Reading aloud as a family

We’re reading a magnificent book: The Invention of Hugo Cabret. This book isn’t exactly a graphic novel, but to call it "illustrated" doesn’t really do it justice. The pictures do more than amplify the text — they actually help tell the story. As for plot, here’s what the author, Brian Selznick, has to say on the book’s Amazon page:

Paris in the 1930’s, a thief, a broken machine, a strange girl, a mean old man, and the secrets that tie them all together.

Who could resist?

I mention the book here because we’re reading it aloud as a family. Despite the fact that our 8 year-old son reads on his own, the four of us have been snuggling into bed while Rael reads to us all. We’re finally in that fleeting sweet spot when our oldest is young enough to still want to cuddle with us in bed for a story, and our youngest is old enough to want to lie still to listen. So far, we’ve family-read some of the Harry Potter books (before my son nicked them and read them himself), The Indian in the Cupboard, Dragon Rider, and Abel’s Island.

Once your child begins reading on her own, it’s easy to let the read-aloud habit fall by the wayside. But I encourage you to carry on as long as you can. It’s a wonderful way to revisit some of your favorite childhood stories (I can’t wait to read The Chronicles of Narnia and The Secret Garden out loud). Our almost five year-old daughter loves hearing "big kid" stories she can then talk about with her brother. And we all get the pleasure of the family snuggle — it’s the perfect way to wind down together at the end of a busy day.

Related: "Beefing up" reading aloud to your kids


  1. says

    Reading to my future kids is one of the things I look forward to most as my wife and I count down the final few weeks of pregnancy. I have been brushing up on my children’s lit and just finished Hugo Cabret, which was great. As a media scholar, it was unexpected but satisfying for one of the book’s morals to be the importance of film preservation! And how wonderfully strange that world of early cinema will be to the next generation, who will never own a film camera.

  2. says

    I have very fond memories of my parents reading even through high school as a family. I would sometimes pretend that I didn’t care about the story, but it was magical time.

    We have already read about half of the Little House books (my kids are 6 and 3) and are now into the third chronicle of narnia. We’ve also read some others; Junie B Jones, Holes, etc. It truly is a special time when the whole family is together. Occasionally both parents do not stay, but we make an effort to keep us all together for that time.

  3. says

    Quick plug for Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales From Shakespeare, where they rewrote the stories for children. Highly recommended, and also public domain. My kids are particularly fond of The Tempest, although Twelfth Night is a good one as well. I thought they’d like Midsummer Night’s Dream but it was just too confusing.

    My kids are 3 and 5, by the way, so I’ll have none of that “too hard for kids” nonsense. A story’s a story.

  4. says

    Another read-out-loud slam dunk is The Giants and The Joneses. The author has invented wonderful words in a made up language that really rolls off the tongue.

    It’s a version of the beanstalk story re-told from the giant’s point of view (for example bimpleschtonk is giantese for beanstalk). The giant who finds the little people (iggly plops)is an 8-year-old girl named Jumbalia.

    We’ve read it 3 times now. It’s fantastic.

  5. hedra says

    I’m reading a book I loved as a kid to the younger kids while we wait for the eldest to be done with whatever we’re picking him up from. Or for any car waits, long drives, etc. (Smokey the Cow Horse – I think. Smokey, anyway.)

    Reading to them is harder to do in the evenings, but when the world has to stop for something else to happen, sometimes we sit and play, and sometimes we sit and read. The book lives in my car, always ready.

  6. says

    We also read a chapter of a book to our pair every night–usually one of our childhood favorites. Lately it’s been the Great Brain series, but Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn are next.

    Duane, hurray for you! We have free Shakespeare in the park every summer, and we take the kids every year. Now 6 & 8, they always enjoy it on their own level–puns and swordfights go a long way in our house!

  7. marci says

    daddy read us ‘tom sawyer’ and ‘treasure island’ and ‘the jungle book’ this way when we were in the 6-10 range. he was much more into literature than children’s books. and i read mama & my brother ‘i, juan de pareja’ and ‘superfudge’ in the car, amongst others. i love to read, and what a gift that is.

  8. Annette says

    Some of my fondest childhood memories were of my dad reading to us before bed. I could read on my own at the time, but there’s just something magical about listening to the story and letting it unfold in your mind. And it also helped that my dad was good at “doing voices”!

  9. Suz says

    Thank you all for the awesome suggestions and encouragement. I’m jotting them down now. My kids are 3 and 5, and we read aloud every evening at least. I think they’re ready to move on from the picture books we’ve been mostly reading.

    I have read or heard of many of the books mentioned, and some of them are rather long. I’m not sure my 3 year old (and even the 5 year old) will be able to remember the plot well enough from day to day to really get into the story. Do you all re-cap before continuing, or do you not find that necessary? Also, can anyone suggest some good chapter books that are not too long, so as to kind of work up to being able to hold a story in your head for longer periods of time?


  10. Hot Wife says

    My son and I read aloud “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane” by Kate Dicamillo. We both loved it. We just started another book by her, “The Tale of Despereaux”. I love her writing style and it was a great story. Even more so, I love the time with my son.

  11. Amy says

    My kids are 3, nearly 5 and nearly 9 and we have been working our way through the Dragon Slayer’s Academy series for over a year now (Santa brought books 1-10 in 2006 and books 11-19 in 2007). Approximately one chapter a night. We’ve misplaced book 19 and thus started in on the Secret Garden last week. I told my kids they know the story from a movie and they have been trying to figure out which one (gotta love how kids’ heads work as the title of the movie is the same as the title of the book — it didn’t occur to me that it’d be this difficult for them to figure it out :-)).

    Its quality family time, though my littlest is mischievous and doesn’t sit still well. He likes to be a part of it all, so he tries and I often let him look at a younger book while we are reading. He also, like the other two, gets a chance to review every picture we come to in the chapter book we are reading.

  12. says

    This sounds like a wonderful family time. I’ve been reading chapter books to my 4 year old for a year or so but my younger daughter is only 13 months so she’s not ready to join in. That’s something I look forward too and I love that my 4yo is happy to sit and listen to short picture books with her sister.

    Suz, a great very short chapter series is the Mercy Watson books by Kate DiCamillo. They were some of the first chapter books we read. Some other good short chapter series are Magic Tree House, The Littles, Big Apple Barn, Flat Stanley, and Secrets of Droon. A few that are more girly are the Pony-Crazed Princess series and the Sneaky Pony series.

  13. STL Mom says

    Some very short chapter books that my kids enjoyed were the Littles series and the Magic Treehouse series. Neither series is great literature, but the kids liked them.
    We’re currently reading “Peter and the Shadow Thieves”, the second prequel to Peter Pan by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson. The books are long, but the chapters are short, and there is lots and lots of action. Pretty violent and scary, but my daughter seems to like that.
    Some other recent read-aloud favorite were “the Trumpet of the Swan” by E.B. White and the Little House books.

  14. amy says

    I read all of the Magic Tree House books with my son, who is now reading them again on his own now that he can read. Also we read the Wayside School series books by Louis Sachar. Very short chapters, each about a different student in the class. Very funny!

  15. says

    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is another great read-aloud book. Can’t wait to read that one to my girl. I suspect Mr. Popper’s Penguins would be great too.

  16. says

    Reading aloud is so much fun and I really wish our 6 month old had the stamina to listen, but he is just more interested in chewing the book and ripping the pages so reading is done in 6 page spurts.

    The Indian in the Cupboard is one of my favorite books, but I’m afraid it is going to be Dr. Seuss around here for a few more months.

    Some more good ones are “The Castle In The Attic”, “The BFG”, and “SuperFudge”. Great reads for kids.

  17. Chuk says

    Still reading to all the kids ages 2,8, almost 11 and 15. Bedtime takes a while but it’s fun and the older three all like reading on their own.

    And 13 months is not too young!

  18. Parent Hacks Editor says

    These are some incredible book suggestions! My son is a voracious reader — this will keep him going for much of the summer. I’ll compile a list in a separate post.

  19. says

    I meant to say that my 13 month old was too young to snuggle up on the bed and listen to several chapters at a time the way Asha describes doing with her kids. We do plenty of reading with her and she is often playing on the floor while I read chapter books to her sister but she isn’t ready to snuggle peacefully while we all share a story. That will be fun but it’s also fun to see her discovering all the great books her sister read as a toddler too!

  20. says

    The Oz books are lots of fun and our library has some wonderfully illustrated versions that help hold the interest of my very visual 5 year old.

    For older kids, I’d recommend the Lemony Snicket books.

  21. says

    This is also a great way to pass long car trips–my husband and I have done it for years. It got me through my 3 month migraine (you get really bored after 3 months of no TV, computer or reading), and is the best way we know to share a book we both want to read at the same time (the Harry Potters when they first came out.) We started it for those, but used it most on long trips home because radio in our home state sucks, and we got tired of our own taste in music after a while.

    Note: many libraries now have downloadable audio books for this same thing–I’m checking it out for an upcoming trip!

  22. says

    Hugo Cabret was a great hit for our 8-year-old. The fact that the 150+ illustrations advance the plot, instead of just enhancing it, was a treat!

    Other fun ones for intermediate/older elementary readers:

    Chasing Vermeer, by Blue Balliet is a fun mystery to share…and there’s even a “code” mixed in with the illustrations and text, so there are multiple ways to work your way through this story.

    Don’t forget Phantom Tollbooth and Anne of Avonlea. Ditto to those who recommend the Narnia series and the Wizard of Oz (which are quite different from the movie).

    The Watsons Go to Birmingham, by Christopher Paul Curtis, is laugh-out-loud funny, but also a very realistic depiction of sibling relationships (with a side helping of education about life in the 1960s).

    Andrew Clements wrote Things Not Seen, which was a favorite of my 6th grade students. Love this book! My son and I are reading this now.

    Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen, is a great adventure book about self-reliance. This is a modern classic for intermediate readers.

    For junior high age, the book Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelson is one I suggest as a touchstone about forgiveness and change, but preview ahead of time because the content may be objectionable for those under 12. Use your knowledge of your child’s readiness. This is one of my favorite young adult books, and reluctant readers devour it. It brings up rich conversation…even though the subject matter is mature(but optimistic in the end, not a “downer”).

    I could go on and on…but lots of others are sharing their collective wisdom. Great post!

  23. Shawna says

    We are currently reading Igraine the Brave by Cornelia Funke with our 7 and 3 yr. olds. Great book.

    Thanks for the reminders about the other great titles!

  24. says

    I kept trying with my favorites until finally they ‘took’ with Everett, my oldest and almost-six-year-old. It was sometime around November when I started reading ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ and since then we’re more than halfway through the ‘Wrinkle in Time’ series and have read two books of ‘Narnia’, one ‘Oz’ book and some fantastic E. Nesbit stories (we have the ‘Book of Dragons’ and I can’t wait to start ‘Five Children and It’). I, too, love the ‘Great Brain,’ ‘Anne of Green Gables,’ and ‘Harry Potter’ series and ‘Phantom Tollbooth.’ I also have some of the Susan Cooper ‘Dark is Rising’ series, which I’m sure Everett will love (he’s all about good vs. evil, dark vs. light). so much to look forward to, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve read ahead after the boys were all asleep…

    I remember, too, how my dad would read ‘Narnia’ to us. I’m sure he read other books but I most remember him sitting in his chair at the door of our room (where the light was on), reading to us as we lie in our beds.

  25. says

    I love making lists of my favorite books for kids, I think the ones that surprised me the most with their success were Wind in the Willows — the boys listened to pages describing how spring comes into the woods because the language is just astonishing! And I was surprised at how my 9 and 11 year olds were into Three Musketeers — we read an unabridged version for months and they kept wanting more. So now I am trying Gaarder’s Sophie’s World with them which I love because it’s got the history of philosophy and all of these great questions to have conversations about tied up with this mystery plot. They read a lot of series fiction on their own, so I take reading out loud to them as a chance to stretch a little, and challenge them, and instead of getting annoyed at interruptions have learned to be grateful for the chance for conversation.

    Oh, and favorites for my younger boys? My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, (I loved what he packed to run away!) Mrs. Piggle Wiggle stories by MacDonald, and Pippi books by Lindgren.

  26. sarah says

    one of my fondest memories is my dad reading the chronicles of narnia to my brother and i, we are both avid readers still and c.s. lewis is my favorite author to this day.