Our top 25 read-alouds (ages 5-12)

Our top 25 read-alouds (ages 5-12)
Written by contributor Sarah Small of SmallWorld at Home

We started reading to our firstborn the day we brought him home. We didn’t start with Pat the Bunny or Goodnight Moon, although those both played an important part in our story time with all our children. We started with a college textbook, Western Civilization. We just wanted him to hear the sound of our voices and to get a feel for language.

Over the years we have read hundreds of books to our three children, from board books to great classics. Reading aloud comes in two forms in our family: as part of school (we have used Sonlight’s literature-based program for the  majority of our years) and before bed.

Beginning at about age 5 with each of our kids, we moved from a diet of picture books and short easy readers to serious chapter books. Don’t worry about your child not “getting” a book that is “meant” for older kids. They will.

Around age 12 or 13 the evening reading aloud ended, followed shortly by the end of our school-time read-alouds. We are down to just one child who gets all of our reading attention now, and we are determined to have lots of reading time together until he, too, prefers his own voice in his head.

Below is a list of our Top 25 favorite family read-alouds. They are in no particular order, except that I listed a few series at the end. Why did these books make the list when dozens of others didn’t quite qualify? These are the books the kids remember with almost a tender fondness and sometimes almost awe. These were books we lived in, the ones that do, indeed, seem like part of our family.

Our Top 25

  1. Maniac McGee (Jerry Spinelli): A boy ignores boundaries in a small town, soothing racial tensions.
  2. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (Joan Aiken): Wolves, an evil governess, nasty villains, and two girls who escape terror to find their true inheritance.
  3. Across Five Aprils (Irene Hunt): A boy grows into manhood as his brothers leave to fight in the Union and Confederate armies.
  4. The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Elizabeth George Speare): An orphan comes to live with her relatives in a Puritan town, befriends an outcast Quaker, and becomes an outcast herself.
  5. Caddie Woodlawn (Carol Ryrie Brink): Features the Woodlawn family, pioneers in Wisconsin. Caddie and her brothers have continuous adventures from possible massacres to prairie fires.
  6. Cheaper by the Dozen (Frank Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey): Forget the popular movie and read the incredible true story of the Gilbreth kids and their parents.
  7. Little Britches (Ralph Moody): In the early 1900s, eight-year-old Ralph and his family move to a Colorado ranch. Their life is full of hardships and lots of love. A huge tear-jerker!
  8. Hitty, Her First 100 Years (Rachel Field): From one owner to another, the doll Hitty sees tremendous changes in the world over the course of 100 years.
  9. The Phantom Tollbooth (Norton Juster): The classic story of the boy Milo, who finds his boring life interrupted when he travels to Dictionopolis and the lands beyond.
  10. The Wheel on the School (Meindert DeJong): A Dutch village joins together as it seeks to bring storks back to the rooftops of Shora.
  11. Follow My Leader (James Garfield): Jimmy is accidentally blinded by a firecracker. With the help of his guide dog, he perseveres.
  12. Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio (Peg Kehret): Tells of the author’s battle with polio as a young girl. Mesmerizing.
  13. Number the Stars (Lois Lowry): Annemarie and her family are part of the Danish resistance in WW2, helping to smuggle their Jewish friends to safety.
  14. Carry On, Mr. Bowditch (Jean Lee Latham): The story of Nathaniel Bowditch, an ordinary boy who becomes a pioneering navigator.
  15. The Sign of the Beaver (Elizabeth George Speare): 13-year-old Matt is left alone to guard his family’s new cabin in the Maine wilderness.
  16. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (Barbara Robinson): The six horrible Herdman kids turn the annual Christmas program upside down.
  17. The Cricket in Times Square (George Selden): Chester Cricket tours NYC with his new friends Tucker, Harry, and Mario.
  18. Watership Down (Richard Adams): The classic story of rabbits who flee the destruction of their home, searching for a safe haven.
  19. The Hobbit (JRR Tolkien): Trolls, goblins, dragons, dwarves, and, of course, hobbits. This is the incomparable adventure of Bilbo Baggins.
  20. The Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis): My own personal favorite of all the books on the list. If you haven’t read them, well, please do.
  21. The Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling): Adored by our kids and by us parents, as we experienced them together for the first time (and many times since then).
  22. Little House on the Prairie series (Laura Ingalls Wilder): I can’t imagine a girlhood without Laura and the rest of Ingalls family.
  23. Ramona series (Beverly Cleary): Ramona, Beezus, Henry, and the rest of the gang should not be missed. Henry Huggins and Ribsy were also favorites.
  24. The Boxcar Children (Gertrude Chandler Warner): Orphans Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny solve mysteries and have many adventures. The first four books were our favorites.
  25. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory/Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (Roald Dahl): Willy Wonka, Charlie, Grandpa Joe, and the Oompa-Loompas: what a crazy adventure. The books are madcap and hilarious but poignant.

I hope you’ve found a few new titles to add to your read-aloud time. What are some of your family’s absolute favorites?

This post originally published on April 6, 2012.

About SarahS

Sarah has graduated one child from homeschooling and is happy to have miles left on the journey with her 11 and 15 year old children. With a master’s degree in English/creative writing, Sarah enjoys teaching writing and literature classes at her co-op and blogs about learning at SmallWorld at Home.


  1. Toys Go Out and Toy Dance Party by Emily Jenkins, and the Hank the Cowdog series by John Erikson are our current favorites.

  2. Love EB White books too.
    Charity’s latest post: Did You Know? (Time4Learning Review)

  3. The Door in the Wall by Marguerite De Angeli!!!

  4. Michelle says:

    The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, The Magician’s Elephant and Because of Winn Dixie all by Kate DiCamillo- one of our favorite authors.

  5. My Side of the Mountain, Indian in the Cupboard, Redwall, the Moffets, the Famous Five series, Henry Reed series, All of a Kind Family, the Mysterious Benedict Society series

  6. Toni Green says:

    Great List! I also love the Wrinkle in Time series and The Dragons of Blueland series.

  7. We are loving all for Roald Dohl’s and EB White’s books with my 5 year old girl right now. We read the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede with her when she was 4 and she LOVED them. Lots of giggles. Great list, I’ve pinned for future reference.

  8. SoCalLynn says:

    Some of my daughter’s favorites we’ve read aloud, in addition to many of those on your list: Rascal by Sterling North; The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett; Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field; The Courage of Sarah Noble; Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder (and other LIW books, but this was her favorite) and The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Those are just the ones off the top of my head.

  9. Oh good list! We do read-alouds at lunch time every day. It often means my lunch gets cold while we get engrossed in too many pages of our current book, but it is still my favorite part of homeschooling. We just finished reading Ribsy, which had my kids anxious until the very end whether or not he would reunite with his family. :) This is a great list – I will definitely reference it for future use!
    oh, also – my kids loved the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle series!
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  10. A lot of our favorites have already been mentioned. We also loved Owls in the Family (Mowfatt), The Little Princess, The Book of Dragons (E.Nesbitt), and are currently enjoying the audio version of Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga.

  11. I have to disagree on the second half of your last one (but agreed with most of the others). I found “Glass Elevator” to be very negative because of the way the characters constantly insulted each other, especially family members. Too bad because the story was interesting otherwise.

    I would also add “Charlotte’s Web” and “The Little Prince.” This is a good one if your child is going to learn French as it is often used in French curricula and is easy to find.

  12. Oh this is brilliant, I love it!!! A real trip down memory book lane, Thank you!!!
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  13. All time favorites are many on your list as well as Little Women, Penderwick series, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and most recently The Giver.

  14. Starting Sonlight next year as a first year homeschooler. Can’t wait to start reading! Your list will come in handy over the summer!

  15. We kept reading in our family all the way through high school. I really miss those days! It helped my children have a higher vocabulary and greater imagination than many of their peers.

  16. Misty of Chincoteague, as well as others by Marguerite Henry. I also loved The Bronze Bow and Calico Captive as a child (blanking on the author at the moment.

  17. Christine says:

    The Phantom Tollbooth is just a fantastic imaginary adventure for kids, I read it first when I was about 12 and when I was 31 had to get a copy of it, as I always remembered how much I enjoyed it as a kid and didn’t have that one anymore. Written so poetically and the prose is so great. Changed my childhood!

  18. We loved the Fablehaven and Beyonders series by Brandon Mull. Lots of excitement and good messages. It can get a bit scary though (kind of along the lines of Harry Potter), so you may want to skim it first to see if it works for your kids.

  19. I would add “Understood Betsy.” It’s a book I encountered through Sonlight, and I was blown away. I think it’s one of my all-time favorite children’s books, now. In terms of fodder for the imagination, I’m also very fond of “A Little Princess,” and so are my girls, now, too. That one also has a very good movie, the BBC version from the 1980s, to help bring it to life.

  20. Wow, I remember so many of these from my own childhood!

    Esp sign of the Beaver and The best Worst Christmas pageant ever. I vividly remember those from elementary school and have only recently tracked down the titles so I can pass them on to my own chitluns!

    Just read my 4yo Roverandom (JRR Tolkien) :) and he has previously enjoyed all of the My Father’s Dragon trilogy.

  21. We loved so many of these as well, especially Little Britches and Narnia!! We love reading aloud with our 8 and 10 year olds. I love getting some new ideas for read alouds for the kids. Thanks for the list!
    Elaine’s latest post: Favorite Picture Books

  22. You put together a great list, I’ll have to add these to my own for my son. I have to add though, “Understood Betsy” as well as the “Great Brain” series. My dad used to read all of the James Herriot books to me when I was little, and “All Creatures Great and Small” is the first book I remember looking at a page and recognizing actual words :)

  23. Thanks for the suggestions! I would add “Anne of Green Gables” to the list.

  24. The BFG by Roald Dahl. However, I love and would agree with every book your let.

  25. My favourite childhood book is The Land of Far Beyond, by Enid Blyton. I loved it so much when it was read to us in the Fifth Grade that I chased it down (now that it’s out of print) in my adulthood to keep and share with my children.
    One of my kids’ favourites is The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby. We read this aloud and it enthralled us – definitely a repeat read!
    And finally, my favourite young read aloud which I never see anywhere but is absolutely brilliant is The Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse by Ursula Moray WIlliams. I read it to my children when they were 3/4, short chapters with glorious adventures. :)

  26. We love L. M. Montgomery “Emily Starr” series and the three Heidi books. My girls (7 & 11) have played Heidi since we started the first book.

  27. Allisson Reed says:

    I loved the Ramona books and have the Boxcar Children slated for cconsideration. My kiddos are 6&4 and to say that I’m overprotective to the max might be (maybe IS) an understatement. I admit that am not familiar with about half of these stories, but the summaries sound very adult for kids in the 5-8 range. I get that you have to know your kid, but are these examples of what people are reading to kids less than 10?

    Please note I am not judging and would appreciate the same courtesy in return. I’m just trying to see if I need to consider expanding their world sooner rather then later.

    • Some books I would recommend for that age are Charlotte ‘s Web, The Courge of Sarah Noble, Caddie Woodlawn, Magical Melons ( no magic but the kids think there is ), The Bears on Hemlock Mountain, Mountain Born, The 100 Dresses, and the first couple of Little House books. Of course, you are the parent so you have to decide which books are best for your kids.

    • Look for books that your kiddos can relate to and that also have a higher listening level (great vocabulary you can discuss) The Incredible Journey is great if you have animal lovers, Alittle Princess, Secret Garden, Five Little Peppers and other older books won’t deal with as many coming of age topics.

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