I haven’t ever counted the books I read out loud to the children, or because of their school work. And I am still not going to count the picture books, because we read a ton of those each day. However, since I’ve recently gotten a few inquiries about chapter book read alouds, I decided to do a monthly roundup of longer books I read aloud to the kids, or that I read because they are assigned to them. My criteria for the list are books that are not picture books, and that are around 100 pages or more. Here is January’s list:
Family Read Alouds
Both Hannah and Jack can read chapter books on their own, but I think there is always value to reading out loud as a family. It gives us shared stories, it challenges growing vocabularies, and it’s part of our family culture. Reading together is probably my favorite thing about having a family.
The Brave Little Toaster: A bedtime story for small appliances is a cute book. I might even say it verges on cutesy. The kids enjoyed this story of a band of abandoned appliances that go on a journey to find their missing master. Along the way they run into a variety of mishaps. I didn’t mind the story, but it didn’t grab me. The characterization of the appliances could have been better, or funnier, or…something. But if you’re looking for a light and adventurous tale, this might do.
Look at your library though–the cheapest used copy on Amazon is over $60! Yikes!
Although we still have not figured out how many children the Brown family contains, our favorite is the Baby (not to be confused with the Littlest Baby and the Littler Baby Still), who has a funny way of speaking and runs around with its (we never know if Baby is a girl or a boy) nappies in arrears. The Brown children are so egregiously ill-behaved, and Nurse Matilda’s corrective measures are so outrageous, that the stories might get a little tiresome if you read too many at once. However, we found that reading one chapter at night before bed was just the right dose.
We also finished Nurse Matilda Goes to Town. I found out that the author and the illustrator of this series were cousins, and the stories got their start as tales their grandfather used to tell them. Isn’t that fun? We did enjoy Edward Ardizzone’s illustrations in both volumes, and found that they made an excellent accompaniment to the delightful descriptions Christianna Brand wrote.
In Nurse Matilda Goes to Town the Brown kids are sent to stay with their Great-Aunt Adelaide in London while their parents go on holiday. In the interim between the first book and this one, the children’s behavior has slipped up again, and Nurse Matilda shows up to reform their habits and manners once more, again to hilarious results. The book follows the format of the first quite closely, but although the kids noticed, they didn’t seem to mind the formula.
Not Read Aloud, But Read for Hannah
Hannah and I have “book club” once a week or so, in which we go to Starbucks and discuss a book or two that we have both read. I really enjoy hearing the connections she makes, and she seems to enjoy the one-on-one time. I teach her literature class at our co-op group, so some of these I read so I can discuss them in her class too.
Hannah wanted a Starry Night/mystery birthday party, so we had a scavenger hunt type game based on facts about Van Gogh and the way he painted. In order to put the game together, I read this great little book from the MoMA, Vincent van Gogh: The Starry Night. The book is written very accessibly, and gives a good amount of detail and perspective without being overwhelming or dry. I especially liked how the book ties Van Gogh’s work with what other artists were doing at the time, showing how different artists influence or are influenced by other artists. Because she’s interested in Van Gogh, Hannah also read this book and found it interesting. I was glad to find a book that was seriously about art history (rather than a picture book story–those are great ways to introduce kids to art, but Hannah was ready for more information) but not too academic or difficult to read.
William Bradford, Pilgrim Boy was one of Hannah’s assigned readings for school. It’s a decent biography of William Bradford, although I’m not sure I’d count it as literature particularly. It’s more in the history category. Still, it was informative and told in a historical fiction format, so we had a lot to talk about. I have really enjoyed having “book club” with Hannah this year, and it has been fun to read some of what she reads so that I can see the different things she picks up and the interesting connections she makes.
Blackthorn Winter is a story about pirates in the early 1700s, framed within a story of a boy in the 1970s who is about to lose his house. Even Hannah, who just turned eight, noticed how clumsily that construction was attempted. The book suffered from wooden writing, belabored backstory, and heavyhanded attempts at Themes and Messages. With so much actual literature available about this historical era, it bothered me that this book was designated as literature for Hannah’s class, and I made a note to find an alternative for the next time we cycle through this point in history. However, I later read an article in Smithsonian Magazine about Blackbeard that contained a lot of interesting historical information that was similar to what is in Blackthorn Winter, so I think perhaps this is a good book for historical context. I do sometimes struggle with using so-so writing to convey history…what are your thoughts on that?
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