Today I’m answering all your questions about read aloud books, how to get started, and our favorite family friendly, age-appropriate books for boys and girls!
Need some help with read aloud books? Start here.
The last few days I’ve been talking a lot about read aloud books that I read to my boys, and books my boys love to read. I originally wrote this post in 2018 when I asked for read aloud book questions on Instagram.
So today I’ve gone through and updated the answers for our current situation.
Plus at the end of the post I’m sharing a bunch of our favorite read aloud books, and that has been updated to include a bunch more we’ve read since 2018.
Read aloud Q&A
Do you read aloud to all three kids every night? And what if my kids don’t share a bedroom?
My kids are ages 10, 7 (almost 8), and 4. The older two share a room, but my youngest has his own room right now. We usually all gather in the boys’ shared room, or in the playroom to read at night.
My mom read to my siblings and me our entire lives at home, and most of that time we were spread throughout several rooms. We almost always congregated in her room, but sometimes we went to the one shared bedroom where there was a big bunk bed to climb into and listen.
Do whatever works best for your family, but I personally like to read in a bedroom so it feels cozy and gets my boys in the mood for bedtime.
Do you cater to the oldest kid’s level, or youngest, or somewhere in the middle?
I don’t really cater to a specific age – I just try to choose books that are appropriate (no mature themes, teach good values, no language, etc), and books that will keep their attention and help them develop a love of reading and books.
Your kids can listen to a book at a much reading level than they can read, so don’t feel like you have to read early reader books if you have an early reader.
There are so many benefits of reading books at a higher reading level; helping them expand their vocabulary, gaining comprehension skills, and understanding more complex sentences are just three of the huge benefits I’ve seen in my kids.
How do you get your children to sit still and listen? Did it take some time to build up their listening skills?
Learning to sit and listen to a book is a skill. It definitely is not inherent for most children.
My children learned to sit still and listen by listening to audiobooks. We started by listening to them in the car when they were strapped in and couldn’t go anywhere.
We started with books that were easy to listen to, without many characters, with a simple story line, and with a narrator who was easy to understand (no accents!!).
It took several months of listening to audiobooks in the car for them to learn to love it, and get good at listening and following the story. I always do little recaps as we listen — I’ll shut off the audio for a minute and explain something, or ask them a question, or do a brief summary, and that also helps a ton as they build their comprehension skills.
I also do these little recaps as a read at bedtime to them, mostly for my 4 year old’s benefit.
Now they can listen to audiobooks with narrators who have accents, and with stories that are complex and have many characters, all on their own (even Sanny, who is 4). And they listen and understand at bedtime really well. But it takes TIME and PRACTICE!
I have a post all about our favorite audiobooks HERE!
Do you let them play with something while they listen?
Yes! It’s hard for little kids to sit still and listen for 15-30 minutes, so it’s a great idea to help them keep their hands busy. They’ll usually draw, color, or build with LEGOs. Although LEGOs are my least favorite because digging through the bins is noisy.
There are some things I won’t let them play with while I read, like Pokemon cards, because they’re too distracting and they stop listening and miss details of the books. So we try to keep their hands busy with things that will help them listen, rather than distract them from listening.
At what age did you start reading chapter books to the boys?
This is going to completely vary from kid to kid. I started reading chapter books to B when he was three. But that is super young. Fos joined in when he was almost five. Sanny hated missing out, so he started joining in when he was three but he didn’t comprehend most of the books til he was four. Still he misses some things, but he usually understands the overall story.
You have to gauge their interest, their ability to sit and listen, their comprehension levels, etc.
But I’d definitely start with early reader chapter books,* and then audiobooks, and then work your way to novels.
*I shared my favorite early reader chapter books at the bottom of the post!
Do you ever take away bedtime stories if they’re being naughty?
Almost never. Reading to them is something we love to do together, and I don’t want to use it as a threat.
When they were a little younger, I had a hard fast rule that I wouldn’t start reading if it was past 8:30pm. If we started later than that, it got too late because we typically read for 20-30 minutes. During quarantine and the summer, when they were going to bed later, I often started reading to them at 9pm. Do what works for you.
Do you always read at bedtime? Do the boys ever take turns reading?
I always read our family read aloud novel at bedtime – almost never during the day, unless we were on vacation and were stuck in the hotel room while the baby napped or something.
I used to read separately with them during the day, and we’d read books that were more on their specific reading level. I haven’t been consistent about that in the last year, but I just recently started reading aloud with just Sanny (my 4 year old) while the boys are doing school.
For our family read aloud novel, I am always the reader. They don’t take turns reading.
When I’m teaching my kids to read, I like to alternate pages with them in early reader books so they get good at reading aloud. It’s such a different skill than reading in your head and so important. Asking them to read an entire early reader book on their own can be frustrating and daunting, so I found that volunteering to read every other page helped the task feel more doable.
Also when I was in high school, my mom read a lot of my school assigned books with me, and we would alternate reading aloud the pages. It was really helpful for me to pay attention and also gave me great practice in reading aloud.
My kids are older – is it too late to start reading to them?
No, never!! It’s never, ever too late to start reading! And if your kids are older and you’re struggling to find things in common, or find time to bond with them, reading a fun book together is a great place to start.
But it might be harder to convince them of it. Maybe start with an audiobook on a road trip. And make sure all your books that you choose are FUN. Ones that they’ll love and won’t push back on.
How do you keep your voice from dying?
Several of you asked this! I definitely can feel it if I’m reading aloud several times during the day, especially if the characters are yelling (cause obviously I always yell too to make it more fun). I guess it’s going to vary from person to person; your voice might not hold up with this much out loud reading, but mine does okay.
My mom, as I’ve mentioned, read aloud to all four of her children until we moved away to college. She apparently had an incredible soprano voice in high school and college, but after years of reading aloud, she’s now nearly a tenor. So if your job requires you to keep your voice is good condition, maybe consider audiobooks instead of reading aloud. Or just don’t yell so much while you’re reading, like I do 😉
How long do you read for each night? Do you set a time limit?
I don’t set a time limit, but usually I read one chapter, unless the book has very long chapters. It takes us between 10-30 minutes.
When do you fit it in with your bedtime routine?
Reading is the very last thing we do before they go to bed. We usually start our bedtime routine around 7:30, and this is how it goes:
- Quick shower – they’re in and out within 5 minutes
- Teeth brushing – we use the Oral B app and THESE ELECTRIC TOOTHBRUSHES
- Personal scriptures – B uses THIS STUDY GUIDE to help him with his, and the little boys watch THESE VIDEOS from our church’s website
- Personal Prayers
- Clean zones (part of our family economy – check that out HERE)
- Family scriptures
- Family prayer
- Reading aloud time with Mom
The goal is to get everything done by about 8:30pm so we’re ready to read at 8:30.
What age would you recommend Harry Potter?
I get this question a lot and I think it’s a pretty personal choice. We have read books 1-3 in the series, and we’re taking in nice and slowly. I read somewhere about people reading one book every fall at the beginning of the school year so it matches up with the start of the Hogwarts school year. That felt very magical for me, so we did that the last two years.
In 2018 when we started book one, I felt like Fos (age 5 at the time) was a very good listener and comprehender (and had listened to tons of books and audiobooks already), but it was too advanced for him. There’s a lot of very thorough description in those books, and it’s easy for a little kid to get very lost.
I was also nervous about how scary the books get at the end when Harry battles various enemies and monsters, but actually the first three books haven’t been too scary for my boys. I haven’t decided when to start book 4 with the boys yet, because that one is very dark at the end. I’d like to read it just with B (my oldest), but I’m not sure how I’ll do that without the little boys begging their way into the room. We’ll see.
But those of you asking if it’s cool to start with your three year old, don’t do it. It’s MUCH too mature for them, and they won’t appreciate or enjoy the magic at all.
It’s all personal preference, but wait until they’re able to have a handle on a large number of characters and a complex story line.
When did you start reading books without pictures?
We still read LOTS of books with pictures. My 10 and 7 year olds still love picture books, and we get tons at the library every time we go. I’m not in a rush to get rid of them.
I think it’s great to have a mix of picture books and novels without pictures that you read together.
All the books I read aloud to them at bedtime are novels with no pictures, but we have this illustrated version of Harry Potter, so that’s one exception.
I love reading books without pictures to them though, because as we read they paint a picture in their minds, and it helps build their imagination. I’ll often explain or summarize some of the descriptions so they learn how to build the scene in their imagination. It’s great fun for me.
When they are Sanny’s age, what do you do if they get up and don’t want to read?
This question was more about any book, not just novels.
My advice: just go with the flow — don’t force them. Introduce books often, and choose books that you know they’ll love, and eventually they’ll catch on if you’re patient and persistent.
Sanny loved animals and construction trucks when he was a little younger, so we chose early reader books about those subjects, and those kept his attention really well.
When they’re under age 3, their attention span is very short, so don’t take it personally.
Do you do one on one reading AND bedtime reading AND have them read on their own?
Yes! WE LOVE READING. When we go to the library (before it was closed) we’d check out 40-50 books, and we also own a lot of books, and we download audiobooks and ebooks through our library, so we always have a lot of books to read.
Sanny has a large stack in his bed, and he reads them in the morning after he wakes up, and in bed before he goes to sleep. He’s pretty careful with books, but if your child isn’t, put board books that you own in their beds instead of library books with paper pages.
When my boys start fighting during the afternoon, I often tell them to grab a book and take a few minutes to settle down.
I don’t force them to sit and read on their own for a set amount of time, I just give them opportunities during the day to read.
Like I said above, I used to be really good about one on one reading time with each boy, but lately it’s been tough for me to fit it in. But we always do bedtime reading every night.
LOTS of reading going on here, and we love it!
Do your kids get confused with all the different books you’re reading to them, with them, and listening to?
Actually they don’t. I hadn’t thought of that until I got this question, but it’s definitely a valid point. But I think this also comes with practice, as they learn to follow a story and characters.
Plus, we talk about the stories often throughout the day, and that helps keep everything straight.
Favorite Early Reader Chapter Books:
- Mercy Watson
- Amanda Pig
- Nate the Great
- Frog and Toad
- Little Bear
- Mr. Putter and Tabby
- Strega Nona
- Henry and Mudge
- Owl at Home
- Mouse Tales
- Frances Series
- Elephant and Piggie
- Minnie and Moo Series
Favorite read aloud books and series that are a great place to start, and are appropriate for 5 and up
- Henry Huggins Series
- The Mouse and the Motorcycle
- The Indian in the Cupboard Series
- Half Magic Series
- Farmer Boy & the Little House on the Prairie Series
- Charlotte’s Web
- Boxcar Children Series
- Roald Dahl Classics
- The Penderwicks Series
- Mrs. Piggle Wiggle Series
- The Tale of Despereaux
- The Children of Noisy Village Series
- Ginger Pye
- The Chocolate Touch
- Owls in the Family
- Mr. Popper’s Penguins
- Peter and the Starcatchers
- Five Children and It
- Hank the Cowdog
- A to Z Mysteries
- Winnie the Pooh
- Pippi Longstocking
- My Father’s Dragon
- The Cricket in Times Square
- The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
- Green Ember
- Sideways Stories from Wayside School
- The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Other read aloud books we’ve loved, but are for a slightly older audience
- Percy Jackson Series
- The Phantom Tollbooth
- How to Train Your Dragon (the audiobook version was FANTASTIC)
- Harry Potter Series
- Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nihm
- Chronicles of Narnia
- Redwall Series
- Goose Girl
- Dragon Rider
- Charlie Bone Series
Find some of our favorite AUDIOBOOKS RIGHT HERE.
Other books on my list to read aloud to my boys in the future:
- Homer Price
- The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
- Cheaper by the Dozen
- The Secret Garden
- The Spiderwick Chronicles
- Land of Stories
- Black Beauty
- The Wind in the Willows
- The Story of Dr. Doolittle
- Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
- Anne of Green Gables Series
- The Hobbit
- Carry On, Mr. Bowditch
- The Moffats
- The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
- Johnny Tremain
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