Why and What to Read Aloud with Your Child

By Sarah Rabin Spira, Manager, PJ Library®, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington

National Reading Day is celebrated on January 23rd, but in a perfect world—every day would be National Reading Day! Reading aloud with a child is the single-best thing you can do to help them learn to read, love to read and connect with you. It’s important to note that reading out loud with your child—even after they’re old enough to read to themselves—has long-term benefits. Don’t buy it? There’s proof here and here.

You’re not alone if you find that reading aloud isn’t always exciting—an uncompelling or overread story make for a strenuous storytime. So here are some tips for making reading time more fun for your family, with ideas and a book list of favorite picture book read-alouds. Some of these are PJ Library selections, and all are available at your local bookstore or online.

“Others might tell stories to put you to sleep, but I tell stories to wake you up.”
–Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

Tips for Reading Aloud with Your Child

  1. Bedtime is a primetime to read and discuss books and values with children. (This is where “PJ Library” gets its name—PJ as in “pajamas.”) For a limited time, you have their focus, and they expect more talking and less movement. Facing the child helps them get visual cues from your facial expressions.
  2. When the child is physically touching the reader, it provides “grounding” for the routine, associating a feeling of comfort and safety to with the act of reading. This creates richer opportunities for conversations, particularly with children who aren’t comfortable speaking up in larger groups (such as at family dinner or in class).
  3. Have books on bookshelves, but not confined to them. Cookbooks in the kitchen, construction books near LEGOs, and art books near art materials underscores print concepts and the universality of reading and books.
  4. Share the author and illustrator of the book when sharing the title—it helps develop an understanding of the meaning of words on paper by connecting the words to a person/people.
  5. Do the voices or modulate your tone to match the emotions. It’s more fun for you and for them! When words are bigger, get louder. When they’re smaller or in italics, say them more softly. If the character laughs or cries, you should, too.
  6. The questions you ask and the comments you make model how children think about a story. After you read a book, ask a question and start a conversation. Create a pause after asking the question. Children understand the story when they are given time to think and to talk about it!
  7. To build language skills, adult interactions should:
    • Be fun, engaging and playful
    • Be rich in content
    • Give kids lots of chances to talk, question and think
    • Have an extended discourse that is interesting, diverse, interactive—the best opportunity is after reading a book. When children know we are interested in what they think, they will be more apt to share information or ask questions.
    • Link to previous knowledge
“What is the use of a book, thought Alice, without pictures or conversations?”
–Lewis Carroll

15 Favorite Read-Aloud Picture Books

These books are favorites with kids and adults!
Baby Be KindBaby Be Kind by Jane Cowen-Fletcher
“Say hi to your friend, be kind to your pup. When someone falls down, help them up!” The easy cadence of the rhymes makes it easy to teach kids how to be kind and practice gemilut chasidim, acts of loving-kindness.



Bear Feels Sick by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman
The dynamic duo of Wilson and Chapman have another winner. There are rhymes and many voices in this story of Bear’s friends practicing bikur cholim, bringing comfort to the sick.



The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak
Kids know that this is the book that makes grown-ups have to say silly things! Just roll with it. A book with no pictures doesn’t have to be boring or serious.




The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
Duncan’s crayons have quit, and they all write hilarious letters explaining their perspectives on why they just can’t take it anymore. (see also the sequel: The Day the Crayons Came Home). Yes, it’s long, but it’s fun to do different voices for each color. You’ll get the full range of acting emotions; it’s kind of cathartic.


Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld
Is it a duck or a rabbit? Depends on how you look at it. (Hint: don’t ask the authors—they’ll never tell!) This book is sure to spark a debate in your home. A good question to ask is, “I hear you say that you think it’s a ___, but can you see how someone might think it’s a ___?”



Any Elephant & Piggie book by Mo Willems
These books are designed to be more fun to read aloud—author Mo Willems gives you, and your emerging reader, clues on how to read it by altering the font size. It makes it more fun to read and more fun to hear your child read. They’re fun, funny and have great surprise endings (and lessons…shhh!). When one character’s name is based on Ella Fitzgerald, you know you’re in for something clever.



Good Night, Laila Tov by Laurel Snyder, pictures by Jui Ishida
Each scene of tikkun olam (repairing the world) is beautifully illustrated and punctuated with the English and Hebrew refrain of “good night, laila tov.” This repetition creates a good way for kids to help read the story with you.



I Love You, Stinky Face by Lisa McCourt, illustrated by Cyd Moore
You’re looking skeptically at a book that calls a kid “stinky face.” Trust me—this is a sweet book about the limitless love between a parent and child.



Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems
Almost all of the Mo Willems’ books make great read-alouds, but this is one that you may not have in your library. Leonardo is truly a terrible monster—terrible at being a monster that is. He can’t scare anyone…until he finds Sam. Take a deep breath and read Sam’s part of the story like you’re recounting all the reasons why the worst day of your life is your worst day. Then take another breath and know that “your pal Mo Willems” is going to have a great ending for everyone.



Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Jill McElmurry
Moo! Peep! Quack! Beep! More fun rhymes in a rollicking story about a kind truck teaching a lesson in “do unto others.”



Llama Llama Mad at Mama by Anna Dewdney
I love this book for the rhymes and the insight into parent and child psychology by the late Anna Dewdney. Good for any parent whose child has ever had a tantrum in public (read: good for any parent).



One Big Pair of Underwear by Laura Gehl, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
There’s a theme here—good rhyming books are more fun to read. This one, with the yaks and their snacks and their black backpacks, is no exception. When there are too many animals and too few items, what are they going to do? Hint: share this book and find out!



The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko
Princess Elizabeth is the princess we should all aspire to be: brave, clever and unable to tolerate boorish behavior. This book is fun to read, especially if you get it in hardcover—knock on the cover when Elizabeth knocks on the dragon’s door, and slam the book shut when the dragon slams his door shut! (Don’t forget to re-open it and find out if Elizabeth can defeat a hungry, cocky dragon.)



Shabbat Shalom, Hey! by Ann Koffsky
We sing “Bim Bam” a lot in our home, not just on Shabbat—and this book just gives another excuse for singing and reading at the same time. Have fun with the “hey!” and get your audience, I mean child, to do that part with you.



The Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz, illustrated by Dan Santat
Not to give away the ending of this Three Little Pigs update, but this rhyming book is worth it for this line alone: “three pigs full of mojo, then ran their own dojo, and life was forever wolf-free.”



Read further:
• TeachMama.com: Top 10 Ways to Talk to Kids About Books
• TeachMama.com: Let’s Read Baby, Read
• Diane Frankenstein: The Art of Conversational Reading
• EdSource: Study says reading aloud to children, more than talking, builds literacy
• Reach Out and Read: The Importance of Reading Aloud

About Sarah Rabin Spira, Manager, PJ Library®
Sarah runs PJ Library in Greater Washington, brought to you locally by The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, which sends books and music to families with kids age 8 and under. She also implements PJ Our Way, the newest chapter of PJ Library, which offers chapter books and unique programs to kids 8½–11 years old. She has been working in Jewish education for over thirteen years and worked in public relations, planning, organizing and outreach before that. Sarah studied children’s literature at the University of Florida and also has a Master’s degree from George Washington University. She lives in Washington, DC, with her husband and two small children who are getting bigger by the second.