One of the best ways parents can spend time in their elementary aged child’s classroom is by volunteering to go to in to read. It’s fun to see your child and her friends, and in the eyes of your child you’re a superhero for coming to spend special time with them.

But before reading in the classroom, parents and children must select the right books. In my house, what should be a fun process often results in meltdowns when I have to explain that no, I cannot read your current favorite Lego Batman book to your class and no, I cannot start reading a 200 page chapter book and finish it next time I come to read in three months.

Other times my children and I agree that a book is a great choice only to find that it does not hold the attention of the class and I need to stop to ask kids to stop talking so others can hear the story, or I am repeatedly interrupted by requests to show the pictures again. This is not the best way to spend time in your child’s class.


What’s a well-meaning parent to do? I asked Deborah Johnson, book buyer for Barston’s Child’s Play  and blogger at Annie and Aunt: Family Thoughts on Reading with Kids for some tips on how to navigate the quagmire of choosing the perfect read-aloud books for the classroom for my little kid and big kid, both in elementary school.

1. Give your child a set of books from which to choose. Parents know their children’s favorite books. If your child has asked you to read from the latest book in the Pinkalicious series every night for the past week she will predictably ask you to read that book to her class. If you prefer to read something less gendered, don’t include that book in the group of books you present to child. Instead, create a set of books both you and your child like and that you think are appropriate and give the set to your child and ask her to select two or three. This gives both you and your child some input while avoiding rejection of your child’s favorites.

2. Go on a Book Hunt. Build up the anticipation of your going into your child’s class by going on a search for new-to-you books the weekend before your visit. Take your child along to the library or your local bookstore and ask for recommendations. Take some time to read through the books with your child and discover some new favorites to share with the class.


3. Choose Books With Large Pictures. This one may seem obvious, but it’s important to make sure all of the kids in the class will easily be able to see the pictures in the book you are reading. Large pictures and large books are best. It doesn’t matter how great the story is — if the children can’t see the pictures, they won’t pay as close attention and may interrupt you to request a better look at the book. If you have a smaller (or electronic) version of a wonderful book, it may be worth a trip to the library or bookstore to get a full-sized version everyone will be able to see.

4. Be dramatic. Funny voices are always a hit with elementary school children. Use a deep voice when reading the part of a Daddy or a bear and a high voice when a Mom or bird makes an appearance. If there is a grumpy character use your best “I’m angry” voice and really act excited when a story takes a turn for the better. Have some props? Don’t be afraid to wear a silly hat or bring in a puppet those ties into the story to really bring the book to life. Younger children will love watching you act silly and older children are likely to respond well to added drama.

5. Read something new. In the world of children’s literature certain books are trendy and enjoy a long period of popularity. Often these books are fantastic but chances are most children in the class will have read these before. Children are more likely to pay attention when they are listening to a story they haven’t heard recently or already read multiple times.


6. Find some humor. Children respond well to humor. If you have a book that makes your child laugh every time you read it, you probably have a winner.

7. Make it relevant. Children respond well to stories that are relevant to them. Since kids are doing and learning so much this leaves a lot to choose from. You can choose a book that ties into what they are studying in school be it a book with a strong woman character during Women’s History Month or a book about building, the current season, an upcoming holiday, or a book about navigating playground woes or making mistakes at school.

8. Read your childhood favorites. My children love it when I share my own favorite books from childhood with them and their classmates can go home and ask their parents if they remember books that have withstood the test of time.


9. Look for a strong plot. Starting in about first grade when children have started reading on their own and are reading chapter books, it take more effort to keep them interested in a picture book. But even older children enjoy a good story. Older children can pay attention for longer periods of time so reading a book that may take up to 15 minutes to read is acceptable for this age group. Look for books with a strong pull – if you want to keep reading to find out what happen, so will the kids. Books with a strong emotional component are also good choices.

10. Teach lessons. Children, especially younger children, respond well to books that teach lessons, such as those about dealing with being in a bad mood, getting ready for going to bed, dealing with a bully or coping with being sick.

11. Repeat yourself. For younger children, look for books with repetition of words and themes throughout. Repetition can help younger children follow the story and become re-engaged more easily if they become distracted mid-book.


12. Talk about it. If time permits and your child’s teacher allows it, you can let children know that you will talk about the book once you are done reading it. Children may pay closer attention if they know you will ask them about the story when you are done. Simple questions such as “This book took place in winter. What is your favorite season?” Or, “What would you have done if no one wanted to play with you at recess?” can open up short but interesting conversations.

Some books recommended by Johnson, my 7-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter are:

All Pigs are Beautiful by Dick King-Smith


Big Bear Hugs by Nicholas Oldland

Chester by Melanie Watt

The Day My Mom Came to Kindergarten by Maureen Fergus and Mike Lowery


Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard

A House in the Woods by Inga Moore

In by Nikki McClure

Raising Dragons by Jerdine Nolen

The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman

A Sick Day of Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead

Spinky Sulks by William Steig

Timeout for Sophie by Rosemary Wells

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Jamie Davis Smith is a freelance writer and mother of four. She can be reached at

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