Reading aloud isn’t just for preschoolers – in fact it can be a great way for the whole family to enjoy time together. In addition to many wonderful picture books and folk and fairy tales (librarians have lots of suggestions), shared early readers (try the You’ll Read to Me, I’ll Read to You series), and family play readings (our earlier post on Reader’s Theatre has links to scripts on the web or you can borrow plays from the library), there is nothing better than to hear “oh, please read just one more chapter!” as you read an exciting novel.
Here are lots of possibilities for making a shared literary experience something that everyone in your family will remember long after the driveway is cleared -- read-aloud classics which have delighted many families over the years. These are titles that will appeal to various ages and both genders. Not sure how or why to read aloud? – check out these tips.
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. This classic fantasy appears on many read-aloud lists for good reason –full of clever wordplay and clever drawings by Jules Feiffer, it is a book that will be remembered long after you turn the last page. This ingenious fantasy centers around Milo, a bored ten-year-old who comes home to find a large toy tollbooth sitting in his room. Joining forces with a watchdog named Tock, Milo drives through the tollbooth's gates and begins a memorable journey meeting such characters as the foolish, yet lovable Humbug, the Mathemagician, and the not-so-wicked "Which," Faintly Macabre, who gives Milo the "impossible" mission of returning two princesses to the Kingdom of Wisdom. Remember the book? Check out this recent National Public Radio interview with the author.
Pippi Longstocking (and sequels) by Astrid Lindgren. Tommy and his sister Annika have a new neighbor and her name is Pippi Longstocking. She has crazy red pigtails, no parents to tell her what to do, a horse that lives on her porch, and a pet monkey named Mr. Nilsson. Whether Pippi' s scrubbing her floors, doing arithmetic, or stirring things up at a fancy tea party, her flair for the outrageous always seems to lead to another adventure.
Dealing with Dragons (and sequels) by Patricia Wrede. A feisty princess with a mind of her own shuns regal training and protocol, preferring to volunteer herself as a dragon's servant and companion. It's a spirited, rollicking story with clever fairy tale references subtly tied to elements of magic, wizardry, and the satisfying triumph of good over evil.
The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill. The pushcarts have declared war! New York City's streets are clogged with huge, rude trucks that park where they want, hold up traffic, and bulldoze into anything that is in their way, and the pushcart peddlers are determined to get rid of them. But the trucks are just as determined to get rid of the pushcarts, and chaos results in the city. The pushcarts have to come up with a brilliant strategy to let the hot air out of their enemies.
A Wrinkle in Time (and sequels) by Madeleine L’Engle. Father is missing! His top secret job as a physicist for the government has taken him away—but where?—and how? Meg and her younger brother, Charles Wallace, set out with their friend Calvin on an exciting adventure through time and space to search for him. With the help of the mysterious Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which, the youngsters learn to expect the unexpected as they move in the fifth dimension known as the "tesseract” in one of the landmark books in children’s literature.
The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois. Professor William Waterman Sherman intends to fly across the Pacific Ocean. But through a twist of fate, he lands on Krakatoa, and discovers a world of unimaginable wealth, eccentric inhabitants, and incredible balloon inventions. William Pene du Bois combines his rich imagination, scientific tastes, and brilliant artistry to tell a story that has no age limit. Winner of the 1948 Newbery Medal.
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. When Claudia decided to run away, she planned very carefully. She would be gone just long enough to teach her parents a lesson in Claudia appreciation. And she would go in comfort -- she would live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She brings along her brother as company (and a source of cash) but once there becomes obsessed with uncovering the secrets of a breathtaking statue.
The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White. Born without a voice in the traditional "Ko-hoh!" sense, trumpeter swan Louis learns to speak to the world with a trumpet stolen from a music store by his father. With the support of an unusual boy named Sam, Louis has some rather unswanlike adventures (including an absolutely hilarious math lesson at school, working as a counselor at summer camp, and room service at a Boston hotel) in this truly original story by the author of Charlotte’s Web.
Three Tales of My Father's Dragon by Ruth Gannett. This favorite of young readers since the 1940s and Newbery honor book captures the nonsensical logic of childhood in an amusingly deadpan fashion. This quirky, comical adventure begins when Elmer Elevator (the narrator's father as a boy) runs away with an old alley cat to rescue a flying baby dragon being exploited on a faraway island. With the help of two dozen pink lollipops, rubber bands, chewing gum, and a fine-toothed comb, Elmer disarms the fiercest of beasts on Wild Island.
All About Sam, Attaboy, Sam!, and See You Around, Sam! by Lois Lowry. In the first book, Sam narrates his first day as a newborn through his mischievous times as a toddler (check out his explanation of why he flushed his sister’s pet fish!) In the second, Sam tries to concoct a homemade perfume for his mother’s birthday with hilarious (& disastrous) results. In the third, Sam, mad at his mother because she won't let him wear his new plastic fangs in the house, decides to run away to Alaska (the only problem is he’s not allowed to cross the street...)
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (and sequels) by Betsy McDonald. From her upside-down house, the eccentric Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle provides parents her marvelous cures for such common children's diseases as Won't-Put-Away-Toys-itis, Answerbackism, and Fighter-Quarrelitis. After this book, you and your child will look at your ceilings in a whole different way -- and never forget "the radish cure!"
Half Magic by Edward Eager. When four children find a strange coin, they discover it grants half-wishes – leading to delightful (mis)adventures and a bit of mathematics as well! Edward Eager also wrote many other delightful adventures. Edward Eager's favorite author was E. Nesbit -- check out her book Melisande for another mathematical fantasy. Cursed by an evil fairy at her christening, Princess Melisande grows up bald but finds herself with a big problem when her wish for golden hair is fulfilled. Nesbit's other books including the Book of Dragons are also delightfully clever!
All-of-a-Kind Family (and sequels) by Sidney Taylor. Step back into time with five sisters in New York's Lower East Side at the beginning of the 20th century. The close-knit group encounters everyday realities such as boring chores (check out Mama’s “button” solution to haphazard dusting), and lost library books, as well as those details which bring the early 1900's to life -- scarlet fever, peddlers, and bathing at Coney Island. Woven into the story are the traditions and holidays of the Jewish religion.
More Resources on the web:
A Classic List Of Must-Read Children's Books (National Public Radio story)
Read Aloud America – 2010 Reading Lists (an age-specific list of favorite read-alouds)
Finding Comfort in a Book (rollicking good stories to divert our overburdened souls)
ReadKiddoRead (a site FULL of great suggestions to get kids excited about reading)
And guides available at the library:
The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. Millions of parents and educators have turned to Jim Trelease’s beloved classic to help countless children become avid readers through awakening their imaginations and improving their language skills. Supported by delightful anecdotes as well as the latest research, The Read- Aloud Handbook offers proven techniques and strategies and the reasoning behind them for helping children discover the pleasures of reading and setting them on the road to becoming lifelong readers.
Books Kids Will Sit Still For (volumes 1, 2, & 3) by Judy Freeman. Annotated guides to nearly 5000 sure-fire read-aloud titles for children from grades K-6 (though some are also appropriate for young adults). Includes picture books, fiction, folk and fairy tales, myths and legends, nonsense, poetry, biography, and nonfiction.
And, as always, the librarians are delighted to offer additional suggestions!