top of page

Library Read-Alouds For Older Kids

Updated: Feb 26

"Perhaps the most important message that comes from our reading aloud to [kids] is one that says you are worth the time this will take. You are the focus of what I do as a teacher. When I read to you, I give you that same undivided attention you once had snuggling in the lap of a caregiver who read to you. When a teacher reads aloud, it is a bonding between the teacher, the children, the books, and the act of reading. That in itself is worthy.” - Lester Laminack, The Ultimate Read-Aloud Resource

This is a photo of me reading aloud to my (8th grade) students as a first (or maybe 2nd??) year teacher - nearly <gulp> 30 years ago. While this photo may not be the most flattering, it is a personal favorite, because it captures a practice that was, and remains, very important to me.

Truth be told, my journey with read-alouds began as a rebellion of sorts. In my district, the common practice was for middle school ELA teachers to begin each class period with a 5-10 minute grammar lesson from a program called Daily Oral Language. Even as a first year teacher, it did not take long for me to realize that this practice only accomplished one thing consistently: it kicked off each class period with an experience that my students hated. I may not have known much as a baby teacher, but I did know that the first few minutes of class often set the tone for how the rest of our time together would go, so... after a few weeks of trying (and failing!) to make DOL work, I made a change that would end up being a staple part of my work with young people for the next three decades. I dropped DOL and, instead, devoted the first 5-10 minutes of each class period to reading aloud to my students.

This change paid off immediately. Within the first week, I noticed:

  • a change in the way my students entered class: disruptions virtually disappeared; I no longer needed to remind students of behavior expectations at the beginning of each period. Rather, the class self regulated, reminding one another that I wouldn't start reading until they were all settled down and ready to participate.

  • a change in our classroom culture: our shared reading experiences created a culture in which my kiddos associated reading with pleasure and safety - something many of them told me they had never felt before. To this day, when I hear from kiddos that I taught (either as their teacher or as their librarian) the thing they bring up most is the time we spent together reading aloud. They talk about how that time made them love reading. Many also ask me for the titles of the books we read together, so they can share them with their own children.

  • a change in student motivation around everything else we did. The positive reading experiences we built in those first five minutes often fueled my students when the work got harder. Read-alouds build trust, both in me as someone who values and invests in kids AND in reading itself as an experiences that is worthy of student time and effort.

Ten years later, when I made the transition from a classroom teacher to a school librarian, I carried the read-aloud with me. While it took me some time to figure out exactly how to bring that practice into the library, eventually, I landed on serializing longer books as read-alouds during lunch periods. I'll be honest, when I first decided to turn lunch into read aloud time in the library, people thought I was crazy! But it didn't take long before I had a regular crowd of kids who were eager to hang out with me for 20 minutes or so, eating their lunch, while I read the latest installment of whatever book we were sharing. I learned a lot of things from these experiences, but the most important lesson might be that kids of ALL ages, from awkward 7th graders to big, burly and even bearded 12th graders, (and all shapes and sizes in between!) love to be read to. Those lunch period read-alouds helped me:

  • build relationships with kids AND with their teachers, who often joined us

  • create low stakes opportunities to connect kids with the power of story

  • model what it's like to have a joyful reading life

  • position the library as a place where all kids are valued and safe

The reality is that kids (and teachers!) are bombarded daily with messaging that emphasizes the importance of knowing HOW to read. And while the skill of reading matters (a lot!), in school we have a habit of hyper-focusing on the HOW of reading to such a degree that both we, and our readers, completely lose sight of WHY we read. Bottom line: reading stamina doesn't exist without reading motivation. And, in my experience, very few things positively affect reading motivation like the read-aloud.

These days, when I work with educators on developing effective read-aloud practices, one question I get a lot is some version of, "how do you pick the books?" As with most things education related, this answer is complicated and requires both nuance AND an understanding of the kids you teach. With that in mind, while I always emphasize selecting books that speak to your kids as HUMANS (rather than students), here are some other general tips I share:

Pick books that:

  • grab attention right away. With only 5-10 minutes to spare, neither you nor your readers have time for a slow burn.

  • feature relatable, compelling characters. Representation matters: select books that serve as mirrors, windows, sliding glass doors, prisms or even curtains.

  • contain lots of action. Not every book needs to be an action-adventure, but your characters should be engaged in activities that your readers will become invested in.

  • include some cliff hangers. Some of my favorite read-aloud memories include those moments when my students lost their minds as I closed the book at a cliff hanger! Y'all... when kids who previously identified as "hating reading" ask if you have more copies of the book in the library, so that they can read ahead, that's a WIN!

  • you genuinely love. Kids can smell 💩! If you love a book, chances are, they will, too!

  • offer opportunities for "heartprint" connections.

"Heartprint books, as I call them, leave footprints on our hearts and lasting impressions on our learning communities. I can think of no better reason for us to read aloud every day. When we invest in books, we invest in kids - an investment that is ageless and priceless." - JoEllen McCarthy - Layers of Learning

Here are some recent (and forthcoming) titles that I think would make great read-alouds. Let's start with middle school:

And here are some recent (and forthcoming) titles that I think lend themselves to a High School read-aloud experience:

It's worth emphasizing, however, that the book itself is always less important than the way we craft these shared reading experience. As you read aloud to kids, rather than focusing on things like practicing unfamiliar vocabulary or pointing out literary elements in the text, I always encourage educators to use these few minutes to craft an authentic reading experience that centers connection. To that end, in addition to being enthusiastic and tossing in a little extra drama when the book calls for it, read-alouds give us the chance to focus on:

  • modeling what it means to be a reader. This means pausing to share moments when we feel surprised, moved or confused. Read-alouds can afford us the space to share personal experiences that connect our hearts through story.

  • developing habits (rather than skills). Prioritizing a read-aloud within the school day shows kids that carving out time for reading matters in a way that book reports and reading logs never will.

  • associating reading with joy. For far too many kids, reading is associated with (at best!) boredom and (at worst!) anxiety or feelings of failure. The read-aloud gives us the chance to change that narrative.

  • building connection and community. At a time when our world feels more divided than ever, story remains one of the most effective ways to bond us to one another.

So... as I wrap up this read-aloud manifesto, let me ask you to think about your own read aloud experiences as a child. Take a second and ask yourself:

  • When was the first time you recall being read to?

  • Who was involved?

  • What emotions are attached to that experience?

When I do this work with educators, I often share that when I was a child, the few books I had were used as kindling in my family's wood stove during one cold winter when our power was turned off. And yet… I still have several formative read-aloud experiences that shaped my understanding of story and how it connects us. One of my earliest read-aloud memories is of my parents reading Richard Scarry books, like Busy Town, Busy People, with me. Although I didn’t yet know how to read, I then “read” those same books to my younger brother by making up the story, based on what I saw on the page and what I remembered from being read to myself. In the end, it didn’t matter that I didn’t actually know how to read, what mattered is that I wanted to provide my sibling with the same feelings being read aloud to had sparked in me. That said, while this is a more traditional read-aloud experience, I also have some read-aloud memories that are far from traditional but that remain equally indelible.

Once my books were lost to fire, I don’t remember being read aloud to again at until one snowy afternoon when I was in the 6th or 7th grade. As soon as it was announced that school was closed for the day, I begged my mother to read to me from the book she was reading. Like a lot of people, perhaps even some of you, my mother’s reading tastes leaned heavily into horror and true crime, so the book she read to me that day (and for many days after, until we’d finished it) was The Amityville Horror. Now, I’ll be honest… I don’t really recall anything about the book, but what I do remember is spending time with my mother (a rarity in our house), the sound of her voice, and the experience of sharing something important with her. (By the way, shortly after we finished The Amityville Horror, we read Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me together, which I credit with my love of true-crime to this day!)

To be clear, while I don't recommend reading books written for adults to young children, I mention this because for many of the young people we serve, their first read aloud experience may not look like the traditional "bed time story" that we see in popular culture. In fact, for lots of kids their first read-alouds occur in classrooms and in school or public libraries. Indeed, that’s where I remember my 4th grade teacher reading Where The Red Fern Grows to our class - the first read-aloud that made me want to go to the library and check out the book, so that I could read along with her. The one thing all of these read-aloud experiences have in common is that they shaped both my understanding of story and my identity as a reader.

With that in mind, I'll be honest: I wonder/worry about kids who are never read to. And about those kids whose read-aloud experiences end with picture books, once the "serious business" of reading takes control of everything we do in schools. Because, here's what we know, y'all: we know that story has the power to connect us. We know that those connections can lead to empathy and compassion. And we know that read-alouds are a powerful tool for providing those experiences to young people. Don’t we want ALL kids to have those experiences? Don't we want those experiences and connections to continue as kids get older and the world becomes even more complicated and difficult to navigate? I know, I do.


Recent Posts

See All


black banner.png
  • Twitter Social Icon
  • instagram logo
  • YouTube Social  Icon
  • gmail square
  • TikTok

Let's Connect!

bottom of page