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Top-10 Family Read Alouds

It is always a good time to spend time on recreational reading with the family. Reading aloud together with your children is an excellent way to expose them to great literature while spending quality time together. It’s relaxing, it’s educational, and it’s bonding.

“Sounds great,” you’re asking, “but what books should I read aloud?”

That is the question! Choosing read aloud books is easy when children are very young; it gets complicated when you have multiple children ranging from preschool to high school, as they are all at different levels of development. Reading different books to each child throughout the day is something moms seldom have time for; and besides, it’s much more fun to read together as a family!

You’re going to have to find books that can be enjoyed by children of all ages. This is not as hard as it sounds; there are a lot of excellent options out there for read alouds to children of any age.

What qualities are best when looking for a universal read aloud? It should have a message of honesty, integrity, and virtue. It should be written in such a way that it can be understood by different age levels; fun illustrations are a plus. It should have a message of good triumphing over evil with an appealing, likeable protagonist. Characters have depth and dimension that make them relatable. The language can be challenging so long as it is not too complex.

Finally, it should speak to “the kid at heart” in a way that transcends categories of age; C.S. Lewis once said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” Literature that speaks to “the kid at heart” may be marketed to children, but its appeal is often universal.

1. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

I don’t know how I could make a list of family read alouds without the Narnia books! C.S. Lewis’s classic tales of the magical world of Narnia have inspired children (and adults!) of all ages for generations. Every child should have the opportunity of hearing the Narnia stories read to them at least once in their life. As far as family read alouds go, the Chronicles of Narnia series is unparalleled.

2. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons was first published in 1930 and has been considered a classic ever since. This is a coming of age story following the adventures of the Walker family on a maritime vacation in England’s Lake District. Full of sailing and seamanship, Swallows and Amazons features a wonderful cast of characters that have captured the imagination of children and adults for generations. It’s an excellent read aloud, and usually featured on every Charlotte Mason reading list. And if you enjoy it, there are several more books in the series.

3. The Little World of Don Camillo by Giovanni Guareschi

Giovanni Guareshi’s Little World books follow the adventures of an ornery priest named Don Camillo facing off against the local Communist party in post-World War II Italy. If this sounds too heavy, you don’t know Guareschi’s writing style! The Don Camillo books are charming, full of wit and a uniquely Italian humor. The lovable Don Camillo is one moment conversing with Christ in the chapel, the next throwing fists against the communist mayor, Peppone, and his goons. Interwoven with the humorous tales, however, are powerful messages about grace, perseverance, and forgiveness.

4. City of the Golden House by Madeleine Poland

Set in the time of Nero and Christian persecution, this is a story of a crippled boy and his slave. It’s an enduring story of friendship, hope, faith, and the meaning of Christian love. The story skillfully weaves itself around the dramatic narrative of St. Peter’s last days in Rome, culminating in the martyrdom of the Prince of the Apostles. City of the Golden House is a moving and memorable tale of early Christianity accessible to all ages.

5. The Redwall Series by Brian Jacques

Since the release of the original Redwall book in 1986, Brian Jacques’ colorful fantasy about a mouse monk defending his abbey against a rodent army has been a perennial favorite of young readers. The detailed illustrations by Gary Chalk deserve special praise. The writing, the characters, the compelling storyline, and the lovely illustrations all come together to make Redwall a must read. By the way, Redwall has a reputation for being a “boys book”. That’s hogwash, as it’s just as enjoyable for girls.

6. Angels in Iron by Nicholas Prata

Angels in Iron is a historical fiction story set during the 16th century as the Christian island of Rhodes was falling to the Turkish armies of the Ottoman Empire. Historical figures such as Suleiman the Magnificent, Piali Pasha, and Dragut the Corsair all make an appearance. This is a thrilling tale of Christian resilience that will educate and entertain. Angels in Iron is published by Arx, which published a lot of fantastic historical fiction in general.

7. Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

Pippi Longstocking is one of literature’s most memorable characters, as lovable as she is strong. This beloved, classic tale tells of a girl with crazy red pigtails and no parents who has a penchant for getting into mischief. This is one of those books that every child deserves to have read aloud to them at least once.

8. The Father Brown Series by G.K. Chesterton [adapted by Nancy Brown]

The original Father Brown detective stories by G.K. Chesterton may be a bit inaccessible to young readers. Thankfully, Nancy Carpentier Brown has adapted them for younger audiences with her Father Brown Readers. Chesterton’s Father Brown stories are a collection of tales about a priest who uses his wit and insights into human nature to solve crimes. These stories are a great way to introduce your children to one of the greatest writers of the early 20th century.

9. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

Not your typical 12-year-old, Artemis Fowl kidnaps a fairy in a plot to take over the world. He discovers that fairies are a lot more dangerous than expected. They are not the friendly magical creatures of myth; they are armed, aggressive, and ready for combat! You can read the first book on its own or go for the whole 8-book series.

10. The Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I debated whether to add the Little House books to this list because I basically add them to every single reading list I put together…but they are just that good! Little House on the Prairie is a perennial favorite, but Little House in the Big Woods and Farmer Boy are exceptional as well. Whether you read one or all the Little House books, you should definitely consider incorporating these into your read alouds. They have engaging characters, memorable stories, and wistfully capture the nostalgia of a vanished way of life from America’s frontier days.

Putting it all together!

There are so many more we could discuss; it was very hard to whittle this down to ten! Before we end, I want to offer a few pieces of advice to parents about reading aloud with children of multiple ages:

First, don’t worry about your child not fully understanding a book that is meant for older children due to scholarly language. This can be an opportunity to learn vocabulary through context. Be open to stopping and explaining big words or concepts to them. Also, remember that sometimes children just like listening to adults talk, even if they don’t understand everything.

When you were a child, did you ever enjoy sitting and listening to your parents have an adult conversation with their friends, even if you didn’t grasp everything? Most children have done this. It is an inherently enjoyable experience. So don’t worry too much if your child doesn’t understand every single thing.

Second, age segregation in reading certainly does have its place. After all, children are not ready for a good number of adult topics, and just because we encourage universal read alouds for some books does not mean it is suitable for all books. However, don’t let artificial boundaries or “age appropriate” guidelines from a publisher keep you from enjoying a book between generations. A book might say “Age 12 and up” but be perfectly accessible to your 8 year old. Use your own best judgment.

Finally, if a book is only interesting to youngsters because it panders their immaturity (ahem, Captain Underpants) it probably is not a book worthy of family read-aloud time. You want quality literature that does not depend on immature gimmicks to hold the attention of littles.

There’s so much more we could discuss; it seems a shame to limit this list only to ten. See our blogpost: The Ultimate Family Read Aloud List for many more titles to consider.

What other books do you think should be added to the family read aloud list? Join us at our Catholic Homeschool Connections Community to get a conversation going.

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