Tweens: Family and Class Read-Alouds

Too many adults make the mistake of assuming that once kids become independent readers they don’t need–or want–to be read aloud to or told stories. Nothing could be further from the truth! Older children and pre- adolescents love to hear stories and love to have books read to them. Those of us who work with this age group in schools think of read-aloud time as one of the perks of our job.

Continuing a time for reading aloud at home also helps tweens stay connected with their families, sparking conversations around topics that might not otherwise come up. Even more important, it’s a cozy, relaxing time for family members across ages to continue to associate reading with warm and cozy times together.

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TaleThe Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

This book manages to be so many seemingly opposite things at once that to describe it makes it sound impossible. It is gripping yet enchanting. It is a fairytale with a mouse hero, yet you identify with the characters more immediately than with many (any) non-fiction characters. The tone is light and funny, but the problems and heartache are treated seriously and with respect. The story? Despereaux is a mouse with big ears who is shunned by his family. He falls desperately in love with the Princess Pea. When the light-loving rat Chiaroscuro and the peasant Miggery Sow’s lives and stories intertwine with Despereaux and Pea, they all manage to find their happily ever after.

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PhantomThe Phantom Toll Booth by Norton Juster

Just like any self respecting pre-teen, Milo is bored. There is nothing to see, nothing to do, and everything is a waste of time. That is, until a toll booth appears in his bedroom and takes him, as it were, down the rabbit hole. This book is so full of play with language, satire, irony and wit, it will be a contest to see who is laughing more as you read this aloud- you or your child. If this humor appeals to the kids in your life, this may be the right time to introduce them to Monty Python! (And if this style of literary satire and wordplay still tickles your fancy, you might enjoy Jasper Fford’s Tuesday Next series.)

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Red-FernWhere the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

There’s something about this classic “a boy and his dog” story that connects with most kids, whether they are boys or girls, dog-lovers or have never had a pet. It’s a favorite classroom read-aloud, though most teachers can’t read it without their voices cracking in parts. Love, bravery, action, loyalty, and courage combine in this adventure tale. It’s a coming of age story, too, where young Billy reaches a turning point and steps into adulthood. It’s a straightforward story, but adults enjoy reading it for the deeper themes just under the surface.

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BridgeBridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

The only drawback to this wonderful book is that it will leave you weeping. The sensitive exploration of deep friendship, imagination, poverty and death make it an ideal springboard for introducing a discussion of any of these topics with kids. Jesse wants nothing more this year than to be the fastest kid in the 5th grade. When the new kid (a girl, at that) bests him, it would be easy for him to hate her. Instead, his friendship with Leslie transforms his life. They become King and Queen of their imaginary world, Terabithia, until a tragic accident occurs, and moves Jesse into the world of adult emotions faster than he is ready to go.

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HolesHoles by Louis Sachar

Stanley Yelnats has a lot to be worried about. He has a lifetime of bad luck to look forward to, thanks to his “no-good, dirty-rotten, pig-stealing great-great-grandfather.” And it looks like that luck kicks into high gear right about now, when he is mistakenly convicted of theft and sent to Camp Green Lake, which isn’t a camp, there is no lake, and nothing is green. To build character, the kids are all forced to dig holes every day. Or is that the real reason behind all the holes? Stanley learns that it may in fact be that they’re using the kids to look for the long lost buried treasure of Kissing Kate Barlow. As an aside, it’s rather refreshing to note that while Stanley may have lots of bad luck, he also has two loving parents – a rarity for heroes and heroines for this age group.

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Mrs.-FrisbMrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien

An intriguing fantasy story of the friendship that develops between a mouse family and a band of highly intelligent rats. Mrs. Frisby, the widowed field mouse head of the family, seeks the help of a band of escaped laboratory rats with near-human intelligence. This unusual novel–a Newbury award winner–grabs the reader from the first page. It’s a top-notch adventure story–and brings up moral and ethical issues about research and treatment of animals. There is a clear theme of working together as a community, too. A perfect read-aloud for a range of ages at home or at school. Expect lots of discussion as you read!

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I-am-the-Ice-WormI am the Ice Worm by Maryann Easley

Allison, a 14-year-old girl from the suburbs of California, embarks on the adventure of her life when she flies North to visit her mother in the Alaskan bush. When her plane crashes, she is the sole survivor and is rescued by a Native Alaskan who helps her survive by learning indigenous ways. What sounds like typical “survival story” fare is actually more substantial than most books in this genre, with rich imagery, character development, and an interesting plot that makes it a lively adventure. Nice to have a 21st-century female survivor hero, too.

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EgyptThe Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Six children from different cultures and backgrounds come together to form “The Egypt Group” and create their own elaborate fantasy game that gives the book its title. They have a secret meeting place with their own rules and rituals–even their own writing system of hieroglyphics. Danger and mystery combine in this highly suspenseful and just plain enjoyable story. It makes readers want to have the fun of creating an imaginary world, whether it’s in Ancient Egypt or another time or place in history. It’s organized around episodes, making it a perfect classroom or family book to read aloud and has good stopping places, ready for the next adventure to start.

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Tuck-EverlastingTuck Everlasting by Nathalie Babbitt

Some of the best books for this age group manage to incorporate an element of fantasy into their explorations of life and death, love and friendship (books by authors like Lois Duncan, Gail Carson Levine or Kate DiCamillo). In Tuck Everlasting, 10-year -old Winnie discovers the Tuck family and their secret- a discovery that prompts her kidnapping and a decision that will change lives forever. This sensitive and beautiful book is a wonderful read-aloud at this age (especially in any family or class that needs to discuss death, and how sometimes moving on is a relief and gift), but perhaps a read-alone for slightly older children.

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Single-ShardA Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

Set in 12th Century Korea, this novel takes the reader into the life of a 10-year-old orphan named Tree-Ear who is being raised under a bridge by Crane-man, so-named because of his shriveled leg. They survive by stealing, begging, and making use of any scrap of material that comes their way. In order to pay off his debt to the master potter, whose pot he has broken, Tree-Ear becomes a servant, and ultimately apprentice potter. When he is sent to court with pottery from his master, he has a perilous journey, giving the reader insight into a very different time and place. Above all, its a great story with character you feel as if you know by the last pages of the book.

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