A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post in which I recommended some of my very favorite picture books. Those were the all-time-best books which my family has enjoyed reading with all three of our kids. We haven’t grown tired of them through many, many (many!) repeated readings and will probably keep our copies far beyond our kids’ picture book years because we are sentimental like that. 

I thought this time around I would talk about my favorite read-alouds to share with older kids, along with some of the reasons why it is not only fun, but important to keep reading together as your child grows. Our oldest is 16, and we don’t get to read out loud with her all that often anymore, but when she was younger, we made a point of it. These days, I read aloud to my 9-year-old almost every night before bed. Yes, he also enjoys reading on his own, but we both treasure the snuggly time we spend together winding down from our days with a shared story. He also has a pretty impressive vocabulary (if I do say so myself) and I like to think that is at least in part because of all the books. 

Apart from vocabulary building, other good reasons to keep reading to children after they can read independently include: 

  • Taking the time to read together demonstrates to your child that you value reading. Actions speak louder than words. If you want your child to enjoy reading, show them that it is something you enjoy. 
  • Reading is not a skill that you learn once and are finished with. Once a child learns the basics, they still have a lot to learn about fluency, comprehension, and listening for meaning, among other things. When you read aloud with your big kid, you’re helping to build those skills. 
  • If you’re ever concerned that your child might be reading something a little too old for them or with content you think they might find upsetting or confusing, a good approach is to read the book together. That way, you’ll be right there to provide context and answer questions as they come up. Additionally, reading a book about a challenging topic together is a good entry point into discussing something that might be hard to bring up, otherwise. 
  • Sharing a story gives you and your child common reference points, shared jokes, and characters to relate to. As children grow older and become more independent of their parents, finding things to connect over becomes all the more precious and important for a strong relationship. 
  • And gosh, it is fun. There are a lot of really fantastic books for young readers out there, both old favorites and new titles. How amazing to discover them together! 

One thing to think about, as you begin reading with your big kid, is the variety of types of books you can read together. This may be a natural progression, as you find that your child will sit and listen for longer and longer stretches, but you may need to make some conscious choices about the types of books you’re reaching for. Your local librarian would be happy to have a conversation with you to help you choose books that will be just right for you and your child. 

Among my favorites for a child who is just graduating from picture books are Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne. They are classics for a reason, and the gentle silliness of Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit, and Eeyore, as well as the wisdom and love of Christopher Robin speak to today’s children as strongly as they did to their parents and grandparents before them. 

The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, is a wonderful series of books about a princess who likes pretty dresses and tea parties and who also battles monsters. The battling and the monsters are all very silly and no one actually gets hurt. These beginner chapter books are brightly illustrated and engaging and may lead to your child picking up later books in the series to enjoy independently.  

I also love to browse the folk and fairy tale collection to find books like Once There Was a Story by Jane Yolen for an introduction to traditional tales. As children get a little older, collections with slightly longer stories, like Magical Tales from Many Lands by Margaret Mayo can be great fun. At the library, you can find a wide selection of these kinds of collections in the nonfiction section, under 398.2, which any library staff person would be happy to help you locate. 

Other types of books that are good for sharing with older kids are books of poetry, narrative nonfiction, and comics and graphic novels. Try dividing up the roles in a comic and reading them together, like you’re putting on a play. We’ve done a lot of Calvin and Hobbes that way, which has been a fun walk down memory lane for me. 

But don’t give up on picture books as your children get older! There are some wonderful longer picture books, like Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say, which are really intended for elementary school-aged children. I also recommend exploring picture book style biographies, both of well-known and underappreciated figures. A personal favorite is Tillie the Terrible Swede: How One Woman, a Sewing Needle, and a Bicycle Changed History. They’re short enough that you can read a few in one sitting or have a good conversation right after you’ve finished one. 

But what we’ve been doing at my house for a while now is reading our way through children’s novels, a chapter or so a night. We’ve particularly enjoyed reading The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, and recently The Wee Free Men and others in the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett. That last series is an example of books that might be a little bit old for my nine-year-old to read on his own but that we’re having a blast reading together.  

In fact, when he saw that I was writing about the books we have read together, he asked if he could write a bit, too. Here’s a direct, unedited quote from a real, live fourth grader, about reading with his mom at bedtime, “I like doing it a lot. We’ve been reading a good variety of books, from The Phantom Tollbooth to Tiffany Aching books.” So, you don’t have to take my word for it. 

If you’re looking for more book ideas, more resources on the benefits of reading aloud, or for some strategies around reading with big kids, you can take a look at The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, which is the classic work on the subject. It is chock full of information on why and how to read with children and lists of great read-alouds. The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie talks about how reading together strengthens family connections and The Enchanted Hour by Megan Cox Gurdon gets into why we should read aloud to each other as families with children but also the joys and benefits of reading aloud for adults.