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Some people think when kids can read for themselves they don’t need to be read aloud to. I could not agree less. I read novels to my second graders daily. In my classroom, there were moments when we just couldn’t settle. I would call everyone to the rug and pick up our novel. The class would fall silent when I read. Even the wigglers listened. When one of my lowest students ever said, “It’s like listening to a dream,” I knew I had reached him. How great is that?
My husband or I read aloud each night to my own kids up until they were teenagers. Last summer, we had a family get together. While I was reading to my grandson as he was getting ready to go to bed, the noisy room full of twenty-somethings and their parents quieted. It became apparent they were all listening to me. When I finished, everyone yawned and announced they thought they were ready to hit the hay. The next morning, one of the “twenties” came and thanked me for reading him to sleep. No one had done that for him in years.
When you read aloud, it is okay to make mistakes. It is okay to repeat a sentence you really love. It is okay to check for understanding. It is, especially; okay to express how the story makes you feel.
Here are fifteen of my many favorite novels to read aloud. Many are classics. They are classic for a reason and not necessarily what children would pick for themselves. There are also newer books. I couldn’t begin to list all the books I love.
1. Sideway Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sacher: This is the first novel I read every year to my second graders. The chapters are short and wildly silly. They would talk about the characters in this book all year. I also got to do my evil laugh, which is always a bonus.
Kate Di Camillo wrote three of my favorite stories. They are each a redemption tale. I never became bored with them:
2. Because of Winn Dixie is a short novel that touched our souls. It is the story of how a dog saves a girl by filling a void left by her run-away mother. There is a line in the story where the main character likens missing her momma to putting your tongue in the space where a tooth has been lost. You keep expecting it to be there even though you know it isn’t. Second graders, who are missing teeth pros, can connect with the image. We watch the movie afterwards, and always complain about how the book was ruined.
3. The Tale of Despereaux is a love story between a mouse and a princess. It is dreamy and terrifying. It teaches about how making assumptions and judgments leave us missing much of the beauty of the world.
4. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is one of the most beautiful stories I have ever read. A very self-important china rabbit is lost at sea while traveling with his owner, a little girl who adores him. He is rescued by a fisherman, only to be lost and found again and again. As his dignity shatters, he begins to realize there is more to life than an outfit. He even discovers what love is.
5. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster is one of the classics. I think this is best read to ages ten and up. The puns and illustrations are full of humor. This book is a conversation starter for sure.
6. The House Above the Trees by Ethel Cook Eliot: This book was originally published in the 1920s. Hepatica is a poor orphaned, or perhaps abandoned, girl dressed in pale blue rags, who can see the wind creatures. She follows one into the forest where she meets Tree Mother. Hepatica is given responsibility of the forest, a task she does not feel ready to tackle. She just follows the advice of “Listen to the trees” and finds they always guide her to make the right choice. This story is the one my former students always come and ask me about.
7. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum: I began reading this to my class when I realized that my Latino students were missing all our idioms related to the movie. The book is different than the movie, but it is still the same story for the most part. There are a few extra characters, including my favorite, the Queen of the Field Mice. Dorothy’s slippers are silver not ruby. There are opportunities for evil laughs and sighs of relief. We sit with our notebooks when we watch the movie and compare and contrast the book to the famous motion picture.
8. The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary: There is frequently discussion about the lack of books for boys. This classic is about the unlikely friendship between a boy with a toy motorcycle and a daredevil mouse.
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis: While this is an analogy to the Easter story, we never discussed that in my public school classroom. We just reveled in the bravery of the characters as they stepped into an alternative world.
10. Matilda by Roald Dahl: What can I add to Matilda? It is such a great story of girl, magic, and a teacher whom she connected to. I shut my eyes and hear my wonderful 6’6” student teacher, Ryan, reading to the class, imitating the voices of Miss Trunchbull, Miss Honey, or Matilda’s father. The class was so engaged in the story that they whined when it was time to stop and go to recess.
11. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh: This was the first novel I remember becoming addicted to as a girl. My neighbor, Julie, and I decided to become spies. We even ate tomato sandwiches like Harriet. It is a wonderful book about writing and observing. I recently recommended to a second grader and looked over a little later to see her lying on the library floor, lost in Harriet’s adventures. As an adult, I cringe a little at some of the choices Harriet made but it is a wonderful book to read aloud.
12. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: What a crazy book to read! Suspend your belief and jump down the rabbit hole with your children. I don’t think you will ever regret it. It is a story that never leaves you, I believe. I remember my husband sitting in our bed. reading and rereading his favorite poems from it to my son and daughter. Now, my son recites those poems to his boys.
13. The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord and Marc Simon: This is perfect for ages nine and up. A young girl moves to New York from China and becomes of fan of Jackie Robinson. It is a book of culture shock and the idea that we all feel like outsiders sometimes.
14. Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne: Not all Winnie the Pooh is Disney. While the stories may sound that way, they are beautifully written and worth reading aloud. My second graders often pretended that they thought is was a baby book until suddenly they we all laughing at Kanga sticking soap in Piglets mouth. We took the time to draw or act out some of the scenes to build understanding.
15. The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong: This was a Newberry award winner in 1955. It is a story of environmental changes and working together to make changes. It is also a story of a very tiny school with each child having a set classroom personality that changes as the story unfolds. The teacher is a role model that every teacher could wish to emulate. I read this at the end of second grade when I had a high-ish group. I would say ages eight or nine and up.
Remember when you show children how much joy a book gives you, they learn to love books. Read aloud!