Favorite Family Read Alouds

I love sharing my love of the written word with my children. It’s one of the things I excel at as a mom: I feed them wholesome food for their minds, their spirits, their souls. These are some of our favorite read-alouds, in no particular order. And, yes, many of them are replicated on other pages…because good books are good to read out loud and on one’s own. An asterisk* denotes an absolute must-read: you simply may not deprive your children (or yourself) of these starred stories!

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
The first in a 12-book series, this perfect summer read-aloud introduces the four Walker children (the Swallows, after their agile little boat), the two Blackett girls (the intrepid Amazons), and their camp on Wild Cat Island. Adults graciously disappear and leave the youngsters to their adventures on the lake and the island. We’ve read one Ransome book each summer since we first discovered Swallows and Amazons, which remains my favorite in the series so far (but we’re only on book four…).

Holes by Louis Sachar
Holes is about a bunch of boys, including one Stanley Yelnats, who spend their days digging (what else?) holes in the Texas sun. If that compelling hook doesn’t make you want to read it, maybe the fact that it won both the Newbery and the National Book Award will. It’s a masterpiece of tightly braided storylines, both past and present, woven together to create a seamless whole. Plus it’s just plain fun. And funny.

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
Words cannot convey how much I love this book. It’s the family story of The Railway Children (see below) and The Moffats updated for the 21st century. The four Penderwick girls can earnestly say things like “family honor” and “chivalry” and not sound the least bit priggish; in fact, they sound cool. Plus, there are two rabbits and a very interesting boy in this tale of an almost magical summer. And there are four sequels, none of which are as good as the first, but which are delightful nonetheless.

The Railway Children by E. Nesbit
After the mysterious disappearance of their father, three children and their mother must move to a house in the country where the children quickly befriend the workers at the nearby railway station and charm the passengers whose daily commute takes them past these urchins waving happily from beside the rails, relationships that ultimately lead to a delightfully happy ending. We enjoyed this book so much we took our big fat illustrated hardbound edition with us on a camping trip (yes, really), just so we wouldn’t have to wait till we got home to finish it.  

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame*
My dad read this book to me at least three times when I was growing up. It’s the first book I remember following along with silently as he read aloud. I confess, Mr. Toad’s antics gave my young good-girl heart very anxious palpitations, but homebody that I was (and am) I loved Mole. This is the perfect summer read: find a blanket and a shady tree and some children and make an afternoon of it. Lemonade and cherries and maybe a pie or two wouldn’t hurt either.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson*
Long John Silver is such an iconic figure that every child ought to have the privilege of meeting him in person. Besides, Treasure Island is a rollicking adventure story—pirates, buried treasure, gunfights, friendship, treachery—what’s not to love? The language of this book is difficult for young readers, so I highly recommend making this a family read-aloud. N.C. Wyeth did the original illustrations, and they are wonderful (though not as plentiful as one might wish).

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne*
Milne is one of the most delightful writers I know. His sense of humor, his keen understanding of human (and stuffed animal) nature, and his playful wordsmithing keep me returning to his books again and again. If you’ve not read the real Pooh (the Disney rip-offs, which are obnoxiously bad, don’t count), get yourself a copy, grab the nearest child, and treat yourself to an hour of whimsy and delight.

More Stories from Grandma’s Attic by Arleta Richardson
A delightful collection of short stories about Grandma’s growing-up years on a farm. My daughter and I giggled and giggled over the bonnet-wearing piglet in the buggy. Too funny.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
Our most recent family read aloud (May 2018), this story of spunky, stout-hearted Bonnie, her frail but strong-spirited cousin Sylvia, and the evil Miss Slighcarp (not to mention the eponymous wolves) kept all of us wondering what would happen next. We had several later-than-usual bedtimes because even Doug and I couldn’t resist the temptation to read “just one more chapter, pleeeease!” 

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