"There's no reason to feel...that we must always read aloud to little children from 'easy' books that they can 'understand.' If we are reading something we like, with great expression and pleasure, a child may well like it, at least for a while, even if he doesn't understand all of it. After all, children like hearing adults talk, even though they can't understand much or most of it. Why not reading as well? Once, when teaching first-graders, I decided to try reading aloud to them something more difficult than the very simple stories they were used to. My choice was The Odyssey for Boys and Girls, by A.J. Church—a book I loved when small, but which many teachers would feel was much too advanced or difficult for first-graders. This class, however, liked it very much, and on subsequent days asked me to read more of it."
from How Children Learn, by John Holt (revised edition, Perseus Books, 1967, 1983)
When I read Holt's book last spring, the above quotation intrigued me. On the one hand, it proves one of my pet theories: people are often talking about themselves, no matter what their ostensible subject. Holt's example just happens to be a favorite book from his childhood. The message seems to be that he, unlike those pedestrian other teachers, is willing to try something different. Ho-hum.
On the other hand, I think his idea has merit. First grade, for example, is all about learning to read, and much of the material does fall into Holt's "very simple story" category by necessity. That's why read-alouds by teachers, school librarians, and parents are so important. Audiobooks, too, can provide more advanced storytelling and vocabulary in a fun way. Some children will like to hear science books read aloud; even though they don't understand all the specifics, they may get excited about the overall ideas.