few several months ago, I shared a post describing some of my favorite children’s books. (You can check it out here if you like). To my utter amazement, the post was Freshly Pressed. I’m still delighted that a subject so personally meaningful to me was appreciated by the WordPress gurus as well as by the many wonderful people who stopped by to like the post and/or comment on it. I promised at the end of that post to write another one about my favorite novels for reading out loud to my kids. After months of procrastinating, I’m finally getting around to it. For those of you who have been hanging around Whimsey Pie just for this post, I apologize for the delay.
The Whimsey family graduated from picture books to novels at bedtime with the acquisition of Despereaux, purchased from the now extinct Zainy Brainy toy store. My munchkins were about 7, 5, and 3 at the time and although that may seem a bit young, the switch worked well for us. Each night, I (or my husband) would sit in our darkened hallway, reading by flashlight to our sleepy children who had been scrubbed clean, prayed over, and tucked snuggly in bed with their stuffed friends. In those last wakeful moments of the day we would embark on thrilling adventures, travel to far away lands, and encounter heroes large and small. Many times when I stopped reading, thinking everyone had fallen asleep, a little voice from one of the bedrooms would say “Just one more page, Mommy”. The whole family eagerly anticipated the next chapter of our bedtime book in the evening. Over the years, I (and my husband) have shared numerous tales with our kids in this way and enjoyed every second of it.
It never ceases to amaze me how the stories we read together during that time have become part of the my family’s unique collective history. We often talk about the books we experienced in those quiet hours and have even been known to quote favorite lines. I’ve picked out a few gems to share with you here, but I have to say that editing the list to a manageable size was no easy task. And please note: the books aren’t organized in any particular sequence other than the order in which they popped into my brain.
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DeCamillo. Despereaux Tilling is a tiny mouse with big ears who behaves in a most un-mouselike manner – he’s born with his eyes open, he reads books instead of eating them, and he loves a human princess. Understandably, this causes him all sorts of problems – among his fellow mice and in the castle at large. The story has the feel of a fairy tale and celebrates individuality, courage, forgiveness, and redemption. The style of writing, with the narrator speaking directly to the reader, makes for an engaging listening experience. It’s a great read-aloud book and was the first novel we read as a family. We just couldn’t help falling in love with Despereaux the mouse.
My Father’s Dragon, Elmer and the Dragon, and The Dragons of Blueland by Ruth Stiles Gannett. To be honest, the cover art hooked me even before I knew what treats were hidden inside. Imagine, then, how tickled I was to discover that the contents of each book were as quirky and delightful as the packaging. The stories revolve around Elmer Elevator, a young boy who runs away from Nevergreen City on the coast of Popsicornia to save a blue-and-yellow-striped baby dragon named Boris from cruel slavery on Wild Island. Their subsequent adventures take them to many interesting places where they must use their cleverness to manage very difficult situations. These enchanting vintage tales (written in 1944) are pure imaginative fun and are timelessly sweet. This is make-believe at its believable best!
The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron. I first encountered this book in second or third grade when my teacher would read a chapter of it to us after lunch every day. I loved it. When I happened upon it in a bookstore several years ago, I knew my kids would love it, too. The story revolves around two young boys, David and Chuck, who answer an unusual ad in the newspaper to build a small spaceship without adult supervision. With the help of Mr. Tyco Bass, who placed the ad in the paper, the boys fly their completed spaceship to a small undiscovered planet called Basiduim located close to earth. After reading this book in the evenings, my kids literally dreamed about flying their own homemade rocket ships to little planets in outer space. This is another vintage book (published in 1954) that still has the ability to spark an impressionable imagination. It’s timeless kid-style science fiction.
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. Inkheart is a stellar fantasy of epic proportions for book lovers. We began this story as an audio book on a trip to Niagara Falls and finished it by reading at night. Mo and Meggie are a father/daughter duo who make the care and keeping of books their livelihood. Mo’s nickname, Silvertongue, describes his ability to “read” characters and objects out of books and into to real life. Some unsavory characters that Mo accidentally reads out of “Inkheart” kidnap him to use his special skill for their evil gain. This magic-infused book is filled to the brim with interesting characters and suspenseful plot twists. Even so, be warned: Inkheart is a long, meandering tale (a quality that makes it perfect for bedtime reading) so patience is a virtue that will bring a satisfying reward at The End.
The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis. During the time that we were reading novels together at bedtime, we devoured several of the books from C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series and enjoyed them all. The Magician’s Nephew became a favorite because it chronicles the creation of Narnia. Aslan (the lion), Queen Jadis (the White Witch), and even the lamppost are introduced through the adventures of Digory and Polly. With the help of a magic ring, the children are able to travel to the Wood Between the Worlds, a place dotted with puddles of water which are portals to fantastical places. Through these portals they accidentally bring the White Witch first to England, with disastrous results, and then ultimately to Narnia, just as it is beginning to come alive. Although Lewis’ style of writing can feel a bit old-fashioned, the mystical quality of the plot, the infusion of magic, and the idea of the Wood Between the Worlds are the stuff dreams are made of.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. I’ve already talked about this book here but it deserves another mention. If your family likes humor and isn’t turned off by children behaving badly (because they can’t help it) this is a great Christmas read. My kids love it and have since read it numerous times on their own. Very funny!
Eragon by Christopher Paolini. Eragon an epic tale of dragons, fairies, and destiny that borrows heavily from Tolkein and McCaffery. As a lover of Tolkein and someone acquainted with McCaffery, I personally felt the borrowing bordered on obnoxious at times. However, my kids had no background for comparison so they couldn’t wait to go to bed to hear more of the story. Eragon, a poor farm boy, finds a blue stone that turns out to be a dragon egg. He and the dragon hatchling, Saphira, find themselves in the middle of an epic battle between good and the evil forces of the Emperor. The story is filled with action, adventure, and magic that my kids ate up like candy. There are some rather violent sections, but I just skimmed over what I thought was inappropriate and they were none the wiser. A caveat: This is a long book and the material is best suited for older kids.
The above list of favorites is by no means an exhaustive one. As an honorable mention, I’d like to suggest the Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osbourne. These easy-read books subtly educate about history through the surprisingly thrilling adventures of brother/sister team Jack and Annie, who travel through time in a treehouse. Also, between big novels, we sprinkled in fairy tales, Greek myths, legends like King Arthur and Robin Hood and many, many Bible stories (favorites included David and Goliath, Samson and Delilah, Queen Esther, Daniel in the lions’ den).
My final suggestions for this post are books I have recently read myself but have not shared with my kids. Please consider The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente, and The Giver (and its series) by Lois Lowry as bed time reading material for older kids. Although I can’t speak to the popularity of these books in relationship to my family’s tastes, I loved them all. Sadly, the Whimsey family no longer reads together at night. With teens and tweens, bedtimes and agendas vary so much that it is impossible to find everyone in bed at the same time at a reasonable enough hour to do some reading together. It is a very sad thing to realize that season of my life is over but I also feel blessed to have experienced it at all.
I’ve spent many hours of my life on this post. But honestly, the specific books don’t really matter. It is in the intentional and active pursuit of reading with our children that they learn the value of it and develop a love for it. And I believe that far more important than the actual type or quality of story or even the development of a life-long love of reading is the focused time spent together in each other’s company. My fourteen year old son, Buddy, summed it up in a few words that caught me completely off guard and made my heart melt. When I asked him what he remembered about The Magician’s Nephew, this is what he said:
“I don’t really remember much about that story, Mom. I just know I loved listening to your voice when you read it to us.”
What books do you think make great read-aloud novels for kids at bedtime? I would love to hear your suggestions.