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Connecting With Your Kids Through Reading

Air Date 05/31/2018

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Sarah Mackenzie, author of The Read-Aloud Family, explains how parents can strengthen their relationships with their children by reading books together as a family.

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Episode Transcript




Child 1: I like Beverly Cleary ‘cause the book I’m reading has ballet in it.

Child 2: My favorite book is “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” because it basically transports you into another dimension.

Child 3: My favorite book is, “Double Vision” by a local author. It’s fun, mysterious. Fun.

End of Teaser

John Fuller: Well, I wonder if you had a favorite book as a child. Well, your host on today’s episode of “Focus on the Family” is Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller, and we’re going to have a delightful conversation about reading as a family.

Jim Daly: OK. Some people just went, “What? Delightful about reading,” ‘cause it freaks them out.

John: Some people do get a little bothered by that.

Jim: (Laughter) But this is great.

John: It’s rich.

Jim: And there’s wonderful evidence...

John: Yeah.

Jim: ...To show that - as a parent - when you read aloud with your kids, it will really help your children in so many different ways. And it is true that we are in a busy tech-driven world, but there is something wonderful about sitting down in the evening and reading a story aloud...

John: Mm-hmm

Jim: ...With your children. Here at Focus, these are the kind of tools that we want to make available to you. And kind of little, you know, bits of wisdom to say, “This is a wonderful way to inspire your children to read. Not just when they’re 4, 5 and 6, but hopefully when they’re 30, 40 and 50.”

John: Mm-hmm. Yeah. That’s a great gift for a parent to see your child glom onto, grab onto and love to read. And our guest today is going to help us understand just how we can do that more effectively as moms and dads. Our guest is Sarah Mackenzie. And she’s a very popular blogger, a podcaster, a speaker. And her book is The Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids. We’ve got that and a copy of our conversation at And Sarah and her husband, Andrew, live with their kids in Spokane, Wash.


Jim: Sarah, welcome to Focus.

Sarah Mackenzie: Oh, thanks so much for having me. I’m happy to be here.

Jim: Now, how did you get started in this, I mean, thinking, OK, reading aloud to my kids will be a good thing?

Sarah: Yeah. You know, when my oldest - so we have six kids - and when my oldest, who’s now 16, was 1, I stumbled across Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Handbook, at a friend’s house. And that was the first time I was introduced to this idea that reading - we don’t just read aloud to our kids so that they can read to themselves. I always sort of thought of it, like, you read aloud to your kids when they can’t read. And then once they’re able to read, then they start reading on their own.

Jim: Yes.

Sarah: And that’s always preferred. But that was the first book that really opened my eyes to the fact that reading aloud has a value outside of that.

Jim: You even said it can change the world.

Sarah: Well, here’s the thing. Um, every single time that we read a story, we get to step in the shoes of somebody else and walk a mile in their shoes.

John: Huh.

Sarah: So if we think about this with our kids, we want to prepare them for the world and give them God’s heart for the world and help them see that everybody else in the world is an image of God and has this beautiful story. So if we’re able to read story after story after story with our kids, we give them so much practice walking a mile in the shoes of someone else.

Jim: Hmm.

Sarah: So that when they’re grown and they’re getting honked at by someone behind them on the highway or...

Jim: (Laughter) Does that happen to you, too?

Sarah: Never, never - my husband.


Sarah: Or if we’re in the grocery store, you see someone sitting on the street corner. You think, that person is a child of God and has a story.

Jim: Hmm.

Sarah: And we give our kids this opportunity to reach out in that kind of empathetic, compassionate way by giving them practice walking in the shoes of others for miles and miles.

Jim: Yeah. You’ve got a podcast that is really popular. I mean, millions of people listen in to your podcast. Why is this idea of reading aloud to your family and your kids particularly - why is it catching hold?

Sarah: It was so funny. We just passed the 4 million download mark on the Read-Aloud Revival podcast, which is...

John: Wow.

Jim: Say it again. What’s the name of it?

Sarah: Read-Aloud Revival.

Jim: OK.

Sarah: Yeah. And I started it kind of on a whim about four years ago because I just wanted to share what reading aloud had done with the relationships in my own home.

Jim: Do you have a degree in English or what?

Sarah: I don’t. No.

Jim: (Laughter).

Sarah: I just - I have a degree in children apparently ‘cause I have six of them so...


Jim: That’s a Ph.D., by the way.

Sarah: Yeah, right. Exactly. Um, and what I think happened - and it really shocked me, but I think maybe it shouldn’t have, because what happened when people listened and started reading with their kids or were just expressing what happened when they started reading with their kids - when we are - as parents today, we are so - we’re pulled in a million directions. We want so badly to do things that make an impact in our kids’ lives. But we feel the stress and the burden of having so many things pulling on us - so many pressures. And I think when we realize that simply opening a book and sharing a story with our kids can make such a profound impact on them and on the greater world as a whole, it just - it makes us almost fanatics about it because it’s so transformative.

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: Let me ask you this because that busy factor - we sometimes use that as an excuse, obviously. You know, I’m tired. I can remember when our kids were really small, I’d get home and Jean right away would say, “Here are the kids. Take the kids quickly. I need a break.”


Jim: “I need a break.” And so I’m just coming in from work going, “Can I change my clothes (laughter)?” And, you know...

Sarah: Oh, no. No, no. She has her chocolate stash in the bathroom.


Jim: Correct.

Sarah: And she’s running to it.

Jim: She was running from the front door actually, so she had some bad days.

Sarah: Yeah.

Jim: But the point is, how do we refocus ourselves to say, “This is important?” I’ve got to be open and not be selfish, if I could be that bold...

Sarah: Yeah.

Jim: ...To get my downtime, and, you know, get my chocolate time.

Sarah: Yeah.

Jim: How do we recenter ourselves to say, “OK, I’ve got to sit and read with my kids?” And at what age do you start?

Sarah: OK. There’s a couple of things going on there, I think. One is that when we think about powerful, impactful things we can do with our kids, those feel big. Like, we need to do something giant to make that happen. But what is true is that we don’t even have to read aloud every day. If you were to read aloud, say, 10 minutes every other day with your kids, that’s 35 minutes over a week, like a half an hour-ish (ph) - right? - not much.

Jim: Right.

Sarah: That’s 30 hours over the course of a year.

Jim: Yeah.

Sarah: And we do this year over year. It’s like drops in a bucket that...

Jim: Yeah.

Sarah: ...Grow over time. So if we sort of relieve ourselves of the burden or the pressure that it needs to be this big, amazing thing...

Jim: Every night at 7.

Sarah: Exactly.

Jim: Right.

Sarah: Even when you’re tired, even when you’re sick or whatever. And we just think, well, what if we tried to hit it for small pockets of time most days? What would that look like? That sort of relieves us of the big burden of it. Um, the other thing, though, I think is just like in all the other parts of parenting, the things that make the lasting impact, the things that really transform our relationships with our kids, you can’t see the results of them right away. So it’s not like you sit down and you read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and your kids pop up and they’re suddenly more virtuous (laughter), right?

John: Right.

Jim: It could happen.

Sarah: I mean, I guess it could happen.


Sarah: But it doesn’t usually happen that way in my home. And a lot of times, too, it doesn’t look like we think it should. You know, the kids are sitting on the couch, and they’re hitting each other with their toes. And I’m threatening kids on pain of death that they...


Sarah: ...Are to stay on their own cushion and listen.

Jim: I like your style.

Sarah: Yeah.


Jim: Let me ask you this, though, because this can be a real frustration for a parent who’s trying and is more systematic about their approach. How do they relax when you’re - particularly your son - you know, he’s 5 years old. He’s bouncing off the walls. You’re reading the story, and what you end up doing so often is getting upset. “Johnny, come over here. Sit down. Listen to mommy or daddy (laughter),” you know? And they’re going, “Check out, check out. (Laughter) I’m not here anymore.”

Sarah: Yeah.

John: (Laughter).

Jim: So the more we make it a confrontational thing, you’re pretty much - you lost the game...

John: Yeah.

Jim: ...Already.

Sarah: Yeah. It needs to be more of an invitation I think - an invitation to enjoy time together. I think one of the things that’s helpful to remember is the story - as important and as powerful as the story is - isn’t actually as impactful as a child feeling like my parent wants to spend time with me.

Jim: They pick those things up...

Sarah: They pick those things up.

Jim: ...At an early age, don’t they?

Sarah: Yeah.

Jim: Let’s talk about more of the benefits of reading aloud to your kids.

Sarah: Yeah.

Jim: What are some of the things that - as they grow - that they express, these children that have been read to?

Sarah: Yeah. So we know that reading aloud with kids who cannot read yet, that - reading aloud is the number one thing we can do to help them be successful in school.

Jim: Wow.

Sarah: So when it comes to your young kids, there’s nothing better you can do. There’s actually some really interesting research that shows that you can put your kids in really high-end private schools or pay for tutoring - really reading aloud with your kids every day will make a bigger impact than either of those things.

Jim: And it’s cheaper.

Sarah: And it’s way cheaper.


Jim: That’s the good news.

Sarah: That’s the good news.

Jim: You have a story - when your children were younger - about taking them to the zoo to see a walrus.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jim: I think this is kind of proving the point I was just making, but what happened?

Sarah: So I had taken my kids to the zoo. And like so many parents, you know, you sort of start feeling like you’re dragging your kids around, thinking, like, you’re going to enjoy this ‘cause I just paid a fortune...

Jim: (Laughter) That’s right.

Sarah: ...To get in here. So what we had done is we ended up getting a membership so that we could sort of take this leisurely...

John: No stress.

Sarah: No stress. Yeah. Exactly. So I decided to ask my kids, “What do you want to go see?” They want to go see the walrus. Now, I knew what it was like to see the walrus at this particular zoo ‘cause I had been there before. And you have to wait for a while at the viewing area where - until it comes out into where you can see it. And so we’re standing there, and we’re waiting and waiting. And I tell them, “It’s coming.” Well, soon, the water starts to ripple. My kids were probably - I would say 7, 5 and 3 maybe or...

Jim: OK.

Sarah: ...Somewhere around there. So we’re standing there, and the water starts to ripple. And I say, “Oh, my goodness, kids. Here it comes - watch, watch.” And all of the sudden, the walrus bursts into view. And my little girl, who was maybe 4 or 5, says, “Oh, mommy, look.” And I look down at her, you know, excited to see her face as she’s seeing this walrus.

Jim: Connecting with the walrus.

Sarah: Exactly.

Jim: (Laughter).

Sarah: She’s on her hands and knees looking at an ant...


Sarah: ...On the sidewalk carrying like a little piece of leaf or food particle bigger than itself. And at the time, you know, my first thought was sort of like, an ant or a walrus. But what I realized is these are the little moments, these - I would’ve missed that moment. And there are so many moments like that in parenting where I would miss those small moments - the ant moments - in favor of looking for the big, splashy, amazing moment.

Jim: That is good - like, the ant. You only get that at a zoo, you know - anthills.


Jim: You also talk about - in the book, The Read-Aloud Family, the faith-oriented, you know, benefits of reading aloud. How do we connect that to where the kids aren’t going, “Oh, this is boring.”

Sarah: Yeah. I think one of the things that we have to realize is that stories - whether or not they’re overtly faith-based or religious or not, stories are how God made us, how he speaks to us. He spoke to us through story. They’re a part of who we are. And so just the nature of telling stories to our children - whether we’re reading them from a book or we’re saying them to them. Or reading from the Bible or another kind of story - it feeds that thing that God put in us as humans to want to connect with story, to understand the world through stories. And one of the things that’s so amazing to me is if we read enough stories and we walk all those miles in other people’s shoes, we end up looking around and seeing all of this magnificent world and all the magnificent people he put here as a gift from God. And we can respond to it in a different way.

Jim: Huh, I like that.

Sarah: Yeah.

Jim: It does give you empathy for other people in other situations that you may not be experiencing ’cause you’re reading about them. Uh, when your kids were younger, you read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Now, I’ve got to say, we’ve got to think about the spiritual context of this, but we can apply great spiritual truths from secular stories like that. You know, the fact that the Lion’s all about courage and the Tin Man about heart...

Sarah: Yeah.

Jim: ...And wisdom and all those good things that are biblical truths. How do we connect those dots for our kids, and what happened in your particular case with The Wizard Of Oz?

Sarah: Yeah, so I was reading The Wizard Of Oz - Wonderful Wizard Of Oz with my kids - which is, I think, so much more delightful than the movie. The movie really scared me as a kid. So...

Jim: (Laughter).

Sarah: ...What I didn’t realize was how much of an opportunity the book would provide us to have these great conversations. So we get to the part in the book where the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow are debating about what’s more important, either a brain or a heart. And so I stopped reading, and I look up at my girls and say, “OK, what do you think is more important, a brain or a heart?” And of course my firstborn, go-getter daughter says...

Jim: (Laughter).

Sarah: ...Without even thinking - “Brains obviously.”

Jim: Yeah, of course.

Sarah: And her sister says, “No, no. You need to love. How would we love God, and how would we love others?” And Audrey (ph) says, “Well, how would you know who to love?” So we kind of do this whole debate thing. Well, then we keep going, and we read about the Lion who needs courage. And we realize we can’t let any of these things override another. We need to nurture our intellect as a gift from God. We need to nurture our ability to love others, which is a gift from God. And we need to have the courage to face our fears, which is also a gift from God. And I don’t know that I would have had that conversation with my 5 and 7-year-old at the dinner table if I didn’t have the story to lead us there.

John: Hmm.

Jim: And one thing is true. I mean, for the parents that might be feeling we don’t want to share that kind of a story - it doesn’t have direct connection to the scripture or something like that - you can really find - virtue’s virtue from the Lord. You can find the right things to lift up, that this is what God is trying to connect here for us, right?

Sarah: Yeah. One of the things I so love about stories is that the Truth is the Truth.

Jim: Right.

Sarah: I mean, God’s Truth is everywhere. So whether or not the author of the book realizes it or the story overtly points it out, the truth is still the truth. And so you can search for it. You can search for God’s hand in any story you read.

John: Today on “Focus on the Family,” we’re talking with Sarah Mackenzie. She is an author, a speaker, a blogger, a podcaster, and the book we’re talking about that has so much more information in it is called The Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections With Your Kids. Get a copy of this and find out more about Sarah’s various activities and writings, and get a CD or download of our conversation, at or call 1-800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

Jim: Sarah, let’s pick up where we left off a moment ago. How do we set ourselves up as a parent to do this well. Because you’re outgoing. I could see that. I mean it fits your personality and I can see why you’ve written a book on this and the outcomes are good. But what about the mom that may be more introverted...

John: Hmm.

Jim: ...Doesn’t follow the same pattern personalitywise as you do.

Sarah: Yeah.

Jim: How do we set people up for success?

Sarah: Well, I think there’s a couple of things we can do to make this easier ‘cause we don’t need to make this harder than it already is, right? One of them is to use audio books. So sometimes I hear parents say they feel like audio books or audio dramatizations are cheating or...

Jim: (Laughter).

Sarah: ...Because it’s easy and enjoyable to pop a story in on - in the car and listen to it. But what we’re really going for are a couple of things. We’re going for grammatically-correct, sophisticated-language patterns coming in through the ear. That’s where the academic benefits come from...

Jim: Hmm.

Sarah: ...In reading. And we’re also going for the shared experience of having lived through a story with our kids...

John: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: ...Or shared a story with our kids. Now, if we’re listening to a story in the car, say on a road trip or on your way to church or basketball practice, then you get both of those things. You get the grammatically-correct, sophisticated-language patterns and you get the connection of sharing a story without you having to do the reading. So if anyone listening is thinking, “I want this, but I’m not sure about me doing the reading myself,” you can use audio books where there’s amazing, you know, narrators who are doing a really good job. And they make it easier for you.

Jim: Now, that’s a good thing but also stretch yourself a little. Don’t underestimate being able to have inflection...

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: ...And creativity in your voice. It helps you too, right?

Sarah: It does. And one of the things that is really - has really helped me and my husband, who’s a little bit less extroverted than I am...


Sarah: ...When he’s reading, is if you just slow down or speed up, that can have an amazing difference in the reading itself. So if you are thinking, “I don’t want to do character voices,” you don’t have to do character voices. But try to read some characters a little faster and some characters a little slower, and you might be surprised at how much depth that offers to...

Jim: That’s amazing. That’s great - a little advice there. Creating a book club or reading group within the family - that’s kind of fun, too. Focus - we have a lot of read-along books based on Adventures and Odyssey and other things, too - Radio Theatre, all those dramatizations of C.S. Lewis and others. Uh, it’s good stuff.

Sarah: It is good stuff. So when we talk about creating a book club culture in our home, the thing that - it just really came to light for me not too long ago - was I realized that when I go to a book club meeting with my girlfriends, let’s say, and I walk in, what happens - nobody hands me a quiz and says, “I want you to take this quiz to make sure that you - we want to make sure that you read the book, that you actually understood the book.” Nobody gives - asks me to write a five-paragraph essay, right?

Jim: Right. It’s not a test.

Sarah: It’s not a test. It’s not like my English class as I was growing up in school.

Jim: See, I knew you had some of those.


John: (Unintelligible).

Sarah: What happens in...


Jim: Yeah, right. Well, presumably.

Sarah: What happens instead at my adult book clubs is that we get together, and we enjoy, you know, food and drink and good conversation and each other. And we get to know each other a little better through the experience of the book. What if we took that idea of a book club culture and we - and that’s how we interacted with books with our kids. And so if we made it more delight-based - if we wanted to talk with our kids about the books that they’re reading or that we’re reading together as a way to just open up a good conversation and not as a quiz...

Jim: Yeah.

Sarah: ...That could have a big impact, I think.

Jim: Let me ask you probably the hardest question. Because in this culture today, we’re set free as parents because of screens and technology.

John: Hmm.

Jim: And I don’t mean that in a positive way. But it’s such an easy thing to let your kids watch videos and kind of veg out while you get all the things done on your to-do list. Uh, speak to that because when you’re talking about reading aloud to your children, it does take time, but it also is more productive time. It’s better time, I think. My wife’s even more so this way, but we’re not big on screen time for kids. We think it’s less productive.

Sarah: Yeah, there’s a couple of things going on there. I think one is that you’ll never regret the time you spend reading with your kids.

Jim: That’s right.

Sarah: You very well may regret the time you spend letting your kids, you know, mindlessly stare at their screens, or that you do it yourself. And I’m raising my hand here. I’m not pointing fingers for sure.

Jim: Yeah, we do it, too.

Sarah: Yeah. Um, one of the things that’s been really interesting to think about is that your kids probably won’t choose reading or choose read-aloud time if screens are also an option at the same time. I know that myself - I see myself as a reader. I want to read a lot. I set reading goals - things like that, right? I go to bed. I might bring my iPhone with me. I say to myself, “I’m just setting the alarm. That’s all.”

Jim: Right. But one more email.


Sarah: Yeah, exactly. Well, right.

Jim: One more text.

Sarah: So I set my alarm, and I get into bed. And I read a paragraph of my book, and I think, “Oh, I was going to check that one thing - just one thing.” And, you know, half an hour later...

John: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: ...I’m still scrolling on my phone. Well, I think, “Goodness, I am a grown woman who wants to be a reader and still has to sort of fight that siren song of my phone. How much more temptation must our kids be experiencing?”

John: Yeah.

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: And so what we need to do is not necessarily take away screens - we don’t need to swing the pendulum that far - but offer our kids some pockets of time in the day where screens are not an option...

John: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: ...Because what it does is it takes away that stress of their fear of missing out. It takes away the stress of making the choice. And we say, “We’re going to make a choice for you.” So in my house, for example, our kids - we send them up to bed. And they can stay up for another half an hour or an hour if they want to read, but they can’t do anything else.

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: Oh, that’s good.

Sarah: Yeah. So then they don’t have the - it’s not that stressful choice of, “Do I want to play on my video game, or do I want to read?”

Jim: Yeah, they have one choice.

Sarah: Right.

Jim: I like that. That’s really good. You mentioned in your book the five keys of conversation. Let’s just hit a couple of those. How do we entice the conversation? You know, having two teenage boys, it’s kind of like, “How was school today?” “Good.”


Sarah: Yeah. Exactly.

Jim: “How was dinner?” “Great.”

Sarah: (Laughter) Yeah.

Jim: “How was whatever?” It’s always a one-word answer. I - you know, you’re going, “Can you give me a sentence?”

Sarah: Yeah. If you ask your child, “Did you like the book?” They will always give you a...

Jim: Yes.

Sarah: ...Yep or a nope.

Jim: (Laughter).

Sarah: Or if it’s your son, he might grunt. One or the other, right?

Jim: Hmm.

Sarah: Yeah. What I think really, really helps is if we... need to somehow convince our children we’re not looking for a right answer...

Jim: Hmm.

Sarah: ...Because then it’s not an invitation

Jim: Oh, and they’re not intimidated.

Sarah: ...For a conversation. Right.

Jim: Now, that’s really good.

Sarah: I mean, if my husband was to ask me a question that I knew there was a right - he was, like, quizzing me, that’s not an invitation to have a good conversation, right? If he asked me a question about a movie we watched, say, together, and he’s just asking about what happened at a certain time in the movie. And I’m thinking. “I’m going to get it wrong,” that doesn’t feel good. But if he’s going to ask me a question that invites me in a conversation with him about the story we just experienced together, now that’s different. So if we can go into those conversations with our kids, extending an invitation - and I think the best way to do this is just to ask an open-ended question that doesn’t have a right or wrong answer. So a good example of this would be, “Who do you think is the most blank in this story?” And you can fill that blank with any character trait. “So who do you think is the most courageous in this story?” Because then when your child gives an answer - let’s just go back to The Wizard Of Oz for example - who is the most courageous? If somebody says Dorothy, you can say, “Well, what did she do that was - that made her so courageous?”

Jim: Yeah. It extends the conversation.

John: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: It extends it. It gives them an opportunity to go back to the book and explain something. And it also - there’s no fear of getting the right answer because maybe she is, maybe she isn’t. Maybe the Tin Woodman...

John: Yeah.

Sarah: ...Was the most courageous. Maybe the Lion was, right?

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: That’s so true. At the end here, I want to get some recommendations - age-appropriate recommendations.

Sarah: Oh, fun (laughter).

Jim: Yeah, this is always fun. This is kind of like Plugged In, our movie review.

Sarah: Yeah.

Jim: But we’re going to do it with you for books for...

Sarah: Awesome.

Jim: ...Appropriate ages. So 0 to 3, what kind of books would you read aloud to these kids?

Sarah: Yeah. You want to look for books that are repetitive because 0 to 3’s love repetition. And another thing to keep in mind is it is sometimes preferable to have just a few favorite books at that age than it is to have a huge stack of never-ending board books or whatever. So one of the books that I really love for 0 to 3’s is - well, anything by Sandra Boynton is really fun - The Going To Bed BookThe Giant Jumperee is a fantastic book by Helen Oxenbury and Julia Donaldson. It’s newer, but it’s one of those books I’m pretty sure is going to be a classic. Basically, you want a book that has not very much text but invites your 0 to 3-year-old into a story. The biggest thing we want to remember for 0 to 3’s is that we want them to connect books with warm family memories.

Jim: Huh.

Sarah: So it’s not that important if you’re not reading every single book on every single page. It’s important that your child learns that books equal delight.

Jim: Yeah, that’s good. Four to 7?

John: Hmm.

Sarah: Four to 7’s - that’s really fun. There are a gazillion picture books that are so wonderful. My very favorites are the Strega Nona books by Tomie dePaola. Tomie dePaola has written some...

John: Oh, what an artist.

Sarah: I know - just amazing, right? He’s got that kind of art where you can - you know it’s his before you see his name...

Jim: Huh.

Sarah: ...Because it’s so iconic. Also Chris Van Dusen has written some really funny rhyming picture books. One of my favorites is The Circus Ship, and his artwork really adds to the story. So you feel like you can read the book, but you can stare at those pictures a little longer than necessary. I think the most important thing with 4 to 7’s is to remember that teaching our kids to read for themselves is not actually more important than continuing to read aloud. So we don’t want to value teaching them the skill of reading over continuing to read aloud.

Jim: Now, one of the things - this is not a reading example, but one of the things we would do at the dinner table when our boys were young - we did rhyming games. “Give me all the words you can come up with dime.”

Sarah: Oh, yeah.

Jim: There’s quite a few. Dime’s a great word.

Sarah: Yeah.

Jim: But then, also, we would put sentences together. We’d each start a story.

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: “Once upon a time, there was a bear,” (laughter) and then you’d pass it to the next person.

John: Yeah.

Jim: And we’d go around the table and create our own story. That’s kind of fun, too.

Sarah: That is really fun.

Jim: (Laughter).

Sarah: And, again, it ties stories to delight and...

Jim: Right.

Sarah: ...Humor and enjoyment, right?

Jim: Oh, we had so much fun - laughter, the whole bit.

Sarah: Yeah.

Jim: So that - 0 to 3, 4 to 7 - we’ll even post these, John, on the website.

John: Good idea.

Jim: So people - if they’re driving, they don’t have to worry about writing it down. Eight to 12, what would you recommend?

Sarah: Yeah. This is secretly or not so secretly my favorite age group to read aloud with (laughter).

Jim: Why? What do they exhibit that you like?

Sarah: I think the stories written for 8 to 12 year olds are some of the most tran... they’re the kind of books that a lot of us will look back on when we think, “What turned me...”

Jim: Formed you.

Sarah: “...Into a reader?” Yes.

Jim: Yes. I got it.

Sarah: Exactly.

Jim: Yeah.

Sarah: What story shaped you most as a child? They’re oftentimes books in this age group - you know, pointed at this age group. It’s also the age when most of us stop reading to our kids because they’re reading on their own. So it’s like - it’s an inflection point kind of. It’s a really important time to continue reading with them. Um, some of my absolute favorites are those written by E.B. White, which we know of as Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. But my very favorite of his is The Trumpet Of The Swan. Probably one of the most influential children’s book writers of his time.

Jim: OK, we’ve thrown you all the softballs. Here comes the fastball.

Sarah: Yeah.

Jim: Teens.

Sarah: Oh, teens.

Jim: I mean, what do we do with these guys that are, you know...

Sarah: Yes.

Jim: They’re reading by themselves.

Sarah: Yes.

Jim: They’re reading a lot of homework.

Sarah: Yes.

Jim: How do we keep them engaged with pleasure reading?

Sarah: OK, the first thing is to - you can’t just sit your teen down and start reading aloud...

Jim: Put a timer on.

Sarah: ...To them - yeah...


Sarah: ...Exactly. They’ll feel like you’ve made them into a project, which no teen is going to respond...

Jim: No.

Sarah: ...Well to, right? So a really good ways is to, again, go back to those audiobooks. Pop an audiobook in the car, something like The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, or The Hobbit or The Fellowship Of The Ring, something where your - your teen will have a hard time not listening...

Jim: Right.

Sarah: ...And not getting wrapped up in it, but they don’t feel like it’s aimed at them. It’s just like a family experience. One of the things I have found with reading with my teens to be just amazing is that these stories offer us a way to talk about things that are happening in our culture, in the world, in the news, in a way that feels safe and comfortable to talk about and opens up - it’s almost like a gateway to some really good conversations, where we can talk about these things that feel very relevant and hard to talk about, maybe those topics I don’t really want to bring up, but I know that we should talk about. The stories oftentimes lend themselves well to those conversations.

Jim: That is great. I’m going to take your advice.


Jim: Sarah, this has been so much fun, and what a wonderful reminder of reading aloud to your children - the importance of it and the benefits, which are there. Um, it’s been terrific having you with us. Thanks so much.

Sarah: Thank you so much for having me.


Jim: You know, let me turn to the listener. If you’ve been inspired by what Sarah is sharing, uh, you’re gonna want to get a copy of The Read-Aloud Family book. It’s full of practical ideas, an extensive reading list, uh, recommendations for every age and stage of your child’s development.

And, um, I want to ask you, if you can support Focus with a gift of any amount, we’ll send that along as our way of saying thank you. And let me remind you that when you purchase something through “Focus on the Family,” all the proceeds go to helping mend a marriage, helping save a baby’s life. I mean, there’s so many good things that those resources go toward, and, uh, we are hopeful that you’ll support Focus by getting a copy of Sarah’s book that way. And, uh, together we’ll do ministry along with a great teaching and - and learning environment.

John: Mm-hmm. Yeah, donate and get your copy of The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie at Or you can call 1-800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

Let me note, uh, Jim, you had an opportunity to talk to Karen and Charlotte Pence. Now, that’s the wife and daughter of Vice President of the U.S. Mike Pence. And it was related to this topic.

Jim: It was. Karen and Charlotte collaborated on an illustrated and wonderful children’s book called Marlon Bundo’s Day In The Life Of The Vice President. And, John, uh, this book is written from the perspective of their pet bunny. I think they refer to him as BOTUS - Bunny of the United States...

John: Of the United States (laughter).

Jim: ...Which is funny. But it’s a view from the bunny’s perspective about living on the vice presidential campus and the Secret Service and kind of the day in the life of a vice president. It’s really clever. And we had a - a quick conversation - uh, not enough to do a full program. But if you’d like to hear that conversation, go online. Uh, we have a copy of that there. And it’s a great resource - kind of Sarah what you’re talking about - you know, the - the bunny story. It’s so much fun.

John: Yeah. Again, the website is And I hope you’ll join us next time - tomorrow - for an inspiring message. We’re going to hear from two lifelong friends who took a 500-mile journey together, and one of them is in a wheelchair.


Patrick Gray: Justin’s in a battle that’s so different than what I saw. And he just needs me to step in and be hands and feet, not pray for healing. I get the privilege to be the hands and feet that I want him to have back.

Jim: Wow.

Patrick: Alright, God. (Heavy sigh) I’m in.

End of Excerpt


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Sarah Mackenzie

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Sarah Mackenzie is the author of The Read-Aloud Family: Make Meaningful Connections With Your Kids and Teaching From Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakable Peace. On the immensely popular Read-Aloud Revival podcast, she helps families all over the world make meaningful and lasting connections with their kids through books. Sarah resides in the Northwest with her husband, Andrew, and their six kids, where she loves to make sure they are well-stocked in the best books she can find. Connect with Sarah at