How to Choose a Great Read-Aloud Book

red autumn in the park

Autumn has come; what a splendid season. The leaves have changed, but only to yellow here in the mountainous, desert-like climate of Colorado. The aspens have change to a gorgeous gold-like yellow blaze in the prime of fall. I have to admit, as much as I enjoy our autumn season here, I dearly miss the memory of fall in the Midwest. Not much can compare to the red, orange, burgundy, and yellow leaves of the tall, tall deciduous trees amassing the fields and hills. When I have a quiet moment, which is rare, in a house alive with four children, I hear the ring of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow my kids have been working on memorizing. The second stanza begins…

We hail the merry autumn days,
When leaves are turning red;
Because they’re far more beautiful
Than anyone has said.
We hail the merry harvest time,
The gayest of the year;
The time of rich and bounteous crops,
Rejoicing and good cheer.

Like poems, beautifully-written stories can shape the imaginations of our children. A good story is a gift to our children— a gift that enables them to see the mystery and magic of our world now, and a preparation for what is to come.


late-night-reading

So, what is a ‘great’ read-aloud? One possible indicator is when your child says, “Mom, will you please keep reading….just one more page? Please!!” You know you’ve likely found a great read-a-loud when your your kids are asking for more. There are numerous books out there that have a captivating story and are also wonderfully written.

Whether you have already created a culture of reading in your home or if you’re just starting now, there is hope. I had my first child eleven years ago and I had no idea at that point in time how to choose great books to read to her. One day, in a Borders bookstore, standing before the shelves of children’s books and feeling more than a little overwhelmed, I shyly gathered courage to ask a nearby mom. “ Umm…do you have any recommendations for what to read to a toddler?” She kindly responded with, “Two words….Charlotte Mason. Check her out.”

I discovered Charlotte Mason was a British educator living and teaching in the 1800’s. She recommends the reading of what she calls, ‘living books’. Living books are typically written by one person who writes in a narrative or conversational style who has immersed herself in a topic. I liked the sound of reading a ‘living book’ to my child— much better than a dead one, I suppose! Mason discouraged reading ‘twaddle,’ a word she termed as dumbed down literature with the absence of meaning. In our home, we aim to spread before our kids a broad feast of books to read and for us to read to them. And once in awhile, we all read a few purely for fun!

If you’re wondering what criteria to think through in selecting a read-aloud for your children, here are a few thoughts:

Great Read-Alouds…

  • include an intriguing and well-written narrative with complex characters who come alive;
  • stimulate the imaginations, minds, and hearts of both children and adults;
  • are often timeless classics, fairy tales, or chapter books;
  • include characters worth emulating or ones that lead a child to explore the tensions and complexities lying in the human heart.

Children are often able to listen to a book being read that is two to three levels higher than his individual reading level. We just finished reading Mr. Poppers Penguins to our four year old and six year old. This absurd tale is full of humor and you might find yourself laughing out loud along with your kids.

The goal in selecting stories for a great read-aloud isn’t finding one with the most well-behaved characters. The Bible certainly isn’t even an example of this! Rather, the goal is to find stories that help us wrestle with themes of good vs. evil, whether it be in an external battle and an internal challenge a character is facing.

“Having found the book which has a message for us, let us not be guilty of the folly of saying we have read it. We might as well say we have breakfasted, as if breakfasting on one day should last us for every day! The book that helps us deserves many readings, for assimilation comes by slow degrees.” Charlotte M. Mason, Ourselves


If reading aloud is a new practice in your home or if you’re trying to get back into the habit…start small. Try one thing on this list:

  • Spend 10 minutes a day reading aloud to your child. This small amount will actually total 30 hours of reading a year.
  • Set an alarm on your phone to read aloud to your kids. 
  • Play audio books. Our local public library system has an abundance of books on CD or playaways. Try out a free subscription to audible.com, or check out LibriBox– a free public domain books in an audio format written before 1923. Audio books or playaways  are perfect when you’re tired, or when you’re in the car, even if you’re just driving the kids around town for their activities.
  • Older kids can read to younger kids.
  • Replace wasted minutes in the day with intentional reading time. A 10-minute Facebook scroll time in the car may be a window of time you can read to your child.

Here is a short list (selected by our kids!) of our favorite family read-alouds….

Picture Books

  • Billy & Blaze by C.W. Anderson
  • The Bear Who Heard Crying by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock
  • Roxaboxen by Alice McClerran
  • Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
  • Mr. Books (Mr. Happy, Mr. Bump, Mr. Impossible, Mr. Greedy) by Roger Hargraves
  • My Mama Had a Dancing Heart by Libba Moore Gray
  • The Three Bears by F. Rojankovsky
  • The Bee Tree by Patricia Polacco
  • Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
  • Johnny Appleseed by Johnny Kellogg

Chapter Books

  • Chronicles of Narnia Series by C.S. Lewis
  • The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  • Moby Dick (abridged ) by Herman Melville
  • All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
  • Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
  • Anne of Green Gables by L.M Montgomery
  • Swiss Family Robinson – Johann David Wyss
  • Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
  • The Green Ember by S.D. Smith
  • The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
  • Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones
  • Little Women and Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
  • The Railway Children by E. Nesbit

I’d love to hear from you. What are your favorite read-alouds?

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5 thoughts on “How to Choose a Great Read-Aloud Book

  1. Hi Holly! I have really enjoyed reading your blogs. Especially fighting for beauty in an age of screens. That feels like one of my biggest challenges. The phrase fighting for beauty really resonated with me.

    We have five kids and we live in South Africa. We have enjoyed many of the books you recommended and the books we have not read I will try out. I am just getting back to things I feel we have been missing in this crazy schedule like playing in parks, spending time in nature and reading aloud.

    A series we have enjoyed is the Dragon Spell Chronicles by Donita K. Paul and I read aloud Missionary Stories with the Millers to all my kids. 😃

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi sweet Holly! We started on the CM path when we began our Home Ed journey and I still refer to her ‘living book’ lists each year. We loved Gentle Ben and The Tree In The Trail amongst others. The Merry Adventures Of Robin Hood was one of ours also, I will have to check out the rest of your list though, but I need to work through this pile first 😀 I love that saying, “Buy the new book, wear the old coat” that’s us! Thanks for great reminders here and helpful tips, God bless X

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Holly! We have loved the Jesus Storybook Bible, and will continue to read it, but I also wanted to get our oldest son (5) his own first “complete” Bible. Just curious if you have a version/translation you like, or you think good for a beginning reader? I have liked the NIRV and NLT for kids, but at the same time, I’m kind of a stickler for “traditional” translations I’m used to – mostly NIV! Is there a particularly good “kids Bible”, with the complete scriptures, that you know of?? Thanks!

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    • Hi Michelle! Great to hear from you! We started with the Jesus Storybook Bible and progressed to The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos. The CSB includes only select stories but the language and complexity of the story is a bit more challenging. When our kids could read well, we moved on to the NIV Adventure Bible. This one is an early reader Bible but is the full Bible. Hope this helps!!

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