Great books to read out loud? To a class of kids or your own children? Here are my (current) favourites. Of course new books will always challenge this list. So keep checking for updates. This was originally a top ten list. Happily it continues to grow 🙂
(in no particular order)
# 1 The Prince of the Pond (Othewise Known as De Fawg Pin) by Donna Jo Napoli
This book is a must for the primary classroom (K to Grade 3). It begs to be read aloud! Yes, it is the story of the Frog Prince but told from the perspective of the pond and the frogs. The prince is now a frog and must adjust to pond life and to talking like a frog. It is more difficult than it seems. Certain sounds aren’t possible thus, The Frog Prince is De Fawg Pin. Learn a lot about frogs. And their life cycle. Meet Jade, Pin’s mate. Despise the hag. Root for the froglets! Prepare to read sections out loud over and over. Prepare for constant requests to talk like Pin. Prepare for spit out your milk laughter. Chortles. Giggles. Guffawing. The first in a trilogy.
All three books are fun but this book is outstanding.
#2 The Dragonling by Jackie French Koller
I have read this book to a Grade 2/3 class and to my own children when they were in Grade 1. A wonderful fantasy adventure featuring the dragon Zantor and our hero, Darek who uses his wits, not violence to navigate the world of the Valley of the Dragons. Darek discovers Zantor as a baby dragonling in his dead mother’s pouch. He goes against everything his people believe to try and return this dragon to his own kind. The first of a series of 6 Dragonling books. We also went on to read The Keepers trilogy, another fantasy series by Jackie French Koller featuring Princess Nell and a dragon named Minna who live in Eldearth.
All of Sara Pennypacker‘s Clementine books are lovely and fantastic for read alouds. Read one in the Clementine collection, and your child may go on to read the rest independently. Illustrations by Marla Frazee complement the text in the best of ways.
#3 Clementine’s Letter by Sara Pennypacker – While I love all the Clementine books, Clementine’s Letter might be my favourite.
Maybe because it explores the important relationships between students and their teachers and how crucial those relationships can be when navigating our way through school. Maybe because it tackles some tough issues that lead directly to important discussions. Clementine, now in third grade, adores her teacher Mr. D’Matz. But he has been nominated to win a trip to Egypt. When asked to write a letter of recommendation, Clementine makes one of those can’t take it back choices and writes a letter that more accurately reflects her fear of losing her teacher rather than her true feelings of respect for him.
Hint: it includes the words Menace to Society. The lessons learned by Clementine are lessons for all of us.
# 4 The Summer of Riley by Eve Bunting
Riley comes into William’s life when he really needs the love and companionship a dog can offer. His parents have split up, his father is now engaged and his beloved grandfather has just passed away. But when Riley chases after a neighbour’s horse she has local law enforced – Riley must be put down. With the help of his friend Grace, William fights to save the dog’s life. A battle where nothing is easy. I read this book to a Grade 3/4 class 3 years ago and I still have students writing me notes about how much they loved it. We used it to practice persuasive writing pieces. I still remember one student who was absolutely incensed. She refused to write from the other perspective that, yes, Riley should be euthanized. “I will not write it and you can’t make me.” Those characters really came off the pages and resided in our room that fall.
#5 The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
The Hundred Dresses was a Newbery Honour book in 1945 but the story continues to be compelling and relevant today. This book tackles themes of relational aggression, compassion, forgiveness, regret and deeply examines the role of the bystander in teasing/bullying situations. Wanda Petronski, a poor immigrant girl is teased for talking dreamily of the hundred dresses in her closet all lined up in a row. Maddie stands by while this teasing happens but struggles with her passive and thus, compliant role. When she finally builds the courage to say something, it is announced that Wanda has moved away. The opportunity to apologize seems gone. Powerful.
#6 Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel
Enter the amazing, mythical world of bats! I have read this to my own children and to a Grade 3 class and always, the suspense and unique characters, make it an instant hit. The main characters are Shade, a young Silverwing bat and Marina, a Brightwing bat that Shade befriends on his journey to find his colony. He was lost in a storm on the winter migration south to Hibernaculum. On their way they meet Goth and Throbb, two huge, bat eating, jungle bats who threaten Shade’s chances of ever finding his colony again. This book is an award winning fantasy that is impossible to put down. Perfect for readers and listeners eight years old and up! And, the first in a trilogy!
#7 The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi
Five smallish (about 100 pages each) hardbound books full of amazingly detailed illustrations make up the Spiderwick Chronicles. Read all five out loud or read the first as an introduction and let eager readers finish the series on their own.
Book 1 in the Spiderwick Chronicles is The Field Guide. We meet the main characters – Mallory Grace and twin brothers, Jared and Simon Grace. They move into the dilapidated, crumbling down house of their Aunt Lucinda and slowly, eerily meet the fantastical creatures who reside in and around the house – goblins, hobgoblins elves, ogres, dwarves, faeries and the list goes on. Jared’s possession of the field guide has outraged the creatures it documents. What will they do to get it back? I read the series to my children at the end of their kindergarten year and they were mesmerized. A year later, I read the whole series to a Grade 2/3 class. We intended to read just Book 1 but pleading and suspense made that impossible. Fantasy. Adventure. Mystery. My daughter asked me for daily guarantees that our field guide was just a copy and not the original. Yet, these books are not too scary – especially with the assurances a read aloud session can provide.
# 8 Jeremy Thatcher Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville
Many of the Magic Shop books make great read alouds but this one is particularly good. Maybe it’s because kids have such a thing for dragons (me too, I suppose) that the concept of actually helping to hatch an egg and then dealing with the resulting fast growing dragon is so appealing. Jeremy is a very likeable character and his struggles to keep his dragon a secret make for many shocking and amusing pages. The connection between boy and dragon is fascinating. It is heartbreaking when Jeremy must help his dragon return to her own kind. Coville himself sees this title as a keeper. Read his comments on his site.
#9 How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor
I’ve read this with a Grade 2/3 class and see it being relevant right into the middle grades both as a read aloud but also to be read independently.
Ideally, this book needs to be discussed. There is so much to talk about in this story about Georgina Hayes, her little brother Toby and her overworked Mom. First of all, the family lives in their car. Things are desperate.
Mama is working two jobs to try and save enough money to be able to afford a place to live. Looking out the car window one evening, Georgina sees a reward sign for a lost dog. $500 offered for its safe return.
How crazy, thinks Georgina. Then, how simple . . . If she could “borrow” a dog, then surely the owner will post a reward. No harm done and her family’s problems will be solved. Of course plans like these are never that simple.
#10 Listening for Lions by Gloria Whelan
This book begins with Rachel Sheridan living with her English missionary parents in the East African village of Tumaini. When her parents die in the influenza epidemic in 1919, Rachel is vulnerable. Her fate seems decided – she will be sent to live in an orphanage. Unless . . . Rachel is instead scooped up by a neighbouring family and sent off to visit their Grandfather in England, posing as his granddaughter, Valerie. The relationship between Rachel and the grandfather is lovely but never predictable. And certainly full of secrets. Historical Fiction. Mystery. Adventure. Very appealing for listeners Grade 3 and up. I was shocked at how connected my Grade 3/4 class was to this book when I read it aloud. So much discussion, so many questions.
# 11 The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis by Barbara O’Connor
This book is our current Book Club selection and it is being quickly devoured by Book Club Members (Grades 2-5). I just finished reading it to my own children (in Grade 3) and realized that it had to go on the read aloud list. It is such an engaging story for kids – Popeye, who lives with his grandmother Velma and his uncle Dooley in Fayette, South Carolina is convinced that his life will be forever boring. But when Elvis and his four scruffy siblings show up, Popeye’s life begins to get exciting – he becomes (for a fleeting amount of time) the Senior Vice President of the Spit and Swear Club, he and Elvis find mysterious Yoo-hoo boats floating downstream, he ventures out into the “forbidden woods” to discover their origin . . .
All of a sudden, he has become part of a Small Adventure. Life couldn’t be better!
#12 Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm
This Newbery honour title is a joy to read aloud. My Grade 2/3 class finds it both hilarious and fascinating. They have the opportunity to learn about life in the Florida Keys during the 1930s. What was it like for children and families during the Depression? Lots to discuss. But lots to smile about too as 11 year old Turtle deals with life with a bunch of her quirky boy cousins as her mother works far away as a live in housekeeper. The boys run a successful “business” as the Diaper Gang and confidently pick up crying babies in their wagon, deal successfully with diaper rash (it’s all about the secret formula) and have plenty of time left for vengeful plots and treasure hunting. Turtle finds much more than treasure as she gets to know her Florida family and her true strength.
#13 Rump: The True Story of Rumplestiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff
I read this to my own children when they were in Grade 6 and also to a Grade 2/3/4 class. All children listened incredibly intently to this fascinating story of Rumplestiltskin. Why is this book so special? The children loved the whole idea that this was the “back story” of a well known tale. They felt they were in on some secrets! And what characters! We were rooting for Rump. We loved Red and the Trolls and Nothing, the donkey! We all agreed that the King and the Miller were terrible. The pixies fascinated us. Children begged and pleaded for me to read this book at every possible free minute of out day.
We also adore author Liesl Shurtliff.
Here is the story of our Skype experience with Liesl.
#14 Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo
I read this aloud to my children and we adored it. We savoured the quirky, the hilarious and the eccentric. We smiled at the characters. We were lulled by the whimsy. And we were charmed by the brilliance of DiCamillo. 5 stars: all glowing and magical!
So of course, this had to become a classroom read aloud. Shared with a Grade 3/4 class, this title was all kinds of amazing. Students hung on DiCamillo’s images, her peculiar sensibilities and her tender moments of reflection. I was frequently asked to reread sentences or entire pages. Fully deserving of the Newbery medal.
#15 The One and Only Ivan byKatherine Applegate
I don’t know if I can capture in words the intensity of our read aloud experience with this book. I read it to a Grade 2/3/4 class and it became part of who we were as a class community. Ivan’s story is one of relationships. It is about Stella and Ruby, important elephants. About Bob the dog who is wise and aloof. And little Julia who inspires and understands Ivan’s art. This may be a story mostly about animals but I haven’t read something in a long time that so reminded me of my humanity. How we are all vulnerable. Raw. Hopeful. Somewhat scared. How will this novel touch its listeners? Read here and here and here for an inkling.
You must also share Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla written by Katherine Applegate and illustrated by G. Brian Karas. This is the nonfiction picture book that tells Ivan’s story.