How to Choose the Perfect Read-Aloud by asking just One Question

how to choose read-alouds homeschool

Choosing the perfect read-aloud can feel like an awful guessing game. You do your research, get all the best reading treasuries, and listen to “the experts” who give you extensive lists of all the books you should read to your kids.

Some are great, but some of them are dreadful flops. They bore you, for heaven’s sake! No wonder your 7 year-old is yawning and distracted. You can forget having that meaningful conversation and connection you dreamed about.

Still, you persevere with your list, determined to finish every single one just because you should. Can I tell you something? My year started with that same fierce determination, but multiple “just ok” books later, I realized something had to change. I wanted to inspire my child to love reading and build meaningful connections that lasted.

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We started our homeschool year with Sonlight, Core B. I loved the idea of a literature-based curriculum. I looked forward to reading the stack of shiny books, carefully selected by veteran homeschoolers.

Charlotte’s Web was a winner – how can you go wrong with Fern and Wilber? But the rest? Each one we loved a little less than the last.

I was disappointed. Weren’t these supposed to be the best books? Engaging, thought-provoking, discussion starting? While I could see why each one made the list, I just wasn’t excited about them and definitely wasn’t jumping up and down to read them with my next child.

Five books in, I finally found the courage to set aside all the books we “should” be reading. Now, I use just one question to choose our read-alouds.

Do I love it?

Basically, it boils down to “Am I excited about it?” I started choosing books I was excited to read with my daughter, ones that I loved growing up or children’s books I reread even now. There are books on my “love it” list that I’ve wanted to read forever, but have never made the time to read, like the Lord of the Rings series.

After I started using that question, read-aloud time totally changed.

I started to look forward to our special time together. I didn’t want to miss it, even when I had a long day and was tired. (We do the majority of our chapter book read-alouds at night because of one rambunctious toddler).

I couldn’t wait to share my love of Harry Potter (I’ve read the series at least three times, and can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of this illustrated beauty). I read The Phantom Tollbooth with such enthusiasm, she loved it even though some of it was over her head. Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series was absolutely delightful. I can’t wait to listen to the Anne of Green Gables audiobook read by Rachel McAdams with her, though I’m trying to hold back on this one until she can fully appreciate it – I would hate to ruin Anne with bad timing!

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how to choose good read-alouds homeschool

Why choose books you love?

1) Passion

When you’re not excited about a book, it shows. You make excuses to skip it. You drag your feet and read the minimum number of chapters possible.

If you don’t love it and you view it as a chore, how can you expect your child not to have the same perspective? 

On the other hand, when you are excited about a book, your enthusiasm is contagious. I talked up Harry Potter for a few weeks as we were finishing Ramona. By the time we started, my daughter was practically jumping up and down with anticipation and excitement.

The way I see it, you could read twenty books because you have to, or five books because you want to.

Which one do you think cultivates a love of reading? And a love of reading is the most important gift you can give your kids.

2) Connection

Have you ever been around two people discussing a book or a movie you haven’t seen? They share a connection that you’re missing, and it’s felt.

Now, what is it like to be one of those two people who gets every insider joke and random reference? It’s awesome. There is such joy in the shared experience that is only yours.

Jim Trelease in The Read-Aloud Handbook emphasizes the value of connecting with our kids through shared stories, and Sarah Mackenzie built a whole podcast and business around the concept. Reading aloud creates connection and strengthens relationships. Starting when our kids are young will hopefully establish a connection and tradition that will carry us through the potentially turbulent teen years into amazing friendships with our adult children.

3) Time

We never know how much time we will have with our kids. There are no guarantees. Why spend it reading books just because we have to? If you were to die tomorrow, what books do you wish you would have shared with your kids?

Perhaps some of your favorites are classics. Awesome! Some of mine certainly are. Others are obscure books that one of my teachers happened to pick for a book list one year, and I happened to love.

Want to know a secret? There are some “classics” I’ve never read. All the 1984 references currently flooding the news are totally going over my head, and I’m ok with that.

Will I read it one day? Maybe. But I will read it because I’m curious and want to know what all the fuss is about, not because I have to.

The list of books you’re excited about will look different from mine. And that’s as it should be. Your kids are part of your unique family, and mine are part of ours.

One homeschool family I heard about is intentionally passing on a love of astronomy. They make it a focus of their homeschool studies, and they even named their kids after stars! Homeschooling is an opportunity for even more time and space to pass on your unique passions to your kids.

What children’s books do you love? Which ones are you excited to read just from looking at the cover?

Read those. Your child cannot help but love them, too.

What do you think? Are you enjoying your read-alouds?