We have a lot of read-alouds to share this month! Maybe this is good timing if your kids are looking for suggestions for summer reading programs. Speaking of which, hit me with your recommendations of good quality chapter books for young boys. Jack loves fantasy (Tolkein, Narnia, Harry Potter) and adventure and we want to keep him occupied with good stuff so he doesn’t spiral into a summer of twaddle!
We finally wrapped up our epic Tolkein adventure by finishing the unabridged Audible version of The Return of the King. Our only complaint is that the narrator’s attempts to sing the many, many songs included in the books fall very flat. The kids would shout “Oh no! He’s singing AGAIN!” and to be honest, in this last book we did fast forward through the songs. I’m sure we missed something, but we couldn’t stand it. One thing that struck me in listening to the book rather than reading it is how the actual climax action scene occurs only a bit over half of the way in. After Frodo disposes of the ring there are still something like eight hours of audio left! The kids thought that made perfect sense, because of course we want to know what happens afterwards especially in the Shire. It just seemed funny to me since that’s not a normal narrative structure. We’re glad we listened to this series (and read the Hobbit aloud prior to that) and would recommend them, especially for long car trips.
Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule was a school read-aloud covering Sherman’s brief (and quickly rescinded) order to give freed slaves farms. The kids really got into the story, and it was easy to read aloud, although I did change some dialogue where the grammar was difficult (I’m sure it was historically accurate, but difficult to the ear nonetheless). I thought the book gave good insight into Reconstruction, and the difficult process of former slaves changing their mindsets to match their legal status as freed. If you’re reading about the post-Civil War era, this would be a good choice.
Heidi was a re-read for us, but since we loved it the first time we didn’t mind. One of my book clubs does an annual meeting for the kids and my older three were excited to attend and talk about the book. One interesting note that emerged in the adults discussion was the differences we found between translations. Apparently the Great Illustrated Classics version is so seriously abridged that it completely removes entire critical swaths of the story. I’d avoid that one. But those of us that read the unabridged version also found interesting differences–in the way the translators handled German words (some opted for “Miss” instead of Fraulein, translated animal names directly into English, or came up with entirely different names altogether). I guess that just goes to show that if you don’t like one version you could choose another at random and get a completely different feel! We have the Young Reader’s Classics version and like it very much for reading aloud.
We have read Winnie-the-Pooh aloud so many times, but it never gets old. I was hunting around on the shelves for something to follow Heidi and thought I’d pull out this old favorite because it’s been a while. Milne was such a clever and funny writer, and so in tune with childhood, that you can’t help enjoying these stories. The kids like them and seem to find them funnier the older they get. Be sure you get a traditional version illustrated by Ernest Shepard–not the Disney-fied version. Not as a jab against Disney (although I do think their version is a distant second to the real thing) as much as a shout out for Shepard’s illustrations, which are poignant and funny and great stories in themselves.
In the Days of Queen Victoria presented an interesting (and very tame) counterpoint to the grown-up narratives I read on this monarch recently. I think the book was really strong in its storytelling about Victoria’s childhood, but it did peter out at the end. It makes sense to gloss over some of the less savory aspects of Victoria’s life and reign in a book intended for children, but in some instances I felt the book went a bit too far in gilding the truth. However, we did really enjoy the beginning part, and as we read the final pages about Victoria’s funeral, we listened to a YouTube video of bagpipers playing the Lament of the Black Watch, which added tons of atmosphere I must say. This book is free on Kindle, but may be available in hard copy at your library.
The kids really enjoyed Trial by Poison, a story taken from the life of Mary Slessor, a Scottish missionary to Africa in the 1800s. Slessor was pretty remarkable in that she went to the field as a single woman and lived and dressed as the people in the jungle villages she served. She also took in all sorts of unwanted kids, such as abandoned twin babies (who were believed to be cursed). The story is a dramatic episode involving an unjust practice of dosing enemy prisoners with poison to see if they were guilty of causing an accidental death, but it also highlights Slessor’s commitment to the Gospel as a truth applicable to all cultures, not just Western culture, which I think was unusual for that time. The book is full of adventure and appealed equally to my girls and boy. The illustrations are mediocre at best (as is true for this whole series of missionary stories, much to my chagrin) but I just don’t bother showing the pictures and we move on.
What was your family’s favorite read-aloud this month?
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.