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 Invention of Hugo Cabret

    by Brian Selznick

    The Invention of Hugo Cabret was meant to be read aloud and shared, because half the story is told in pictures that must be discussed! Selznick is a master of visual and written storytelling. He knows just how much to tell his audience with words and just how much to show them with pictures. This book is a puzzle and a total family affair. Our 5-year-old enjoyed listening to it just as much as our 9-year-old.

  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

    by Mark Twain, illustrated by Robert Ingpen

    If you read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer you have to buy the version illustrated by Robert Ingpen. The language of Tom Sawyer can be challenging — few kids may be willing to try it themselves — but it can make for a fun family read. I didn’t want my kids to miss out on a great story by getting caught up in unfamiliar words, so I read it to them and they loved it. They still talk about their favorite scenes — when Tom drugs his aunt’s cat, when Tom gets a bowl of water thrown in his face while mooning after a girl, when he takes a sabbatical from home. This copy — with its stunning illustrations — had my kids hanging on every page turn.

  • 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.

  • Johnny Tremain: A Story of Boston Revolt

    by Esther Hoskins Forbes

    Johnny Tremain is great pick for kids who like history — or, for that matter, anyone in love with the musical “Hamilton” who wants to continue exploring early American history. Set in 1773 in Boston, in the heart of the fight for American liberty, this book tells the story of a young boy who gets hurt and winds up with a front row seat to America’s founding and Hamilton’s compatriots — John Hancock, John Adams, and Samuel Adams.

  • 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.

  • Harry Potter Series

    by J.K. Rowling

    So many families have started on the Harry Potter journey together — until their kids can’t bear to have the reading stop each night and start hiding under the covers with a flashlight to binge read into the wee hours by themselves. But if you start the series when they are still young enough you can read the first and maybe the second book together before they take off on their own.

  • Serafina and the Black Cloak

    by Robert Beatty

    Settle in for a grand tale about the grandest of all Gilded Age homes built in America: the Biltmore Estate, the legendary home of George Vanderbilt. The story of a young girl who must decide whether she has the courage to emerge from a hidden life to save others is told as a Southern gothic mystery with a ghostly, suspenseful vibe — which may make some kids want to read it with a parent! One mom suggested listening to the audio version together to take advantage of the super fun “animated theatrics” that come with the narration. The author is working on two more follow-up books in case you get hooked.

  • A Riddle of Roses

    by Caryl Cude Mullin, illustrated by Kasia Charko

    Can there ever be enough Merlin and Medieval magic in the book world? Mullin’s story proves we can always enjoy another great tale about Avalon by giving us the story of a girl named Meryl who wants more than anything to be a highly skilled bard, just like her mother was. But first, Meryl must accept the consequences of a bad decision she made that lead her to her banishment from the hall where apprentices train. This book offers a perfect window for parents and children to talk about the choices we make (good and bad), and the redemptive power of the unusual characters we may meet along the way.

  • 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 other great read-aloud books have you enjoyed with your big kids? Let us know in the comments below.