Which Kids Should I Read Aloud To?

Yes, I know. Grammarians would have me say “To which kids should I read aloud?” Tough. I’m a hillbilly, not a grammarian.

When one thinks about reading aloud, the image that immediately comes to mind is probably that of a small child curled up on his mother’s lap. I definitely recommend reading aloud to teeny tots who are unable to read for themselves. (I’ve already discussed the why of reading aloud here.) “Read me a story!” is one of the most often uttered phrases in our house. Little ones love to be read to.


But what about older kids? Children who are able to read for themselves benefit from this time together, as well, and I don’t just mean grade-schoolers. I believe that even teenagers deserve a good read-aloud from time to time. Grown-ups, too! One of the things I love to do with my husband after the kids go to bed  is have him read aloud to me. It doesn’t happen as often as I’d like (the last time was actually a few Christmases ago when he read Skipping Christmas to me), but it’s a wonderful way to share books with each other.

There’s a scene in Gone with the Wind where the women are all gathered together in a living room, waiting for their men to get back from some illegal doings, and in order to appear nonchalant—just another night, no nefarious activity going on in this household!—Melanie pulls out a copy of David Copperfield and begins reading: “To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I was born…” I went searching for that book after seeing GWTW  just because the first sentence was so lovely to my ears! Some books were just meant to be read aloud, and David Copperfield is one of them. (By the way, is it just me, or would it make more sense to start in the middle of a book, rather than the first sentence, if you wanted to look like you’d been having a leisurely night at home just like any other night?)

That scene always struck me as odd, just because I’d had no experience of reading chapter books aloud. Obviously, in pre-radio and television times, this would have been the best way for a family to entertain themselves after dinner, but it just isn’t done very much these days. I think that’s a shame. Watching television together is nice, but it’s not the only—or even the best—way to share a story with your family.

It would be good to get into the habit of reading aloud before the kids are teens, of course. I imagine that if you just waltz into your fourteen year-old’s room after years of not reading anything to her and say “Honey, put down that smartphone and let me read The Hobbit to you.” you’re probably not going to get the most enthusiastic response. She will probably, in fact, think you are insane, because Hello, Mom, I’m not five anymore! You might have to use a sneak approach at dinner time or something if this is the case. If you find a way to skin that particular cat, let me know. Perhaps you can convince her (or him) by explaining that well-written books are so rich in meaning, plot, and character that they are much more satisfying than movies. Also, you’ll improve your SAT verbal score at the same time!

Read to your babies. Read to your toddlers and preschoolers. And then keep reading. Some of the best read-alouds are books that younger children can’t even begin to understand. You don’t have to stop just because they get too big to sit on your lap.