Getting Lit with Lit(erature): The Importance of Family Read Alouds

Former teacher, Jess Wardell, shares how to cultivate a love of reading with your kids and her favorite books for family read alouds.

“Perhaps’, said the man, ‘You would like to be lost with us. I have found it much more agreeable to be lost in the company of others.”-The Miraculous Journey Of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo

Have you ever been so engaged in a book that you get lost in the story? It’s like the world around you melts away because you are so transfixed on the places, people, and lessons unfolding within the pages between your fingers. If we have the opportunity to travel to new worlds, meet unfamiliar faces, and unlock the secrets of life through literature, why wouldn’t we invite our kids on these adventures with us

With the ever-increasing demands of school, starting as early as preschool, are we running the risk of diminishing a passion for reading in our kids?

Good news, it doesn’t have to! As a teacher and mom to three littles, it is my desire and job to help kids cultivate a love for reading early on. But how? Do we just shove books down their throats? Force them to read for X amount of minutes each day? What does it look like to send our kids on the great adventures of Huck Finn and love selflessly like Charlotte from her web?

I have taught too many children who hate to read. You know the ones. The page flippers. The ones who ask, “how many pages is it?” The ones who won’t pick up a book that is thicker than their thumb. You may have been that kid. You may STILL be that kid, just a little taller. I was. And somedays still am. But like all parents, I want better for my girls. So, as parents, where do we begin?

As a teacher, I have one non-negotiable in my daily schedule, my read-aloud. For at least 20 minutes, I read aloud a chapter book to my students, Every. Single. Day. I believe it to be the MOST important 20 minutes of my day and many times, the most engaged my students are all day. So, why wouldn’t I apply that same principle within the four walls of my home? Yes. Diapers need to be changed. Dishes need to get done. And there is laundry that needs to be folded. By why not add, reading with my children to the list. And enjoy it.

It is never too early to start family read alouds. Whether it is picture books with your little littles, classic chapter books with your bigger littles, or more challenging texts that spark deep and meaningful conversations with your biggest littles. Cracking a book with your children will not only expose them to new and fascinating worlds but will cultivate joy and renew your spirit as well.

Research shows that students who are not just reading but are read to for 20 minutes a day are exposed to 1,800,000 words by the time they enter high school. But even more important than that; those 20 minutes of intentional time, away from screens and the other distractions of life, as a family, will provide a bonding experience unlike many others.

Through reading aloud with children, I have encountered some of the most beautiful stories, learned impactful life lessons, and have fallen in love with characters that I miss when I close the book. So, as we are all trying to survive until bedtime, let’s not just survive. Let’s travel, learn, laugh, and love along both the real and imaginary characters of our lives.

The Best Books to Read Aloud by Age:

Picture Books for the Youngest Readers:

Early Chapter Books:

Chapter Books for 2nd Grade and Up:


Jess Wardell has a passion for watching kids of all ages construct meaning of the world around them through intentional play and discovery. With a Masters Degree in Elementary Education from the University of Florida, 8 years of teaching experience, and mommin’ three young kids, Jess melds the world of education and parenting to share her passion for kids, families, and how they learn about the world and each other. When Jess isn’t teaching, you can find her having epic T. Swift dance parties with her littles, Norah, Emma, and Jack, husband Corey and their 75 pound lap dog, Rosie Princess Poodle Pants. 

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