A First Grade Read Aloud Banquet

by Lisa Ripperton
January ​​8, 20​20

​It has long been my mission to make it possible for every child ​to have ​the opportunity to hear a story and a song, a poem and a rhyme every day of the year. With the ​First Grade Read Aloud Banquet now available at Gateway to the Classics, ​anyone with a phone or a tablet can make that happen for the six year olds in their care.

Note: While the First Grade Read Aloud Banquet is similar in many respects to the Kindergarten Read Aloud Banquet introduced in January, 2019, there are significant differences which will be highlighted below.

​​Upon first arriving at the Read Aloud Banquet, you are greeted by a brightly illustrated rhyme and a ​poem from ​a collection especially chosen for six year olds. ​Refresh​ the screen, and a new rhyme and a new poem ​are displayed for your enjoyment.

​Scroll down and you encounter a set of ​songs for the current month with sound controls so you can start and stop them. These songs come from The Baby's Bouquet and The Baby's Opera, selected and illustrated by Walter Crane. Click on the song title and you will see illustrated sheet music for the song, often followed by a full page color illustration, like the one pictured below. According to Frances Epps, "The Baby's Opera and The Baby's Bouquet are perfect feasts of delight to little people of two years old and upwards; the picture and music alike fascinate them." ("Song for the Nursery," Parents' Review, Volume 1, pp. 144-164). Every month automatically brings a new set of songs fitting for the season.

​​While ​the First Grade Read Aloud Banquet includes many of the same songs featured in the Kindergarten Read Aloud Banquet, over one third of them are new.  ​

​​Now, scroll down to the bottom ​to find an animal tale on view. With each refresh of the screen a new animal tale is displayed. It may be a fable from Aesop or one of the Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. It might be one of the richly illustrated tales from ​Beatrix Potter that are more appreciated by older children. A ​Brer Rabbit tale from Uncle Remus ​will appear from time to time, complete with a sound option so that as you listen to the story you can begin to make sense of the dialect in which the tales are recounted. A few of the folk tales illustrated and retold by Frederick Richardson that comprise the whole of the tales in the Kindergarten Read Aloud Banquet also show up occasionally. ​​Keep an eye out for my favorites in this collection, A Roundabout Turn by Robert Charles and The Bojabi Tree by Edith Rickert, ​that are sure to tickle the funny bone!

​In scrolling to the bottom we passed over a schedule of readings for every day in the week. The week displayed corresponds to the week of the year. In this plan there is a story and a ​poem to read each day. Click on the week number in the lefthand column to display all the readings for the week that you can then copy into a file for offline reading, if need be.

This reading plan is the heart of the First Grade Read Aloud Banquet. By proceeding leisurely ─ ​reading a chapter each week from ​a variety of books in different genres, instead of reading a single book straight through  children have the opportunity to ponder what they hear and wonder what might come next. Prompted the next week to recall where they left off, their memory of the ​story is strengthened, not just in the immediate future, but for all time.

The ​Books ​in the Plan

On Mondays we delve into imaginative fiction with three books of fantastical journeys: My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, The Story of Dr. Dolittle by Hugh Lofting, and The Wizard of Oz, all calculated to stretch children’s imaginations.

​​With biography, we begin to become familiar with the lives of some famous Americans on Tuesdays through short anecdotes about them by Edward Eggleston ​from his Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans.

​In the Wednesday reading we continue with more nature books by Clara Dillingham Pierson: Among the Farmyard People and Among the Pond People. Two of Pierson’s books were included in the Kindergarten Read Aloud Banquet, but in our experience once children are exposed to one of her books, they typically want to hear them all! Rounding out the nature offerings is Seed Babies by Margaret Morley, another fine nature writer we will meet again.

​We ​​continue with Fairy Tales Too Good to Miss on Thursdays when we read selections from the two anthologies of fairy tales for six year olds compiled by yours truly: Fairy Tales Too Good To Miss—Around the Fire and Fairy Tales Too Good To Miss—Up the Stairs. A variety of fine illustrators are represented in the collection.

M. B. Synge wrote a series of five books in her Story of the World ​series to introduce children to world history. We begin with On the Shores of the Great Sea, the first book in the series, ​on Fridays this year and plan to continue with subsequent volumes in the years to come. Should we find, though, that these stories do not resonate with six year olds, we have the option of substituting A Child’s History of the World by V. M. Hillyer in its place.

​On Saturdays we further our understanding of geography by continuing with the much loved Twins series by Lucy Fitch Perkins (started in the Kindergarten Read Aloud Banquet)​ with the reading this year of The Swiss Twins, The Filipino Twins, The Irish Twins, and The Mexican Twins.

In the faith genre, Hurlbuts’s Story of the Bible, comprising over 168 stories, will be read on Sundays over four years, starting with the First Grade Read Aloud Banquet. In this year as in the ones to come, six stories of saints from Amy Steedman’s In God’s Garden and Our Island Saints, will be included at intervals throughout the year. If you harbor doubts about reading Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible to six year olds, read our blog post Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible.

The ​Poetry in the Plan

​One way the first grade plan differs from the kindergarten plan is in the reading of a poem every day instead of a nursery rhyme. And what a rich collection of poems we have in store for you!

First off, we are delighted to bring to you poetry of three outstanding poets for children, each on their own day. On Tuesdays we are excited to offer all the poems from A. A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young, just days after its entering the public domain on January 1, 2020. Thursday features a selection of poems from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, arranged to follow the seasons. Sing-Song by Christina Georgina Rossetti is the source of the poems for Sunday reading, also arranged in accordance with the seasons. In contrast, the Milne poems are presented in the order they were originally published in When We Were Very Young.

On the other four days of the week we offer seasonally arranged poems that were carefully selected a century ago by authorities in children’s literature who were well attuned to what poetry appeals to children at each age. On Mondays and Wednesdays the poems come from A Child's Own Book of Verse, Book One, compiled by Ada M. Skinner and Frances Gillespy Wickes. Three Years with the Poets, compiled by Bertha Hazard, is the source for the poems read on Fridays. For Saturdays the poetry selections come from Graded Poetry Readers, First Year compiled by Katherine D. Blake and Georgia Alexander. From the preface of this last book comes the following: “Poetry is the chosen language of childhood and youth...Not until youth approaches maturity is there an equal pleasure in the rounded periods of elegant prose. It is in childhood therefore that the young mind should be stored with poems whose rhythm will be a present delight and whose beautiful thoughts will not lose their charm in later years.” They further advise: “The best way to teach children to love a poem is to read it inspiringly to them. The French say, ‘The ear is the pathway to the heart.’ A poem should be so read that it will sing itself in the hearts of listening children.”

NOTE: The ​First Grade Read Aloud Banquet is NOT meant as a replacement for the reading of ​other books, including picture books. Nor is it meant as a substitute for participating in whole family read aloud time. Young children gain more than you might imagine from listening to books well above their comprehension level.

The Power of Reading Every Day

The selections for a given day can typically be read in under 15 minutes, assuming no interruptions. With interruptions, of course, it will take longer. In the course of a year, if you read all the selections, you will complete the reading of several hundred poems, as well as ​thirteen books in their entirety, and substantial portions from a handful of others.

Spreading a Broad Feast

​In offering the ​First Grade Read Aloud Banquet we are spreading a broad feast. Children who partake ​​are likely to show ​greater awareness and appreciation in a variety of spheres, with ​new trains of thought and interest awakening and increasing capacity for memory and verbal expression. Take a look at the First Grade Read Aloud Banquet now, try it out with your child, then share your thoughts with us by adding a comment below.

Finding Literature for Young Adults

June 18, 2019

A number of you noted last week that you’d like to see us address the issue of finding high quality books for older children, particularly books for teens. So today we’re doing just that!

Being on the lookout for new books and authors requires constant vigilance. It’s a never-ending process, and one that requires a great deal of providence. You never know from what strange corner of the universe you’ll discover your next great read! I personally try to jot down the names of books or authors whenever someone I respect mentions them in passing so that I can look them up afterwards. Sometimes I read these books and sometimes I don’t, but either way it’s helpful to glean ideas from what others around me are reading.

Discovering good books for teens, however, seems to be a twofold issue. One part involves finding good books that you as a parent or teacher can provide to teens. The other part involves empowering teens to seek out good literature for themselves, and giving them the tools they’ll need to recognize and enjoy it. Adolescence is a time where you want to encourage readers to seek out new literature for themselves, and to begin assuming responsibility for their own reading habits if they haven’t done so already.

Encouraging independence

As much as possible, you want to encourage adolescents to find books for themselves, which may entail giving them more latitude in their reading habits. At this stage in development, I would ensure that good books (outside of academic reading) are always available, but otherwise refrain from giving too many directions.

This is something my mom did a great job of. For instance, she let me re-read books we had previously read aloud almost exclusively for about a year. She even let me not read much if at all independently for long stretches of time. But when I finally asked to go to our local bookstores so I could look for some books by Willa Cather, you’d better believe she was ready to go almost immediately!

Before that time, I would read books for school and I re-read a handful of the books we had read aloud earlier, but I didn’t really love to read. But, once I started picking out books for myself, I never stopped! Now I really appreciate that my mom let me take my time and didn’t rush me into reading. I think that the freedom she gave me to choose my own books when I was 12-13 really helped me gain independence in my reading habits.  


One type of resource that I would recommend to readers of all ages, but to adolescents in particular is literary anthologies. Anthologies are a great instrument to use when “spreading a broad feast” for teens, especially since they provide so much opportunity for exploration and discovery. Anthologies of short stories, plays, essays, and poems are widely available and good ones expose readers to a diverse collection of works. Readers can gain a great sense of an author’s style from a short story, and then actively pursue more works by the authors they liked best.

I also like this sort of book because it’s easier to pick up and set down than a novel. You can read a handful of stories, then take a break to read a full-length novel, then return without missing a beat. I often find that I’ll read a story, then go look for a book by that author and return to the anthology when I’m again in need of inspiration.

In short, anthologies can be deep wells to draw from and can provide good exposure to a wide range of literary styles, in addition to introducing readers to new authors.

Book Lists

Since I was drawn primarily to “classic literature” as a teen, I began using resources like Time Magazine’s All-Time 100 Novels to mine ideas for future reading. Modern Library also has a similar list. Those lists gave me ideas of titles, as well as authors, to keep an eye out for at bookstores or even on our bookshelves at home. I never read all of those books, and honestly don’t intend to, but they were a great place to begin.

Now that I am older and have read more widely, I don’t refer to that sort of list anymore. I do, however, note what titles are on the bookshelves of close friends and I do sometimes look at the recommendations Goodreads gives me. Several months ago, I actually took photographs of a friend’s entire library because her shelves were so incredible. Now whenever I need ideas I can just look back at the images! I’ll also often look at the Goodreads accounts of friends whose taste I respect to see how they’ve rated books.

Award Winners

In addition to looking at book lists, you can also mine major book awards lists for new titles. We often recommend Newbery Medal and Newbery Honor books here. In addition, you can look at winners of the Pulitzer prize, Nobel prize in literature, National Book Awards, and Costa Book Awards. The Booker Prize is hit or miss for me, but still absolutely worth looking at.

As a quick note: do also look at the short-lists and list of runners up for each award, as those are often wonderful, as well!

Reading Friendships

Our close friends can be one of our most helpful tools in discovering new literature. So many of my all-time favorite books came as recommendations or gifts from friends. Over time I have identified those friends who are good literary “matches” for me and I’ll often turn to them for recommendations or insight. I did this as a teen, as well, and it gave me a list of interesting new books to read, in addition to strengthening my relationships with friends.

Teens can, and absolutely should, rely on one another for recommendations. (It's important, though, to identify friends whose opinions and taste you respect and not to simply read a book just because an acquaintance has read it.) But once you've found a good book friend, hang on to them! It's possible that you've established a reading friendship for life.

Other questions to consider

  • Is this author someone whom I have heard of? Have I read or heard positive reviews of this author from people I respect?
  • Did someone whose opinion I trust recommend this book?
  • Did someone who generally shares my literary tastes recommend this book?
  • Would I want to talk about this book with people whom I respect, after finishing it?
  • What other types of books are being marketed along with this book? Do I know any of the other books, and can they give me a sense of what to expect from this book?

Share your experience

What about you all? Where do you find great books for teens? And what other resources have you found to be helpful besides the ones we listed here? Do you have experience working with a teenager to help them begin establishing greater ownership over their own reading? Let us know in the comments below!