I’m sure you read to your kids when they were little. At some point after they learned to read alone, you probably stopped. If your kids or grandkids are between 8 and 15, it may be time to start again.
As you begin to model and teach empathy to your kids, you might run across books overtly designed to teach values to them. Bestsellers such as The 7 Habits of Effective Teens by Sean Covey and Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul by Jack Canfield are purposeful in their discussion of codes of behavior for teens. They are, essentially, Compassion for Dummies. However, just as many young teens will roll their eyes if their parents try to engage a direct discussion on values, many will similarly turn a blind eye to a page that preaches the same.
So, here’s another idea for expanding emotional boundaries that is less dry: young adult fiction. Books that don’t necessarily aspire to teach values, but nonetheless feature a main character whose choices and problems drive the story, provide numerous opportunities for a shared family experience when read aloud. Our family read The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman, a hilarious book with teen-accessible language and familiar situations. Importantly, the novel invites conversation about many contemporary issues, including the right to privacy, sibling rivalry, kids with disabilities, and teens’ needs to be noticed and respected.
As a 7th grade English teacher, I can tell you that kids love being read to, especially when the reader enjoys the story as much as the kids do. My students love the accents and dramatic effects I use when reading poems, short stories, and chapters from novels such as The Giver or The Watsons Go to Birmingham. At any point while reading, or at the end of a chapter, simply ask your kids, “Why do you think he or she did or said that?” You’ll be surprised where the conversation might go.
Below, I’ve listed several of my favorite young adult novels for family read-alouds. Each novel invites discussion about different topics. I invite you to share: What favorites do you have, and why?
Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
Holes by Louis Sachar
Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman
The Giver by Lois Lowry