The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (1982)

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease is where my love of reading to my children all began.  I stumbled upon this wonderful book in our tiny Wisconsin library back in 1986.  Our oldest daughter was little and I was looking for a book about teaching children to read.  I saw this title on the shelf and was intrigued.

I read it in one day.  Read aloud.jpg

My mother read aloud to me when I was young, but I had never connected my own early reading success and my love of reading with her behavior!  Mr. Trelease helped me see what a game changer reading to children can be.  It increases your child’s vocabulary, gives them a familiarity with written and spoken language flow, it increases their attention span, promotes attention to detail, spurs imagination and increases their general knowledge — to name just a few of the benefits.

Probably the most important thing I learned from The Read-Aloud Handbook was to never stop reading to my children!  Many parents feel that once children can read on their own, their work is done.  Not true!  Not only is reading aloud a bonding experience between parent and child, but you can read books aloud to them that are far too difficult for your reading child to tackle on his own.  This practice helps your reader continue to expand his vocabulary and fluency of reading as they progress in their personal reading lives.

I took Mr. Trelease’s advice to heart and eventually read a couple hundred books out loud to my five kids during the 28 years they lived at home.  In fact, in 2005, we were attending a family reunion in New York when one of the Harry Potter books was released.  It was tradition that we purchased our copy of the latest HP book at the midnight bookstore events.   So, even though we were clear across the country and had a busy schedule, we climbed into our rental van (including our oldest daughter’s wonderful fiance) and drove to the local Barnes and Noble to buy our copy.  When we returned to the hotel at 2 AM, Janssen (that oldest daughter who was on the verge of marriage) insisted I sit down and read at least a few pages aloud to all before we dove for our beds.

What a sweet memory!

The Read-Aloud Handbook is the best ‘parenting book’ I’ve ever read.  Reading aloud has added a closeness and happiness to our family that I think would have been hard to generate otherwise.  Because of my own experience, I’ve purchased dozens of copies of The Read-Aloud Handbook as gifts for new mothers.  I can’t do that for each of you, but I can share this video and encourage you to pick up your own copy at the library or bookstore.

Parenting Book, 350 pages — many of these pages are read-aloud book suggestions at the back, Education, Parenting, Published 1982.


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Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards (1971)

Yes, Mandy was written by THAT Julie Andrews.  How in the world does one woman have so many talents??


Mandy is a sensitive, ten year old — you guessed it — orphan.  She dreams of a happier life, and begins sneaking outside the orphanage wall to create it for herself.  This is a sweet story of a girl with both persistence and imagination.  You’ll follow the ups and downs of Mandy’s life as she single-handedly transforms a tiny, abandoned house into a place of wonder.   She learns many life lessons along the way, especially the importance of a good friend.

In an October 2012 online article from People Magazine, Ms. Edwards said one of her favorite memories from her own childhood was of her father reading aloud to her.  “My father had a lovely way of reading,” recalls the iconic star of Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. “He had a very nice voice, and he really made sure I understood the words. What was so endearing is that he suddenly became rather formal when he read, and I so enjoyed watching him do it properly for me.”

Julie Andrews Edwards continued this beloved family tradition with her own children.  Several of her children’s books were originally told to her three daughters as bedtime stories and later written down for publication.  Mandy is one of them.

Middle Grade Reading level, 320 pages, England, Orphans, Published in 1971.



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The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain (1881)

You’ve seen this classic story enacted in dozens of TV shows and movies over the years, but here is the original!  (Well, maybe Shakespeare used this plot device first. . .)prince.jpg

Two young boys live in 16th century London.  Their lives could not be more different.  Tom is a street urchin, struggling day to day to survive.  Edward, on the other hand, is the Prince of Wales — son of King Henry VIII and heir to the British throne.  Despite this wide divide, they share two important things, a birthday and a face.  Indeed, they could pass for identical twins!

One day, Tom and Edward meet unexpectedly and on a lark decide to trade clothes.  Before they know what has happened, Tom is whisked into the palace presumed to be Edward!  And, of course, Edward, the real prince, is kicked out into the street to fend for himself.

Will things ever be set to right again? Or does a fraud ascend to the British throne in 1547 as King Edward VI?

No one can tell a culturally insightful — and funny — story like Mark Twain!  The Prince and the Pauper is a great book to introduce your kids to this iconic American writer, and it is also one of Twain’s easiest books to read.

Middle Grade Reading level, 176 pages, Historical Fiction, England, Published in 1881.

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A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (2002)

Tree-ear is a 12-year-old boy growing up in 12th Century Korea.  He is also an orphan living under a bridge in a small village with an older, invalid man, Crane-man, who has taken care of him since his parents died.


Tree-ear longs to learn the ancient art of Korean pottery from Min, the best potter, in Tree-ear’s opinion, in the village.  Day after day Tree-ear hides in Min’s back yard watching the master at work, until one day, finding himself alone in the yard, he picks up an exquisite tiny piece of pottery only to drop it when startled by the great man himself.  In payment for destroying the small porcelain box, Tree-ear offers nine days of free labor.  Those nine days turn into 18 months of mainly free work chopping wood and gathering clay down by the river.

One day word arrives that the royal court is looking for a new potter from their village.  The competition ends up being a two-stage event and Min is requested to personally bring a sample of his beautiful pottery to the royal court for the final selection, but Min feels he is too elderly to make the trip.  Tree-ear volunteers to make the arduous and dangerous journey for him, with the understanding that Min and his wife will care for Crane-man in his absence.

I don’t want to give the whole story away, but the book title hints that there’s trouble during the trip.  Will Min win the coveted honor?  What about Tree-ear and Crane-man?  What becomes of them?  You can learn all the answers by reading just 176 pages!

Linda Sue Park is American born and raised, but uses her writing to study and better understand her Korean heritage.  In her Newbery Medal acceptance speech, which she won in 2002 for A Single Shard, she describes her almost non-English-speaking parents carefully teaching her to read English at age four, and taking her and her siblings to the local public library every two weeks to check out deliberately chosen book titles recommended by the ALA (American Library Association) periodicals that her father meticulously read.  According to Ms. Park, the best children’s authors share two characteristics:  curiosity and enthusiasm!  I have to agree.

Middle Grade Reading Level, 176 pages, Books for Boys, Korea, Newbery Medal, Published 2002.



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Sounder by William H. Armstrong (1969)

“The tall man stood at the edge of the porch.  The roof sagged from the two rough posts which held it, almost closing the gap between his head and the rafters.  The dim light from the cabin window cast long equal shadows from man and posts.  A boy stood nearby shivering in the cold October wind.  He ran his fingers back and forth over the broad crown of the head of a coon dog named Sounder.”


Sounder follows a poor, black, share-copping family living in the Deep South.  Despite the father’s hard work and constant hunting with his faithful hunting dog, the family is slowly starving.  Tragedy strikes when the father is arrested for stealing a ham from his employer and Sounder is shot and seriously wounded in the process.  The father is eventually convicted and sentenced to work on a chain gang for many years.  The young son (no characters have names except the dog) becomes the man of the family and attempts to help his good mother care for his three younger siblings, and, against all odds, gain an education for himself.

Keep your tissues nearby.

The alert reader will look for ways Sounder symbolizes both the father and the racist society the family inhabits — you may find yourself having some deep discussions as a family.

Sounder won the Newbery Medal in 1970.  A full-length feature film starring Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield came out in 1972 and was nominated for 4 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.  In 2003 Disney released a new film version.  Interestingly, Kevin Hooks who played the son in the original film is the director of the 2nd film and Paul Winfield who plays the father in the original film, plays the teacher in the later film.

I remember reading Sounder in my 7th Grade Reading Class in 1975.  Many of the scenes are still vivid in my memory, including the father’s arrest and the incident with the cake.  The Sour Land is a hard-to-find sequel.

Middle Grade Reading Level, 116 pages, Books for Boys, Animals, Education, Racism, Newbery Medal, Published 1969.


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Lost Horizon by James Hilton (1933)

I’m sure you’ve heard the melodious name Shangri-la before, but did you know it comes from the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by James Hilton?  I bet you feel smarter already!

Lost Horizon.jpg

Four American embassy workers crash-land a private plane in the wilds of Tibet.  Under the direction of a mysterious Chinese guide, they enter the hidden Buddhist monastery  of Shangri-la.  Here, in this remote mountainous region, they inexplicably find many modern conveniences including a beautiful grand piano, indoor central heating, an impressive library of Western thought and even modern bathtubs manufactured in Ohio!

Life in Shangri-la is, for the most part, peaceful and mildly productive.  But this monastery has some confusing secrets that begin to emerge.  Who are these strange people?  Where have they come from?  How OLD are they?  Can the Americans ever leave?  Lost Horizon introduces you to a secretive utopia that has captured the imaginations of millions!

Lost Horizon was the first modern paperback ever printed and has sold millions of copies in its nearly 100 years.  It’s been made into two Hollywood movies, the first in 1937 and the second in 1973.  And did you know, Camp David was originally named Shangri-la by President Franklin D. Roosevelt?

James Hilton is also the author of Goodbye, Mr. Chips.  You probably read that one back in high school!

Middle to High School reading level, 140 pages, Adventure, Utopia, Published 1933.


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The Great Brain Series by John D. Fitzgerald (1967)

I remember my oldest daughter, Janssen, racing through these books one summer.  Every hour or so, she’d rush into the kitchen to share the latest crazy stunt The Great Brain had cooked up!

You know it’s a winner when your child can’t wait to share a book with you.

The Great Brain series is set in the fictitious town of Adenville, Utah in the late 1800s.  The eight book series (yes, eight!) is about the escapades of a 10-year-old con-man named Tom.    Tom’s character is based on the author’s real-life older brother.

Brain.jpgTom — The Great Brain — seems to always be in the right place at the right time to fix any mess or rescue anyone in distress.  However, there’s always a catch, and somehow, Tom walks away from the situation a little bit richer! Who but The Great Brain could make money off his family’s new toilet?  Who but The Great Brain could convince a friend that a piece of wood is magnetic and suddenly own that friend’s new air rifle?  Who but The Great Brain could swindle half the kids in Adenville out of their various treasures?  Hmmm.

Luckily, deep down, The Great Brain has a genuine goodness to him, and despite his con-man ways, Tom helps many of the townspeople through the trials of frontier life in their small southern Utah town.

These books are both laugh-out-loud funny and sweet!  I bet life in the real Fitzgerald house was prrreeeettty interesting!

The Great Brain (1967)

More Adventures of the Great Brain (1969)

Me and My Little Brain (1971)

The Great Brain at the Academy (1972)

The Great Brain Reforms (1973)

The Return of the Great Brain (1974)

The Great Brain Does it Again (1976)

The Great Brain is Back (1995 — published posthumously)

Early to Middle Grade Reading Level, 200+ pages, Boys, Frontier Life, Religion, Adventure, Published 1967 – 1995

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