Monday, May 07, 2012

Family Read-Alouds: Part IV

by Rebecca Berg Manor

I hope you've enjoyed this little read-aloud series. Today we are going to look at some great choices for families with older children - basically those aged 12 and up. At this point, your family read-aloud times will probably begin to become more difficult to coordinate as your children's extra-curricular obligations and activities become more time consuming, but I do encourage you to press on. The topics you can delve into at this age are so important and being able to discuss racism, prejudice, war, as well as issues of personal character within a supportive family setting is a wonderful way to encourage openness and communication. Take the time to listen to your children's developing opinions and do not feel like you always need to provide an answer to difficult moral questions. Children can spot stock answers from a mile away and will benefit greatly from being able to work through the questions with your gentle guidance.  Well-written stories will have a powerful influence on the moral development of your child and by choosing books that tackle these problems in all of their complexities, you are giving your child a secure place from to contemplate and address these questions.

 Elizabeth George Speare came to writing relatively late in life but quickly carved a place as one of the best-loved writers of young adult historical fiction. The Witch of Blackbird Pond and The Bronze Bow both one Newbery Metal awards and Sign of the Beaver was a finalist. I must have read The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Calico Captive a dozen times. They are fantastic stories set in the early days of the American experiment. The Witch of Blackbird Pond is set in the colonial days and deals with the rampant fear and prejudice that fuelled the early colonial witch hunts. Calico Captive is set during the French and Indian war and tells the story of a colonial girl who is taken captive and sold in Canada. The Sign of the Beaver is set in 1780s Maine and tells of the friendship between a young colonist and a Native American. The Bronze Bow is set in the time of Christ and provides a wonderful historical setting for this volatile and world-changing time. As a child I remember wishing that Speare and been much more prolific as I quickly made my way through her fascinating, informative, and though-provoking stories.

This is a fantastic time to begin reading Jane Austen's classics. As your children are getting older, they will be able to relate to the many characters who essentially "grow up" in Austen's brilliantly crafted plots. Nearly every hero or heroine undergoes a change in which they put off "childish things" and begin to see the world in a much more compassionate and less self-centered light. Plus, this is just great writing with unparallelled character development, witty dialogue, and wonderful plot twists. And, do not be afraid to read these to boys. Austen's influence on the greatest writers cannot be overstated and she provides wonderful examples of both admirable and despicable character. Her best-loved novel is Pride and Prejudice, followed by Sense and Sensibility, but Persuasion has a special depth to it. They're all great, so read away! 

Along with Austen, this can be a good time to introduce the writings of Emily, Charlotte, and Anne Brontë. Considerably darker than Austen, the Brontës are great to read aloud on long winter evenings.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic detective novels starring the eccentric Sherlock Holmes and his down-to-earth partner Dr. Watson will provide your family hours of entertaining reading. They also provide a view into the British colonial mindset and therefor are provide fodder for interesting conversations. 
Alexander Dumas' classic The Three Musketeers is full of wonderful adventures and makes a great family read. Also check out The Count of Monte Cristo.

For truly fantastic adventures every family must consult Jules Verne. His science-fiction was so forward thinking that it can almost seem prosaic but when you consider the time period in which he wrote, he is nothing short of revolutionary. Around the World in Eighty Days was a family favorite. 

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a ruckus tale of French revolutionaries and terrified aristocrats trying to escape Paris. After reading, you can have a fabulously fun movie night with the adaptation starring Anthony Andrews. 

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a dark tale of the conflict between creature and creator. Sure to provide fascinating discussions on the topics of free-will, creator responsibility, and much more! 

No family read-aloud is complete without the indomitable Tom Sawyer and his buddy Huckleberry Finn. Everyone in my family loved reading through these books - getting caught up in the family feuds, the runaway adventures, and understanding an America that existed long ago and still shapes our present experience. 

The unparalleled classic To Kill A Mockingbird is an absolute must. Your family will be drawn into the simple world of Scout and the complex issue of race relations in the deep South. Atticus Fitch is the archetypal American hero and every child should read this heroic and heartbreaking tale. 

And there you have a start to some amazing evenings of storytelling and conversation. I will write more blog entries on recommended read-alouds in the future, but for now, I hope you find these suggestions helpful. As always, I would love to hear your favorites! 


  1. The Anthony Andrews "Scarlet Pimpernel" has been our family's favorite movie as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, even a used DVD is going for $50 on Amazon!! I recently lent my copy to my sister with instructions to guard it well.

    Thanks for the wonderful suggestions! We love to read aloud in our home.

  2. Who publishes the copies of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn you have photos of here ... they look beautiful!