This advice that we often give fellow parents has always been my parenting mantra. Choosing and reading wonderful read-aloud books have been such a normal part of our family routine.
I’ve been known to resort to grabbing a book for situations that get us stuck on a wall. From bedtime blues, to taking a break after a difficult subject in homeschooling, to simply clocking in intentional bonding times, we read aloud.
Read-aloud books have been our go-to restart button. This is perhaps why our parent education class Raising Readers: A Guide to Nurturing Lifelong Readers is one of my favorite talks to give! I can go on forever about the benefits of reading aloud. I am now seeing the results of years and years of reading aloud to my now pre-teen.
In that talk, I repeat what we also always remind fellow parents: Not all books are created equal! And with the deluge of books available to us, how do you choose books for reading-aloud?
Here are some tips that worked for us in choosing read-aloud books:
1. Begin with the classics.
Most classics are books that have been enjoyed by generations of readers so you can hardly go wrong with these stories. These titles range from Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown for the littlest to Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling for the older kids.
In the early years, picture books are the way to go, as the pictures help kids understand more. So, in choosing picture books, make sure that the illustrations are beautifully drawn (we love Caldecott winners) and provide more details in addition to what the text says.
Before Five in a Row picture books are our favorites, and we stock them (and Five in a Row books) all the time here at the shop (but they sell out fast too, so hurry when you find some titles under those categories).
For older kids, Mariel and her 13-year-old are currently enjoying Sherlock Holmes’ tales together. Other read-aloud books would be the Narnia series by C.S Lewis, and The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Lest you think that classics only mean books written in a different century, there are actually modern classics that we’ve enjoyed with our kids. We’ve of course made available such titles in the shop! Check out the Penderwicks series, the Vanderbeekers series, The Family Under the Bridge, and Wonder by R.J. Palacio.
Aside from classic titles, we also have favorite go-to authors whose stories we continue to enjoy with our now older kids. Among these are Tomie dePaola, Kevin Henkes, Patricia Polacco, and Beatrix Potter.
2. Choose well-written books.
When reading aloud, it is important to check the language and style of the author. Books with stilted language, or those with long, rambling sentences, may not lend themselves well to read-alouds.
Sometimes, the only way to know is to actually read aloud a portion of the book to check for cadence and clarity. Remember, if you do not enjoy reading it aloud, chances are your listeners will not enjoy the story too!
A well-written book also sparks the imagination of both the listener and the reader. It brings you to the places that the characters visit and the adventures that they take.
Good authors are able to make their readers see, feel, hear, and almost experience everything that the characters sense. That’s what a lovely use language does.
This is something that commercial character picture books, with its dumbed down language, surely do not have. Take a Disney version of “Alice in Wonderland” and compare it with Lewis Carroll’s original and you will see what we mean.
Finally, choose books that inspire ideas. The perfect read-aloud will engage both reader and listener, allowing them to find personal connections with what they’re reading. These ideas “feed the mind,” as Charlotte Mason said.
More importantly, these ideas, when planted into the mind of the child, will continue to form connections with other ideas that extend beyond himself and his environment. These are the seeds would eventually bear fruit in the minds of our children. What ideas, then, do you wish to impart through reading-aloud?
3. Choose read-aloud books with topics that interest your child.
These words by Frank Serafini also hold true when choosing read-aloud books. We want reading-aloud to be a pleasant time together, something that the family will look forward to. Knowing what piques your children’s interest is an easy, instant hook.
Toddlers are natural movers so we always recommend books that encourage movement for this age group. Nursery rhyme books are also hits for them.
Know that it is perfectly ok not to finish an entire picture book with an infant or a toddler! Just keep at it and you will be amazed at how they will develop both the interest and the attention span to eventually finish an entire book with you.
4. Make sure the books are age appropriate.
When my daughter was around five to six years old, she was into dogs. Her absolute favorite was about a dog named Botbot, published by Tahanan Books.
Choosing a book was particularly challenging when my daughter was going through her princess phase. Thankfully, there ARE princess books that are not necessarily Disney!
With their interests in mind, remember, too, that our chosen read-aloud books must be appropriate to the age of our children. Consider the length of the book, the language used, and the topics or themes tackled in the story.
5. Try something new together.
It is important to consider our children’s interests. But I also found that reading aloud is the perfect gateway to introducing new genres to my daughter!
Case in point: The Green Ember has been in my Kindle for years. But we only got around to finally reading it after Mariel told me how much they enjoyed it as a family! I knew that my daughter wouldn’t particularly pick up on her own. So, we read it aloud together and enjoyed it so much that she asked to get the sequel – for her Kindle!
Twenty Minutes a Day
Reading aloud has been such a gift to our family, and I will never get tired of sharing about it with fellow parents.
Twenty minutes a day is all you need. Twenty minutes a day in exchange for a lifetime of memories and stories to tell.
To learn more about the ins and outs of reading aloud to your children, our long-running workshop Raising Readers is available here. You can watch it in your own time, available for two weeks in your dashboard.