One of my proudest mom moments happened not too long ago when I overheard my daughter ask a visiting friend if she wanted to read a story. When the friend opted to do something different, my daughter looked at her with a baffled expression as though she couldn’t fathom someone not wanting to listen to a story and said, “Oh. This is a reading fun house. We like to read a lot of books here.”
A “reading fun house.” I love it.
My oldest has been reading on her own for a while now, but she still loves being read to. The bonding time is just as (if not more) important than the story, although we’ve read some pretty great stuff together.
The key to a good read aloud is that it is entertaining for both kids and adults. I get the appeal of of a lot of juvenile fiction and am glad that my kids are reading it, but there are no mermaids, unicorns, or “mermicorns” on this list because those books are decidedly not for me. Also, it is helpful if the read aloud is just above the reading level of your children. If it’s something they can easily read on their own, then they should.
Our list is pretty skewed toward realistic series fiction about families with strong female characters and definitely reveals my late 80s-early 90s childhood. I have been delighted to discover that many of the books I loved as a kid still hold relevance, and I think my daughters enjoy listening to books I read at their age…you know, a hundred years ago.
Little House on the Prairie (series) by Laura Ingalls Wilder: Nearly everyone is familiar with Laura and the Ingalls family, if only from the iconic TV show. I remember reading Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie as a kid, but I had forgotten that there are actually eight (nine, if you count one published posthumously) books in the series. These books recount Laura’s pioneer childhood from Wisconsin to Kansas to South Dakota. Our family was immersed in this series during the early days of the pandemic. Not only was it a great history lesson, but reading about how the Ingalls family nearly froze and starved to death in The Long Winter really put lockdown in perspective.
Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink: For whatever reason, I hadn’t read this book, but I’m so glad we found it during our “pioneer phase.” Caddie is the ultimate heroine, brave and strong, despite the the expected gender roles of the mid-1800s. I may or may not have teared up a little when her father told her at the end of the book that he didn’t want her to be a “lady” but rather: “[…] a woman with a wise and understanding heart, healthy in body and honest in mind.” Isn’t that what we all want?
Beezus and Ramona (series) by Beverly Cleary: I hereby publicly declare that Ramona is not a pest but still the spunky creative problem-solver I remember from my youth. Beverly Cleary is a gem, and I’m so glad my girls loved reading about Ramona’s adventures and misadventures as much as I did. The eight “Ramona books” were written between 1955 and 1999 and are timeless, although they also provide an interesting glimpse into parenting styles throughout the years.
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (series) by Judy Blume: While much of the Judy Blume catalog is still a bit mature for our family, the “Fudge books” are a great entry point. These hilarious books focus on Peter and his outrageous little brother Fudge, with an entire book dedicated to their annoying neighbor Sheila. It’s probably been two years since we read these books together, and my girls still make references to the silly things Fudge says and does.
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street (series) by Karina Yan Glaser: This series is a modern take on many of the books listed above. The Vanderbeekers are a family consisting of five children, their parents, and three pets all living in a brownstone in Harlem. Despite their varied interests–from science to music to sports–the kids team up to solve problems in independent, creative, and lovable ways, often with the help of their neighbors. These books were a great recommendation from a friend with older children, and even though my oldest devours them immediately, she still wants to read them together.
Fun and Fantastical
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (series) by Betty MacDonald & Missy Piggle-Wiggle (series) by Ann M. Martin and Annie Parnell: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is a funny little lady (and child psychology genius) who lives in an upside-down house and cures children of their bad habits. Some of the cures are the result of natural consequences, like the boy who won’t pick up his toys until he gets trapped in his room, and others are the result of magic, like a powder that turns tattles into clouds with literal tails. This series received a modern reboot in recent years by children’s literature rock star Ann M. Martin of The Babysitter’s Club fame. The new series focuses on Missy Piggle-Wiggle, niece of the original protagonist, and stays true to the original, both with the cures and the ridiculous names.
Anything by Roald Dahl: We have read a number of Roald Dahl books together; our favorites include Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (but you can skip Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator because it’s weird), Matilda, and The BFG (complete with funny giant voices). Like in any good children’s literature book, the adults are bumbling idiots while the kids save the day.
Coming of Age Friendships
Betsy-Tacy (series) by Maud Hart Lovelace: I’m not sure how I missed these books as child, as they would have been right up my alley. A friend shared the first four books of this series following the friendship of Betsy, Tacy, and Tib with us, which I would describe as the Minnesota version of Anne of Green Gables (more on that book later). The series, published between 1940 and 1955, begins when the protagonist is about to turn five and follows her meeting and subsequent friendship with neighbor Tacy and then Tib. The girls’ big ideas often have hilarious results.
The following list contains books that we personally haven’t read as a family, but would all be superb choices:
- The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien-The prequel to the The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a great introduction to Tolkien’s fantasy world.
- Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling-It’s time to officially out myself as never having read this blockbuster series…but if you’re a HP fan, you don’t need me to tell you to read these books.
- Stuart Little by E.B. White-A classic tale (Charlotte’s Web would be another excellent selection) about a mouse leaving his human family to go on an adventure out in the world.
- The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett-Another beloved childhood classic about a young girl’s discovery of a hidden garden and how it changes her life.
- The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place (series) by Maryrose Wood-I haven’t read this yet but have heard from my book recommending friend (seriously, we all need one of these) that it captivated kids and adults. It is the story of a fifteen-year-old governess who is charged with raising three children who were raised by wolves…I’m hooked already.
- Anne of Green Gables (series) by L.M. Montgomery-This book (and the seven that follow it) is my ALL-TIME favorite book…which is why I’m nervous to read it with my children. I want them to love it as much as I do, so I’m waiting until they are a little older to start the series about an imaginative orphan named Anne (with an -e).
This is clearly not an exhaustive list, so please share your favorite read alouds. We are always on the hunt for our next book!
Not only does the Memphis Mom Collective love books, but we love supporting locally owned businesses. That’s why, if any of these titles stick out to you and you’re considering the buying the book, click here to purchase from independently-owned Novel. In fact, some of Kristin’s choices (listed above!) will be on display for easy grabbing. Look for Kristin’s face on the shelf! “Mom approved” recommendations are just the best, right?
Located in East Memphis’ Laurelwood Plaza, Novel also offers special orders, curbside pick up and even home delivery! Just call (901) 922-5526. They’re open for socially-distanced shopping Monday-Saturday 9am – 8pm and Sunday 10am – 5pm.