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
- Maniac McGee (Jerry Spinelli): A boy ignores boundaries in a small town, soothing racial tensions.
- The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (Joan Aiken): Wolves, an evil governess, nasty villains, and two girls who escape terror to find their true inheritance.
- Across Five Aprils (Irene Hunt): A boy grows into manhood as his brothers leave to fight in the Union and Confederate armies.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- The Wheel on the School (Meindert DeJong): A Dutch village joins together as it seeks to bring storks back to the rooftops of Shora.
- Follow My Leader (James Garfield): Jimmy is accidentally blinded by a firecracker. With the help of his guide dog, he perseveres.
- Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio (Peg Kehret): Tells of the author’s battle with polio as a young girl. Mesmerizing.
- 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.
- Carry On, Mr. Bowditch (Jean Lee Latham): The story of Nathaniel Bowditch, an ordinary boy who becomes a pioneering navigator.
- 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.
- The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (Barbara Robinson): The six horrible Herdman kids turn the annual Christmas program upside down.
- The Cricket in Times Square (George Selden): Chester Cricket tours NYC with his new friends Tucker, Harry, and Mario.
- Watership Down (Richard Adams): The classic story of rabbits who flee the destruction of their home, searching for a safe haven.
- The Hobbit (JRR Tolkien): Trolls, goblins, dragons, dwarves, and, of course, hobbits. This is the incomparable adventure of Bilbo Baggins.
- 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.
- 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).
- Little House on the Prairie series (Laura Ingalls Wilder): I can’t imagine a girlhood without Laura and the rest of Ingalls family.
- Ramona series (Beverly Cleary): Ramona, Beezus, Henry, and the rest of the gang should not be missed. Henry Huggins and Ribsy were also favorites.
- 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.
- 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.