I recently read The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie and really loved it! I had been intrigued, and I bought the book for my sister a few months back. (I’ve noticed a habit developing of gifting books to my sister that I’m interested in reading, whether she has expressed interest or not. I’ve never claimed “gifts” as a love language . . .) I decided I was ready to read the book, and my sister graciously made a trade with me. I’m so glad — and I hope she is enjoying learning about herself through the enneagram.
The Ultimate Goal
What I appreciate so much about The Read-Aloud Family is Sarah Mackenzie’s clear objective to build lasting relationships with her kids through reading. The subtitle of the book is Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids, and Mackenzie maintains this message throughout the book. We all know there are myriad benefits to reading with our kids, but we naturally tend to focus on the academic benefits. These are important, but as a mom, I love the idea of using books to spend quality time with my kids at any age and knowing this is a worthwhile investment in our relationship for the long term.
For Kids of All Ages
I also had not thought through the specific benefits that reading aloud to your kids, at any age, provides. When I think of reading aloud, I think mainly of toddlers and preschoolers (the ages of my kids currently) who are not able to read for themselves. However, Sarah Mackenzie makes a compelling case for continuing this practice long after kids have learned the skill of reading (decoding text). Where older kids are concerned, she specifically talks about the benefits of developing thinking skills, increasing vocabulary and the use of sophisticated language patterns, and improving reading comprehension. And these benefits are all in addition to the connection you make with your child through quality time and conversation!
The Power of Story
So much happens in the hearts and minds of kids through stories, and it can be a beautiful shared experience between a parent and child, opening up natural pathways to conversations that otherwise would be difficult, or awkward, or avoided altogether.
Mackenzie writes, “A story meets a child where he is. It sparks an authentic desire within him to do better, try harder, and love more. It allows each of our kids a vicarious experience, giving them the precious gift of practice. Stories reach us where nothing else can and quicken the heartbeat of the hero within us.” (p. 49)
And through these stories, we are faced with questions of our own bravery, our own boldness, and our own virtue. This is when it becomes personal, and as the author writes, “we grasp — on a deeper, more meaningful level — the story we are living ourselves as well as the kind of character we will become as that story unfolds.” (p. 48)
Isn’t that just the kind of intimacy we want with our kids? We want to know their hearts and we want to shape their character, and shared stories gives us a unique opportunity to do that.
Creating a Reading Culture at Home
With meaningful connection in mind as the ultimate goal of reading aloud, Sarah Mackenzie writes about the importance of creating a pleasant reading culture at home. She contrasts the way reading is typically approached in an academic setting (think quizzes and book reports) with the lovely environment and interaction shared at a book club meeting. The book club meeting is primarily about enjoyment and connection with those you share the experience with. Mackenzie cautions against “schooling” the joy of reading right out of our kids. Instead, our goal should be to instill a lifelong love of reading in our kids — this is truly a gift to them for their enjoyment over a lifetime.
Part of the book club culture involves asking questions that lend to discussion. This requires some intentionality, but it is a worthwhile practice that makes reading a meaningful shared experience. This also shapes how your kids will think about books as they grow as readers. Mackenzie includes a list of open-ended questions she likes to use with her own kids, and she encourages parents to pick and choose and not have expectations of how kids will answer the questions or how long discussions will last. Over time, this will become a natural and enjoyable practice!
Some possible questions include:
- Should he/she have done that?
- What does this story/character remind you of?
- What surprised you most?
- What is something you don’t want to forget from this book?
I also love the emphasis on creating a reading culture at home because it encourages me to read for my own enjoyment. As a busy mom, I sometimes feel guilty if I pick up a book for pleasure, but this practice will speak volumes to my kids about the value of reading beyond purely academic purposes.
One of my favorite aspects of the book is the huge list of book recommendations Sarah Mackenzie includes in the final chapters of the book. She breaks down her recommendations by age group and describes what she enjoys most about each selection. I’d forgotten about many great books from my younger years, and there are so many new ones I’d never heard of. There are countless book lists out there to learn titles from, but I appreciate the detailed descriptions Mackenzie provides and the discussion of age-appropriate literature she includes for each age group. I have already reserved a number of books from her lists at the library!
These lists and book descriptions made me more excited about reading with my kids at each stage. The focus on connecting with my young kids also helps me look beyond the monotony of reading the same books over and over. When my kids really know and love a book, we can have some fun chats about it, even at their young preschool ages. The final chapters (and the index!) of this book will serve as a helpful reference in the years to come.
Read and Connect
After reading The Read-Aloud Family, I feel committed to spending time reading with my children on a regular basis for the sake of connection. While I have always known reading with my kids to be a healthy and beneficial practice, this book helped me think through the many different reasons this is true. I hope you will read Sarah Mackenzie’s book (or listen to her podcast!) and enjoy the chance to know and shape your child’s heart as you connect through stories.