The Ultimate Read-Aloud Book Guide
Here it is!
Last night was the culmination of an epic 6-month-long journey with my kids. We’ve battled demons, flown with dragons, sailed with ghosts and saved the world, and it all happened in the half hour I read the Fablehaven series to them at bedtime each night.
There are plenty of studies explaining the benefits of reading out loud to kids, but here are a few of my reasons:
- A half hour of reading can make up for everything that went wrong during the day and I feel like I’m a good mom again.
- Reading out loud is my secret weapon for bedtime. My kids STAY IN BED! Our routine of reading relaxes them and the younger ones often fall asleep before I finish the chapter. We recently returned from a 13 day road trip. Reading a chapter or two was just what we needed to get our kids settled down each night and keep our hotel neighbors happy.
- One of my older children really struggles with reading. When I read she is able to experience the story without the frustration of trying to read it herself. Once we’ve read a book together, she feels confident enough to read it on her own.
- Reading with my kids has given me opportunities to teach them in ways that nothing else can. Book situations are especially great for teaching empathy, and how to be a hero in their everyday lives.
Establishing a routine of reading can be hard, but it is worth it! I have a few tips, but every family is so different. You’ve got to find what works for you!
How to get started:
- The most important rule for bedtime reading is choosing the right book! I’ll admit, I’ve chosen wrong before and had to quit after few chapters. It was like that for me with the BFG, which most people love. I just didn’t look forward to it, so I told my kids they can read it to themselves. Some books are written with just the right balance that any age can enjoy. Those are the ones you want! This is also a chance to relive all your childhood favorites! At the end of this post I’ve included a few of our favorites, including some picture books for younger children.
- Do the voices! Reading out loud gives me a chance to be an actress. I always do the main character in my own voice because they talk the most. The rest of the characters I do a little higher or lower or sometimes I pick an accent if the character reminds me of an actor I can remember easily. I don’t get embarrassed because my kids usually forget it’s me reading, anyway. Last month, my 8-year-old told me, “You sound JUST like Kendra in Fablehaven!” I don’t know if I should tell him it’s actually been me sitting in the hallway reading all this time….
- Once they’re hooked, you have all the power. If my kids are talking or getting out of bed and I threaten to stop in the middle of a chapter, they shape up quick! Occasionally I’ve had to follow through on my threat, but only occasionally.
Bedtime reading is one of my favorite things about being a mom and I love to help get people started, especially with book recommendations. These are the books I recommend most often that appeal to a wide age range. Happy reading!
Short and Sweet
- My Father’s Dragon This is the first book I recommend to families with younger children, anywhere from age 3 to as old as 8 or 9. It is a good one to read one-on-one because there are a lot of pictures.
- The Secret Zoo This book has the perfect chapter length with the best cliffhangers. The story is compelling and imaginative, a great place to start! The rest of the series wasn’t nearly as good so we only read the first two out loud.
- Bunnicula This book surprised me. I read it around Halloween time and it is HILARIOUS! Geared toward children of course, but as an adult, I appreciated the clever humor.
- The Chocolate Touch A great quick read with a fun storyline. I read this one when my kids were a bit younger, but I think my 10 year old would still enjoy it.
- The Racketty Packetty House A darling, old short story about two dollhouses. I recommend it for younger children, maybe up to 10 years old, older if they REALLY love dolls.
- Sideways Stories from Wayside School A staple in my 4th grade classroom, and I love all the later books as well. These are great because my husband or a babysitter could step in and read a chapter or two and it didn’t matter a bit; each chapter can stand on its own. If we are having trouble with consistency or getting to bed too late, these work great.
Books that Teach Life Lessons
- Wonder Digging a little deeper, Wonder is the single best book I have ever read for teaching empathy. The book tells the same story from the perspective of each different character, including the main character, a boy with special needs. We had some amazing discussions that stemmed from this book. I did skip over a few junior high issues we didn’t need to address, such as a girl being “flat as a pancake”. One of the great things about reading out loud is I get to edit whatever I want.
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory This book is so much better than the movie! The story opens the door to discussing selfishness, greediness, too much TV watching, eating too much junk food, and general rudeness.
- A Long Way from Chicago One of my all-time favorite stories, with the sassiest, craziest, most genuinely kind grandma as the heroine. There are two more books in this series and I love them both: A Year Down Yonder, and A Season of Gifts.
- Charlotte’s Web A classic tale of friendship and sacrifice. Some of the descriptions of the seasons are a little longer but the characters really come to life!
- Where the Red Fern Grows Great life lessons to be learned from this story! Responsibility, hard-work, overcoming obstacles, and it’s just an unforgettable story. I knew I loved this book as a child but reading it to my kids…. nothing can describe it. Yes, they cried.
Best Series for Reading Aloud
- Gregor the Overlander This is the most engaging series I have ever read to my children, and it has one of my favorite literary heroes of all-time, but I can’t tell you his name because that would spoil EVERYTHING. This series appeals to a wide range of ages because Gregor has an adorable 2-year-old little sister named Boots. If the last books in the series were made into a movie it would probably be rated PG from violence, but with me reading I can soften the bloodier scenes.
- Chronicles of Narnia I love everything about this series! I didn’t have to edit a single thing except to read through some of the scenery descriptions a little quicker. The lessons they will learn are deep, uplifting and unforgettable. I particularly love this set because the drawings are the best and the pictures are in color.
- Fablehaven It will be hard to top this magical series. The books did mature along with the characters, so by the 5th book it intensified to a full blown war with a cute, romantic element. My younger three (ages 2-6) fell asleep more often but my oldest three (ages 8-13) were completely entranced. I had already read these on my own years ago and I held out as long as I could because they are targeted for a bit older audience.
- Harry Potter We’ve actually only read the first three of these together and we’ve all enjoyed them immensely. I personally love all the books. I keep trying number four out loud but usually at that point in a longer series is when it gets a lot more intense and/or the “boring” parts get longer. We haven’t been able to make it past the first chapter, but I am determined to finish once they all get a bit older.
- The Penderwicks A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy. We are in the beginning chapters of the first book and it is passing the test for an excellent read-aloud series.
Best Picture Books for Reading Aloud
- Pete the Cat The first choice of my preschoolers. There is a song that goes with this book you can listen to for free that makes it even more fun to read.
- Elephant and Piggie We own and love every single one of these. Our favorites are Watch Me Throw the Ball! and We are in a Book!
- The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear A cute story with the most darling pictures. I always hope my little ones pick this book at naptime because it’s not too long.
- The Napping House Another one with great illustrations and great rhythm. We love to find the flea on every page.
- Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Many parents probably have this one memorized. It’s like a rap, but educational.
- Mercy Watson to the Rescue This is a great series to make younger kids feel like they are reading chapter books. The books have chapters but there are pictures on every page and the stories are clever and hilarious to kids and adults alike.
Best Board Books for Reading Aloud
- Peek a Who? I love this book for babies. Short, rhythmic, and it has a mirror at the end for them to see themselves. Any of the books on this list would make a great baby shower gift. We could get by with these 8 books for our toddler and she’d be very happy.
- That’s Not My Monster All of these books have been favorites for babies in our home because there is something for them to touch on every page. I couldn’t even choose a favorite, my babies and toddlers have loved all of them. They have some cute ones for Christmas too!
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar A classic favorite. There is a tiny version of this book I keep it in my purse for emergencies and I can pull it out anytime I need a quick distraction for my little ones at a doctor appointment. My 2-year-old loves to put her fingers on each hole the caterpillar eats through.
- Goodnight Moon A sweet, soothing, put-you-to-sleep classic that I love. Goodnight stars. Goodnight air. Goodnight noises everywhere.
- Where is the Green Sheep? It’s a competition between this one and Goodnight Moon for which my daughter asks for the most. Another one I probably have memorized, but the pictures and rhythm are great.
- Pajama Time! I love the rhythm of this book! It’s a fun song about different pajamas and a great prelude for getting our pajamas on. Jammie, Jammie, Jammie, Jammie ,PJ!
- Ten in the Bed A favorite I used to read to my little brother as a kid and one I’ve read probably a thousand times as a mother. The stuffed animals in this version are adorable.
- Go Dog Go! It has lots of dogs and a cake at the end so it meets all the requirements of favorite book.
I'm a registered dietitian, mom of 4, avid lover of food and strong promoter of healthy habits. Here you will find lots of delicious recipes full of fruits and veggies, tips for getting your kids to eat better and become intuitive eaters and lots of resources for feeding your family.Learn More about Natalie
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This is such a great list! I think you would love some of the picture books on my website. Jessica’s box features a girl in a wheelchair who discovers what was special about herself is what’s inside her. Tale of 2 beasts teaches that everyone’s perspective is not the same, the what if monster deals with anxiety. There are some great books to add to your list, I know you can’t include them all. (I am a super healthy kids member, and I am so glad you shared these great books on this site! Healthy mind and body!
First of all, this is an excellent list and I love that you are starting the love of reading from the very beginning! I also love that you included the That’s Not My… series, but the link is to buy the book on Amazon. If you buy from an Usborne independent consultant, not only do you save money on the book, but you are helping a small business and most likely supporting a family 🙂
thank you so much