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    The Official 2019 Afterthoughts Read Aloud List

    January 8, 2020 by Brandy Vencel

    This year was an … interesting … year for reading aloud. We read a lot, but it wasn’t as deliberate as usual. I was just grabbing things as they struck me, or reading things as children asked. There was no real rhyme, reason, or plan. Sometimes, this serendipitous approach is absolutely magical, as if God reached down and blessed us extra through completely unexpected titles. But this year I felt a little blah by the end … which is funny because I was trying to give it some oomph for my oldest’s senior year.

    I am, however, undaunted. It wasn’t that we didn’t read any good books, it’s just that most of the great ones were clustered in the first half of the year, and some things ended up missing because I forgot about them. I still have the second half of senior year to hit some greats. In all, 2019 was fine but 2020 should be better.

    I have continued with three read alouds at a time this year. The first is for me to read when I have all my children together. The second is for all my children and my husband. We usually only do that on the weekends and his Fridays off. The third is one I read to my youngest when the other three are at youth group. (Actually, the first half of the year it was my younger two, but as the year went on, Daughter Q. became old enough to join the youth group as well.) This has worked well and made it possible for me to continue reading aloud without leaving someone invested in a book behind.

    Alas, I thought we had finished 27 titles, which would be a tie with for a record year, but I miscounted and it’s only 25. Oh well. That’s still a few more than our average. On to the list!

    :: Two from the Little Britches Series ::

    Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers by Ralph Moody

    Probably the most well known in the series, this is where it all starts. It’s such a good book and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it aloud when my oldest was little. I realized that my younger two had no clue about the early books in the series, so it was time for round two. I’m so glad we did this!

    If you’re going to read it, though, be prepared for the heartbreak. I can’t read it aloud without crying, much to my children’s amusement.

    Man of the Family by Ralph Moody

    These books have a real Little House on the Prairie feel, but touched by more entrepreneurship. My youngest definitely has the entrepreneurial spirit, so these books were particularly inspiring for him. It can be frustrating for some kids, though, that so much of what happens in the books is forbidden to children these days. How sad it is that in the name of safety we deny them so many wonderful experiences! Thankfully, books give them access in their imaginations.

    Finishing the LOTR Series

    The Return of the King by JRR Tolkien

    We still had this book to finish up in January 2019, which is how it made the list. This was my third or fourth time reading the series aloud and I love them more each time I do it.

    If you haven’t read Tolkien … you just should.

    Super History Book!

    1493: From Columbus’s Voyage to Globalization for Young People by Charles C. Mann

    Read alouds don’t have to be fiction. And when you read nonfiction aloud, you don’t have to turn it into a school lesson. Sometimes, reading nonfiction aloud in the right way — meaning in a pleasant, no-pressure sort of way — can woo the dubious and cranky among your listeners.

    This book was added to one of the AO years, but I use an older version, so I put it into my read aloud stack. It worked well!

    Finishing up The Chronicles of Narnia

    We were only about halfway through CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia last year, so we finished up at about the pace of one per month. It’s always hard to decide whether to read aloud new-to-us books, or reread old favorites. I’m always trying to find the balance. So far, I have never regretted rereading Lewis or Tolkien.

    Discovering Jonathan Auxier

    Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier

    This the first of a two-book series (Sophie Quire below being the second). It’s … not my favorite. I don’t know what it is exactly — I didn’t really take to Peter, his adventures, or his eyes. But the thing is, in order to really understand Sophie Quire you have to read Peter Nimble … and Sophie Quire is fabulous.

    My children liked Peter more than I did, but they agreed this is their least favorite Auxier title.

    Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier

    Oh, how I fell in love with this book! I said much about it already, so I won’t repeat myself. We read four Auxier titles (as you can see) and this one was my favorite. Auxier has obviously thought a lot about the power of story … and it shows.

    The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

    One of my children requested “a scary book.” This book turned out to be more creepy than outright scary, but we relished it nonetheless. Just as in Sophie Quire, Auxier revealed his deep understanding of story, in The Night Gardener he proved he understood human passions and sin. It was an incredible read. It definitely serves as a metaphor for temptation and fallout from giving in.

    I wrote quite a bit about it here, if you’d like to hear more.

    Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier

    Like all this books, this was beautiful and unique. With Auxier, you don’t feel like you’re reading the same old plot line — he has a truly original mind. I love his writing. This story had me in tears a couple times; it was very moving. Definitely worth your time.

    The (Almost) Complete Mysterious Benedict Society

    I say “almost” because another one came out recently. One of my sons received it for Christmas, but we haven’t read it aloud yet.

    Trenton Lee Stewart writes about genius children solving crimes and saving the world. He’s far from classic literature, but he’s great fun. My one complaint is that, except for The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict (which is a prequel to the series and my favorite one — the writing is much better and it has more ideas to take away — I guess I’d call it richer than the others), he takes forever on what feels like an introduction. It feels like an eternity until the action really gets going, or you even know what the plot is about. The patience pays off, though, and my kids love these books.

    Sometimes, Chesterton is Bizarre

    The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton

    This one was … weird. Good, but weird. I chose it because I thought my husband and teens would enjoy it. While they did, I’m not sure any of us fully understood it. This was one of those selections where it would have gone much better if I’d read it on my own first before attempting to read it aloud.

    It’s worth reading. Chesterton is always quotable, you know.

    Everyone Needs a Fairy Tale Now and Then!

    Straw into Gold by Gary D. Schmidt

    Well written and fun, this was an absolute delight for all of us. I love fairy tales, but I’m always on my guard with retellings. This is an epic retelling of Rumpelstiltskin and it is wonderful.

    Highly recommended!

    The Rwendigo Tales

    I bought this series for myself for my birthday. I had heard of it and badly wanted to read it to my children. I’m glad I did. It was quite good. It needed a better editor — I found a number of typos and formatting errors along the way — but overall the tales were well-written. Because the setting was African, it gave my children a few things to think about they hadn’t considered before, which was part of my intent in choosing them.

    Our First Austen!

    Emma by Jane Austen

    Oh, I’ve waited my whole life for my children to all be ready for Austen. Admittedly, it was stretching it for my youngest, but I’d still call it a dream come true. When I heard one of my daughters tell someone “If you don’t like Emma, there is something wrong with you!” I felt like my work here is done, you know?

    I’m glad we read it — we’ll probably read another Austen this spring. But I’m also glad I waited until they were mostly old enough to appreciate it.

    We Read a Few Christmas Works

    The Nutcracker by ETA Hoffmann

    We wanted to love this book, but it gets a meh from all of us. We’d only seen the ballet; never read it. It was just okay. In many places, it was strange, disconnected, and hard to follow. Perhaps the problem was the translator; I’m not sure. If you happen to have a version of the (real) Nutcracker that you adore, I’d be interested. I bought this one because I liked the cover. Admittedly, this is not the best way to seek out translated works!

    The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

    Still my second favorite Christmas book! This was a re-read aloud and soooo good. I love that it’s funny in a way that causes us to laugh out loud even when we’ve heard it before.

    A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

    I think this was our tenth time reading this aloud! If I recall correctly, we started this every Christmas break when my oldest was in second grade … and now he’s in twelfth. I see something new to appreciate with each reading, and it’s become a delightful annual tradition.

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  • Reply Emily Bevacqua January 16, 2020 at 6:55 am

    My book list for 2020 just got a whole lot longer!

    I can second the Sendak version of the Nutcracker; we read it aloud for the first time this year and I loved it. My daughter was a little “meh” by the time we reached the end and she didn’t care for the illustrations, but I thought they were really unique and imaginative and fit the story well. It’s so funny, because I had been planning to pick up the copy you had shown above because I loved the cover so much and assumed it was the same story. Guess I’ll be sticking with my $2 booksale treasure!

    I read The Man Who Was Thursday this year also, and really enjoyed it, but it was pretty wild. We were on vacation and I stayed up late to finish it. I set the book down and just sat there for so long my husband asked if I was ok. I said yes, but I was so confused I just needed to process for a while! 😀

    We’re currently listening to The Girl Who Drank the Moon on audiobook and it is sooo good. The language is rich and beautiful and it’s been very thought-provoking as well.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 16, 2020 at 3:33 pm

      I have never heard of The Girl Who Drank the Moon but the title is intriguing! I’ll have to go look that up!

  • Reply Jamie January 13, 2020 at 8:40 am

    I love your book posts! I have some of these titles on my TBR list for read-alouds and have added some more, thanks.
    Our favorite read-alouds for 2019 (keep in mind my kids are 5,8, and 10) are:

    Summer of the Monkeys
    The Cricket in Times Square
    The Sign of the Beaver
    Echo (the kids liked it more than I did)
    Ben and Me
    True Grit (with some editing by me, of a few curse words)

    We are currently reading Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and everyone is enjoying it.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 13, 2020 at 7:40 pm

      I have never heard of Summer of the Monkeys! I’ll have to look it up. Great list! ♥

  • Reply Stephanie January 11, 2020 at 9:45 am

    I’m so glad you thought A Man who was Thursday was strange!! As I was reading it I kept thinking, “Surely GK wasn’t high when writing this?!?” I just didn’t really get it. Maybe I need to read it again. Or maybe not. ?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 13, 2020 at 7:39 pm

      Hahahaha! It really did read like coming off anesthesia is like for me, I agree!

  • Reply Carol January 11, 2020 at 2:48 am

    I haven’t heard of that Gary Schmidt title. My son really liked his Wednesday Wars & I think my daughter would enjoy this one. Have you read ‘Beauty’ by Robin McKinley? – a re-telling of Beauty & the Beast. The Man Who Was Thursday is a favourite with my lot but I tend to do better with his non fiction – well some of it! I really need to have my brain available when I read him.

  • Reply Rondalyn Ohrenberg January 11, 2020 at 1:14 am

    The Nutcracker illustrated by Maurice Sendak is a much better translation than the one with the nice cover. I also bought that one a couple of years ago and was intrigued that the whole story was there, not just the bits portrayed in the ballet, and I also wanted to love it. But I found it clunky and sometimes unintelligible, in ways that made me think that it was a poor mix of literal and idiomatic translation. I bought the Sendak illustrated version on the recommendation of someone on the AO Forum, and it is SO MUCH better. The entire story-within-a-story is there, and it is a wonderful fairy tale.
    Reading Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has been a personal tradition for me, I think since college. This year, after watching an old, black & white, one- hour abridged movie as a family, my 7yo asked me to read aloud “the real Christmas Carol.” Be still, my heart! We read it over a couple of weeks, but we finished it, and she told me she wants me to read it aloud every year now. (I had that same feeling of “my work is done here”) 😉

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 11, 2020 at 8:02 am

      THANK YOU! I will grab a copy of the Sendak translation and make a second attempt next year. “Clunky and unintelligible” is a VERY apt description!

      I just love that your daughter asked you to read Christmas Carol to her. Moments like that really are dreams come true! ♥

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 11, 2020 at 8:04 am

      I want to make sure I get the right one. Did you mean this one?

      • Reply a. borealis January 11, 2020 at 11:55 am

        Yep, that’s the one. We LOVE this book, it’s been a tradition since my boys were little guys. Fritz is such a riot, ordering his hussars around and admonishing them for their poor performance in battle. We read it every year. (Same with The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden, illustrated by Barbara Cooney.)

        We just started a new tradition this year too: A Christmas Carol. What a beautiful story; it was amazing to know it so well while reading it for the first time. It really is a part of the public imagination, isn’t it?? I bumped into a lovely vintage ex-lib copy of it and my boys are 14-12-9-6, so I figured it was due time; but I also wanted read it in part due to your battle with Mystie and Pam on Schole Sisters last year. I need to re-listen to their argument to see if I still disagree as strongly as I did in 2018. 😉 There is power in Story that exists outside the framework of creed and doctrine.

        I love your reading list! Did you do all of these by read aloud, or were some of them on audio?

        • Reply Brandy Vencel January 13, 2020 at 7:39 pm

          I did them all aloud. I really adore reading aloud …

          I COMPLETELY agree with you here: “There is power in Story that exists outside the framework of creed and doctrine.”

      • Reply Rondalyn Ohrenberg January 11, 2020 at 8:27 pm

        Yes, that’s it. Manheim’s translation experience and credentials are pretty impressive. Hope you all enjoy it!

  • Reply MamaB January 8, 2020 at 7:11 pm

    I recommend “The Nutcracker of Nurembourg” as good retelling of the story of the Nutcracker. I found it through the Reshelving Alexandria website & we read it aloud in preparation for seeing the ballet. It’s quite funny and we were all invested in the characters and the story—really made the ballet so much more meaningful and fun for us!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 9, 2020 at 2:55 pm

      Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll look it up. 🙂

  • Reply Patty B January 8, 2020 at 6:03 pm

    Please never stop blogging Brandy! I so enjoy reading your insights, and suggestions. It always gets me thinking.

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