Every year, over the past decade, I have attended a lecture series sponsored by Rutgers Center for Literacy, whose director, Dr. Lesley Morrow was one of my professors at the Graduate School of Education and now has become a valued friend. In June, I attended a presentation by Doug Fisher who spoke extensively about the value of surface-level learning in order to be able to deeply engage with texts. Throughout his presentation, Visible Learning for Literacy, Fisher expressed his strong belief in the power of rereading. He noted that many elementary teachers discourage children from reading books they’ve already read. When those readers mature, they hesitate to reread more difficult texts, which puts them at a disadvantage because rereading is a necessary part of understanding complex texts.
I must admit, I was one of those teachers who when a student asked permission to reread a favorite book – steered the student toward another book by the same author or on the same topic or in the same genre. Somehow, I had been convinced that rereading was synonymous with cheating – laziness – a waster of good reading time.
However, my own experience refutes this notion. As a young child, I remember listening to my other read aloud Old Mother West Wind by Thornton W. Burgess to me. Then as I became a read, I read those wonderful stories to myself over and over again. This spurred me to write my own Old Mother West Wind stories complete with colorful illustrations of all the animals I loved. And I also confess that when I was in 5th grade I would sneak upstairs to my bedroom and reread all my old Dr. Seuss books, delighting in the rhymes and nonsense words. I attribute my keen sense of fairness and support of the environment to The Sneetches and The Lorax! It is so true that everyone has stories which resonate for them and of which they never tire.
I was surprised one fall day, when talking about Peter Rabbit with a group of second graders, that most of them didn’t know who Peter Rabbit, Farmer McGregor, or Jemima Puddleduck was. I was utterly appalled. I explained the stories to them and they begged me to read the stories to them. I promptly went to our school library and lamented to our wonderful librarian, she nodded her head in sympathy, and concurred that most of the children did know the Beatrix Potter stories. Over the the next month, I read the adventures of Peter Rabbit to the second graders. I read to them, they read to each other, they reread the stories on their own and became thoroughly immersed in all things Peter Rabbit. One girls found a biography of Beatrix Potter and read that on her own. Rereading spurred on further investigation.
Over the years, I have been fortunate to tutor many 7th graders, which meant that I was given the opportunity to read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee no fewer than eight times so far in my lifetime! It has amazed me that with each rereading I’ve discovered something new in the text. There were many times when Harper Lee surprised me with a beautiful description or a subtle characterization, which I had missed during previous readings. With every return to the text, my understanding deepened and I became even more attached to text. I believe this is just what Louise Rosenblatt was talking about when she described how true understanding comes from readers transacting with the text (Literature as Exploration). Reading is a conversation between reader and author, and rereading allows the reader to continue the conversation and reflect on what is known and still unknown. So of course, Doug Fisher is correct – children should be encouraged to return to texts: read closely, discover new truth, and grow as readers! In our rush-about world, it is so important for teachers and students to linger a little longer with a good book.
Here are some of my favorite children books that warrant rereading:
- My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
- Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbitt
- Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
- The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
- Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne – Chapter 6: “In Which Eeyore has a Birthday and Gets Two Presents”
- Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
- Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Paterson
- The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
- Missing May by Cynthia Rylant
- When I was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant
- The Giver by Lois Lowry
- Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
- Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
- Wonder by R.J. Polacio