Readaloudable Books

4 Dec

Some books demand to be read aloud. The importance of reading stories aloud to children has already been explained in far more interesting and factual ways than I could do here, but let me step up on my soapbox for a second and defend the importance of reading aloud with a child even after she has become a confident reader.

No matter what your age, there is a joy to telling and listening to a story aloud, a joy which traces back to before words were written down at all. Reading aloud not only helps with fluency and creating a teacher-student/parent-child/friend-friend bond; it also brings the story alive in a whole new way. My mother and I would read books aloud at night well into my junior high years, taking turns reading alternating chapters (although I’d never admit that to my friends). Even in college, my roommate and I would read each other snippets from our books or little anecdotes before we went to sleep. Reading together is enjoyable in the same way that watching a movie or a TV show with someone else who appreciates it. You laugh together at the jokes, you yell in astonishment, you feel the same sense of awe at a perfectly woven sentence that pulls you both somewhere impossible and wonderful for a few moments.

The following are seven classics that only serve as a starting point. If you haven’t read them, please do. If you have, read them again, this time aloud to someone who will beg to know, “What happens next?”

With the bedtime storyteller in mind, I’ve given an estimate of how many nights the story would take to read, assuming that the reader would be devoting 20-30 minutes a night for reading.

The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo

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“The world is dark, and light is precious. Come closer, dear reader. You must trust me. I am telling you a story.”

Kate DiCamillo, author of the acclaimed Because of Winn Dixie, wrote The Tale of Despereaux in 2003, but it’s the sort of story that could have been written in 1703.

Within the very first pages, the reader feels as if he’s being held in the arms of the omniscient storyteller, who addresses us intimately as “dear reader” as the story spools out. Funny that I mention spools; the subtitle for this book is: “Being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread.”

Despereaux, a large-eared, courageous mouse who falls in love with a princess, joins memorable characters like Chiaroscuro, a soup-obsessed rat, who, as his name suggests, is both bad and good, a cauliflower-eared servant girl, an evil rat named Botticelli, and Princess Pea herself. Readers are immediately swept up in the tale, and it serves as a wonderful before-bed slice of adventure, beauty, and sweetness. Timothy Basil Ering’s gorgeous pencil illustrations add to the timeless feeling of this story.

Bedtime story length: Divided into 4 “books” and 52 very short chapters, allow 8-10 nights for enjoying this tale.

The BFG, by Roald Dahl

“Titchy little snapperwhippers like you should not be higgling around with an old sage and onions who is hundreds of years more than you.”

“Titchy little snapperwhippers like you should not be higgling around with an old sage and onions who is hundreds of years more than you.”

Roald Dahl is inimitable in his bizarre, sometimes morbid but always loveable tales for children. While I could list and recommend other must-read Roald Dahl books, The BFG stands out as being one of the best for reading aloud.

Orphan Sophie meets the BFG (The Big Friendly Giant) as he walks the streets during the witching hour, blowing dreams into peoples’ ears. What follows pitches Sophie into the strange, funny, scary world of giants and into the home of the “runtiest” giant of them all. The BFG’s dialect (“Is I right or is I left?”) and the ever-present humor makes this a perfect readaloud. Children will laugh at the results of the wonderfully fizzy beverage frobscottle and a memorable encounter with the Queen of England. How will the BFG and Sophie outwit the nasty people-eating giants? The story is absurd, funny, sweet, and a classic example of Roald Dahl at his finest.

Bedtime story length: With twenty-four chapters, two or three chapters could be read a night in 8-12 nights.

Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White

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“Winter will pass, the days with lengthen, the ice will melt in the pasture pond. The song sparrow will return and sing, the frogs will awake, the warm wind will blow again. All these sights and sounds and smells will be yours to enjoy, Wilbur–this lovely world, these precious days…”

This classic children’s book about a pig saved from the butcher’s knife by a benevolent, word-weaving spider was #1 in School Library Journal’s Top 100 Children’s Novels, and for good reason. Since it was published in 1952, it’s held a firm place on children’s bookshelves and in elementary school classrooms everywhere.

I’m hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t teared up at Charlotte’s parting words to Wilbur, and with a barnful of memorable characters, it’s easy to see why children and adults have loved this book for sixty years. It’s not only a good story to read, but E.B. White’s prose makes for a wonderful readaloud experience. Check out the passage about Zuckerman’s rope swing and feel the rhythmic motion of the swing swooping back and forth as you read this part aloud.

Bedtime story length: With 22 chapters, two chapters could be very comfortably read aloud in 20 minutes or so. Estimate 10-12 nights for this book.

Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine


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“That fool of a fairy Lucinda did not intend to lay a curse on me. She meant to bestow a gift.” So begins the spunky, adventure-filled retelling of Cinderella. Ella is forced into obedience, which means she must use all of her wits and bravery to escape from perils brought on by her two shallow and spoiled step-sisters, a deplorable stepmother,

and a vacant and unsupportive father. While this story does more often appeal to girls, Ella’s adventures, which include attending a giant’s wedding, outwitting ogres, mingling with elves, escaping from finishing school, and doing everything possible to escape her terrible curse, will appeal to any reader who craves an adapted fairy tale with a far more likeable, resourceful, and witty main character than the original tale.

While this book is just as enjoyable read alone in one binge, it’s satisfying spaced out and read aloud as well, with plenty of suspenseful moments, characters to love and hate and humor.

Bedtime story length: Plan to devote 10-16 nights for this story.

The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint Exupery

"I showed my masterpiece to the grown-ups, and asked them whether the drawing frightened them. But they answered: 'Frighten? Why should any one be frightened by a hat?' My drawing was not a picture of a hat. It was a picture of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant."

“I showed my masterpiece to the grown-ups, and asked them whether the drawing frightened them. But they answered: ‘Frighten? Why should any one be frightened by a hat?’ My drawing was not a picture of a hat. It was a picture of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant.”

 

This novella is one of those stories that must be re-read at different ages for a new, different appreciation every time.

When the narrator crash-lands his plane in the Sahara, he meets the stranded alien prince, who lives on a house-sized planet with three volcanoes, a rose, and invasive baobab trees. Together the prince and the narrator travel together, meeting all sorts of people with all kinds of viewpoints and ideas.

While this reads and feels like a children’s book, and while it’s marketed to children, adults will be surprised at the different philosophies presented. Saint-Exupery uses some satire and pokes fun at aspects of adult existence which few children will understand, but they will love the story nonetheless, and the narrator’s tale combined with his drawings and diagrams make this a perfect book to share aloud. Not to mention that it’s very slim, so it’s a perfect choice if you want a lovely, lonely story that’s short in pages but lasting in the ideas it plants.

Bedtime story length: This story is quite short, and should only take 4-6 nights to read and enjoy.

The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

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“He was thinking once again of his comfortable chair before the fire in his favourite sitting-room in his hobbit-hole, and of the kettle singing. Not for the last time!”

Oh, Bilbo Baggins. Was there ever a more reluctant hero? The comfort-loving hobbit, pulled into a quest with twelve very lively dwarves and one powerful wizard, will never be the same.

A preamble to The Lord of the Rings, this story combines the thoroughly-realized Middle Earth that Tolkien created with a much more lighthearted and fun-loving atmosphere, making it a grand adventure to read with plenty of “good parts” to get to.

It’s practically designed to be read in small, savored chunks, for there are a lot of adventures packed into three hundred or so pages. Bilbo and the dwarves encounter trolls, a gigantic bear, hordes of goblins, elves, the unforgettable Gollum, and the fearsome dragon Smaug.

Tolkien’s prose and his inserted songs and poems beg to be read aloud, preferably by a merry crackling fire with some good food nearby.

Bedtime story length: If you read one chapter a night, which will likely take roughly thirty minutes, you’ll finish The Hobbit in 19 nights.

Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

"All children, except one, grow up."

“All children, except one, grow up.”

What sort of treacherous blogger would I be if I failed to include this story in my list of books that beg to be read aloud? Peter Pan, the immortal tale of the boy who never grew up, has it all. Pirates, Indians, mermaids, sword fighting, Lost Boys, and the ultimate getaway, third star from the right: Neverland.

It is also, of course, beautifully written. Barrie’s inventive description of how mothers go through their children’s thoughts at night and lovingly fold them up for them is hard to forget, nor is the breathtaking moment where Peter is resigned to die and is saved at the last minute by a kite. A bittersweet friendship and an unforgettable villain, this is the story that will have kids (and secretly adults too) wishing they could have some fairy dust sprinkled on them so they could take a crack at flying…just once.

Bedtime story length: If you take it slow at one chapter a night, you’ll be done in 17 nights, or you can alternate reading one and two chapters a night and be finished in 10-12 nights.

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