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