These are the books (over 100 pages) we read aloud together in October and November, or that I read in order to discuss with the kids.
Gilbert & Sullivan Set Me Free is not a book I’d send a kid off with alone, and actually, it’s not a book I’d do as a read-aloud either. It did make a great audio book, because it’s augmented by pieces of music and singing, and is pretty dramatically rendered with different voices. The book is a fictional representation of a time of prison reform around World War I, and particularly addresses the plight of women prisoners. The kids loved the music and the story, but I did have to fast forward through a couple of spots where there was too much dialogue about WHY the women were in prison (hazard of audio books: you can’t see mentions of prostitution and abortionists and avoid them ahead of time). Overall, while I didn’t love this book, I thought it was a well done audio book, with the aforementioned caveats.
We started studying World War II, and so the kids are reading a lot about that time period. I’m attempting to keep up somewhat with their books so that we can discuss issues. Jack read Run, Boy, Run, a true story of a young boy who escaped the Warsaw ghetto and lived on the run until the end of the war. It’s an amazing story, and the references to difficult things are oblique enough that younger kids might not catch them.
I probably wouldn’t do this book as a read-aloud, but for independent reading to later discuss with a parent I think it’s a good choice. I had really good discussions with Jack and Hannah based on this book, and Jack especially seemed impacted by the story, since the main character started the war as an eight-year-old, which is Jack’s age. It was interesting to talk about whether Jack would forget how his family looked and even our names if he had to run away and live off the land for years like the boy in the story did.
I remember reading When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit as a child, when I was going through a World War II phase (this lasted several years, my brother and I read everything we could find about the time period). Judith Kerr is one of my favorite children’s authors (Mog the cat and The Tiger Who Came to Tea are fantastic). Pink Rabbit is Kerr’s autobiographical story based on what happened to her own family during the war.
The book is a gentle but insightful take on the war, being a refugee, and overcoming the changes and challenges of a difficult childhood. I wish I had used this as a read-aloud rather than having Jack and Hannah read it individually, because I think Sarah would have liked the story too, but she was daunted by the length. I’ll have to remember to have her read it in a year or two.
I remember loving Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars when I first read it as a kid. Re-reading it so I could discuss it with Hannah was a treat. It’s always surprising to me how much I remember about books I read 20 or 30 years ago. The story provides a fictionalized account of the true story of how the people of Denmark bravely supported and cared for the Jewish Danes during World War II. It’s truly amazing what they pulled off. The novel tells the story from the perspective of a little girl who is called upon to act bravely to save her best friend, several families of other Jews, and her uncle. Because of the friendship and bravery themes, the frightening facts of Nazi aggression and terror are tempered in a way that makes them easier for kids to understand and deal with, without at all minimizing the risks or evil involved. I’d highly recommend this one for pre-teens just for it’s messages, but especially if your kids are studying World War II.
Gladys Aylward: The Adventure of a Lifetime turned out to be a fabulous biography of a remarkable woman who devoted her life to helping the Chinese people–renouncing her British citizenship, living in extreme conditions and deprivation, and risking her life for others. Unlike some missionary biographies we have read, this one worked out well as a read-aloud, and the kids enjoyed it so much that when we finished the last page they immediately asked if we could read it again!
We recommend this version of Aylward’s story, although the kids also watched the The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, an Ingrid Bergman movie adaptation of Aylward’s story, and Hannah and I read The Small Woman, which we likewise recommend.
Hannah loved Letters from Rifkaand asked me to read it so we could have a book discussion. The story–told in the form of letters the main character writes to her cousin in the margins of her book of Pushkin’s poetry–follows a brave little girl whose Jewish family flees anti-Semitic Russia in 1919 to follow her older brothers to America. Along the way the family fights disease and prejudice, and finally Rifka has to be left behind while still contagious. Living under the protection of a refugee organization, Rifka learns her own strength, learns languages, helps others, and overcomes the prejudices that she was born into before reaching America. A great story, admirable heroine, and great historical detail combine to make this a good recommendation for kids, especially if you’ve studied the history and geography the book covers.
It took us a LONG time to get through Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry as our evening read-aloud, but not because we didn’t like it. On the contrary, we were all completely absorbed in the story, but had to take it in small doses because we so often needed to stop and discuss issues and themes that came up as we read. We had some excellent talks about prejudice, racial issues, and the historical context of the Depression in the American South–tying all of that in with what we had already read and studied about previously. Things like this are among my favorite parts of parenting!
As an aside though, I don’t think you should plan to give this book to (or get an audiobook for) younger kids if you don’t plan to talk it over thoroughly as you go. The text includes racial epithets that we would never want our kids to say, and attitudes that we want them to understand but deplore. I had all of my big kids read the words to themselves, then we had a discussion about why they are bad words, what the characters who use those words are like, how we hope to be different, and so on. Without active parent participation, I am not sure this book would be as helpful or compelling for elementary kids. But as a group read-aloud it was excellent and I highly recommend it.
What has your family enjoyed reading together lately?
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