Archive for the ‘Read Alouds’ Category

My kids and I have been spending a week delving into the early years of the church and how Jesus’ message spread from the disciples out into the world.  We are in between our history books, so I thought it would be a good time to take a break to really focus on the early church.  For our read aloud this week, I chose a book by Mary Fabyan Windeatt. She is the author of countless children’s book and coloring books about saints, in the series called Stories of the Saints for Young People ages 10 to 100.  For this week, we are reading St. Paul the Apostle:  The Story of the Apostle to the Gentiles. These are chapter books that are definitely for older children or for a family read aloud.  Of the chapter books I’ve read to the kids, this one is likely one of the more difficult ones.  The vocabulary and sentence structure is definitely more advanced than most of the books we’ve read with the kids.  However, we are all enjoying it very much.  We stop to talk about things along the way of course and it helps that the subject matter is somewhat familiar to them and they already knew a bit about St. Paul from previous Bible readings.  The story begins with Paul’s (rather Saul at that time) conversion story and ends with his death.

As we are reading through this, we are making a map of each missionary journey, using this book as a guide.  It’s a Reader’s Digest book and serves as a good resource for me to read as I’m reading along with the kids.  There are a lot of pictures and photographs that illustrate places that Paul stopped at along the way.

If you need a coloring page of St. Paul, you can check out Charlotte’s list, just scroll down, they are listed alphabetically.  My kids always listen much better to stories when they have something to color or draw while listening!

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Our family is currently enjoying the world of Chester Cricket, Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat, as told by author George Selden. Selden has a long series of books about these lovable animals, the first is the most well known, The Cricket in Times Square and has received a Newbery Honor.

This book tells the story of Chester Cricket who finds himself misplaced to the subway station underneath Times Square in New York City.  He meets up with Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat, who have already been friends for some time.  Chester Cricket becomes the pet of the little boy who’s family owns the newsstand in the station.  The story tells of some of the adventures of the animals and how one little cricket brings much joy to the hoards of people passing by the newsstand each day.  The devotion and love that the characters show for each other is a joy to watch unfold.

The book is enhanced by the occasional drawings by Garth Williams.  He also illustrated Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little and the Little House books.

Both my 4 year old and 7 year old sons truly enjoyed this book.  We looked forward to hearing about the animals’ adventures each day and the loyalty and honor shown by Chester Cricket sparked from fruitful discussions.

Lesser known, but no less great stories, are the sequels to this first one.  We just finished Tucker’s Countryside in which Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat are summoned up to Chester’s Old Meadow in Connecticut to help him hatch a plan to save the meadow from destruction by builders.  I enjoyed this story even more than the first, perhaps because of the subject, but also because the depth of the friendship between the animals is more complex and described in more detail.  Living next to a meadow, this story hit home for my children and we found ourselves really rooting for the animals to come up with a brilliant plan.  Here’s one of the best quotes from the book, and occurs just after the first day they animals witness a bulldozer, driven by 2 men, starting to dig the earth:

For a minute the hill seemed deserted.  It wasn’t, however.  Tucker Mouse and Chester Cricket crept out from the bushes where they’d been hiding.  “Those men are nice,” said Tucker.

“Most people are,” said the cricket.  “If they just get left alone.  It’s when they all get together that they start doing stupid things– like digging up meadows!”

I could see this book being a springboard for some in depth learning about eco-systems, meadows, grasslands wildlife, and the effects of building in natural areas.  It also tells about the neighborhood children setting up a picket to try to stop the building which could spark some learning about how little groups can influence change. As a family we’ll stop with Tucker’s Countryside as a read aloud, just to move on to something new.  But my son will be continuing on in the series for his own summer reading.  So if you read Cricket in Times Square, by all means, don’t stop there!

You can find the titles for the rest of the books in the series here.  Also, be sure to check if your library has these on audio, they would be great to listen to in the car during vacation trips.

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My almost 7 year old son has been living on his own on the side of a mountain for the past couple weeks.  At least he does every afternoon during his free reading time when he cracks open Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain. This work of fiction, a chapter book, and Newberry Honor Book is rather a stereotypical innocent boy book.

Sam Gribley is a young boy who decides to run away and live on his own, on the property he had heard about from his father.  He lives in NY city and heads upstate with a penknife, a ball of cord, an ax, $40, some flint and steel.  The novel tells of all his adventures, living in a tree on the side of a mountain.  Teaching himself how to survive with his own intelligence, bravery and sheer determination, even through the coldest winter and blizzards.  I haven’t read the book, myself, but have listened to about half of it on audio.  It reads a bit like journal entries from Sam, sometimes detailing his thought process about trying to find a solution to a particular problem, sometimes his emotions about living on his own, away from his family. I found myself quite taken in by Sam’s story and very curious to find how he could survive on so little.  As the author says in the preface, in most of us there’s a desire to run away at some point and see if we can make it on our own.  In this story, Sam does just that.  For the rest of us, it’s fun just to run away in a book for a while.

I would say the typical age range for reading the book is 9 to 12.  My 7 year old is an advanced reader and loves the idea of surviving in the wilderness, so he’s loving it.  But even my 4 year old enjoyed the audio version in the car.

My son is looking forward to the other 2 books in the series.  In addition, there’s a movie of the same title, although with the way movies made from books go, I’m not sure if we’ll bother with that.  The book has been too much fun.

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Don’t worry I’m not getting too sophisticated yet…I’m just referring to our current read-aloud, Robert McCloskey’s Homer Price. I loved McCloskey’s One Morning in Maine and Blueberries for Sal when I was younger, so I was happy to learn as an adult that he had written longer chapter books.

Part of the charm of Homer Price is the fact that it is written in a time and about a time so far removed from my children.  The book was first published in 1943.  There are certainly cars in the book, but at the same time, being set in a small town, there are still times when the characters use horse and wagon to get around.  Homer is a typical young boy in small town America during that time.  He’s free to roam around town getting into all sorts of adventures.  He puts together radios in his bedroom and is fascinated by comic book heroes and gadgets.

My 6 year old is thoroughly enjoying this book.  Homer is certainly a fun adventurous character who always has interesting experiences going on.  What I like about the book is that it isn’t necessarily one that you have to read cover to cover.  Each chapter is a new adventure and not really connected to the other.  There are also the typical McClosky pencil illustrations throughout which truly capture the nostalgic feel of the book.

While we are reading this aloud, my 6yo is also reading it independently.  I have also seen it in audio format which I’m sure would be fun to listen to in the car.

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I recently wrote about Don Quixote for kids and wanted to give an update to another book we found in the library.  Margaret Hodges is a wonderful author of children’s books and most everything I’ve read by her I give high marks.  Our most recent read by her was St. Jerome and the Lion. We also own St. George and the Dragon.  She has a real gift for bringing legends and stories alive for children.  I did a search on other books by her and found that she has an adaptation of Don Quixote called Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

This version is definitely longer than the other I reviewed.  It’s 72 pages, with chapters, so would work better for an older child or as a read aloud.  I can’t comment on the literary quality yet, as I haevn’t gotten around to reading it yet.  But the illustrations are nice and I think I can actually get to the end of this version without being sick to my stomach!

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In many many book lists for young children, I’ve seen mentioned Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books.  They are suggested read alouds for kindergarten and first grade aged children.  So, I thought it was time to check it out of the library.  We started with Blue Fairy Book. You can see many of the different Fairy Book volumes here.

The version my library had is from 1948, and illustrated by Ben Kutcher, and looks significantly different.  There are actually very few illustrations in the copy we read, which is usually fine for longer read-alouds.

So my take on this is that I am fairly torn about whether or not there is value to reading these stories to my kids.  So I’ll just lay out the positives and negatives as I see them.

On the upside:

–it is helpful to have a frame of reference for these well-known stories.  So many other works of literature and culture make references or allusions to Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks, etc.  Knowing the actual stories will put things into context and increase understanding

–there is positive value to stories that include impossible things and extreme personality traits.  They inspire the imagination and teach us little lessons about our own faults and strengths.

–kids like to be scared a little, and there is something exciting about reading a horrifying story and have it all work out in the end so everyone can live “happily ever after”

On the downside:

–some of these stories are just so awfully and horribly graphic and violent.  There’s “Blue Beard” who forbids his wife to go into a certain room in their house, but she does anyway and finds the room filled with blood and the bodies of all his previous wives.  He knows that she saw the room and sets his mind to kill her.  She is rescued by her brothers who kill Blue Beard and the wife goes off to marry someone worthwhile and live happily ever after…

–some of the ideas introduced are so contrary to how we raise our children that I’m uncomfortable even giving voice to the thought.  There’s often ideas of one parent loving a child more than another because the child is more beautiful, etc.  We can talk about it and explain how horrible that is, but on some level I wonder if we are introducing doubt in our kids…would that ever happen to me?

So there it is, I’m torn.  On one hand I love these old stories, the way they are told and worded.  The kids are introduced to lots of new vocabulary and sentence structure, they are entertained.  BUT, is it worth it?  In short, these Fairy Books, by Lang are great collections of classic well-loved stories.  But they are not watered down or sanitized in any way.  Depending on your goals for your children, and the personalities of your children, this may be a good or bad thing.

I would love to hear from you, though, if you have any opinon on these books.  I could be swayed in either direction.

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Mr. Popper’s Penguin’s was one of those books I had heard the title of many times in my life but somehow escaped actually reading it.  Richard and Florence Atwater are the author’s of this week’s Monday Read Aloud focus. 


I finally read this book to my 4 and 6 year old boys over the course of about a week.  It is a quick read, with chapters lasting only a few pages.  The antics of the penguin’s (one named Captain Cook being a main character) kept my boys interested page after page.  There are also simple line drawings that add interest for a younger listener.

What we liked about this one was the humor, imagining what it would be like to live with a penguin in the house, and all the adjustments that the family willingly made to accomodate having the creatures around.  We learned a little about penguin behavior and enjoyed the dedication and patience of Mr. Popper.  My son’s also identified with Mr. Popper’s dreams of adventure and travel.

This would be a perfect winter time read aloud.  I could also be used as fun kick-off to a study about penguins or the letter “P” for younger children.  They will get plenty of practice just repeating the title.  If you have read this one to your kids (or yourself)  leave me a comment and let us know what they thought of it.

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Ruth Stiles Gannett wrote a trilogy called Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon.  They feature a 9 year old boy, named Elmer Elevator who’s adventure begins with a rescue mission to find a baby dragon held captive by wild animals on a faraway island.  

This is a great read-aloud for many ages.  My 6 and 4 yo sons are enjoying Elmer’s adventures.  In the first book, My Father’s dragon, Elmer uses his smarts and and his knapsack full of supplies to keep each set of wild animals that he meets from devouring him.  He figures out their need and appeases them to escape unharmed.  I love the adventure aspect to this story, and the parts that are a little bit scary.  But the book clearly shows how one can escape danger by being calm and quick witted.  There are black and white drawings every other page or so, which can keep the littler ones interested in the story. The chapters are only about 4-5 pages long and it’s a short series overall.  If you have little ones that get bored with the same story, this is a great option.

Our family is now well into the 2nd book, Elmer and the Dragon, we’ve been listening to it on tape in the car.  So far, in this book, we are enjoying the tales of Elmer and his dragon meeting up with the canaries of a random island who are dying of curiosity.  Then the remaining canaries are getting sick with curiosity over what the others were curious about!

Most likely you can find this series in your library, either in book or audio format.  Either way, I’m sure your family will enjoy Elmer.

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