Out Loud by Tricia Springstubb

When I was a children’s librarian, no question got me more excited than, “Do you know a book I can read aloud with my ten-year-old?”

It took all my meager impulse control not to bust out the dance of joy.  Then to babble about how much I’d loved reading aloud to my own kids at that age, and then how hard it was going to be to choose from all the amazing possibilities, and then…

Still working on that self-control issue.

Some parents were looking to build their kids’ reading skills.  Others longed for the cozy delights of reading together, even though their child now read independently.   None of them was going to be disappointed.

My own childhood reading was completely anarchic–I more or less leaped from Nancy Drew to Jane Eyre.  Equally amazing women, but a lot of classics got left out in between.  With my daughters I discovered Narnia, the wild horses of Chincoteague, and the land of Half Magic. When I came to the end of Where the Red Fern Grows, Zoe had to take the book and carry on, since I got too choked up to read.  The same thing happened, a year or two later, with My Antonia.  

Telling stories aloud has always been a deeply human pleasure.  And since humans are pleasure-seeking beings, there’s no better way to convey the joy and power of reading. Many studies bear out the value of reading aloud for language and grammar acquisition.  Kids can enjoy stories far more sophisticated than they’re capable of reading on their own. 

Our guru here is Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook.  Oral reading, he says, has never been more needed than now, when school curriculums are dictated by standardized testing, causing too many students to associate reading with “dry-boned textbooks, boredom, pain, and the threat of failure”. 

The list of books just begging to be shared aloud is endless.  Below, a few tried and true classics.

Porch Lies: Tales of Slicksters, Tricksters, and Other Wily Characters and The Dark Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural,  both by Patricia McKissack

Collections of original tales, these are perfect for when you want something short.  Both draw on African American oral tradition, mixing humor, spine-tingling creepiness, and a word to the wise. McKissack is a master of idiom, and her voice leaps off the page. “Some folk believe the story; some don’t. You decide for yourself.”  Pour the lemonade and grab a rocker.

Jim Ugly and Bandit’s Moon, both by Sid Fleischman

These exciting Westerns define “page turner”.  Part mystery, part adventure, and bone-tickling funny, both books read fast, but their underlying themes of injustice and discrimination make them discussion worthy. Anyone who’s ever longed to saddle up will love reading the dialogue aloud.  

A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder, both by Richard Peck

These rollicking books tell their stories in linked, stand-alone chapters.  Anybody any age will alternately belly laugh and tear up over the doings of the irascible Grandma Dowdel. Peck is that rare thing—a born storyteller.  Even if you’re sitting all alone, read these books out loud!

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert O’Brien

“There’s something very strange about the rats living under the rosebush at the Fitzgibbon farm.”  Who’s going to solve the mystery, avert the danger, and lead everyone to utopia?  Mom, of course!  Full of suspense, this one will make everyone squeal, “Don’t stop!” when it’s time for bed.  Again, besides a terrific story, families will find plenty  to discuss and debate.    

Two more recent books deserve mention for their compelling voices:

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly

Here’s one to take your time over.  With its old-fashioned but accessible cadence, the language deserves to linger on the air.  It’s about a girl, but Calpurnia’s sly sense of humor and her hunger to understand the natural world should appeal to boys, too.

Keeper, by Kathi Appelt

Reading this enchanted, coming-of-age story aloud will bring out the actor in young and old alike.  Some chapters are only one sentence long, so everyone can chime in.

 Sure, you can listen on CD or iPod—that’s fun, too.  But nothing beats snuggling in as  someone you know and love begins, “Chapter One…”

Tricia has a renewed respect for reading aloud, after taping a podcast for her newly released MG novel, What Happened on Fox Street.  You can listen to it here.  www.triciaspringstubb.com

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Tricia Springstubb
Tricia is the author of many books for middle grade, most recently "Every Single Second" (HarperCollins) and the third book in the Cody series, "Cody and the Rules of Life" (Candlewick Press). A frequent speaker at schools, libraries, and conferences, she lives in Cleveland OH. You can find out more about her and her work at www.triciaspringstubb.com
  1. I LOVE reading out loud with my kids. There is something exciting that happens when we all are invested in the same story.

    I am jotting these titles down for our next bedtime story picks. Thanks for the list, Tricia!

  2. I love reading books out loud to my little brother. We like the ones that have won that EB White award for reading out loud.

  3. Thanks for the reminder that this is PRECISELY what I need to be doing with my middle child (who is nearing 10)!

  4. fun post, and great suggestions. We love reading aloud in our house, and are determined to continue as long as possible. The husband and I take turns with a book (he does better and Tolkien and Lewis than I do). The daughter is 10 presently and sometimes she reads aloud to us, especially in the car–our own audiobook version.
    some of our best conversations have come from having experienced some part of a book together. and reading aloud has noticeably built confidence into her ever-expanding vocabulary.

  5. Great post! At our house, we’re reading “Pippi Longstocking” aloud (I have a 6 and 8 year old) while my voracious reader 8year old and I are also reading “Chasing Vermeer” aloud. (It often helps him “get into” a series he’s not sure about to read it first with me – we did the same for “Harry Potter” and a bunch of Roald Dahl books)

    As a pediatrician and writer, I can’t speak enough to the importance of reading aloud – even to older children. I just blogged on it – asking people to join me in committing to a reading ‘streak’ with their kids (modeled after a father-daughter in the NYT who read every day without fail). Endless benefits – from literacy, to attachment to a love of words to just fun!


  6. I love reading aloud. One of my recent favorites that’s full of fun is The Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary School by Candace Fleming.

  7. Oh gosh, we’ve started with our six month old and she LOVES it. I’m hoping to be able to introduce her to all my favorites as she grows up!

    I can’t wait to read Keeper. Kathi Appelt is AMAZING!

  8. Bud Not Buddy (and other books by Christopher Paul Curtis) are great read alouds, too.

  9. @ Amie–What if you read aloud a book that your daughter is already familiar with in some other way such as one that has a well-done movie version? Would the familiarity help her auditory processing? Or what aboud a book that has a lot of illustrations (i.e. Diary of a Wimpy Kid) or reading a graphic novel together and also discussing the artwork? Just a couple ideas.

  10. My son is ten and he still loves to snuggle up in bed and listen as I read a book aloud to him and his sister. I guess they are lucky, because the teachers at their school read out loud to them every single day, as well.

  11. Thanks for the great suggestions. We have read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone outloud many times for my 8 y.o. The 4 y.o. loves the rhyming meter of Dr. Seuss.

  12. My parents read aloud to me and my siblings all the time. We loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, Pippi Longstocking, and Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little! Anything by Beverly Cleary and Roald Dahl were also favorites. I re-read them all now, too. I have such fond memories of my family and those amazing books!

  13. I love these suggestions! I’m working on a young adult book but I also love to read these aloud:
    The Mouse and The Motorcycle, Beverly Cleary
    The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

  14. my middle daughter has a central auditory processing disorder, so listening comprehension is extremely frustrating for everyone involved. but i can definately see the benefits in reading aloud. my other two children adore it. and my hope is that if i keep it up, my middle daughter’s deficits might be strengthened one day.

    thanks for this post!

  15. Reading aloud is so essential, especially when most parents are ready to stop (when kids are reading independently). We read Watership Down as a family last summer. It was my husband’s suggestion, and I was worried my boys might not get everything, but they loved it. I even overheard them adding rabbits Fiver, Hazel, and BigWig into their playtime.