It is almost International Literacy Day – here in Australia it is Saturday 8th September. So, we thought we’d share our favourite bedtime reads. These are the books that we love reading aloud to our children . . . and as they get older, these have been some of their ‘real’ chapter books.
Who doesn’t love to be read to? I still love it, although I do tend to fall asleep within about 3 minutes, but I still love it!
Reading to our kids is so incredibly important. It helps develop their own reading skills and vocabulary and actually helps them become more confident and capable in a whole range of subjects and areas.
Reading aloud to our children also provides that quiet, down-time our days are so often lacking. When we take 15 minutes to just stop all else and read, we can all slow down and enjoy the calm.
Many parents find it easy to choose books when their children are younger; there are just so many awesome, funny, engaging and beautiful picture story books available and with a quick trip to the local library, you can fill a bag and enough for a couple of weeks of bedtimes. Younger children will also often request the same story over and over, so your story book selection doesn’t need to be as broad.
The problem sometimes arises when children get a little older and we, as parents don’t really know what to read to them. Here we’re talking about a book you may read over several weeks – a chapter a night. You want to be enjoying it and the absence of illustrations (or far less illustrations) means the story needs to be captivating in order to grab and hold your child’s attention.
As a teacher, I definitely developed a list of favourites, books I would read year after year, books the kids and I loved and it’s those books I am now reading to my own kids. My little ones are not old enough for all of them just yet, but we’re working our way through the list.
So I am going to share with you some of my favourites. I have started the list with the books suitable for younger children and then moved into some for a slightly older audience.
I never recommend reading anything out loud, that you haven’t first read in your head. You know your child/ren better than anyone else and you are the best person to decide what they will enjoy and what they are ready for.
- The Faraway Tree Series by Enid Blyton. Okay, so this isn’t a single book, it’s a series, but all the stories in the series are completely magically and definitely worth reading. It begins with The Enchanted Wood, then moves to The Magic Faraway Tree, The Folk of the Faraway Tree and Up the Faraway Tree. I have such amazing memories of these stories being read to me and my kids love them just as much. Read about Jo, Bessie and Fanny (although if you purchase the new publications, they are now called Joe, Beth and Frannie) and their adventures with Moonface, Silky, The Saucepan Man, The Angry Pixie, Mister Whatzisname and others as they visit the Faraway Tree and the magical lands above.
- The Wishing Chair Series by Enid Blyton. Another series, but that just means you have more to choose from! The series has two original books: The Adventures of the Wishing Chair and The Wishing Chair Again. These were first published in 1937 and 1950, respectively. There was an additional book, More Wishing Chair Stories, added to the series in 2000. The books follow Mollie and Peter, a brother and sister, who find a magical chair with the ability to grow wings and fly. On their first adventure in their new chair, they rescue, from a giant, a pixie named Chinky and from then on The Wishing Chair and Chinky live in Mollie and Peter’s playroom at the back of their garden. With plenty of adventures in each book, children will be captivated.
- George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl. There are five Roald Dahl books in this list – can you tell I’m a fan?!! – and this is the first one I read to my own children. It’s quite a short book, so a good introduction to Roald Dahl’s humour and style and to Quentin Blake’s illustrations. George has a truly horrific grandmother, who keeps yelling at him to give her her medicine, so George takes it upon himself to create a new medicine for his dear old granny. This is a funny read.
- The BFG by Roald Dahl. The BFG is my all-time favourite Roald Dahl story. How can you go wrong with a Big Friendly Giant who talks in a completely adorable way and a strong young female lead? Each night The BFG sneaks into London and blows beautiful dreams into the bedroom windows of sleeping ‘human beans’, but one night, Sophie sees him and because he is scared she will tell on him, he takes her back to Giant Country. The two become fabulous friends and come up with a plan to stop the other giants eating human beans. The new Steven Spielberg film is really lovely too and would be a wonderful watch after reading.
- James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. Yet another Roald Dahl story about children outsmarting nasty grown-ups; kids love these stories! James Trotter’s parents are tragically killed by a rhinoceros and he is sent to live with his horrid aunts: Spiker and Sponge. Poor, miserable James is having a terrible time until something very strange happens and he winds up going on an incredible adventure with some bugs and an enormous peach! The 1996 film with Joanna Lumley and Miriam Margoyles as Spiker and Sponge, is pretty terrific too.
- Matilda by Roald Dahl. Yes, another Roald Dahl – so shoot me – but seriously, you can’t leave out Matilda! This is a wonderful story (with another strong female character) about a very bright, magical little girl who learns to use her powers to get back at some of the less-than-nice grown-ups in her life. A triumph for the underdog! Tim Minchin recently staged a musical production of Matilda and although I couldn’t afford tickets ($500 to take the whole family!!) I hear it’s something pretty special. For those of you like me, unable to find the $$, the 1996 Danny DeVito movie is a great back-up and would make for a fun family movie night after finishing the book.
- The Best Kept Secret by Emily Rodda. Not another Roald Dahl! Emily Rodda is an Australian author, best known for her Deltora Quest series – which is also worth a read – but my favourite of her books is The Best Kept Secret. This is not an adventure/quest story, but a beautiful fantasy novel about Jo and a magical merry-go-round that lets people (although not all people) visit their own future. There is so much to be discussed in this book and it’s one that children from 5-12 all seem to love.
- Two Weeks With The Queen by Morris Gleitzman. Morris Gleitzman is another favourite children’s author of mine. Again, he is Australian and I love how he tackles challenging and difficult topics, teaching children more about the reality of the world around them. Some parents find his books confronting and if you have a particularly sensitive child, you will definitely want to read to yourself first and decide if Two Weeks With The Queen is appropriate. Colin Mudford’s brother Luke has cancer and Colin writes to the Queen of England, requesting her help to ‘fix’ things. It is a very moving, powerful story which still manages to use humour, despite the heavy subject.
- Boy by Roald Dahl. My final Roald Dahl in the list is Boy, not a novel, but an autobiography of Dahl’s early life. Interspersed with personal photographs, Boy tells the story of Roald Dahl’s life from the time he was born until leaving school at age 20. The tales included are often funny, often sad and often disgusting – they greatly appeal to kids! There is a sequel to Boy, called Going Solo, which picks up where Boy leaves off and tells the story of Dahl’s years as a fighter pilot in the Second World War. Going Solo is a book more suited to older children, as the stories are not as ‘entertaining’ as those in Boy.
- Rowan Of Rin Series by Emily Rodda. The Rowan of Rin series is an adventure series with 5 books, detailing quests to be completed and riddles to be solved along the way. Children love these stories and many really identify with the character of Rowan, who is a somewhat unlikely hero.
- Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. O’Brien. So, without a doubt, this is my favourite of all the books in this list! When my parents read this book to me as a child, it changed my life! I can still picture the characters and the story playing out in my 8- year-old brain. I have not yet read this to my own children because I want them to be old enough to understand every word and remember every detail. Mrs. Frisby is a widowed mouse, living with her young children in a farmer’s field. Her family must move immediately, or face almost certain death, but her youngest son is too sick to travel. Mrs. Frisby goes to the Rats to ask for help and learns their incredible story about how they became the highly intelligent Rats of Nimh. If you haven’t already, you MUST read this book, but whatever you do, do not watch the film! Perhaps someday Steven Spielberg can tackle Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, but until then, avoid the (in my opinion) terrible 1982 animated version, titled The Secret of Nimh; the best parts of the book are left out and the story is changed considerably. Stick with the novel – you will love it!
- Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman. Another Morris Geitzman definitely well worth a read, but again, if you have sensitive children, tread carefully. I read this book to Year 4s, but in hindsight, it’s probably best suited to Year 5s and 6s as the subject matter is incredibly relevant and important, but at times, quite harrowing. Jamal and Bibi are a brother and sister living in Afghanistan. Their daily lives include dodging landmines and hiding the fact that Bibi (a girl) plays soccer. Their mother is a teacher in a secret school and when the government finds out about the school, the whole family must flee for their lives. They travel by boat to Australia and, as you can imagine, encounter a huge amount of danger on the journey. Just thinking about this story brings tears to my eyes. I will tell you upfront, that the worst does not happen (I wouldn’t recommend that to children!) but the story will open their eyes to a lot and it will spark a great deal of discussion. I will be waiting a few years to read this to my children, but I will definitely be reading it! Boy Overboard also changed many of my students who ‘didn’t like reading’ into avid readers. It’s an amazing book. There is a sequel to Boy Overboard, called Girl Underground. It’s worth reading, but, in my opinion, not nearly as remarkable as Boy Overboard.
- Goodnight Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian. Set during the Second World War, Goodnight Mr. Tom is the story of any unlikely friendship formed between old Tom Oakley and the evacuee, Willie Beach, who is sent to stay with him when London becomes too dangerous. Although set during war, this is not nearly confronting as other books with a similar subject matter. It’s more a story of friendship and love. An ex-student of mine messaged me a few weeks ago and mentioned that Goodnight Mr. Tom is still one of her all-time favourite books.
- The Treehouse series by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton. This series is a favourite one for my seven year old son. It’s a little different to some of the others on this list in that it’s one that we huddle over, me reading some parts, my son reading others and talking about the drawings. It’s every kid’s dream treehouse: complete with a tank full of man-eating sharks, marshmallow machine and see through swimming pool. It’s a great one to fire up the imagination and shows kids there is no limit when it comes to story telling. After reading this at bedtime, my kids always tell me about more things they would add to their own treehouse, come breakfast time. Sadly, their cubby house is of the grounded variety – which, after reading these books, they clearly see as a massive parenting fail on my behalf!
- Once by Morris Gleitzman. My final book in the list, is yet another Morris Gleitzman. I have left it till last because it really is one for the older child and another you need to read to yourself first. Once is the story of a young Jewish boy named Felix and his new friend Zelda, whom he rescues from a burning house. The two are alone and on the streets in Poland during the Nazi reign. The themes in Once are confronting and extremely challenging, but the story is simply written and gripping. Do not read this to highly sensitive children and if you do read it, be prepared for lots of discussion. Again, this story can turn a non-reader into a lover of books and, with two sequels (Then and Now) there is plenty ahead for those who love it. I am definitely one of those who love it, but it is confronting. (The sequels become more confronting, so take care). It is also extremely beautiful, heartbreaking and heart-warming.
So, that’s my list. I hope you have some inspiration for new titles to read to your children. I know I’m always looking for new books for my kids, so if you have any additions to this list, please let us know!
And here is the link to the official UNESCO page, for International Literacy Day: UNESCO
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