We make time most school days to read loud. A friend recommended the blog Read Aloud Revival (completely worth your time), and after listening to even one podcast, I was hooked on the idea of reading aloud as a way to create bonds within families, to increase literacy among children, and to teach moral values in an organic manner.
Because we read aloud, we have stockpiled literary characters we all know and love. Our literary adventures have given birth to inside jokes and one-liners. Even the five-year-old references lessons from books we read long ago that are stored in the recesses of my mind but that are still very much alive in his.
When we read aloud together, it is almost as though we have gone on an adventure together as a family. It’s time spent together in about the most convenient, comfortable, economical and pleasurable way I can imagine!
Here is the list of what we read aloud in 2017. Given the fact that we rarely read aloud on weekends (for no good reason; we are just out of our routine) and allowing for sick days, laziness in summer, and days we simply didn’t fit it in, I would estimate that we operated at 35% of our full read-aloud potential. That being said, look at how much we plowed through!
One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received was along the lines of “If you want to be a mom who takes her kids outside, put down whatever you are doing and take your kids outside. You are now a mom who takes her kids outside.” The same is true of exercise, crafts, or read alouds. If reading aloud is something you want to start doing, go pick up a children’s book off of the floor–picture book or otherwise–and start reading aloud. Trust me, if you read it out loud, they will come. Even when it’s a picture book, the 8- and 9-year olds gather around. There is something magically enticing about hearing a story read aloud.
Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
Caddie is a feisty Civil-war-era girl who lives in the wilds of Wisconsin with her family. We had tried Little House on the Prairie a year ago as a read aloud, and no one got into it (an experiment I hope to retry soon). This book is heavy on action with endearing (and enduring!) characters. A great, great read. My kids aged 9 to 4 (at the time) would name it the best book of the year!
Caddie Woodlawn’s Family by Carol Ryrie Brink and Marguerite Davis
As soon as Caddie Woodlawn was finished, my kids begged for another one. Looking around, I discovered this sequel. It isn’t quite as good as the first, but it was still a good read and filled our hearts that were begging for more time with Caddie Woodlawn and her family.
A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond
These are adorable stories about the talking bear from “Darkest Peru.” My children found the first Paddington movie to be too frightening. In these stories, unlike the movie, there is no villain–just a lot of mischief and unintended consequences. This book is a lot of fun.
Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
This is a lovely, spare book about life on the prairie, the loss of a mother, and a new family in the making. Heart-wrenching without being sentimental, the storyline of this book will stay with you–and it comes out all right in the end, too.
The Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo
At first the illustrations to this series and the premise of a doted-upon pig living in a house were jarring to me. Once I began to appreciate the retro style, however, I find both the illustrations and the books to be hilarious. My 3, 5, and 7 year olds can’t get enough of them!
How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
I remember reading this book as a child and really enjoying it. This book, like so many books I read in my childhood that had been penned in the ’70s, failed to live up to memory. Perhaps some parts of it went over my head back then. It’s a decent read, but nothing that I would particularly recommend. I had to edit some parts of it as I was reading aloud.
The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
This book is about school cliques and bullying. Told from the perspective of one of the less mean-spirited girls in the clique rather than the girl who was ostracized, it touches on the pain of bullying without being overwhelming for a sensitive child. It has worthy reflections on “what I should have done” and the hidden person beyond appearances. A deep book, really, without being pedantic.
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
We read this book as part of my son’s book club. It is a fantastic book–but not one that is particularly well-suited to reading aloud to young children. Much of the book is wordplay so that the spelling needs to be seen–or at least read aloud to someone who will get the joke. However, put it on your booklist for older children because it is not only a great adventure story, but it is also a delightful, whimsical, and thought-provoking book that not only forces you to think about how we use language but also about how we live our lives. A fellow mom and I both agreed that it changed our perspectives! 4th grade and up.
Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
This book was remarkable in its day as the first that featured magical realism–that is, magic that happens in every day life as opposed to magic that is embedded in another world unlike our own. Four children (the fifth is a baby) come across a wish-giving sand fairy and find that asking for wishes that work out as anticipated is a difficult thing indeed. A classic book for a reason and beloved by our family.
The Amelia Bedelia series by Peggy Parish
Does it get any better than the literal Amelia Bedelia? This is one series from my childhood that absolutely lives up to its memory. All of the children from 3 to 9 love these books, and we have a blast following one another’s instructions in Amelia-Bedelia style (such as “Time to hit the road, kids!” “All right, mom, I’ll get the stick”). Do not get the newer books that feature Amelia Bedelia as a child; stick with the original Peggy Parish books.
The Little Bear series by Else Holmelund Minarik
What lovely books for the young child or the emerging reader! Even I can’t get enough of Little Bear. Simple stories told well.
The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden
This is a perfectly charming book about the friendship of three animals, the value of place, and music. You won’t regret reading it, and you might even shed a tear at the end like I did.
Stuart Little by E.B. White
We love E.B. White–but we didn’t love this book. Despite a couple of amusing chapters, the book’s ambiguous ending, the main character’s utter disregard for his parents, and its tired ’70s trope of “finding yourself” wore thin even with the children. Stuart Little was not particularly likeable, and the book seemed to have no point. A flop with us.
The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
Here’s an E.B. White book that we DID enjoy. While there is a small amount of the old “irrelevant parent” trope, the themes of overcoming obstacles, the value of all life, and the eloquent descriptions of nature trump it. The talkative and vain Old Cob, while rather annoying at first, ended up being our favorite character, and we now love to talk in Old Cob style. We found the resolution at the end to be less than satisfactory, but it afforded good discussion.
From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
This is another title I dredged up from my childhood library. The premise is so engaging–run-away children make their home in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art–but their disregard for their parents is dismaying. It read better when I envisioned myself in the place of the child than it does now when I picture myself as the adult. Even so, it gave good fodder for discussion and has a little mystery thrown in.
The Bravest Dog Ever: the True Story of Balto by Natalie Standiford
The true story of a dog who led his sled team through a blizzard to get medicine to sick children in a remote part of Alaska. It is suspenseful without being scary. Good for emerging readers to read alone, but we all enjoyed the story read aloud as well.
The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh
This book, says the epilogue, is based on the true story of a young girl who stayed with Native Americans while her father left to get the rest of the family. It is a memorable book and showcases the deep wells of courage found in children while at the same time not villianizing the adults. Highly recommended. “Keep up your courage” is now a tag-line at our house.
Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
This book was a step into more mature material for my children. The mother in the book has willingly abandoned her husband and her daughter. Until this book, my children had never fathomed that such a thing could occur. The writing, as is always the case with DiCamillo, is so spectacular, though, and she handles the subject so sensitively that I would highly recommend this book for all but the most sensitive of children (and my children are quite sensitive!). Great characters and a satisfying reconciliation between the hurting daughter and father. Ages 6+.
The Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series by Betty Macdonald
The original Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books can’t be beat. Her creative ways to deal with the typical misbehaviors of children are not only wise but rollicking. While the first books generally utilize natural consequences (though the reader must suspend disbelief), later books often use “magic powder” to solve the situation. While my children still love those, I personally prefer the earliest books of the series and never tire of reading them! Children 3 and up love them.
All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
This is a simple book about a large Jewish family and their everyday life. It is so innocent that there is even a chapter on mother finding a way to teach her daughters to dust the house better via hiding buttons around the room–and my kids ate it up. It has a somewhat unbelievable, though satisfying conclusion. My children (3 to 9 years old) would rank this as one of the best of the year.
Half Magic by Edward Eager
The author wrote this book in the manner of E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It and even references that book in the text! Four children find a magic coin and discover that their wishes come true only by half as much. It’s fun, has a great ending, and relatable characters.
Frindle by Andrew Clements
What a hilarious book about the power of words! This book features an intelligent and somewhat mischievous protagonist who renames a pen a “frindle.” The character, however, is not malicious and is respectful both of his parents and toward school authorities–a welcome reprieve from the usual theme of “adults are stupid.” It was thoroughly entertaining and had the kids (5 and up) begging for more.
We read aloud many, many more picture books than are listed here. The ones below are especially worth highlighting, though! They brought us joy (or brought us to tears) and are all now beloved friends.
Boxes for Katje by Candace Fleming
Get your Kleenex ready before you sit down! This is a picture book that is memorable. It can be understood by children at least 5 and older, but the emotional impact will hit the older children (7 and up). It is the story of two little girls, one of whom is in post-war Europe, and their connection across the sea.
It Could Always be Worse: A Yiddish folk tale by Margot Zemach
This is one of those books that we quote all of the time: “It could always be worse!” my kids will chortle no matter our circumstance. It’s an entertaining book about being grateful for how good you really have it.
The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman
This book, about seven children with strong culinary preferences and a mother who caters to them, gently shows children the absurdity of both the children and the mom. I love that the family has more than 2.5 kids, and in the end, a solution is found that is reasonable. It’s just a lot of fun and has great rhymes!
The Mary Celeste: an Unsolved Mystery from History by Jane Yolen
This is a picture book for older children, about 7 and up. It is the true story of a missing ship. My children enjoyed reading the facts and coming up with their own theories as to what happened. For one of my children in particular, the fact that we don’t “know” for sure what happened was a little unsettling, but I think it is a good introduction to being comfortable with mystery.
Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day
This book is nearly wordless, but it makes a big impact. We continue to fabricate situations that star the inimitable Carl the Dog. The illustrations are gorgeous to boot.
Perfect Christmas: a Carol of Calm in the Midst of a Mess by Gary Bower
Each year I think about which new Christmas book I would like to add to our collection. After checking out about 20 from our local library, this one is the winner. It is a universal story about the preparations for Christmas going wrong–and remembering that even so, it is a perfect Christmas. Maybe it’s because I read it when I was knee-deep in Christmas preparations, but it brought me to tears. It also has beautiful, painterly illustrations!
Corduroy by Don Freeman
Corduroy is beloved by all of my children, but was a particular favorite of my 3 year old daughter this year. “Cordur-bear,” as she calls him, is now a sleepmate with her in the form of a stuffed animal. I remember loving this book as a child, and I’m pleased my daughter does too!
Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child by Anthony Esolen
This book was a life-changer for me. I recommended it to a friend, and she concurs: this is a book we will want to read year after year. It is written in satire, as if we really want to destroy the imagination of our children, and it is a scathing cultural commentary on everything from our educational system to our predilection toward cutting down heroes by focusing on their faults. It’s convicting, enlightening, and inspiring–and it will change the way you parent!
(This post first appeared at www.inaplaceofgrace.com. Text (c) by Amanda Woodiel . Photo by Mystic Art Design  via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain.)