The Reading Family

I recently wrote an article for the Hornbook Magazine for their Books in the Home column. It was about whether or not to allow younger siblings to read YA books alongside their older siblings, and what I’ve learned in the process of raising four avid readers. If you are interested the article is on line here.

The article was part of a larger conversation I’ve been having with colleagues about the social dimension of reading and how often it gets overlooked in schools that must be curriculum driven in every minute of the day, somewhat to the detriment of developing avid readers in my opinion. But since I can’t change national education policy, I’ve tried to focus on what I can, the reading that happens in my own home. There was an era before screens were the dominant entertainment source in a home, when reading aloud was as common as a sing-along for family entertainment. Sadly it’s not possible to recreate this environment. With ever widening cell phone coverage and ever smarter phones, you can down load a movie or video game to your phone even in the wilderness.
When my kids were younger it wasn’t hard to read aloud to them. They were eager to unwind with a book and my undivided attention. But toward the later years of grade school and into middle school, our reading together time seemed to shrink as other pursuits grew. Sports, music, homework, and my own writing deadlines ate into our family time in the evening and finding books we wanted to share became harder as well. And yet I missed it. We all did.
So just as my oldest was entering high school we started a new tradition, the Christmas read aloud. I’d pick a book I thought we’d all like, and read it aloud over the 12 days of Christmas. Most of the 12 days fell on vacation so the usual distractions were less. Curling up, all six of us with cocoa and popcorn and pillows and blankets was more appealing in the winter. It’s become a holiday tradition we treasure, although picking the holiday book is always tricky given the diverging interests of a house full of teenagers. Here are three books we’ve enjoyed as family reads over the years.
Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth Jr.
This is the biography of the Gilbreth  family in the 1920s. Because my husband is also one of twelve children, my kids loved hearing the exploits of this household of fourteen. It was at times side-splittingly funny but also warm and tender as you see two strong willed parents who adore each other struggling to do right but their many and mischievous children.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
This story has been in so many filmed version that it is easy to forget just how well the original unabridged version was written. Concrete proof that you can marry gorgeous lyrical and leisurly prose with rip roaring action.
The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
It helps to be a fan of British humor but if you’ve got a houseful of Monty Python fans here’s a book that takes all the fun of British television and gives it an interesting, fast-paced and discussion worthy plot. We adored the bad smelling and unapologetically violent Nac Mac Feegle from their tangled red noggins to their grubby blue feet.
This coming year we’re going to try something new, the shared reading of a play in which everybody gets a part. It will take a little coordination in highlighting the scripts so everybody can keep track of their part. I’m very much looking forward to it. Our first attempt will be Cyrano de Burgerac by Edmond Rostand. We might even have to pull out the nerf swords for a semi-staged reading.
Have you got favorite family read alouds that work with middle grade kids and older? I’d love to get your recommendations in the comments.


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Rosanne Parry
Rosanne Parry is the author of 8 MG novels including best sellers A Wolf Called Wander, A Whale of the Wild and her newest A Horse Named Sky. She sells books at Annie Blooms Bookstore in Multnomah Village and writes books in her treehouse in Portland, Oregon.
  1. Great suggestions Camille! I once heard that the Redwall books were originally written for students at a school for the blind with the idea that they be read aloud foremost in the authors mind. It certainly comes through in the wonderfully distinct range of British, Welsh, Irish and Scottish accents. Howls Moving Castle is a favorite of my younger girls. We’ll have to give the The Girl Who Could Fly and Sisters Grimm a try. My youngest is quite found of the Tales Dark and Grimm books by Gidwitz.

    Sue, I’ve heard readings of A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas ages ago, but I don’t think I’ve tried a Christmas Memory. Thanks for the suggestion!

    Katherine, How lucky for your boys to have a reading dad! I think my sister and brother read every single Anne McCaffrey book in print.

    Thanks for chiming in Linda and Brenda!

    We read the first act of Cyrano on Christmas eve. It was such fun! We speak among the 6 of us several languages, none of which is French, so the names proved quite challenging. But we decided to channel Inspector Clouseau and make up the pronunciations with Cyrano-like élan and not fret the particulars of accent and phonics.

    Happy Holidays everyone!

  2. Great family tradition. It’s one I bet your children will pass along too.

  3. Thanks, Rosanne, for this lovely reminder of the power of a read aloud to bring families closer! I have very fond memories of “listening in” at the bottom of the stairs as my husband read aloud to our two sons well into their middle school/high school years. Sitting on the carpet and leaning against the wall just outside their open doorways, Russ read the Dragons of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

  4. What a wise and wonderful tradition, Roseanne, and thanks for your list of suggestions. What makes Christmas for me is rereading Truman Capote’s A CHRISTMAS MEMORY each year. It’s an all-ages story and would make a great family read-aloud.

  5. Love this idea, thanks for sharing.

  6. Lately we have especially enjoyed the Redwall books (either reading them aloud ourselves or letting Mr. Jacques do the heavy lifting for us), Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester, Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley, and Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.