Today, I want to encourage you to branch out into short stories and poetry that expose children to a variety of people, places, time periods, ideas and ways of writing.
First, I believe in stories that have bad guys. Books offer a wonderful opportunity to help children deal with pain, hurt, loss, injustice and meanness. Providing only a sunshiny view will cause them to distrust us as they get older and realize that "I love you, you love me" is not the motto of most of the world. Of course, you need to temper this for your own child, but please don't think you are doing them a service by shielding them from some of the tougher parts of life. Books offer a great way to introduce these difficult concepts and let kids think about them in a non threatening context.
Here are a few genres of reading aloud you might consider:
Folk and Fairy Tales
Nature Lore and Tales
History/ Science Tales
All kids can benefit from knowing Bible stories because they are a cultural reference in art, painting and music for many hundreds of years. Being familiar with these stories can inspire faith in those who believe them and help all students better understand the inspiration behind many artists of the past.
Folk and Fairy Tales
Although written long ago they offer some great lessons and introduce children to themes that are used throughout literature. Although we may not "get" them, a great argument can be made that they have lasted for so long because children DO get them and they fill a need for children.
Not only that, many stories are referenced, played upon or re-used in literature for grown ups. PLEASE read the originals. After reading the original "Beauty and the Beast" with my then 5 year old, his primary question was, "What is virtue?" That, my friends, is the benefit of reading the original tale. Allow them to read other versions on their own if you like, but I highly recommend the original read aloud. Just know that the Little Mermaid is not a happy ending - it was "Disneyfied". You can also read versions of fairy tales that came from many lands (like Lon Po Po or the Egyptian Cinderella).
Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang has some of the most popular tales. If you want a reading list there is a good list at Ambleside Online (scroll to the bottom of the page). They also have a great discussion about alternatives if you think the originals are a bit too disconcerting. You might also try the Red Fairy Book.
Grimms Fairy Tales and Hans Christian Andersen are probably the two other well known fairy tale writers (or collectors). I offer the web links so that you can easily see the stories. I personally prefer to purchase a nice volume and read from a real book, each family will have their own preference.
Perrault's Fairy Tales - These tales are a bit longer, but many classics are from this Frenchman.
Shakespeare's Story Book - This is a set of tales that might have inspired the bard to write many of his plays. It's a great read and a fun introduction to Shakespeare.
I am sure there are many other cultural tales (Juan Bobo) that could be included here.
These short tales offer great food for discussion. Did you know that the morals were added later? Kern suggests that you don't share the morals and let your child think about it for himself. Arnold Lobel's version is one of my favorites. In classical writing circles, Aesop's fables often form the basis of the writing curriculum for 3rd and 4th grade students.
Nature Lore or Tales
This type of tale is something that isn't written often anymore. We might think of Beatrix Potter - but even that isn't quite within this realm. Nature tales are meant to teach us about animal habits while also conveying lessons (sometimes a bit heavy handed) about the character of the animal involved. Thornton Burgess wrote close to 175 books that take this approach. His Burgess Animal book and Burgess Bird book cover a range of animals and are great for read aloud. Old Mother West Wind and The Adventures of . . . series provide texts that good readers of this age might be able to enjoy on their own.
Another good choice is Clara Dillingham Pierson. These stories are better for read aloud because of their length and more complicated vocabulary but kids enjoy the story.
If you have never considered or read this type of book you might want to take a listen to this podcast about the benefits of these types of books. For an EXTENSIVE list of these types of books and living books on a number of other subjects you should check out this website. You may wonder if it is wise to read these older science books - what if they are wrong? - at this age science should be about inspiring wonder and questions and not just facts and information. If facts are wrong, correct them. Science theories change and this is a teachable moment. Current books don't quite approach nature with the same attention to detail and sense of wonder as older books do.
This is almost a sub set of folk tales. Many school curricula include tall tales as a part of their first or second grade reading because they are fun and tell us something about the values of the people who wrote them. Steven Kellogg has some great picture book versions and Mary Pope Osborne provides stories with slightly more text.
Some people have strong opinions about when and how to introduce myths to young children, you need to make that choice for your family. I encourage you to seriously consider including them at some point in your child's early education because they reveal much about human nature and are referred to frequently in art, literature and music (much like Biblical stories). Knowing these references provides much more depth to their reading experiences as they get older. Another helpful part of reading them aloud is that you can edit as needed as you share a myth.
D'Aulaires Greek Myths and Norse Myths are classic works for the older end of this age group. The illustrations are fascinating and the text is not overwhelming but tells the tales well.
The Gods and Goddesses of Olympus provides a simple overview of the life and times of some of the most well know characters.
Greek Myths for Young Children is another option. I have not read this one but it is published by Usborne, who I trust, and is meant for this audience.
If you intend to enter your children into the world of Percy Jackson at some point, I highly recommend that you have them read the originals first. As your children become "tweens" there are tons of great options for these thrilling adventures for kids.
This isn't geography in the sense of learning landforms and capitals. Instead, these are tales that share about lands around the world. The most popular right now is Give Your Child The World which was released earlier this summer. It covers each continent and provides a short description of a variety of books that share about the history and culture of that area of the world. In fact, you can follow the reading club (a bit behind schedule) at Simple Homeschool.
If you would like a free resource you might checkout Barefoot Ragamuffins list (scroll down for her general reading list and geography reading list). If you want a combination of science and geography you might like the Holling C. Holling series - these books follow animals and a handmade canoe, among others, through places like the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River and others. Peeps at Many Lands is an older book that takes you on a narrative history through ancient lands.
History/ Science Tales
There are many older books that tell colorful tales of parts of history many of us probably don't even remember studying. In some of these books terms might be used that are no longer acceptable (red man, savages, etc.) You can either substitute or change the word (you are reading aloud) or use it as a teachable moment. These older books do a great job of capturing the action and adventure of history.
50 Famous Stories Retold
30 More Famous Stories Retold
50 Famous People
Eva March Tappan and M.B. Synge have written a number of history books, but they might be better for children 7 and older.
Biographies of scientists are also wonderful for this age. As mentioned in a recent Delectable Education podcast, often we just tell the end of the scientist story - when they finally figured it out - and leave out the difficult parts. Biographies will help overcome some of that difficulty by giving students a glimpse into the struggles of being a scientist. (That site also has a plethora of math books).
Although last on the list it is certainly not an afterthought. In fact, reading poetry to young children was a key feature of education for many years. Students were introduced to great poetry in part because it uses unique vocabulary, imagery, word order and turns of phrases that are fun for children and help enhance their writing long term.
There are of course modern children's poets - Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky and others. Ogden Nash Custard and Company Poems and Hilaire Beloc Cautionary Tales for Children also offer funny poems - but you might want to read them before you share them with your child! Of course A.A. Milne of Winnie the Pooh fame wrote Now We are Six and When We Were Very Young which are children's poetry, There are quite a few children's poetry anthologies available as well.
Traditionally, young children were first exposed to Mother Goose rhymes and just learned them as a matter of course. Turns out I learned a ton of them in my music classes growing up! This type of poetry is unique to the English language and provides easy and fun exposure to this medium. This version is the one that we have - but it can be a bit overwhelming - who knew there were so many of them? I am sure that Gyo Fujikawa's edition is beautiful (he has illustrated many older stories) and I always love Tomie DePaolo. Ambleside Online also provides a list of poets who are well suited for this younger age group.
Students of old often memorized portions of Longfellow poems like Hiawatha's Childhood or The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. If you want to know why it might be worthwhile to memorize poetry this is a great introduction. Here is a great, simple list of poems to memorize by age group. People used to talk about "furnishing a child's mind" by providing the child with beautiful music, pictures, poetry and the like. What is furnishing your child's mind?
WHEW!!! That is a ton of options (and I am holding back)! How in the world can you even hope to share all of this with your child? Well that's what we will look at next.
Quickly I will offer two sample reading plans (of course you pick and choose the bits and pieces you like).
Ambleside Year 1 (here it is week by week),
Pathways Year 0 (roughly 5 and 6 yos) - Unfortunately you do have to sign in to get this FREE list but it provides 2 years of plans. She lays them out week by week, includes older books and new "classics", provides thoughts for reading from 1 day a week to 4 days a week. It is worth it!!