My favorite time of the day is the hour just before bed time. After everyone has changed into pajamas and brushed teeth, we all pile into my bed for an hour or so of reading. We start with a few picture books for the littlest ones, then scriptures, then we end with a few chapters out of a book we’ve chosen as a family. This has been our routine for a long time now, long enough that we never question if we’ll read, only what we’ll read. It’s become a family habit and one that we all treasure.
Recently we sat down together and compiled this list of some of our most favorite family read aloud books. We all voiced our opinions and voted on all the many books we’ve read together. The books we’ve included here were unanimous favorites – from Mom, an almost 10 year old, an 8 year old, a 6 year old, and the 2 year old (who mostly sleeps through the chapter book portion of our evenings, but he voted enthusiastically with the rest of us).
The key to a really good family read aloud book is its ability to appeal to a range of ages. There are a lot of books the kids enjoy, but I don’t and while I think there are a place for those silly, just-for-kids books, I want family reading time to be something that we all look forward to. I also don’t want to pick books that my older kids will love but my six year old won’t understand.
It can be tricky finding good books that meet all of our criteria, and we have been known to start a family read aloud and abandon it because it wasn’t working for us. But when we happen upon a really great family read, it’s an experience we remember. We’re still talking about all the books on this list – they work their way into so many of our conversations and as my oldest approaches the double digits in a couple of months, I’m just so glad we have this shared love of books to keep the conversation open.
You probably know Lindgren’s most famous book, Pippi Longstocking, but this lesser known book is a true gem. We just finished reading it aloud last night, so it’s at the top of our favorites list. Ronia is an eleven year old girl who lives with her parents and a band of robbers in an old castle in the woods. She befriends the son of a rival robber gang and stirs up quite a storm in the enchanted forest. She’s a strong, brave, wonderful girl character and the book has inspired a lot of conversation about facing our fears, friendship, and independence.
This was a beautiful book to read aloud. Again, it features a strong, brave girl (seems to be a theme for us) who embarks on an adventurous journey to find the Old Man of the Moon who she hopes will help her change her family’s fortune. It’s a perfect blend of fantasy and Chinese folklore that makes it hard to put down. The folk tales weaved in appealed to my youngest listener and the more complex look at the themes of happiness, greed, discontent, and gratitude. It is such a wise book, but that only adds to its appeal.
Steig’s picture books are my absolute favorite. Something about his style, his intelligent wit, his clever sense of humor really appeals to me. This chapter book is short, which is sometimes nice if you’re reading with little ones in the mix, but it’s full of Steig’s classic style, humor, and wisdom. Abel is a classy, privileged mouse who is swept away in a flood one day and stranded on an island. It’s an adventure, but a meaningful one with a stubborn, resourceful, philosophical mouse.
This is one of my all time favorite books and one that we’ve read aloud as a family more than once, and we’ll probably read it again. It’s a perfect summer time adventure with four kids and a magic coin, but it’s not just any old magic adventure. I’ve written more about it here. I always recommend this book to everyone I know who has kids to read it aloud to. So good.
Somehow I missed this classic book as a kid, but I’m so glad I recently discovered it. We adored this sweet family with five young girls in New York at the turn of the century. They are a Jewish-American family and we loved reading about their Jewish faith, holidays, and traditions. It sparked so much good family discussion! It’s old fashioned, with simple pleasures like candied orange slices and pickle peddlers, and it makes the most ordinary events in a family seem almost magical. Bonus, this mama picked up a few parenting tricks from the wise mother of five in this book – don’t dismiss her cleaning/button trick, it really is handy!
This is another delightfully old fashioned book set in 1930’s New York. One rainy Saturday four bored siblings cook up a plan to pool their allowances so each of them can have their own Saturday adventure. Each chapter chronicles their adventures, which are ordinary but quite compelling – everything from a haircut, that turns out to be far more traumatic than you might expect (and also led to a lot of family discussion about how we might handle this situation differently), to a tame trip to an art gallery.
Chester is a cricket who accidentally ends up in the Times Square subway station, far from his country home. The story itself is a sweet, simple, old fashioned, yet timeless, story. There isn’t a grand adventure and it isn’t fast paced. What made it a particularly good read aloud for our family, however, was the music. Every time Chester learned a new song, we looked it up and listened to the music along with Selden’s written descriptions. It really made the book come to life for us, and we can’t talk about this book now without everyone humming the Blue Danube Waltz.
This is one that my nine year old read on her own, but she loved it so much she begged me to read it aloud and she listened to it all over again. Dallas and Florida are orphaned twins with enough bad foster home experiences behind them that they are convinced at a young age that a happy home won’t ever exist for them. But a summer adventure with an eccentric older couple in the woods turns their lives upside down. Bonus – I love a good excuse to throw around some accents and dialects when I read, and this book has some characters that lend themselves well to fun voices.
This is actually a five book series and once we started it last year we fell down the rabbit hole. Our hour of reading regularly turned into two and bedtime reading became at the breakfast table reading, in the car reading, let’s skip dinner and just read instead reading until the entire series was finished. It’s about a brother and sister who go to spend what they think will be an ordinary summer with their grandparents and instead find themselves in a hidden magical preserve for all kinds of creatures, good and bad. It’s an adventure of epic proportions and each book gets better and better with the fifth book being exactly five times better than the first. After we read it aloud as a family, both of my older girls read the entire series again on their own. Note: these books can be scary, which doesn’t really bother us, but it might be too much for some readers.
Not all old books stand the test of time, but this one is just as good as I remembered it from my own childhood. My girls found the secret garden, they mysteries of the old house, and the conflicted characters just as compelling as I hoped they would. And though this book is good to read any time, I particularly like to read it in the spring and summer when we can compare the natural world that is transforming in the book to the nature in our own neck of the woods.
I saw on Goodreads that Rick Riordan said this book has an “old fashioned elegance” to it and I completely agree. It’s a mystery with puzzles and a nefarious criminal mastermind and super intelligent kids who have to save the day. My kids loved the story and are ready to move on to the next one in the trilogy. As a parent, this book gave me a lot to think about – the ways that adults try to control and manipulate kids and how the kids that think for themselves are often labeled as “defiant” and problem children. I’m still thinking about this one, but I like it.
This book is told from the perspective of a gorilla named Ivan who lives in a cage at the Big Top Mall. I don’t particularly love books about animals (I know, I know) and I was especially wary about an animal narrator, but this book is magnificent. Ivan doesn’t really mind his life in the mall and he doesn’t remember anything before it until a baby elephant named Ruby moves into the cage next door and she does remember her life in the wild jungles of Africa. He wants to help her, but he’s just a gorilla and what can a gorilla in a cage really do? It’s poignant and funny and sure to spark a lot of really good family discussions.
This was a book that I loved as a child and I was so excited to read it aloud to my own kids. Luckily, they fell in love too. The borrowers are a family of tiny people that live under the kitchen floor in a “human bean” house. They “borrow” the things they need to survive and stay away from the humans. But when their daughter, Arrietty makes friends with a human boy, everything changes. Bonus – there’s a Japanese movie version of this book that we really like called The Secret World of Arrietty so after you finish the book you can have a family movie night too.
This is another older book that I somehow missed in my childhood and only discovered it as an adult. It was written in the 1960s and it has all the makings of a favorite children’s book: a Victorian/Georgian setting, secret passages, an evil governess, a goose boy, and two very brave girls. This one is lot’s of fun – I kept sneaking ahead in the book after the kids went to sleep to see what would happen next.
Miss Penelope Lumley comes to Ashton Place as the new governess and discovers that her three young pupils are quite incorrigible. They are children that bark and bite and chase squirrels and have little interest in learning Latin and geography. They have, in fact, been raised by wolves. This book is clever, with a wry sense of humor that appealed to this adult reader as well as my little listeners. The mystery is just mysterious enough to keep the pages turning. Bonus – there’s more books in this series and they’re all good!
What are some of your favorite family read alouds? What are you going to read next?