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For the last couple of years, I’ve been reading novels with my currently (almost) six-year-old at bedtime. We still love picture books, but the vast majority of the time we spend reading together is accompanied by novels. New, old, fantastical, everyday – we read it all.
Soon he’ll be reading on his own, but we’ll continue to read novels together at bedtime. I’m sure of it. For now, I wanted to start a list of the books we’ve most loved together. The ones that mesmerized him and me both. The ones that were so delicious to read aloud I’ve wanted to shout from my front porch that everyone should join in immediately. (And also some that seem determined to be listed despite a lack of adoration on my or my kid’s part. Because not all books become beloved, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t fun or important to read.)
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Roald Dahl is perhaps the reigning master (so I declare) of writing books that are meant to be read aloud. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one that’s accessible even to the youngest children, and it affords a fabulous opportunity to discuss what it means to be poor, and kind, and selfish, and greedy.
The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, by Charles de Lint is a bit more sophisticated and subtle than some of the other novels on this list, and I think a fair amount of the story went over my son’s head. That said, he thoroughly enjoyed it. There are heavy themes of death and resurrection, and I found the book to be absolutely stunning.
No list would be complete without Harry Potter, and I highly recommend the illustrated versions. The Philosopher’s Stone was released in the fall of 2015 and The Chamber of Secrets a year later. I hope they keep to a yearly release schedule, so my kid’s maturity level can keep pace as the stories get more intense.
This is a short one, and a sweet one. The Pirate Pig was our introduction to Cornelia Funke’s writing, and though I thought it was merely okay, the kid loved it and insisted we read it again immediately. Three times over.
Though the story centres on travel through space and time – a concept wholly over the heads of most primary-grade children, let alone preschoolers – Fortunately the Milk, by Neil Gaiman is so delightful, and so amenable to reading silly voices, that even if half the story is lost to confusion it’s still super fun to read aloud.
There are several books in the Princess in Black series about a frilly princess who hides a monster-fighting alter ego. These are short books relative to most others on this list, but they’re terrific. My son loves them.
The Year of Billy Miller, by Kevin Henkes, is about Billy’s time in second grade. It’s a lovely family portrait that I as a parent could relate to as much as my son could as a kid. It’s a quiet book about normal life, and it’s great for sparking conversation about the everyday ups and downs of school and friends and work and family.
I loved From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler as a kid growing up in New York City, and started thinking about it when I took the kid to Manhattan for a few days last spring – and to his first major art museum (the MOMA, not the Met). We told our neighbour about our trip after we returned home, and he thought the same thing. The next day he came over with a copy of this book, and the kid loved it.
The six-book Imaginary Veterinary series by Suzanne Selfors is truly outstanding, and I don’t know why it’s not a more prominently popular series. The protagonists become great friends, and the books are full of humour, fantasy, and great problem solving. Especially recommended for kids who aren’t ready to be scared.
This one is a true delight to read aloud, and provides a solid invitation to discuss guns. Not that we all want to discuss guns with our kids, but when I discovered the role the farmers’ shotgun plays in this story, I decided it was time to discuss the power of those weapons. Also, we laughed a lot through this story.
This one is an exception, because The Hobbit is actually a total slog to read aloud. The book could have a third of its text cut out without affecting the story at all. But it’s saved by the parts with the Gollum, which are truly inspired to read aloud. And if you’re familiar with the story you can skip parts as you read.
Ok, no this is the best Roald Dahl book the read aloud. The fantastical vocabulary of the Big Friendly Giant is the best, and this was the first novel to elicit uncontrollable giggling from the kid. I suspect that when he gets older, he may consider this one of the first books he truly loved.