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Reading good stories has been a lifelong pleasure for me. And it thrills me to be able to share some of my favorites with my children. One of our favorite things to do in an evening, or a rainy afternoon, is to read aloud. My girls and I will curl up on the couch, with book in hand, and I’ll read the next chapter or two. Sometimes, we’ll have 2-3 stories on the go! But finding a read-aloud book parents will enjoy too can be challenging at times. Below you’ll find a list of my personal favorites.
Reading aloud to the family has so many perks.
Sharing stories is a bonding activity, and helps cement those relationships and build memories. It’s a way to show how much you love each other! Read-aloud sessions are a great family tradition, and one I plan to continue for as long as they will let me read to them.
Not only does reading aloud build relationships, but it models good language use, and improves language skills. From exposure to literature that they might not read on their own, to hearing the correct pronunciation of words and the proper way to begin and end sentences, reading aloud is a fantastic educational activity. And when you can get a read-aloud book parents will enjoy too, everyone benefits.
There’s so much opportunity for discussion when you read-aloud. Maybe you’ll talk about a funny phrase or incident in the story, or how the characters treated each other — a chance to pass on social skills or values. Perhaps a detail in the setting will trigger some questions about geography, history or science. Reading aloud can lead to some of the best conversations.
So what do you read? Here are twelve of our favorites:
1. Swiss Family Robinson
This classic story of adventure, innovation, exploration and family togetherness still thrills readers today, 200 years after it was written. Despite the archaic tools and lack of modern accessories, it still captures the imagination. Celebrate human ingenuity and power of co-operation, and wistful longing for untouched wilderness to explore for yourself. And maybe, after finishing this book, you’ll take your family on a “Robinson” adventure of your own — hiking, camping, or even just a walk in nature. Kids will enjoy the exotic discoveries and suspenseful moments and parents will enjoy the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the family. Buy it on Amazon.
2. The Belgariad & Mallorean series
This is a 10-book epic fantasy series, typical of “sword and sorcery” type fantasy, similar to Lord of the Rings. Follow the adventures of Garion and friends, as he goes on a quest to discover who he is, what he’s supposed to do, and his role in the universe at large. Magic, kings, gods, spies, prophecies, sword-fighting and even a romance figure heavily in the pages of this charming story, with just enough detail to keep it interesting without crossing lines to adult content. It’s a good vs evil fairy tale, and good triumphs in the end, with some surprising twists and turns to the story. Your kids will love the epic adventure, and parents will enjoy the deeper topics of family, love and destiny. Start with Volume 1 on Amazon.
3. The Stainless Steel Rat is Born (and sequels)
This is a humorous take on science fiction, where the hero is, in fact, the villain! Jim Degriz, a young genius takes on his futuristic society, and robs them blind, while making fun of them all the way. Younger readers will enjoy the way he plans his heists, and older readers will see the subtle mocking of modern society underscoring the story. You’ll cheer for Jim as he wins out against all odds — lazy police, evil kidnappers, and dangerous planetary governments can’t stop him. Children will get a kick out of the hilarious methods Jim uses to get away with it, while parents will enjoy the commentary and criticism on modern society. Get the Starter Trio here on Amazon.
4. The Black Stallion
Another classic story, this book follows the relationship between a boy and a remarkable horse. From their meeting and mutual dependence for survival after a shipwreck, to the race that secures the Stallion’s future, Alex and his amazing horse will keep readers on the edge of their seats. And this is just the beginning! With 20 books, Walter Farley thrills you with all the adventures of a horse like no other, and his friend. While parents will appreciate the struggle of parenting remarkable kids, young readers will thrill to the emotional rollercoaster. Buy now on Amazon.
5. The Call of the Wild
Animal-based stories are sometimes the best, right? And The Call of the Wild is where animals take center-stage. Set in the gold-rush, Buck and the rest of the pack of dogs show off survival skills, intelligence, and the wilderness of 1870s Yukon Territory. Younger readers might find the descriptions a bit gory, but older readers will enjoy the character change as Buck learns how to cope. And for high school students, there are themes of historical context to explore — the author had socialist leanings and definite opinions towards women and minorities. And this book was written just as Darwin was espousing his theory of evolution. Consider how those ideas are illustrated in the story. It’s sure to spark conversation! While the kids enjoy a good nature adventure story, parents can get into the themes of survival and hard choices. Get this classic on Amazon.
6. My Side of the Mountain
This is one of those “coming-of-age” stories that is a must-read for almost every teenager. Sam runs away from a city life to figure out how to live on his own on a mountain in the middle of nowhere. He gets help from a librarian, animals, and other people. The theme of the book is survival, and how you can learn from anyone and anything! Younger readers will find the things Sam had to do to survive interesting, and older readers will be challenged by the same things that challenged Sam as he made decisions that changed how he lived. There are multiple teacher guides for this book, as it’s a common literature book for middle schoolers as well. Parents and kids alike will admire the cleverness and capability displayed throughout the story. Check out the book here.
7. MacDonald Hall books
Based on a boarding school for boys outside of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the boys of MacDonald Hall live and learn together. They play pranks, get into mischief, and deal with new teachers, new classmates, and all kinds of hijinks every year in school. Laugh along with Bruno, Boots and the gang in these hilarious books. Start with “This Can’t be Happening at MacDonald Hall” and don’t miss a moment. Kids will relish the chaos caused by these pranksters, while parents will be grateful they’re not the headmaster! Buy now on Amazon.
8. Miss Seeton mysteries
These aren’t typical stories for children, but these mysteries are fun reads. Miss Seeton is an older gentlewoman and art teacher, in London, in the 1960s & 1970s. She suspects no one and nothing, and seeks only to live a peaceful life as befits a single woman of a certain age.
However, through no fault of her own, she gets involved in the most bewildering of mysteries — from murder to embezzlement to forgery — and solves them all with cartoon sketches done almost unconsciously. Her sketches, and subsequent involvement in solving crimes without her knowledge, are orchestrated by an enterprising detective and his sergeant at Scotland Yard, who try to keep her from getting into too much trouble along the way.
Highly entertaining, Miss Seeton and her umbrella will make you laugh and gasp in awe at how, without even realizing it, she manages to wrap up all kinds of mysteries and crimes with just a bit of pencil on paper. Younger children may not enjoy this as much as older kids, but parents will find the mystery surprises just enough, and the endings will be exciting enough for all ages. Get the big picture with “Picture Miss Seeton” on Amazon.
9. Artemis Fowl series
Artemis Fowl is a 12 yr old genius millionaire who happens to catch himself a leprechaun. Except these fairies aren’t just pretty and tricky, but dangerous too. Artemis and Holly, sometimes enemies, sometimes teammates, take on each other and other villains to save both their worlds in this combination of sci fi and fantasy. Will the rest of the world learn about elves? Who knows? Now in graphic novel format too! Kids will like the idea of a supervillain their age, while parents will enjoy the technological innovations and challenges. Buy now on Amazon.
10. The Hobbit
One of the books that started modern fantasy, JRR Tolkien’s legend is an adventure story of myth and magic. It turns the classic fight-the-dragon story on it’s head and gives it depth and detail. Follow Bilbo as he and his companions look for a way to steal a treasure from a dragon, with lots of fun on the journey. Richly descriptive, this one will give your vocabulary a workout, but it’s well worth reading. While kids will delight in the whole caper, parents will appreciate the detail and rhythm of the story. Get this novel here on Amazon.
11. 20 000 Leagues Under the Sea
From modern fantasy, let’s go over to one of the first science fiction books. Considered part of the classic literature section, this story is actually a wonderfully inventive tale. Jules Verne wrote his book in the mid-1800s, and submarines didn’t even approach his design until the 1960s. Explore the themes of exploration, conservation, and innovation, wrapped up in Victorian steampunk inspiration, and decide for yourself if Captain Nemo is the hero or villain of the story. A read-aloud book parents will enjoy reading and introducing to their kids: try one of the books that started sci fi here on Amazon.
12. Mr Popper’s Penguins
Ok this one is just for fun. It’s a cute, comedic adventure of a mixed up scientist, a funny family, and of course, penguins! The hilarious antics of a family trying to support the ever-growing mess, in the middle of the Great Depression gives a friendly look to an otherwise tragic situation. It’s lighthearted yet touches on some serious historical views that can be a great jumping-off point for further conversation. Not sure where to start? There are teacher guides for elementary and middle school students available as well. Check it out on Amazon.
There are tons of other books I could list here: The Borrowers, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler, Heidi, Percy Jackson, etc. Books inspire the imagination, improve vocabulary, and introduce themes of history, culture, science and society. Good novels will make you think, great novels will entertain while they ask you the hard questions. If you want to talk about your values with your kids, there’s nothing like starting with a good story first.
Almost every night, one of my girls will come and ask for “their” story, and it’s always my pleasure. I love sharing some of my childhood favorites with my own children. Because there’s nothing more special than curling up with their small bodies snuggled up next to me and reading stories together. And the conversations we have around the story are breath-taking and incredible ways to explore sensitive and difficult subjects without scaring my girls. I hope you find these novels are just a starting point for your family, and you’ll spend time reading aloud for years to come.