A common question I receive: could you recommend a good read aloud? I’ve recommended some (in list pages above); and what follows is the beauty and the brains behind choosing books to read aloud.
First and Foremost, you’ll look for books the majority of you will enjoy. There are a few failsafes I could offer, but every relationship has their books–enjoy the process and the revelation.
Their degree of difficulty notwithstanding, all stories should be able to be read aloud.
How we decide on what makes an especially successful read-aloud varies. The members of The Association of Booksellers for Children (ABC) created an award for books that “embodied the universal read aloud standards that were created by the work of the beloved author E.B. White.” E.B. White’s books [like Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little] are popular choices for reading out loud. Do the members choose books that are also popular choices for most households? Do they pick books reminiscent of the experience of when they read E.B. White aloud? Must they involve animals, or Kleenex? [I found their criteria in case you are also curious.]
Wondering about ABC’s standards had me wondering about my own.
Why’d I choose the books I chose for “read aloud options?”
I haven’t read every book on the list, and not all of them aloud. These are titles I’ve been told by many friends, customers, and reviewers that they’re good for reading aloud.
The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne is insanely popular to read, and to read aloud. I’m not sure Natalya and I made it through four books before she found Annie too irritating. I think we went on to read The Dragon Slayer’s Academy by Kate McMullen instead. It was more our cup of tea. So I may have also included one or two lesser known titles on the list.
>> The Experience.
–I felt successful as a reader/storyteller. This is especially true of picture books. I appreciate when they guide you in the way they should be read, see The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex; or The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak; or anything Mo Willems.
–It was beautiful or amusing to hear those words and sentences aloud.
–It was fun and funny and sad and…great to experience in real time with another person.
–The story transported everyone and it was compelling, and it all settled deep.
–You felt like you participated in creating something meaningful alongside the writer/illustrator—because you did.
What I, and maybe you, will look for in choosing a potential Read Aloud:
>>STICKERS. If the title is a Winner, Honor, Finalist, Shortlisted—including the E.B. White Read-Aloud Award. Clean writing (e.g. good syntax) makes reading aloud pretty effortless. Newbery Winners and Honors are the most popular choices in juvenile fiction; they do tell compelling stories, but they are also well-edited.
The type of award will also help you find where you want to go. Newbery Winners are almost always sure to make you feel both deeply and gratified. Sure, you’ll cry, but the catharsis is worth it. You like humanity-inspired conflict that translates into great opportunities for conversation? The National Book Award.
>>PREMISE. Medals and those Popular Authors aren’t always a go-to. Browse covers and jacket copy. Try a few pages; although, that said, some find the start of Harry Potter a bit rough, but Rowling can tell a fantastic story and transport you into phenomenal places and meet so many interesting creatures and people. We decide where sounds good to us, or with whom; whose story do we want to hear–and when. If the premise strikes everyone’s fancy, try it.
>>CADENCE. I find authors from the UK to have a built in rhythm, vocabulary, and turn of phrase we always enjoy. I enjoy books set in the South, as well. Just something I’ve noticed for myself.
>>GENRES. Fantasy tends to have the captivating world-building apparatus, and Mysteries their cliffhanger, and Adventures sweep you away. It may seem helpful to find a genre (I certainly organized my list into categories), but many successful read-alouds seem to have a little bit of everything we like in a good story, regardless its genre, maybe that’s why they work well for that ‘more than one listener at a time’ dilemma. Try considering qualities in the story you enjoy: like the pacing, the cast, the themes, the tone.
>>SERIES are a reasonable go-to, I list several, but resist the impulse to binge-read. Some series need spreading out if you are starting young (e.g. Harry Potter, Narnia). Use one-offs or alternate series and genres. Same with favorite authors. It is good to vary or alternate.
>>CLASSICS are a good choice not only because they capture those timeless stories, but the way many are written can be challenging to some younger/newer readers. I tend to recommend beginning with some classics over others. I’m consider length and premise/interest. Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz, The Secret Garden, Peter Pan, The Jungle Book, Treasure Island…then Anne of Green Gables and Black Beauty and Call of the Wild…
>>CONTENT. Please, do not only pick silly, fluffy, or gentle stories because they don’t have uncomfortable words or depict broken families or hearts. Please do not shy away from hard content, or be afraid to cry. Your listeners are noticing that you are willing to participate in difficult conversations, and navigate the tensions with the characters and the listener. Find authors like DiCamillo who can lead readers through hard things and bring them to an ending that has hope and all the good messages they’d want their listener to remember. Your Newbery and National Book Award winners and honors are great options here.
>>DIVERSIFY. Model an adventurous spirit and a mind that wants to hear different kinds of stories. Be thoughtful in who is being represented, and how, whether we’re talking author, character, or setting. Reading Aloud with someone demonstrates that you value literacy, and you value your time spent with the listener. Sure, find authors/characters who look and sound like you, come from the places you come from. Also find authors/characters who do not look or sound like you, who don’t come from the places you come from. And start early.
Please read the title, author and illustrator names aloud, too.
Time-management sounds, and sometimes is, boring and painful, but consider it. You don’t have to finish a book, but don’t start one if you know you can’t finish it. Plan where that bookmark goes—sure, fudge it once in a while, who doesn’t get caught-up in the story. The goal is enjoying this time together.
Lastly, I hope you are reading aloud in proximity. Laps are encouraged, leaning, snuggling. Be vulnerable. Enjoy.