I love reading aloud to my kids, and I plan to continue for as long as possible. Even big kids like hearing stories. (I taught eighth grade language arts, and the kids loved the chance to relax and hear a chapter at the beginning of each class period–and often they were inspired to read more by the same author. One of the teachers in my high school always read aloud at the beginning of his English classes, and students would flat-out run to make sure they weren’t late for his class.) At any rate, I’ve listed our read-alouds by the rough age of the kids when I read them and included any pertinent reflections.
Ages 3, 5, and 6 (PreK & K)
- Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, On the Banks of Plum Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake, Farmer Boy: The kids LOVED Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories. The first two books, in particular, are perfect for this age, since Laura herself is about 5-7 in those books and thus relates things that are interesting to kids of that age. By Plum Creek Laura’s thoughts and concerns were beginning to be more mature and relationship-oriented, and in Silver Lake she’s a young teen. Though the kids still enjoyed those books, I felt that they connected with her best and were most enchanted by the first two. Farmer Boy is another good one for young readers, though I didn’t find her storytelling as compelling in that one.
- My Father’s Dragon, Elmer and the Dragon – I simply adored My Father’s Dragon. I found it to be so delightfully and cleverly written, and my kids reveled in the creative problem-solving genius of Elmer Elevator, who’s a great kid protagonist. I wasn’t as enchanted with Elmer and the Dragon (and neither were my kids). It was okay, but not as engaging. On a side note, I’d thought perhaps my kids would read these on their own, but the only copies I’ve ever seen have rather cramped type that turned off both of my current readers, so I decided to read them aloud. I never did get around to the third one after being disappointed by the second one.
- The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh – Another big hit. This one features both the original book and The House at Pooh Corner. Honestly, some of the humor in here is at least as much for the adults as for the kids, but they were as enchanted as I was by the tone and the adventures. In fact, the little guy liked it so much that he pulled it out a year later and had me read him a chapter each night for several months, reading through the whole volume at least three times–and I still couldn’t make it through the description of Owl’s house falling down without dissolving into laughter.
- The Trumpet of the Swan – For whatever reason, this has always been my favorite of E.B. White’s books. While I enjoy Charlotte’s Web, it’s Louis the swan who stole my heart as a kid and still wins my top vote. I think the kids would agree. Mute Louis with his trumpet-playing prowess drew them in completely.
- All-of-a-Kind Family – At the beginning I was skeptical of how my kids would like this one. It’s on MENSA’s K-3 reading list, which is why I picked it up, and some on that list are a little outdated and not terribly engaging. After the first few pages, though, we were hooked. Both the kids and I were eager to find out what happened next to all the girls in this family. We read it while on a road trip, and they had me read until I was hoarse.
Ages 4, 6, and 7 (PreK, K, & 1st)
- Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH – This was another that I loved from the MENSA K-3 reading list…though I’d argue it’s probably thematically better for 3-5 than K-2. The kids enjoyed hearing about the mouse family and their intelligent rat friends, but I think they would get more out of this in a few years.
- Pippi Longstocking – Yet another MENSA read-aloud. My kids and I disagree about this one: they thought it was brilliantly hilarious, and I thought it was an obnoxious story about an ill-behaved, unsupervised child who somehow repeatedly failed to get what she truly had coming to her.
- Illustrated Stories from the Greek Myths – Since we were talking about the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures, I thought Greek myths would be fitting. My oldest was probably the most engaged–he picked up the book and read it again on his own. The other two liked it well enough but weren’t begging for more.
- Shiloh – I never would have read this one if it weren’t the last book left on the MENSA K-3 reading list. Why they thought this one was K-3 level is beyond me. I positively love the book, but I think the content is really more appropriate for kids around age 10. My kids were distressed by the cruelty to the dogs in the story and by the moral dilemma; I’ll pull it out again in a few years either as a read-aloud or individual reading, since I think the content of the book is worth revisiting when they have a bit more maturity.
- In Grandma’s Attic – This is the first in a series of books filled with stories told to the author by her grandmother, who lived in rural Michigan in the era of horses and hoop skirts. Each chapter is a stand-alone tale of some ridiculous scrape that Grandma got herself into as a child–often with a moral tacked on the end in the grandmother’s teaching tone. I loved the stories as a kid, and my kids enjoyed them. My daughter liked them best, requesting the second book be read to her as a bedtime read-aloud.
- The Wind in the Willows – I’ll be honest, I read this one because it’s a classic and I own a beautifully illustrated edition. I don’t really love the stories and never have, but I felt like my kids ought to have the context since Toad is an oft-alluded-to literary character. The kids thought it was okay but not amazing.
- The Borrowers – Much like The Littles (except without tails), this tale imagines a tiny human society existing alongside the one we know. Though it wasn’t my favorite story ever, it was a sweet book which followed the one lone Borrower family left in a large, old house. My kids enjoyed the story and were relieved that the ending was not quite as much of a cliffhanger as it first seemed.
- James Herriot’s Treasury for Children – This book features a collection of eight animal stories told by an English country vet. It’s well-illustrated, with sweet stories of moderate length. My 6- and 4-year-olds enjoyed the stories, but the 7-year-old thought it was too slow-paced.
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – All I need to say is that the kids were utterly in love with this story.
- The Family Under the Bridge – I selected this one because we often see homeless men sleeping under the expressway overpasses near us. The story, set in old France, was a sweet one, though not a favorite for either me or the kids. The kids were engaged, though no one was begging for more.
- American Tall Tales – We read Mary Pope Osborne’s collection of tall tales, and everyone was delighted. Her tone was perfect, the background notes prior to each story were helpful, and the occasional woodcut illustrations suited the tales well.
- Because of Winn-Dixie – I had not read this one before reading it aloud to the kids, but I heard it recommended for so many times that I had purchased it and thought I’d give it a try. This was another story that I thought was well-done and the kids enjoyed, but I think they would have gotten more out of in a few more years, since the story follows ten-year-old Opal, who has just moved to a new town with her preacher father and is feeling both lonely and rejected as she still wonders about the mother who abandoned her as a toddler. As a newly-adopted stray dog helps her get to know the people in her new town, her perceptions of them are constantly challenged. Great struggles, but probably better digested by a mid-to-upper elementary kid.
- Half Magic – When four kids find a coin that makes wishes half come true, their summer suddenly becomes more interesting. While not the best book I’ve ever read, the story was creative; my oldest found it particularly exciting.
- The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles – So many folks gushed about this one that I had really high expectations. It began really slowly, though, taking 100 pages to get exciting; by the time the action started, we had stopped caring about the story. The second half would have been great if we had still cared, telling of three kids and a professor adventuring in an imaginary land filled with danger and novelty in order to reach the King, the last Whangdoodle.
Ages 5, 7, and 8 (PreK, 1st, & 2nd)
- Of Swords and Sorcerers: The Adventures of King Arthur and His Knights – I selected this book to go with our study of knights and castles, since someone recommended this version as being appropriate for young ears. I still found myself wincing at the number of people who met a gruesome end, and I did some editing as I read through at least one of Lancelot’s encounters with an adoring female. My oldest thought the stories were great; the other two found them acceptable but not amazing.
- Robin Hood – This is another book I chose to go along with our studies of knights and castles. We read the Calcutt version, which has really delightful prose and lovely illustrations. While there’s still a measure of violence (Robin Hood becomes an outlaw by shooting all of the sheriff’s men who had been about to kill him, for starters), it is less specific about the gory details and thus didn’t feel as wince-inducing to read. All three of my kids were enthralled by the stories.
- James and the Giant Peach – So much has been made of this book that it was another I felt we HAD to read, though I’d not read it before. While my kids found Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker to be by turns hilarious and horrifying, the rest of the story was merely okay–not awful, but not nearly as wonderful as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
- Charlotte’s Web – I had actually read this to my older two shortly before I started tracking our read-alouds, but since we were going to see this in a theatre, I thought I’d best read it again–especially since my youngest hadn’t heard the story before. The kids loved the story, though they were (still, always, again) distressed at Charlotte’s fate. Maybe that’s why I always liked The Trumpet of the Swan better…
- The BFG – Yes, that’s right: we read ANOTHER Roald Dahl book. His books just get such rave reviews that I felt we would be missing some sort of childhood milestone by not reading several of the most popular ones. This one was more to our liking than James and the Giant Peach, for whatever reason; the kids especially liked the giant’s silly way of speaking. Having read three of Dahl’s big-name kids’ books, though, I think we can check that off our list and move on.
- Peter Pan – I picked this classic in large part because of Goober’s current obsession with fairies. Several of the book series she’s been reading (Never Girls, Fairy Bell Sisters, something else?) have had tidbits about Tinker Bell and Peter Pan. I’d read that some of the scenes are a bit rough, so I made sure to skim ahead so I would know when to edit my reading a bit. (With sensitive kids, I didn’t want the blow-by-blow brutality of the fights, for example.) While the language made it a bit hard to read aloud and required some explaining at times, the kids were captivated by the story and begged me to read more, so I consider this a win. As an added bonus, this spurred some great discussion on assumptions and generalizations we make about various people groups.
- A Christmas Carol – This year I decided to read the abridged version of this classic. I chose the one Dickens edited himself, advertised as a 90-minute read-aloud version. My version was divided into four scenes and had some pretty cool illustrations by Carter Goodrich. As with Peter Pan, the archaic language and sentence construction was sometimes difficult to read aloud; unlike with Pan, the kids merely tolerated the story. In fact, when I picked up the book to read the third scene, Goobie settled into her seat with a resigned, “Well, this certainly wouldn’t be a five-star book for me!” I had to laugh. Since my goal was exposure more than anything, this wasn’t heartbreaking for me.
- The Narnia Books – Since this classic series had been sitting untouched on my shelf, I thought I’d read it aloud. The kids were intrigued by The Magician’s Nephew and spellbound by The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. We read four more books in the series, took a break for some vacation-related reading, and then went back and finished the series by the kids’ request. They enjoyed them all, but I felt like LW&W was the most engaging for them, with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Last Battle as the two next in line. (‘Love and I both remember reading the first two titles as kids, too, so I’m not sure if they are truly the most engaging–since both of us remember them–or if I’m projecting my feelings onto my kids.)
- Little House on the Prairie – Yeah, I know I like Big Woods best and I already read both of them to the kids anyhow, but since we’re going on a vacation that will take us through a big part of the west, this seemed like a pertinent read. We were going to visit one of the LIW homestead sites, but unfortunately we’re not going to have time to squeeze that in anymore.
- If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon – I wasn’t sure how this one would go over, since I had been reading narratives for so long, but the text was well-done, addressing topics that are interesting to kids with just the right amount of detail. All three kids listened happily to this book over the course of several days.
- Alice in Wonderland – To be honest, I only read this because it’s such a classic. I’ve never much liked the story (I understand the humor, I just don’t find it very funny), and my kids had roughly the same reaction: “Well, that was weird.”
Ages 6, 8, and 9 (K, 2nd, and 3rd)
- The Phantom Tollbooth – I had a vague memory of the beginning of this book being in my 6th grade lit book (and learning about the doldrums and lethargy), and I kept seeing recommendations from folks who’d read it to younger kids, so I gave it a go. I LOVED it, and my kids found it fun and engaging, too. While the kids caught some of the humor, some of it I had to explain. I think I’ll definitely have them re-read it when they are in early middle school; not only is it a fun adventure with clever humor, but it has some great truths woven inside.
- Mr. Popper’s Penguins – I actually read this one aloud to the kids before–I think about two years ago–but I must have forgotten to record it. At any rate, I decided it was worth a re-read since Pookie was too little to remember it and we were going to attend a theater production of it. It is, of course, the story of a painter who dreams of traveling the world. When his fan mail to Captain Drake’s Antarctic expedition results in his being sent a penguin, hilarity ensues. The kids enjoyed the story equally well the second time around.
- The Trumpet of the Swan – I love this book, and it was another that Pookie really didn’t remember, so I read it aloud again. The kids really enjoy the story of the adventures of Louis, the voice-less Trumpeter Swan, and I find it much less depressing than White’s more popular Charlotte’s Web.
- The Secret School – This Avi book had been sitting on my bookshelf, so I thought we’d give it a try. It’s the story of an eighth grade girl who secretly takes over teaching after the teacher abruptly leaves weeks before the end-of-year tests that will allow everyone to advance to the next grade. Though they initially had a hard time connecting with the character (I think her age made her concerns and interests different enough that they couldn’t sympathize), they did get into the story more as it progressed.
- The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp – This was one that Grandma picked up on a clearance rack, so I didn’t know what to expect–but the kids LOVED it! It’s the dual story of two young raccoons trying to save the swamp from an approaching group of wild hogs and a 12-year-old boy trying to save his family’s cafe and the swamp around it from being paved over by its owner. The strong, humorous narrative voice really pulled the kids in, and they begged me to read for longer every day.
- Hans Brinker (or The Silver Skates) – I remember reading this as a kid, but the only part I remembered was the race at the end of the book. As an adult, I found the author to be obnoxiously fixated on providing readers with a cultural history of the Netherlands. It’s my cultural history, and I still found it forced and irritating. The whole middle of the book, with the boys (not the main characters) spending chapter after chapter skating along and seeing the buildings and artwork of each town as they go… Utterly unnecessary. The portions that are actually focused on the main characters are pretty exciting, so if you skim or skip the middle of the book, it’s a decent story. As a whole, this is not one I’d recommend, though.