This list is comprised of books that I had a great time reading, and that my kids had a great time listening to. When reading out loud to kids, I encourage you to really ham it up. Do all the voices! Have sound effects! Play suitable music! These are stories that really lend themselves to letting your inner ham out!
by Arnold Lobel
The Frog and Toad stories stand out in children's literature for their sheer staying power. No matter how many times my children hear them, they love hearing them again so much so that I recorded myself reading them so that my kids could hear them when I couldn't sit and read. Our Frog has a high, croaky voice, while Toad has a Scottish accent and a tendency to panic. What really makes the stories worthwhile is Frog's unerringly forgiving nature and Toad's well-meaning bumbling. They make mistakes, they have fights, but at the end of every Frog and Toad book there's always a point where they realize how much each one means to the other, and it's hard for me to read the last story in any book without getting choked up just a little. (I read Frog and Toad stories to the accompaniment of The Beau Hunks Play The Original Little Rascals Music.)
by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist
While Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler) is clearly writing for children, he's writing for a very specific set of children. He's writing for only the very most intelligent, compassionate, discerning children... you know, like yours. The words are long, the plots complex, the endings bittersweet, but every title in the thirteen-book series is a page-turner. My younger child loved getting to the end of each book and trying to find the visual clue to the next book in Brett Helquist's illustrations on the last page of each book. Part of the fun of reading this series out loud is not just to give each character its own distinct voice, but to give each iteration of Count Olaf, the villain, a voice that is his own disguised as someone else's (no mean feat!). My kids also love the fact that the more books we read, the more glimpses into the life of the author, Lemony Snicket, we got. (While I know that there's a movie score, it's not the best musical accompaniment for reading aloud. I much prefer Danny Elfman's Serenada Schizophrana.)
by Gary Soto, illustrated by Susan Guevara
Gary Soto's story of two best friends is as sweet-natured as Arnold Lobel's, but with a generous helping of streetwise thrown in. Chato's best friend Novio Boy is sad because he doesn't know his own birthday, so he's never had a party. Chato decides to throw him a giant pachanga (party), but forgets to invite him! My kid loves to hear the Spanish words sprinkled in, and everyone loves stories involving parties! Susan Guevara's illustrations mean that you'll spend a long time on every page as the kids pore over every stray angel and symbol on it. (This goes great with the crazy rhythms of Tijuana Sound Machine by Nortec Collective.)
by Helen Bannerman, illustrated by Christopher Bing
This story got a bad rap for years because of author Helen Bannerman's original illustrations, so I'm pleased that Christopher Bing put his talented hand to work on fabulous, lush illustrations that beautifully counterpoint the bravery and cleverness of our hero, Sambo. Every page is a cool jungle to walk in, and when you come face to face with the tigers, it's hard not to feel a little flutter of fear! This was one of my favorite stories as a child, so I was thrilled to be able to share it with my own kids, and to read it exactly as it was read to me, complete with the booming rejoinder "Now *I'm* the GRANDEST TIGER IN THE JUNGLE!" (Ryuichi Sakamoto's soundtrack to the movie "Little Buddha" gives this beautiful book the rich backing it deserves!)
by Caralyn Buehner, illustrated by Mark Buehner
All little girls dream of becoming princesses (especially those in the clutches of Disney!). But those of us whose feet have grown too big for glass slippers and whose houses are a little more modestly-scaled than a fairy tale castle can appreciate this story. Fanny's a woman who realizes after many years of being married to her friend and helpmeet and working hard to keep body and soul together on their farm, that she'd rather have her short, funny husband, their farm and their three wonderful children more than anything her fairy godmother could grant her. I'm thrilled that my daughters have always seen fantasy princess stories as just that — fantasy. But they see Fanny's Dream as one that will come true for them someday. (Jeremy Kittel's Celtic Fiddle goes well with this one.)
Recommending books so good, they'll keep you up past your bedtime. more...
About Lise M. Quintana
I'm a writer in the Santa Cruz mountains of California. As a writer, I love a well-written book, but as a reader, I have a special partiality for books from which I can make a theatrical production. Reading out loud is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to pass an evening with your loved ones.
Newest book lists
All our categories