If You Want To Go Far, Go Together: The Companionship of Reading Aloud
“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: It is the time for home.”
― Edith Sitwell, poet
Mid-winter in New England always brings with it slush and ice, but folks who live in cold climates know the innate value in being forced to slow down, snuggle up, and spend time on comforting rituals to take the bite out of the bitter winds. Though this winter has been a bit mild for us up here, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been ample opportunity to find warm, indoor things to do.
Reading aloud to children is something many of us are already doing, both at home and in the classroom. The benefits of reading to children as young as infancy (or even still in the womb) are well-researched, and we see more evidence every day that reading aloud to children who are already reading on their own improves vocabulary, concentration, and supports social and emotional growth.
There was a time, not so long ago, when reading aloud wasn’t reserved for children, and definitely not only for bedtime. Families reconnected at the end of the day by reading together, courting couples lulled each other with stories, and communities gathered to see plays and books read onstage. While we have other means of entertainment available to us now, it’s worth remembering that books are still a great way to enjoy each other’s company during the long, dark winter days.
When it comes to choosing read-aloud books, we tend to fall back on the books we read as kids. A combination of nostalgia and excitement about sharing your favorite childhood stories with your children, it’s a special connection. If you're searching for something new to read, Sarah Mackenzie, founder of the Read Aloud Revival podcast and author of The Read-Aloud Family, recommends looking for “short chapters, lots of dialogue, and memorable characters.”
If you’ve exhausted your collection or are seeking a little shake-up, here are just a few great read-aloud options for children — and adults — of all ages.
Excellent Novels for All Audiences
Nim’s Island, By Wendy Orr
A young girl, Nim, accompanies her scientist father to an island on a research trip. When her father has to leave for a few days — then goes missing — it’s up to Nim to find him. Funny, exciting, and empowering.
See also: Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath, Island of the Aunts by Eva Ibbotson
Pax, by Sara Pennypacker
A story of friendship, loyalty, love and loss, starring a boy and a fox. This one is a tear-jerker, and would be a great book to read together and discuss questions as they arise.
See also: Chasing Redbird by Sharon Creech, Because of Winnn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
Mix It Up with an Anthology
No need to choose a novel! Anthologies are a great way to sample a lot of different authors to find your next favorite books. Read them in order or skip around because the stories stand alone... but they’re each a door to a broader world of excellent literature.
Flying Lessons and Other Stories, edited by Ellen Oh
This collection of short stories by incredible Middle Grade and Young Adult authors includes Kwame Alexander, Grace Lin, Jacqueline Woodson, Meg Medina, and more was just released in 2019. It was edited by author Ellen Oh, co-founder of We Need Diverse Books.
A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader, edited by Maria Popova
Popova, of Brain Pickings, released this nonfiction collection in December. Featuring authors who are also entrepreneurs, athletes, musicians, and otherwise brilliant in their fields, Velocity of Being features contributions by Jane Goodall, Yo-Yo Ma, Ursula K. Le Guin, Mary Oliver, Neil Gaiman, and many more.
Classics that Still Sing
Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt
If you’ve only seen the film, don’t be put off by the on-screen romance — the book is focused on ten-year-old Winnie Foster and her struggle to escape a restrained Victorian childhood. She discovers the strange but kind Tuck family, who live nearby... and keep an incredible secret . With a timeless and absolutely beautiful message about the value of a life full of change and growth, this book will always be a great choice.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E. L. Konigsburg
Written in 1967, this book has held up incredibly well. It’s one I think a lot of people may have missed; I missed it and, at Grace’s enthusiastic recommendation, finally picked it up last year. I would have loved it as a kid, and I mourn for my eight-year-old self having missed it, but it’s never too late to find a book that you truly love.
The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster
When Milo’s at school, he wishes he was home. When he’s at school, he wishes he was home. If that’s not relatable to a child (or, well, anyone) who finds themselves pushed and pulled in every direction, I don’t know what is. Rediscover the world of language with Milo, then stay out of the Doldrums by spending some time imagining where you’d go if you had your own magical Tollbooth.