Great holiday books for kids: read-alouds

Published by Lori Pickert on November 27, 2007 at 10:59 PM


Okay, you aren't going to believe this, but once again I managed to piddle away the day and forget to take my photographs before the sun slipped away.

It was a beautiful day, too! Warm, and we continued trying to winterize the Airstream so it won't bust a pipe over our cold midwestern winter.

Thank you everyone for your book recommendations re: yesterday's post! We have an absolutely enormous home library, partially due to the fact that we are out-of-control biblioholics and partially due to the fact that when we closed my school we brought home a good section of the library (including doubles and triples of our favorites, because why not?).

Today I thought I'd continue the bookish theme and list some of our all-time favorite read-alouds.

Of course, these books are just as enjoyable read to oneself, but you know, there is just a perfect read-aloud book. Mm, what are the criteria. The chapters must be long enough that one or two make a good evening's read. Not too much cliff-hanging action at the end of the chapters, causing undue agony to small ones writhing in their beds begging to read "just one more!" (Mommy needs her sleep.) I like a read-aloud that sparks some good conversations. And, I suppose, the most important thing to me is that it be written beautifully, so that reading it aloud is a pleasure in itself.

Anyway, here are some of our top favorites. We've read all of these two or more times, no more frequently than once a year.

The Little House books. I've read all the way through the series three times. The first time I read them, Jack was so small (two, maybe?) that I didn't think he was really getting it, although he always lay quietly in the crook of my arm. Then one morning he told me he'd had a dream. I said, oh really, what was it? He said, "I dreamt Pa made eggs for me and Mary and Laura!" So I guess he was getting it, after all! Their top favorite of these books was Farmer Boy. I think my top fave is Little House in the Big Woods. The descriptions of the harvesting, butchering, and putting up stores for the winter! Farmer Boy is also a paean to everything gastronomical. My advice: don't read this if you're on a diet.

A farmer depends on himself, and the land and the weather. If you're a farmer, you raise what you eat, you raise what you wear, and you keep warm with wood out of your own timber. You work hard, but you work as you please, and no man can tell you to go or come. You'll be free and independent, son, on a farm.

Mother was frying doughnuts. The place was full of their hot, brown smell, and the wheaty smell of new bread, the spicy smell of cakes, and the syrupy smell of pies.

One of my favorites from my own childhood: Rabbit Hill. How I loved this when I was a child. I must have read it every year since I was five. The boys love it, too.

The houses were all asleep, even the Dogs of the Fat-Man-at-the-Crossroads were quiet, but the Little Animals were up and about. They met the Gray Fox returning from a night up Weston way. He looked footsore and sleepy, and a few chicken feathers still clung to his ruff. The Red Buck trotted daintily across the Black Road to wish them good luck and good morning, but Father, for once, had no time for long social conversation. This was business, and no Rabbit in the county knew his business any better than Father — few as well.

Another favorite from my own childhood (in fact, I read them my childhood copy) is Rascal. We have probably read this aloud at least once a year the last three or four years. They absolutely love this book.

My harmless skunks had further complicated matters on a recent Sunday evening. These pleasant pets that I had dug from a hole the previous spring were now more than a year old and somewhat restless. They were handsome, glossy creatures — one broad-stripe, one narrow-stripe, one short-stripe, and one black beauty with a single star of white on his head. All four had perfect manners. Having never been frightened or abused, they had never scented up the neighborhood.

But one night in June when Wowser must have been drowsing, a stray dog came barking and snarling at them through the woven wire, and they reacted predictably. Sunday services were progressing at the church not seventy feet from their cage. It was a warm evening, and the windows of the choir loft were open. For the first time in his life Reverend Hooton shortened his sermon.

I'm afraid they're perhaps (sob) getting a little too old for Winnie-the-Pooh, but we own the big treasury that has all the books and poems in one volume, and I have read it all the way through, front to back, several times. This book, by the way, would make a great baby gift.

By the time it came to the edge of the Forest the stream had grown up, so that it was almost a river, and, being grown-up, it did not run and jump and sparkle along as it used to do when it was younger, but moved more slowly. For it knew now where it was going, and it said to itself, "There is no hurry. We shall get there some day." But all the little streams higher up in the Forest went this way and that, quickly, eagerly, having so much to find out before it was too late.

Already mentioned yesterday, but worth mentioning again, we've read aloud and loved (more childhood favorites of mine) A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door. The rest of the L'Engle books they've read themselves, but these two we have read aloud several times.

"You mean you're comparing our lives to a sonnet? A strict form, but freedom within it?"

"Yes." Mrs. Whatsit said. "You're given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you."

This year we read aloud for the first time Treasure Island, and both boys absolutely loved it. I hadn't read it myself since I was a child and I had forgotten how exciting it was. A few weeks after we read it aloud, my older son sat down and read it again to himself.

He was plainly blind, for he tapped before him with a stick, and wore a great green shade over his eyes and nose; and he was hunched, as if with age or weakness, and wore a huge old tattered sea cloak with a hood, that made him appear positively deformed. I never saw in my life a more dreadful-looking figure.

Even though the boys are now 8 and 11, I still read aloud to them every night. They have been reading on their own for years, but they still love to be read to, and I love to read aloud to them. They also love to take their turns reading aloud. Sometimes meals (at which everyone is allowed to read, always — they were aghast to find out this wasn't allowed when I was growing up!) turn into a free-for-all with everyone trying to entertain everyone else with selections from their book.

I don't know what the secret is to growing great readers, but reading aloud can't hurt.


Comment by michelle on November 28, 2007 at 06:12 AM

We had the no reading at mealtime rule. I always thought it was silly. Our dinners only lasted five minutes anyway. I still feel a bit like I'm getting away with something when I do indulge -- same goes for chalk on the driveway, my dad always hated that.

Comment by Laura on November 28, 2007 at 07:05 AM

This is a great list... I wondered if you could give me a bit of advice:
My oldest is 4 1/2. He loves books, and we read every night before bed, and often at random times throughout the day. He is not reading on his own yet.

Last year I tried to start our first chapter book. We tried Charlotte's Web. He wasn't into it, requesting that we stop after 3 nights. Since then, we haven't tried any more chapter books. He prefers storybooks. Do you think he isn't ready for chapter books? Or was Charlotte's Web a poor choice?

Should I try again? And, if he protests, should I follow his lead and stick with storybooks for now? Or should I really try to push the chapter books?

I'd be interested in your thoughts.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 28, 2007 at 01:36 PM

michelle, me too! and in the best possible way! :^) (we don't make our beds either. is adulthood just one long response to our childhoods?)

laura, we started out reading a mix of storybooks and then one chapter from a chapter book at the end. maybe you could try letting him choose three books and then read a chapter. and i would try a different book this time.

there's no harm in letting him know that now that he's a big boy you will be staying up a little later (parental license) and reading a chapter after his normal reading. ;^) that might also make him feel he's gaining instead of losing.

if he protests, i would definitely follow his lead. after all, it's a love of reading that we're aiming to share, and you shouldn't have to pin someone down and wrestle them into it. he'll be more amenable to trying it again in a few months if it isn't cemented in his mind as a bad experience.

our nightly reading has changed over the years. the boys have just turned 8 and 11 and currently we read one or more chapters from a fiction book followed by one or more chapters from a nonfiction book.

let me know what happens!

Comment by estea on November 28, 2007 at 07:59 PM


best book ever according to my nature-crazy lad (okay, and me, for that age group - Theodora!). we did the book on tape pre-reader, i read it, dad read it. in the car, on vacation, in the bathroom, outside in the fort, under the covers... oh Sterling my heart belongs to you. He wrote poetry also, you know. and Wolfling! my midwestern heart thrills.

and how glad i am that many still adore Farmer Boy, gore, hard work, sweat and high-fat diets 'n all. and I freely admit i WAS laura for about 18 months in the mid-70s. what? i had long brown braids, no fear of horses, a farmer's tan and a propensity for mischief and independent thought. good times, indeed.

and Ms. L'Engle. ahhh. as a grownup i'm sure you've enjoyed her journal series - A Circle of Quiet is my fave.

omg Treasure Island! dh read it aloud and did a mighty fine aaarrrrrr but i'm telling you girlfriend, the book on tape/cd narrated by Neil Hunt is indescribably good. although i attempted to as the lone reviewer on Amazon. i like books on tape, cause my voice doesn't hold out forever.

oh hell, here it is

Comment by estea on November 28, 2007 at 08:03 PM

oh there's always an addendum in me, don't ya know (best minnesotan/francis mcdormand - in - fargo accent there) -

right now dh is reading The King of the Golden River and I am working through a very decent (although very Catholic-minded) Robin Hood: His life and legend. because I prefer to think he really existed.

whetting our way toward King Arthur. yes indeedy.

kay. going to shut up and wait by the mailbox now.

ciao, bella

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 28, 2007 at 10:17 PM

e - oh, how i love the writing in "rascal" - the description of the northern woods! the camping trip! the tiny leather collar and leash! there is nothing like sharing your favorite books from childhood with your own children. full circle.

i thought *i* was laura .. after all, my name *is* lori .. and i had the long brown braids, the freckles .. and, let's face it, we were all wearing a lot of prairie in the 70s. i remember lying down on the floor with my chin in my hands to watch the first televised episode of "Little House on the Prairie" .. i thought i'd died and gone to heaven.

yes, i have l'engle's grown-up books!!! (of course!!!)

we have never done books on tape -- ever! :^O we are big read-alouders. however, we have talked about getting books on tape for our next cross-country journey. i am bookmarking this one! i think it would keep all of us entertained. :^D

addendum: dominic is pretty sure he's read every single young adult book on robin hood. i think that's impossible -- there are a lot of them. but he is adamant. i should suggest he write a review of all the RH books. ;^)

Comment by molly on November 28, 2007 at 10:51 PM

I am loving all these book posts- must bookmark. It's funny you used the word "piddle" because just last night Avery called me into her room to explain that very word to her (she was reading a book about a dog). We are currently listening to the second book in the Sisters Grimm series - very entertaining.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 29, 2007 at 12:11 AM

bookmark me, molly!!! lol

re: "piddle", don't get me started. there's a lot more in the midwestern lexicon. you may need a midwest-English dictionary before you're through. ;^)

Comment by molly on November 29, 2007 at 11:15 PM

My grandma (originally from Ohio) always says "piddle" and "supper"; it took me years to stop saying "warsh".

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 30, 2007 at 12:07 AM

i say supper and it drives the older son crazy. ;^)

thankfully "warsh" didn't stick to me, although i can't say the same for all my family members. ahem.

when someone tried to back into the parking space i was already heading into, i yelled out the window "crimony moses!!!" (i'm not even sure how to *spell* that.)

midwesterner, through and through. ;^)

Comment by Jill on December 5, 2007 at 08:22 PM

I didn't think I would ever find anyone who loved reading aloud to kids as much as I do. Most people can't understand this. Seems most people think reading a bedtime story (5 minutes) is so commendable. I also try to read every night to my 6 and 10 year olds. I just asked my 10yr. old the other night when he thought he would be too old for that. He said, "Not for awhile." I absolutely love this time with my kids. Have you ever read the Princess Bride aloud to your kids? It's so fun to read! I did have to do some creative editing in the introduction, but it was worth it.

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 5, 2007 at 10:23 PM

you found me! :^)

i *haven't* read princess bride, but it is one of our fave movies. the boys would probably enjoy it even though they've seen the movie 20 times.

we dedicate a big chunk of time every evening to reading aloud. my 11yo definitely still loves it. we read our nonfiction science and then discuss it .. by the time i've read two chapters of the 8yo's book (currently tom sawyer) followed by one of the 11yo's (currently 'a short history of everything' by bill bryson), i'm barely awake enough to discuss theories of the universe! lol

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