. . . sorry, that’s all I’ve got. No clever rhyme, no pithy ending phrase. I just wanted to applaud families who read together. That means dads who snuggle in to read a bedtime story, moms who make the mall run when the next book in the series hits the shelves and kids who willingly trade electronic pings for the sound of a parent voicing several characters in a good story.

The very act of reading with a child acknowledges that literacy is important and that books are a staple in the household. As a teacher, my time is limited in developing good reading habits in my students. But here is one of the ways I can encourage and support reading beyond the classroom.

We call it a Family Book Chat. Working with a team of teachers in my building, we begin by selecting a book with many layers, rich text and multiple avenues for discussion. Students and their families who choose to participate buy or check out the book, read it together and then come to the hour-long book chat, held on a weekday evening in the school library. A recent Family Book Chat choice, based on reading level and subject matter appropriate for fifth graders, was the historical fiction book Fever 1793. Written by Laurie Halse Anderson, it is the remarkable story of the yellow fever epidemic that swept through Philadelphia in 1793.

On the night of the event, we placed Fever-related “artifacts” on the tables—an old lantern, a pewter mug, crinkly replicas of Colonial currency. We also developed sets of discussion cards for each table, just in case the conversation needed a boost or additional direction. We were also lucky to have, from the local medical community, a guest speaker (the relative of a staff member) who offered fascinating background information on yellow fever, adding a layer of unique learning for our readers.

Families arrived, carrying their copies of the book. Some were tabbed with colorful sticky notes, always a good sign in the eyes of a teacher. Reactions to the book were strong, and the conversations were spirited; adult and student readers took equal part in the discussion. Students who were not typically talkative seemed to come alive, prompted by the energy of the group and comfortable in the casual, small group setting. Perhaps as beneficial was the experience of the parents. They were able to witness their children sharing ideas, offering opinions and making predictions; they could observe the kind of discussions teachers encourage in literacy—thoughtful, meaningful questions and focused, relevant responses. In the discussion guided by the teachers, parents heard questions that went far beyond “Did you like the book?” All readers listened and reacted to the comments and insights. By the end of the hour, it sounded more like a conversation between lovers of literature than a collection of parents and children. The time went by too quickly, but as families left, their comments made it clear that the event was a success.
Organizing a Family Book Chat is clearly worth the effort. Why? Because, it’s obvious that families who read together . . . well, you know.

About our Guest Writer

Martha is a specialist at Chapman Elementary School in Dublin, Ohio, where she works with fourth- and fifth-grade students who have been identified as gifted according to state and district guidelines. Martha provides support for the school’s accelerated math and language arts programs. She also just so happens to be married to our VP of Sales and Business Development, Ken Scherpelz.