What to Read to Children

I’m often asked how I figure out what sorts of books to read to my kids.  In addition to using books to cover various subjects in our preschool, we like to read aloud for at least an hour a day. Since I’ve been reading to my kids all their lives, I have a pretty good feel for what sorts of books they will like, what sorts of books I can stand to read aloud, and what sorts of books are appropriate for their ages.

Often I start with a book we already have and like, and then search on Amazon for similar books, see what other customers who bought that book also bought, and so forth.  That’s how I came up with our list of books about the Netherlands, for example.

Other times, I consult a “book about books” for suggestions.  I’ve blogged before about books in this genre, including Honey for a Child’s Heart, The Read Aloud Handbook, Books for the Gifted Child, and Some of My Best Friends Are Books.  I’ve read others too, but can’t think of them off the top of my head.  At any rate, this sort of book can be helpful even if you disagree with some of the recommendations they contain.

Books to Build On: A Grade-by-Grade Resource Guide for Parents and Teachers has some great lists of books broken down by subject and grade.  I found I disagreed with the grade breakdowns across the board (many of the books that this volume says are for kids in 2nd grade are in our preschool favorites – kids can understand more than they are given credit for) and some of the scope and sequence is not very ambitious or comprehensive.  However, within the lists I did find a lot of books I hadn’t checked out before, and I think the recommendations for books about specific historical eras will be helpful.

I thought it was sort of funny that the book we’re currently reading aloud, Carlo Collodi’s original Pinocchio, is mentioned in Books to Build On as not recommended for first grade because it is “too long.” That’s funny because I would say the chapters are short and easy to understand, perfect for preschoolers! Hannah and Jack love the book and are always clamoring for one more chapter and telling me that they like the book more than the Disney movie.  That’s not because my kids are so smart or anything, the book just really is a lot more entertaining than the movie adaptation.  I think the idea that a 6 year old first grader couldn’t sit through an eight page long chapter about a wooden puppet having adventures is really really sad.

Onward.  I did find some good book recommendations in this book and I would still recommend it as a resource even though I disagree with some of the grade sorting.  I think it would be especially helpful for parents whose children are in school that might be following a scope and sequence similar to the one in this book.  You could get a lot of great ideas for at home enrichment reading to supplement what your child is getting at school.

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5 thoughts on “What to Read to Children

  1. I appreciate the Core Curriculum series by E.D. Hirsch. My sister-in-law got me several of the “What your __-Grader Needs to Know” books, and though I don’t use all of the materials (due to difference of educational philosophy), I frequently read through them as I do my planning to see if there’s anything that I’m missing. At least once or twice a year I find something that I think I should include that I hadn’t considered. Similar to your experience, I usually find I need to look a grade or two ahead, especially when it comes to literature selections. I’d forgotten about “Books to Build On”, so I’ll have to see if our library has it.

  2. Hi Catherine,

    Loved your post about reading aloud and how kids can really enjoy books that grown-ups usually dismiss as “too difficult” – such as Pinocchio.

    Truly, the original versions of such classics are much more rewarding both for the listener (and the reader!).

    Thanks for sharing the great advice from your family’s experience.

    Read Aloud Dad

  3. Lester L. Laminack has wonderful professional books on reading aloud to and with students broken down by intent rather than grade level.

  4. As a children’s librarian, I absolutely abhor the practice of “grade-leveling” books, which is often seen in school libraries these days Mostly the fault of systems like Lexile and Accelerated Reader, parents often come in looking for a book for a 4th grader. Well…what kind of 4th grader? A boy? A girl? A voracious reader? A child who is read to? A good read-aloud? A child who moves slowly through the pages?
    I have given books to 9 year-olds who have already read many books considered about their “grade level.” I agree that you know your child’s reading and comprehension ability better than any book or website.

    I always try to steer parents and children away from “grade leveling” by asking “What was the last book you REALLY loved.” The answer to this question always gives a better answer than any grade-leveling. If you want to do some research on good books to move onto, see if your local library subscribes to the Novelist database.

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