Great Read-Aloud Recommendations for Kids [UPDATED 9/18]

My current day job involves reading aloud to kids. Every few months, I like to update this post to reflect where we’ve been spending our reading time. What we read is not purely my choice but is often responsive to what they’re learning/where they’ve been traveling/what we’ve been discussing. Please make note of the caveats below. Happy reading!


How I Choose Books 

When the time comes to start a new book with the Podlings, my decision process goes something like this:

1) Have I read it and enjoyed it? I can’t over-stress the importance of this step. I don’t care how lauded or “important” or “valuable” the book is. If you don’t care for it, the kids you’re reading to won’t care either.
2) Will they understand it and like it? I balance toward the older ones in the group. The littles get what they get — which is generally more than I expect.
3) What does the author do well? Humor, drama, storytelling, dialogue, characterization, suspense, research, twists? I require at least one standout category per book but don’t expect perfection in all areas for every read.
4) Does the book match the season? I’m all about reading the right book at the right time, which is why–as you’ll see below–we sometimes take a break in the middle of a series to read something that matches the season.

How You Should Choose Books

1) Take the advice of the readers in your life (under advisement). Definitely accept recommendations from your friends who read, but don’t take them blindly. Not every book is for every person.
2) Read the book first yourself. Don’t skip this step. No matter how highly the book has come recommended or how much your friends or their kids may have liked it, that doesn’t mean a) you will like it (which is so important, since your enthusiasm can make or break the enterprise), or b) you will find it appropriate for your bunch. So be responsible about this and only start books with them that you know you’ll have the wherewithal to complete. Stopping halfway through a book and not finishing it breaks a child’s trust.
3) Decide how you’re going to handle questionable elements. I’m not the type to throw the baby out with the bath water, but if I’m going to read children a book with a little language in it (or another brief or mildly questionable element), I definitely take some steps. First, I tell them about it ahead of time (“Jimmy’s grandpa swears a few times.”), and I also tell them how we’re going to handle it (“When that happens, I’m just going to say ‘Grandpa swore.'”) That way they don’t have a false view of the book (or of life, for that matter), but we’re also not normalizing the words themselves. Again, you may decide to take a different approach to this. Bear your approach in mind as you make decisions.
4) Don’t worry too much about whether the book is considered “important” or “educational” or “valuable.” Those categories are so subjective. Just pick a good read and get cracking. Reading aloud to kids has great value in itself.

Books I’ve Read Aloud to the Podlings

  1. The Teacher’s Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts, Richard Peck
  2. Derwood, Inc., Jeri Massi
  3. A Dangerous Game, Jeri Massi
  4. The Bronze Bow, Elizabeth George Speare
  5. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
  6. Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis
  7. The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis
  8. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson
  9. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (unabridged)
  10. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis
  11. The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis
  12. The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis
  13. A Light in the Attic, Shel Silverstein
  14. Summer of the Monkeys, Wilson Rawls
  15. Summer of Light, Dennis M. Van Wey
  16. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle
  17. The Teacher’s Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts, Richard Peck (again by request)
  18. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
  19. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
  20. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson (again)
  21. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (abridged this time; I learned my lesson)
  22. The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
  23. The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien
  24. The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien
  25. The Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien
  26. C.S. Lewis: Creator of Narnia, Sam Wellman
  27. Classic Myths to Read Aloud: The Great Stories of Greek and Roman Mythology, William F. Russell
  28. Long Walk to Water, Linda Sue Park
  29. Long Way from Chicago, Richard Peck
  30. The Magician’s Nephew, C.S. Lewis
  31. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo
  32. The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare
  33. A Single Shard, Linda Sue Park
  34. A Year Down Yonder, Richard Peck
  35. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
  36. The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom
  37. Flora & Ulysses, Kate DiCamillo
  38. Daddy Long-Legs, Jean Webster
  39. Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne
  40. Peace Child, Don Richardson (Note: Get the updated anniversary edition. Trust me.)
  41. Legends in Sports: Babe Ruth, Matt Christopher
  42. The Velveteen Rabbit and Other Tales, Margery Williams
  43. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, Timothy Keller
  44. The Sword in the Stone (The Once and Future King, Book 1), T.H. White
  45. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
  46. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson (yes, again)
  47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (abridged)
  48. The Sugar Creek Gang #1: The Swamp Robber, Paul Hutchens
  49. True Stories of the Second World War, Paul Dowswell
  50. The Force Awakens: A Junior Novel, Michael Kogge
  51. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: In the Midst of Wickedness, Janet & Geoff Benge
  52. The Princess Bride, William Goldman
  53. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, Alfred Lansing
  54. The Kite Fighters, Linda Sue Park
  55. Bound for Oregon, Jean Van Leeuwen
  56. Benjamin Banneker: Astronomer and Mathematician, Laura Baskes Litwin
  57. The Forbidden Schoolhouse: The True and Dramatic Story of Prudence Crandall and Her Students, Suzanne Jurmain
  58. Heroes in Black History: True Stories from the Lives of Christian Heroes, Dave & Neta Jackson
  59. Strawberry Girl, Lois Lenski
  60. The War that Saved My Life, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  61. Life with Father, Clarence Day
  62. Sackett, Louis L’Amour
  63. The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963, Christopher Paul Curtis

Possibilities Still on Our Horizon:

  • Red Scarf Girl, Jiang Ji-li
  • Hatchet, Gary Paulsen
  • The Giver, Lois Lowry
  • The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, Wendy Wan-Long Shang
  • Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

Have some great read-aloud suggestions of your own? I’d love to hear them. Share in the comments below!


In other news, I’m happy to announce that in honor of Pain Awareness Month, I’m offering a free 5-day e-mail course designed to encourage both those who suffer chronic pain and those who support them. It is written from a Christian perspective and will run September 17-21, 2018.

Chronic Pain
Lessons are short, practical, edifying, and designed for discussion and application. Be sure to sign up and refer a friend to take the course with you.

 

Happy Monday, everyone! May your spirits be high, your pain levels low, and your coffee just the right temperature for sipping.

Say What, Now?

soroush-karimi-443241-unsplash.jpg

Please welcome my friend Emily Conrad to the blog. Today she’s sharing a story about a time she misheard her husband. Hilarity and deep thoughts ensued. Bear in mind as you read that the word brat, in addition to being a derogatory term for an ill-behaved child, can also be short for bratwurst. Enjoy!


I stared at my husband, certain I’d misheard him.

“What?” I asked.

He drove on oblivious, like no unusual sequence of words had just tumbled from his mouth. The passing countryside offered no clues to help me decode his statement. He glanced over like my cause for confusion was as much a mystery to him as his declaration had been to me.

“What did you just say?” I prodded. “Because it sounded like, ‘I would hate to live on the same brat as a crumbling world.’”

Wouldn’t we all.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m from Wisconsin, so I like brats, but can you imagine the grease we’d encounter, living on a ballpark sausage? Add a crumbling world, and the situation couldn’t get much worse.

In all seriousness, I do happen to think this world is passing away. 1 John 2:17 says it is.

And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

Thankfully, as believers in Christ, we’re promised a much better, more secure home than any dwelling we have now. In fact, I’d suggest that compared with our eternal homes with Jesus, our current houses will look even less appealing than the idea of a processed meat home sounds as you read this.

Do you ever think about that? How much better an eternity with Jesus will be than anything we experience here?

But back to the question at hand. Had my husband really specified he would hate to live on a brat with a crumbling world?

Sadly, no.

I was so far off that he had to stop and think for a while before he was able to recall his words.

Finally, enunciating carefully, he repeated himself. “I’d hate to live on the same property as a rundown building.”

Oh. Yeah, I guess. Not as much as he’d hate living on a brat, I’d bet, but something tells me he hasn’t put as much thought into that as I have.


In addition to spending time contemplating what it would be like to make her home on a processed German meat product, Emily also does some fiction writing. Check out her author page to learn more about her and her work. If I’m not mistaken, the paperback edition of her book Justice releases this week. I read it a few months ago, and you can find my Goodreads review here. Congratulations, Emily!

I’d like to thank Emily again for being here. Have you read her book? What did you think? Make sure to drop her a greeting and a few words in the comments.

Happy Monday, everyone! May your hearts be light and your coffee effective!

My Simple 46-Step Writing Process

rawpixel-477803-unsplash

Note: An early version of this post was published in October of 2014 on my former blogging site. As my process has developed over the years, so has this list. It has been refreshed and relocated for your convenience. Enjoy!


This is how the magic happens.

Step 1: Convince myself I’ll never have another good idea.

Step 2: Idea sparks while I’m driving, working out, showering, or doing some other activity that makes it impossible to write idea down.

Step 3: Panic.

Step 4: Hurriedly complete task and rush to write down new idea before it evaporates.

Step 5: Look at idea later and decide it’s soul-crushingly stupid.

Step 6: Repeat Steps 1-5 until I have an idea that doesn’t make me want to sprint face-first into a brick wall.

Step 7: Drink 8,000 cups of coffee.

Step 8: Begin writing.

Step 9: Rip all hair out of head.

Step 10: Write some more.

Step 11: Drink more coffee.

Step 12: Resign myself that death is more likely to occur than the completion of the first draft.

Step 13: Finish first draft.

Step 14: Gallop around the apartment, yodeling.

Step 15: Call family and friends, announce the completion of the first draft of a new project.

Step 16: Try to explain plot/premise of first draft to family and friends.

Step 17: Realize that large swathes of it don’t make sense to them… or to me.

Step 18: Dread re-reading first draft for fear that it makes even less sense than I anticipate.

Step 19: Re-read first draft through one squinty eye.

Step 20: Die inside.

Step 21: Call family and friends, announce that I’ll soon be embarking on a solo hot-air-balloon tour of the world and they should come say their goodbyes as soon as possible.

Step 22: Try to buy hot air balloon online; wind up perusing help-wanted ads, paying special attention to local job openings that require neither reading nor writing.

Step 23: Eat scoops of coffee straight from the bag.

Step 24: Crawl into hyperbaric chamber stored in the closet for such a time as this.

Step 25: Listen to Mozart’s Requiem.

Step 26: Print out first draft while assembling army of sharpened pencils.

Step 27: Re-read manuscript, one hand thrust through what’s left of my hair, the other hand clutching a pencil; scribble angrily in the margins; occasionally shriek, “NO, NO, NO!”

Step 28: Listen to the Second Movement of Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.

Step 29: Murder my darlings.

Step 30: General flailing.

Step 31: Consume large amounts of cheese.

Step 32: Write second draft.

Step 33: Close hyperbaric chamber; seal off closet; resume sleeping in bed.

Step 34: Send latest draft to beta readers for feedback. Take cheerful jog around the block.

Step 35: Instantly feel worse.

Step 36: Alternate between hyperventilating and quietly dry heaving into a trash can.

Step 37: Receive exciting (yet horrifying) e-mails full of contradictory lists of everything that is both very right and very wrong with my manuscript.

Step 38: [gentle keening]

Step 39: Wade through contradictory lists of confusing feedback and decide what to change.

Step 40: Play Bach’s Come, Sweet Death on repeat.

Step 41: Write new draft.

Step 42: Find new readers; repeat Steps 34-41.

Step 43: Decide that the manuscript is “done.”

Step 44: Submit to agents/editors; repeat Steps 36 and 38.

Step 45: Find a publishing home; celebrate; prepare for book launch.

Step 46: Decide I’ll never have any good ideas ever again.


In addition to posting here, this week I’m also over on author Elaine Stock’s blog Everyone’s Story discussing the theological implications of running hills. Check out the post “Lift My Eyes.” While you’re there, comment to be entered into a random drawing to win a copy of my book Collapsible: A Novel of Friendship, Broken Bones, Coffee, Shenanigans, and the Occasional Murder.

Happy Monday, everyone! May your coffee and your ideas flow freely.

When You Ask Me How It’s Going

Every once in a while, people ask how my current writing project’s going. When that happens, they’re likely to get one of five possible responses.

Response 1: The Non-Answer

“It’s fine.” And then I change the subject.

Interpretation: It’s not fine.

Response 2: The Gloss-Over

“Oh, you know; I have some stuff in the works.” And then I change the subject.

Interpretation: Everything is fine, but I’m not ready to talk about the project yet.

Response 3: The Facts

“It’s going okay. I’ve been writing about [insert topic].”

Interpretation: Things are going very well. The end is in sight.

Alternate Interpretation: I’ve sunk so much of my life into this project that the law of diminishing returns no longer registers with me. I will finish this project or die trying.

Response 4: The Cliff’s Notes

“It’s going well. I have this book about [insert topic] that I started last year. I have a draft done, and the proposal’s with an agent. Still could be nothing, but we’ll see what happens.”

Interpretation: This is probably the best thing I’ve ever written.

Alternate Interpretation: I just had one good writing session. I don’t know how long this wave of confidence will last, so let’s both just enjoy the ride.

Response 5: The Middle School Meltdown

“I don’t know why I even bothered to start a new book; the last ones weren’t exactly New York Times bestsellers, and I don’t know why anyone would want to read anything I’d say anyhow since I can’t write and barely know anything about anything. This outline doesn’t make sense, the major premise is clunky, the support spotty, and my arguments riddled with logical inconsistencies. I’m deleting the draft, burning my notes, and going to live on a mountain by myself where I can dedicate my life to the undistracted reading of books by people who actually know how to write.”

Interpretation: Writing is hard work, and I’ve been at it too long. Someone please tell me to take a break.


Lately, I’ve been toggling back and forth between Response 2 and Response 5 (although unless we’re blood-related, you’re unlikely to witness me in full Middle School Meltdown mode). I really am excited about the project I’m working on, but in its current state, I still find it very hard to talk about. However, since I recently finished the first draft, I’m hoping to move into a comfortable deployment of Response 3 in the near future.

Until the new book is ready, consider catching up on my current releases. I’m happy to talk about them and would love to hear what you think.

Happy Monday, y’all!

May your hearts be warm, your A/C cool, and your coffee hot.

7 Ways to Deal with Imposter Syndrome

Do you ever feel like an incompetent failure whose successes have been a fluke? Do you fear that your inadequacy will be revealed at any moment?

I do. Whenever the feeling hits, I resort to one of these failsafe methods.

7 Ways to Deal with Imposter Syndrome

  • Make it stare at my last finished project. (“Take a good look. I SAID LOOK AT IT.”)
  • Take it for a run. (It often grows tired and lags behind.)
  • Challenge it to a dance off. (We’re both bad dancers, but Imposter Syndrome’s worse.)
  • Sign it up for the SpaceX mission to Mars. (Of course I believe the rumors. And as a bonus, I can watch the launch from my front yard.)
  • Read aloud from Moby Dick. (The chapter on whales puts it to sleep.)
  • Punch it in the face. (Right hook.)
  • Banish it with coffee. (Effective and enjoyable.)

This morning I’ve opted for the coffee.


In all honesty, I’m not certain that Imposter Syndrome is the right term for what I’ve been feeling these days. It’s more like a languid torpor brought on by the sneaking suspicion that this project will never actually end.

I know it’s a lie, but at the moment, it feels true; and whenever it’s time to work, I just want to recline on my purple plush chaise lounge with a bottle of smelling salts like a damsel in a Victorian novel. (Also, I want a purple plush chaise lounge. But who doesn’t?)

Have you found helpful ways of dealing with Imposter Syndrome? How do you motivate yourself to keep going when you feel overwhelmed by challenging work? Please share in the comments below.

Happy Monday, everyone! May your coffee be stronger than your uncertainty.

Ruth’s Extremely Helpful Do-It-Yourself Online Dating Profile Sample Questionnaire


Note: This post was originally published in 2015 on my former blogging site. It’s been refreshed and relocated for your convenience. Enjoy!

Recently someone asked a friend of mine if she’d ever considered internet dating and seemed shocked when she said she wasn’t interested.

I wasn’t shocked. I get it. Internet dating’s a lot of work.

Consider the process. When singles first join an online dating service, they’re immediately tasked with filling out long, tedious, one-size-fits-all surveys. Frankly, it feels a lot like homework.

Homework isn’t pointless, of course; and while the online-dating system does work occasionally, that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.

Perhaps one way to refine the system would be to spice it up by offering our own questions.

I’ve provided a sample set below.

Ruth’s

Extremely Helpful

Do-It-Yourself

Online Dating Profile

Sample Questionnaire

Your Name:

Childhood Nickname(s):

Your Age (select one): 

[ ] Old Enough
[ ] Older
[ ] Oldest
[ ] Benjamin Button

Your Body Type (select one): 

[ ] Hourglass
[ ] Anchovy
[ ] Chopstick
[ ] Texas
[ ] Yam

Your Personality Type (select one): 

[ ] Chocolate
[ ] Vanilla
[ ] Salsa
[ ] Triple Venti Vanilla Bean Soy Latte with No Foam
[ ] Turnip

You in a Crisis (select one):

[ ] Okoye
[ ] 007
[ ] River Tam
[ ] Mr. Bean

Languages (select all that apply):

[ ] Pop Culture
[ ] Logic
[ ] Irony
[ ] Math
[ ] Puns
[ ] Philosophy
[ ] Theology
[ ] Computers
[ ] Scifi
[ ] History
[ ] Fashion
[ ] Alternate History
[ ] Music
[ ] ¡Emotions!
[ ] Sportsball
[ ] Real Talk
[ ] Books
[ ] Drivel

Complete the Sentence: “I love long walks on  ____________.”

[ ] the beach
[ ] the moon
[ ] tightropes
[ ] the Dark Side

Your Sense of Humor:

[ ] Michael Scott
[ ] Lucy Ricardo
[ ] April Ludgate
[ ] Severus Snape

How would you describe your emotional resting state?

[ ] Solid
[ ] Liquid
[ ] Gas
[ ] Plasma
[ ] Dark Matter

You without coffee:

[ ] Lethargy
[ ] Stupor
[ ] Delirium
[ ] Angst
[ ] Selective Mutism
[ ] Vegetative State
[ ] N/A (don’t drink coffee)*
*Please abandon survey.

Select One:

[ ] Salty
[ ] Sweet

Select One:

[ ] Breakfast foods
[ ] Other foods

Select One:

[ ] Malcolm X
[ ] Malcolm Gladwell
[ ] Malcolm, Prince of Cumberland
[ ] Malcolm in the Middle

Select One:

[ ] Early Bird
[ ] Night Owl
[ ] Screech Owl
[ ] Ostrich

Select One:

[ ] Reading
[ ] Writing
[ ] Arithmetic
[ ] Swashbuckling

Name Your Ideal Man: 
Name Your Ideal Woman: 

Reasons you are late for things (select all that apply):

[ ] No real sense of time and space
[ ] You never write anything down
[ ] Wardrobe issues
[ ] Getting distracted
[ ] Getting lost
[ ] Netflix
[ ] Naps
[ ] Caught up at work
[ ] Trapped in a time loop
[ ] Stopping to help turtles cross the street
[ ] Different cultural understanding of time
[ ] Exempt (you are never late)

Complete the sentence: “There is no _________”

[ ] fear in love
[ ] business like show business
[ ] Frigate like a Book / To take Us Lands away
[ ] crying in baseball
[ ] try
[ ] spoon

Select a theatre:

[ ] Movie
[ ] Military
[ ] Surgical
[ ] Puppet

Music:

[ ] Playlist
[ ] Shuffle
[ ] Same song on repeat

Ideal room temperature (F):

[ ] 60-65
[ ] 65-70
[ ] 70-75
[ ] 75-80

The number of pillows necessary for sleep:

[ ] 1
[ ] 2-3
[ ] 5-7
[ ] 8-12
[ ] ALL THE PILLOWS

Documentaries:

[ ] Always
[ ] Sometimes
[ ] Never

Talking during plays/movies:

[ ] Yes
[ ] No

Eating in the car:

[ ] Yes
[ ] No

Sharing fries:

[ ] Yes
[ ] No

Stopping to ask for directions:

[ ] Yes
[ ] No

Disobeying the GPS in lieu of common sense:

[ ] Always
[ ] Sometimes
[ ] Never

Surprises: 

[ ] Always
[ ] Sometimes
[ ] Never

Best Holiday:

[ ] Thanksgiving
[ ] Easter
[ ] Christmas
[ ] New Year’s
[ ] Pi Day
[ ] National Battery Day
[ ] What If Our Pets Had Opposable Thumbs Day
[ ] The Festival of Sleep

Reading:

[ ] Yes

Travel:

[ ] Yes

Religion:

[ ] Jesus


So there you have it! My very own do-it-yourself online dating profile sample questionnaire.

What do you think about the concept? What questions would you include if you wrote your own? Let us know in the comments below! (You don’t have to be single to chime in: some of us could use some pointers on what to add to our own surveys.)

In other news, as of this posting, the e-book for Collapsible: A Novel of Friendship, Broken Bones, Coffee, Shenanigans, and the Occasional Murder is temporarily on sale for $1.99. Snap it up! Also, if you’ve already read and enjoyed any (or all) installments in the trilogy, could I prevail on you to leave a sentence or two of an honest review? Reviews boost visibility for new authors and help us build trust with wider audiences.

Plus, I’ll love you forever. So there’s that.

Happy Monday, everyone! I hope your day is fabulous. May your coffee be hot, your A/C cool, and your online dating profile anything but boring.

13 Signs You Belong in a YA Novel

Every genre has its clichés. Some you love; some you hate; all you find instantly recognizable. Young Adult novels are no exception to this phenomenon.

You can spot clichés on the page, but how good are you at spotting whether or not you meet the criteria yourself?

13 Signs You Belong in a YA Novel

  1. You hang out with a ragtag group of misfits.
  2. You wear hoodies almost exclusively.
  3. You have a precocious younger sibling in need of rescuing.
  4. You have a useless best friend.
  5. You’re involved in a love triangle.
  6. You have a complicated family situation.
  7. You have powers.
  8. Your lab partner is the mysterious new kid.
  9. You’ve inexplicably angered the school’s queen bee.
  10. You are misunderstood.
  11. You’re relieved when the apocalypse interferes with prom.
  12. You are totally average-looking yet secretly beautiful.
  13. You are the chosen one.

~~~

Do you read YA? Which clichés do you love? Which do you hate? Which actually seem super relatable because you’ve lived them yourself? Tell us in the comments below!

In other news, my BIG GIVEAWAY is winding down. If you follow me on social media, there’s no way you missed it (I’ve been super promote-y, #sorrynotsorry); but just in case you did somehow miss it: I’m giving away five books to five winners, plus tons of bonuses, including amazing hand-stamped aluminum bookmarks from Whimsical Words Studio.

Friends

The contest closes at midnight on Tuesday (July 31, 2018), so stop what you’re doing and enter right now. If you’re already entered, don’t forget to share. Every share and every friend of yours who joins earns you more points.

Plus, everyone who enters earns automatic bonuses. And who doesn’t love bonuses? Nobody, that’s who. So go get ’em.

Happy Monday, everyone! May your day be anything but cliché; may your chances of winning the giveaway soar like eagles; and may your bonuses flow as freely as your coffee.