In every task the most important thing is the beginning… especially when you deal with anything young and tender.
Plato, The Republic Taken from The Read-Aloud Handbook
I consider myself an avid reader and I have been since about fifth grade when I fell in love with the Nancy Drew series and began a mission to read every single one of them. After Nancy Drew I went on to fall in love with Beverly Cleary, Madeline L ‘Engle, and many many others. In junior high I had the privilege of working in the library instead of sitting in study hall. I was one of the first ones to get my hands on the new books and I was always scouring the shelves for old gems.
It was easy for me to fall in love with reading, but it hasn’t been such a natural thing for my children. I have always read aloud to them sporadically. I got my girls hooked on A Series of Unfortunate Events by reading book one aloud to them. I introduced them to Harry Potter by reading the first huge book out loud over several weeks. And, on a road trip once, we all enjoyed The Mysterious Journey of Edward Tulane.
This year I’m making an even bigger effort to read aloud. I read one book to my bigger girls ages 13 and 15 (we are currently reading The Hobbit), and a different book to my son who is 8 (he has chosen the 3 part series The Indian in the Cupboard). My four year old still asks for board books so I do a lot of repetitive reading with her.
Yes, this arrangement is much more time consuming. I read in a 30 minute time frame before each bedtime. I’m doing over an hour of reading each night most nights of the week. But I am finding there is more concentration and less commotion.
In the past I’ve read to all four kids in the living room before bed. The kids were free to move around, draw, or just lay there and listen (no one chose lay there and listen). There was lots of bouncing around, some fighting, many, many distractions and I often lost my cool and felt I was shouting over the noise. Those picturesque families who sit quietly by the fire and listen to a parent read – so not my family.
I give the kids a choice of three books that I want or can stand to read each time we are ready to move on to another book.
I have found a good book list helps so much when it’s time to choose the next book. If you’re looking to start reading aloud to your kids, start with one of these great guides.
The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. This is my second reading of this informative book. The first half is a series of chapters on why you should read aloud, how it helps kids, and what he has learned from reading to and working with children. The second half is a fabulous list of books with a short description. It makes it so easy to choose your next book.
Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt. I own this book and consult it regularly. It is set up in much the same way as The Read-Aloud Handbook with chapters like “What Makes a Good Book?” and “Making Decisions About Books.” At the back is a descriptive list of books beginning with picture books and going to novels.
All Through the Ages by Christine Miller. Although this guide is focused on history, I include it because if you are a homeschooler, combining a good book with a history lesson is the crowning achievement. (Even better if the kids never realize they are learning!). Miller gives a comprehensive list of both nonfiction, historical fiction, and literature from each era. I’ve had this for years and I still use it often.
“…[I]n reading aloud we should concern ourselves primarily (though not exclusively) with books that will stimulate children’s emotions, minds, and imaginations, stories that will stay with them for years to come, literature that will serve as a harbor light toward which a child can navigate.”
Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook