Mem Fox on the importance of reading aloud to children

Mem Fox, Reading Magic. How your child can learn to read before school – and other read-aloud miracles. Illustrations by Judi Horacek

Published 2001 by Pan Macmillan Australia, 156p


Einstein once told the story of a woman who’d asked what she could do to make her son more intelligent. “Read him fairy stories”, he said. The woman, thinking that he was being light-hearted, laughed and said, “And when I’ve read him fairy stories, then what should I do?” Einstein replied, “Read him more fairy stories.”

Mem Fox is chatty and has a joyful tone in Reading Magic, a small book to be read in a few hours by all those that want to be reassured about the importance of reading to children, about the emotional, intellectual and educational impact books have on readers. Not too academic, not too didactic Reading Magic is like a face to face conversation with the author, a dialogue that enriches our skills as parents, educators or readers.


Fox often uses her daughter, Chloë, as an example, demonstrating the connections reading can establish between an adult and a child and the strategies that can be used to turn reading into an interesting experience for children.

Engaging in this kind of conspiracy with children is perhaps the greatest benefit of reading aloud to them. We share the words and pictures, the ideas and viewpoints, the rhythms and rhymes, the pain and comfort, and the hopes and fears and big issues of life that we encounter together in the pages of a book.

By reading to them we can change children’s lives. The talking, singing and reading are signs of our love and help for the little ones. When is the best time to start reading aloud to a baby? The day it is born. Soon they will develop important skills as listening, relaxing, and concentrating. We are parents, not teachers for our children, so our mission is to transmit comfort and confidence, to entertain them by beautiful stories and to help them learn to read.

Before long they begin to understand the look of the print, the way words work in sentences, and how the world works – why this happen, and that happens – and how it all comes together to mean something. In other words they learn to read. No wonder experts tell us that children need to hear a thousand stories read aloud before they begin to learn to read for themselves.


Experts tell us that many young criminals who have never been exposed to the cause-and-effect elements that abound in stories – particularly fairy tales – literally cannot imagine the consequences of their crimes. To correct this, some rehabilitation programs actually include reading stories aloud to young offenders.

Reading aloud implies using our whole body, not only our voice. Expressive inflections and intonations, small gestures and a suitable mimic create emotions and unique moments for the listeners.

Reading is challenging at every age but nothing compares to the stories we discover, the emotions we experience and the meaning we bring to our lives.


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