We’ve read aloud to our children before bed almost since birth – first with board books, then with stacks of picture books. When June entered kindergarten, she and I embarked on a new season of chapter book read alouds, and it’s been the sweetest stage. (This was a few months after Annie was born, and though June needed no convincing to join me into this new world, pitching it as big girl time with mama (which was somewhat harder to come by with the addition of a new sister) surely didn’t hurt.)
Though chapter book read alouds are not a new idea, they weren’t a big part of my childhood. My parents reading picture books to me is a cornerstone memory – a daily occurrence – but chapter books? That’s not really something I remember. (Mom and Dad, correct me if I’m wrong!) I devoured them on my own, but wasn’t read aloud to as much once I graduated to longer stories.
Though I emulate my parents’ parenting in most ways, this is one area I’m willing to part ways, and hope to continue to as long as possible. One of the many reasons I love our nightly read alouds: like family movie night, I choose the books. (Sometimes I’ll give June the choice between two or three options, but it’s more a choice of order than title. Of course, I’m open to this shifting as she gets older!) As with movies, this has been the most delightful way to revisit some of my childhood favorites (and crack open some new favorites, too).
In Habits of Household, Justin Whitmel Early writes about the privilege, joy, and importance of curating our children’s media. I love what he has to say. As parents, we have the gift of pointing our children toward what is good, true, beautiful, and praiseworthy. We also have the responsibility of walking with them through things that are hard, sad, and ugly, and books can help us do that. Through it all, we have the opportunity to show them that books are a joy, and that life as a reader brings delight. We can do this by taking the time to read with them, and by expressing our own excitement for the books we get to read. It’s not always easy (there have been more than a few nights I’ve drifted off leaning against’s June’s pillow), but to me, it’s worth it.
We’ve been at this read aloud thing for about 1.5 years now, spanning ages 6 to 7 for June (kindergarten and first grade). I am always looking for book suggestions from people I trust, and I hope sharing our list can do that for you. Here are our first 15 read alouds, with a bit of commentary for most.
1. Little House in the Big Woods | I loved the Little House books growing up and it was a given that I’d share them with my children. June easily fell in love with the characters and we both were drawn in by the everyday details of pioneer life on the prairie. These books are relatively long and somewhat slow, so I actually might not recommend them for a very first read aloud – but don’t skip them! I value the sweet, unhurried pace they have to offer, the love of the Ingalls family for one other, and the values of hard work, sacrifice, endurance, and happiness in small things as well as the honesty of Laura’s admissions of feelings like boredom, jealousy, and fear.
It’s worth mentioning that these books take place in the 1870s-80s and the characters hold views reflective of their times – specifically, ones that are fearful, ignorant, and even hateful toward native and black people. There are also passages that reflect outdated ideas and societal expectations about women and girls and beauty/body image that I’m not eager to pass on to my daughter.
Throughout our reading of these books, I dealt with these passages in a variety of ways. Sometimes I’d read the text as written and pause to chat briefly with June about how that view is wrong and why they might have held it (a beautiful opportunity to reflect on positive change, too). Other times I’d omit the word, passage, or scene entirely and move along without comment.
Something that has been comforting to me throughout: I read all of these books growing up without parental elision and not only didn’t come away believing those views were correct, but couldn’t even remember they were in the books (some of them shocked me upon re-reading!). What I did remember was the beauty and comfort of spending time with the Ingalls family, and the value of what I learned from them. That’s what I hope my children take away, too.
For more on reading the Little House series and dealing with these issues, you might enjoy this Read-Aloud Revival episode (Sarah calls The Long Winter one of the best children’s novels ever written!).
Note: I haven’t offered individual commentary on most of the Little House books below, but this sums up my general thoughts on all of them :)
2. Charlotte’s Web | The sweetest tale of unlikely friendship. A classic and Newbery Honor award winner for a reason.
4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe | John was the one to read this to June, but I still sat in and listened a few nights. There is so much to love in this epic classic, from the sibling relationships, the magical characters, the virtuous and moving themes, and the simple but arresting writing.
“Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
5. Fantastic Mr. Fox | This was my favorite Roald Dahl book growing up – I was enthralled by the clever foxes, the intricate schemes and tunnels, the elaborate gathering of the feast elements. If you’ve read Dahl, you know that his writing and descriptions can be crude and callous in a way that’s jarring to our modern sensibilities – so much so that new editions have been released correcting his perceived wrongs. I appreciated Helen Lewis’ say on the (nuanced) topic and took the liberty to silently edit words or descriptions where I felt it necessary.
7. Matilda | A close second for my favorite Dahl book! June really loved this book and loved both versions of the movie (which we watched after finishing the book). Matilda is the perfect precocious, spunky heroine, and it’s easy to cheer for her bond with Miss Honey and chance to find familial happiness.
9. The Penderwicks | I am something of a Penderwicks evangelist at this point, but with good reason: it is the sweetest story of four sisters. Described as “deliciously nostalgic and quaintly witty, with a story as breezy and carefree as a summer day,” it has the slow, earnest feel of some more beloved older books – a true modern classic, IMHO. I’m always looking for books with positive sibling relationships, and this one hits the nail on the head: the relationships between the sisters and their dad are loving but real. (I’m hoping OAT becomes a thing in our home!) June and I have only read the first book together, but have the boxed set and look forward to reading the next four.
10. The Long Winter | Just a quick note to say that though I enjoyed all the Little House books, this one might be my favorite! It was the one I remembered most strongly from my childhood: Almanzo hiding the seed in the wall! Pa and Laura twisting hay! The freezing sled ride to bring back wheat for the town!
11. Pippi Longstocking | June cackled at parts of this one :) It was a quick, easy read.
14. The Mouse and the Motorcycle | A Beverly Cleary classic! I wasn’t sure how June would feel about this one since it feels slightly more geared toward boys, but she LOVED it. It was a quick, sweet read that left us both wanting more. (June’s since gone on to read the sequel by herself, but that’s a post for another day.)
15. Adventures with Waffles | Originally written in Norwegian, this one felt similar to Pippi Longstocking – short, heartfelt chapters relating old-school scrapes and mishaps between two friends who live in the country. June cackled at this one, too :) I appreciated that it incorporated issues like death, faith, sadness, and friendship worries in a way that didn’t feel too heavy for bedtime reading.
This list just makes me smile. Of course, these 15 volumes are only scratching the surface of all the amazing books I hope to share with my children over time. There will be many more posts like this to come if you enjoyed this one! In the meantime, I recommend the reading lists of Everyday Reading and Brighter Day Press for more suggestions – it’s where we find many of our favorites.
I’d love to hear: what books have you loved reading aloud with your kids? Any titles you’re excited to introduce them to in the future?
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