Some of my favorite, most sentimental memories of raising my kids for the last eleven (some days seems like three minutes, some days seems like a century) years are those in which we were curled up together at bedtime with a good book. And, like many of you, we've read hundreds of picture books over the years, but it's particularly special when we've gotten to delve into a chapter book together. Reading aloud is, of course, an essential experience for learning to read and for language development. But more than that, it offers both a way to connect to our children, and the opportunity to share an adventure together as we pilot a spaceship that will transport our kids to entirely new and exciting worlds. Who doesn't want to be around for that kind of fun?
Here are my absolute favorite read-alouds, with a brief publisher blurb on content. All are appropriate for both boys and girls, and each is presented with the relevant range for interest. These are books that you will delight in just as much as your children, and some might lead to some good discussion about the issues each raises. With others, you'll just get to share laughter and the joy of excellent storytelling. Enjoy!
[Oh, and by the way, if reading aloud is not available to your family for one reason or another (like trying to get three kids of differing ages to bed at the same time), consider the audio recorded versions (either on CD or digital audio). Audio books are usually narrated by talented actors who do worlds to bring a chapter book to life. You can purchase them online through iTunes or a similar outlet, but they're also usually available for checking out or downloading from your local library.]
Meet the World's Funniest Kindergartner—Junie B. Jones!
Remember when it was scary to go to school? With over 50 million books in print, Barbara Park's New York Times bestselling chapter book series, Junie B. Jones, is a classroom favorite and has been keeping kids laughing—and reading—for over 20 years! In the 1st Junie B. Jones book, it's Junie B.'s first day and she doesn't know anything. She's so scared of the school bus and the meanies on it that when it's time to go home, she doesn't.
Not every parent is crazy about Junie's sassy mouth, but I have to tell you that Barbara Park was a genius at writing material on a very easy level with humor that appeals to kids of all ages. Junie B. is absolutely hilarious, even for adults, and especially when read aloud. Many, many kids can credit their first interest in chapter books to the irrepressible Junie B.
Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry (series)
Two-time Newbery Medalist Lois Lowry introduces a new girl in class who loves being the center of attention and tells the most entertaining “absolutely true” stories.
There’s never been anyone like Gooney Bird Greene at Watertower Elementary School. What other new kid comes to school wearing pajamas and cowboy boots one day and a polka-dot t-shirt and tutu on another? Gooney Bird has to sit right smack in the middle of the class because she likes to be in the middle of everything. She is the star of story time and keeps her teacher and classmates on the edge of their seats with her “absolutely true” stories. But what about her classmates? Do they have stories good enough to share?
Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater
From amazon.com: More than 60 years have not dated this wonderfully absurd tale--it still makes kids (and parents) laugh out loud. Poor Mr. Popper isn't exactly unhappy; he just wishes he had seen something of the world before meeting Mrs. Popper and settling down. Most of all, he wishes he had seen the Poles, and spends his spare time between house-painting jobs reading all about polar explorations. Admiral Drake, in response to Mr. Popper's fan letter, sends him a penguin; life at 432 Proudfoot Avenue is never the same again. From one penguin living in the icebox, the Popper family grows to include 12 penguins, all of whom must be fed. Thus is born "Popper's Performing Penguins, First Time on Any Stage, Direct from the South Pole." Their adventures while on tour are hilarious, with numerous slapstick moments as the penguins disrupt other acts and invade hotels. Classic chapter-a-night fun.
Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
For nearly seventy years, readers have been delighted by the adventures of Christopher Robin and his lovable friends. Paired with the perfectly suited drawings of Ernest H. Shepard, A.A. Milne's classic story continues to captivate children of all ages.
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
Some Pig. Humble. Radiant. These are the words in Charlotte's Web, high up in Zuckerman's barn. Charlotte's spiderweb tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur's life when he was born the runt of his litter.
E. B. White's Newbery Honor Book is a tender novel of friendship, love, life, and death that will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.
The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes
When Billy Miller has a mishap at the statue of the Jolly Green Giant at the end of summer vacation, he ends up with a big lump on his head. What a way to start second grade, with a lump on your head! As the year goes by, though, Billy figures out how to navigate elementary school, how to appreciate his little sister, and how to be a more grown up and responsible member of the family and a help to his busy working mom and stay-at-home dad. Newbery Honor author and Caldecott Medalist Kevin Henkes delivers a short, satisfying, laugh-out-loud-funny school and family story that features a diorama homework assignment, a school poetry slam, cancelled sleepovers, and epic sibling temper tantrums. This is a perfect short novel for the early elementary grades.
The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary
In this imaginative adventure from Newbery Medal-winning author Beverly Cleary, a young mouse named Ralph is thrown into a world of excitement when a boy and his shiny toy motorcycle check into the Mountain View Inn.
When the ever-curious Ralph spots Keith's red toy motorcycle, he vows to ride it. So when Keith leaves the bike unattended in his room one day, Ralph makes his move. But with all this freedom (and speed!) come a lot of obstacles. Whether dodging a rowdy terrier or keeping his nosy cousins away from his new wheels, Ralph has a lot going on! With a pal like Keith always looking out for him, there's nothing this little mouse can't handle.
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
After James Henry Trotter's parents are tragically eaten by a rhinoceros, he goes to live with his two horrible aunts, Spiker and Sponge. Life there is no fun, until James accidentally drops some magic crystals by the old peach tree and strange things start to happen. The peach at the top of the tree begins to grow, and before long it's as big as a house. Inside, James meets a bunch of oversized friends—Grasshopper, Centipede, Ladybug, and more. With a snip of the stem, the peach starts rolling away, and the great adventure begins!
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
Kate DiCamillo takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the depths of the ocean to the net of a fisherman, from the bedside of an ailing child to the bustling streets of Memphis. Along the way, we are shown a miracle -- that even a heart of the most breakable kind can learn to love, to lose, and to love again.
Half Magic by Edward Eager
From amazon.com: Edward Eager has been delighting young readers for more than 40 years with stories that mix magic and reality. Half Magic, the most popular of his tales about four children who encounter magical coins, time-travel herb gardens, and other unlikely devices, is a warm, funny, original adventure. The "Half Magic" of the title refers to a coin that the children find. Through a comical series of coincidences, they discover that the coin is magic. Well, it's not totally magic--it's only (you guessed it) half magic. That means there's a certain logic to the wishes one must make to generate a desired outcome. Imagine the results emerging from inaccurate efforts: "half" invisible, "half" rescued, "half" everything!
Poppy by Avi (series)
At the very edge of Dimwood Forest stood an old charred oak where, silhouetted by the moon, a great horned owl sat waiting. The owl's name was Mr. Ocax, and he looked like death himself. With his piercing gaze, he surveyed the lands he called his own, watching for the creatures he considered his subjects. Not one of them ever dared to cross his path . . . until the terrible night when two little mice went dancing in the moonlight. . . .
A perennially popular story of courage and determination, Poppy is a fixture on state award lists and in classrooms across the country.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling (series, but take note that age appropriateness becomes older with each title)
Harry Potter has no idea how famous he is. That's because he's being raised by his miserable aunt and uncle who are terrified Harry will learn that he's really a wizard, just as his parents were. But everything changes when Harry is summoned to attend an infamous school for wizards, and he begins to discover some clues about his illustrious birthright. From the surprising way he is greeted by a lovable giant, to the unique curriculum and colorful faculty at his unusual school, Harry finds himself drawn deep inside a mystical world he never knew existed and closer to his own noble destiny.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
How can a fairy's blessing be such a curse?
At her birth, Ella of Frell was given a foolish fairy's gift—the "gift" of obedience. Ella must obey any order given to her, whether it's hopping on one foot for a day or chopping off her own head!
But strong-willed Ella does not tamely accept her fate. She goes on a quest, encountering ogres, giants, wicked stepsisters, fairy godmothers, and handsome princes, determined to break the curse—and live happily ever after.
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall (series)
This summer the Penderwick sisters have a wonderful surprise: a holiday on the grounds of a beautiful estate called Arundel. Soon they are busy discovering the summertime magic of Arundel’s sprawling gardens, treasure-filled attic, tame rabbits, and the cook who makes the best gingerbread in Massachusetts. But the best discovery of all is Jeffrey Tifton, son of Arundel’s owner, who quickly proves to be the perfect companion for their adventures.
The icy-hearted Mrs. Tifton is not as pleased with the Penderwicks as Jeffrey is, though, and warns the new friends to stay out of trouble. Which, of course, they will—won’t they? One thing’s for sure: it will be a summer the Penderwicks will never forget.
Deliciously nostalgic and quaintly witty, this is a story as breezy and carefree as a summer day.
A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck
What happens when Joey and his sister, Mary Alice—two city slickers from Chicago—make their annual summer visits to Grandma Dowdel's seemingly sleepy Illinois town?
August 1929: They see their first corpse, and he isn't resting easy.
August 1930: The Cowgill boys terrorize the town, and Grandma fights back.
August 1931: Joey and Mary Alice help Grandma trespass, poach, catch the sheriff in his underwear, and feed the hungry—all in one day.
And there's more, as Joey and Mary Alice make seven summer trips to Grandma's—each one funnier than the year before. In the tradition of American humorists from Mark Twain to Flannery O'Connor, popular author Richard Peck has created a memorable world filled with characters who, like Grandma herself, are larger than life and twice as entertaining.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis (series)
Four adventurous siblings—Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie—step through a wardrobe door and into the land of Narnia, a land frozen in eternal winter and enslaved by the power of the White Witch. But when almost all hope is lost, the return of the Great Lion, Aslan, signals a great change . . . and a great sacrifice.
Open the door and enter a new world! The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the second book in C. S. Lewis's classic fantasy series, which has been captivating readers of all ages with a magical land and unforgettable characters for over sixty years.
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage (series)
A hilarious Southern debut with the kind of characters you meet once in a lifetime.
Rising sixth grader Miss Moses LoBeau lives in the small town of Tupelo Landing, NC, where everyone's business is fair game and no secret is sacred. She washed ashore in a hurricane eleven years ago, and she's been making waves ever since. Although Mo hopes someday to find her "upstream mother," she's found a home with the Colonel--a café owner with a forgotten past of his own--and Miss Lana, the fabulous café hostess. She will protect those she loves with every bit of her strong will and tough attitude. So when a lawman comes to town asking about a murder, Mo and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, set out to uncover the truth in hopes of saving the only family Mo has ever known.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
In the valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli lives in a ramshackle hut with her parents. In the evenings, her father regales her with old folktales of the Jade Dragon and the Old Man on the Moon, who knows the answers to all of life's questions. Inspired by these stories, Minli sets off on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man on the Moon to ask him how she can change her family's fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest for the ultimate answer.
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
From amazon.com: Because of Winn-Dixie, a big, ugly, happy dog, 10-year-old Opal learns 10 things about her long-gone mother from her preacher father. Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal makes new friends among the somewhat unusual residents of her new hometown, Naomi, Florida. Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal begins to find her place in the world and let go of some of the sadness left by her mother's abandonment seven years earlier.
With her newly adopted, goofy pooch at her side, Opal explores her bittersweet world and learns to listen to other people's lives. This warm and winning book hosts an unforgettable cast of characters, including a librarian who fought off a bear with a copy of War and Peace, an ex-con pet-store clerk who plays sweet music to his animal charges, and the neighborhood "witch," a nearly blind woman who sees with her heart. Part Frankie (The Member of the Wedding), part Scout (To Kill a Mockingbird), Opal brings her own unique and wonderful voice to a story of friendship, loneliness, and acceptance.
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
It's 1936, in Flint, Michigan. Times may be hard, and ten-year-old Bud may be a motherless boy on the run, but Bud's got a few things going for him:
1. He has his own suitcase filled with his own important, secret things.
2. He's the author of Bud Caldwell's Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself.
3. His momma never told him who his father was, but she left a clue: flyers of Herman E. Calloway and his famous band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression!!!!!!
Bud's got an idea that those flyers will lead him to his father. Once he decides to hit the road and find this mystery man, nothing can stop him--not hunger, not fear, not vampires, not even Herman E. Calloway himself.
The Borrowers by Mary Norton
The Borrowers — the Clock family: Homily, Pod, and their fourteen-year-old daughter, Arrietty, to be precise — are tiny people who live underneath the kitchen floor of an old English country manor. All their minuscule home furnishings, from postage stamp paintings to champagne cork chairs, are “borrowed” from the “human beans” who tromp around loudly above them. All is well until Pod is spotted upstairs by a human boy! Can the Clocks stay nested safely in their beloved hidden home, or will they be forced to flee? The British author Mary Norton won the Carnegie Medal for The Borrowers in 1952, the year it was first published in England.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Winner of the 2013 Newbery Medal, this stirring and unforgettable novel from renowned author Katherine Applegate celebrates the transformative power of unexpected friendships. Inspired by the true story of a captive gorilla known as Ivan, this illustrated novel is told from the point-of-view of Ivan himself.
Having spent 27 years behind the glass walls of his enclosure in a shopping mall, Ivan has grown accustomed to humans watching him. He hardly ever thinks about his life in the jungle. Instead, Ivan occupies himself with television, his friends Stella and Bob, and painting. But when he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from the wild, he is forced to see their home, and his art, through new eyes.