a second – but the Read Aloud handbook i didn’t realize it was self published and I’m a big advocate for self publishing. With now a days with e-books and the whole self publishing world people are kids and teachers are really learning more and more about it. I think it’s pretty new for most people but it was so inspiring to hear that. You self published it first and then it got pick-upped by Penguin a very well known publisher.

Jim Trelease:

I never thought anybody in New York would be interested in it because there’s no sex and violence in it so who in New York is going to be interested and an agent saw it by accident when they read mine and he brought it to six publishers who turned it down and the seventh publisher Penguin decided to take a chance on it and that’s how it get started. But there’s a limited audience that you could reach in those days these was back in the seventies, in the beginning of the eighties and a very small market that you could reach with self publications because there was no internet during those days. Now, it’s not uncommon for someone to create their own e-book and mount a campaign and have it spread across the internet like a virus.

Mike Mcqueen:

Right. Tell us about your other titles I know that’s your most popular one and what are the other titles?

Jim Trelease:

Well the other two are anthologies. Hague listened to this is a collection of 48 stories aimed at a kindergarten to fifth grade through fourth grade and then Hague listened Read all About it is a collection of fifty stories aimed at fifth grade right on up. Some of them are self contained stories some of them are opening chapters from great Read Aloud novels and with each of the stories I did a introduction with the story behind the story. It had always irritated me that as I read books to my children and then as I’ve read them for the Read Aloud Handbook, there were terrific authors who have personal stories that were never shared on the dust Jacket of the book. In fact, for fifty years there was not a single sentence about E.B. White on the hardcover dust Jacket of Charlotte’s Web; not a single sentence. So for all intensive purposes that book could have been written by a machine because there were no indication that it was a human being it just said by E.B. White. That was it. Nothing about his childhood, nothing about his adulthood, nothing about what kind of a person he was, what were his hobbies, what were his interests, none of that. How did they come up with the idea? Nothing. And I complain about it so often and so loudly through the years that when they did the fiftieth edition, fiftieth anniversary edition of Charlotte’s Web, they devoted ten pages of bibliographic materials in that edition, but it took fifty years to dawn on that. So for each of the chapters and the stories and the two mythologies I give the story but they never tell you on the dust jacket of the books. And today with the internet, almost every author has their own website, and those that don’t have room on the dust jacket for any bibliographic materials there’s plenty of room on the internet for that material including now audio and video, there’s basically an encyclopedia for authors now available to the internet.

Mike Mcqueen:

Well, and you know, that’s so important to kids especially struggling readers. When a kid; especially on that’s struggling, can connect with an author and learn a little bit about that person, it makes reading such a different experience for him or her.

Jim Trelease:

Exactly. These things are not made by machines anymore than milk is produced by the corner store. Cows make milk and it is books and articles are written by human beings who have their own stories to tell. And many of them were struggling readers themselves. And some magic person came into their life. An Aunt or an uncle, a grandparent a neighbor or a teacher a librarian who just made click with them and it turns things around. And you’re always searching for what I call the home run book. Back in the nineteen forties, there was a great mind in American literist called Cliff Amphetamine. He wrote a little essay he said “the first big book in your life, you’re a lifetime reader” that first big book is remembered the way your first big kiss is remembered and your first home run is remembered. You never forget them. All other kisses, all other home runs and all other books are compared against that big whip. And that clicked with me and i thought i can remember my first home run and i could name the playground, and the evening, and the place, i could also remember my first kiss; big kiss, who gave it to me and where I was in North Plainfield New Jersey. And i remember the book called “The WIld” in fourth grade that was that turnaround book and so i started to call them the home run book and you’re always looking in a kids life that just everything all other books are going to be compared to that book. And they did a study out in California; Steve Krashen and some of his graduate students at USC, and they went to two schools junior highs and they surveyed the top reading group and the bottom reading groups and they ask them for their – explained the concept of the home run book and they asked them to name their home run book. Almost all the top readers could name a home run book. None of the bottom reader group could name a home run book. Same age group, same community, the difference is they haven’t found that magical book yet, and that’s one of the reasons why they’re in the bottom.

Mike Mcqueen:

Right, Yeah I recently interviewed Kelly Gallagher he wrote “Redecide”. It’s exploded recently, and it’s mostly written for teachers and he talked when I interviewed him, he talked a little bit about that concept of, the importance of how much exposure kids get to different materials and struggling readers and we talked about how often struggling readers. They have such a difficulty because most of them don’t have that exposure like strong readers do. For all of us teachers and parents out there that have struggling readers that’s the key is to try to get them the more they get exposed to books and different reading materials the better chance they’ll find that home run book as you described.

Jim Trelease:

And not everybody is turned on by the same stuff. One size doesn’t fit all. I always said when I was talking to teachers “You know you have a limited number of books in your classroom and you got these spaces of textbook, and you want everybody to be on the same page at the same time and everybody interested in it”. Well if I put everybody in this room, if took a hundred teachers and put them on a bus and took them to a barns of novel books store and gave each one of them fifty bucks you could be in all different places in the store. You’d be on a hundred different places on the store. And they’ll be buying the same book. So if you have that kind of diverse appetite in interest in books and subject matter, why do you think children wouldn’t also have that same diversity their (???).

Mike Mcqueen:

Well, when you put together that list of people that you’re going to take the barn of novel book stores make sure you put my name on that list too coz really i want to come and get fifty dollars worth of free books from a…(laughs)

Alright Jim, you know I’m working on a handful of things, I’m interviewing different authors, just about thirty minutes ago I interviewed Jane Yolen. It’s funny and interesting we video interviewed we did it through skype and I’ll have that posted but  It’s interesting you talked about home run book Jane shared a good story about almost the same thing that happened. She shared two different stories of kids, they came across the right book and the first story wasn’t Jane it was her daughter that found the right book for a struggling reader and that just started the whole process of falling in love with reading. So, to anyone listening to this should definitely check out that video that I did it with Jane.

Let’s go back to the focus of today. I sent you some questions earlier about what we’re going to talk about and I want to kind of rearrange the order. Let’s first talk about the importance of reading out loud I mean that what your main book addresses so let’s narrow it to struggling readers though. What tips or suggestions would you have for parents and educators that work with struggling readers that in relation to Reading Aloud with them?

Jim Trelease:

Alright, let’s look at first of all the reasons why you would read to a child and let’s take a third grader. You would read to a third grader for all the same reasons you would talk to a third grader. That is you have some values you want to communicate to the child, you might have some cautionary messages you want to communicate to the child, you can say those things but you can also put them away in stories in books and read them to the child. You want to keep in mind that a child is reading on one level, but they are listening on a much higher level. When you say to a three year old “Tess please pass me the bread” the three year old reaches over, grabs the basket and pass you to the bread. But if instead of saying it to the child, you wrote it out and handed that piece of paper to the three year old and ninety-nine percent of the cases the child would not understand what I had just written. They listen way up and they read way down and especially the younger they are. Now you take the third grader and it’s a third grader who’s not interested in reading, then is a strong possibility he have not read very much, and if you don’t read much, it’s like skiing you don’t get very good at it. So let’s say he’s reading on a first grade level, but he’s living and listening on a third grade level now he’s going to be more interested in third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade books and in fact, he listens usually up on a fifth and sixth grade level when he’s in third grade. Can’t read there yet, but he sure can listen on that level. It’s not until eighth grade that reading level and listening level finally converge to the average kid. Until about eight grade, the listening level is higher than the reading level. So that child can be hearing stories that are a whole lot more interesting than anything he could read. Now here in those books he’s developing an appetite for that kind of book for reading in general and for that particular offer. Now, he’s loved that book that he just tasted and by the way, you can’t fail it. When you’re reading the book on your own? There’s a strong possibility you can fail it. You may be asked to take a test on it, you may have to write a report on it and you can fail each one of those items. When you’re listening to the story, unless there’s somebody in your life who is ignorant enough to give you a test on it and defeat the whole purpose of the experience, you can’t fail it. So now it’s a win-win situation the kid can kick back open up his ears, open up his mind, receive the book, absorb it, digest it and make it part of him. Now he wants another one just like that. Pretty soon he wants to be able to work this magic on his own, without depending on somebody reading it to him. Now you got the interest, now you got the appetite, and by the way, the whole time that the child was being read to, he’s being given new words new vocabulary words. And there not that hard to understand because their in the context of the story. They’re not isolated for meaning and the vocabulary list on the board, but they’re buried inside the concept into the plot of the story. So it’s less threatening and most of these learn our new words from conversation. When we become very avid readers then we start to encounter the new words in print. But again, it’s not until you’re much older that you build your vocabulary by reading. Most of the time when you’re younger you building it by listening. So now you’re giving these new words to that kid. For those obvious reasons you want to continue to read to children, my wife and I listen to a novel driving from New Jersey to Connecticut yesterday and quite frankly I was a little disappointed to get home because I didn’t want that novels readings to end. So now, neither one of us is going to listen to it until we get back in the car again although I’m tempted tonight for dinner to put on the CD player and listen to it (??????) coz there’s just the two of us and we’re with each other day long so how much could be more of a conversation could we have we could listen to this novel. You’re never too old for a good story.

Mike Mcqueen:

Well, you know, the concept too of reading out loud with a child or with your spouse or whomever it opens up opportunities to build your relationship and to talk about things and to have something to bring you together. Let’s talk about a little bit about that now, as a focus, I have a course that I’m putting together it’s called eight ways to hook a struggling reader it’s a video course and I’ve spent a lot of time last year narrowing down what I think are important things ways to hook a child and one of the lessons in there that I’m focusing on is about relationships; I will tell you about one of the lessons definitely it’s about reading out loud but the focus of our call right now is I’d like to talk about relationships. Tell us about the connections between reading out loud and relationships. I mean you kinda just touch on it a little bit but what else can you say that has to do with relationships with reading out loud?

Jim Trelease:

There are things that surface in a story that are intimate, that are personal, because, especially with fiction as opposed to nonfiction. With fiction you are crawling inside not just the plot, but you are crawling into the soul of the being of the individuals in the story and you are seeing how they think and how they act in response to how they think. It is basically for the pickings of the human condition. It is exactly what football coaches do with the team on Monday morning after a game. They take the game films and they run them for the team. And they run them in slow motion. And then they run them backwards and forward and again and again and what they are breaking down is to see how that individual player on their team and the opposing team behaved. Why they fell at that particular moment because you moved over here and then pushed from that side. In a novel, as you read it, you are running the game film of life for that child. He is seeing that character encounter a situation. They’re thinking through the situation and now they’re making a decision and they’re acting in a certain way for the better or for the worse, but you’re seeing it in slow motion.

And then you follow that character through the rest of the story as they live with either the benefits or the non-benefits of how they behave. And it’s a very personal thing and yet, it’s being shared by the reader aloud and the child. So you’re both having this together.

Now, when it’s a one on one situation, a father or mother and child as opposed to the whole family. There are added benefits when it’s one on one. Because there will be things that come up to the story that they might not talk about in front of the rest of the family (or class). But when it’s one on one, they’ll say, “I had that happen to me one time, I was out on the playground…” And then they started to tell you something that they would not have shared otherwise.

I remember I did a workshop for a group of teachers at an institution for disturbed children. And these are deeply disturbed children. These were children who were so disturbed that they had to be removed from the home. So it was a group therapy situation, live-in residents and there are about 20 kids to each cottage. And sadly, nobody had ever explored the idea of bibliotherapy with any of these kids. And I went in and did a little workshop on it. And then they invited me back about two months later for dinner, with the kids and staff. And afterward when it was just the counselors and myself, they regaled me with stories of the kids that opened up. And it wasn’t a one on one situation because they were doing a group reading so you had 15-20 kids in the cottage and they were reading James and the Giant Peach. And kids were basically talking about their own feelings, but they were using James instead of themselves. So they could describe James and how he must have been feeling and his anger at situations but they were basically talking about themselves – but they were able to use James as a substitute for themselves. So there’s a great bond that exist between the reader and the listener when you read aloud.

Mike McQueen:

I like how you said about it’s really about risk-taking, you know if it’s more intimate setting then it’s so obvious with kids at home when they’re only with one parent if they can get that parent to read aloud to them to them for classroom teachers in featuring small reading groups, I think they will open up a little bit more with their feelings if they’re not in front with thirty other kids compared to just a few others.

Jim Trelease:

Yup. And of course the subject matter, I mean you can talk about peer pressure, you can talk about rudeness as a lecture, but with children do often that lecture goes in one ear and out the other. Even in the congregation, the preacher can preach about empathy, and very often will go in one ear and out the other. On the other hand, when you tell them the story, now it’s in on an entirely different level and if you watch the best preachers, the best teachers and the best political speeches, they’ll find the way to incorporate story into they take message, and they wrap it and the sandwich of the story and they feed it to the multitudes. And whether it is Confucius, whether it’s Jesus, whether it’s the local preacher taking story and using story to hide your messages in it has always been a prime way of reaching your faith with God. And yeah, a book has that message in it and instead of preaching it, and sounding as though you’re pontificating, just tuck it on the story and see how people behave when they act one way versus another way.

Mike McQueen:

What about kids; and we talk about this just a little bit a while ago, that maybe kids don’t really like stories, they prefer non-fiction or comic or some other form out of reading. What tip or suggestions you have for parents and teachers about those kinds of kids?

Jim Trelease:

Whatever the child’s interest is, that’s the window of opportunity. And you got to reach on that window and see that kids to that window as soon as you possibly can because that window is going to close and you never know when. He may be interested in rocks, he may be interested in baseball or space ships now, but six months or a year from now, that window may be closed. But if you reach a child with the message that your world can be expanded, everything you’re interested in can be expanded through books and reading and libraries, then, you’ve really open your child’s mind to educate himself or herself. I have the biggest comic book collection in my neighborhood, and there’s nobody even close. I had a little job babysitting for a kid living in a garden apartment complex and there was this very precautious child who was I was in 5th grade and he was in Kindergarten. His mother worked across the street from the Apartment Complex so she wasn’t that far away and this kid identified for some reason with me and so they hired me to babysit for him every afternoon and he was pretty close to a genius. But so he didn’t have some of those social skills and boy sport skills that they wanted him to have. So, I made them the part of the group and I took that fifty cents that they gave me for babysitting from everyday. I get the fifty cents and I’d be down at the five and tense’s store buying a classic comic book as fast as I could. So, I built up this huge collection of comic books that and then we would trade comic books to a neighborhood. Actually a trading parties and I’d be able to pick through the best of theirs and they pick through the best of mine and it was that early interest in comic books the visual literacy and that eventually would graduate to books themselves not just comic book but real books. And then from there, my father is reading the newspaper to me every night. Because that’s what’s his love was he, would read the comic section of the newspaper the funnies and gradually through the years, we graduated from the comics strip to the front part of the paper. And he’d also read serialized novels from the Saturday evening posts which was in those days the big fiction market city in United States and the number one magazine in of life magazine in country. So, he’d read stuff from that. He was allowing me to sneak a foot into adult waters and it was a guided reading. As suppose a guided reading it was a guided waiting into the waters of adulthood. He picked the stories and knows exactly what he was sharing so it wasn’t in over my head. And again there was a bond that was built because he was letting me into his world.

Mike McQueen:

See, that was so inspiring. You know, working with struggling readers, I just find a lot of them especially boys I think, love non-fiction and so many parents and teachers don’t like what you have described and they don’t try to tap into that side of them or even try to figure out that that’s the style that they may like and so it’s so great to hear that.

You know, the last thing I know we’re kind of running out of time here but there’s an important thing that I think would be great to hear your address and that’s the concept of my website and the my slogan on my website is “We teach BUSY parents and educators how to help struggling readers”. With the word busy capitalized. And in our world, both parents and teachers are crazy busy and I think in school, with test pressure and everything, a lot of times reading aloud to, classes get stifled or skipped altogether and at home parents are working and they’re just busy, busy, busy, busy and quite often reading aloud is just dropped or skipped altogether and help us all address that problem. What do we tell parents and teachers?

Jim Trelease:

It’s a very, very common problem. It grows increasingly worse with each passing year as more and more things in our culture demand our attention. We’re not out of time, where out of breath. We are so busy trying to do this, and trying to do that. And we’re exhausted from all these things that we are multi-tasking at and what we really need to do is; everybody gets 24 hours, no matter how old you are, what color, what religion, everybody gets 24 hours. Nobody gets more, nobody gets less. It’s what we do with the 24 hours. And, many, many years ago, back when I’m seventeen years old now, so back when I was sixteen and a nun that I had in school had asked for to do something for the weekend. To draw a poster at the back of her classroom and come on Monday morning I didn’t have the poster. And she said, “Mr. Trelease, the poster?”, I said “Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t have time.” And she looked at me and I started to apologize and make excuses and she said, “No, no, no, that’s fine, Jim that’s fine.” But just remember? The busiest people always find the time to the things they value. And to this day, I can taste that at it they were yesterday. And that’s so true. If you really value your child, then you will find the time to do the important things for that child and what you would have to understand is reading to the child is going to be one of the things that will last forever. The bike that you buy to your kid, the movie that you take the child to, those are going to pass relatively quickly. The bike’s going to be left out on the rain, the movie going to be forgotten, and if you saw a funeral it’s going to be forgotten within a week. But the book you shared together night after night after night is so personal and so intimate is going to last a lifetime. What makes time so precious is you can buy it. You can‘t go online and order some time for your kid. You can only give it. And that’s what makes it last forever.

Mike McQueen:

That’s just beautiful, you did a great way to explain that and basically making reading aloud a priority is the bottom line that parents should do. What about teachers? What do you say to them? I mean, I can see them lining up right now showing, you the pressure and the budget connection, the test scores, I mean there’s so much going on and they’re busy, and I know  a lot of teachers just they, their hearts are broken they’re stuck in the middle and they don’t know you know, they know about reading aloud even administrations sometimes gets on their case about making sure they prepare for test and everything, what advice for them?

Jim Trelease:

And I have my complete sympathies. These are the worst times to be teaching in America. Whether it was in the republic administration or in the democratic administration, doesn’t make any difference. It is a lousy, lousy times to be teaching when basically Corporate America has taken over the classroom and told teachers “this is the way you have to treat your classroom” as though it’s a business, the bottom line, the number crunching, That’s what we’re interested in, do this way do it our way, or on your on the highway. And that’s the terrible approach to child’s development, treating teachers and children as though they are machines. Now, having said that, I offer in the Read Aloud Hanbook especially in the last edition and the one I’m working on now all kinds of arguments. In behalf of doing this finding the time whether it is even if it’s only once or twice a week. It’s better than not at all. I know on a situation in Florida wherein Ponte Vedra Florida volunteers went in to fifth grade class and they read novels one chapter a week. The concern was, well they only go in once a week but the following week, they have completely forgotten where they let no way these children where exactly the story left off and I want to pick up right from there. So, even once a week is better than none at all. You never know, planting a seed in a child’s mind with a particular book where the ripples are going to end up.

Mike McQueen:

One thing, I told teachers too is that struggling readers especially if you don’t read aloud to them there’s chances that are good that they may not aloud at home so for teachers that may that golden opportunity that they can do it. That they can reach them. And the other thing too is that I know a lot of really good teachers that have outstanding test scores that do make the time on their schedule to read aloud and do different sharing activities that are revolving around books, both fiction and non-fiction. I know that, it happens. And I think ot could be used to help test scores as well.

 

Jim Trelease:

Awareness Mike has to come before desire. You can’t want a particular kind of ice cream or a particular kind of soda, or cake if you’re unaware of it. The child who has never tasted the pleasures of reading can’t want to read that much. Because your unaware how good it is. Letting the child hear the story is a way of letting them taste it like texting a kid in Guatemala and giving him a nice big juicy Krispy Crème donut. The kid who’s never heard of Krispy Crème, never tasted one, never wanted one, all of a sudden he’ll kill to get a Krispy Crème donut. I mean, that’s what you want with the kid who was a disinterested reader but it has to be advertised and reading aloud is the advertising.

MikeMcqueen:

Yeah, it’s the little free spoons at the local ice cream shop where you can have free samples.

Jim Trelease:

Yeah, that’s exactly it. I’ve never had that mocha peanut butter marshmallow crunch. What’s that flavor, Dirty Sneakers? What does that taste like? Okay, and you take a little samples and “oh wow that’s terrific!” but again awareness has to come before desire.

Mike Mcqueen:

That’s awesome.

Well, James, Thank you so much for taking time to interview with us today. What a delightful conversation.

Jim Trelease:

You’re very, very welcome Mike it’s my pleasure.

Mike Mcqueen:

Thanks. It was awesome. Alright that’s it. Thank you for listening this is your friendly teacher librarian signing off. Take care God bless and we’ll see you soon.

 

 

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