Why re-read? This is a question we get a lot at RAR, and I’m not going to beat around the bush…
…I’m convinced there is a lot to gain from rereading. Today, I’m going to tell you why.
If you have a child who re-reads the same book over and over, we’re going to talk about it.
And if you or someone you love has recently read the same picture book to a little one every night for months, I’ve got some good news for you.
What we’re about to tackle:
- why re-reading may just be the very best kind of reading
- what’s to gain from re-reading?
- how our kids benefit from revisiting their favorite books (and the rewards are huge!)
If you’d like to listen to this as a podcast episode, click the play button below. Or you can read the whole essay by scrolling down.
Use the time stamps below to skip to any part of the podcast:
|1:45||How often do you rewatch your favorite movie?|
|4:37||Knowledge and vocabulary|
|7:57||Reading for plot|
|11:20||How we change|
|14:30||Kate DiCamillo and Charlotte’s Web|
|15:59||A challenge for you|
|17:04||How to log re-reading|
|18:58||Let the kids speak|
What’s the deal with re-reading?
Consider: how often do you re-watch your favorite movie or re-listen to a favorite album, a favorite song?
I asked this question on Facebook, and the responses surprised me. “10 times” was one of the lower responses. And I could not believe how many people said “over 100 times”.
Nobody even thought it was a weird question.
We expect to revisit our favorite stories again and again.
So what’s the deal with revisiting our favorite stories, movies, songs, and books?
There’s more here than meets the eye, so let’s dig in.
Reward #1: Books become lifelong companions
I bet we can all agree on this: we want books to become some of our children’s lifelong companions.
I want my kids to see the Laura Ingalls Wilder books or The Chronicles of Narnia or S.D. Smith’s Green Ember books on a bookshelf 20 years from now and feel like they’re bumping into old friends.
I want them to remember who they are and remember where they came from when they see those book covers.
But friendship isn’t instantaneous. Friendship takes time.
You wouldn’t feel like someone you had a single conversation with at a coffee shop was one of your closest friends or life companions, right?
Relationships with books and with book characters take time as well.
If we want books to become our children’s lifelong companions, then they need to spend some quality time with those characters and those stories.
They do that by re-reading.
Reward #2: Better retention of knowledge & vocabulary
A recent study found that children are more likely to retain knowledge of new vocabulary if they’re exposed to words through repeatedly reading the same book than if they’re encountering those new words in different books.
New knowledge and better vocabulary are two academic gains all kids get from reading, even on a first-go-round.
Re-read that book, and the retention of vocabulary goes up.
This is really good news for anyone with kids who like the same book to be read over and over and over again.
Pro Tip: Generally speaking, you’ll find the best, most beautiful language in picture books.
Picture books tend to be crammed with beautiful language (yes, even more than novels), so when in doubt, grab a picture book and read it as many times as your kids will listen!
Reward #3: Improved fluency & comprehension
What we really mean by fluency is this: how accurately your child can read a text with the correct expression while also understanding what he/she is reading.
This is probably obvious, but the more often you read a picture book, the better you get at reading aloud that picture book.
You know this is true. If you’ve read a picture book a number of times, you know where to slow down, where to speed up, where to pause. It’s familiar territory.
It’s like walking a well-worn path instead of blazing a new trail.
The same is true when our kids are reading for themselves.
Let’s say your child wants to re-read Charlotte’s Web over and over (in which case I’d point out that your child has excellent taste 😉)…
…even if he’ reading it silently to himself, he’s gaining fluency each time he reads it. The way the language sits, the way it works, how it hangs together… it’s all syncing up in your child’s brain. Your child is become a more fluent reader.
Re-reading puts fluency on jet fuel. Your child makes tremendous gains in fluency by reading favorite books over and over.
Reward #4: Reading past the plot
The first time we read through a book, most of us are reading for plot. Our brains want to know the answer to the question, “What happens next?”
It’s just how we’re wired.
On the second, third, or 30th reading of a book, however, our brain is free to ask deeper, more layered questions.
We know what happens next, so now we’re catching beautiful turns of phrase. We’re seeing a hint of foreshadowing.
We’re noticing these subtle nuances that are only gifted to re-readers.
There are questions that don’t surface for us when we’re reading for plot. They only surface once the question of “what happens next?” has been answered.
How do we get there?
You got it. Re-reading.
Reward #5: It’s a whole different book because you’re a whole different person
Not only are our brains wired to ask a different set of questions (and pick up on deeper nuances) with a re-read, but we’re different than we were the first time through.
You never read the same book twice.
We’re different people every time we come to a book. That’s why we can read Little Women as a 13-year-old girl and then read it as a 35-year-old woman and somehow it feels completely new and fresh.
As a 13-year-old girl, we probably weren’t identifying much with Marmee. It was all Jo, all the time. As a grown woman, I still identify with Jo, but I have a different kind of respect and attention to Marmee.
I’m a mother now, so I’m reading from a different lens.
I’m a different person, so we come to the book with different experiences.
As years pass, we gain a slew of life experiences, and we bring those experiences into our reading every time we open a book.
The same thing is true for your kids. Every time they re-read that old favorite, they’re having a new experience.
They are coming to the page as a different person than they were last time (even if it was only last week!).
The first encounter is never a complete encounter.
In The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, Alan Jacobs writes, “A first encounter with the worthwhile book is never a complete encounter and we’re usually in error to make it a final one.”
If we go in to a reading experience understanding that we don’t have to get everything on the first go-round, we’re then free to enjoy that first encounter for what it is: a first encounter.
We are free to get caught up in the plot, without worrying that we’re missing out on deeper shades of meaning, on important themes, on poignant turns of language.
The first time you’re blazing the trail, it’s going to be a different experience than when you’re walking it as a well-worn path.
Don’t just take my word for it…
C.S. Lewis wrote in a letter to Arthur Greeves, “I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.”
Over 10 years, he read parts of that book every single night before bed.
He doesn’t know why. He can’t pinpoint exactly what it was about that book that was so important to him. But clearly it was.
Kate DiCamillo, who has won multiple Newbery Medals and is one of today’s most celebrated middle grade authors, reads Charlotte’s Web pretty much every year. She says she finds something new there every time.
And I recently read that Robert Frost, the poet who wrote Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening taught his children to re-read the books they loved most of all.
Which takes us right back to that idea from C.S. Lewis of not being able to imagine somebody really enjoying a book and reading it only once.
My challenge to you:
Re-read something this month.
There aren’t any rules here. Just pick something you enjoyed before and re-read it.
See what happens.
A first read is a wonderful experience, indeed. But a second, third, or tenth time through offers riches that cannot be found any other way.
Books mentioned during this episode:
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You’ll also enjoy:
- Why Your Kids Love Graphic Novels (and which we like best!)
- S.D. Smith Live
- How to Create a Book Club Culture at Home
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