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Top Twenty Books for Families to Read Aloud

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Reading aloud is central to our family and our homeschool.  It helps form who we are now and who we will become.   It also teaches us about others and ourselves and, indeed, the world.  After almost 20 years of homeschooling—and a few more of reading aloud—we have a list of family favorites:

#1:  The Bible.  For all Christians this is our main source of all that is good.  Not quite, of course, because God is the source of all good, but this book shows us who he is and who we are and how he saved us and how we can be thankful for that.  It is eminently practical and we have no excuse for neglecting it.  However, in Canada at least, many Christians do.  If you are having a hard time reading your Bible regularly, here are some suggestions.  If you want to learn more about the story parts of the Bible, many excellent Bible narrative resources are available.

I’m sharing the rest of our favorites with one word:  Enjoy!

Heidi by Joanna Spyri.  The unabridged version of this story is a moving presentation of the gospel as well as a story of human joy and tragedy set in the majestic Alps.  I have read it aloud several times, and each time the children would clamor for more and I would sniffle and get teary-eyed.

Children of the New Forest by Captain Marryat. The first children’s novel written in English, this story of the English Civil War combines anything anyone could want in a story.  It is written from a Royalist point of view but presents the main characters on either side as reasonable people, not radicals.  I’ve read this book aloud three or four times; we can’t be sure because the children have reread it on their own as well.

All of the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I can’t even begin to imagine how many times we read this series out loud, and when I was too ill to read aloud we got the audio books from the library.  We even lost one of these books, I think Little House on Plum Creek, on the plane when we moved to Europe; it was the best reading we could imagine to while away the long travelling hours with our little ones.  If you’ve only watched the movies, you’ve missed so much, and so have your kids.

Peter Duck, We Never Meant to Go to Sea, and others by Arthur Ransome.  These are all boat stories with so much fun and excitement!  They are usually a blissful holiday, full of adventures of all sorts.  One afternoon I read the entire We Never Meant to Go to Sea, several hundred pages long, because the children begged me not to stop. I occasionally have some issues with the children’s attitudes in the Swallows and Amazons series, but it is nothing most children don’t encounter regularly.

Ralph Moody’s Little Britches Series.  Moving and illuminating stories of life in the Wild West and of settling back in the East, with one of the best main characters in children’s books.  These books are best read aloud because some of the colorful characters use colorful language that I prefer to skip.  Even so, these are some of the best books around.  They were too intense for my young ones the first time I read them, and at one point I think all of us cried.  The Little House on the Prairie series is more suitable for younger children.

Robin Hood by Howard Pyle.  Exceedingly exciting, overwhelmingly violent, and the most requested read aloud book for all my children. There’s something about a real hero, and standing up against injustice, and zany humor, and adults whacking each other with sticks that really appealed to my crew.   I’m not keen on violence, whatever the cause, so they only got me to read this book aloud about 4 times despite their pleading.  And I’m not allowed to read the sad ending in any version….

Milly-Molly-Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley is one of the most endearing books to share with little ones.  Cheerful, full of gentle humor and matter-of-fact history, and with one of fiction’s happiest little girls, this book deserves a place in every child’s heart.  My little ones identified with it; my older ones recognized their own past as well as their little siblings’ antics.

The Five Little Peppers and How they Grew by Margaret Sidney.  Every family should read this old-fashioned story together.  It’s full of real life, pathos, and the happiest optimism.  Two of my children mentioned that this book was near the top of their lists of favorites, and I love it too.

The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit.  A sad yet happy story full of goodness, truth, and irresistible characters getting into all sorts of fascinating situations.

Carry On Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham.  An inspiring biography of adventure, dedication, and determination with heroic characters.  Splendid!

Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl, a true, thrilling adventure that kept my crew on the edges of their chairs.   The beginning is a bit slow, but after that, wow!

The Little Duke or Richard the Fearless by Charlotte Yonge.  We have read this twice and it is superb.  Caution:  This true story does contain violence, but its overarching message is one of forgiveness.  

The Adventures of Reddy Fox and all others by Thornton W. Burgess. A delightful blend of fun, excitement, humor, and wisdom.  Reddy Fox and the other animals are so foolish and so familiar! I’ve enjoyed Burgess’s books since I was a little girl.

Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne.  Lots of wild excitement that could almost be true, and great characters.

The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss.  This adventure is full of all sorts of unit study possibilities, but it is best as a thrilling story to enjoy together.  We love it.

L’Abri by Edith Schaeffer.  Even though the end of this book is not as compelling as the rest, my children loved L’Abri.  Seeing how God answers prayer and guides a family that depends on him is every bit as exciting as the greatest fictional adventures.  I was surprised at how much my children enjoyed this book.

Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott.  This is the least smarmy of all of Alcott’s books with delightfully memorable characters.  Her other books are good too, but have a lot more explicit moralizing which I find difficult to read aloud and my kids find difficult to listen to.

Scout:  The Secret of the Swamp by Piet Prins.  A best-seller in its original Dutch, this novel tells the story of a boy and his dog during World War 2 in the Netherlands.  It is a thrilling story in which Christianity is assumed as a background for all that the characters do, say, and think.

Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett, a sweet rags-to-riches fairy tale of good overcoming evil.  It is the origin of my bedtime blessing to my children, “God keep you all night long.”

Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter.  Such optimism and fun!  Some consider it sentimental and naïve, but there’s a lot of wisdom, faith, and grit in being able to be thankful and positive in the face of tragedy.

Books I had forgotten about that should have been on this list: 

Journey Through the Night by Anne de Vries, a fast-paced, accurate, and thoroughly human story of World War 2 in the Netherlands, following the adventures of a formerly laid-back teen and his family.

The Escape: The Adventures of Three Huguenot Children Fleeing Persecution, a fast-paced thrilling story that we all love and reread.

In 2010 I listed our Top 10 Read Alouds while giving a Pep Talk about Reading Aloud; that list is almost identical to the current one.

You can see all our read alouds from 2011 to the present on these pages.

Note:  Some of these books are available free on Gutenburg and all of them should be available from libraries or interlibrary loan.   Of course, they are all definitely worth owning, but I know how limited bookshelf space can be.

This post is linked to 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge , Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, The Book Nook, Raising Homemakers, Titus 2 Tuesday, Works for Me Wednesday, Mom to Mom Monday, Monday’s Musings, Missional WeekendR&R Wednesdays, From House to Home, Homemaking Mondays, Good Morning Mondays, Make Your Home Sing Mondays, Faith Filled Fridays.

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15 Comments

  1. AlyssaZ says:

    I can’t wait for my baby girl to be a bit older so that we can read Narnia and Boxcar Children together!

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Yes, there’s so much to look forward to when little ones grow up a bit! Enjoy!

      We, too, loved the first Boxcar Children book, but since my Top 10 post had already become a Top 20 post, I stopped. It would have made the top 30 or 40.

      I don’t know why, but Narnia did not work for us very well, either as a read aloud or for the kids to read on their own.

  2. Jenn says:

    Many great reads here! I am currently reading (to myself) Little Town on the Prairie. I just finished The Long Winter. I love reading aloud to my children, even as teens.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Yes, I read aloud to teens as well. My mom did to us, too, and when my aunts and uncles get together they still read aloud to each other. So much fun!

  3. Jennifer S. says:

    Some great books here. We’ve read quite a few of these, but there’s also new ones here for us to get. Thanks.

  4. These are some great books to read! I am passing on my entire collection of The Babysitters Club books to my oldest daughter. I cannot wait for her to read them!

    1. I found your post at A Little R&R linky party!

      1. Annie Kate says:

        Thanks for dropping by, Brandi! It is wonderful to share the books we loved with our children.

  5. I loved this list as it has some of our favourites on it so I really need to investigate the rest!
    Enid Blyton’s version of Robin Hood may be more suitable for younger children. My six year old loved having this read recently.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Wow, I did not know Enid Blyton had written a Robin Hood version. Thanks for mentioning that.

      If this had been a top 30 or 40 list her Adventure series (Castle of Adventure, River of Adventure etc) would have been included as well.

  6. What a great list of books! I have encountered two problems with reading aloud that maybe you can help me with. First of all, my voice gets so tired! I don’t know how you read an entire book out loud in one afternoon – I know I would never have made it! And secondly, my two middle girls (ages 8 and 4) have an incredibly low tolerance for intensity of any kind! They made it through Milly Molly Mandy, but just about everything else we’ve tried sends them running away scared at least a few times. I don’t want to force them to listen when they’re scared, but it gets a bit ridiculous! Has anyone else dealt successfully with this? I would love some advice. Thanks for sharing this at Booknificent Thursday!
    Tina

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Oh, I couldn’t talk after reading that afternoon! LOL But it was worth it to the kids, so it was worth it for me. When I was ill I couldn’t read aloud at all. We can only do the best we can, you know, and that’s what God wants us to do.

      I used to read the scary bits in a monotone to help my sensitive kids. We never did manage to do most of the fairy tales. And I picked gentler stories to read aloud and skipped intense parts. We respected their sensitivities, and I’m glad we did.

      The Little House on the Prairies is a mostly good series for sensitive kids although it does have some intense bits and The Long Winter is truly intense and should be avoided until they are older. I’d try Heidi, The Five Little Peppers, Eight Cousins…. But a four year old needs different books than these, I think.

      And don’t worry, they do grow up and watch superhero movies without ill effects eventually…but it may take a decade or more like it did for my kids. Not that that is a goal I have, but just to show that respecting their feelings does not lead to them being wimpy for life.

      God bless you as you find your way through all these complex issues of reading aloud to your kids.

  7. Angela says:

    This is a great list! Several you mentioned have been favorites of ours as well, and I can’t wait to try to the others. Thanks for writing out the descriptions!

  8. Amy says:

    Thanks for sharing your favorites! We’ve read some of these, some are on my shelf but haven’t made it out for read-aloud time yet, and others are new to me!

  9. RobinP says:

    Wonderful choices! The Little Britches series has been near the top for us.

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