Sunday, October 3, 2010

Reading to Little Ones

There are joys of reading aloud in every season.  In the winter, we blow our noses and huddle together when we're too sniffly to do anything else.  In the spring, we throw open the windows and read as we listen to the first bird's song.  In the summer, we shut the windows tight again and read until the day has cooled enough to run outside for evening play.  But autumn is such a cozy time for reading.  The dark slips in early and we settle down more quickly after supper.  A chapter or two is read before bed and before the children slip under blankets until morning. 

Elise mentioned that she was interested in hearing of our favorite read-alouds.  I was immediately intimidated.  Elise weekly shares her fabulous book finds for children on her blog's Children's Book Monday.  What could I possibly have to offer that she wouldn't have already discovered and read?  I still don't know. 

But I can share from my meager experience of the books we have loved and drawn to our own hearts, the books that we return to and read again, even though we've memorized the story. 

The books that I share below are appropriate for young children.  We began reading aloud these longer chapter books (in addition to stacks and stacks of picture books) when Gavin was three.  Some children may not be ready for such depth.  Some, like my Owen,  may benefit from a few more years of quality picture books.  Some children may not enjoy the books we love.  Each child and  his individual taste is different.

But I can share from my meager experience of the books we have loved and drawn to our own hearts, the books that we return to and read again, even though we've memorized the story.

I remember I was sitting at the kitchen table one morning when Gavin looked over at the book shelf and a colorful illustration caught his attention.  "Can we read this?"  he asked.  When I glanced at the cover of The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary, my first thought was, "This is too old for you.  I'm saving it for later." 

And then I thought, "Why not?" 

We began slowly, reading a chapter while Maddie (then under 2) napped.  Once we got caught up in the story of the little mouse and his adventures in his hotel-home, we slipped in a few readingswhile Maddie was awake and she  latched on to the story, too.  She retrieved her rubber mouse and Gavin searched up a plastic motorcycle and together they relived the story through play.  This experience had me hooked on chapter books!

Young children are often drawn to stories of animals.  Mine are anyway.  As a result, many, many of the books we select feature furry and feathery little creatures.  These are not silly stories, but great works of quality literature. 

Charlotte's Web by E. B. White is such a gem that we have read it again as each child becomes old enough to enjoy it thoroughly.  Several stuffed pigs have played the part of Wilbur and the mouse that was once Ralph has played taken his turn as Templeton, too.   I love to see my children recreate the stories spontaneously in their play. 

One winter we were looking for a special book to read during our month-long break from school and we selected Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater.  I remember wondering if the story was just a wee bit too advanced for them and being surprised by how much the children loved it.  I remember sitting on the edge of the bunk bed, reading a begged-for one last chapter before bed and the giggles being  infectious as we read about the penguin named Captain Cook who came to live in suburbia. 

A few summers ago we were at a loss for what to read next and I put out a call on Facebook for reading suggestions and someone suggested Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat.  I put the book on hold at the library and when it came in, we began to read almost as soon as we brought it home.  It was such a thin book with such an engaging story.  We were intrigued by the boys who were allowed  to keep owls as pets on their Canadian property.  As a mama of children who have asked for a variety of pets from spiders to dogs to sheep, this was a little scary, too! 

What better way to expose my children to a bit of poetry than to read it from a story about a mouse?  The Mouse of Amherst by Elizabeth Spires is another thin little volume.  It tells the tale (pun intended!) of a little mouse who shares a room with the reclusive poet Emily Dickinson.  Snippets of poems are interspersed throughout the simple story.

One story that has stuck with my children more than any other is the one of the raccoon named Rascal.  Though there is a full-length version of the story, we were privileged to find an out-of-print copy of Little Rascal
 by the same author, Sterling North.  Both books tell the true story of a young boy who raises a raccoon for a year.  So fun, so touching, so memorable.  (We have several stuffed Rascals who live in the toy box with Ralph and Wilbur.)

A list of our beloved read-alouds wouldn't be complete without a mention of Thornton Burgess.  Brian has done most of the before-bed reading with our kids for several years.  It is our nighttime ritual that while I am getting the youngers ready for bed or nursing a baby, he will tuck the olders in to bed and read them a chapter or two.  We discovered Thornton Burgess's books by accident when my sister cleaned off her bookshelves and passed The Adventures of Bobby Raccoon on to our family.  After devouring the slim novel, the kids asked for more, but a local library search turned up only a few more in the series.  When I discovered that Amazon carried many more for only $2 a book, Brian purchased a small stack for our personal collection and Burgess became the nightly selection for more than a year while they acquainted themselves with Jimmy Skunk and Sammy Jay and Buster Bear and more of their animal friends. 

We do occasionally venture from the land of animals.  Our other most-notable reads are all part of different series of books and all have girls as their main characters, but a good story knows no gender boundaries.  Often I've excluded Gavin from a reading session, thinking he would be uninterested in a girlish book and find that he is sitting on the steps listening anyway. 

Of all the books I've read aloud, perhaps my most favorite of all have been the Grandma's Attic series by Arleta Richardson.  Perhaps that is why we have started reading this delightful series again this fall.  The first four books in the series are groups of growing up stories about the author's grandmother.  What fun to go back in time to the simple days of picnics on the lawn and hoop skirts.  (The last six books in the series are also favorites of mine, but as they are about the author's grandmother as a teenager and young married women, I've not read those aloud yet.)
We spent many days in the late winter and spring reading though the Cobblestreet Cousins series by Cynthia Rylant.  Cynthia Rylant is one of our favorite picture book authors so we knew we would love these picture-filled chapter books, too. 

Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace was written in the 30's and takes place at the turn of the twentieth century.  Betsy and Tacy are five at the beginning of the series, and when Maddie got the first book for her own fifth birthday, we immediately became acquainted with these precious girls and we couldn't stop until we had read through several more books in the series and joined the girls in their growing up adventures.  (Like the Grandma's Attic series, the later books deal with the girls as adolescents and have more mature plot lines so I have not read aloud those stories yet.)  When we got done, we went back and re-read the first book at Maddie's request and relived our initial joy! 

Go now!  Go find something to engage your mind and delight your heart!


  1. What a great list!

    We've read all of these except the Beverly Cleary one and The Mouse of Amherst.

  2. Kristin, you are so silly... every mama of little ones has a treasure trove of experience and ideas that other mamas just want to soak up! You are absolutely no exception...

    There are so many on this list that I haven't read- I'm so excited! The Cobblestreet Cousins series and The Mouse of Amherst are two that look particularly wonderful to me... I'm trotting off to the library website right now to see if I can place a hold!

    Love to you, you wonderful, brilliant mama! xo

  3. {Oh, and would you kindly link this to CBM today? I know I'm not the only one who would be excited about this list...}

  4. What a wonderful list. Thank you for sharing some of your favorites!

  5. Thanks for sharing this. We started chapter books out of desperation for me. I really struggle with reading the same pictures books over and over and over. I hoped that I'd be better at reading to the kids if we tried a chapter book. We had Mr. Popper's Penguins handed down to us and saved for later, but I wondered if they'd get it... so I tried. They didn't get the whole story (at 3 1/2 and 2 1/4) but it was good practice of sitting and listening. When that was done we got Charlotte's Web from the library. They both seemed to enjoy that one. Still, they don't get everything, but every once and a while Tornado (3) would say something that told me he was getting more than I thought.

    Another book we had tucked away for later is Gladys Aylward. There are a couple little parts I edited for content as we read, but they have been really enjoying it. We talk about the book like it's Gladys herself. "Where's Gladys?" "Should we ready Gladys?" "Go grab Gladys." She was lost for a couple days (buried under far to much laundry) and it was quite an issue, even to my 2 year old. I didn't know if the missionary journey would be too "old" for them, but they are interested in it and I'm stopping to discuss things as I see fit. We took some time the other day to listen to phrases in Russian (from beginning of book) and will do the same in Chinese now that we've gotten that far. They thought it was great!

    Anyway... thanks again for more suggestions! I've been wondering what else to read!

  6. I always enjoy your book suggestions. I've pasted this list on to quite a few people already.

    Thanks for sharing!


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