We are currently making our way through Cornelia Funke’s epic Dragonrider as our read aloud bedtime book. It’s a bit long and we keep getting distracted by reading shorter books. However, the kids are really enjoying it. We’ve probably read at least 20 or 30 read alouds this year. For Mushroom and BalletBoy, a great read aloud book has a few pictures, isn’t too long (Sorry, Cornelia Funke, they’re enjoying it, but they’re starting to get frustrated with the length) and usually has funny parts, though they’ll settle for adventure instead. We’re at the midway point, so here’s the best five books we’ve read aloud so far this year:
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is an elderly woman with a hump on her back and an upside down house. The books about her are like a series of interconnected short stories. In each story, a child has a pesky problem and his or her parents ask Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle to cure. As you can imagine from a woman who lives in an upside house, the cures are pretty wacky. The feel of the stories are very old-fashioned. I’m always reminded of how much our cultural norms have changed when I read this series. References to spanking and parents who leave their children alone without a sitter abound. I didn’t read these classics as a kid myself, but I’m glad to have discovered them now and so are my kids.
Stuart Little by E.B. White
We read White’s even more classic book Charlotte’s Web ages ago, but we didn’t get around to his other works until more recently. This story of the mouse growing up in a New York family is much weirder than I remembered, which I think is a sign of how accepting children can be of a completely absurd premise, like two people having a mouse for a baby. I like imagining all the miniature things Stuart encounters, like his tiny car and the sailboat he rides in the park. As a child, I was entranced with small things so I’m sure this book spoke to me in that sense.
The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois
This is by far my favorite book on this list. I remember it fondly from my childhood. For some reason, when I first struck up my interest in children’s books in college, it was the first book I picked up and reread. It’s a classic and won the Newbery Award, but for whatever reason, it often doesn’t turn up on lists of favorite classics with E.B. White and Laura Ingalls Wilder. The story is one of pure adventure. A man goes on a round-the-world balloon trip but crash lands on a mysterious volcanic island. He finds a whole society there, with interesting characters and strange contraptions. The story works in the 1883 explosion of the mega-volcano Krakatoa. (If grown-ups are interested, Simon Winchester’s book about the volcano is a fascinating read.) Pene du Bois did the pen and ink illustrations himself and they harken back to a different time, both in children’s books and in men’s fashion. Overall, an excellent read.
The BFG by Roald Dahl
This is one of Dahl’s best. It’s the story of a giant who can capture dreams and the little girl who befriends him. It’s both hilariously silly and unbelievably sweet and compassionate, a combination of moods that no author manages to put together as well as Roald Dahl. For weeks after reading this, Mushroom and Balletboy were playing some sort of game where they pretended to be Sophie and the Big Friendly Giant (except at some point he got changed to the BSG, which is a complete different piece of media altogether!) as well as speculating about what frobscottle tasted like.
The Jamie and Angus Stories
This book was recommended by the book lady at our amazing local toy store and bookshop. She is a wealth of information (better than the librarians!). While usually the kids want humor and adventure, this book has very little adventure and only a mild dose of humor. Instead, it has beautiful language and the kids instantly related to young Jamie. This is less of a single narrative and more of a set of interconnected stories. There’s another volume that continues the tales. Jamie is a young boy and Angus is his beloved stuffed sheep. The stories deal with everyday sort of occurrences, like learning to draw or trying to evade bedtime. If anyone out there is looking for the perfect first read aloud for a kid, this is probably it.