Reading aloud with your kids is one of life's most precious moments. It's a special time to connect with your children or grandchildren, nieces, nephews and neighbours. There's nothing like sitting down together to share storytime.
If it's been a while since you last had the chance to read with your kids, or if you're struggling to find something your kid will love, then check out the Facebook group Your Kid's Next Read. Parents across Australia and the world share tips and their favourite books, and ask for suggestions.
Storytime with older kids
If your kids are a bit older, yes, you can still read out loud together. There's no reason to stop just because your kids can read on their own, although the way you do it might change.
Put on dramatic voices and accents, take it in turns to read chapters, dress-up as the characters while you read, look up new words together, and have fun!
“I’ve always read to my boys, from when they were babies right up until they were 12 or so,” says children's author Allison Tait. “My youngest son, 13, and we still read Harry Potter together sometimes. He’s up to book five, and I just swing in for a chapter here and there.”
Reading together gives your kids an opportunity to go a bit beyond their usual level, because you're right there with them to answer any questions. If there are some tricky topics you want to raise with your kids, storytime can be a safe way to approach them.
It's also great for improving comprehension. Kids understand verbal language at a higher level than written language. So if you're reading mainly picture books with your kinders or first graders, don't be afraid to start on some chapter books.
Starting out with storytime
If it's been a while between storytimes, fear not! It's easy to get back in the swing. First, decide what type of storytime you want to create. Are you reading just for fun? Or do you want to use this time as a learning experience?
If you just want to have an enjoyable time, award-winning author Pamela Freeman recommends that you pick something that you loved as a child.
“Anne of Green Gables, for example, or Playing Beatie Bow,” she says. “The style in that may be a little hard for contemporary children, so reading it with a parent is a great way to introduce children to it. And then you can watch the film/TV show together!”
When your kids see how much love and enthusiasm you have for your old faves, they will be carried along with you.
Keeping storytime fun
Above all, storytime should be pleasant. That means creating a nice space where you all feel comfy. With older kids, you probably won't be reading to them in bed. Your reading nook could be sitting together on the sofa or out in the back garden. Or it could be your teen sitting on the kitchen bench while you make dinner.
The best read-aloud books are ones that are packed full of exciting adventures. You can never go wrong with Andy Griffiths, Morris Gleitzman and Paul Jennings for sheer fun and foolishness at any age.
For Allison and her boys, it was all about adventure.
“Books we all loved reading together when they were around ten to twelve include The Ranger’s Apprentice and Brotherband series by John Flanagan, and Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London,” Allison says. “We also all loved The Horrible Histories books.”
At any age, kids just love a good story. Fortunately, there are plenty of great books out there. When we asked children's author Zanni Louise for her recommendations, she hardly knew where to start.
“Gosh there are so many to choose from!” she said. “The Wild Robot is a touching story about a robot in the wilderness, family and love. How To Make A Movie In 12 Days is a fantastic tale of a bunch of kids making a movie. And Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire is a hilarious adventure led by a strong female character.”
Combining reading with learning
If you're secretly hoping that you can cover some of the school curriculum while reading with your kids, then look no further than the award-winning Nature Storybook series by Walker Books. The books combine beautiful storytelling with factual information as well as gorgeous illustrations that explore our unique Australian animals and landscapes. They're perfect to read with both younger and older kids.
The series includes Platypus, Dingo and Desert Lake by popular authors and illustrators like Sue Whiting, Tanya Harricks, Pamela Freeman and Liz Anelli. The latest in the series is Searching For Cicadas by Lesley Gibbes and illustrated by Judy Watson, which made the CBCA shortlist.
There are some really great books that tell stories from important moments in history. Catch a Falling Star by Meg McKinlay has the 1979 Skylab crash as its backdrop. Amazing Australian Women: Twelve Women Who Shaped History by Pamela Freeman and Sophie Beer is a delightful way to introduce some lesser known tales from Australia's past. And The Little Refugee by Anh and Suzanne Do tells the story of a Vietnamese refugee child arriving in Australia.
Zanni Louise‘s picture book series Human Kind is all about opening up a discussion in the home about values. Beautifully illustrated by Missy Turner, the books share anecdotes inspired by real life kids on Honesty and Persistence. They also include resources for parents and teachers, written by child psychologist Dr Ameika Johnson.
For ages 12 and up
Just because your kids are in high school now, doesn't mean you can't read together. Those in year seven and eight still like a good story. It might be a little harder to convince them to sit down with you for a few minutes, but choose the right book and they will keep coming back for more.
One great book is Lily and the Rockets. It combines history and soccer to tell the story of a young woman determined to pursue her sporting dreams in World War I England. Other tried and tested favourites are The Princess Diaries and the Lemony Snicket series.
A great part of reading with older kids is that you don't have to do all the work. The point is to be interested and engaged together, even if you're not actively sitting down on the sofa and turning pages side by side.
“My oldest is now 16 and prefers to read interesting bits to me,” Allison says. “I knew I’d done something right when, at about 14, he read me a Philip Larkin poem off his phone on the way to the beach.”
Connecting with authors
There's also never been a better time for kids to be able to connect with their favourite book creators. Authors are now doing Facebook live events, posting regularly on Instagram, and keeping up-to-date blogs. When you do find a favourite writer, you can send them questions, watch them on YouTube, or join them for an online event.
Just because you're not technically reading together, doesn't mean you can't still enjoy a good book together.
What about you? What have been your favourite books to read with the kids in your life and why?
Or perhaps you dream of creating your OWN books for children. Our Writing Books for Children and Young Adults course will ignite your imagination and equip you with the skills to write your manuscript with confidence.