One of my favorite childhood memories is of my mom reading books aloud to me and my siblings. Before I came along, my mom was a first grade teacher, and I think she has a gift for instilling a love for reading in children. She took us to the library every week, and every day after lunch, we had “Quiet Time,” which was code for “please take a nap but if you choose not to then read a book with me and don’t wake up your napping siblings.” (I was never one to nap, sorry Mom!) My mom read us loads of picture books during quiet time and bed time, and around the time when I started preschool/kindergarten, she started to read chapter books aloud to us before bed time. You know, just like how she used to read a chapter book out loud to her first graders during read-aloud time every day. We loved it! We would all squeeze onto somebody’s bed or lay on their bedroom floor while Mom read a chapter out of Little House in the Big Woods or My Father’s Dragon or The Trumpet of the Swan.
It wasn’t until many years later that I realized just how lucky I was to have a mother who read books to me, and it wasn’t until I was studying to become an elementary school teacher myself that I learned how beneficial it is to read chapter books out loud to young children. It’s very important for pre-readers to learn the skill of imagining a story happening in their mind, prompted only by words, rather than relying only on illustrations to imagine what’s happening. That ability is foundational for understanding imagery as a reader. So my mom wasn’t simply reading books out loud to us just because it was a fun tradition, she was laying a foundation for us to gain a love of reading. And all six of us have grown up be to avid readers.
I’ve always wanted to be a mother, and I’ve always planned to read books to my children when I’m a mom. I guess that’s why I have no self-control whatsoever when I go to thrift shops and see a vintage, well-loved version of one of my childhood favorites! The best part is, I don’t feel guilty or awkward about buying books for my future children like I do when I buy adorable flannel for the baby blanket I’ll make “someday.” I’m just building up my library so that when they come I’m ready. And guess what? On those bitter days when I find out that surprise, this month is still not the month, the books don’t taunt me. They don’t laugh at me or mock my pain, or whisper “but what if you never have a baby?” like the baby flannel does. They sit on the shelf like old friends, quietly and patiently reassuring me that they won’t go out of style or smell stale after awhile. They silently promise me that one day, they will be read and loved, whether I have one child or more, boy or girl, next year or ten years from now. I guess I love the books because they give me a sense of control–I can’t control when I’ll have a baby or how many children I’ll have or whether or not they will be biological, but I will have children if it kills me and I will read to them! And I get to pick what books I read to them! It’s such a little thing but it gives me a small sense of control when infertility has taken away quite a bit of the control I used to have over my life.
Anyways, on to the list of books! There are too many to talk about in one post, so I’ll be back with more later, but these are some that are just perfect for the little ones. Most of these books were read aloud to me and/or my siblings by my mom, and they are all SO GOOD! Classics I tell you. It makes me so sad when I hear that someone hasn’t read or heard of one of these books, if I was in charge they would all be mandatory childhood reading!
10 Timeless Chapter Books to Read Aloud with Preschoolers:
1. My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
Other books in the series: Elmer and the Dragon, The Dragons of Blueland
Friends, this is THE cutest book I’ve ever read! It’s about a little boy named Elmer Elevator who runs away to an island to rescue a baby dragon who has been enslaved by the animals of the island. So imaginative in the most innocent, charming way. It’s perfect for really young kids because it’s a short chapter book with lots of adorable, whimsical illustrations. Short attention spans aren’t a problem since the story moves so fast.
2. The Adventures of Reddy Fox (The Bedtime Books) by Thornton W. Burgess
Other books in the series: The Adventures of Buster Bear, The Adventures of Prickly Porky
They just don’t write books like this anymore! These are the sweetest little stories about different animals that live together in the forest and the adventures they have–they remind me a lot of Uncle Remus stories. These books are funny and timeless, and educational at the same time. Each little book is about a different animal, and you really learn a lot about the species of a particular animal from reading the book. Plus the illustrations are so charmingly old-fashioned I could cry.
3. Farmer Boy (Little House Series) by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Other books in the series: Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie
Farmer Boy is the childhood story of Laura’s husband, Almanzo Wilder, when he was growing up on a farm in the state of New York. It has lots of fun stories and so beautifully paints a picture of what it was really like to be like to be a child during the 1800’s. If you love the Little House series this would be a good book to start with if you have boys and want to get them interested in it. You can read Farmer Boy as a stand-alone novel or as part of the Little House series.
4. Beezus and Ramona (Ramona Series) by Beverly Cleary
Other books in the series: Ramona the Pest, Ramona the Brave
The Ramona books are so much fun to read. No movie adaptation can hold a candle to them! They really are hysterical, especially the early ones when Ramona is little. Sibling rivalry, temper tantrums, all kinds of funny situations on Klickitat Street caused by quirky Ramona who always does things her own way!
5. The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron
Other books in the series: More Stories Julian Tells, The Stories Huey Tells
This is a laugh-out-loud collection of stories about two brothers. Many of them involve Julian convincing his gullible little brother Huey of things that aren’t quite true and get both of them into trouble. I think most younger siblings can relate to that! When my uncle was seven he convinced his youngest sister that up until she was born, their entire family had lived in a treehouse in the jungle like Swiss Family Robinson, but that they had to move back to civilization because of her being born. For a good few years she believed him and was so sad she had missed out on her family’s jungle adventure years! Hahaha. Let’s just say that Julian is a lot like my uncle and it’s a pretty entertaining book.
6. The Littles by John Peterson
Other books in the series: The Littles Go Exploring, The Littles to the Rescue
This is a cute series of short chapter books about the adventures of a family who are all about 6 inches tall. They are easy to read but not repetitive and boring. I love the discussion that can come from all the inventive ways the Littles solve the problems they encounter because of their size!
7. Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel
Other books in the series: Frog and Toad Together, Frog and Toad All Year, Days with Frog and Toad
Okay. Frog and Toad are just the best. The books are simple and charming but not dumb and flat like so many beginning reader books are today! Also, they are secretly hilarious, but depending on the kid it may go over their head until they’re a little older. But that’s no reason to not read them with the little kids! They will love the clever stories and fantastic illustrations and you will love the tongue-in-cheek humor!
8. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald
Other books in the series: Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is a quirky woman who lives in an upside-down house and knows everything about children. The parents in town come to her when their children won’t take baths or eat too slowly or don’t put away their toys. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle never scolds but “cures” the children in a positive way–often with natural consequences inflated by magic! I remember laughing out loud when reading the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books.
9. Little Bear by Else Homelund Minarik
Other books in the series: Little Bear’s Friend, A Kiss for Little Bear
This is a sweet little book series probably best suited for very young children, preschool age or younger. The books revolve around Little Bear and his mother and father and his friends that live nearby. The words are simple and repetitive and Maurice Sendak’s pictures are charming. Little Bear books are perfect for an afternoon read before somebody takes a nap.
10. “B” Is For Betsy by Carolyn Haywood
Other books in the series: Back to School with Betsy, Betsy and the Boys
I know I keep saying this, but there just aren’t very many well-written books for children anymore like there used to be, and this is definitely one of the classics. This book is all about 5-year-old Betsy starting school and the adventures she has going to school and in her neighborhood. It captures so perfectly the innocent charm of childhood!
So there you have it! Ten timeless chapter books/chapter book series to read aloud with young kids. If you do have children, I hope you’ll see which ones your family hasn’t read and give them a try! Let me know how you like them. For those like me who are still waiting for their babies to come, go through the list and see which books you did or didn’t read as a child. You could kill time during the two week wait by reading or re-reading a few and come up with your own required reading list for your kids, and then you can join me in my compulsive book buying and hoarding club!