Have you ever noticed how book lists of classic read alouds contain the same titles?
Does one of the following describe your situation?
A) You are an experienced read aloud-er and you've read all the standards (Charlotte's Web, The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe) and you want something new, but with a classic literature sensibility.
B) You simply don't want to read Little House on the Prairie (this is me)
C) Your child is a voracious reader, has read all the famous books (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and you want a book whose ending will surprise both of you.
If so, then this classic read aloud book list is for you. It is filled with classic (25 years or older) books that are particularly wonderful to read aloud. There is ample opportunity for silly voices and laughter, gasps of astonishment and wonder, and filling your child's head with marvelous new stories they will remember forever.
(Note: book covers and titles are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)
I've read a lot of children's books and picked out the best for you! Happy reading!
Books are listed in chronological order.
The Light Princess by George MacDonald. (1864) At times this book feels like a marvelous modern parody and could have been written yesterday. A Princess, cursed at birth to have no gravity, spends her days floating until she discovers that her gravity returns only when she is in the water. A Prince comes along and devotes himself to her, but this is no princess-in-distress tale! If you enjoy this classic book, try The Princess and the Goblin or The Golden Key next. Maurice Sendak's illustrations for the mid-20th century release of this classic book couldn't be more perfect.
The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm by Norman Hunter (1933) This classic book has all the important characteristics of a good read aloud. I read this out loud to my son and he loved it! He even made me read it twice, and since then he has reread it on his own a couple of time. An English absentminded professor provides lots of entertainment and laughs with his misguided inventions like pancake-making machines and burglar-catchers. A 1930s classic that will make modern readers giggle!
The Doll’s House. (1947) Not to be confused with a certain Norwegian play, Rumer Godden’s story, written from the dolls’ point of view, was one of my childhood favorites. A much loved doll family finally gets to move out of their shoebox house into an elegant Victorian manor. Only the manor comes with the beautiful but haughty doll, Marchpane. Tasha Tudor’s illustrations are the perfect accompaniment. (Ignore the unfortunate contemporary cover above!)
The Parent Trap (aka Lottie and Lisa)by Erich Kästner. (1949) I debated which of German author Kästner's books to include on this list of children's classics. His most famous title is Emil and the Detectives, but Dot & Anton, and The Flying Classroom are also worth reading. I ultimately chose this book because so many parents will have grown up watching the Disney movie. You already know the conceit: two girls away at summer camp discover they are long-lost twins and attempt to reunite their parents.
Beyond the Pawpaw Trees (1954) and The Silver Nutmeg (1956) by Palmer Brown. Anna Lavinia's father left home to chase a double rainbow and left behind a mysterious silver key. Anna Lavina sets off "beyond the paw paw trees" that populate the walled garden of her home in search of her dad and the meaning behind the key. Her journey starts with a marvelous train ride which leads to a place full of wondrous inhabitants. In the sequel, The Silver Nutmeg, Anna Lavinia travels to an upside-down mirror land where instead of gravity, there is "the tingle" (!). While the magic lies in the environment rather than in the protagonists, Harry Potter fans will enjoy these magical classic read aloud books that are also reminiscent of Alice and Oz.
Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf by Catherine Storr. (1955) We love this book, we've read it aloud multiple times! As you might guess from the title, Polly readily outwits a not-so-shrewd wolf who would like nothing better than to eat her for dinner. Storr's storytelling ability is just as clever and witty as her heroine. A great read aloud for younger listeners.
The Robber Hotzenplotz by Otried Preussler (1962). I could hardly believe it when I discovered I hadn't put this book on a list before now! My son laughed out loud while I read this classic German children's book out loud! The Robber Hotzenplotz steals a musical coffee mill from Kasper's grandmother but the police are utterly inept and it is up to Kasperl and Seppel to rescue the goods! The two friends set out on a mission to retrieve the coffee mill but Hotzenplotz engages the help of a magician who loves fried potatoes. Everything runs amok! We have enjoyed several of Preussler's books, including the marvelous, The Little Witch and The Little Water Sprite which are on our 2nd grade read aloud list and our spring read aloud list.
Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes. (1951) My son loved this classic book about a boy who saves up for a puppy (one whole dollar!). Once Ginger Pye is part of the family, he mysteriously disappears and the kids are convinced he’s been stolen. The whole neighborhood gets in on the action to look for him. A classic, heartwarming tale.
Child of the Owl. (1977) Laurence Yep has written 10 books in the Golden Mountain Chronicles. The books follow the Young family over time (starting in the 19th C.) from their early immigration to California (The Land of the Golden Mountain) from China. In Child of the Owl, set in 1965, 12 year old Casey, an intelligent, funny and street-smart girl must leave her gambler father to go live with her grandmother, Paw-Paw, in Chinatown. Casey encounters prejudice and feels lost in this new world but Paw-Paw helps helps her strengthen her sense of self by sharing her Chinese heritage with her. Yep has a wonderful gift for writing compelling stories which teach us about the Chinese culture without coming across as preachy and didactic.
The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales by Virginia Hamilton. (1985) I like finding short story collections to include on these lists. Celebrated children’s author Virginia Hamilton put together this wonderful collection of Black American Folktales. There are several categories of tales ranging from animal trickster tales, tales of the supernatural and slave tales of freedom. At the end of each short story, Hamilton includes her notes on the origin of the tale and its dialect.
More classic read aloud books to fill your bookshelves:
- 20th century children's classics: 10 books for each decade
- Classic books for tweens
- 19th century classics you may have overlooked
Or try this book list:
A caveat: I wasn't able to include as many books with diverse characters as I would have liked. You can find "classic" books with diverse protagonists but they are generally problematic because they are written from a white person's point of view. (For example, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Julie of the Wolves, etc. I have put some of these books on past lists, but I am learning to do better!) I only wanted to list books by #OwnVoices authors. If you are not familiar with #OwnVoices, it is a movement that seeks out books written by authors in the diverse population that they represent in their books. You can read more about #OwnVoices and why it is important here. Sadly, there are so few "classic" books written by diverse voices, that since you probably already know of them (Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, for example) they didn't make it onto this book list but you can still read them if you haven't done so already!