Ponderable: Do Bad Readers Affect a Love of Books?
Say you’re a children’s librarian. Your office is directly connected to the picture book room and due to the layout of the space the walls of your space do not reach the ceiling. This means that anyone in the attached room can be heard with crystal clear clarity. Maybe that’s not so great when you’re eating your ham sandwich for lunch and can hear five five-year-olds running hell-for-leather around the space while their parents gab, but generally it’s charming. Particularly when you get to overhear parents reading to their children. One day you might hear a stirring rendition of The Lonely Doll. The next, you’re getting ideas for storytime due to how a British dad reads The Terrible Plop.
But what if the parental reader is an awful reader? This is often the case, after all. Sometimes, for whatever reason, a parent isn’t particularly good at reading a book aloud. This might be because they are unaccustomed to the activity, or it could be because English is not their first language. Maybe they’re embarrassed to be heard giving voice to a smarmy pigeon or a truculent pig. Or perhaps they always speak in a monotone anyway, and reading a book is never going to be any different.
Whatever the case, it got me to thinking. We all know that it is incredibly important for parents to read to their children from a very young age. With that in mind, what I’m about to ask is akin to near treason in the children’s librarian world. Still, it’s something that has been floating about in my brain. I had a chance to hash it out with another librarian recently, and I feel no closer to an answer. Maybe you have an idea about the following then:
When a poor reader reads aloud to a child, can that person do more harm than good in instilling a love of reading?
My instinct is to say no, of course not. A great book can survive even the worst reading. But if a bad reader has been reading poorly to a child from day one, does that mean that the kid is ruined for books from Day One onwards? I shouldn’t think so, but I wonder if any studies have been done on the subject. I suppose not since defining a “good” reader sounds like a fairly subjective supposition to start from. Still, have studies been done about reading with a single tone versus reading to children with a tone that jumps and jives? Should there be such studies? What could possibly be done if such a study took place anyway? Would parents suddenly be inclined to “train” to learn how to read aloud to their children? Does such a state of affairs already exist? And, if not, wouldn’t the person who taps into parental fears and insecurities make a tidy bundle if they advertised classes meant to teach parents how to read to their kids “the right way”?
The librarian I mentioned all this too argued that if a parent reads poorly and doesn’t give any context to the reading (saying something angrily when a character is angry, for example) then they aren’t teaching their children properly and the kid loses out. I dunno. Sort of sounds right.
Thoughts on the matter?
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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