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The Read-Aloud Family [Book Review]

Sarah Mackenzie mixes personal anecdotes with relevant research on why reading aloud is so beneficial in her new book, "The Read-Aloud Family".

Sarah Mackenzie is the beloved host of the Read-Aloud Revival podcast. Her new book, The Read-Aloud Family, is a great resource for every family. Mackenzie mixes personal anecdotes with relevant research on why reading aloud is so beneficial. There’s practical advice on how to grow as a read-aloud family, and common myths like “my kids should be sitting still while I read to them” are debunked. At the end of the book, recommended booklists are featured for every age group from 0-3 all the way through the teenage years.

Early in the book, Mackenzie writes that “the stories we read together act as a bridge when we can’t seem to find another way to connect.” She calls these stories “our currency, our language, our family culture” and notes that they “become a part of our family identity.” As an example, she writes that in her house “whenever anyone says the word fascinating, someone else will interject (in the nerdiest voice they can muster), ‘Fascinating! Simply fascinating!”” Mackenzie explains that this inside joke comes from Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson series. Mackenzie writes, “I hope when my kids are grown, they’ll hear the word fascinating and that fond memory will rise to the surface to warm them, wherever they may be.”

In addition to helping bring the family closer together, reading aloud also helps prepare kids for real life. It is well-known that fiction helps build empathy, because it lets us enter into the thoughts and experiences of characters, who are different than us. A less noticeable, but still important benefit, is that fiction gives us the opportunity to deal with conflict vicariously, which helps us feel more equipped to deal with difficulties in our own life. Mackenzie writes:

By reading aloud with them, we help our kids understand that life will be difficult, perhaps more difficult than they can yet imagine, but that they – just like the heroes in the tales from their childhood – are capable of facing unimaginable hardship with heroic virtue.

Mackenzie also highlights the academic benefits to reading aloud, which include helping kids develop an “excellent vocabulary and highly sophisticated language patterns,” as well as giving them “practice at making connections and thinking well.” But Mackenzie cautions us, lest we drive away the intrinsic joy of reading. She warns that we often “school the love of reading right out of our kids, and then we worry because they aren’t taken up with a voracious love of literature and a burning desire to enjoy reading for pleasure.” Mackenzie points out that “the adults I know who read for pleasure do not make dioramas, take comprehension quizzes, or write five-paragraph essays on a story’s main conflict or theme” and suggests that what is true of adults is likely true for children as well. Knowing how to diagram a sentence can help strengthen grammar skills, but the heart of the reading experience is the joy found in, well, reading! She notes that “we want our homes to be more like a cozy book club environment and less like a formal classroom experience.” One practical way to help keep the delight in read-aloud time is to include yummy snacks: “food is comfort, and comfort is a wonderful thing to associate with read-aloud time.”

My favorite insight in this book is that we don’t need to stress out when kids “gravitate toward the lighter, fluffier books” because these books “have their own special part to play in the growth and development of young readers.” Mackenzie states this point emphatically: “Light books count. Hard books count. Current bestsellers count. Classics count. They all have their place in the tapestry of a child’s reading life.” What matters most is how we engage kids in conversation about the books they are reading or that we are reading to them. Mackenzie recommends asking open-ended questions with no specific answers. Questions like “how is X like Y?” and “what does this story remind you of?” can lead to a organic conversation that gets to the heart of the text. She explains that “the art of conversation within relationships means circling ‘round ideas – considering, weighing, and comparing one idea with another.”

In the end, Mackenzie says her goal in reading aloud is to cultivate a sense of wonder in her children. She writes:

I hope that some of the best memories will be the times we were astonished at what we saw, what we read, and who we met. Astonished at the magic we experienced. Astonished at the big, beautiful world and the amazing people we share it with. Astonished.

You can learn more about The Read-Aloud Family here.

Related Blog Post:
5 Library Tips From Sarah Mackenzie

Demme Learning was not paid to review this book; we just like to read.

About Anthony Barr

A homeschool graduate who grew up with Math-U-See, Anthony studied history and literature at Eastern University. He currently serves on the marketing team, in addition to teaching and writing.

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