We are big readers in this house. I have always been a reader- I always, always have a book with me, just in case I might have a few minutes (thankfully the invention of digital books saves me from looking silly and carrying a book on my actual person at all times… though I do still prefer actual books to the digital versions). I read a lot to the boys all day, Sergeant Handsome always reads to them before bed. Books are EVERYWHERE in this house. It’s kind of an issue actually, we’re running out of space for them all.
It’s not just picture books either. Fidget is a very competent reader and has been reading since before he was 5 (he just learned- we didn’t do any lessons or anything special, it’s basically how he came to the planet) so we have a lot of chapter books in addition to picture books. Plus all the encyclopedias of everything- the boys love non-fiction books. I also like to read chapter books out loud, which usually gets all of the boys to listen although sometimes Fidget has more interest than the younger boys. My mom really inspires this in me because she read chapter books out loud to us as kids- it’s one of my most loved childhood memories.
I hesitate to say that these are “boy” books- because I hate when things are designated as “boy” things or “girl” things. But since I only have sons, I’ll just label it that since that’s my personal experience. Because Fidget is such a prolific reader, I get a lot of questions about what he reads, what he likes to read, what we all read together… Boys have a reputation as reluctant readers and so I think that mothers of sons are often preemptively trying to make sure that they are prepared with lots of “boy” books. Of course many of the books on this list are ones that I loved from when I was a kid, so obviously these books should be enjoyed just as much by girls, but they are all ones that we have enjoyed reading out loud as a family. (warning- all of the links below are Amazon affiliate links, from which I’ve never even made a penny… I’m not sure if that fact makes you feel better or worse about clicking but there you are)
Favorite Read-Aloud Series
I don’t know about you, but my kids love when we read a series that has many books in it. They don’t like to give up a character and it also makes it easier to jump into a new book when you’re already familiar with the main players. These are some of our favorite series:
- My Father’s Dragon, by Ruth Stiles Gannett These books are a great introduction to chapter books. They still have a good number of pictures, are short, and are full of funny and exciting adventures. I think it’s worth it to buy the copy that has all three books in one. The boys loved these!
- The Saturdays, by Elizabeth Enright These books are sweet and old-fashioned, about a family of four children that live with their father and housekeeper. The initial book in the series revolves around the kids’ decision to pool their allowance each week so that one of them can have an adventure each weekend. It was interesting enough to keep the boys involved and sweet enough to win me over.
- The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis My kids and I began with The Magician’s Nephew, which is technically the first book in the chronicles, although my own mother started by reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe first. Wherever you begin, these books have tons of adventure and a rich fantasy world- two ingredients for sure-fire success with my boys. C.S. Lewis is a master at subtly weaving morality into the story, without beating you over the head with it. These books are classics for a reason.
- My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George I was obsessed with these books when I was a kid. Fair warning, it involves a boy running away from home and living (rather successfully) in the woods. Your kids might get all kinds of ideas in their heads… but it really isn’t about the running away. It’s about the beauty and force of nature, a boy learning his place in the world, and the enduring connection of family. Plus, Hawks! Blizzards! Adventure!
- A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle L’Engle is one of my all time favorite writers. Most people know her for the Wrinkle in Time books but she also has many adult novels and some non-fiction as well. I just adore her writing. Like Lewis, she manages to weave in morality without being preachy. And the worlds she imagines for us are wrought so impressively that you feel like you are traveling with the characters. There are five books in the series and they are the best example of science-fiction for kids. Because even though they are technically sci-fi, they’re really about so much more than that.
- The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart These books are great in that they really involve the reader. The boys love to try to solve clues and figure things out, right along with the characters. They’re longer than most of the other books on my list (except the later Harry Potters), but so well-written that I doubt you’ll mind. Like so many others, the books try to tackle larger issues in a manageable way for kids.
- Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling It’s impossible to have a list of great read-alouds without including Harry. These are actually the first chapter books I ever read to Fidget, when he was an infant. It was just the two of us at home all day, every day (and often for days at a time, when Sergeant Handsome was off on training exercises) so sometimes I was bored. I didn’t want to eat lunch in silence so I would read Harry Potter out loud during meals. They’re great books, though they do get a little more mature in the later end of the series. All of the boys love hearing the first few books though, even though Fidget has now read the entire series on his own… several times. Can’t go wrong with Harry!
- The Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder These books tend to be seen as “girl” books, but I don’t know why people don’t think boys would like them too. They are full of adventure and danger- plus it gives a ton of motivation for kids to get outdoors and enjoy nature (at least that’s one of the things we got out of it). It was also something that my kids could relate to, at least in terms of frequent long-distance moves! You may want to read through some of them first- there is questionable language in terms of racial slurs when dealing with Native Americans, but I used it to talk about why we use certain words and not others, as well as a jumping off point for discussion (albeit a gentle and kid-friendly one) about racism and why it’s a good thing that we all look different. But again, these are classics for a reason.
Series aren’t the only books we love. Some books stand on their own.
- The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin This book might be better for slightly older kids (my five and three year olds have trouble following it) but it’s so good. It’s sort-of a murder mystery, but it is not at all scary (there isn’t even really a murder). A great introduction to mysteries, the writing really elevates this from just another kids book. It’s all about solving a puzzle and figuring out the secret. What kid doesn’t like being in on a secret? Although I still love it just as much as I did as a kid, so maybe we don’t outgrow that.
- From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg This is another book about a runaway child, although this time the protagonist takes along her younger brother. The two kids leave home, mostly for attention… although he is more interested in adventure, and hide inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan for the length of their time away from home. They discover a mystery, which they end up having to work together to solve. If you’re at all a nerd that has thought about how cool it would be to live inside a museum, you’ll love this book. And your kids will too.
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl Really any book by Dahl is a joy to read out loud. He is a master of imagination, bringing strange and magical happenings to life with his words. I can’t imagine childhood reading without Charlie, James, Matilda, and others. Kids are the heroes of his books, which makes them a natural draw for kids. Plus the adventure and fantasy is too much to resist!
- Swiss Family Robinson, by Johann D. Wyss Swiss Family Robinson is an epic family adventure. Do you think your family could survive if stranded on an island after a shipwreck? I doubt mine could but it’s awfully fun to imagine it while reading. Well, not the shipwreck part… but it is fascinating to see what works and doesn’t for the family as they try to figure out their new home and how to survive.
All of these books are just a sampling of what we’ve read aloud and what we will continue to read aloud in the future. There are so many more! We also love to find audio versions of all of our favorites at the library- we listen in the car on our way to and from errands. Sometimes the boys don’t want to get out, if we’re listening to something really good!
Reading aloud to all four of them doesn’t always work. There are times when words alone aren’t enough to keep them from fidgeting and getting antsy. But even when they do start to play or run while I’m reading, they’re usually still listening, at least a little bit. Don’t get discouraged if your first attempts at reading a chapter book aloud are rebuffed- keep trying! With great books, they will eventually get hooked in and want to hear more.
What are your favorite books to read aloud? Are there any you particularly remember from when you were a kid that you can’t wait to revisit?