Best Family Read Aloud Books

Juggling different age ranges can be difficult. Everything from what they eat, to what they wear, to the movies they watch, to the games they play is a very delicate process of negotiation. Mostly it is a balance between screams of “it’s not fair, why do they get to” and meltdowns about “I had to wait until I was __ for that, why do they get to now”.

The 10-year-old is revolting against watching the 3-year-old appropriate Curious George. The 6-year-old is watching shows that you made your 11-year-old wait to watch. The 5-year-old eats as much ice cream as your 9-year-old. The 8-year-old gets to stay up and read while the 4-year-old is sent to bed kicking and screaming. The list goes on. It is never fair. Someone is always frustrated with the result and you just do the best you can. Finding that balance is as seemingly impossible with books as it is in life.

How do you find that perfect book that the older kids will still enjoy (and haven’t already read), while also keeping the little kids engaged? I start thinking about this question at the last chapter of each book we read as I try to figure out what to read next. Honestly, most of the time I have separate reading times with the younger kids and the older kids. And I will still do this, but I think there is great value in trying to find the right books that allow us to all read together. These books have worked well for us and I look forward to discovering more as the kids get older.


May family reading time be the one place you can please everyone!


The Importance of Book Shelves

You can tell a lot about a person’s character based on the books on their shelf and the way they are displayed. For example:

  1. Color coded – This person is not to be trusted. At all. Ever.
  2. Alphabetized – Proceed with caution.
  3. Categorized by genre – Be cautiously optimistic.
  4. Alphabetized by genre – Trust this person. Completely.
  5. Arranged by preference –  You have just discovered your soul mate or your worst enemy.

Because of this, when I am getting ready for people to come over to my house, the bookshelf is first on my cleaning list. If your first thought here is that bookshelves don’t belong on the “get your house clean” list, then you might want to stop reading, this next part will be painful for you.

I’ll be honest, my “get your house clean” list goes something like this:

  1. Ignore the list. (This step is very important.)
  2. Reorganize the bookshelf. For days.
  3. Throw shoes in the least full closet.
  4. Shove dirty laundry into the washing machine and dryer. (This explains my daughter’s stained shirt this morning, it was in the dryer…that means clean, right? My own system is failing me.)
  5. Everything else goes in my bedroom. Door is closed. House is clean.

Again, the “clean your house” blog…not mine!  My blog is the one that says, if the bookshelf is sorted, the house is clean despite the rouge Lego or Shopkin you may happen to step on.

Here is my kids’ communal bookshelf:


I fought the urge to re-do the shelf for the picture.  Apparently someone needs to visit my house so I can “clean”.

Top Shelf – My growing collection of future reads for the older kids.

Shelf #1 – Newberry Award winners and classics.


Shelf #2 – Classics continued and a few series that need to stay out of reach from the littlest hands.


Shelf #3 – Science, Dr. Suess, Disney, and some of my favorite picture books.


Shelf #4 – The kids’ favorite picture books and paper back books (I give up with sorting these!).


Shelf #5 – The younger kids’ shelf. I have no idea!




I like having a bookshelf just for the kids books because I want them to learn early on to take care of the books and treat them carefully. (This is a good theory, I am not so sure if it’s actually working!) One of the chores given to one kid each week is “librarian”. They are in charge of putting the books back in the shelves and keeping it usable. (Again with theories.)

Books are precious and meant to be read. They are also meant to be displayed for every judging eye.

Representation Matters

Olympic swimming is one of the most popular events to watch. This week, here in the United States, we sat around our screens enthralled by Simone Manuel and her amazing talent in the pool. But her comments out of the pool that have been even more inspiring. After winning her first individual gold medal and becoming the first African American woman to do so, she said

“It means a lot, I mean, this medal is not just for me. It’s for a whole bunch of people who have came before me and have been an inspiration to me…and for all the people after me who believe they can’t do it and I just want to be an inspiration to others that you can do it.”

Representation matters.

It matters for athletes, it matters for scientists, it matters for voters, and it matters for students. To be inspired to dream and imagine and fully immerse themselves in a story children must be able to picture themselves in that story, to be represented there. As I watch Simone Manuel capture the imagination and inspiration of so many children this summer, I am reminded how strong that need for representation is in all parts of life, including children’s literature.

Representation matters.

It matters for people of color to see themselves in the imaginary world of dragon slaying princesses and super powered heroes, or in the ordinary world of playground drama and sibling rivalry and fun-loving adventure. It matters for white kids to see all of their fellow students, teammates, and neighbors represented equally in the literary world so there can be no room for exclusivity to become normative. So that even if they live in a place predominately white, they grow up connected to stories that diversify and normalize the world around them.

Representation matters. And here are some excellent places to start.

Coretta Scott King Awards – The American Library Association says:

“The awards are given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.  The award commemorates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and honors his wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood.”

#1000BlackGirlBooks – Marley Dias, an 11 year old girl, was frustrated that she was unable to find books with main characters that looked like her. She created the #1000BlackGirlBooks hashtag on Twitter as a way of discovering book options with protagonists that are black girls. It has been and continues to be a very successful campaign and an extremely valuable resource. – I came across this excellent blog accidentally while reading deep into the comments section of a different blog and  I am thrilled to have found it. It is a blog dedicated to recommending and reviewing children’s books with people of color as the main characters. It is a fantastic site.

Ezra Jack Keats – Everyday kids doing everyday things. This is what Keats excels at writing about and showing.

Kadir Nelson – Author/illustrator extraordinaire, Nelson’s books are thoughtful, historical, and beautiful. You should read them all.

Marti Dumas – Dumas gives her readers characters that are hilarious, adventurous, and witty. Her books should be on every child’s shelf.

Jacqueline Woodson – Jacqueline Woodson gives voice to older kids with her books for middle grade and young adult students. She has won many, many, many awards for her excellent writing, including a Newberry Award for Brown Girl Dreaming.

Proactive representation. This is one way we, as adults, can cultivate children’s imagination, inspire them, and dare our children to dream . It can start with books.

Diverse representation in children's literature is vital for children of all backgrounds. Here is a guide to some excellent authors and resources that provide that diversity through books.

Summer Reading Programs Reviewed

Observations about summer:

summer graph

(You can see I am not a mathematician, accountant, or any other numbers/graph related person. Just don’t look too closely and go for the big idea with this graph. I promise to stick to lists in the future!)

You can also see that, although I technically returned from vacation, I am still solidly in “I am never coming back” mode. This is what August does to you. June and July are fine with their steady decline into sanity and rest, with the occasional spike for ambitious summer goals or pre-vacation prep. Those spikes are temporary. But, August?! August starts in vacation mode, sucks you into “I am never coming back” only to kick you in the face with the school year which sends you directly into panic mode. It’s all extremes and swings in the wrong direction with August.

Because I am steadfastly looking behind, let’s talk about something that was (and ignore all things that will be, like school). Summer reading programs are coming to an end, like everything else summer related. The due dates for those precious pieces of paper are quickly closing in. This summer, my kids participated in three reading programs this summer: the library, Barnes and Noble, and Half Priced Books. Here’s how it went.

  • Public Library – Unsurprisingly, I loved this program. The biggest difference maker with the library is that they had something available for each person in our family, no matter their age. The younger kids earned a little trinket for each form they completed and then earned a free picture book when they got to the maximum number of forms. The older kids earned library bucks after a specific number of hours reading and then there were prizes they could buy with their “money”. Again, there was a maximum amount they were able to earn. After that point, kids were given the option of reading several more hours and earning a free book. It was the perfect combination of enough for the average reader and motivating for the advanced reader…a very rare thing for reading programs.
  • Barnes and Noble – This program was fine. It definitely has its flaws but two of my kids got free, brand new books from it…turns out, that makes up for a lot of flaws! Barnes and Noble only had programs for school age kids and their “program” consisted of asking the kids five different questions about their favorite five books. Once they turn in their form with the answered questions on it, they got a free book. They do not get *any* free book, but can pick one from a predetermined list. If you are looking for a way to track your child’s reading over the summer, this is not it. However, if you want a free book, this is a very easy way to “earn” one.
  • Half Priced Books – Sadly, this was my least favorite. Their process of tracking minutes was frustrating and tedious. I found myself dreading keeping the forms filled out. In all fairness, part of my lack of motivation was discovering that the closest Half Priced Books to my house was actually very far away. I did like it that they allowed kids to do new forms twice and they gave $5 of store credit for each completed form. There is the potential for each child to earn up to $10 in store credit, which is quite a good deal.

Once everything was turned in and tallied up, here are the results (not including about 109 plastic coins, 2,000 stickers, and 12 popper frogs):


While the kids are the ones who earned the loot, congratulations are in order for you, parents. You are done negotiating reading times, done trying to keep random sheets of paper from getting wrinkled, lost, colored on, ripped up, or thrown away, and done obsessively reminding your child to write down the book they just read. Well done!

Books for the First Day of School

Suddenly my summer has become all about one word. Not about the summer I want back: joyful days of rest, relaxed schedules, empty calendars, and sunny days. Or even the summer that was: whining, boredom, endless hunger, fighting, and unmet goals.  Instead, summer is now about: SCHOOL!

  • School supplies
  • School lunches
  • School schedules
  • School backpacks
  • School friends
  • School, school, school, school….

And I have done nothing. Not. One. Thing. Did I mention it is a week away?

Worse yet, my third daughter starts Kindergarten and I have done nothing. Not. One. Thing. When my oldest daughter started Kindergarten, I checked out every “first day of school” book six months in advance. We daily went through the Kindergarten screening packet, reviewing colors, shapes, letters and numbers. We met with other kids going into Kindergarten so that she would know people in her class. We bought her backpack/lunch box/school supplies way ahead of time. Third daughter? Not. One. Thing. Kindergarten screening? No. Chicken pox booster? No. Backpack? No. I am only partially confident that she is actually registered to go to Kindergarten. (I jest, she is registered…I think.)

Since I am nothing if not consistent (at least on this one issue), it seems like the best place to start is with books. (Those other things are optional, right?!)  There are so many good “first day of school” books that could be listed here, this list is not exhaustive. But here are some of my favorites.

Chrysanthemum (Kevin Henkes) – Of all the books about going to school, this is one of the best. It has it all, the excitement of looking forward to school, the agony of bullying, the struggle of parental intervention, and the beauty of confidence discovered.

The Kissing Hand (Audrey Penn) – For your nervous or struggling student, this book is a must read. Chester’s mom creatively gives her son a reminder that her love stays with him all the time, even at school. The Kissing Hand routine has become an essential part of one of my children’s school days.

Amazing Grace (Mary Hoffman) – Amazing Grace is an excellent story about persistence and confidence despite being told a goal is unreachable.

Splat the Cat (Rob Scotton) – Splat has every excuse imaginable for why he cannot go to school. Through bravery, a little push, and a lot of encouragement, he learns that school is something to look forward to.

Adventure Annie Goes to Kindergarten (Toni Buzzeo) – Annie’s wild antics will give your new student the comic relief they need to relax their nerves.

Miss Bindegarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten (Joseph Slate) – Everyone’s favorite Kindergarten teacher will show your child how she gets ready for her class with her hilarious students.

Amelia Bedelia’s First Day of School (Herman Parish) – Again in the comic relief genre, your child will be encouraged that they will never misunderstand things quite as thoroughly as Amelia Bedelia.

First Day Jitters (Julie Danneberg) – In full disclosure, I have not actually read this book. I know, it is a major faux pas to recommend a book you have never read. But this book has been recommended to me so many times as a teacher and read by several of my children’s teachers on the first day of school, that I am confident it belongs on this list. Also, it will finally give me something to do with the third daughter that I have not done with the others.

May these books, read on your lap, calm those nervous tummies and dry those tear-brimmed eyes.