Friday, March 15, 2013

Read It Again!

Preschoolers often hear the same shelfful of books read again and again.  In fact, they will ask for their favorites to be reread until they have them memorized well enough to "read" them on their own.  It turns out, familiarity with a few books at a time may be just what their brains need to learn, according to a study by Dr. Jessica Horst from Sussex University.

But what happens when children enter school?  When I was in first grade our teacher rewarded us with a paper circle each time we read a new book.  We glued those circles onto paper to create caterpillar bodies which we hung on the wall.  When we finished one, we moved to the next level, which just meant starting over with a different colored sheet of paper.  I was highly motivated to read new books, but I didn't feel like I could reread the ones I liked.  In subsequent years, my teachers assigned weekly book reports, always with the stipulation that we report on books we had not previously read.  The message was clear:  rereading a book is cheating.  As a child, I felt that, if my teachers didn't necessarily disapprove of rereading, they certainly did nothing to encourage it.

Although I was in elementary school many years ago, I wonder if that attitude has changed.  Programs like Accelerated Reader and RAZ Kids reward students for reading new books.  At my children's school, the PTA sponsors a home reading program in which students bring home a book each afternoon that they are expected to read and exchange for a new book the next day.

While I understand the value of reading different books, I'd like to make a case for rereading.  Even older readers learn vocabulary with repeated reading--the meaning of a previously skipped-over, unfamiliar word becoming clear when they understand the context.  Repetition aids in understanding plot intricacies, character motivation, and nuances in a story that a reader may not have picked up on the first time around.  Rereading builds confidence in reading.  A child knows where the story is headed, and in that familiar territory he feels more comfortable reading.  And there is emotional value in revisiting a story that feels like an old friend. When my then 19-year-old son was waiting for surgery, he reread From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwiler for the sixth or seventh time to help him stay calm.  I laughed at the time, but I have a  worn copy of Pride and Prejudice that has seen the inside of the hospital a time or two.

C. S. Lewis wrote, "The sure mark of an unliterary man is that he considers 'I've read it already' to be a conclusive argument against reading a work." (An Experiment in Criticism, p.2)  For my part, I'm going to encourage my kids to reread, especially when they are reading for pleasure.  And I think I'll reread The Queen's Thief books by Megan Whalen Turner over spring break.


  1. Our school actually just changed programs for take home readers where they actually encourage rereading! Glad to know the studies support this change

  2. I was thinking maybe I would reread Pride and Prejudice over spring break, but I might just spend the time catching up on books I have overlooked this year.