The importance of reading to our children is a well publicized fact. It helps them with phonemic awareness, exposes them to language, teaches empathy, and gives them words to help process how they’re feeling. Numerous studies have been done on the value of reading to children; this article in particular does a wonderful job of explaining the benefits, from encouraging empathy to helping them learn to read.
Reading is a lifelong skill, but also the key to broadening horizons and continually encouraging empathy in all age ranges, from babies with board books to grownups with hardcovers (and paperbacks and e-readers — no judgement). But not all books are created equal, and some books are more enjoyable than others to read aloud as a family. As an avid reader, today I’m sharing my favorite books to read aloud for various age ranges, from picture books to young adult. Once your teen begins dabbling outside the YA (young adult) section, you might just be able to have a little family book club and pass books back and forth to one another.
The beautiful thing about sharing books is having the opportunity to see the world through someone else’s eyes: the author’s, the protagonists’, and the person who passed it along to you.
Whether board books, hardcover or paperback, these early story time books are the ones you’ll always look back on fondly. Plus, if you’re going to read something a thousand times, it may as well be something you like! Some of these are Dolly’s Imagination Library choices; if you aren’t signed up for that, rush to it! It’s an amazing program that sends a child a book a month every month from birth to age 5.
- Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney
- Little Cub; Old Bear and His Cub by Olivier Dunrea
- The First Strawberries retold by Joseph Bruchac
- Click, Clack, Moo Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin
- The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka
- Read to Tiger by S.J. Fore
- The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
- Coat of Many Colors by Dolly Parton
- Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett (this is a long one, but sure to get that 20 minutes of nightly reading checked off in one book!)
- Pup and Bear by Kate Banks and Nook Stoop
- Peace is an Offering by Annette Le Box
- The Napping House by Don Wood
- The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room by Stan and Jan Berenstain
Isn’t it so exciting when your baby starts reading chapter books?!
- The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne is a favorite of my kids. Each book takes the kids back in time, so there’s some historical information as well as a strong sibling relationship.
- Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary
- The Bailey School Kids series by Debbie Dadey was my absolute favorite chapter book series as a kid, and I’m having such fun reading them to my kids!
- Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne has sporadic line drawings, beautiful language, and funny stories sure to make kids laugh. My kids are obsessed with them!
Despite its name, Middle Grade does not correlate to middle school. It’s for the years when the kids are too old for early chapter books but too young for YA (young adult). It’s often described as for ages 8-12 or 9-13, but it’s really dependent on your child’s maturity and reading level. These stories are more complex, as are the characters, but lack the sharper edges, darker plots, and more maturity that YA books offer. This is one of my favorite genres, and I often review them on my blog. If I’ve reviewed it, the title links to the full review.
- The Elephant’s Girl by Celesta Rimington is a wonderfully written mystery set in a zoo with a puzzle to solve and a bit of magical realism.
- Hoot by Carl Hiassen is his first ecocentric novel for kids. This mystery is a great fun read that teaches kids how to problem solve with plenty of laughs along the way.
- Wishtree by Katherine Applegate is a thought-provoking and nuanced read that discusses acceptance with a bit of magical realism.
- The Tiger Rising and Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate Dicamillo are beautifully told stories the whole family can relate to.
- The Giver by Lois Lowry is a dystopian novel aimed at more upper middle grade readers. It’s a thought-provoking look at society and what we’re willing to stand up for.
- The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin is a great early mystery for middle grade readers. It’s one of those books that always stays with you; I still find myself thinking about it from time to time!
- Woof, Arf, and Bow Wow by Spencer Quinn are the first three books in the Bowser and Birdie series. Narrated by a dog, these mysteries are sure to have your brains go into detective mode as you try and solve the mystery alongside Birdie and Bowser.
- Rick Riordan’s series: I’ve read them all, from the Percy Jackson ones to the Egyptian ones to the Norse ones and back to the Greek’s with Apollo and the follow up Percy Jackson books. They are all wonderful. As a Classics minor, I can tell you they are mythically accurate. I love how the author takes things kids are struggling with, like ADHD and dyslexia, and turns them into superpowers.
- Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell could be upper middle grade or YA, so you may want to peruse before reading with your kids to determine if they’re ready for it. It does have more complex themes, including death and desertion.
- The Last Bear by Hannah Gold (will be released February 2, 2021): this novel is so beautifully written, with a fantastic plot and well developed characters. It’s a joy to read.
- Unplugged by Gordon Korman (will be released January 5, 2021) is a perfect fit for the kids who aren’t that into reading, but are into technology.
- The House that Wasn’t There by Elana K. Arnold (will be released March 30, 2021) is a thoughtful look at family, friendship, and how to deal with change. With a dash of magical realism and the wonders of coincidence, this novel is a fun read with just enough mystery to keep you on the edge of your seat without worrying for anyone’s safety.
Young Adult (YA)
Just because it’s in the YA section does not mean you can only enjoy it if you’re between the ages of 13 and 19. Some of these books are intense, thought-provoking reads that I go back to again and again. Some of these authors also write for adults, so if you enjoy their YA book, you’ve found a new author to read. Some of these themes touch on very real life topics and can really help fuel some wonderful discussions.
- Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. I’m including this in both the middle grade and YA lists, as it could be either. It does have more complex themes, including death and desertion.
- Flawed and Perfect, by Cecelia Ahern. For fans of The Hunger Games. This dystopian novel challenges us to look at our societal norms and laws in a new way.
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas highlights police violence in an accessible way that really allows the reader to see life through the eyes of someone else.
- The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton explores what happens when the world you’ve always seen in black and white is suddenly exposed as shades of gray.
- The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot is a light, fun read with a lot of laughs and lessons.
- Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella is a deeper one, with an emphasis on the struggle of depression. Sophie Kinsella’s trademark wit is still present.
- The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harlow is on the cusp of YA and general fiction. It has a great blend of magical realism and mystery, and is one of my favorite books I’ve read this year.
- Everything, Everything and The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon indulge the teen romance plot within a novel on bigger topics, such as managing your health and immigration. Fascinating, well written books.
- To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han is the first in a series which highlights high school romance, cultural identity, and social identity. These books are fun but also beautiful and have depth.
- Turtles All the Way Down by John Green may be my favorite of his novels. This one focuses on a teen girl with OCD and the mystery she chooses to try and solve.