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How Not To Read Aloud to Kids

Want to make your children hate books forever? Here are some tips to keep them from reading—or, for book-loving parents, pitfalls to avoid

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Joan Crawford, pictured reading to her daughter Christina in June 1944, serves as a cautionary tale about what happens when parents read to their children. (Gene Lester/Getty Images)

8. Never read anything that rhymes.

Why do schools keep banning Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss? (Yertle the Turtle, with its message of seditious politics, caused a teacher in British Columbia to be disciplined just last week.) I’ll tell you why. Because you can hide all sorts of un-American thoughts and ideas in verse. Yes, research shows that rhymes can engage children, teach them about the structure of language, increase involvement with the text (for instance, when you stop reading before the end of a line and let them guess how it’s going to end). Yadda yadda yadda. I will merely point out that Hitler wrote poetry. (I would prove it to you, but then I’d have to link to a neo-Nazi site. I win.)

9. Finish every book, even if kills you. Or your kid.

Let’s say you made a bad choice. You hate the book; the kid hates the book; it’s scary or boring. If you quit, you will teach your child that your home is a safe place and reading is not a punishment. You might as well buy them the rock cocaine and light it.

10. Read only Newbery- and Caldecott-winning books.

Literary experts are never wrong, and books never become dated. I have forced my children to memorize the 1927 winner, Smoky the Cowhorse.

11. Don’t do any research.

You wouldn’t want to get The Best Books To Read Aloud With Children of All Ages, by the Children’s Book Committee of the Bank Street College of Education (which is only $2.99 in demonic electronic form) or Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever, by Mem Fox (author of multiple classic children’s books including Time for Bed, which, if you woke me up at 4 a.m., I could instantly recite in its entirety) or LitWorld founder Pam Allyn’s What To Read When. You wouldn’t want to pre-read a book to see if it’s right for your kid. You certainly wouldn’t care about the Jewish perspective on reading to your children. You wouldn’t want my friend Joanna Brichetto’s advice on Jew-ifying secular books by talking about bikkur cholim (visiting the sick) while reading Little Red Riding Hood or discussing selichot (forgiveness) while reading David Shannon’s No, David! You wouldn’t want to go through the list of Sydney Taylor Award winners to see which ones might make good read-alouds for your family. And you’d never read the list of books in the slideshow attached to this article, which mentions some of my favorite Jewish read-alouds for every age group.

Go make your child do some standardized-test prep, already.

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Just wrote down call numbers for Mem Fox and Pam Allyn at my local library branch, and will be driving there in a moment WITH A MIGRAINE, because they will make me feel much, much better.  The fact that the Bank Street jewel is only available in the demonic version was a bummer until I noticed I can actually read it on my Mac!  It will be my very first non-paper book, and a testament to your ability to persuade.  
Thanks for the great tips, and for a fun article! Made me giggle, despite my hemicranial hurties.

Ellen Levitt says:

And don’t encourage your kids to read the Voice of the People in the NY Daily News because then they will want to write their own letters to the editor.

Marjorie, if it weren’t for your articles, I would unsubscribe from Tablet.  I live for your articles, and I don’t even have children.  But when I read your articles, I think of my little non-existent Miranda or Hugh, and imagine a happy life together.  Have you written a child-rearing book?  Why not?  Start now!

Eden19567 says:

Wonderfully funny !

Good insights. Especially about kids loving robots. You know what else they love? TV!

ExDC says:

You left out one — NEVER fall asleep while reading to your child.  I’d lie down next to my kids, hold the book above all our heads, and read…and gradually, the book would droop, and the words I was saying wouldn’t match what was on the page, and finally I’d drop the book.  They still laugh about it, but they sure learned to love reading!

Christopher Reiger says:

This is horrible advice!  I’m appalled that Tablet continues to publish the deluded ramblings of a self-hating Jew!  Unsubscribe!

(Tongue-in-cheek)

Thanks for the laughs, Marjorie.

Gone Away Lake!  I remember it from elementary school more than 50 years ago.  Excellent descriptive writing took the reader to the world of the story’s setting.  It was another book I did not want to come to an end. 

jdeange says:

YOUR ARTICLE VERY GOOD, THROUGHLY ENJOYED IT.  I DO HAVE TO WONDER THOUGH WHY YOU WOULD CHOOSE A PICKTURE JOAN CRAWFORD AND DAUGHTER.

DIDN’T THAT VERY DAUGHTER WRITE THE BOOK “MOMMY DEAREST”.  ALL OF THE FAMILY PICTURES WERE STAGED AND JOAN CRAWFORD, BY MOST STANDARDS, A VERY BAD EXAMPLE OF A GOOD MOMMY……………………..

The biggest problem with this piece is that it’s exactly one month out of date — it should have been published on April 1, not May 1  ;-}

Pitanchallah says:

Loved it, loved it, loved it. I will stop reading to my son this evening. In fact, I’m going to stop singing to him as well.
 

Jayson2 says:

If you get the gist of the article, you’d get why Marjorie chose the picture.   

Royq says:

Actually, I like to think of the TV as the third parent.

So here’s the thing — we did everything we were “supposed” to do in order to raise readers. But never anticipated that a pervasive developmental disorder would make reading an agonizing struggle for one of our kids. He is quick to assert that he hates reading. 

HOWEVER…

He did admit during a camp interview last night that he “could read Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing a million times because it’s that amazing.”

Is he the voracious reader I want him to be? No. Do I wish that reading came easier to him? Yes. Do I care that I’ve read about “Pee-tah” and “Fudgie” a gazillion time? 

Nope. And I’ll read it a gazillion more ;)

This was a great post. Perfect for Adar…or anytime!

jcarpenter says:

. . . and being awakened by little ones crawling over you to break out and run giggling from the bedroom (night-time reading and singing) to invariably be caught in the hallway/living room by Mommy:  “You’re supposed to put _them to sleep!”

Lawdy, lady.  I adores it when you are ON A ROLL!  (And what do coat hanger beatings matter when you’re dressed in fabulous matching outfits and reading out loud to your child…)

Jessica Mann Gutteridge says:

This is not only spot on, but also freaking hilarious, but that’s what I would expect from a self-loathing, bookish nerd who hates computers.

No! You did not just write this Marjorie! Tsk. I have kind of the same thing – but not as funny – half written on my computer. Coincidence? Or have I been secretly siphoning your brain waves?

nelewi says:

in the manner of the author counseling people not to do things they in fact should, i would add: never read (or tell) the same stories over. my kids loved rehearing the same stories (and a favorite was isaac singer’s “lyzer the miser” which i have learned enchants adults as well)
– neil a lewis

349Browniemom349 says:

Thanks for the hearty laugh!

Terrific piece.  My husband is in charge of reading to our kids.  It’s his special time with them.   And I’m the writer in the family… and sometimes I want him to read to me (and sometimes he does)!!  Truly, author of LIE.

barbarajaffe says:

this is absolutely hilarious!!!!  books are my life … or as i still say too my daughters:  make a new friend – read a book!!!!

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Jewish Books to Read Aloud

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