Read Aloud Thursday

read-aloud-1-300x300 Amy is back with Read Aloud Thursday! It’s a great place to get recommendations for books to read with your kids. She has a fantastic recommendation today for a math picture book that I’m going to add to our list.

We read less and less picture books together as a family. This makes me sad sometimes, but it’s also because my kids are reading more and more on their own. So it’s more bittersweet than bitter. This month I got all the Cybils fiction picture book nominees out of the library and read them with various combinations of kids. (Mostly with the 7 and 10 year old. But my 13 year old still always reads all the picture books in the basket on his own even if he’s not around when we read them together.)

My favorite of the nominees was Brendan Wenzel’s They all Saw a Cat. A cat travels 28101612through the world “with its whiskers, ears and paws….” and encounters a dog, a child, a bird, a bee, a fox, a mouse, a snake, a fish, a flea, a skunk, a worm and a bat. Each page shows how the different creature sees the cat. We see differences in perspective (a bird’s eye view) and differences in how animals see (the snake sees in heat waves) and differences in perception (the mouse sees the cat as a huge scary beast). The text is simple and repetitive but the illustrations elicited a lot of good conversation from my kids about the way each creature “saw”. Bonus points because the repetitive refrain reminded me of one of my favorite poems by Pablo Neruda.

Honorable mentions for me would go to:
A Hungry Lion or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins
There’s a Bear on My Chair by Ross Collins
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev

Cummins’s book is funny and unexpected. And vaguely disturbing (comment by my 10 year old vegetarian son). Collins’s Bear and Mouse reminded me of the Bear and Mouse in Bonny Becker’s fantastic series of books except that in this case it’s the Mouse that is the curmudgeon of sorts. And Mantchev’s book about a boy with a tiny elephant pet who is left out of the neighborhood pet club is sweet and funny.

Our current family read-aloud is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s been fun to read these out loud. The boys have read them on their own but this is the first time through for Ruth and we are enjoying sharing the world of Harry with her. We also listened to Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon as our most recent audiobook. We have multiple audiobooks on hold as our next potential listen but I’m not sure what to do next as our next read aloud. Any suggestions?

And don’t forget to stop by Hope is the Word for more reading aloud!


Advent Reading

Reposting from 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. 

The favorite Advent tradition in our house is our book box. I wrap all our Christmas books and put them in a box. Each day the kids get to pick a book and we read it.  I’ve posted in the past about the individual books we enjoy year after year. I thought this year that I’d compile a list with links to some of those past reviews.

For Animal Lovers
Who Would Like a Christmas Tree? by Ellen Bryan Obed
Humphrey’s First Christmas by Carol Heyer
Cat in the Manger by Michael Foreman
Room for a Little One by Martin Waddell
One Winter’s Night by Leo and Diane Dillon
Who Was Born This Special Day? by Eve Bunting
Counting to Christmas by Nancy Tafuri
The Animals’ Christmas Carol by Helen Ward
Christmas in the Barn by Margaret Wise Brown
One Small Lost Sheep by Claudia Mills
Christmas Cricket by Eve Bunting
Dream Snow by Eric Carle
The Christmas Cat by Maryann MacDonald
A Letter for Bear by David Lucas
The Message of the Birds by Kate Westerlund
The Reindeer Wish by Lori Evert

Just for Fun
Merry UnChristmas by Mike Reiss
The Twelve Bots of Christmas by Nathan Hale
The Gingerbread Pirates by Kristin Kladstrup
The Christmas Crocodile by Bonny Becker
Morris’s Disappearing Bag by Rosemary Wells
The Twelve Bugs of Christmas by David Carter

The True Meaning of Christmas
Listen to the Silent Night by Dandi Dale Mackall
Little One, We Knew You’d Come by Sally Lloyd-Jones
How Many Miles to Bethlehem? by Kevin Crossley
A Child is Born by Margaret Wise Brown
The Christmas Story by Patricia Pingry
This is the Star by Joyce Dunbar
Mary’s First Christmas by Walter Wangerin Jr.
The Third Gift by Linda Sue Park

Because You Have To
The Night Before Christmas by Jan Brett
The Polar Express by Chris VanAllsburg
How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
A Charlie Brown Christmas by Charles Schultz

Starring Favorite Characters
Llama Llama Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney
Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson
Humphrey’s Christmas by Sally Hunter
Henry and Mudge and a Very Merry Christmas by Cynthia Rylant
Max’s Christmas by Rosemary Wells
Lyle at Christmas by Bernard Waber
Harry and the Dinosaurs Make a Christmas Wish by Ian Whybrow
Olivia Helps with Christmas by Ian Falconer
Ella Bella Ballerina and the Nutcracker by James Mayhew
Fancy Nancy’s Splendiferous Christmas by Jane O’Connor
Maple and Willow’s Christmas Tree by Lori Nichols
Click, Clack, Ho! Ho! Ho! by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin

From a Carol
Drummer Boy by Loren Long
What Can I Give Him? by Debi Gilori
Silent Night by Susan Jeffers
The Little Drummer Boy by Ezra Jack Keats
The Twelve Days of Christmas by Susan Jeffers

I Dare You to Read One of These and Not Cry (I Can’t)
Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski

And Everything Else 
The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers
Christmas for 10 (a counting book) by Catherine Falwell
Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo
Coming Through the Blizzard by Eileen Spinelli
Christmas Is… by Gail Gibbons
The Snow Globe Family by Jane O’Connor
The Smallest Gift of Christmas by Peter Reynolds
Shooting at the Stars by John Hendrix
Santa is Coming to Virginia by Steve Smallman
The Nutcracker Comes to America by Chris Barton
Santa Claus and the Three Bears by Maria Modugno

A lot of other people do an Advent book basket. If you don’t, I’d encourage you to consider making it part of your family’s yearly tradition in some way. It’s one of the easiest and cheapest (get the books from the library or use what you already have) ways to make some great Christmas memories with your kids.

This year my 10 year old was talking about the books he knew would be in the basket. I asked him if he was too old for this particular tradition or if he was getting tired of the same books. “No way,” he said. “I’m hoping to memorize them all eventually.” So there you go. If you’re a homeschooler this can be your memory work and Advent tradition all rolled into one.

11/26/16- And now, that 10 year is a 13 year old who brought up the empty box for the books on his own because “we always have the book box”. I’d already wrapped them and put them on our shelves this year so I told him not to worry. Even as a teenager he is looking forward to many beloved favorites and to seeing what new ones I added this year from the library.

2015 Read-Alouds

We now have three kids who can read on their own but our family read-aloud time remains a treasured part of our day. Our typical nightly routine is to all sit on our (me and H’s) bed and read for about 30-60 minutes. I usually read two books: one is for the boys and one is for Ruth. In reality, almost always all three listen to both books. John will sometimes read his own book while I’m reading the “Ruth” book but often he ends up listening, or at least listening to the parts that he remembers that he liked when he was that age. We aren’t able to do this every night between my work schedule and swim meets and basketball games and Scouts and other activities. I only imagine that it will get harder as they get older but for now I am enjoying this quiet (relatively) time together at the end of the day.

I still also read a book at lunchtime, although that has gotten harder also. I often find myself reading other books at lunch. Sometimes poetry or picture books or something to go with what we are currently studying. And sometimes we are eating in a hurry or we do a popcorn lunch (which really means we watch a movie).

We also pretty much always have an audiobook that we are listening to in the car. We drive a fair amount, although not as much as some families I know, so we have plenty of time to get immersed in a story together.

So that’s the how we do it.

Here’s the what:

Bedtime Read-Alouds

Redwall by Brian Jacques
The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly
The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander
The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander
Taran the Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander
The High King by Lloyd Alexander
The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein
Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bergman
Ramona and her Father by Beverly Cleary

Ramona and her Mother
by Beverly Cleary
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
Ramona Forever by Beverly Cleary
Ramona’s World by Beverly Cleary
Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Matilda by Roald Dahl

Lunch-Time Read-Alouds:
Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
Return to Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright


The Sisters Grimm (all 9 books)
The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsell
Nurk by Ursula Vernon
The Sixty Eight Rooms series (all 4 books)
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu




There weren’t any books listed above that we didn’t enjoy. This seemed to be the year of the series. The boys and I loved Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain series. Zoe loved both Ramona and Laura, two girls that she would love to know in real life. We spent many happy months with The Sisters Grimm in Fairyport Landing. I feel like I should also point out that our list reminds me that good stories don’t need to stay in categories of age or gender. When asked what their favorites of the year were both boys mentioned On the Banks of Plum Creek. Now admittedly, the 12 year old likes it solely for the leech scene, but he still likes it.

We are still finishing two of our books from the year: The Adventures of a South Pole Pig: A Novel of Snow and Courage by Chris Kurtz and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The latter is only for the boys as Ruth found it too scary. Next up we have waiting Mossflower by Brian Jacques (at the request of David) and The Doll People by Ann Martin. And for the car we have Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliott.

Read Aloud Thursday: In Defense of the Series

Ruth and I just finished Beverly Cleary’s Ramona’s World, the last in the Ramona Quimby series. She was filled with excitement at finishing the series, not because she was glad it was over, but I think because she saw it as a celebration. We’ve had such a fun time sharing these books. I should add that even though I say Ruth and I read these together I should really say that all the kids listened to these. It was technically Ruth’s “special book” but the boys liked it just as much as she did.

The boys and I just finished Lloyd Alexander’s The Book of Three and are starting the next in The Chronicles of Prydain series, The Black Cauldron. Somehow, I missed these as a kid but I’ve heard fantastic things about these fantasy novels and had them on my to be read list for years. We loved the story of Taran, the Assistant Pig-Keeper and his companions and are looking forward to the rest of the series.

In certain bookish and literary circles, the term “series” is almost a bad word. I’ve heard people bemoaning the fact that their kids will only read series books. The truth is that kids love series. And for good reason. A good series is comfortable, it’s like visiting the same friends over and over again. A really good series creates a new world for the reader and each new book in the series expands and defines that world a little more.

There is something to be said for reading books that are not part of a series and something to be said for reading books that are not comfortable. Kids need challenge, just like adults. And it’s true that not all series are created equal. However, both my boys really got pulled into reading through series (and not always all that high quality). And as a family, many of the most memorable read-alouds we’ve done have been part of a series. There is something wonderful about inhabiting another world all together for an extended period of time.

Great Series to Read-Aloud:

The Melendy Quartet by Elizabeth Enright
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
The Moffats by Eleanor Estes
Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley (We’re currently enjoying #4 as an audiobook in the car.)
The Frog Princess by E. D. Baker
Humphrey the Hamster books by Betty Birney
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
Narnia by C. S. Lewis
Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien (Yes, they are long but one of my best memories with John is reading these together.)
Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace

I’m a little late to the party, but it’s not to late for you to stop by Hope is the Word for Read-Aloud Thursday. Be sure to share what you are reading aloud with your family!

Read Aloud Thursday: A read-aloud preschool

Ok, I’m kind of cheating today. I wanted to be sure to participate in the first MONTHLY Read-Aloud Thursday over at Hope is the Word. But between the end of swim season and jury duty and one kid away at Scout camp and all the other summer activities I didn’t have anything particular to share. Don’t get me wrong. We are still reading. But we aren’t reading anything that jumped out at me as something I wanted to write about.

So instead, I thought I’d share how I do homeschool preschool and kindergarten. I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately in real life about this from Moms who are considering homeschooling and who have kids in the 2-4 year old range. And I’m currently thinking about what Ruth and I will do this fall so I thought it would make for a good post.

Preschool and kindergarten for me as a teacher are really all about reading, and mostly reading-aloud. We do work on letters and sounds and begin more structured phonics sometime around kindergarten.  But I really see preschool and kindergarten as a time to immerse kids in a love of story. I want my kids to be exposed early on to the poetry of rhyme and to see great art and to make new friends in books. Some people will argue that you don’t need any kind of curriculum for homeschool preschool or kindergarten.  I would completely agree but with the caveat that those are the same kind of people who will probably be great unschoolers. People who can whip up an art project on the spur or the moment or think of a thousand great ideas of ways to explore their son’s obscure interest in South American toads. People who aren’t me, in other words.

I like structure and routines and lists. I like curriculum. However, I also like flexibility and I like to do things myself. This sometimes makes for a schizophrenic approach to schooling, but I think a lot of people have the same issues. For me, what has worked for preschool and kindergarten is to have some kind of skeleton structure that centers around reading a lot of good books and that pushes me to plan out a few other activities to do with my preschooler.

First, I do a letter of the week approach when my kids are around 3ish. Each week I search for books related to that week’s letter. A week is alligators, ants, apples. B week is bubbles, books, bikes. C week is cats, caterpillars, cake. You get the idea. I start teaching the letter sounds at this age so I try and make sure the words we focus on are the main phonetic sound for that letter. No airplanes in A week. Or eyes in E week. On weeks that we have more time (or when I only had one student) we do some activities to go along with the letter/books. We watched ants in A week, rode bikes and blew bubbles in B week, made cupcakes in C week. And that’s pretty much preschool.

After the Letter of the Week I have used Five in a Row with both boys through kindergarten. I love Five in a Row. It is an incredibly flexible curriculum.The concept is simple: you read the same book for five days in a row and talk about a different aspect of the book. The manuals are relatively inexpensive and give suggestions for activities to go along with each book that you are “rowing”.  So one day might be language arts and you talk about homophones. Another might be geography and you talk about the setting of the book. Another might be science and you talk about the water cycle. Because it is flexible it’s easy to adapt according to your own family and kids. We typically didn’t read the book all five days but used it as a springboard to read lots of other books about a particular topic. Because I was using it for younger kids I ignored most of the grammar/math kinds of activities and did a lot of fun science or art and some geography.

As much as I love Five in a Row, I am thinking of doing something different with Ruth. Mostly because I think her schooling experience suffers from my own lack of excitement with materials that I have used with her brothers. Some people love doing the same things over and over. I really like the planning aspect of homeschooling and I’m thinking that if I use something new and have to be a bit more thoughtful about it, I may also be more excited about teaching it. A more engaged, excited teacher makes for a more engaged, excited student. I had been considering using the book Teaching Caldecotts Across the Curriculum which I think has a very similar approach to FIAR. However, after seeing Semicolon’s posts about the Picture Books Around the World project she is working on, I am seriously considering stealing her idea. (Not in writing my own curriculum like she is, but just in using the reading around the world idea with Ruth.)

So that’s my preschool/kindergarten advice. Read a lot and then read some more. Throw in a little phonics, maybe a bit more in kindergarten. Do some math if they like it and you want. If you are good at thinking of preschool crafts and activities don’t worry about a plan. There are no such things as educational gaps in a homeschool preschool. If you are like me and need a plan use some kind of skeleton to organize your library list and go from there.

Read Aloud Curriculum

Five in Row (and Before Five in a Row for the very young)
Using Caldecotts Across the Curriculum
Storybook Art (could be a great skeleton for ideas for an arty child)
Picture Book Preschool (Sherry at Semicolon’s first preschool curriculum)

Previous Posts Showing “How We Do It”

One week with a Five in a Row book
“B week”

And my favorite bookish link-up is now monthly…take the time to head over to Hope is the Word and read what others are reading aloud. Maybe even consider participating yourself this month!

Read Aloud Thursday: Our Week in Books

This is the last week of the swim and dive season. It’s been a great summer at the pool. John has had a more successful year in terms of swim times than expected which has meant more meets and time out of the house. But it’s also been great for him. I see him learning the value of hard work and the joy of being part of a team and making new friends. Last night was a special “B” relay meet where he wasn’t allowed to compete but his younger brother was. It was so great to see many of the older kids show up to help and cheer on the younger teammates. David’s face was lit up with excitement when he finished his swim. So a good summer. Still, I’m looking forward to August and a little more quiet and downtime. Along with three camps and a foreign exchange student and school prep. So maybe still busy but a different busy. I’m also looking forward to more time to read.

No matter how busy we are we never DON’T read. But there are times where we read less  and times where we read more. I sometimes feel guilty about the comparative lack of books I read to Ruth as opposed to what I read to her brothers at the same age. Luckily for her, she is no shrinking violet when it comes to letting us know what she wants and will frequently thrust a book at me demanding for it to be read. This week the book most demanded is the rollicking rhyming Duck in a Truck by Jez Alborough. We’ve read it so much that she has started telling me the story as soon as I open to the picture on the title page. “There is the mud and the duck is going to go in there. Uh-oh! Stuck! And then the goat comes and then the duck goes wheeee down the road.”  Now that I think about it maybe I should count this as her first narration.

David and I just started The Hobbit as his special bedtime book. The language is difficult for a five year old but it’s such a great story that I’m hoping as we read more it will hold his attention. John is also excited about listening in to this one. He read it himself about a year ago and loved it. I decided to read it with David in preparation for the movie coming out in the fall. I think it might be fun to take both boys but I have a strict read-the-book first policy when it comes to movies.

Reading The Hobbit and recently reading The Dark is Rising series to John have made me re-think my whole approach to reading aloud. I’m about to make a shocking confession in a Read Aloud Thursday post but I don’t like being read aloud to. I like reading aloud to my kids but I’ve never really enjoyed having someone read to me. (I’m sure if my Mom is reading this she will laugh aloud since I was apparently like my daughter and quite bold in my insistence on being read to as a toddler. So, I’ll amend my statement to say that there was a time when I liked being read aloud to a lot but as I got older I stopped liking it.) I think this probably has something to do with being a very visual learner and something to do with the part of my personality that likes to do things myself.

Because of this I’ve always had it in mind to “save” certain books for my kids to read for themselves instead as of read alouds. I wanted them to have the joy of discovering them on their own. I don’t have a formal list but in my head I was saving The Dark is Rising, the Narnia books, the Lord of the Rings, and Anne of Green Gables among others. However, I finally read The Dark is Rising (my own favorite childhood series) to John because I realized he has his own favorites he’ll discover, favorites that will be different from mine. I also have realized that my kids (so far) seem to feel differently than me about being read to. David and Ruth still need us to read to them and John still loves it (perhaps the most of all the kids). That might change as he gets older but for now it seems that there is no difference for him in enjoyment of a book when I read it or when he reads it himself. And for me, there is the added benefit of getting to enjoy the books together.

This is what John and are I currently enjoying together. In this case, I think I’m enjoying it more with him than I would on my own. I read the first Mysterious Benedict Society book and liked it a lot. I had read the others awhile ago and liked them ok but sharing them with John is definitely increasing the pleasure. He likes these a lot as evidenced by all the laughing aloud, nail-biting as he listens nervously and begging to please read more that goes on.

Ok, so not technically a read-aloud but it was the book I read this week. All I can say is READ THIS BOOK. It’s fantastic. It definitely should be in the running for some kind of best YA book of 2012 prize. Forget the YA label- it will be one of the best books I read this year. There is violence as well as profanity. However, it’s about WWII and a young British spy who has been captured by the Nazis so I kind of knew it wasn’t going to be a pretty read.

For a more thorough review you can check out Hope is the Word or Semicolon.

And while you are at Hope is the Word, why not participate in Read Aloud Thursday!