Top Ten Books to Read Aloud that Span the Ages by Jane Kise
I’m a read-aloud fanatic—and our children were, too, choosing to keep bedtime reading going at least three nights a week until they entered high school. One summer, though choosing the right books got really tricky.
Imagine heading to a cabin with your own children, ages 4 and 6, and their big cousin, age 12. No television, no video games, and they need a great night’s sleep for seven straight nights so they can join in all the family camp activities. Finding books that work across the ages, and that appeal to boys and girls, is a trick.
Further, not all great books make great read-aloud’s (and actually, some of the best read-aloud’s aren’t great, classic books!) To catch everyone’s attention, read-aloud’s need to incorporate sentence structures that you can voice easily. Action usually needs to outweigh description. It’s a magic mix that sometimes you aren’t sure of until you’re well into Chapter 3.
To find the best, I relied heavily on Jim Trelease’s Read-Aloud Handbook—the 7th edition was released last week!! These were the favorites from those years at camp!
My Father’s Dragon (Gannett). There are actually three little books in this series, where a young boy relates exciting, yet not scary, stories about his father’s adventures with magical creatures. Yep, our four-year-old loved it and the 12-year-old thought it was “charming.”
The BFG (Dahl). My son who became an English major said, “Make sure The BFG is on your list!” Besides the fact that Dahl’s writing style makes even those attempting their first read-aloud’s to read dramatically, with voices, this charming tale of a little girl befriending a giant sends all the right messages. Actually, just about every Roald Dahl makes my list—Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches, Matilda…
Peter and the Starcatchers (Barry and Pierce). Peter Pan, Pirates, how the Lost Boys came to be—and a chance to meet the father of Wendy, John and Michael. Does it get any better? Jim Dahl, who also narrated the Harry Potter books, did the audio version. While I’m encouraging you to read aloud yourself, Dahl’s audio is fantastic. Stay in the room while it’s playing; the portrayal of Tinkerbell is, I think, included to entertain adults!
Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher (Coville). I think that over the years we read all of the Magic Shop books aloud. In each of them, a youngster learns that with magical powers comes responsibility. However, the tone of the books stays light, not moralistic. Try Jennifer Murdley’s Toad as well for a female hero. The plot lines are unique, not formulaic, in this series.
The Stories Julian Tells (Cameron). This is first in a series of books where each chapter is a separate little tale of everyday, yet humorous or even a bit mischievous, events in the lives of two brothers. The separate tales mean that you don’t have to worry about when you get around to finishing the whole book—if you end up putting it down for weeks or even months, you can start right in again on a separate story.
Holes (Sachar). Just about any book by Louis Sacher works as well (the Wayside School stories are all separate chapters, just like Julian above), but Holes has a bit of something for everyone. Folklore. Cruel adults. Creepy snakes. Injustice to overcome. And just a tad of the inexplicable. It’s a good chance to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of books and movies, too.
Homer Price (McCloskey). This classic stands the test of time. Kids still know what donut machines are, wonder who really has the biggest ball of string, and marvel at how Homer gets out of various tight places. Closely related is Peter Potts (Hicks) if you can find a used copy. It’s worth it for the tooth-pulling chapter alone!!
Peppermints in the Parlor (Wallace). This funny yet creepy little mystery keeps everyone wanting to turn the pages to find out what happens to poor little orphan Emily who discovers that the wealthy aunt with whom she is to stay is now not only impoverished but virtually a prisoner in a not-cool home for the aged. This was a hit—we went on to read Ghosts in the Gallery and others in the series.
Pippi Longstocking (Lindgren). We read all of the books in this series aloud, boys and girls together. Who can resist the plucky little Pippi who is raising herself at Villa Villakula while her dad the pirate king is away? My daughter, now a camp counselor, has used it as a “quiet time” read with girls ages 7-14, and they’ve all loved it, whether they’ve read the stories before or not!
Those are my picks for read-alouds across the ages. Into her teen years, my daughter enjoyed listening to The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and just about anything else by Avi, along with the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series and Horowitz’s Alex Ryder series. My son…we read The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Sword in the Stone, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. Before tackling the latter as a read-aloud, get lots of practice since it’s really hard to read aloud when you’re laughing out loud!!
Yes, audio books are great, but try reading aloud yourself. Our kids and nephews thought it was magical!
Jane Kise is an education consultant, author of somewhere over 20 books, and avid reader of just about anything in print, from Bleak House to The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Her next book, Unleashing the Positive Power of Differences: Polarity Thinking in Our Schools (Corwin, November 2013), is all about turning energy wasted on polarized debates into energy for moving forward together.