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    Books & Reading

    The Official 2021 Afterthoughts Read Aloud List

    January 10, 2022 by Brandy Vencel

    I always assumed my read aloud lists would get much shorter as my children got older. I suspected that fatal combination of busy kids and longer works would do it. But Covid, ah Covid. My kids still at home just aren’t as busy as my oldest was at their ages. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but there’s not much I can do about it. A good example is the children’s choir my children joined in the fall of 2019. This was the director’s first year attempting a choir. With his BYU training, he was very good. But new endeavors have their struggles and Covid killed this one before it had time to build up strength for endurance.

    There is no more children’s choir.

    It is what is is. God knew this would happen, too. But I’m sad for the overall decline in culture, including the lack of quality children’s choirs.

    In the meantime, we read. We read a lot, actually, in 2021.

    If you want to know how we fit it all in, read my blog post on that.

    Please keep in mind that all of my children are teenagers. Also keep in mind that when I’m reading aloud, I edit on the fly. Please don’t consider this list to be a recommendation for your child’s private reading. You would need to read them for yourself to be able to judge that.

    The Giver Series

    The Giver Series by Lois Lowry

    We read it all: The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son. I adore this series, and it’s a good introduction to dystopian fiction for younger teens.

    Historical Fiction

    Waverly by Sir Walter Scott

    Every year, I try to choose a few longer, more challenging books. Sometimes one or more of the children has already read them, other times they are new to everyone (even me). By sprinkling these along the way, I don’t overwhelm anyone, but we still grow our reading muscles and have good conversations along the way.

    The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

    The children had seen the classic film based upon this book, but none of us had ever read it. It was a great delight, which was expected. What I didn’t expect is that all of them agreed the book was so much better than the movie.

    Books that Help the Children Grow

    I don’t know what else to call this category. I choose a number of nonfiction titles each year and each of them is designed to introduce the children to important ideas.

    Ourselves by Charlotte Mason

    I have sung the praises of this book many times before. What can I say? I love it. It helps me have important conversations with my children, yes. But reading it aloud is also so good for me. It reminds me of who I want to be. It corrects me, encourages me, and guides me by simply telling me the truth about myself and human nature.

    What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool

    We have been reading this book in small bits, which means we still haven’t finished it. But so interesting! I try to read it aloud during Circle Time whenever we have a book from this era going. We’re working on a Dickens title right now, so it’s time to bring this book back to the table.

    The Social Skills Guidebook by Chris MacLeod

    This is another one we pick up and put down. There are a few parts I skip because I don’t think they are particularly helpful, or I don’t quite agree with them. But overall, I like it. There is definite consideration for people who have Asperger’s or struggle with extreme social anxiety, so it’s a better book than others that assume the reader doesn’t have these issues.

    Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price

    How do you get a teen to be a more responsible eater? I find it’s helpful to expose them to a lot of different books on nutrition and health. This is one that took us a full school year to finish but was oh so worth it. Dr. Price’s adventures are interesting and we traced his travels on our globe, so I guess you could say it doubled as a geography book!

    Breath by James Nestor

    We’re almost done with this one, which means it’ll be on next year’s list as well. It’s interesting. My kids all decided to try mouth taping at night to see if it helped their sleep.

    Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall

    This is a fascinating book that covers nutrition and exercise and endurance along with World War II history, Greek mythology, and more. It’s a super fun read. I will say this: Mama may have gotten preachy when McDougall totally botched his understanding of classical Greek terms, especially arete. But I forgive him because the rest of the book was fab.

    Books That Made Us Laugh

    The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float by Farley Mowat

    I picked this memoir up during a time when I wanted us to have more exposure to Canadian authors. When I flipped through it, it seemed to mature for my kids at the time and so I shelved it and forgot about it. This summer when I had to box up my whole library for a flooring project, I rediscovered the book and pulled it out as a read aloud. So glad I did. Mowat is funny and it’s amazing half the adventures in the book didn’t kill him.

    The Importance of Being Earnest by Charles Osborne

    This is an adaptation of the play to novel form. We loved it. It’s true: I could have read the play aloud, or possibly assigned parts and had us all read it aloud. At the end of the day, this seemed easier. Someday, we’ll do the real thing.

    The Ranger’s Apprentice Series

    The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan
    The Burning Bridge by John Flanagan
    The Icebound Land by John Flanagan

    This is a long series, so I just read a few of more of them aloud this year (having read a few the year before as well). And I’ll probably read a few more this year, until someday we finish!

    This series is what I would call fine. The writing isn’t great, but isn’t terrible. I keep waiting for it to be magical, but it’s so secular there’s not even any magic. It’s set in a medieval sort of setting, but no one believes in anything interesting (supernaturally speaking). The plots are interesting, though, and the action is fun.

    Thanks to the UK

    Ha. The UK is rich in literature, what can I say?

    The Complete Father Brown Stories by GK Chesterton

    This is, I think, 5 volumes in one. Needless to say, it feels like I’ll never finish it. This isn’t a book we consistently read. I save it for when I only have one or two kids at home. It’s evening and they want to read, but also don’t want whoever is missing to miss out on our regular read-aloud selecrtion. Because this book is full of short stories, it’s very satisfying to read a story aloud on nights like that.

    Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

    My girls, at least, have read enough gothic novels to get the joke when it comes to this title. That made it extra fun. Austen is, of course, always a delightful read, even for teen boys who are In Denial.

    The Lost Baron by Allen French

    If you’ve never read any Allen French aloud to your kids, you are missing out. His tales are so well written and I love his theme of the determination of young men — hardly able to be called men! — to bring about justice against great odds.

    The Baronet’s Song by George MacDonald

    This was a fun, adventurous sort of read. We had interesting discussions about Sir Gibbie and the possibility of him playing the part of a Christ figure in the story.

    The Shepherd’s Castle by George MacDonald

    This book “goes with” The Baronet’s Song above in the sense that a number of the characters in the first book carry over into this one. But I put it in quotation marks for a reason. The style of the novel is completely different. This one is much more like a gothic novel. It’s my favorite of the two.

    Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling

    My kids read all of the Harry Potter series this year, but I read this one aloud, mainly because I didn’t love certain aspects of how the male/female relationships were handled in this one. I didn’t think it quite appropriate for my youngest, who was 12 at the time. The girls could have handled it just fine, but they wanted in on the fun. (Yes, this means I edited the book ever so slightly.)

    Christmas Books

    A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

    I think this might have been our 10th reading. We’ve been reading it aloud every year since my youngest was a toddler. So good!

    The True Gift by Patricia MacLachlan

    My kids did not like this one. It’s not because it was a children’s book — if there is any time of year teens are willing to listen to children’s books, it’s Christmas. I think if kids have real experience with animals, this book will irk them. The idea that the cow was lonely bothered them. They know you can keep a cow alone and it will be fine. They also know (because we experienced it first hand) that true herd animals like goats cannot be kept alone. (We had a pair, one died, and the other almost lost her mind. We literally bought our goat a goat in order to survive.) It was universally agreed upon that had the cow been a goat, the book would have been better.

    A Very Russian Christmas

    This book is a collection of short stories by a number of Russian authors, including greats like Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. “This book is depressing,” declared my youngest. “Welcome to Russian literature, son,” I replied.

    I think perhaps the most enlightening one was where Christmas was outlawed so the people kept New Year’s trees instead. Turns out, the type of government your country has matters a whole lot.

    Other Books

    I couldn’t really think of a category for the rest of these…

    The Lion and the Saint by Laura E. Wolfe

    This little book — written by a member of the Sistership! — was so good. We thoroughly enjoyed this retelling of the story of St. Gerasim and the Lion. I highly recommend it. It is short, so read slowly and savor.

    Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls

    This was another book roundly rejected by the whole family as subpar. In this instance, it’s multiple books — or attempts to write multiple books — in one. Any single plot line and resolution would have been fine on its own, but the combination of plots and resolutions just made it feel like the book didn’t know what it wanted to be when it grew up.

    This book is proof that not every work by a good author is worthy.

    The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba

    I wrote a whole post about this book earlier in 2021, so I won’t repeat myself much. This was a riveting tale. We loved it. Go get a copy!

    The Sea-Hawk by Rafael Sabatini

    We love a good Sabatini pirate book every now and then, and this one was true to form. Kids can get a weird view of piracy if they are only exposed to Disney products. Reading Sabatini can remedy the situation. Of course, the real reason to read Sabatini is that his books are well-written and his plots are intriguing.

    Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

    I laughingly called these “teenager bedtime stories.” We’d read them at a late hour, someone in the story would be mauled or eaten by a dinosaur, and then the children would go to bed. Some of them really did have disturbing dreams, which I thought was hilarious. It was a fun read, and I think the first time we’ve read sci-fi together.

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  • Reply Lucy Barr-Hamilton February 17, 2022 at 11:11 pm

    I tore a page out of that Harry Potter book. The one where Ron and Ginny argue about kissing. Yuk.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 17, 2022 at 11:30 pm

      Yes! That is the theme I was censoring — it wasn’t the kissing … it was the way it was handled! So awful.

  • Reply Adele Chlebeck January 17, 2022 at 8:59 am

    You know that the Baronet’s song is a very secular abreviation of the book Sir Gibby. I was trying to read Sir Gibby with my husband and ended up with the Baronet’s Song. I was rather shocked how much the editor changed the story.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 18, 2022 at 10:00 am

      OH my goodness! I had NO CLUE! I will have to get the original. Thank you for telling me!

  • Reply Laura January 15, 2022 at 1:46 pm

    We read a couple of these this year as well. One was Summer of the Monkeys, and it must have been just the comic relief we needed because we loved it! I laughed so hard I cried. I’m adding some of these books to our list for this year!

  • Reply Laura E. Wolfe January 14, 2022 at 5:49 pm

    I feel so honored to be included on a list that has caused me to buy so many books in the past!! Thank you!!

    (We are having good results with mouth taping at night, too!)

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 15, 2022 at 2:49 pm

      You are so welcome! We LOVED your book! ♥

  • Reply Sharron Cox January 13, 2022 at 7:58 am

    What an amazing list!

  • Reply Kim Scarbrough January 11, 2022 at 8:14 pm

    Thanks for this list! Great to hear what you are reading and your thoughts on each book ! I always get some new ideas!

  • Reply Melissa January 11, 2022 at 10:32 am

    Hey Brandy, great list!! I’m so sorry to hear that the choir folded. I know how much you were looking forward to that. Sadly, our homeschool choir is no longer either and it was very well-established for at least 15 years prior. Maybe it will pick up again in the future, but who knows…but God! 😉

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 11, 2022 at 10:52 am

      Oh that’s even sadder! So many lost traditions through all of this. 🙁

  • Reply Rahime January 10, 2022 at 5:49 pm

    Did anyone find mouth taping at night helpful? I read that book last year and found it very interesting!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 11, 2022 at 10:11 am

      Yes! Two of my four — which is funny because it was the two I thought most likely to be mouth-breathing while asleep!

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