The best books for reading aloud to children have got an exciting plot and engaging characters. Sometimes you’ll all be laughing and at other times you’ll be struggling not to sob over the pages. You’ve got to want to know what happens next. You know you’ve got it right when your children beg you to carry on reading, when you literally have to hide the book to stop them reading ahead before tomorrow’s story time.
As I said in my Top Ten Tips to get Children into Books, reading is a great way of encouraging children to read for themselves but it’s also wonderful sharing the experience of reading a great book with children. You can share some of your own favourite books and it’s fun discovering a new book with them too.
The books on my list are for reading aloud to children aged about six and over. Here they are, in no particular order.
All of Dahl’s books are brilliant for reading aloud but I’ve chosen The BFG for its gruesome giants, its exciting plot and its humour, but mostly for the gentle giant with the inventive vocabulary (frobscottle, razztwizzler, redunculus) which is so much fun to read aloud.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
The classic story of how a home-loving hobbit is persuaded by the wizard, Gandalf, to recover the treasure stolen from the dwarves by Smaug the dragon. On his way he meets goblins, trolls and elves and has all sorts of adventures. This is a great introduction to The Lord of the Rings.
Tom thought he was an ordinary boy until he discovers his dad is an escaped fairy on the run and he must trust his three dangerous fairy godmothers to rescue him from the killer fairies. This is everything a book at bedtime should be: exciting, very funny and full of unforgettable characters.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
All of the Harry Potter books are wonderful but some of the later books take a seriously long time to read aloud so I’ve plumped for the first book in the series. Rowling’s first story of the boy wizard introduces us to Hogwarts and to so many of her unforgettable characters. It’s as enjoyable for the grown ups to read as for the children.
Set in Poland during the Second World War, this is a fantastic story of three children who have to hide from the Nazis and embark on a dangerous journey across war torn Europe to find their parents. It’s exciting and doesn’t shy away from describing the horrors of war.
The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams
Walliams is a great comic writer and his first novel about a boy who likes dressing up as a girl is endearing and really funny. His dialogue is great fun to read aloud. My boys kept pinching my copy of Vogue after we read this together!
You’ll all laugh out loud and cry when you read this beautiful story of the friendship in a farmyard between a pig called Wilbur and a clever spider called Charlotte. It’s charming, funny and a delight to read to children.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
We read a lot of classics out loud because they’re not usually the sort of books that the boys will pick up of their own accord so it’s a good way to introduce them to new authors. We all enjoyed the story of spoilt Mary Lennox who is sent from india to stay with her uncle in Yorkshire. She hates it until she finds a secret garden and becomes friends with Dickon, a boy with an affinity with animals, and Colin, her sickly cousin who has been shut up inside the house for years.
A girl walks into a wardrobe and finds herself in an enchanted world full of fauns, dwarves, talking animals and an evil White Witch. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was the first of the Narnia books to be published and is the perfect introduction to the Narnia series. You’ll probably enjoy it as much as the children will.
Green Smoke by Rosemary Manning
Imagine going on holiday to Cornwall and making friends with a dragon you find in a cave. Rosemary Manning’s charming story about Susan and the dragon who is too polite to eat people is a delight to read aloud and perfect for younger children.
England is overrun with wolves and Bonnie and her cousin, Sylvia have been left at home with a wicked governess. Aiken writes beautifully and the plot is full of excitement.
Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke
This had us all hooked from the beginning with its exciting plot about a boy and a dragon who set out on a journey to find the legendary place where silver dragons can live in peace for ever. Their journey is constantly endangered by spies and the deadly golden dragon.
Classics – even those written 140 years ago – can surprise you with their readability. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a great example of this as it is so funny and exciting. You can’t help falling for naughty Tom who’s constantly getting into trouble and the unforgettable Huckleberry Finn who swears, smokes and sleeps in a wooden barrel.
The Yellow Fairy Book edited by Andrew Lang
According to Einstein, the best way to make your children intelligent is to read them fairy tales. True or not, you’re never too old for fairy tales and Lang’s Fairy Books have all the classic favourites as well as lots you won’t have heard of. You’ll lose yourselves in a world filled with dragons, witches, flower queens and flying ships.
The fate of an entire kingdom is in the hands of a trainee knight who has to deliver a secret letter to a king in another kingdom. Our hero journeys through dark forests and sinister castles and must do everything to hide from the enemies who will kill to get their hands on the letter. This wonderful book is exciting and full of knights and adventures. There’s also a brilliant map of the journey so you can track his progress while you’re reading.
The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting
The first story of the remarkable doctor who speaks animal languages is excellent for younger children. They’ll love hearing about his adventure in Africa to help the monkeys who are dying from a mysterious sickness.
The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
J.K. Rowling’s favourite childhood book, this is a truly magical story about a girl who is sent to live with her cousin in a country manor house. She finds herself in a strange world out of time with a long-lost moon princess and a mysterious unicorn. Full of wonderful characters, an engaging heroine and a plot that keeps you guessing to the end.
Lancelyn Green’s retellings of myths and classic stories like Robin Hood and King Arthur are all excellent. I’ve chosen his Tales of the Greek Heroes for its unforgettable stories about the great heroes like Hercules, Perseus the Gorgon Slayer and Jason and the Golden Fleece.
The Phoenix and the Carpet by E. Nesbit
A golden phoenix hatches in the nursery and tells four children that they’re sitting on a magic carpet which will take them wherever they want to go. This is an excellent story about four children who always mean to be good but keep on getting it wrong. It’s funny, exciting and full of adventure.
You’ve probably seen the film but the original book of Dorothy’s journey to Oz with the tin man, the scarecrow and a cowardly lion is just as good and very readable.
COMING UP NEXT: A Visit to the Royal Pavilion in Brighton