Required Reading, On Reading Aloud

required reading, on reading aloud.

I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said before, dear readers, but reading aloud is one of the best things you can do for any child, whether or not that child belongs to you.  Yes, giving children uninterrupted time to read is important.  So is playing outside, limiting screen-time and making sure at least some green items on a plate are consumed before you get to the reason you got to the table in the first place.  Much like music is magic beyond all that’s done at Hogwarts, reading aloud is magic beyond anything I understand.  I know a thing or two about it from various experiences, and I can tell you for sure that I will someday be that sucker whose kid stays up way too late because she kept asking for “one more page/chapter/story.”

Anyway, if you want more than my dreamy ode to reading aloud, then you should know a couple of things.  It’s natural to read to kids when they’re too little to read on their own.  As they grow up, it’s easy to think that you should just let them read on their own.  That independent reading is a skill they have to build.  And that’s also a fact.  But that independent reading has to be balanced with listening to stories as well.  A child’s reading comprehension always lags behind her listening comprehension.  Which means she can understand complex stories better when she doesn’t have to read all those words on the page.  You’re reading them for her.  All she has to do is sit back and listen. And maybe follow along with a copy of her own.

You’re also modeling fluent reading for her.  When you read with inflection, when you take a slight pause after a comma, and when you add voices to each character (I do such a mean Hermione Granger), you are showing her what good readers do.  Rather than sitting and listening to her stumble over words, and harassing her to reread sentences that sounded too choppy for your liking, you can just read.  Read without ceasing, and let her hear how it sounds.

This list is arranged roughly by the age of the child you’d want to read to, from younger to older.

Helen Oxenbury: Google Image Result for

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll (source)

The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes

The Saturdays, by Elzabeth Enright

Everything on a Waffle, by Polly Horvath

The Boxcar Children, by Gertrude Chandler Warner

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Jester

The Bad Beginning, by Lemony Snicket

The Witches, by Roald Dahl

The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, by Julie Andrews Edwards (yes, her!)

Sideways Stories from Wayside School, by Louis Sachar

The Penderwicks, by Jeanne Birdsall

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by JK Rowling

Every Living Thing, by Cynthia Rylant

Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry

Love that Dog, by Sharon Creech

Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls

Maniac Magee, by Jerry Spinelli

The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin

The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D. Schmidt

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle (not so much because it serves as a good read aloud, because there are places in the middle where it drags, but because you have to read it before you can get to…)

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead

The Wave, by Todd Strasser

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell

The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein

Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Truman Capote

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck


Required Reading, on Trash

required reading, on trash

It can’t always be Pride and Prejudice and War and Peace.  In fact, for me, it can only rarely be the classics, which seem to take forever to read.  I like to move quickly through books; I like page turners.  I judge people too quickly for a whole host of superficial reasons.  But I refuse to judge people based on what they read.  If you hoard romance novels, if you read sci-fi without ceasing, or if you haven’t picked up a book for someone older than 18 in your life, that’s cool.  You are no less a reader than anyone else.  Reading makes you smarter.  Those Harlequin romance novels?  They all have plots.  And if you’ve read 7,000, then I bet you can predict what’s going to happen in any movie or TV show you watch because it’s all been done before.  Impress your friends and neighbors with your talent!  And if you read a more balanced diet, then good for you, too.  You have to mix in at least some trash every now and again.

Something Blue, by Emily Giffin (source – I also have this print and i love it, and all thing Inslee)

The Nanny Diaries, by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

Jemima J, by Jane Green

Lucia, Lucia, by Adriana Trigiani

The Devil Wears Prada, by Lauren Weisberger

My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult

Scarlet Feather, by Maeve Binchy

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Required Reading, On Books that Celebrate Reading

required reading, books about reading

This post is for the die-hards.  Those who love reading enough to want to read about reading. You know?  So many of us are constantly looking for book recommendations.  And yes, we can all click over to Amazon or GoodReads, but we keep seeking out a human connection when we look for what to read.  Amazon can tell us that a book is one of their editors’ picks of the month, but we want to know that a friend of ours read it and loved it.  We’re constantly chasing that teen-reading feel.  We want to get lost in books; we want to be, as Jane Austen put it, regardless of time.  We are aching to find the next book that we can’t put down.  One of my favorite places to look for books to read is in other books.  These are my favorites.

The Reading Promise, by Alice Ozma (source)

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, by Nina Sankovitch

The End of Your Life Book Club, by Will Schwalbe

How to Get Your Child to Love Reading, by Esme Raji Codell

And for the kids:

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, by Chris Grabenstein

Required Reading, Ages 16-18

required reading, ages 16-18

We’ve made it through childhood.  Into adult territory we go!  But only sort of.  My recommendations below are mostly for adult books, but 16-18 year olds aren’t quite adult readers.  They’re likely reading a steady diet of classics for school, while inhaling trash (more on that later) at home on their own.  What makes this age group fun is the way in which they read, which isn’t always voraciously, but is almost always obsessive.  Anne Helen Peterson says it better than I.

The Lover’s Dictionary, by David Levithan (source)

The Opposite of Loneliness, by Marina Keegan

Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Adulting, by Kelly Williams Brown

Yes Please, by Amy Poehler

The Reader, by Bernard Schlink

Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers

The Vacationers, by Emma Straub

Where’d You Go Bernadette, by Maria Semple

Required Reading, Ages 12-15

required reading, ages 12-15

Ahhhh, the YA Transition.  There’s this slightly awkward stage of reading that usually hits people somewhere between 12 and 15.  Where the transition from picture to chapter books can be done quickly, almost like ripping off a band-aid, the transition from YA lit to books written solely for adults happens so much more slowly and painfully.  Not nearly enough is done in schools to help students transition from reading books written primarily for them, to books written for an older demographic.  Why anyone put Romeo and Juliet in my hands and age 14 and asked me to read Act I without any kind of introduction is beyond me.  I had no idea what iambic pentameter was, nor did I know where to find Verona on a map.  I wish I had help making the transition from The Face on the Milk Carton to Lord of the Flies (ugh), but as it were, I was on my own.

A love of reading might not be enough to carry everyone through their middle and high school years.  There’s a lot more studying going on, and a lot of reading because you have to, not reading because you want to.  I owe these books listed everything.  It’s because of them that I’m still reading.  The categories are new this time around, YA Books, and Books.  You know, just regular, grown-up books.

YA Books:

Popular, by Maya Van Wagenen  (source)

Peaches, by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Silent Boy, by Lois Lowry

Day of Tears, by Julius Lester

What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones

Confessions of a Closet Catholic, by Sarah Darer Littman

Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin

I Kill the Mockingbird, by Paul Acampora


Bee Season, by Myla Goldberg (source)

Little Altars Everywhere, by Rebecca Wells

I’m a Stranger Here Myself, by Bill Bryson

The Kite Runner, by Kahled Hosseini

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, by Mark Haddon

Graphic Novels:

Relish, by Lucy Knisley (source)

Required Reading, Ages 9-11

required reading, ages 9-11

This is the sweet spot for me, dear readers.  I love books written for children of this age.  Which may be because I love children of this age.  Most are still 100% child, but you can begin to catch glimpses of the adults they’ll become some day.  You start to see passions emerging, and the tiniest bit of confidence and comfort in one’s own skin (which you’ll want these children to hold to for dear life once they hit middle school).  The best books written for kids between 9 and 11 illuminate these possibilities.   It’s easy to find drivel for kids in this age range.  But if you know where to look, you can find magic.

The focus here is on the volume of reading a kid is doing.  Let her read too fast, let her put books down halfway through, just let her keep reading.  It’s going to be so much harder, because at this age, kids’ schedules are packed.  But hopefully by now, she knows what it’s like to get lost in a book, and she’s building on her successes.  It’s all about growing a love of independent reading.  If you’re a big part of a kid’s life, make sure she knows you read too.  She shouldn’t know reading is important because you keep grinding the idea into her head, she should know it because she sees you living it every day.

Picture Books:

The Journey that Saved Curious George, by Louise Borden (source)

Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride, by Pam Munoz Ryan

We Are the Ship, by Kadir Nelson

Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson

Chapter Books:

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate diCamillo (source)

Clockwork, by Philip Pullman

Lawn Boy, by Gary Paulsen

Esperanza Rising, by Pam Munoz Ryan

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick

Kira, Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata

Countdown, by Deborah Wiles

Wonder, by R.J. Palacio

Chapter Books for 9-11 Year Olds Who Understand and Appreciate Sarcasm:

The Willoughbys, by Lois Lowry (source)

Whales on Stilts, by M.T. Anderson

Graphic Novels:

Travels of Thelonious, by Susan Schade (source)

Explorer: the Mystery Boxes, by Kazu Kibuishi

Required Reading, Ages 7-8

required reading, ages 7-8

Who am I to say when it’s time to switch from picture books to chapter books?  I haven’t stopped reading either and I’m 30.  At some point around 7 or 8, however, kids are going to want to switch from one to the other, and it’s going to be a big deal.  It’s altogether too tempting to tell your child to hold off on reading books.  Yes, he will want to read Harry Potter.  No, he will not fully appreciate the depth of the plot.  He is too young.  Except he isn’t.  If a book your child is reading has content that you question, then it’s fair for you to veto his choice.  But if you’re holding off because you think he won’t appreciate something fully, see if you can let yourself take a step back.  You have a child who is excited to read.  That’s amazing.  Let him read.  Get out of the way.  The best thing you can do for a kid this age is encourage independent reading, and as much of it as possible.

And balance that independence with time together.  Now is not the time to stop reading to a child.  Use the time you read together to choose books that he isn’t quite ready to tackle on his own.  Choose books that expand his horizons and raise questions you both have about the world.  It’s amazing the insight I found reading many of these books as an adult.

My picks for the next couple age groups are in three categories: picture books, graphic novels, and chapter books.

Picture Books:

Voices in the Park, by Anthony Browne (source)

Martin’s Big Words, by Doreen Rappaport

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, by Chris Van Allsburg

The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins, by Barbara Kerley

Players in Pigtails, by Shana Corey

The Houdini Box, by Brian Selznick

Graphic Novels:

Owly, by Andy Runton (source)

To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel, by Siena Cherson Siegel

The Babysitters Club, by Ann M. Martin and Raina Telgemeier

Robot Dreams, by Sara Varon

Chapter Books:

Matilda, by Roald Dahl (source)

Everything on a Waffle, by Polly Horvath

Muggie Maggie, by Beverly Cleary

The End of the Beginning, by Avi

Regarding the Fountain, by Kate Klise

Riding Freedom, by Pam Munoz Ryan

Cinderella (As If You Didn’t Already Know the Story), by Barbara Ensor

Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little, by Peggy Gifford

Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

Required Reading, Ages 3-6

required reading, ages 3-6

Things are getting fun now.  We’re all done ripping pages!  Kids at this age should be able to sit still for story time, to listen to the words, and to start making sense of what is happening in the book.  That’s right, now we understand story.  We understand that plots move from beginning to end, and that there’s usually someone in the story who will throw a wrench in the protagonist’s plans.

At this point, you’re probably involved in preschool or Kindergarten.  And so you’ve had parent conferences.  And you no doubt brought a notebook and pencil and you’re asking your child’s teacher how you can help her be a stronger reader.  The teacher will have some thoughts that I’m sure will be lovely, and will no doubt come from a good place.  She went to school to do this job, and if you’re lucky, she’s good at it, and she gets your kid.  But I’m going to tell you something crazy.  I’ll take the long view here, if you will.  If you are lucky enough to have been granted a child with no major developmental delays, or signs of reading difficulty, take that teacher’s advice with a grain of salt.  You could practice sight words, and you could ask your children questions as you read.  But you’d be making your reading time like school time, and that’s not what it’s supposed to be.  It’s supposed to be time to share stories.  If you can keep it there, then keep it there.  Questions will come up on their own, and you can tackle them together as they do.  But the best thing you can do is continue making reading a priority, and making reading enjoyable.

Want to take it one step further?  Prove to your kids that reading doesn’t just happen before bedtime.  Make time for reading on lazy weekend mornings, or right after school.  Reading shouldn’t be something that puts you to sleep.

My picks for this age group fall into 2 categories, books that spark imagination, and books that bring you back home.  Strive for a balance of the two.

The Red Book_04

Books that spark imagination:

The Red Book, by Barbara Lehman (source)

The Stinky Cheese Man, by Jon Scieszka

Runny Babbit, by Shel Silverstein

Diary of a Worm, by Doreen Cronin

Sector 7, by David Wiesner

The Dot, by Peter H. Reynolds

Books that bring you back home:

The Seven Silly Eaters, by Mary Ann Hoberman (source)

There’s a Nightmare in My Closet, by Mercer Mayer

Miss Nelson is Missing! by Harry Allard and James Marshall

Which Witch is Which? by Pat Hutchins

Ellen’s Lion, by Crockett Johnson

The Art Lesson, by Tomie dePaola

Knuffle Bunny, by Mo Willems

One, by Kathryn Otoshi

The Legend of Spud Murphy, by Eoin Colfer


Required Reading, Ages 0-2

required reading, ages 0-2

Though Julie Andrews taught us that the very beginning, is, in fact, a very good place to start, it seems silly to start a required reading list here.  So much of our opinions about the best books to read as a baby are steeped (heavily) in nostalgia.  And in fact, babies cannot read.  Thus, this list is more about the idea that these are the books that will last.  Reading titles repeatedly is a habit that small children get into.  Parents roll their eyes, but this repetition is essential.  It lays the foundation for reading.  Believe that of the titles I read repeatedly when I was little, I can still remember certain lines.

Each, peach, pear, plum, I spy Tom Thumb.  Tom Thumb gone a-hunting, I spy Baby Bunting. 

In an old house in Paris, that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls, in two straight lines.

I bet half of you knew those too.

Reading at this age is all about establishing habits and concepts of print.  That’s a fancy term for things you take for granted that you know–like that you read from left to right, books have covers, and that words have spaces in between them.  You want your kid to know these so that when the time comes, he’s ready to hold books the right way on his own.  And you want him to understand that reading is something worth making time for, something that can be enjoyable, and something that brings people close together.

Links to my picks for this age group are for board books wherever possible, because though we’re establishing concepts of print, little ones have yet to learn that pages aren’t for tearing.

Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Each Peach Pear Plum, by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Moo, Baa, La La La, by Sandra Boynton

It’s a Little Book, by Lane Smith

A Good Day, by Kevin Henkes

Benny Bakes a Cake, by Eve Rice

Little Pea, by Amy Krause Rosenthal

Required Reading

required reading.

If you’ve been here longer than 5 minutes, then you know about my love of books and reading.  I was one of those bookish types who couldn’t walk downstairs in the morning until her nose was firmly planted in a book.  Somewhere along the way, I lost my footing. I may have gone from ages 12-14 without reading a single book in its entirety, and I fell off the bandwagon again in college.  But I always came back (thank you Oprah’s Book Club, and JK Rowling).  I am incredibly grateful that I’m a reader.

There are few things I believe in as much as I believe in the power of reading.

I’m kicking off 2015 with a new blog series, Required Reading.  In these posts, you’ll find my suggestions for readers of every age (except, you know, the ones I haven’t hit yet), and some thoughts on reading in general.  You won’t see any recommendations for Harry Potter or Goodnight Moon here because you know about those.  My goal is to show you some titles you may not have heard of before.  The series will be going strong from January into February, but you’ll still get some of the usual fodder mixed in too.  Stay tuned, dear readers, I’m pretty excited about this one.