Musing about parenthood, the work of justice and diverse reads.

Elevating Storytime: 5 Tips to Discover Engaging Read-Alouds and Leave Crappy Books Behind

Please tell me I’m not the only parent that rolls their eyes over their child’s book selection.

Now, we can spend all day dialoguing about the importance of allowing children to pick out their own books from the library. It promotes independence, a love for reading, and a sense of personal connection with the stories they choose to read. 


There are certain books and types of books that I don’t want them to read. Plain and simple. 

The constant noise that our culture is inundated with makes our voices as parents harder to hear. There are YouTubers that convince them they can be ninja warriors; kids at school showing them all the latest dance moves; the onslaught of commercials, though they hardly know the pain of three commercials between segments thanks to streaming services; and all the noise in between. 

I can’t speak for your kids, but my kids are terrible listeners. Edit: My kids are learning listening skills. I feel like I’m shouting at them to get their attention when their eyes are glued to a screen. 

That’s why we take every opportunity to share with them what we value, and who is important to us, and we want the books they read to mirror those values. In our family, we use books to help communicate our values and open the doors to conversations about topics that need to be nuanced based on their age or circumstance. 

That’s why I am adamant that there are certain books that I don’t want them to read.

Yes, we want to encourage them to stretch their minds and enjoy reading. We want to challenge their thinking and introduce them to the experiences of people who are different from them, but I also want them to know without hesitation our family values, so they can develop their own values as they grow. 

There is a definite difference between being concerned about content and an appropriate age for children and banning content out of fear, as is reflected in much of the book banning happening around America. 

Here’s an example.

One of our kids is a very skilled reader with an extensive vocabulary, a newfound zest for reading, and the vocabulary of a child two years older than he is. And so, finding books that are both challenging and engaging for him to read can be tricky. He flies through the early readers and now finds himself interested in what they call middle age readers. Which, interestingly enough, has nothing to do with being in middle school. Shout out to my favorite bookseller, Ashley, for schooling me on this! But, to keep this distinction clear, I’m calling middle age readers, kids who are ages 8-11, growing readers from here on out. 

Because they are growing readers! Makes sense right? 

A mother’s plea. 

Do I want our 7yo reading a book written for a 13yo? No. 

Why? Because at 12 years old, many of the themes of literature are about coming-of-age stories, romantic relationships, and the pressures of teenage life. 

Should he read these books when he’s closer to this age? Yes. But for right now, I want him to explore books that relate to his current stage in life and read books about dragons for just a little bit longer. (Sappy Mom alert- I just want them to stay little forever!) Besides, not all middle age reader books include middle school themes. 

So what else is a no-no in our house? 

Any book that features a character talking negatively or down about their sibling is a NO.

Any book that features a character relieving themselves in a public place is a NO. (Yes, this is a real book!)

Any book that has a character who lies and gets away with it is a NO.

Any book that is filled with name-calling, with the exception of one that teaches a lesson, well, that’s a NO too. 

Sadly, these books line the shelves at big box stores, libraries (see my post here about one we found at our local branch), and even home libraries.

But, I want to say an enthusiastic YES to books because I believe that books have the power to open doors, set people free to dream, act both as mirrors and doors, and be a source of connection between people like a kitchen table. 

I suspect that you also want to say YES to your children and see them find joy in reading. And, you, like me, want to be able to say yes with confidence, knowing that what they read (and therefore deem “truth” in the early developmental years) is in fact kind, loving, and respectful. 

I’ve waded through lots of trash—books that never made it home from the bookstore or books I thumbed through after a library visit and went straight into the “Return Your Library Books” tote. 

Yes, I’ve done this. No shame.

Rather than give you a list of books that we love, I love a good book list. I want to let you know that you’re not alone in this struggle with finding age-appropriate books for your kids to read.

Goodness, my best friend, who purchases our kids’ books regularly, shared that it’s hard on her end to find books that fit into that good category. 

Instead, because I can’t read a billion growing readers’ titles, I want to offer you books to read aloud together (or listen to!) so that you can model for them what it looks like to pick up a really good book. 

I mean, think about it, they may not know how to pick a good book out especially if they’re joking around with a friend in the library rather than listening to their librarian who is in fact sharing on this topic. 

Will they still pick out the crappy books? Probably. They’re trendy titles featuring video games, popular TV shows, or dogs that are half humans. But, our goal is to model for them.

And that’s why as the adults/parents/caregivers/book gifting Aunties we need to read aloud or listen together until they know what makes a good book a good book.

What makes a good read-aloud? 

5 Tips for Finding your next favorite read-aloud:

Look for relatable characters

We love characters that make us laugh, smile, or turn our tilted heads to one another with the face that says “Sounds like someone we know.” Don’t assume that relatable characters have to be the same age, race, or sexual identity as the child you’re reading with. Right now, JD and his barbershop adventures are a favorite in our house, or The Tyrell Show who hosts an imaginary podcast in his head and that makes us laugh. 

Look for book and chapter length

If you’re new to reading a chapter book aloud, consider looking for a book that’s less than 200 pages in length. Depending on the length of time you have to read then chapter length can shift whether or not a book is a good fit for you. 

We had a favorite book series that our eldest really enjoyed, and we eagerly awaited book three to come out. Once we had it in our hands, we noticed that the book, like its aging characters, had longer and denser chapters than the previous two.  Sadly, we found it hard to keep up with during sleepy nighttime routines and we put the series down and haven’t picked it up again. Chapter length is key!

Find fun dialogue

It doesn’t have to have witty Gilmore Girls-style dialogue, but engaging dialogue does help to keep the imagination flowing and the storyline moving. This is especially helpful when reading before bedtime or when reading aloud times are less consistent. 

Easy to read and a stretch for their reading level

Rather than reading a book they are capable of reading on their own, consider a book that falls in a reading level ahead to help stretch their vocabulary and reading comprehension. 

This is a semi-flexible rule in our house, if you can read it then it’s not a read-aloud for Mom and Dad. The exception to this is if they’re sick, sleepy or the book is due the next day and we need to read 30 pages to finish it! 

Seek out the rave reviews

My closest friends and I fill our Marco Polo conversation with book recommendations every couple of months. While some of the kids are older than mine, I keep those titles on deck to scoop up at the thrift store or to preview in my own personal reading time.

A note for when life seasons change:

My kids are no longer jumping on the couch with me twice a day to riffle through the stack of library books as they used to with bowls of sliced apples in hand. (I miss those days!) Instead, they’re off to school and our reading time is limited to the handful of minutes between begging them to brush their teeth and requests to pick up their clothes off the floor. 

Don’t be discouraged if this season of life doesn’t afford you the time or capacity to sit down to read together. 

We don’t have to limit our read-aloud times to what worked for us in one season of life. (Ahem, a reminder for me too!) 

Steal this idea: Consider a special weekend reading tradition that mirrors family movie night with popcorn, a cozy blanket, and an extended time to read together by the fire, patio, or snuggled up in bed.  Or, download the audiobook to help motivate everyone to get out the door in the morning for school or to help unwind after school. You can make a summer tradition or a school break tradition if you’re a grandparent, Aunt, or Uncle and only see the kiddos in your life a few times a year for an extended time. 

As fall and winter approaches, it’s time to snuggle up with a book and I hope these tips help you find your next great read-aloud.

In this with you & off to the library,


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Hi, I’m Elicia.

A former educator in search of ways to pursue justice intentionally in a noisy world through products that spark conversation, connection & a stack of books on my nightstand.

Find all our book favorites here.

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