My husband and I are firm believers in reading out loud to our children- no matter how old they get. In fact, you might say that some of us (me! me! pick me!) are slightly fanatical about it.
In my defense, studies have shown that children who are read to have better attention spans, better grammar skills, and a larger vocabulary. All desirable qualities in small people. Plus, reading out loud to your children is also one of the best ways to insure that your child becomes a life long reader- which is a great skill, especially if they will be pursuing higher education someday.
If you need any more convincing, read for yourself in Jim Trealease’s book, The Read Aloud Handbook. The seventh edition just came out with even more studies and more information about this very topic. If you haven’t read his previous editions (or even if you have) you should definitely check it out. (What are you waiting for? Go! Go! Wait- go after you finish this post.)
Perhaps you are on board with the whole reading out loud idea, but you’re not sure what books to read out loud to your children? There are librarians and extremely qualified people out there who can give incredible advice on this subject. But since you are here, Gentle Reader, I will share with you some books that have worked for my family.
Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus (by Barbara Park) You haven’t really lived, as an adult, until you read about Junie B. Jones and then give thanks that she is not your child. The girl gets into that much hilarious trouble- all of which your child will love. The Junie B. books (yes, it’s a series) are perfect for younger children, just starting to develop the attention span necessary to read chapter books (4-6 years old.) The stories are funny and fast paced, the chapters are short, and there are several illustrations to go along with the reading- a very important attribute for those younger kids making the transition from picture books to chapter books. My family owns all but the latest Junie B. book and when my older children found out that the author, Barbara Park, passed away this week from ovarian cancer they mourned as if a family member had died.
Little House in the Big Woods (by Laura Ingalls Wilder) The people in my family are huge Little House fans, I make no apology. We even spent part of our Grand Expedition vacation this summer visiting the site of where she lived in South Dakota. This is largely due to the fact that I read this book and Little House on the Prairie to each of my children when they were in kindergarten and first grade. My son loved it just as much as my daughters- perhaps more. While the main character may be a girl, the book has stories about hunting, grizzly bears, butchering pigs, and making bullets: all boy worthy things. This is another book ideally suited for younger listeners. The chapters are a touch long, but the print is large and there are many wonderful illustrations to aid in telling the story.
James and the Giant Peach (Roald Dahl) Roald Dahl is a children’s literature genius. I have yet to run across a book of his that does not make a good read aloud. James is a lonely child, oppressed and abused by his wicked aunts. When he discovers a giant peach in his backyard, many delightful adventures begin. Larger than life characters and drawings make this an incredibly enjoyable book. Best read to first/second graders and up.
Charlotte’s Web (by E.B. White) This book is a timeless classic that will probably make you cry as you read it aloud. Read it anyway! It might make your kid cry (it did mine). Read it anyway! Kids need to know that the best literature touches us deeply and talks about hard things. And Charlotte’s Web is some of the best literature out there. While the book has won several awards (including a Newberry Honor medal), you should read it to your child because it is a beautiful story that teaches about friendship and love. And heaven knows the world needs more of that. I would suggest this book should be read to first graders/second graders or up. There are lovely illustrations sprinkled throughout the novel, but the vocabulary is slightly more elevated than my previous suggestions.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J. K. Rowling) Every child deserves to enter the magical world of Harry Potter. As does every adult. The first book (and even the second) is shorter in length and deals with easier issues than the rest of the series. For that reason I think it would be entirely reasonable to read this book out loud to children as young as first or second grade.
The Wind in the Willows (by Kenneth Grahame) I was surprised how much my children liked this classic book filled with whimsical animal characters and soft, gentle prose. I think the key is finding an edition with lots of lovely illustrations- they can really make the story come alive. My personal favorite is the volume illustrated by Inga Moore. It is filled with gorgeous pictures. Additionally, if you are skilled with voices, this is a great book to use them on. I would suggest reading this book to second graders or older.
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson (by Bette Bao Lord) Books can be great tools in helping children develop empathy for others. This novel is a great example of that. It tells the story of a young girl who immigrates from China to the United States after WWII. Based on her own experiences, the author deftly shares the, sometimes humorous, story of how little Shirley Temple Wong attempts to fit into American culture while keeping some of her Chinese traditions. Best read to second graders and older, I love this book not only for its spirit but also because it gave me a chance to discuss so many things with my children: the story of Jackie Robinson, traditional Chinese customs, and American pop culture during the 1940’s and ’50s. A lovely, lovely book.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (by Grace Lin) The best books teach children simple life lessons in an entertaining fashion without moralizing or beating them over the head. I’m pretty convinced Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, is one of the best books for that reason. Simply put, this novel is a Chinese Wizard of Oz. A young girl travels far from home searching for an answer to her problem. Along her journey she encounters many friends, gains companions, and faces a terrible enemy. Besides teaching that there is no place like home, this book explores subtle themes of gratitude and happiness. Magical and lovely, this book is a Newberry Honor winner. Best read to second graders and up.
The Great Brain (John D. Fitzgerald) Set during the early 1900’s in southern Utah, this book is a great book to read to children- especially boys, who sometimes struggle with a female protagonist or books that appear “girly.” The main character is a boy who tells the story of his adventures with his brother in a frontier town. It’s humorous and exciting historical fiction. Third graders and up would enjoy hearing you read this book.
Holes (by Louis Sachar) Frankly, this may be one of the best written children’s books of all time. Louis Sachar tells several stories in this novel that are all related to each other in the end. A fascinating plot, together with interesting characters and fast paced action, mixed with a little symbolism on the side- there’s a reason this book won the Newberry Medal in 1999. Additionally, this is a great book for boys, but girls love it too. I would suggest this to be read to third/fourth graders and higher.
Witch of Blackbird Pond (Elizabeth George Speare) Historical fiction is a great thing to read with your older children. Not only does it teach our kids history in action, rather than using facts from a dreary textbook, but it also gives us an opportunity to explore another time and place together. Witch of Blackbird Pond is a beautifully written story set in colonial America that follows a year in the life of a young woman as she navigates her way through religious intolerance, family loyalty, and the personal question of where she belongs. Plus, there’s just enough romance to satisfy an eleven year old girl without making her squirm. (Ideally suited to be read out loud to fourth/fifth graders or older.)
Island of the Blue Dolphins (Scott O’Dell) An incredible tale of survival and loneliness, Island of the Blue Dolphins can enthrall boys and girls alike. (If you have a son who is highly negative of all things girl-based, you might try reading the book Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen. Same type of survival story, set in more modern times.) Best to be read to fifth graders or older.
Chains (lauri Halse Anderson) There are just some topics all parents need to discuss with their children. Racism is one of them. This book is a gripping (and slightly graphic) account of a slave girl during the American Revolution. By reading this book with your older children (fifth grade or older) you will have an excellent chance to talk to your children about the difficult subjects of racism and slavery. Additionally, by showing our children the darker sides of our country’s history and talking about it with them, we are also showing them how a nation improves as its people improve- thereby teaching them to always be part of a solution and not the problem when facing modern day issues.
There you are Gentle Reader, a few ideas on what to read aloud to older children when they are ready for chapter books. While I did suggest certain age levels for each book, just know they are only that- suggestions. Your child may be ready for a certain book at an earlier or later age. And that is okay.
Now- let’s go read! On your mark, get set, GO!