In addition to the picture books that we read daily, we usually have at least two or three chapter books going as read-alouds in our house. I typically read a book to the boys at lunch. However, one downside to having kids who are three years apart is that the kinds of books that are best for them are often very different. John (my 7 yr old ) can usually enjoy the book I’m reading to David (the 4 yr old) but he likes it better when I read books that are more for his age level. And those book are typically too advanced for David and not enjoyable to him. So, at night I have a different book I read to each boy. They actually each really like having their own “special book”. We also almost always have an audiobook in the car that we are all listening to.
When picking audiobooks or books to read aloud to John, who is a good reader, I typically try and choose things that are a little over his own reading level or that he would be less likely to read on his own. He mostly enjoys adventure/fantasy type of books right now (he devoured all of the Chronicles of Narnia and recently read and loved The Hobbit) so for read-alouds I often pick things that are more realistic. Lately we’ve been on a bit of a historical fiction kick.
Jill Rubalcaba brings Roman-era Egypt to life in this book. Damon, a medical student in Egypt, sets out to find his father who is a Roman soldier fighting with Caesar. As a warning,there are some gory and disturbing parts in this book. It starts out with the death of Damon’s mother and her embalming by Damon. Both John and I found it disturbing but also interesting. He’s the kind of kid that was ok with this, but not all seven year olds would be.
If this was a book written for adults I might have found some of the adventures that Damon and his friend Artemas encounter (a shark attack! a shipwreck!) a bit over the top. The plot is overly dependent on coincidences. I was glad that we’d already studied Egypt, Caesar and Cleopatra so that John had some context to the story as we were reading it. Overall, though it’s a fun read.
The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare is juvenile historical fiction of a different class. It was a Newbery winner and deservedly so. Daniel is a young Jew in Roman occupied Palestine. He is consumed with hatred for the Romans and is living his life with the one goal of revenging the death of his father at their hands. He meets and is influenced by Jesus and His teachings. This is an excellent book.
At first, I was a little bit bothered by the idea of Jesus as historical fiction character, but in the end I felt like the portrayal of Christ was Biblical. The words He speaks are taken directly from the Bible or are very consistent with what we know He did say. Also, this is not really a book about Jesus as a character as it is about how the teachings of Jesus effect Daniel. It also is about what the difference between what first century Jews were looking for in a Messiah and who Jesus actually was. More concerning to John were the two romantic relationships alluded to in the book. It wasn’t anything inappropriate but he is at the age where anything along those lines has a big “ick” factor. I wasn’t sure how much John would enjoy this book, but several nights he asked to read an extra chapter on his own, a sign that it was a success with him. And even when I let him read ahead, I made sure to go back and read the parts I’d missed as I didn’t want to miss any of the story, a sign that it was a success on multiple levels.
If you look The Door in the Wall up on Amazon, you’ll see a lot of negative reviews, virtually all from kids who were assigned it in class. The primary complaint is that it is boring. I would describe it as character driven rather than plot driven. I think that’s quite unusual for children’s literature and so tough for a lot of kids. I doubt John would have read it on his own but he enjoyed it quite a bit reading it together.
De Angeli tells the story of Robin, the young son of a knight in medieval England, who loses the use of his legs after an illness. Robin is separated from his family and taken in by a monk, Brother Luke. The monk cares for him and eventually escorts him as he travels to a castle and eventually is reunited with his family. There is not a lot of action as the story primarily centers on Robin’s character development from spoiled rich boy to a boy who learns to be useful despite his crippled legs. It has a good underlying message and we enjoyed reading about the time period.
Check out Hope is the Word for more great read-aloud suggestions!