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:
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
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.
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
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.