Tips on Reading Aloud :: An Interview with Sarah Mackenzie, Part Two


In part two of my interview with Sarah Mackenzie, she shares practical suggestions on getting started reading out loud. Read on for insights from her new book!

If you missed part one, read it here. 

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Photo courtesy of Sarah Mackenzie

Getting started reading aloud

Lynne: How can families get started if this isn’t something that’s already part of their routine?

Sarah Mackenzie: I think the best thing to remember is that it doesn’t actually take that much time. . . . I think looking for small, ten minute, fifteen minute chunks of time is a lot easier to get started with than thinking you need to have a thirty minute time block set aside for reading aloud.

If it’s ten minutes, you can arrive at soccer practice ten minutes ahead and read aloud a few minutes in the car. Or everyone can stay at the dinner table for ten minutes while you read out loud a little bit from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or something.

The other thing I think is really helpful if you’re just getting started with reading aloud, getting into the habit of sharing stories is to pick something that you loved from your childhood. . . . When it just ends up being a bubbling out of enjoyment or delight, that can have a much better staying power and it can get everyone involved more.

And of course it kind of depends on the ages of the kids. But once kids have been reading on their own for a while, if they’re not used to being read to, it can sort of end up feeling like, “Oh, my mom’s treating me like a baby.” . . . If you turned on something like Tolkien’s Hobbit read by Rob Inglis or some other audiobook like that where you’re enjoying it as much as they are, then they don’t necessarily feel like a project. And they don’t feel babyish. And they’re still getting the benefits of that language in through their ear and a connection with their family . . .

I love pairing it with snacks, too, especially if you’ve got older boys who are perpetually starving. If you make a big pan of brownies or even just pop a bowl of popcorn, slice those apples, or whatever it is, and put it out, everyone can naturally congregate around food. Then you can say, “Hey, while you’re eating that, I’ll just read a little bit of this.”

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Lynne: With younger kids you’ve got recommendations for activities for them if they don’t feel like sitting still.

Sarah Mackenzie: Yeah, this has been really fascinating, because Dr. Michael Gurion came to the podcast to talk about what happens in kids’ brains when they start moving around. So many of us if they start pacing or fiddling or they want to draw, we think they’re not paying attention, [but] he says that for many, many kids, the movement of their bodies indicates a higher level of attention.

I realized that for my own kids, I could use it to my advantage and make it less crazy if I was intentional about what I gave them to do. . . . If you can put drawing paper, colored pencils, how to draw books on the table, play doh, even the Legos you dump out the bucket beforehand. . . . then you basically give your kids a better chance of staying engaged with the story because you give their bodies a chance to move or do something while you read and oftentimes listen for longer.

In the Read Aloud Family I just brainstormed some different ideas of what kids of various ages could do while you’re reading aloud. . . . Especially I should mention with older kids, we always think of it with younger kids, but I have found that teens can be very fidgety. . . . 

Choosing books

Lynne: In the book you also have advice for parents on choosing books, being what you call a “literary matchmaker” for your kids. When we walk into a library or the bookstore, how do we know what we should choose?

Sarah Mackenzie: I find this to be a struggle, especially with new books that are coming out, because of course we can’t pre-read everything. We don’t have time. . . . When I am trying to choose a book I don’t know anything about, the first thing I do is I will look and see if it’s on one of my trusted booklists . . . .

But outside of that with newer books, there are a few things that I like to do when I’m at a bookshop or a library or even online. . . . I’ll look at the images to see . . . . if those illustrations make me want to look a little longer than necessary. If it’s a novel or a middle grade novel or chapter book or something, I will look, read a few sentences and just see if I can picture what the words are saying in my mind fairly well, because what that does is it tells us that the language is vivid and rich. You can usually tell in about 3-5 minutes skimming of a book if the language is rich, if the images will make you want to look a little longer than necessary, and if you’re interested in reading further, and I think answering those few questions can be a good first litmus test . . . .

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Image courtesy of Zondervan

I really feel like for a lot of parents who are very intentional about helping their kids become readers, we get a little hung up on wanting our kids to read something of the highest literary value, . . . but if you have a child that is not really reading on their own much or doesn’t read for fun much, I think there can be a lot of benefit from just sort of what we call in the book the digging around for the right jelly bean.

Laura Martin, a children’s book author, she came on and . . . she realized that for a lot of kids they thought they didn’t like reading because they had read some books they didn’t enjoy for school probably. But what she realized was that kind of like handing your child a black licorice flavor jelly bean and then they eat it and they go I don’t like this and they think they don’t like jellybeans what they really don’t like is the licorice flavor . . . .

And when they come to us and realized that we can help them find books that light them up, we can become something of a literary matchmaker and something of a trusted source for them to go, “I know my mom recommends pretty good books,” or even if they won’t take recommendations from Mom, . . . just sort of casually strewing books around the house . . . . and they go, huh, what is that, and they kind of look at it, that can be really helpful too.

Watch for the final post in the series, when you can read what Sarah Mackenzie says about starting conversations about books, limiting screen time, and pursuing your passions while raising your kids. To learn more about Sarah, her books, or the Read-Aloud Revival podcast, you can visit her website.

It’s a great time to kick off or boost a read-aloud tradition in your family. Check out these posts on Read Across America by Martha and Katie.


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