Thursday, April 23, 2009

Family Favourites to Read Aloud

This post is a follow-on from my previous one ' The Joys of Reading Aloud to Children.' The books I have listed are the ones we have read aloud which have earned my children' s seal of approval for adventure, excitement, intrigue and sometimes just pure storytelling genius. The list is not exhaustive, not all the books we have read, made it to the list. There are some classics which we struggled through, for example, 'The Silver Skates' by Mary Mapes Dodge was one such book. Good story lines are important and this book showed promise - a children 's race along the frozen canals of Holland but somehow the abundance of detail and too many descriptions of Dutch architecture crowded out the story and we 'lost the plot' so to speak. My children started to yawn and comment 'This is getting boring'. Your child's reaction is a very good indicator of an author's ability; the very best writers set the scene, introduce love able characters and sometimes rogues, they keep the story moving along and interject humour or suspense, always achieving the right balance. You know you are onto a winner when the children are listening intently and beg for more exclaiming 'Please mum just one more chapter - don't stop reading now!'

How you read the story is also important - you need clarity and expression in your voice. Have you ever listened to a lecturer or a preacher who spoke in monotones? How hard it is to pay attention, people sometimes doze off - no matter how worthy the lecture or message was, if it is not relayed joyfully or with vigour, you can lose interest. This is also true for storytelling. The best way to develop this skill is simply to start reading aloud to your children. If you are familiar with the book you will know the characters and this helps. At times you will speak slowly and softly and learn to raise your voice as the action intensifies. You can use a deep voice for male characters, a softer tone for females and if you dare - accents! I'm familiar with many of the accents of the British Isles but keeping an accent consistent is hard - unless the story is set in Liverpool and then I have no problem!
As you keep on reading you will discover that your skills in oral narration improve and don't forget to give your children the opportunity to narrate. I encourage my older children to read to their younger siblings, this is a wonderful way to promote family harmony!

And so here is our list of family favourites to read aloud together with a short summary/review of each book or series. If you are a veteran homeschooler or a parent who places a high value on reading good books you may already be familiar with many of these books. Hopefully, there are one or two gems you have yet to discover. The list is in no particular order but my particular favourites feature in the photograph at the start of this post. ' If I had to choose one book that I remember enthralled my children the most, it was 'Children on the Oregon Trail'. It is well worth reading.

1. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery - the first long classic book we ever read, the children fell in love with Anne, years later they still remember some of the incidents that befell Anne!

2.Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome - one of the best children's books ever! One of the names of the children may be hilariously old fashioned but it brings to life imagination in a story of pirates and camp- outs. You will learn a lot about sailing if you read any of Mr Ransome's books.

3. Children on the Oregon Trail by A. Rutgers Van Der Loeff based upon the true, remarkable story of the survival of the seven Sager children in 1844 in the far west of America. The bravery, courage and determination of these children will astound you.

4. Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian set in Britain during the Second World War, the touching story of an evacuee sent to live with a gruff old man. Note - Younger or sensitive children may be disturbed by some of the heart- rending scenes, so exercise caution.

5. Charlotte's Web by E.B White deserving of its classic status, every child should read this book.

6. Heidi by Johananna Spyri, Heidi grows up and Heidi's children don't forget to read the follow ups to Heidi by Charles Tritten. He was the translator for Heidi. Make sure you read the unabridged edition. Modern versions leave out the best parts of the story.

7. The Railway Children by E. Nesbit Another classic portraying the resilience of children and their ability to cope in hard times.

8. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S Lewis True classics, we have read them all but our favourite will always be 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe'.

9. The Door in the Wall by Marguerite De Angeli Set in medieval times, a tale of courage and bravery. We read this during our unit study on Medieval life - ' Mad about Medieval'.

10. Treasures of the Snow, The Tanglewood's Secret. Where the River Begins and other stories by Patricia St John a Christian author. The central characters are always children. All her stories feature themes of love and forgiveness.

11. Pocahontas True Princess and Two Mighty Rivers Son of Pocahontas by Mari Hanes Forget the Disney version, did you know that Pocahontas was only 12 when she saved the life of Captain John Smith? These books will help you discover the true story behind the legend.

12. The Elsie Dinsmore, Millie Keith and Violet Travilla books by Martha Finley I usually advocate reading the original books but I am truly grateful to Mission City Press for publishing these books for a new generation of readers, or I do not think we would have discovered them. There are 8 books in each series. The Elsie books detail the life of a young child growing up on a plantation in the South in the 1800's and take you on a journey through her life from childhood, to a young wife and mother, to a grandmother. Adventure, hardship, good times, humour, sadness, these books have it all. You will learn a great deal about the American Civil War and the price that families in favour of emancipation paid. The Millie Books feature frontier life but the same shining example of a character who lives a life of faith and commitment is ever present.
These books are treasure in my home, the influence they have had on my girls in particular, is enormous. My 11 year old daughter has just finished reading the Elsie series for herself. I intend to pass on these books to my children and they to their children. I refuse to loan them out for fear of them not being returned, they truly are family heirlooms.

13. The Children of Cherry Tree Farm, The Children of Willow Tree Farm and More Adventures on Willow Farm by Enid Blyton Simple stories for young children, they will learn about farming, nature and creatures of the English countryside.

14.The Voyage of the Artic Tern by Hugh Montgomery A modern book published in 2000 with all the hallmarks of a classic. Narrated in verse, a definite candidate for reading aloud. A story of treason and treachery on the high seas, however, good men triumph and the bad are exposed for who they truly are. My children loved this book and begged for more after each reading!

15. Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne A captivating geography lesson for all ages. Tremendous characters, a great story and lots of humour, all the ingredients for a classic book.

16. Five Children and It by E. Nesbit Brings to life the maxim ' Be careful what you wish for'

17. Christy by Catharine Marshall A true life heroine, Christy was based on the life of Catharine Marshal's mother who obeyed God's call on her life to go to the impoverished Appalchian mountain regions to teach school. Marshall's beautiful writing vividly portrays the harsh realities of life for the people and Christy's influence. If you have young or very sensitive children this book may not be suitable, I had to skip over some of the details of shocking incidents in the story. However this is truly a story about faith, courage and hope, it drew us into a deeper relationship with God our Father whose heart is for all people.

18. Little Women, Good Wives and Little Men by Louisa May Alcott My favourite author, I could not leave these classics off the list. Little Men was our favourite. Full of wisdom for parents too - I write out her wonderful exhortations to inspire me as I raise and educate my children. I'm just about to read the follow on from Little Men, ' Jo's Boys.'

19. The Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder I haven't read all of these to the children but my 11 year old daughter insisted that they go on the list. She has read them all. Little House on the Prairie was my favourite television series as a child and I was thrilled when they were released onto DVD, we have seasons 1-5 and await the release of the subsequent seasons in Australia. My children loved the episodes and my daughter announced that she had to read the books and started ordering them in from the library. Her favourite was 'The Little House in the Big Woods.'

20. The Perfect Princess and the Bog Monster Tall and Twisted Fairytales from Aussie Kids Finally we could not leave this book off our list, an ABC publication, it features 18 fantastical short stories by Australian children. I have to admit I'm completely biased for the author of the second tale 'The Brightest Butterfly' is my eldest daughter. She entered a competition on ABC television to win the prize of meeting the Crown Princess Mary of Denmark when she was ten years old (She is now 14) during the celebrations for 200 years since the birth of Hans Christian Anderson. She didn't win but we did not realize that the ABC were going to publish the shortlisted stories in a book. Over four thousand entries were received so you can imagine the excitement in this house when the ABC called to tell us that her story had been selected for publication. It was a very special achievement and one of my daughter's proudest moments!

I just love what the Crown Princess Mary of Denmark wrote in her foreward and I agree wholeheartedly with her sentiments. I hope you do too!

'This book is a worthy demonstration of the importance for children to learn how to read and write. These children are the real 'ambassadors' for the fight against illiteracy. They show us all what literacy can bring to life - stories full of joy, wit and love.

With love and joy,


One of the twins smiling at the illustration which accompanies her big sister 's story

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Anonymous said...

Appropriate books have been on my mind recently as one of my son's teachers sent home a permission slip to read two books for class. After looking up information on both books, I refuse to allow him to read them. One is a true story of horrific abuse dealt to a boy by his mother. The other is a story of a teenager, who after causing the death of a friend while driving drunk, kills himself. I don't feel that either of these are appropriate for a 14 yr old boy to be reading.

My son is an avid reader, so I'm grateful you posted that list. I wrote down some titles from your list and a few others I remember from my childhood. I'll be getting them for my son to read. Thank you for reminding me that there are many great classics out there instead of these so-called "new" classics.
Thanks for sharing a list of wonderful and appropriate books!

Cindy @ Kightland

Farmgirl Cyn said...

One of my kids favorites was The Boxcar Children. And of course, C.S. Lewis. Funny tho, as many read-alouds that we did, my 2 younger hate to read. I can't get them to pick up a book if their lives depended on it. My oldest, now 36, reads every time she gets the chance, as do I.

A Bite of Country Cupcakes said...

Anne of Gen Gables Is still even now as an adult My all time Fav boks...
And videos.
It is a lovely thing to pass the love of reading on to our kids.

A Bite of Country Cupcakes said...



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