Reading for Pleasure Is an Academic Essential!

Tracye Strichik is the Director of the Alabama Reading Initiative. Cathy Gassenheimer directs the Alabama Best Practices Center.

By Tracye Strichik and Cathy Gassenheimer

This infographic from the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) arrived in both our inboxes on the same day recently. And we both had same reaction: acknowledgment and heartbreak.

Being avid readers ourselves, it saddens us to see in the research from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) that only a small majority of students in America enjoy reading for pleasure.

Tracye: My own children loved having teachers who read aloud to them. My daughter remembers a substitute teacher reading aloud Frindle by Andrew Clements. She couldn’t wait to get to school and find out from Ms. Plasket what was going to happen next. My son would sit on the front row in fourth grade so that he could hear every word of the read aloud that Mrs. Harp shared with the class after lunch.

In our home books were passed around, traded and discussed at the dinner table. As adults, my children enjoy writing and are very good at it. I know it is because they spent hours reading for pleasure and that those books provided models, suggestions and inspiration for personal writing.

Cathy: I remember my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Bynum, read to us every day after lunch. She read Charlotte’s Web, A Wrinkle in Time, and Laura Ingalls Wilder books. We couldn’t wait for reading time each day. In the summer, my grandmother would take me to the library so I could check out as many books as I could carry. Books took me to places that I had never been before and filled my mind with dreams and possibilities!

We want to instill the same love and joy of reading in every Alabama student. And what better time to do so than when we are in the midst of a pandemic and children need even more direct access to engaging learning materials.

Reading for Pleasure Is Not Just for Fun

Reading for pleasure is not just a way to pass the time. The more one reads, the better s/he becomes at learning! In fact, the British Cohort Study (BCS) found that children who read for enjoyment not only become better readers, they also improve their learning across the curriculum. And, if students make reading for fun a habit, their vocabulary grows. In fact the British study found that when children begin reading for pleasure it can have more impact on their intellectual growth than socioeconomic status.

Additionally, regular readers tend to be more empathetic and flexible. Access to stories about different counties, people, and situations provide them with a window on the world and can expand their social and emotional perspectives. Reading strengthens oral language and speaking skills, and helps students look for and understand different points of view. (Source)

Tracye: The goal of the Alabama Reading Initiative is to significantly improve reading instruction and ultimately achieve 100% literacy among students. Job embedded professional development is provided through coaching. Coaches support k-3 teachers and empower them with the content knowledge, skills, and strategies necessary to be successful with all students.

Cathy: We can see the powerful synergy here. Effective, research-based reading instruction works hand in hand with strategies that promote choice reading for pleasure and to satisfy our itch for stories and our curiosity about the world. It’s what I like to call the “yes, and…” approach to teaching and learning, at school and at home.

In response to America’s reading-for-pleasure gap revealed in the PISA research, we’re joining our voices together to encourage teachers and parents to help children, tweens and teens discover the joy of devoting time each day to reading just for fun. (They don’t even have to know it’s good for them!)

Here are some resources that can help. We’ll continue to expand this list and also encourage you to add some favorites of your own at this Google Doc.


Alabama Virtual Library (a vast collection of databases free to Alabama residents)

11 Places to Find Free Children’s Books Online (Book Riot)

The School Library Journal (a major K-12 resource for reviews and articles)

Best Books: Common Sense Media (ages 2-18)

A Year of Reading (K-6 reviews curated by two elementary teachers)

Donalyn Miller on Twitter (Author of The Book Whisperer)

YA and Children’s Literature written by African Americans (The Brown Bookshelf)

19 Global YA Novels for Your Class Library (International teacher Megan Kelly)

Caldecott Winners from 1930s to present

Newbery Award winners from 1922 to present

New York Times: Children’s Books

ALA Recommended Reading for Adolescents/Young Adults

Goodreads (The social media site for readers)

Free Children’s Books (Monkeypen)

The Alabama Family Guide for Student Reading Success: Kindergarten through Third Grade

A List of Alabama Public Libraries

Tracye Strichik was a primary grades teacher for 17 years, then worked in a variety of roles in the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education, including Senior Director. She was appointed Director of the Alabama Reading Initiative by the Alabama State Board of Education in July 2020. Tracye earned her PhD (Early Childhood Education and Teaching) at UA-Birmingham in 2016. She is also a National Board Certified Teacher and holds two degrees from Auburn University.

Cathy Gassenheimer is Executive Vice President of the Alabama Best Practices Center, a program of the A+ Education Partnership, and a prolific contributor to Goodreads.