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Sound It Out

Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

The Rats of NIMH: THAT'S how people learn to read?

June 3, 2008

Our current family read aloud is the classic book, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. We've just gotten to the Toy Tinker chapter, so don't tell me what happens! The girls are dying to come home from school today and hear more; my husband pleaded that we wait until he gets home so he can listen too.

If you haven't read the book in 20 or 30 years (like me) you've probably forgotten how detailed it is, particularly in describing the research design of the experiments. There's a whole chapter on Group A, Group B, and the control group. Thankfully, Nicodemus ended up in Group A, which was definitely the group to be in! Among other things, the rats in Group A are taught to read:

"Then, after I had looked at the picture and recognized it, a shape flashed on the screen under it — a sort of half circle and two straight lines, not like anything I had seen before. Then the voice began:


It was Julie's voice, speaking very clearly, but it had a tinny sound — it was a record. After repeating "are" a dozen times or so, that particular shape disappeared and another one came on the screen, still under the picture of the rat. It was a triangle, with legs on it. And Julie's voice began again:


And so it goes. The chapter walks us though the repeated presentation of "are," "aiee," "tea," "R-A-T," and "rat." Then onto "cat" and "rats" until finally the rats are reading the signs all around the laboratory (which bodes well for them in the coming weeks).

Anna was transfixed during this chapter.

"Mama, THAT'S how people learn to read?" she asked.
"Yep, at least that's how some people learn to read," I answered.
"Sheesh! That's hard work." Anna said.

You got that right, girl.


Thanks for checking back in! I like the range of books you share with your kids. My nightstand is full right now while I try to figure out what to read to them next. Molly's pushing for the Wayside School one...we'll see! (and I'll let you know)

Just to follow up--we loved Inkheart. The kids were all ready to move on to the second in the series Inkspell, but we thought we needed a little break and picked up Ramona Quimby, Age 8 since our youngest is going through an "I'm going to talk like everything is a commercial" phase. A Necklace of Raindrops is one of my absolute favorites that seems to have made an impression on the boys as well. When camping this summer in a total downpour both commented that it was too bad we didn't have our own necklace to stop the rain!

Oh my gosh! I read the description of Inkheart on Amazon - it sounds like such an exciting story! Please write again to let me know how your family liked it. Another blog commenter recommended A Necklace of Raindrops, which we read and LOVED. It's a book of short stories, and the possibilities for visualization were endless. My girls are still talking about the title story.

I think it is wonderful that your entire family is enjoying this book! My boys loved it too when my husband read it to our family. Now they are enjoying Inkheart by Cornelia Funke which puts "bringing books to life" in a whole new light!

Thanks for the idea for a read aloud. I am going to pick it up for my grandsons. Do you think it is appropriate for ages four and seven? I have never read it before.

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"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." — Groucho Marx