Friday, January 23, 2015

By Request: Great Read-aloud Recommendations

Every day I read aloud to the Podlings in my care: a group of five children currently covering an age spread from fourteen down to four six to nearly-sixteen. Since more than a few people have asked how I choose the books to read aloud (or have asked for lists/recommendations), I thought that the time might be right to share what we've read together so far and where I plan to take them in the future.

But first, some disclaimers. 

How I Choose Books to Read Aloud

Since I read a lot anyway, having access to an ever-expanding list of read-aloud possibilities isn't really a problem. 

When the time comes to start a new book, my decision process goes something like this: 

1) Have I read it and enjoyed it? I can't over-stress the importance of this step. 
2) Will the kids understand it and like it? I balance toward the older ones in the group. The little ones get what they get -- which is a lot. For example, when I read The Last Battle to them, the four-year-old looked up at me one day about halfway through the book and asked, "Where's Susan?" Up to that point, none of the other podlings had noted her absence.
3) Has the author done at least one thing very well? Humor, drama, storytelling, characterization, suspense, research, etc. I require at least one standout category, but don't expect perfection in all areas from each book. 
4) Does the read match the season? I'm all about reading the right books at the right time, which is why - as you'll see below - we sometimes take a break in the middle of a series to read something that matches the season.

Notice that I don't worry too much about asking if the book teaches a lesson or if I agree 100% with the author's point-of-view. First, I hardly ever agree 100% with anybody. Second, I'm not big on stories as morality tales. Great stories aren't written to teach lessons (although the best ones often do): great stories are written to be great stories, and those are the books I choose to read aloud. Third, one of the greatest skills children need to learn is discernment. What better hand to guide them through the process of analyzing what they're reading than yours? This, to me, is better than teaching them blind trust in books. 

How You Should Choose a Book to Read Aloud

Take advice of the readers in your life, yes -- but don't take it blindly. Remember that if you're going to read a book aloud to children, you must read it to yourself first. No matter how highly the book has already come recommended or how much your friends or their kids may have liked it, that doesn't ensure that 1) you will like it (which is so important, since your enthusiasm can make or break the enterprise), or that 2) you will find it appropriate for your bunch. So be responsible about this.  

But enough of that. 

Without further ado...

Books I've read aloud to the Podlings, in the order that we read them:
  1. The Teacher's Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts, Richard Peck
  2. Derwood, Inc., Jeri Massi
  3. A Dangerous Game, Jeri Massi
  4. The Bronze Bow, Elizabeth George Speare 
  5. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
  6. Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis
  7. The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis 
  8. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson
  9. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (unabridged! woo!)
  10. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis
  11. The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis
  12. The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis
  13. A Light in the Attic, Shel Silverstein 
  14. Summer of the Monkeys, Wilson Rawls
  15. Summer of Light, Dennis M. Van Wey 
  16. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L'Engle 
  17. The Teacher's Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts, Richard Peck (again! by request!)
  18. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
  19. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
  20. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson (again! because Christmas!)
  21. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (abridged this time!)
  22. The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien 
  23. The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien
  24. The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien
  25. The Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien
  26. C.S. Lewis: Creator of Narnia, Sam Wellman
  27. Classic Myths to Read Aloud: The Great Stories of Greek and Roman Mythology, William F. Russell
  28. Long Walk to Water, Linda Sue Park (pairs well with the documentary On the Way to School, still on Netflix at the time of this update)
  29. Long Way from Chicago, Richard Peck
  30. The Magician's Nephew, C.S. Lewis
  31. The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare 
  32. A Single Shard, Linda Sue Park
  33. A Year Down Yonder, Richard Peck 
  34. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
  35. The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom
  36. Flora & Ulysses, Kate DiCamillo
  37. Daddy Long-Legs, Jean Webster
  38. Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne
  39. Peace Child, Don Richardson (Note: get the updated anniversary edition.)
  40. Legends in Sports: Babe Ruth, Matt Christopher
  41. The Velveteen Rabbit and Other Tales, Margery Williams
  42. The Sword in the Stone (The Once and Future King, Book 1), T.H. White
  43. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
  44. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson (don't judge!)
  45. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (abridged)
  46. The Sugar Creek Gang #1: The Swamp Robber, Paul Hutchens
  47. True Stories of the Second World War, Paul Dowswell 
Still on my list:

Red Scarf Girl, Jiang Ji-li 
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor
Hatchet, Gary Paulsen 
The Giver, Lois Lowry 
Around the World in 80 Days, Jules Verne
Strawberry Girl, Lois Lenski 
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo  (The Tale of Desperaux also makes a great read, but the Podlings have already read it.)

Have some great read-aloud suggestions of your own? Please feel free to share. I'm always on the prowl for the next good read. 


  1. Right off the top of my head -

    The Mysterious Benedict Society
    Anything Madeleine L'Engle
    The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde
    My Side of the Mountain
    Shannon Hale!

    1. Oh! I've only read Fforde's Eyre Affair books, so thank you! The others are all excellent choices.

      A few I pre-read but decided not to read aloud because I didn't love them enough (sadly):

      Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy
      Judy Blume's Fudge books

      I really liked Morris Gleitzman's Holocaust quartet, Once/Then/Now/After too, and they'd be good to read aloud for a group with a higher median age.

  2. I've read most of these! =) My kiddos are still pretty small so we've only started the Narnia books with Julian and Jane is still all about Eric Carle. We did recently listen to Hattie Big Sky during our commute to and from school. It was interesting.

    1. Oh! Did you know there's a sequel to Hattie Big Sky?

      Hattie Ever After:

  3. I've read Roald Dahl's Matilda and BFG to my 8,6 and 3 yr old. They were great!