5 Classic Children’s Books for Read-Alouds that Model Excellent English Skills 

great kids' books for reading aloud

Add These 5 Classic Books to Your Homeschool Read-Aloud List

As you know, I’m a read-aloud fanatic! When we were homeschooling, my kids heard me read every single day from at least one illustrated storybook or a chapter book. If we could afford the time, I indulged their little requests for “more books, mommy, puh-weeze!” Often, I’d ask the kids to read a book to me so that I could secretly assess their reading, punctuation, and comprehension skills.

Why, I was even reading aloud to my son, Connor, when he was an 18 year old senior in high school! It may sound sentimental, but I still get choked up thinking about that last day of read-aloud with him. We were taking turns, each reading a chapter of St. Augustine’s City of God, when I realized that I was feeling just like Mary when the shepherds revealed the angelic message about her baby (Luke 2:19)…I was pondering and cherishing our read-aloud time in my heart. What a gift!

Even though it’s just me and the hubby here at home these days, the read-aloud tradition continues. While I’m cooking, he sits at the kitchen counter, reading the day’s provocative news articles to me. At night when we’re quietly reading our own books in bed, I share paragraphs that make me think so I can get his feedback.

Reading Aloud Makes Better Readers, Thinkers, Writers, and Speakers

Reading aloud is one of the essential teaching strategies you must commit to do if you want to raise an educated child who has the intellectual tools to learn anything. When you read aloud, your kids are soaking up all that great English language like a sponge, and since kids learn by imitation, you want to expose them to great writing like these 5 classic kids’ books that excel at using the English language.  (BTW, I get paid a small affiliate commission from amazon if you purchase one of theses books.  This helps me fund the expenses of this website…thank you!).  And now, without further ado…here are 5 classic classic children’s books to add to your teacher’s toolkit that will help you teach reading and writing skills .

# 1 – A Classic Chapter Book That Teaches WORD PLAY

TITLE:  The Phantom Tollbooth (by Norton Juster)

The Phantom Tollbooth is a delightful story about Milo, a bored little boy who suddenly learns that life is never dull when a miniature tollbooth and map to the “Lands Beyond” materializes in his bedroom. With nothing better to do, he drives through it in his toy car and discovers fanciful, yet thought-provoking, adventures.

SKILL: Word Play (puns, hyperbole, metaphors)

Juster employs clever, witty word plays like these fragments:

– jumping to conclusions
– make hay while the sun shines
– half baked ideas
– spelling bees
– making mountains out of molehills

You really have to read the complete (not annotated) story to get all the “punny” jokes…your kids will be rolling their eyes while they giggle and ask for more, plus you’ll love all the rich insights about life like, “So many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.”

# 2 – An Illustrated Storybook That Teaches PUNCTUATION

TITLE:  The Velveteen Rabbit (by Margery Williams)

The Velveteen Rabbit is a sweet story about a young boy and his well-loved stuffed animal. When scarlet fever strikes, the threadbare bunny is doomed for the incinerator along with the other old toys, but a fairy intervenes, and turns him into a real rabbit.

SKILL:  Punctuation

Williams demonstrates how to use the comma:

  1. to enclose non-essential elements (…the model boat, who had lived through two seasons and lost most of his paint, caught…)
  2. with a conjunction in compound sentences (There once was a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid.)
  3. with dialogue in quotations (“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse.)

Not only does this piece of classic literature (1922) provide many passages worthy of imitation, but the best part is the moral lesson about love that it teaches. (Your kids will probably want to take this illustrated classic with them when they move out, but don’t give it to them. Keep your old worn copy so that you can read to the grandkids, and give your kids a copy at the baby shower.)

# 3 – A Classic Kids’ Novel That Teaches VOCABULARY

TITLE:  Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (by Robert C. O’Brien)

In Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, a brave widowed mama mouse needs to move her babies to winter quarters, but her son Timothy is so ill with pneumonia that he might die. Thankfully, a super-breed of rats come to her rescue.

SKILL:  Vocabulary

Reading NIMH is like feasting on an abundant meal. O’Brien not only employs all eight parts of speech, but he chooses unusual examples that complement the storyline perfectly like:

  • descriptive adjectives (rancid, slimy, bleak, noble, glossy)
  • action verbs (filtering, emerging, skirting, protruded)
  • adverbs (warily, cautiously, relentlessly, briskly, scarcely)

Plus your kids will learn how to use personification, a literary technique, where animal characters are given human qualities like emotion, conversation, and felt-needs.

# 4 – A Classic Comedy That Teaches DIALOGUE

TITLE: Mr. Popper’s Penguins (by Richard Atwater)

A delightfully funny story, Mr. Popper’s Penguins is about a house painter and his wife who unexpectedly inherit a penguin from a polar explorer. They give their new pet (Captain Cook) a home (in the icebox) and a mate from the zoo (to cheer him up). Soon there are 10 babies, and Mr. Popper takes them on tour to pay the bills. Hilarious old-fashioned slapstick!

SKILL: Dialogue

Much of the story is told through external conversations between Mr. and Mrs. Popper like this combination of dialogue and narration:

“Well, my love,” he said, setting down his buckets and ladders and boards, and kissing Mrs. Popper, “the decorating season is over…”

Plus, Atwater skillfully shows your child how to use alliteration (repetition of consonants – the author loves the letter P as in “Popper’s Performing Penguins” and “This parcel of penguins really performs!”)

# 5 – A Children’s Classic That Teaches SENTENCE VARIETY

TITLE: The Trumpet of the Swan (by E.B. White)

In White’s beautifully moving story of a mute swan named Louis, well-meaning papa swan takes a brass trumpet from a store so that his son will have a voice to win over his love, Serena. Despite his disability, Louis demonstrates strength of character and courage.

SKILL:  Sentence Variety

E. B. White is known for his vocabulary, but read The Trumpet of the Swan for the variety of sentences. White uses the whole writer’s toolbox from simple sentences (declarative, interrogative, exclamatory, question) to more sophisticated structure (compound, complex, clauses) as well as other stylistic techniques like quoted dialogue and onomatopoeia (when a word sounds like it’s written as in animal noises).

Author Trivia Q:  Did you know that Charlotte’s Web contains all 44 sounds from the English language?

Are We Friends on Facebook Yet?

Each week I post a few classic kids’ book recommendations on my facebook page. Click on the “LIKE” button to give me a thumbs-up, and please tell your friends.

How to Use Classic Literature to Teach the English Language

You can use any classic kids’ books to teach reading and writing skills. All you need is a great book (illustrated children’s storybook or chapter books), a printer, and writing tools. Choose a paragraph to study in detail, then use classical teaching methods like:

  • narration (you read, then the kid summarizes)
  • dictation (you write what the kid says)
  • imitation (child tells or writes his own paraphrased version)
  • substitution (child replaces parts of speech like nouns and verbs)

In reality, most classic children’s literature offer rich rewards for studying sentence variety, vocabulary, dialogue, punctuation, spelling, capitalization, and a host of stylistic techniques like metaphors and similes. You don’t need expensive homeschool curriculum; everything you need is right before your eyes in each classic piece of children’s literature. All you’ve got to do is decide what skill you want to tackle, then look for examples in the text.

Give those babies a big ((hug!))


P.S.  What are your favorite read-alouds?  Let’s start a conversation!

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