Family read-aloud times are so special. It’s a time when Mom (or Dad!) can sit down, relax, and share stories that both expand our worldview and provide good role models for us to follow. For years, Mom has read aloud to us, taking us around the globe into many different homes, helping us love and understand different cultures in new ways. Some books are funny, others are sad, some were read purely for the fun of good literature, others for the morals taught in the stories. Together, we siblings have had many adventures, and been able to learn to enjoy working while listening to constructive stories. Here are some of our favorite family read-alouds.
1. Twenty and Ten | Best for: Ages 5 – 10
Sister Gabriel is caring for twenty children, sheltering them outside a remote village until the war is over. Then she receives a note saying that ten Jewish children need a safe place to hide, and together she and the children decide it is their duty to stretch their food rations and take the risk of protecting Jews. One day, while on a food and news-gathering trip, Sister Gabriel does not return at the expected time. Then the children spot two Nazi soldiers biking up the path. Can they hide the Jewish children in time? Will their secret be found out? This is a fascinating story about World War II, perfect for introducing the war to children, or simply to be enjoyed as a well-written, gripping tale of courage.
2. Sarah Whitcher’s Story | Best for: Ages 5 – 10
Moving into the new territory of New Hampshire, Sarah’s parents knew that there could be much danger waiting for them—especially with their young family and the miles of uncleared forest around their land. Despite the potential difficulty, they decided to trust the Lord to protect them, and soon they were comfortably settled in their own log cabin. One day, however, Sarah wandered a little too far from home and got lost. After much searching, the neighbors from around came to help look for the little girl—only three or four years old—and yet, after two days, they turned up empty handed. Has Pa’s faith been misplaced? Will the family see their little daughter and sister again? This is a beautiful story of faith, one that all families will love, and one that even the youngest children can appreciate.
3. Escape From Warsaw | Best for: Ages 8 – 15
Joseph, father of three children and husband of an adoring wife, has been taken prisoner by the Nazis. He manages to escape—only to find out from a neighbor that his wife has also been taken by the Nazis, and that his children were killed when their home was blown up by a bomb. The Nazis are on his trail, and he must find a safe place to hide. After an accidental meeting with a surprisingly intelligent street urchin, he gives him the charge to stay safe—and, if possible, tell his children that they are to go to their grandparent’s place. Meanwhile, the children had actually escaped the house before it was blown up, and formed a home for themselves in a discrete corner of the city. The street urchin finds them there, delivers the message, and decides to live with them. When the eldest boy, Edik, is taken by the Nazis, the two girls have no choice but to make the dangerous trip to their grandparent’s place. Will they ever be a family again? This is a fascinating story, one that is definitely not going to be forgotten for a while around here!
4. Snow Treasure | Best for: Ages 8 – 15
The Nazis have invaded Norway, and the gold bullion of the country is in danger. Peter’s uncle determines that it is his and the other village children’s job to spirit the gold away to safety. By wrapping the gold in small burlap sacks, which they hid under their bodies, the village children take turns making the day-long sled ride down to a hidden fiord, where a boat is waiting to conceal the precious metal. The job is risky—in order to get to the fiord, the children must pass the Nazi’s encampment. Will they be found out? What will happen to the children if they do? Based on a true story, this makes for a fascinating adventure—one all children will heartily enjoy.
5. Mary Slessor: Forward into Calabar | Best for: Ages 10 – 15, Adults
Part of the Christian Heroes: Then & Now series, this book helps Mary Slessor seem more of a friend than a boring person in history. Tracing her life from the very beginning as a girl helping her mother bring in money to keep the family fed, to her brothers and father dying, this book is an intimate look at an amazing woman. Through much faith and perseverance, Mary brought change to the African people and helped many find truth, hope, and new life in Jesus Christ. She not only cared for many children throughout her life, but she also prevented many young women from dying unnecessary deaths to fulfill ancient evil customs. This book is a wonderful example of early African missions, and a testament of God blessing others through Mary’s fearless faith.
6. Star of Light | Best for: Ages 8 – 15 and above
When Hamid’s step father finds out his sister Kinza is blind, he decides to sell her to a local beggar—it would be useless to keep a blind girl around, because no one would want to marry her. Hamid loves his sister, and couldn’t imagine a worse fate for the sweet two-year-old. Together, he and his mother concoct a plan for getting her away safely to a Christian nurse in a city across the mountains. The journey is dangerous, but somehow Hamid manages to make it and gives the nurse his dear sister. What should he do now? And what will happen when their stepfather accidentally spots Kinza on a visit to the city? This is a beautiful story—one I love re-reading—with many thoughts about Jesus as the light of the world throughout it.
7. History Lives series | Best for: Ages 8 – 12
This series brings snapshots of Christian history to life—St. Paul, Thomas Aquinas, Charlemagne, Menno Simons, John Calvin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and many others. I love the rich detail that is woven into each of the stories—even though a lot has to be packed into one chapter, you don’t get the feeling that these are just descriptions of a person’s life. Instead, each one shows the realities of living on planet earth, the pain along with the beauty of Jesus working in people. With just what can be fit comfortably in a chapter, you feel like you know the individual people when you get to the end—they’re that real. In between each story of someone’s ministry, there are little snapshots of the period and explanations of some things children might have questions about. These books are a brilliant way to share Christian history with your children!
8. Twice Freed | Best for: Ages 12 – 15 and above
As a slave to Philemon’s son, Onesimus’ one goal in life is to be a free man. Then he meets Eirene, the beautiful daughter of a merchant, and longs even more to be free so he can marry her. When Philemon and his son become Christians, Onesimus becomes desperate to be free once and for all. Though his life is miserable because of his anger and hate, Onesimus cannot accept Christianity for himself. Then comes an opportunity for revenge—but that does nothing more than cause more emptiness inside him. Is there ever hope that he can be happy again? This is a beautiful story that, while sharing the ancient Greek lifestyle, also captures the beauty of freedom and peace in Christ. It also sticks very closely to what we know of Philemon and his household in the Biblical chronicle. This is a story for slightly older children—while younger children do enjoy it, it is more understandable to the 10–12 range and up.
9. Catching Their Talk in a Box | Best for: Ages 5 – 10
After serving as a missionary in Central America for several years, Joy Ridderhof was forced to take a furlough because of bad health. The sickness would not leave, but she still longed to do something for the Lord. After realizing how badly Christian material was needed in the Spanish language, she decided to start producing records of Bible stories, songs, and short sermons. After seeing how effective this was, she began branching out into other languages, and traveled the world as she shared the gospel with many previously unreached people groups. Joy put into practice the command “rejoice always”, and her life was a testimony of God using someone who is willing to give up all and follow Him. While written for young children, even adults can be encouraged through this story to do Jesus’ will—no matter where you are.
10. In Grandma’s Attic | Best for: Ages 5 – 12
Entertaining stories, true life happenings, and life lessons combine to make this an unforgettable book. Mabel and Sarah Jane believe they know how to take care of themselves, but when they’re faced with choosing right over wrong—or simply trying to strain milk—they often find out that Ma and Pa know better. Through hilarious—and sometimes sad—happenings, Mabel and Sarah Jane learn what it means to be responsible and trustworthy. Even though girls, especially, love this book, boys will be able to learn from and enjoy it as well.
11. The Journeyman | Best for: Ages 8 – 15
This book has been one of my personal favorites for years. Not only is it an engrossing story, but it also shares the love of God in a special way. Jared Austen loves art and has always wished that he could duplicate the beauty he sees around him in pictures. However, his father Eben will have nothing to do with the idea, and—believing the boy is a curse—treats him unkindly. A travelling painter comes by one day, and offers to take Jared as an apprentice. When Eben accepts the chance to get rid of his son, will Jared’s life become easier? Can he learn the trade well enough that he can finally gain the approval of his father—and the girl he loves? Beyond a beautiful story, we also learn of the unusual year 1816, when late frosts destroyed crops and snow fell every month of the year. This is a beautiful book about faith and God’s love, one that both young children and adults will enjoy.
12. David Livingstone: Africa’s Trailblazer | Best for: Ages 10 – 15, Adults
David Livingstone is well-known for his expeditions into Africa’s interior, but lesser-known facts about his family life and growing up years are brought to light through this fascinating book. I’m always amazed at how well Janet and Geoff Benge can make someone who’s been dead for years fascinating, and this book is just an example of their prowess. Tracing David’s life from a curious child, to young adulthood, and eventually to the mission field—where he never seemed to settle down!—is an adventure in itself. We really enjoyed this book when Mom read it aloud, and I’m sure your family will, too.
13. Cameron Townsend: Good News in Every Language | Best for: Ages 10 – 15, Adults
After enlisting in the army during World War I, Cameron Townsend suddenly found himself called by God to go to Guatemala to sell Spanish Bibles. God helped him get an honorable discharge, and he immediately set off for Guatemala. While selling Bibles, Cam talked with many people—and met many who could barely speak, let alone read, Spanish. He talked to one native man, who said that Cam’s God must not be very great since He couldn’t speak his language. The man’s words challenged Cam, and for the next ten years he worked to learn the language and then translated the New Testament for the native people. Soon, he began to see that this wasn’t the only group that needed it—and there were many more than one man alone could do. So he founded Wycliffe Bible Translators, where he could train others to do the great task. The work is still continuing today, with many people having received Bibles in their own languages. This book is quite an inspiration!
14. Always Face a Panther | Best for: Ages 5 – 12
A collection of eighteen different stories about earlier days in America, this book has many lessons to teach children (and adults, too!). Through stories such as a girl praying for protection when a panther was trying to catch her, and children being stuck in a house when the levee broke, we are taught great lessons on faith and trusting in God to help us. The stories are very well written, most about people that actually did live a century or more ago. My brothers and I loved each new installment as Mom read it, and I’m sure your family will enjoy the book, too.
15. Torches of Joy | Best for: Age 10 and above, Adults
The Dani were a superstitious, fearful people before John and Helen Dekker moved to New Guinea in 1960. As John shared the gospel with them—and many were saved—their lives changed drastically, and soon a thriving church was established. The old customs that had bound them for so long were loosed, and they accepted Christ with joy. Within ten years, many learned to read and write, and the Dani themselves were sending out missionaries. This is a beautiful story of how God can and does work even among those with whom seems almost impossible. Older children and teens, especially, will get a lot out of this book.
16. The Window in the Wall | Best for: Ages 5 – 10
Living with her happy younger brother and parents in the city of Jericho, Talia often dreams of the beauty of flax blossoms in the spring, and wishes Jericho could be that beautiful all the time. Instead, corruption and darkness abound everywhere, and Papa and Mama do their best to keep their children sheltered from such things. However, the news of an army approaching can’t be kept from even the smallest children. This army isn’t just any army, either—it’s the children of Israel, who have already conquered other cities! Will Talia and her family be alright, as her aunt Rahab tells her they will be? This is a very well-written, fascinating book that helps children understand the fall of Jericho better.
17. The Twila Stories | Best for: Ages 5 – 8
A story written for young children, the Twila Stories illustrate the importance of relying on God for our every need. When someone cheated Twila, she waited for God to work in their heart, and eventually got the money she needed. When she was looking for a horse, she asked for advice from a Godly man she knew. And when Grandfather came to visit, she learned a lot more about what it means to follow Jesus. While Twila can come across as almost too perfect, there are some very interesting lessons to be learned through this book.
18. Markie and the Hammond Cousins (the Hammond Cousins series, book 1) | Best for: Ages 5 – 12
Markie and his family have just recently moved into the area, and the Hammond cousins aren’t sure how to respond to the situation. Since Markie has Down Syndrome, and acts strangely at times, they don’t always know how to act around him, and they aren’t sure they want their friends to know he’s a relative. Will Markie always be on the outside of the family circle? Can the Hammond cousins learn to love and include him for who he is, not for who they want him to be? This is a wonderful (clean!) story to introduce Down Syndrome to children, or to simply have an entertaining read about Christian families.
19. Ricky and the Hammond Cousins (the Hammond Cousins series, book 2) | Best for: Ages 5 – 12
If Markie was a challenge to accept, Ricky, Uncle Jerry’s son, is doubly a challenge. Owing to his parent’s lifestyle when he was born, Ricky has always struggled with ADHD, and since his mother died, Uncle Jerry has brought him back to live with him. Ricky can’t seem to control himself—and even Grandma isn’t so sure after a while if love and good food will help him become more obedient and happy. Can the Hammond cousins love and forgive him—even though his young life was harsh, and he sometimes does things that aren’t at all nice? A great way to introduce ADHD to children, this is also an entertaining read about Christian family living.
20. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: In the Midst of Wickedness | Best for: Ages 12 – 15, Adults
Sometimes, the decisions people make are not always easy to understand or accept. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a man who exemplified this, and ever since then there have been many debates on his life. Was he right? wrong? both? These are questions that are hard to answer, but through this fascinating story we can get a better picture of what made him make the decisions he did.
As a young man, growing up in a Christian home, Dietrich saw war as something honorable—where men of all ages could get fame. As he grew older, became a pastor, and saw Hitler rise to power, his earlier beliefs were discarded. In their place, he saw the sad reality of what one man’s hate can do to an entire nation, and soon he realized it was his place to warn people about what would happen if Hitler’s campaign continued. He also did his best to keep the Western churches aware of what was going on in Germany, in the hopes that their influence could stop the advance of Nazi terrorism that was steadily overtaking parts of Europe. Eventually, Dietrich decided that it would be better for one man to die than for many others to suffer under him. Even though he helped out with several assassination plots they never succeeded in killing Hitler. This story is great for helping us understand the life of this highly controversial man, and also gives a fascinating picture of Germany around the time that he lived.
21. Granny Han’s Breakfast | Best for: Ages 5 – 10
A missionary in China, Granny Han must trust God to work things out sometimes. Right now, she needs $1000 for some upcoming meetings. God provided the money already, but it came in just after all the banks had closed for the weekend, and while gone to another meeting someone stole the money. Time is running out . . . will God provide what is needed? Granny Han believes He will, and also believes He will provide her breakfast in the morning since she’s now out of food and doesn’t have a way to buy more. This is a beautiful, entertaining story that teaches children to trust in God. It’s always been a family favorite.
22. The Bronze Bow | Best for: Age 10 and above, Adults
Daniel has hated the Romans ever since they killed his parents and left his sister half-crazy from her grief. Joining the local rebels seemed like the best option to get revenge. While they do attack Romans sometimes, they also are cruel to their own countrymen as well. Daniel isn’t very content, but he also cannot see any other way to express his hate, so he stays. Then his grandmother dies, and he must care for his sister. Since blacksmithing is the only thing he is confident in, he accepts the offer of a friend who has left home to follow a new teacher named Jesus. He cares for his friend’s shop, and at times when the shop is closed, he too goes to listen to Jesus. While he longs for the peace and joy that he senses in the man, he knows it is impossible to accept the conditions Jesus offers him in order to get that. Is there any hope he can be happy—but still not have to lay down his anger toward the Romans? This is a beautiful story that, while expressing the need each one of us has toward Jesus, also shares how His message affected the ordinary Judaean—and shares the Jewish culture of the time in a real way that I’ve rarely seen elsewhere.
23. Stories from Africa | Best for: Ages 5 – 8
Through six engrossing stories from Africa, the love of God is shown to children. There’s a story of a girl locked up in a goat house because she loves Jesus, a boy who thought he wouldn’t have eaten the fruit if he was Adam, a sick boy who needed help, and other fascinating stories. My brothers love this book, and I’m sure your children will, too.
24. Home on the Rock Pile | Best for: Ages 5 – 10
Pablo and his brothers are excited when they learn they are moving up under the Blue Ridge Mountains. While their parents share the love of Jesus with the community, the brothers love nothing more than hiking through the forests on summer days. Through many different ways, God kept the boys safe, and together they grew up fairly safely despite the dangerous situations they found themselves in at times. My whole family could really relate to some of the things the boys got into (something about “boys will be boys”?), and we were always kept on our toes wondering what new trouble would come along next!
25. Red Sails to Capri | Best for: Ages 10 – 15 and above
This is a hilarious story if read aloud properly, and we children are blessed to have a Mom who delights in personifying the voices of the characters she reads about. This book is a study of characters. There’s Angelo, who can always convince people to do things the way he thinks they should be done. Michele, who somehow does a good job at stating the obvious. Mama, who is a wonderful cook and knows how to sing her food to perfection. And of course there are many other fascinating people, who each do their part to make this story both amusing and engaging. While it may have little religious value, it is a humorous, well-written story that deserves to be on the shelf of any reading family
26. Mary on Horseback | Best for: Ages 7 – 10
After her second husband and two children died, Mary Breckinridge decided to become a nurse so other children could live. She founded Frontier Nursing Service, and decided to serve in the Appalachian mountains, one of the poorest regions in America. Through the three stories in this book, we get a fascinating look into the life of this woman and what FNS did—how she helped a man who was hurt while running logs down the river, a child whose mother died, and a family with children who had diphtheria.
27. The Gods Must be Angry | Best for: Ages 5 – 10
Bradit, a schoolboy who lives in Thailand, has been left at home one day when his mother goes to the market. He decides to imitate the school band he saw the day before, and grabs a stick, waving it in the air as he marches around the inside of their home. The stick accidently connects with the head of the happy idol, sending it crashing to the floor. When his parents get home, they are very upset with him, even though he tries to deny that he has had anything to do with it. What will happen to the family now? Will they get bad luck because their idol has been broken? This is a true story, one my brothers loved and your children will enjoy as well.
28. Within the Palace Gates | Best for: Ages 8 – 15
This book is one of my all-time favorites. It’s very Biblically based, it’s researched incredibly well, and the story is fascinating. Nehemiah, the main character, is based on the Nehemiah in the Bible. We also get to meet his family, who have many struggles that are not completely unlike our own. When Nehemiah’s brother, Hanani, comes to ask the great King for help to get his wife and son back after their being taken into slavery, Nehemiah learns of the terrible state Jerusalem is in. As the king’s cupbearer, however, he knows all too well the danger that one misstep could bring to him and his family. How can he present his petition to the king without the king getting angry? How can he explain the fact that the Jews badly need the protection of sturdy walls and a solid government? Then, when poison is found in the king’s special cup, is all lost before they’ve even started?
This story has many ups and downs, many interconnected threads, and lots of wonderfully presented facts about the ancient Persians and Jews. The ending is especially sweet, and this is a story both old and young will love. My favorite part was realizing how close this story follows the Biblical narrative—while bringing the characters to life, the facts were not changed at all from the original.
29. Year of the Black Pony | Best for: Ages 8 – 15
Chris’s father has died, and now the family has to find a way to support themselves. If they don’t have money, they can’t afford to continue ranching, and unless they went back to a big city Ma wouldn’t be able to earn enough to support them. She decides the best way to keep the family together, on a ranch, is to marry Mr. Chase, a local bachelor. Reluctantly, Mr. Chase agrees when he sees how a marriage could help him as well—but for Ma, this is a marriage of convenience and nothing more. Will Chris’s dream horse ever be his own? Can they ever be a happy family? My brothers love this story, and I do too. The ending is very sweet, and the story itself—while not outright Christian—definitely has themes of relying on God through it.
30. Amy Carmichael: Rescuer of Precious Gems | Best for: Ages 10 – 15, Adults
Amy Carmichael accepted the Lord’s call to work for Him as an eighteen-year-old, and soon it became clear that she was to work with the “shawlies”—Scotland’s women factory workers. After several years serving in both Scotland and England, Amy felt called to Japan—but soon she became sick, so she decided to go to India to recuperate. The climate in the area of India she was in did help, and soon she had a thriving ministry with women and girls going. Eventually, she realized she needed a safe place to care for the temple girls that came to her for protection, so she founded Dohnavur Fellowship where she and other Indian Christians cared for many different children over the years. Through her many sicknesses, she wrote many books and pamphlets to both encourage the Western churches, and help them understand better the need for missionaries in different parts of the world. This biography was very well written, and I hope I can share it with my brothers eventually, too.
Question: What were some of your favorite childhood stories? What are some books that are in your family read-alouds pile?