15 More Classic Read-Alouds

by Kay Weisman

Elementary school

Listed below are 15 more great read-alouds to keep families and young listeners occupied during the hot summer months and beyond.


Carlson, Natalie Savage.
The Family under the Bridge. Illus. by Garth Williams. 1958. 112p. HarperTrophy, paper, $5.99 (0-06-440250-9).

K–Gr. 4. When the Calcet children and their mother come upon hard times, they must live under a Paris bridge already occupied by Armand, a curmudgeonly hobo, and with his help, the Calcets find a new home. Told with warmth and humor, this is a timeless story.

Cleary, Beverly.
Ramona the Pest. Illus. by Tracy Dockray. 1968; reissued 2006. 192p. HarperCollins, $15.99 (0-688-21721-4); HarperTrophy, paper, $5.99 (0-380-70954-6). Also available in an audio edition.

K–Gr. 4. First introduced in
Beezus and Ramona (HarperCollins, 1955; reissued 2006), Ramona is perhaps Cleary’s most popular character. Here she begins kindergarten, insists on having just the right kind of boots, and meets Susan (of the boingy curls). Her adventures continue in several other books, including
Ramona the Brave (HarperCollins, 1975; reissued 2006),
Ramona Forever (HarperCollins, 1984; reissued 2006), and
Ramona’s World (HarperCollins, 1999; reissued 2006).

Dahl, Roald.
James and the Giant Peach. Illus. by Quentin Blake. 1961. 160p. Knopf, $15.95 (0-375-81424-8); Puffin, paper, $6.99 (0-14-130467-7). Also available in an audio edition.

K–Gr. 4. A magic potion causes a peach to grow to gigantic proportions, and James sneaks inside, finding a variety of insects and much adventure. Dahl’s first novel for children includes nasty adults, ingenious and imaginative characters, and much humor.

Eager, Edward.
Half Magic. Illus. by N. M. Bodecker. 1954. 208p. Harcourt, $17 (0-15-202069-1); Odyssey, paper, $6 (0-15-202068-3). Also available in an audio edition.

Gr. 2–5. Jane finds a magic charm that grants half a wish, and she and her siblings take turns making double wishes, leading to unpredictable results. Set in the 1920s, this story is a perfect choice for the entire family.

Howe, Deborah, and James Howe.
Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery. Illus. by Alan Daniel. 1979; reissued 2004. 112p. Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, $16.95 (0-689-86775-1); Aladdin, paper, $4.99 (0-689-80659-0). Also available in an audio edition.

Gr. 2–6. The Monroes rescue an abandoned bunny found at the movie theater during a showing of Dracula, and Harold, the family dog, and Chester, the family cat, begin to notice odd occurrences. Bunnicula is nocturnal, has fangs, and sucks the juices (and color) out of vegetables! This hilarious mystery operates on multiple levels and is followed by several other titles. The reissued edition features a preface by James Howe.

Juster, Norton.
The Phantom Tollbooth. Illus. by Jules Feiffer. 1961. 256p. Knopf, $19.95 (0-394-81500-9); Yearling, paper, $6.50 (0-394-82037-1).

Gr. 3–6. As bored young Milo travels toward Dictionopolis, he meets the Whether Man, passes through the Doldrums, and finds a watchdog named Tock. This satire is full of brilliant wordplay that will appeal to a wide range of audiences.

MacDonald, Betty.
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Illus. by Hilary Knight. 1947. 128p. HarperCollins, $15.99 (0-397-31712-3); HarperTrophy, paper, $4.99 (0-06-440148-0).

K–Gr. 3. This magical baby-sitter with the mysterious past has the perfect cure for every childhood ill, including Slow-Eater-Tiny-Bite-Takers, Never-Want-to-Go-to-Bedders, and Answer-Backers. Followed by
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic (HarperCollins, 1949),
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm (HarperCollins, 1954), and
Hello Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (HarperCollins, 1957).

Milne, A. A.
The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh. Illus. by Ernest H. Shepard. 1926. 368p. Dutton, $35 (0-525-45723-2).

K–Gr. 5. Christopher Robin and his various stuffed-animal friends use a balloon to get honey, meet a Heffalump, and celebrate Eeyore’s birthday. Don’t be misled by watered-down, cartoon versions of these stories; Milne’s original work is full of clever wordplay and sly humor that appeals on several levels.

Nordstrom, Ursula.
The Secret Language. Illus. by Mary Chalmers. 1960. 192p. HarperCollins, o.p.

Gr. 2–5. Eight-year-old Victoria is terribly homesick at boarding school until she makes friends with the rebellious Martha, and the two invent a secret language. The difficulties of leaving home for the first time ring true even for today’s generation. Although this title is out of print, it should be available in many libraries.

Norton, Mary.
The Borrowers. Illus. by Beth Krush and Joe Krush. 1953; reissued 2003. 192p. Harcourt, $19.95 (0-15-204928-2); Odyssey, paper, $5.95 (0-15-204737-9). Also available in an audio edition.

Gr. 3–6. The diminutive Clock family—Pod, Homily, and their daughter, Arrietty—live under the kitchen floor of a quiet, half-empty house and “borrow” small items from the “human beans” who live there. Their discovery by a small boy who lives in the house leads to great excitement and adventure. Four sequels follow this beloved classic. The reissued edition contains illustrations by Diana Stanley and a foreword by Leonard S. Marcus.

O’Brien, Robert C.
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Illus. by Zena Bernstein. 1971. 240p. Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, $18 (0-689-20651-8); Aladdin, paper, $5.99 (0-689-71068-2).

Gr. 4–8. In an effort to move her family safely away from the farmer’s spring plow, a widowed field mouse, Mrs. Frisby, enlists the help of rats who are former captives of the National Institute of Mental Health and possess extraordinary powers. This engrossing fantasy is full of adventure, friendship, and heroism.

Paterson, Katherine.
The Great Gilly Hopkins. 1978. 160p. HarperCollins, $16.99 (0-690-03837-2); HarperTrophy, paper, $5.99 (0-06-440201-0). Also available in Spanish.

Gr. 4–8. Eleven-year-old foster-child Gilly behaves in her usual obstreperous manner when she meets her new foster-mother, Mrs. Trotter, but the love and security Gilly finds with Mrs. Trotter turn out to be much better for her than the neglect shown by her birth mother. Paterson handles a difficult topic with warmth and humor, making this a captivating story.

Sandburg, Carl.
Rootabaga Stories. Illus. by Maud Petersham and Miska Petersham. 1922. 192p. Harcourt, $17 (0-15-204709-3); Odyssey, paper, $5.95 (0-15-204714-X). Also available in an audio edition.

Gr. 2–6. This collection of folksy short stories includes zany characters, improbable events, and luscious language. Don’t miss “The Story of Blixie Bimber and the Power of the Gold Buckskin Whincher.” The sequel,
More Rootabaga Stories (Harcourt, 1923), includes the equally popular “The Huckabuck Family and How They Raised Popcorn in Nebraska and Quit and Came Back.”

Steig, William.
Abel’s Island. 1976. 128p. Farrar, $16 (0-374-30010-0); Sunburst, paper, $5.95 (0-374-40016-4). Also available in an audio edition.

Gr. 3–6. While chasing after his wife’s scarf, a mouse named Abel is swept away in a driving rainstorm and marooned on a river island for a year. All alone, this society mouse develops survival skills and gains a greater appreciation for the joys of life. Elegant prose and Steig’s stylish drawings highlight this quiet gem.

Thurber, James.
Many Moons. Illus. by Louis Slobodkin. 1943. 48p. Harcourt, $17 (0-15-251873-8); Voyager, paper, $7 (0-15-656980-9).

Preschool–Gr. 3. When the sickly Princess Lenore declares that she can only get well if she receives the moon, the king’s advisors exclaim that it can’t be done. Only the court jester has the wisdom to ask Lenore what she means. This gentle fairy tale reminds us that life is not always as complicated as we make it.

Kay Weisman is a library media specialist at Willowbrook School in Glenview, Illinois.