Nothing reminds me of home as much as the smell of ______. What would you say? My answer is: books! I have been surrounded by books for as long as I can remember because book shops were the family business I grew up in. I can’t fathom my house without books. It’s the one thing I don’t even try to be minimalistic about at all.
Naturally, I am making sure that my kids grow up with a hefty pile of books always within reach, and although my own consumption of words on pages has gone way down since diapers and midnight feedings took precedence, I still always have an assortment of books that I am slowly making my way through.
As my kids have learned to read, it’s been the greatest pleasure to see them become avid readers as well. However, it has not been the easiest thing to find books that are well suited for each of my kids, merely because the options are so many!
I am a firm believer in quality writing, meaning thoughtful and thought-provoking writing that is a costly offering from a creative soul who can’t not write. Many options available for kids to read are not that, but rather sub-par quickly cranked-out versions of the shows or movies kids consume for commercial purposes. Let’s say it’s like a home-cooked from scratch meal versus a fast food alternative.
Besides the quality of the writing, content also matters to me. For one of my kids, an action-packed suspenseful novel is exactly what he wants, and yet his sister will have a hard time sleeping at night after reading the same story. So it’s important to me to help them pick options that are appropriate to their age and personal style so that their reading experience is positive; and also for the ulterior motive of ensuring an uninterrupted night of sleep for myself.
Since I do not have the time to read every book that sounds fun to my kids, our solution has been to try books out together. We have taken our read-aloud habits to a new level. It was one thing to read picture books aloud, but chapter books take a bit more effort, time and water (because if it’s a page-turner, my voice eventually gets dry!).
We pick a time of the day that is calm. I encourage them to get their favorite blanket or stuffed animal to keep their hands occupied and I read a few chapters to them. Then we all decide if we want to keep going. Many times a writing style or story theme just doesn’t do it for them (or me sometimes!). But when a plot captures their attention, there’s no question about it. They get hooked and each chapter ends with, “Please, one more chapter, Mom!”
Sometimes the experience of reading together and bursting out in laughter at the funny parts is so special to them that they want me to read the whole book (over the course of many days, of course.) And other times, the plot is so intriguing that after a couple chapters they can’t wait for the next time I’m able to read to them, so they devour it themselves.
Either way, to me that’s mission accomplished.
Because they are growing up in the most technology-dense era in the history of humanity and so much of that is helpful, useful and fun. Yet, from my perspective, there is something uniquely inspiring about words turned into sentences that became a storyline that you can’t put down. Ink on paper, read under the covers with a flashlight, tucked into the coziest corner of the sofa with a blanket on a snowy day. Books become like friends and the characters in them become part of your life.
(Tip: if kids are bouncing off the walls, that is not the time to make them sit and listen to a chapter. It will not work. Just go straight to Disney+ in that case.)
There is hardly a day in our household without some character being mentioned as if it’s a person we all know. Like that time Ramona ate a whole stick of butter. Or that phrase that Eeyore says. Do you remember when Hiccup and Toothless stole a potato? (Yes, there is a How To Train Your Dragon book series that the movies and shows are based on!)
As much as our family loves movies and shows, these types of comments don’t happen much except for book references. Authors give us readers the gift of joining their worlds with our unique imaginations, and there must be something about that that makes it memorable in a very different way than anything on a screen.
So whether you’re looking for book ideas for the holidays or for long winter evenings with your kids, I wanted to share what some of our most favorite books have been to read together, as well as give a shout out to my two favorite book review places: Read-Aloud Revival and Common Sense Media.
Here’s our list:
Winnie-the-Pooh (The Original Series) by A.A. Milne
While the kids adore these stories, I think I’m the one who gets the most enjoyment out of Milne’s subtle sarcasm and humor artfully threaded through these tales. Recommended for all ages. Find them here.
The Ramona Quimby Collection by Beverly Cleary
She is a mischievous girl but so relatable, particularly when one of my older kids finds their younger sibling living out something Ramona did. Recommended for all ages. You can find them here.
How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
Funny, lighthearted, silly, fun. This is a series my kids devoured. It should be noted that it does contain crude humor (name-calling, rudeness), however my kids always took it as a part of the character roles, not as an example to follow. They have never used those words themselves, but I do recommend that you check it out before handing it to your kids. Recommended for ages 8 – 12. Find them here.
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
A classic, fun read-aloud. Personally, I’m not a huge animal story lover, but White has a way to get your emotions involved in this fun tale of friendship! Recommended for all ages. You can find it here.
The Prairie Thief by Melissa Wiley
This is a newer book that we could not put down, set in prairie days mixed with a bit of magic. My kids were enthralled the whole way through this whimsical tale. Recommended for all ages. Order yours here.
Alcatraz and The Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson
I can only vouch for the first volume of this series so far, but I have never laughed so much with my kids while reading a book to them. It is a story of ridiculous mystery fun with the subtle message that your weaknesses could be your greatest strength. Recommended for ages 8 – 12. Find them here.
Thanks to the wild yet somewhat boring-at-times year we just lived, our family enjoyed many more read-aloud moments than we usually do. It has reminded me (and hopefully my kids) of how much we love books and inspired me to keep hunting for more great stories we can share together.
Do you have any awesome chapter book recommendations from your own family experiences? Please share!