Last week I had a follower ask me about how to choose books to read to her grandchildren over Zoom. These days, a lot of family members are finding it hard to be distant from their loved ones and sharing a book remotely over a video chat is a wonderful way to bridge the distance.
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But not every children's book is suited to reading over Facetime, Zoom, Skype, or whatever remote platform you are using. One option is to read a book from a service like the Epic! book app, so you can screen share the book instead of holding a physical book. (See my list of the best books on Epic!)
However, you may prefer a physical book you can lift up to the screen so children can still see your face. After a little bit of investigation, I've come up with some general guidelines for choosing books for remote read aloud sessions. Look for the following characteristics:
- Humor and/or suspense
- Illustrations that further the action of the story
- Stories that prompt conversations
- Cumulative, repetitive and/or call and response text (especially good for younger children)
- Large text
Books do not need to have every single one of these qualities, especially if you are choosing a chapter book, but if you're having trouble engaging children in remote read alouds, select a book with one or more of the characteristics on the above list.
After you've chosen your book remember these tips for reading aloud:
- Read with expression and use silly voices
- Use facial expressions, too!
- Periodically hold the book close to the screen to allow perusal of the illustrations
- Stop and ask questions about the action or pictures, or define unfamiliar vocabulary
- Don't read too quickly!
Best Books for Remote Read Alouds
Below are both picture books, graphic novels and some chapter books to get you started. I've included links to more choices throughout the list. Good luck and happy reading!
Flora and the Flamingo
by Molly Idle
This wordless story is of friends learning to move in harmony. Because it is wordless it allows both reader and listener to narrate the action. The illustrations are full of expression. Idle created illustrations with a lift-the-flap format so readers can ask "what do you think you will see when I lift this flap?" which will create an interactive read aloud experience.
It Could Always Be Worse
by Margot Zemach
Humor? Check! Great illustrations? Check! Something to discuss? Check! A poor man lives in an overcrowded house and the noise and activity is driving him crazy! He seeks out advice from the local rabbi who tells him to bring in the barn animals into his house, which turns the place into utter chaos. The illustrations are so much fun to sift through, with their funny little vignettes inside the house. When the farmer finally removes the excess animals and people from the house he declares everything to finally be peaceful...only... it is exactly as it was when he started out.
It Could Always Be Worse will start a conversation about gratitude. Read these picture books about gratitude to further the conversation.
The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred
by Samantha R. Vamos, illustrated by Rafael López
This lively, cumulative tale in the vein of The House that Jack Built that begins with a single cooking pot and ends with a feast. Spanish words are worked into the rhyme and the illustrations dance off the page. When reading aloud, engage children by encouraging them to recite the repetitive language with you.
KoKo and Bo
by Lisen Adbage
Here's a great choice for a call and response text. Koko, a child with some seriously windswept hair, loves to respond to Bo's reasonable requests with, “No, I don’t want to!" Bo, however, has the patience of a saint. Bo always replies "okay" and allows events to unfold with their natural consequence. This a charmingly quirky story about two people nurturing their own sense of freedom and learning to trust each other. Parents, as well as kids, will have much to think about.
Have You Seen My Dragon?
by Steve Light
Seek and find books are great for kids who love to peruse illustrations. Hold the book up to the screen and try to locate images with your children. What could be more glorious than the idea that a magical dragon on the loose? Intensely detailed drawings take readers on a journey all over the metropolis or the amusement park with a child looking for the creature. The search for the dragon requires counting to twenty. In the companion book, Have You Seen My Monster, the search for the monster is a discovery of 20 shapes.
Chapter Books & Graphic Novels
The key to a good remote read aloud chapter book is the illustrations. I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that most graphic novels are great for remote reading. Click here to find the perfect graphic novel list for your family. With the following books, allowing for one exception, I'm aiming and the 9 and under crowd.
Chapter Two is Missing
by Josh Lieb
This clever mystery is really a picture book and it is great for upper elementary aged children. A young boy narrates the story and asks readers to assist in his search for chapter two. Fun wordplay, missing words, topsy-turvy punctuation and hilarious illustrations make this a great read aloud and no child will resist giving his input as to the nature and perpetrator of the crime!
The Very, Very Far North
by Dan Bar-El
This is my new favorite read aloud, and I don't say that lightly! Duane the polar bear has a curiosity and sense of adventure that leads him first to a shipwreck where he meets C.C. the Owl. He then encounters even more new friends like Handsome the musk ox, Magic the artic fox, and Major Puffin. Together, they explore the wonders of the northern landscape. The cast of animals is as diverse in their personalities as they are in species and the thread of the story focuses on learning to appreciate one's friends. An absolute must-read book, and an excellent choice for kids of all ages.
Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat
by Johnny Marciano
Klawde is so wonderfully evil and over the top! Wyss-Kuzz, the evil alien warlord has travelled to Earth, the worst place in the universe! He ends up in the backyard of Raj Bannerjee, a sixth grader and reluctant transplant from Brooklyn to nature-filled Oregon. Hijinks and melodrama ensue. The narration alternates between Raj and Klawde (as Wyss-Kuzz is now called) and you will want to use your silliest voices when reading aloud.
by Julie Kim
This is such a wonderful and unique graphic novel! Plus, the oversized book is great to show on a screen. Two siblings arrive at halmoni’s house (grandmother's house) but their grandmother is missing; instead, they see paw prints! They go looking for her and what follows is a splendid adventure inspired by Korean folklore. The story is separated into several sections based on their encounters with a rabbit, goblins and the tiger. Human dialogue is in English, non-human is in Korean but non-Korean speakers will have no problems following the story, and a translation is provided. Don't miss this one!
Wedgie and Gizmo
by Suzanne Selfors
The narrative voice alternates between Gizmo, the self-proclaimed evil genius guinea pig, and Wedgie the rather dim-witted corgi who become part of the same household when their families merge. Selfors absolutely nails the personalities of the two creatures and your children will be rolling on the floor in tears of laughter. You'll never be able to say the phrase, "furry potato," with a straight face again. This is another great choice for your most dramatic and over-the-top voices.
Pie in the Sky
by Remi Lai
Here's a great choice for your older elementary and middle school kids. The format is a mix of traditional narrative and comic-style illustrations. Lai's novel about a boy who emigrates to Australia with his mom and younger brother will touch your heart and tickle your funny bone. Woven into the narrative are comics revealing 11-year-old Jingwen's emotional experiences as he grapples with learning a new language and navigating an unfamiliar culture. Jingwen is suffering from grief over losing his father and copes by baking cakes with his little brother. A wonderful book.