Growing Reader

Tween

15 Great Read-Aloud Books for
Older Kids

by Stephanie Cohen

Reading to your children is one of the best things you can do as a parent — on this, everyone agrees. But parents of older children don’t always want to admit to still reading aloud to their kids. It can come out more like a confession, as if at some point along the way we should have stopped, some age when reading is supposed to become a silent, independent activity. But reading aloud in the evenings was mainstay of family time long before radios and televisions and laptops appeared on the scene.

Just because someone can read perfectly fine themselves doesn’t mean they can’t look forward to hearing a great story, especially from a person they love. And some books are simply made for an audience. I often scour piles at the library and bookstore for books that combine great stories with great illustrations to keep everyone interested. Read Aloud America, a nonprofit, puts out an annual list of great books to read aloud to kids of all ages. Below are a few mom favorites for anyone looking to pick up a book and cozy up with their big kids for storytime tonight:

  • The Mighty Miss Malone

    by Christopher Paul Curtis

    Chances are good that your kids will read one of Christopher Paul Curtis’s books in school, but his moving, history-rooted, character-driven stories are perfect to read aloud and discuss at home. In The Mighty Miss Malone, Deza Malone and her family are forced to take to the road as many families were during the Great Depression. While any story about hard times and poverty will have its darker pages, Curtis gives us powerful and hopeful lead characters to light the way. When you read Deza’s reflective and heartfelt words aloud, her resilience and strength come through loud and clear.

  • The Westing Game

    by Ellen Raskin

    Beloved for over thirty-five years, The Westing Game spins a web of illusions and intrigue. When the odd, game-loving millionaire Samuel Westing passes away, he leaves his fortunes to a total stranger — who might also be a murderer. Sixteen people attend the unpredictable reading of Westing’s will, and things, let’s just say, unravel from there. Author Ellen Raskin was also an incredible designer, and in this special anniversary edition, her original design work and bonus content is on full display, adding a crucial layer to the mystery and taking your read alouds to the next level.

  • Two Roads

    by Joseph Bruchac

    Things have been unstable for twelve-year-old Cal Black and his Pop after they lost their farm during the Great Depression. Still, Cal loves living on the road with his dad. But one day, Pop tells Cal that he’s going alone to Washington D.C. to march with fellow veterans for their missing checks. As for Cal, he’s going to Oklahoma to live at a government boarding school for Native Americans, because — and this is news, too — he and Pop are part of the Creek Indian tribe. It’s there that Cal learns about his people’s history, customs, and language, and also that friendship can be another sort of family.

  • Squirm

    by Carl Hiaasen

    Carl Hiaasen is at it again with the elaborate antics of Billy Dickens, who you should know “isn’t the type to let things go.” Like the mystery of his father, who left when Billy was four. Billy lives in Florida with his mom, but after he stumbles across his dad’s Montana address, he doesn’t hesitate. He’s on a plane, trekking a mountain, cruising down a river — you know, the usual modes of transportation. It’s not all fun and games (though it’s a lot of fun and games) when Billy gets to his destination and makes an unexpected discovery. But after that adventure, how scary can a stepsister be?

  • The White Stag

    by Kate Seredy

    Kate Seredy was an artist before she started writing award-winning children’s books and her gift for illustrating is on display in The White Stag. This compelling short story moves quickly and delivers a powerful and almost mystical retelling of the Huns and the Magyars and their travels westward after the elusive white stag. My sons loved listening to the tale of two brothers and the illustrations were an added bonus. Seredy wrote a number of award winning novels — The Good Master, The Singing Tree — if this one sparks their interest.

  • The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

    by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

    My kids refer to this as “the book that makes mom cry.” I read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane to my firstborn (and cried), my son read it in school (and loved it), and then came home and read it to my other son. Now I can’t wait to read it to my youngest. The story is beautiful and delicate and miraculous. DiCamillo’s books can be sad but they are always transformative and deeply and profoundly moving. They give reading time that special feeling that parents and kids won’t want to let go of. The Magician's Elephant is another great DiCamillo pick.

  • Matilda

    by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake

    Matilda is a great read-together book, but really, any of Dahl’s books, be it Matilda or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or James and the Giant Peach, deliver a delightful reading experience for parents and children alike. Dahl’s stories are hard to stop reading but easy to jump back into each night. And Dahl’s written enough books that there is something for everyone to enjoy.

  • Endurance (Young Readers Edition)

    by Scott Kelly

    In his memoir for young readers about his year aboard the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly makes the unimaginable imaginable. The book details all the dangers and challenges of living in space — from the awkwardness of sharing close quarters with strangers to the possibility of perilous collisions — and also reaches back into Kelly’s childhood, his coming-of-age years, and his career path toward becoming an astronaut. Kelly’s story is a great reminder to your children that with passion and hard work, they too can achieve their wildest dreams.

  • The Jungle Book

    by Rudyard Kipling

    The recent movie adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book brought this one back on our family radar. The animal characters are so intensely drawn and Kipling reminds us that even a book filled with two- and four-legged animals (and slithering creatures) can teach us a powerful tale about family. Parents will have to work on their voices, as this classic is even better if you put a little vocal fun into the retelling.

  • The Iliad and D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths

    by Gillian Cross, illustrated by Neil Packer
    by Ingri D’Aulaire and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire

    For anyone with a gods- and goddesses-obsessed child — thank you, Percy Jackson — who wants to continue to feed this interest, there are some beautiful books to take out for a parent-child spin. Gillian Cross’s The Iliad tells the tale of Agamemnon and Achilles with big bold pictures by Neil Packer that will introduce young readers to a powerful cast of characters including Odysseus, Patroclus, Paris, and Hector. D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths has been a staple in homes for decades, and there’s a reason why: This big book, written by a husband-wife duo, beautifully blends mythology and illustration in chapters that are perfectly sized for a nightly pinch of mythology.

  • The Boys in the Boat

    by Daniel James Brown

    When it comes to sports history, The Boys in the Boat is a great read for any age, especially if your kids watch the Olympics as enthusiastically as mine. When I read this aloud with my son we talked — a lot — about the boys and the journey their lives took. We both loved it. This is the young readers adaptation of the adult bestseller.

  • Nory Ryan’s Song

    by Patricia Reilly Giff

    This was a perfect pick for a mother-daughter read with my fifth grader this summer. Giff’s story is beautiful and powerful enough to make a mom marvel but also features a courageous and daring young girl who will make your daughters sit up and take notice. Giff takes readers to the Irish potato famine of the 1840s where the daily quest to find food rests equally on all members of the family, regardless of age. Nory’s commitment to her family and friends and her strength is something you’ll want your daughters to hear. This is the first book in a series.

  • What Not to Do If You Turn Invisible

    by Ross Welford

    Unfortunately, a lot of us have been there: trying to vanish those dreaded pimples. But twelve-year-old Ethyl Leatherhead goes a bit too far — sketchy internet herbs are involved, and a sketchier tanning bed — and vanishes herself. Whoops. Being invisible is fun for a while (who among us hasn’t wanted to go unnoticed once or twice?), but it has unintended ramifications in the form of a whirlwind escapade with her best friend, Boydy. Is it possible that becoming invisible is exactly what Ethyl needed to find out who she really is? One thing’s already for sure: Ethyl’s a hero for all ages.

  • When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

    by Judith Kerr

    An autobiographical novel based on the author’s life, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is a sensitive and provoking look at a critical moment in history, told in approachable language for your middle grade reader. Anna isn’t sure who Hitler is, this name she hears everywhere in Berlin, and she doesn’t understand why her father has left under the cover of night. Her mother explains to Anna and her brother that they’ll join him soon, in secret, and over the next three years, Anna and her family live as refugees in Switzerland, France, and England. An important companion to your child’s school studies, this book will also shed light on today’s refugee crisis.

  • Beyond the Bright Sea

    by Lauren Wolk

    Simultaneously thrilling and beautiful, Lauren Wolk’s tale of 12-year-old orphan Crow and her journey of self-discovery will sweep your kids — and you — away. It’s the 1920s, and Crow has never known life away from the isolated Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts. To boot, she knows only two other people: Osh, the man who rescued her from an abandoned boat, and their neighbor Miss Maggie. One night, the spark of a faraway, mysterious fire sends Crow down an unstoppable path of dangers and revelations. It’s a perfect book for starting conversations about the endless forms family can take.