The Foot Book Miracle
In 1975 our daughter, Chloë, came home from school in a state of excitement and said, "I can read!" She was four years old and had been at school for two weeks. We smiled indulgently as parents do when they think their child is cute. Read? She had to be joking.
She ran to her room and came back with The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss, one of her favorites at the time, and read it to us word for word, with expression. We were beside ourselves.
But could she really read? We had read that book to her so many times, we thought she might have memorized it. We hesitated, not wanting to dampen her wild enthusiasm, then bravely opened the book at random to see if she could read a page by itself, without reciting the whole book by rote from the beginning. She read that page, and another page at random, and another.
At the time, I was a college professor teaching drama. I knew nothing about the teaching of reading. In my eyes I was "only" a mother. I rushed to Chloë’s school the next morning and told her teacher what had happened.
"What did you do?" I asked, agog. "What method did you use? It’s a miracle!"
"I didn’t do much," she said. "How could I? She’s only been in my class for two weeks. You must have read to her often before she came to school."
"Of course," I said.
"Well, there you go," said the teacher, as if that were that.
From that moment I became fascinated by the benefits of reading aloud. The seeds were sown for a change in my teaching career—out of drama into literacy. If reading aloud had had such a powerful impact on my child’s life and on her ability to learn to read, I felt I had no business keeping it a secret. I had to spread the word.
Over the last twenty-five years, I’ve learned a great deal more about how children learn to read and write and about the many other positive effects of reading aloud to children. I now travel the world, talking to parents, teachers, librarians, and booksellers, urging everyone I meet to read aloud to the children in their lives—and explaining why. I speak with the authority of an international literacy consultant and the intensity of a writer, but I’m most passionate when I speak as an ordinary mother. Reading aloud to my daughter was a fabulous experience. We bonded through all sorts of marvelous books. We came to know and love each other better through the variety of stories we shared. I hadn’t realized that reading aloud regularly would mean Chloë would learn to read without being taught.
It was enough just to be together.
Text copyright © Mem Fox 2008, 2001
Illustrations copyright © Judy Horacek 2001
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