Books to Read Aloud

I have been thinking about reading aloud of late, particularly as last year, I shared the odd poem from Allie Esiri’s A Poem for Every Night of the Year with my boyfriend.  Prior to this, I had done very little reading aloud since leaving my taught University classes, and realised that it is something I really miss.  With that in mind, I thought it would be a nice idea to curate a list of some of the books which I have most enjoyed reading aloud in the past.  Given the nature of this list, they are almost all children’s books, as I did most of my reading aloud in groups whilst in junior school.  Regardless, picking one up and reading it aloud is sure to charm any child, or to make you feel very nostalgic indeed.


10333461. Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo
‘When Michael is washed up on an island in the Pacific after falling from his parent’s yacht, the Peggy Sue, he struggles to survive on his own. But he soon realises there is someone close by, someone who is watching over him and helping him to stay alive. Following a close-run battle between life and death after being stung by a poisonous jelly fish, the mysterious someone–Kensuke–allows Michael into his world and they become friends, teaching and learning from each other, until the day of separation becomes inevitable.  Morpurgo here spins a yarn which gently captures the adventurous elements one would expect from a desert-island tale, but the real strength lies in the poignant and subtle observations of friendship, trust and, ultimately, humanity.’


2. Matilda by Roald Dahl 109019
‘Matilda is a little girl who is far too good to be true. At age five-and-a-half she’s knocking off double-digit multiplication problems and blitz-reading Dickens. Even more remarkably, her classmates love her even though she’s a super-nerd and the teacher’s pet. But everything is not perfect in Matilda’s world. For starters she has two of the most idiotic, self-centered parents who ever lived. Then there’s the large, busty nightmare of a school principal, Miss (“The”) Trunchbull, a former hammer-throwing champion who flings children at will and is approximately as sympathetic as a bulldozer. Fortunately for Matilda, she has the inner resources to deal with such annoyances: astonishing intelligence, saintly patience, and an innate predilection for revenge.  She warms up with some practical jokes aimed at her hapless parents, but the true test comes when she rallies in defense of her teacher, the sweet Miss Honey, against the diabolical Trunchbull. There is never any doubt that Matilda will carry the day. Even so, this wonderful story is far from predictable. Roald Dahl, while keeping the plot moving imaginatively, also has an unerring ear for emotional truth. The reader cares about Matilda because in addition to all her other gifts, she has real feelings.’


161011153. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
‘One starry night, Peter Pan and Tinker Bell lead the three Darling children over the rooftops of London and away to Neverland – the island where lost boys play, mermaids splash and fairies make mischief. But a villainous-looking gang of pirates lurk in the docks, led by the terrifying Captain James Hook. Magic and excitement are in the air, but if Captain Hook has his way, before long, someone will be walking the plank and swimming with the crocodiles…’


4. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett 231815
‘When orphaned Mary Lennox comes to live at her uncle’s great house on the Yorkshire Moors, she finds it full of secrets. The mansion has nearly one hundred rooms, and her uncle keeps himself locked up. And at night, she hears the sound of crying down one of the long corridors.  The gardens surrounding the large property are Mary’s only escape. Then, Mary discovers a secret garden, surrounded by walls and locked with a missing key. One day, with the help of two unexpected companions, she discovers a way in. Is everything in the garden dead, or can Mary bring it back to life?’


10451495. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
‘Narnia… the land beyond the wardrobe, the secret country known only to Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy…the place where the adventure begins. Lucy is the first to find the secret of the wardrobe in the professor’s mysterious old house. At first, no one believes her when she tells of her adventures in the land of Narnia. But soon Edmund and then Peter and Susan discover the Magic and meet Aslan, the Great Lion, for themselves. In the blink of an eye, their lives are changed forever.’


6. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr Seuss 113946
‘Dr. Seuss’s small-hearted Grinch ranks right up there with Scrooge when it comes to the crankiest, scowling holiday grumps of all time. For 53 years, the Grinch has lived in a cave on the side of a mountain, looming above the Whos in Whoville. The noisy holiday preparations and infernal singing of the happy little citizens below annoy him to no end. The Grinch decides this frivolous merriment must stop. His “wonderful, awful” idea is to don a Santa outfit, strap heavy antlers on his poor, quivering dog Max, construct a makeshift sleigh, head down to Whoville, and strip the chafingly cheerful Whos of their Yuletide glee once and for all.  Looking quite out of place and very disturbing in his makeshift Santa get-up, the Grinch slithers down chimneys with empty bags and stealing the Whos’ presents, their food, even the logs from their humble Who-fires. He takes the ramshackle sleigh to Mt. Crumpit to dump it and waits to hear the sobs of the Whos when they wake up and discover the trappings of Christmas have disappeared. Imagine the Whos’ dismay when they discover the evil-doings of Grinch in his anti-Santa guise. But what is that sound? It’s not sobbing, but singing! Children simultaneously adore and fear this triumphant, twisted Seussian testimonial to the undaunted cheerfulness of the Whos, the transcendent nature of joy, and of course, the growth potential of a heart that’s two sizes too small.  This holiday classic is perfect for reading aloud to your favorite little Who’s.’


4753397. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
‘Madeline is one of the best-loved characters in children’s literature. Set in picturesque Paris, this tale of a brave little girl’s trip to the hospital was a Caldecott Honor Book in 1940 and has as much appeal today as it did then. The combination of a spirited heroine, timelessly appealing art, cheerful humor, and rhythmic text makes Madeline a perennial favorite with children of all ages.’


8. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter 19321
‘In this original edition, Peter and his sisters are told to go gather blackberries and not to go into MacGregor’s garden because Peter’s father was made into a pie by MacGregor after being found in the garden. Peter, who is wearing a new coat, promptly disobeys his mother, stuffs himself with vegetables, gets spotted by MacGregor, loses his coat and barely makes it out of the garden alive. When Peter gets home, he is given chamomile tea for dinner. Peter’s sisters, who listened to their mother and stayed out of the forbidden garden have a regular dinner.’


63199. The BFG by Roald Dahl
‘Captured by a giant! The BFG is no ordinary bone-crunching giant. He is far too nice and jumbly. It’s lucky for Sophie that he is. Had she been carried off in the middle of the night by the Bloodbottler, the Fleshlumpeater, the Bonecruncher, or any of the other giants-rather than the BFG-she would have soon become breakfast.  When Sophie hears that they are flush-bunking off in England to swollomp a few nice little chiddlers, she decides she must stop them once and for all. And the BFG is going to help her!’


10. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf 14942
Mrs. Dalloway chronicles a June day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway –a day that is taken up with running minor errands in preparation for a party and that is punctuated, toward the end, by the suicide of a young man she has never met. In giving an apparently ordinary day such immense resonance and significance–infusing it with the elemental conflict between death and life–Virginia Woolf triumphantly discovers her distinctive style as a novelist. Originally published in 1925, Mrs. Dalloway is Woolf’s first complete rendering of what she described as the “luminous envelope” of consciousness: a dazzling display of the mind’s inside as it plays over the brilliant surface and darker depths of reality.’


Which is your favourite book or poem to read aloud?

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Du Maurier December: ‘Neverland: J.M. Barrie, the du Mauriers and the Dark Side of Peter Pan’ by Piers Dudgeon ***

When I stumbled across it during a fruitless Internet search for The du Mauriers, I thought that Piers Dudgeon’s Neverland: J.M. Barrie, the du Mauriers and the Dark Side of Peter Pan sounded fascinating: ‘Neverland is a true story of genius and possession at a crossroads in time…  Two suicides, a hundred-year-old family secret, and a resentful interloper with a desire to control the fate of those he loved set the scene’.

The book’s blurb alone is rather dark; it goes on to say, ‘Immediately after George du Maurier’s death, [J.M.] Barrie made his move on the family.  He assumed George’s mantle of authority, using his powers of persuasion to captivate George’s children and, more maliciously, his grandchildren, who inspired many of the characters in Peter Pan.  Barrie emerges as a Svengali without conscience, driven by a compulsion to dominate and destroy.  Neverland reveals in horrific detail how Barrie brought his victims to nervous breakdown, early death, and suicide, and how three authors formed an image of their dark side in Svengali, Peter Pan and Rebecca – through the immortal characters in their novels’.

Neverland was published in 2009, and whilst I had not heard of the author before, it turns out that he met du Maurier herself in 1987, two years before her death, and discussed a semi-autobiographical project about her beloved Cornwall with her.  The book which he wrote instead, after du Maurier’s death, ties together the lives of Daphne du Maurier, her cousins, the tragic Llewelyn Davies boys, and J.M. Barrie.  He was intrigued by the fact that du Maurier ruled that her adolescent diaries could not be published for fifty years after her death, and wondered which secrets they may contain.  When he began to dig into her childhood to come up with an answer to his question, he found that Barrie cropped up an awful lot: ‘he was so interested in Daphne, in particular the special relationship that developed between her and her father, that when she was ten he wrote a play about it, which troubled her deeply, even into old age’.

Neverland is split into six sections, which range from ‘Sylvia, the Lost Boys and Uncle Jim: the Peter Pan Inheritance’ to ‘Michael, Daphne, and Uncle Jim: ‘An Awfully Big Adventure”.  The book has been widely well received by critics, including those who have written about du Maurier herself – Justine Picardie, for example.  The book begins with a helpful du Maurier-Llewelyn Davies family tree, and illustrations and photographs have been included throughout.

Dudgeon then goes on to set out the suicide of sixty three-year-old book publisher Peter Llewelyn Davies in 1960, which ‘provoked wide press coverage and speculation, perhaps because some reporters remembered that he had been one of the “lost boys” of Peter Pan, and noted that the tragedy more or less coincided with the centenary of the birth of J.M. Barrie’.  As one might expect, this portion of the book is incredibly sad.  Peter’s eldest son Ruthven had this to say after his father’s death: ‘From the moment I was old enough I was aware that my father had been expolited by Barrie and was very bitter…  He didn’t really like him.  He resented the fact that he wasn’t well off and that Barrie had to support him.  But when he was cut out of the will, he was livid and tremendously disappointed… and he started drinking heavily…  He was virtually a down-and-out by the time he died’.

Dudgeon soon brings in the parallels between Barrie’s influence upon Daphne and her cousins, and her own fiction; a lot of her short stories were inspired by events which involved the famous author, and they also contributed to her own state of mental health.  When writing about du Maurier’s story ‘The Blue Lenses’, for example, Dudgeon believes the following: ‘The power of the story is that only Marda… can see the truth.  The weight of this knowledge is shattering because no one believes her.  Awakening to truth is the first step to breakdown when no one believes you, when only you can see’.

Margaret Forster, the author of an excellent biography of Daphne du Maurier, writes: ‘She felt betrayed, exploited and, worst of all, fooled’ by J.M. Barrie and the power which he held over everyone.  A lot of psychology has consequently been included.  Dudgeon digs into the mysterious and covered-up elements within the family history, and it is in such instances in which he really comes into his own. He presents the family and J.M. Barrie as one does not see them on the surface.

Oddly, whilst Neverland is well written, parts of the book feel rather impersonal; it is as though Dudgeon is writing about his subjects without having any real compassion for any of them.  He appears rather dismissive at times, and the elements of mesmerism which he speaks about are quite overdone.  Some of the themes – and even the quotes from outside sources – are repeated, sometimes word for word.  Something which I found rather irritating and not at all necessary was the way in which Dudgeon seemed utterly obsessed as to whether those he was writing about were good-looking or not.  Given its length, Neverland is a relatively quick read.  It is well crafted and thought has been given to its appearance, but as a general biography, it is not one which I would go out of my way to recommend.

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Favourite Books from my Childhood: One

I thought that it would be a good idea to create a blog post about all of the books which I adored as a child, and naturally, there are many of them.  I have used my Library spreadsheet (a big list of all of the books which I’ve read during my lifetime) as inspiration.

Topsy and Tim

The Big Surprise (Topsy and Tim #2) by Jean Adamson – I used to read the Topsy and Tim books religiously when I was in infant school, and they were the first books I got to when I moved myself up a reading group, much to my parents’ amusement.  In my infant school library, we had a series of wooden boxes on legs, and each of them was painted in a different colour.  The books within each had a corresponding coloured sticker upon their spine.  When I had made my way through the colour which I had been assigned, I would move myself up so that I had more books at my disposal.  I think, in this way, that I reached the books for the most advanced readers when I was still in the middle of Year One.  I also learnt recently that Jean Adamson is a relatively local author to me, and I would have found such a fact terribly exciting when I was younger.  Topsy and Tim is a lovely series of books, and this was my particular favourite.


Funnybones by Allan Ahlberg – This book had an accompanying cartoon, which I am sure that many people of my age still remember the opening rhyme to.  The concept was quite simple: in a dark, dark town, in a dark, dark street, in a dark, dark house, in a dark, dark cellar, lived three skeletons – Big Skeleton, Little Skeleton, and their dog.  Each story featuring the trio was so fun, and I loved the illustrations.  Even though the very idea of living skeletons who enjoy playing tricks on people seems a little odd to me as an adult, something about it really worked, and for this reason, Funnybones and the rest of the books in the series will definitely be read (and the cartoon shown) to my future children, who will hopefully find it as amusing and memorable as I still do.

The Bear Nobody Wanted by Janet and Allan Ahlberg – Janet and Allan Ahlberg were my literary heroes when I was small, and I loved reading all of their books.  The Bear Nobody Wanted is one which remains vivid in my mind.  The story begins as a sad one, but it has a delightful ending, and it certainly made me treasure my soft toys all the more. 

‘The Jolly Postman’

The Jolly Postman, or Other People’s Letters, The Jolly Pocket Postman and The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg – I still remember these books with such fondness.  Each had a plethora of small envelopes inside, in which there were tiny letters which the Jolly Postman was delivering all around town.  I am certain that the stories would still absolutely delight me as an adult, and I am very excited about the possible prospect of re-reading them far into the future.

Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg – Definitely one of the most adorable simple picture books that there is.  I vividly remember reading it over and over again before I could even read its words.

Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen – I still absolutely adore these tales, and was lucky enough to drag my boyfriend around the Hans Christian Andersen Museum in Copenhagen last year.  I cannot pick a favourite story as I did love so many of them, but as it is still essentially wintertime, I shall say that ‘The Snow Queen’, and its beautiful television adaptations, is at the very pinnacle of my treasures list.

‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch’ by Ronda Armitage

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch by Ronda and David Armitage – Such an absolutely charming book, which I remember adoring.  I found out last year that there is an entire series of these books, and am hoping that my library has them all in stock so that I can joyfully discover the Lighthouse Keeper all over again.

The Flower Fairies by Cicely Mary Barker – It goes without saying that I absolutely adored these books.  Which little girl didn’t?  I would happily gaze at the illustrations for hours, and read the lovely accompanying rhymes.

Brambly Hedge

The Complete Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem – Surely the most adorable series of books, Brambly Hedge centered around a group of woodland creatures who wore the most adorable clothing, and were real characters in themselves.  I am longing to rediscover these lovely tales once more.

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie – Quite honestly, I could gush about this charming book for hours.  If you haven’t read it before, please, go and do so.  It is beautiful, magical and filled with adventure – for me, the very cornerstones of marvellous children’s literature.

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans – Everyone who knows me tends to know how much I absolutely adore the Madeline books, and Madeline herself as a character.  These tales are all told in rhyme, and centre upon a children’s orphanage in Paris, in which Madeline lives with eleven other little girls and their guardian, Miss Clavel.  Bemelmans’ illustrations are utterly charming, and he effortlessly captures the excitement and adventure which his little heroine encounters along the way.

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‘Peter Pan in Scarlet’ by Geraldine McCaughrean *****

‘Peter Pan in Scarlet’ by Geraldine McCaughrean (Oxford University Press)

Peter Pan in Scarlet, published in 2006, is the first official sequel to J.M. Barrie’s beloved Peter Pan, a firm favourite of mine.  Geraldine McCaughrean was chosen as its author following a worldwide competition run by Great Ormond Street, who receive all of the profits from sales of Peter Pan.  This book, too, raises money for the hospital, a cause close to my heart.

I had not heard of this novel before I spotted it in the Books for Amnesty shop in Brighton, and had I known that it was sold with a charitable donation included, I would have purchased a brand new copy of it.  (I did technically give to charity by buying it, I suppose, but not the one which is specified on this beautiful hardback.)

I was incredibly intrigued to see where McCaughrean would lead the story of Peter Pan, Tinker Bell, Wendy, John and Michael Darling, and those little Lost Boys.  In the sequel, which begins in 1926, ‘Dreams have been leaking out of Neverland’ and affecting all of the now grown-up men who were once the Lost Boys.  Along with each dream, an object is subsequently found in their beds – for example, a cutlass.  Wendy – or ‘Mrs Wendy’, as she is here – surmises from this that something is wrong in her beloved Neverland, and that she and the Lost Boys must return in order to assist Peter.

Throughout, McCaughrean echoes the style of the original book beautifully, and she is very faithful to Barrie’s prose techniques.  The story which she creates is so inventive, and it follows on from the original marvellously.  Her writing is just darling.  As a die-hard Peter Pan fan, I could not have hoped for a better sequel.  McCaughrean has delivered a great adventure, and has made it as true to the original as was possible.  Peter Pan in Scarlet comes very highly recommended from this girl, who will never grow up.