I am not always a good mom. I yell too much. I care more about keeping the house clean than about creating magical childhood moments. I let the kids eat way too many desserts, and I am notoriously lax about screen time. Sometimes, I cheap out on organic foods—even the ones on the infamous dirty dozen—and no one ever has on matching socks.
But! I do love to read out loud to my children. There is something wonderful about a soft couch packed with kids who clamor to get close enough to see the pictures—every page for the babies and every chapter or so in the books my big kids love—
Something’s so lovely about the feel of their growing bodies pressing against my arms, their heads close enough to smell, their excited questions, the way they guess at upcoming plot twists and exclaim over characters’ actions. I especially adore sharing reading duties with my 10 and 8-year-olds, hearing them change their tones when they read dialog , watching them sound out the words they don’t know, listening to laughter bubble in their voices when they get an author’s joke.
I admit that as soon as they were reliable readers, I outsourced their nightly bedtime stories to my older two boys, but I still read to my younger two every night. We all go the library together once a week, and I love nothing more than curling up with the kids to dive into a classic from my own childhood or a new story we have discovered together. I haven’t been able to make time for this every single day between sportsball and working from home, but the beginning of the new school year makes me prioritize reading together, to, as Beverly Cleary’s eight-year-old Ramona learns, drop everything and read.
An avid reader myself, I have read at least 100 books a year for the past 3 years. What started as a New Year’s resolution to rekindle the love of fiction I lost in graduate school, this goal has turned me—and my kids—into total bookworms. My two oldest boys don’t love reading the way I did when I was their age, but they can still lose themselves in a good book, and they adore being read to. We’ve done Potter and The Little House books, of course, but we’ve also veered slightly from the beaten path.
As we usher in a new academic year, here’s a list of five excellent read-alouds for kids ages 3-10—some are old; some are new, and there’s a book on this list for everyone on your couch, I’m sure:
Wonder by R.J. Palacio: The story of Auggie, a fifth-grader with a facial deformity, and his friends is sweet, sad, and memorable, and it teaches kids important lessons about compassion and the power of friendship.
Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graf: This might be my favorite children’s book ever! The story of Albie and his parents is more about how to not ruin our kids’ lives with our own expectations than it is about being a kid, but both plotlines are touching and original.
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls: I remember reading this in third grade and sobbing at my desk during silent reading time while my classmates looked on in horror. And you know what? I cried just as hard reading it to my own kids.
All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor: I will always have a sot spot for this book about a large Brooklyn family at the turn of the twentieth century because I am name for one of the daughters, but my kids loved it, too. In fact, just now when I asked my 10-year-old his favorite read-aloud title, this was the first one he named.
The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes: Not since Cleary has any author been able to capture so perfectly what it feels like to be a kid.
Right now, we are zooming through Cleary’s Ramona Quimby, Age 8, and we have big plans to wade into Anne Of Green Gables when we’re done. I am trying really hard to raise boys who read books by women about girls and accept a female narrator as a universal voice (the perils of having a feminist mother, I guess—poor kids), but we’ll mix in plenty of E.B. White and Roald Dahl and maybe even some Alexander Dumas for good measure. What about you? Please share your must-reads—we can’t wait to dive in!