For over 25 years, I’ve been the Story Hour lady at our local library where I read six to eight picture books to a small crowd of 4-8 year olds. The kids then vote for their favorite. Contrary to the high concept, low word-count picture books popular these days, their favorites are almost inevitably longer books with more involved story lines. Each of the five books below was voted ‘best loved’ by my little listeners, and all share what I call ‘read-aloud-ability.’ What do they have in common? An opening that instantly draws kids in, multiple characters whose dialogue can be read in varied voices, a riveting plot, excellent pacing, humor (whether laugh-out-loud or the quieter sort), strong emotional pull, and a satisfying conclusion. Fantasy creatures are always a draw (three of these include a witch, monster, or giant), but even without a magical element, intriguing plot and stellar writing can yield a winning read-aloud.
Heckedy Peg by Audrey and Don Wood. 1020 words.
This tale of a witch who turns seven children into seven types of food is my all-time favorite read-aloud. Can their clever mother break the spell? I have the kids practice speaking in the witch’s voice before I begin, so I don’t scare them silly.
Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran, illustrated by Barbara Cooney. 853 words.
This seemingly quiet book about friends who turn a rock-covered hill into an imaginary town is always completely captivating.
I Need My Monster by Amanda Noll, illustrated by Howard McWilliam. 1153 words.
The perfect balance of giggles and shivers, plus five different monster voices.
Ira Sleeps Over written and illustrated by Bernard Waber. 1187 words.
Should Ira bring his teddy bear to his first sleep-over? Kids completely relate to this character and his predicament. Kid-true dialogue makes them laugh out loud.
Abiyoyo by Pete Seeger, illustrated by Michael Hays.
Has all of the features mentioned above, and the added allure of a sing-along refrain.
Shari Dash Greenspan is the editor and art director of Flashlight Press, a small indie publisher specializing in picture books, founded in 2004, and distributed by IPG. Among their terrific titles are I Need My Monster, When a Dragon Moves In, When a Dragon Moves In Again, Maddi’s Fridge, Dragon and Captain, and Too Much Glue. www.FlashlightPress.com