The Mother of All We Recommends: Best Read-Aloud Books of All

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you'll be familiar with We Recommend, in which we welcome requests from you, our readers, for help choosing the perfect book for your kid. You tell us about the kid, we pride ourselves on superpowers of book-choosing ability and choose a likely book. Then people step up in the comments to offer their own recommendations. So come on, write in, and give us a try.

Well, we weren't even going to post today, and we certainly weren't going to post any We Recommends, because there are so many we have to get to that we're feeling…weakened. Plus there was a big snowstorm, so maybe we don't have to do anything but drink tea and rest? That's how it seemed, anyway.

Then we got a time-sensitive, massively compelling e-mail, which we are about to share with you, and we knew we had to do it. It's…a challenge. A thrilling challenge. Here goes:

She writes:

The characters:
3-year-old daughter: loves Olivia and Richard Scarry; falls cheerfully asleep on my lap to longer books
6-year-old daughter: still friendly with picture books (likes anything princessy, alas) but more intrigued by chapter books; tolerates Winnie-the-Pooh and Little House on the Etc.; loves Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Mrs. Piggle Wiggle; can read easy Seuss on her own
Me, their mother: always loved reading but grew up in a house where most books were prohibited and thus am learning as I go about the wide world of children's lit

The situation:
We live overseas and can only get books in English once a year or so when we visit the States, and then it's just what we can fit in our suitcase. We don't have the luxury of trying out new series at the library, and I've already incurred my husband's displeasure a few times by having him cart back books that turned out to be complete duds. I'll be visiting the States in a couple of weeks, and I'd love to pick up some good chapter books to read aloud while the girls still grant me that privilege.

The dilemma:
I have limited space and want to make sure I only get great books — really great books — the ones you end up buying once you've checked them out of the library 34 consecutive times, the ones you cherish too much to lend to a friend, the ones that are so enthralling your kids light up when it's time to read. Some that I already have on my radar to check out are the Magic Tree House series, Beezus and Ramona, and more Roald Dahl… but I feel hopelessly unsure of what's just worth reading once and what's worth lugging across the Atlantic. What have been the favorite read-alouds in your families?


And…wow. Just wow. Talk about year-end lists.

First I had to chill out, because I was thinking This! And this! And crap, how could I forget THIS!

And then I realized, she's talking about the present. We don't have to offer up any books that she doesn't need right now. They have to last, but they're for now, for the people she's dealing with in the moment. So I'm not putting Holes on there. They will read that on their own, later. The same is true of A Wrinkle in Time, also From the Mixed-Up Files…. So stop. Take a deep breath. Then think.

First of all, I would say ditch the Magic Treehouse books. Those are to take out of the library, they lose their luster. They're not to read aloud as much as they are to read on your own and be very proud that you know how to read a chapter book. And yes, read all of Roald Dahl that you can get your hands on. But what was a MUST? What were the books I remember reading to my kids, the ones where you can't wait for bedtime so you can curl up together and get to the next chapter? The ones that cast a spell?

As for the limited numbers, I decided to go with 10 books, because who could argue against 10 books in a suitcase? That's fine, right?

And without (much) further ado: 10 awesome books to read aloud to a 6-year-old girl and her sister, with some small amount of cheating to keep it at 10. Also assuming she owns all A.A. Milne from e-mail. Ditto Laura Ingalls Wilder. In no particular order::

1. Pippi Longstocking

2. The Chronicles of Narnia (yes, I'm counting it as one book. Why? Want to make something of it? Read IN THE RIGHT ORDER, which if you are someone old and crotchety like myself, means starting with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe)

3. The Betsy-Tacy books (see above, it's one book, just deal with it OK?)

4. A Little Princess or The Secret Garden (whichever is in stock)

5. The Trumpet of the Swan

6. The Thirteen Clocks

7. Half-Magic

8. Paddle to the Sea

9. Where the Wild Things Are (I know it's a picture book, but COME ON!)

10. Stuart Little

Whew. But no doubt the rest of you have other ideas, your desert-island children's books, the ones that bring back to most awesome bedtime-reading memories. Come on, give: what are they? Bonus points awarded if they're actualy for-real contemporary read-alouds.

17 thoughts on “The Mother of All We Recommends: Best Read-Aloud Books of All

  1. Oh, man. Well, Charlotte’s Web tops my list. And, I know you said ALL Roald Dahl, and I agree, but if you can choose only one? James and the Giant Peach. The original Box Car Children. Bunnicula. Mary Poppins.
    I wish I had one that was more current, but my kids beg for the princess and fairy crap. As for the Magic Tree House, my kids LOVED to hear them read aloud, and now they are going back to read them to themselves, so I wouldn’t discount them. It is kind of hitting two birds with one stone. (Same thing with Captain Underpants in my house.)


  2. Wow… OK, here’s my list and I’m forcing myself to play strictly by the rules (meaning only 10 books and there is room to get more next year)
    1. Understood Betsy
    2. The Secret of Platform 13
    3.The Saturdays (get Four Story Mistake next year)
    4. Wind in the Willows
    5. Half Magic
    6. A Cricket in Times Square
    7. The Marvelous Land of Oz (6 year old read aloud sweet spot)
    8. Betsy-Tacy
    9. Fantastic Mr. Fox
    10. Ramona the Pest
    I found the Magic Treehouse books mindroasting to read aloud. And Narnia is probably a bit advanced for these two.
    We just finished Secret Garden and are now re-reading “B is for Betsy” per my 8 year old daughter’s request.


  3. 1. The Last of the Really Great Wangdoodles
    2. Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken
    3. The Wizard of Oz (which will take you into the whole series, the best of which is Rinkitink In Oz)
    4. Petite Rouge – A Cajun Little Red Riding Hood (our most fun read-aloud)
    5. Mouse Noses on Toast (my son’s favorite audiobook) ((He’s six.))
    6. The Stinky Cheese Man (The Boy’s current favorite book overall)
    7. Any/all of the Doctor Doolittle books, particularly The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle
    8. The Night Fairy (just discovered it. Charming.)
    9. Caddie Woodlawn
    10. The Babar or Curious George books


  4. I absolutely second the Dr. Doolittle books (but be aware that since they were written in the twenties, there are some racial attitudes that seemed benign at the time and aren’t now– my parents discussed it with me and it was no biggie). Also Caddie Woodlawn, any E.B. White, either Hodgson Burnett, and Babar. Big favorites in my house: Lyle the Crocodile, Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet, and Gone Away Lake.


  5. Wind in the Willows, the early Moomin books by Tove Jansson (and there are some picture books among them), Milly Molly Mandy. And absolutely Roald Dahl – all of them, but perhaps Danny, the Champion of the world and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. (Bit rushed, this list!)


  6. I must jump in once more with “Tales of my Father’s dragon” (you can get all 3 books in one edition!). I heartily concur with Betsy-Tacy, Secret Garden, Charlotte’s Web, etc.
    And perhaps if the books are hard to come by and bulky, you could get the Narnia books on audio? My 7 year old LOVES listening to them.
    (I’m not dissing books here – just trying to help out with space. And it’s still “read-aloud,” in a way, right?)


  7. Oh, what fun…
    Here’s my list:
    1. The Thirteen Clocks
    2. Moomintroll books
    3. The Phantom Tollbooth
    4. Winnie-the-Pooh
    5. Thurber’s Many Moons (which goes with the love of princesses)
    6. Over the other Burnett’s that have been mentioned, I would go with The Racketty-Packetty House
    7. The Moffats…or some other Eleanor Estes, perhaps
    8. The All-of-A-Kind Family books
    9. Sandburg’s Rootabaga Tales
    10. Just-So Stories
    And because I can’t leave them off,
    11. Emily Jenkin’s Toys Go Out and Toy Dance Party and
    12. All of Edward Eager’s books.
    Other have mentioned some wonderful books…the Nesbits, Wind in the Willows, but I found those heavy going when reading aloud. My daughter loved them once she could read them, but they move awfully slowly for reading aloud. Or there was too much to explain….I don’t remember not exactly what the problem was, but they just didn’t work as well.
    And the All-of-a-Kind Family books don’t seem to be anything special, but man, kids seem to love them. I loved them as a kid, kids today love them…there’s something about them.
    And I’m sure as soon as I post this, I’ll think of other books that must be on the list.


  8. I made a deal with myself when I became an ex-pat a long time ago. I love books, I need books and some extra cost is justified. That said, English books can cost way too much in some places. A wonderful outfit in the UK will ship English books at reasonable prices for FREE pretty much anywhere in the world (for some reason they won`t ship to Denmark). I hate to get commercial but this is a lifesaver: My other favorite is USED books from Amazon`s UK pages – often the books cost almost nothing (a few p.) and you have only the shipping to pay. You don`t have to wait to go home!


  9. This is the first time I’ve ever commented on a blog…but I’m so appreciative of the lists provided, that I thought maybe I could provide a few suggestions that otherwise haven’t been mentioned:
    A Spider Web for Two and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing were some of my favorites growing up.
    Frog and Toad books are still some of my favorite books to read aloud.


  10. Thank you, thank you, thank you all! I’m the mom who wrote in, and I have to tell you, it’s absolutely thrilling to have a long list of certified good reads to work toward. I also appreciate the link, Nan; the free shipping feature is making me a little giddy. My suitcase may burst at the seams, and I may still be enforcing read-aloud bedtimes when my girls are in junior high, but I’m delighted to start working through some of these.


  11. I am happy to say that my nearly four-year-old fell asleep to book #1 of the Magic Tree House series tonight. It was a fun read for me, and very exciting for her. Love all the recommendations here!!


  12. Sorry to hijack the thread, or to go commercial, but I noticed another shopping tip for books in regards to shipping costs…
    To anyone else looking for shipping deals, I frequently purchase from
    I almost never buy books new, unless it is a gift, and even then I sometimes buy used!! My poor kid!! Anyway, they don’t always have the title I want, but more often than not, they do; and the shipping in the U.S. is free, Canada and UK is 2.99, and rest of the world is 4.99.


  13. Hi yes yes yes to Roald Dahl, E. Nesbitt,andEdward Eager. Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. How about The Borrowers and Paddington Bear too? I really really loved the Wombles read to me but haven’t read them as an adult. Oh and Noel Streafield’s “shoes” books.


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