READ-ALOUD BOOKS THE WHOLE FAMILY WILL ENJOY
by Maureen Wittmann
(Scroll on down if you want to get right to the reading list.)
Whenever I speak or write on my favorite topic, The Joy of Reading Aloud, I get the question, "How do I choose good books for a family read-aloud that can be enjoyed by everyone?"
As a mother of adult children, I promise that it is well worth the time and effort to find read-aloud books for the whole family. There will be family reads that will be remembered fondly by your children in the decades to come. And, most likely, will then be read to your grandchildren.
I asked a group of Homeschool Connections moms and dads, "What are attributes to consider when looking for a universal read aloud?" Here are the criteria they shared ...
- Contains honesty, integrity, and virtue.
- Can be understood at different levels.
- Good humor and fun illustrations.
- Reflects the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.
- The universal story of good triumphing over evil.
- Profound and complex, yet completely accessible to children.
- An appealing protagonist. Real, relatable characters with depth and dimension.
- A theme that resonates with all ages.
- Good, high quality, illustrations.
- Language that rolls off the tongue well.
- Language that is challenging, yet not too complex.
- A storyline that keeps us on our toes.
- Reaches the "kid at heart". (Adults often like to reminisce about the days when life was carefree.)
Once you commit to family read aloud time, here are some pointers to help you succeed:
- Don’t worry about your child not fully understanding a book that is meant for older children due to scholarly language. One, they can learn vocabulary through context. Two, be open to stopping and explaining big words.
- Age segregation in reading does have its place. After all, children are not ready for a good number of adult topics. However, don't let artificial boundaries or "age appropriate" guidelines from a publisher keep you from enjoying a book between generations.
- If a book is only interesting to youngsters because it panders their immaturity (ahem, Captain Underpants) it probably is not a book worthy of family read-aloud time.
C.S. Lewis also had a few things to say on the topic of how children's books can appeal to people of all ages ...
- “A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.”
- "The compartmentalizing of literature into separate categories for children and adults is quite a silly idea. A good writer should be able to write a story in a way that a child can understand, without having to sacrifice the higher qualities that are needed to interest an adult reader. And there are many writers who have done this successfully. We still read and enjoy most of the books that we did when we were children–for different reasons, certainly, but we still do enjoy them!"
- Reading aloud helps children with the ability to concentrate for long periods of time. Modern media conditions children to have short attention spans.
- Research shows that children who are read to through the adolescence years do significantly better in vocabulary and comprehension.
- A child’s reading level typically doesn’t catch up to his listening level until eighth grade.
- Creates family bonds and memories.
Click on book titles for reviews or purchasing information (contains affiliate links). Another source for book reviews is Goodreads. To find used books at the best price try BookFinder. Or better yet, print out the list and take it to the public library.
As with any book list, parental discretion is advised. Not all books are appropriate for all children/families.
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
Let's start with my favorite all-time read-aloud choice. Every child should have the opportunity to hear Narnia read to them at least once in their life.
The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
And then let's follow up with THE classic, albeit challenging, read aloud. Though I have to admit to "cheating" on this series -- we listened on Audible.
The Menagerie of Marsepink by Claudio Salvucci [Arx Publishing]
This is a short story (just 48 pages) and thoroughly enjoyable. If you're a Nathaniel Hawthorne fan, this may just be up your alley.
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
This is a book you'll find on just about every Charlotte Mason list. Join the Walker family in this series filled with sailing, seamanship, and maritime adventures.
Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Everyone loves Little House on the Prairie. However, my favorite in this series is Little House in the Big Woods, with Farmer Boy a very close second.
Father Brown Series by G. K. Chesterton
Father Brown Readers adapted by Nancy Brown [Hillside Education]
A great way to introduce the greatest writer of the 20th century to the younger generation.
Hardy Boys Series by Franklyn Dixon
Nancy Drew Series by Carolyn Keene
Not exactly great literature, but they are great fun. Make sure you get the classic versions (easy to find used) and not the modern retellings.
Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
Hysterically funny, which is why it makes for a good family read aloud.
City of the Golden House by Madeleine Poland [Hillside Education]
Set in the time of Nero and Christian persecution, this is a story of a crippled boy and his slave. It's an enduring story of friendship, hope, faith, and the meaning of Christian love.
Mysterious Benedict Society Series by Trenton Lee Stewart
You can read just the first book. Or ... yes, the whole series is excellent and perhaps even a modern-day classic.
Little Britches Series by Ralph Moody
Life on the ranch in the early 1900's. This is a homeschool read-aloud must-have.
Redwall Series by Brian Jacques
A good, fun adventure. Don't fret that this is often categorized as a "boy book", the girls will enjoy it too.
Lion in the Gateway by Mary Renault [Hillside Education]
If epic battles are your thing, this is your book. In fact, its subtitle is The Heroic Battles of the Greeks and Persians at Marathon, Salamis, and Thermopylae.
Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth
This funny and lighthearted book is even more fun when read by Dad (in my opinion at least).
Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankelweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
The original "night in the museum" and just as fun.
Angels in Iron by Nicholas Prata [Arx Publishing]
An engaging historical fiction that deals with numerous figures from the early Ottoman times, including Suleiman the Magnificent, Piali Pasha, and Dragut the Corsair. (Rumor has it there may be a movie based on this novel coming soon.)
Search for the Madonna by Donna Alice Patton [Behold Publications]
If your family enjoys mysteries, Search for the Madonna will grab your attention. It's a fun adventure that will also move you with the heroine's personal faith.
King of the Wind
by Marguerite Henry
Who doesn't love a good horse story? If you enjoy these books by Henry, she has many other horse tales.
The Black Stallion by Walter Farley
The classic story of a boy shipwrecked with a wild horse and how they come to rescue one another, in more ways than one.
Sword of Clontarf by Charles Brady [Hillside Education]
Between my Irish heritage, interest in Vikings, and love of historical fiction, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this to my children.
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
"Anne with an e" will surely find her way into your heart. In fact, I recently listened to this on audio, sans kids, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Follow up with the other Anne books.
Anything and everything written by E. Nesbit
My children love, love, love Nesbit ... almost as much as I love her books. Start with The Railway Children, then move to Five Children and It, and have a blast checking out the rest.
The Outlaws of Ravenhurst by M. Imelda Wallace S.L. [Neumann Press]
A gripping story about life in Scotland during the time it was illegal to be a practicing Catholic.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
You won't find any other book character like Pippi, who is as lovable as she is strong.
Green Ember Series by S. D. Smith
Sarah Mackenzie of Read-Aloud Revival says, "If I could choose only one book for my kids to read this year, this would be it." I'm inclined to agree.
Watership Down by Richard Adams
A favorite classic children's story filled with suspense, self-sacrifice, heroes, and, of course, talking rabbits.
Word to Caesar by Geoffrey Trease [Hillside Education]
I should just say "anything by Hillside Education" because just about anything you buy from them will be good (ditto for Bethlehem Books, Arx Publishing, RC History, and Behold Publications).
Wizard of Oz Series by L. Frank Baum
When I read the first book of this series aloud I struggled with it because the movie kept running through my head, which is very different from the book. However, the kids were hooked and went on to read several of the other Oz novels on their own. (There are thirteen altogether.)
Anything written by George MacDonald
George MacDonald was one of C. S. Lewis's favorite authors. The Princess and the Goblin is a personal favorite. After reading Narnia, follow with MacDonald.
The Chronicles of Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander
If fantasy is your genre then this series, based loosely on Welsh myths, is a must-read. I have a special fondness for stories about everyday children who step up the plate, take on leadership, and conquer evil.
Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
Explore the world of Zuckerman's Farm along with Fern, Wilbur, Templeton, and, yes, Charlotte. White is a favorite author in my home. Check out Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan too.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Join Rat, Mole, Badger and Mr. Toad at Toad Hall through their adventures on the river. A timeless and beloved classic.
Old Mother West Wind by Thornton Burgess
If you loved reading Beatrix Potter to your littles, you're sure to love reading Thornton Burgess as they get older. This is just one of many of his titles -- read them all if you can.
Poppy by Avi
While written for younger children, I think it'll be enjoyed by you and older children too. It's good to mix things up with your family read alouds, moving back and forth from easy to difficult reads and back again.
The Mitchells: Five for Victory by Hilda van Stockum [Bethlehem Books]
A beloved story set during World War II based on the author's own family -- life at home for the children while Father is off fighting in Europe. It's part of a series that can be read on it's own or all together.
Cottage at Bantry Bay by Hilda van Stockum [Bethlehem Books]
Honestly, anything by Hilda van Stockum fits on this list. If you enjoy Cottage at Bantry Bay, there are sequels you can enjoy too.
Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson
This is a series of four fantasy novels. It's funny as well as action-packed, complete with lots of wordplay and puns.
King Arthur and His Knights
The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood
by Howard Pyle
The big debate around town is Howard Pyle or Roger Lancelyn Green when choosing King Arthur or Robin Hood. Either works, but Pyle is my personal favorite. I find his works simply enjoyable to read aloud.
Jules Verne books
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in 80 Days, A Journey to the Center of the Earth, and more ... all fun, imaginative stories for families.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
You'll cry, laugh, and fall in love. If you enjoy Little Women, and you will, check out Little Men, Eight Cousins, and Jo's Boys.
The Iron Spy by Joan Stromberg [Behold Publications]
Set in an 1875 coal mining Pennsylvania town complete with a 12-year-old heroine who takes on the Molly Maguires in her own way. A good, fun mystery as well as historical fiction.
Little Princess by Frances Hodges Burnett
An absolutely beautiful story of a wealthy girl left orphaned and penniless. Listeners will be moved by her purity of heart and kindness.
Tale of Manaeth by Phillip Campbell
You can read my full review here: Fantasy Novel Review
Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
This, IMO, is one of very few novels that have been successfully converted to the screen (via the BBC, 1990-1993). Wooster is not exactly a role model -- thank goodness he has Jeeves to look out for him. Make sure to practice your English accent before taking this on as a read aloud.
All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
Another book converted to television by the BBC and enjoyed by my family. Once you've perfected that English accent, you'll roll right through this one. But don't fret if you can't do the accent, this is still a fun read.
Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales
Make sure to find a good translation and don't settle for watered-down, Disney versions. Remember though, the original tales can be gruesome and violent.
Artimus Fowl by Eoin Colfer
Not your typical 12-year-old, Artemis Fowl kidnaps a fairy in a plot to take over the world. He discovers that fairies are a lot more dangerous than expected. You can read the first book on its own or go for the whole 8-book series.
The BlueFairy Book (Also The Red Fairy Book and others) by Andrew Lang
The Blue Fairy Book is the first of twelve fairy stories from Scotsman Andrew Lang. The books are a collection folk and fairy stories across cultures and eras (Grimm Brothers, Arabian Nights, and so on). Again, some of the tales are gruesome and not for the faint of heart.
Tales from Shakespeare by Mary and Charles Lamb
This is a retelling of several of William Shakespeare's play, written in the early 1800's. My only complaint with this book is that I wish it included more adaptations -- it ended too soon.
Knights of Art by Amy Steedman (RC History)
Delightful read-aloud short stories of the lives of Renaissance artists accompanied by full-color reproductions of their works.
This booklist was created in response to my talks and articles on reading aloud. To learn more, please see this series of articles, which are designed to inspire you as well as equip you for success:
This is quite a long list and yet it is not complete. There are so many others we could add. Let us know your favorites in the comments.
Maureen Wittmann is a Catholic homeschooling mother of seven children, five of whom have graduated so far. She and her husband Rob are grandparents to six children and love this new season in their lives.
Coming soon: Picture books for teens to read to littles.
For all of our reading lists go here,