“Who is to make sure that our children’s sense of wonder grows indestructible with the years? We are. You and I.” - Katherine Paterson, A Sense of Wonder
If you’re reading this, then it’s likely you are a parent who values the power of a good book, either for yourself or your child. Nurturing our children can take on many forms, but one of the most powerful is reading. Studies show the single greatest way to help your children grow into a confident and successful reader is to read aloud to them.
As children get older, their schoolwork grows more demanding, schedules fill up, and technology takes a bigger chunk of their concentration. Somewhere during those grade school or middle school years, many kids’ desire to read for fun plummets.
We, as parents, have an incredible opportunity to nurture a deeper love for the written word. The benefits are tremendous, according to Sarah Mackenzie, founder of Read-Along Revival podcast and mother of six. She says not only can reading increase a young person’s vocabulary, understanding of sophisticated word patterns, and reading comprehension, but reading aloud brings the family together:
“The stories we read together act as a bridge,” says Mackenzie in her book The Read-Aloud Family, “when we can’t seem to find another way to connect. They are our currency, our language, our family culture.”
Adam, a father of four who served as a Major in the Marine Corps and experienced several deployments, loves how reading aloud with his children is creating so much precious bonding time. “Long work hours and multiple deployments kept me away from my children much longer than I ever imagined would be the case,” he wrote in a recent email interview. “[Reading] was a way I could invest in them, their minds, curiosity, imagination, education, etc.”
Adam’s children clearly love their time with him, as indicated by their tradition of chanting, “Trailer, trailer, trailer,” once that night’s chapter is finished. He explained, “I will quickly select an interesting sounding sentence or two from the first pages of the next chapter, and present it out of context to whet appetites. This often results in passionate pleas to read another chapter and mutinous complaints when I won’t...because bedtime.”
The joy of reading is great for any age, which is why we compiled a list of chapter books you can read with your grade schoolers, pre-teens, or teens. Each family’s and child’s reading preferences vary, so this list is just the beginning. Head to the bottom of this article for a great list of resources that will help you find hundreds of hand-picked recommendations for young readers (and listeners).
Below you’ll find recommendations from each of the two parents you heard from in the stories above, as well as our own Home Reserve favorites.
The 13 Clocks by James Thurber
If you’re looking for humor, look no further. Neil Gaiman calls The 13 Clocks “...probably the best book in the world.”
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
This retelling of Grimm’s fairy tale reads at a great pace and is filled with action, adventure, and romance, according to Sarah’s recommendation in The Read-Aloud Family. She also recommends the rest of the Books of Bayern: Enna Burning, River Secrets, and Forest Born.
The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson
Join the adventures of the Igiby children as they discover their seemingly ordinary town is anything but that.
Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo
Sarah and her children found a running joke in this humorous series about a pig named Mercy Watson. “In our house, whenever anyone says the word fascinating, someone else will interject (in the nerdiest voice they can muster), ‘Fascinating! Simply fascinating!’ This comes from DiCamillo’s hilarious Mercy Watson series, and every time it happens it catches us a little off guard and makes everyone laugh.
Frindle by Andrew Clements
This middle grade novel floods the reader’s imagination with the antics of a stir crazy fifth grader, particularly when he invents a totally new word.
The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis
Adam discovered The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” was a great first selection for his crew. “Lewis manages richness of visualizations, character relatability, and on-point archetypal representations with simple enough language that kids are able to follow.”
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
An unlikely hero, Bilbo Baggins, finds himself journeying to the Lonely Mountain with a wizard and a jumble of dwarves in a tremendous quest that’s excellent for young imaginations.
The Wrinkle in Time series by Madeleine L’Engle
Adam appreciated the storyline of a young heroine, who discovers she is more resilient than she realized, needing to rescue her father. He also chose this series “for [L’Engle]’s representation of rational, scientific understanding as both intertwined and emergent from the deeply mystical.”
The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
What an incredible journey back in time this true telling of Laura Ingalls Wilder family is. Experience wagon rides, building log cabins, preparing meat for winter, and the sound of Pa’s fiddle as Laura and her family dance and laugh together on the prairie.
Heir to the Empire trilogy by Timothy Zahn
This trio of Star Wars novels helped generations of fans imagine what happened after the events of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, decades before J.J. Abrams 2015 iteration, Episode VII: The Force Awakens. For a fun, “alternate ending,” take a stroll in Zahn’s galaxy.
The Cay by Theodore Taylor
This is the compelling story of a boy who is shipwrecked on an island with one other survivor, a man from the Caribbean. Due to the wreck, the boy has gone blind, plunging the reader into a completely different world that turns much of what this boy thought he knew about the world upside down.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Even though it has been 20 years since I first read this book, I can still recall many of the emotions and thoughts it evoked. This was my first introduction to the history of World War II and the terror felt by millions of Jews in Europe. In this book, there is also courage, daring, and hope.
The Hatchet by Gary Paulson
When a 13-year-old boy becomes the sole survivor of a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness, he’s left with the windbreaker on his back and the hatchet in his hand. Reading this as a young person truly opened my eyes to the challenges he faced in finding food and shelter alone.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Even as an adult, I still consider the audiobooks of this series as some of my favorites. The award-winning narrator, Jim Dale, gives each character a dynamic sound and Rowling’s rich storytelling creates a delightfully-paced adventure.
Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
I first heard about this middle grade novel on the What Should I Read Next podcast and was blown away by its eye-opening story. It’s written in first-person, through the eyes of 11-year-old Melody. She has cerebral palsy and cannot speak a word, but she has a photographic memory. Seeing her world certainly impacted mine.
This compilation of titles only scratches the surface of what’s available for you to read to your child. If you’d like to continue your quest for your family’s next favorite book, check out this list of resources containing hundreds of hand-picked book recommendations to enrich your child’s reading life:
Give Your Child the World: Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at a Time by Jamie C. Martin
What Should I Read Next podcast episode 49: “How to Help Kids Fall in Love with Reading” - You can find dozens of recommendations included in this episode’s shownotes.
“If you want a child to know the truth, tell him the truth. If you want a child to love the truth, tell him a story.” - Andrew Peterson, author of The Wingfeather Saga
What are some of your favorite books to read aloud to your family? Please share them with us!
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My grandkids really enjoyed the series "Sideways Stories from Wayside School" Lots of laughs 😄