There is nothing sweeter than snuggling up to our babies (okay pre-teens) and sharing a moment at bedtime (cringy as it may be).
Jim Trelease, the author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, encourages reading aloud to children of all ages even after they have learned to read themselves. Jim writes, “When we read to a child, we’re sending a pleasure message to the child’s brain. You could even call it a commercial, conditioning the child to associate books and print with pleasure.” A pleasurable experience with our kids who are otherwise driving us crazy? Sign us up!
When they were babies we would read every night. As they’ve gotten older we relish being able to send them off to read on their own leaving us some precious “me” time. Why not bring back the time-honored tradition of the family read-aloud and make it “we” time? Crack open some good old-fashioned books (or the Kindle editions) and read them together. These classics were written as books for kids, but have stood the test of time as books for families to enjoy reading together.
We’ve curated a list of classic books to read with and to your children. Think of this as a jumping-off point rather than a comprehensive list. Enjoy a return to your childhood while lulling your not-so-littles (and probably dad as well) to sleep!
Best Books For Kids Ages 5-8
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White is the quintessential read-aloud book for young kids everywhere. It’s also a sure sign we’ve become our parents. We all remember having this story read to us when we were kids! The story of Charlotte, Wilbur, and a girl named Fern will warm the hearts of your little ones while showcasing the magic of friendship. This classic book is ideal for younger or reluctant readers because the story is so engaging. Take turns reading paragraphs aloud, or even whole chapters as their confidence grows. Jim Trelease cites the most common mistake in reading aloud is reading too fast, whether you’re 7 or 37. We need to remember to read slowly and allow time for our little one to build an image in their head of what we just read. Then don’t be surprised when someone is sneaking off to continue reading without us!
One Reviewer Wrote: “I have read this beautiful book over and over again in my lifetime. And I have gifted a copy to many children throughout the years, and this year is no exception. I’ll be giving two more copies to young readers this Christmas, and I hope they’ll find the love and compassion and empathy that emanates from this book. It remains a timeless classic.”
Perhaps a less familiar classic is The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Initially published just after the turn of the century, this now centuries-old novel came about as a written version of the author’s bedtime stories he had been telling his son. The story follows four animal characters- Mole, his friend Water Rat, shy Badger, and Toad of Toad Hall on adventures throughout rural England. Read aloud to younger children, this classic will increase their exposure to advanced vocabulary while being reminded that all that glitters isn’t necessarily gold. (We all need this reality check once in a while.) Life’s simplicity and friendships provide much deeper wealth as Toad learns this lesson. As adults, we love this story because now that we’re older and wiser we see things that went over our heads as kids making this a new experience for us, too.
One Reviewer Wrote: “This may be a children's book, but as an adult, I enjoy the hilarious antics of the animal characters in this work of fiction that the author originally wrote for his own children. I like the cover on this one. Toad's expensive motor car is his pride and joy and he races about the English countryside in it, getting into trouble.”
The Boxcar Children series written by Gertrude Chandler Warner makes us yearn for homemade pie and a boxcar to call our own. The story of Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny Alden warms hearts every time. The Aldens, determined to stay together no matter the challenges, are looking for their grandfather while surviving on their own with only their bravery and wits to keep them going. This novel is perfect for bringing in a third dimension element while reading aloud, as suggested by Jim Trelease. There seems to always be some sort of tasty snack the Boxcar Children are cooking up. We know… like we don’t already have enough to do, but even a simple dish of berries to enjoy while reading can have a transformative effect!
One Reviewer Wrote: “An all-time for our family. My kids loved it. Now my grandkids. It may seem a little old-fashioned but it hasn’t hurt the storyline. A classic.”
Mystery. Intrigue. Plot twists and turns. The Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald J. Sobol keeps kids listening, thinking, and making guesses. Read aloud just becomes an interactive experience earning bonus points for us moms! Encyclopedia Brown works as a boy detective with his own agency helping to solve the kid crimes in his neighborhood. With clues peppered in throughout the tale, our little ones will have a chance to solve the mystery too. It’s a great way to get your kids thinking. This isn’t the first title of the series, but it’s a popular pick.
One Reviewer Wrote: “I read this book as a child, and now I'm enjoying seeing my children solve the mysteries. Promotes reading enjoyment!”
Best Books For Kids Ages 8-12
The fantastical world in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone thrills us even now as adults. Reminiscing over every anticipated book release and devouring it in a few short days… The time has come for us to pass this magical and mythical tale onto our little ones as we join Harry in his acceptance into the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The characters come to life through their trials and triumphs, and the plot is easily addictive for everyone in our house. When the chapters are too long (aka demon children in the morning from lack of sleep), we heed the advice of Jim Trelease. Find a suspenseful part to stop at and leave them hanging.
One Reviewer Wrote: “This is the beginning of a classic tale of the struggles of good against evil and we follow Harry Potter’s struggles and triumphs as he literally grows up from a child to an adult. I’ve read and re-read the entire series of books and I am saving them in hardback in hopes that one day I can pass them along to one of my grandchildren.”
The book that had us all creating clubs of our own in our pre-teen years is still a time-honored tale. The Baby-Sitters Club series by Ann M. Martin follows Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne, and Stacey through the fruition of Kristy’s Great Idea. Setting an example for early entrepreneurs, The Baby-Sitters Club is a collection of fun and realistic stories that might give our kids a little appreciation for all that we do! Not to mention a solid sense of ambition. Cuddling up with this book is like cuddling up with old friends. Each character is so different, we all found someone we can identify with — and so will our kids.
One Reviewer Wrote: “My tween daughter has been introduced to a classic series and she is NOT disappointed. Generations later, these books are still a great read for elementary/middle school students.”
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt is a touching and timeless tale that is hard to put down. We are continually drawn in from the very first page and eventually presented with the question, would you want to live forever? F*ck no is our knee-jerk reaction but of course, we know more than 11-year-old Winnie. Reliving the journey to wisdom through Winnie’s eyes, we’re reminded of the days when we wanted to be older and wiser. Is eternal life a blessing or a curse? This is certainly something powerful to discuss with our kiddos as we read. Jim Trelease suggests previewing our read-aloud books ahead of time. This prevents the inevitable f-bomb as an answer to the question above, but also helps us spot any sections we want to shorten or eliminate.
One Reviewer Wrote: “Tuck Everlasting is the book from my childhood that still speaks to me all these years later. It is a magical, beautiful and haunting story about a girl who encounters a family with a big secret, a family either blessed or cursed with immortality. Leaving you to wonder what would you do if you could live forever? I urge you if you have not read this lovely little book to pick it up and do so. I have it forever on my shelf and I look forward to the day that I can read it to my children.”
Looking at the cover illustration and asking the question, “What do you think this story is going to be about?” has gotten us some pretty interesting answers from our kids! The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis is the second in the Chronicles of Narnia. Although part of a series, this book is a stand-alone read, granting us access to a fantastical world through the doorway of an old wardrobe. We join Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy as we step through the wardrobe into the land of Narnia, which is under the control of the White Witch and frozen in winter. C.S. Lewis writes in a way that is simple and easy to read but adds enough depth that both adults and kids enjoy it. To date, this series has sold over 100 million copies. Who doesn’t seek a little escapism at the end of a long day?
One Reviewer Wrote: “I read this book to my boys, and they loved it as much as I did when I read it as a kid. Still a great story, and sparks some pretty good discussions.”
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