Monday, September 11, 2017

Guest Post: Some Favorite Family Read-Alouds

Today I'm happy to welcome my friend, author Alicia Brummeler, to the blog. Alicia's put together a great post about her favorite books to read aloud to children!

Some of my fondest memories of my children’s childhood involve books and reading together. Often we read before bed as part of our nighttime routine. During our homeschooling years, we also read during the day. On more than one occasion, I returned to the house after running errands and saw my husband on the couch with two children nestled on either side as they listened to a book (one of the many highlights of Brad’s graduate-student years). Not only have I enjoyed reading aloud to my family, but also, as an English teacher, I have enjoyed reading aloud to my students.

Whether you are a veteran or a novice when it comes to reading aloud as a family, I hope this post will provide you with some new titles or inspire you to try reading together as a family. Nothing beats sharing the wonder and power of good literature.

Some books seem particularly suited as read alouds. The beauty of the written word becomes even more elevated when spoken. The books I recommend below are those kind of reads. Also, my recommendations are best suited for elementary-aged children, with the exception of the last book. For this one, I recommend it for upper elementary-aged children. However, you know your child(ren). Use that knowledge to guide you.

My family was introduced to Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher through Sonlight, the homeschooling curriculum we used for a number of years. Set in the 1900s, this is the story of nine-year-old Elizabeth Ann. Betsy, the name her New England relatives call her when she comes to live with them, has much to learn about herself and the broader world. At the beginning of the novel, she lives with her two elderly aunts; however, when they can no longer care for her, she goes to live with her cousins, the Putneys.

The beauty of this story is watching Betsy’s character transformation. She’s fearful, timid, and anxious at the beginning. Gradually, she comes to see that she is capable of much more than she ever imagined. As a reader and parent, I appreciated the way in which Fisher does this. She doesn’t moralize or try to “teach” her readers independence or resourcefulness. Instead, she uses real life and believable characters to craft a story that both instructs and delights. At the end of the novel, Betsy must make an important decision. As readers, we enter her struggle as she considers the pros and cons, causing us to feel the weight too. While I can’t remember the specifics of our conversations about this book, I do recall both of my children processing and discussing this story as it unfolded. Conversations like these are golden!

As a child, my husband read The Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald. Once he was a father, he was especially eager to share the books with his own children. The book is set in Adenville, UT, in 1896. Eight-year-old John D. narrates. Using his “great brain,” J.D. entices his friends to pay him money for his various schemes. Think Tom Sawyer, charging his friends to whitewash a picket fence. Perhaps the most compelling parts of the book are some of the side stories that unfold. Issues such as discrimination, fairness, and bullying emerge. Discovering what true friendship looks like is also explored. Readers who enjoy this first book will be glad that there are more in the series.

A couple of years ago, when the flu hit our house, my daughter asked me to go to the library to check out The Great Brain. She remembered the series and in her hour of illness wanted to read a favorite from childhood. I happily obliged.

For the past five years, I have taught To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Each year I discover new insights and truths from rereading the book. Brad read this book to our children when they were in the sixth grade. I think this is best way to first experience Lee’s masterpiece—read it aloud. Lee’s nuanced writing style and her rich vocabulary deserve a slower reading to enjoy and savor this beautifully-crafted story. There’s so much fodder in the book for discussion too—mistaken assumptions, family relationships, not to mention issues of integrity, racism, and self discovery. Like all quality literature, this is a book worth reading again and again. And, after reading the book, you can watch the movie as a family, which does a great job staying true to the book.

My children are young adults now, in college and reading books on their own. Every once and a while a book we read together as a family will come up in a topic of conversation. Suddenly, we are transported to another place, reliving the scenes and the characters as if they were real events and people. We talk. We laugh. We quote lines of text. We experience the magic Emily Dickinson describes when she wrote, “There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away.”

Below, I’ve included some reading resources that appear in my book Everywhere God; specifically, my chapter on literature. You can flip through these repeatedly to find book suggestions or to inspire and motivate you to become a better reader. Some of the books are especially helpful if you have children in the home and want to instill a love of reading at an early age.

Honey for a Teen’s Heart, Gladys Hunt and Barbara Hampton
Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, Madeleine L’Engle—If you want to read more about the intersection of faith and the arts, this book is a good place to start.
A Time to Read: Good Books for Growing Readers, Mary Ruth Wilkinson & Heidi Wilkinson    Teel
Books Children Love, Elizabeth Wilson

Alicia is the author of Everywhere God: Exploring the Ordinary Places. She and her husband have a college-age son and daughter. They live on Long Island, NY. You can find Alicia at, on Twitter @ReadingAlicia, or on Instagram at aliciabrummeler.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price. I will probably use it to buy more books. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

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