Jul 02

 This week, we discuss the Penguin Random House merger, reading books out loud to our kids, and new books from Maggie O’Farrell and Philipp Meyer.


It’s Penguin Random House, not Random Penguin



It’s official: the merger between two of the world’s largest book publisher, Penguin Books and Random House, was completed on July 1st. If you follow book publishing news at all, you will likely see many posts and news articles about the merger. The merger was first announced in October of last year, and we have had several questions about what that means, both for us and for the industry. Since Michael and I are both employees of this new company, we thought it important to let you know about it, but from the book reader’s perspective, you probably won’t see any differences. There will be no changes to Books on the Nightstand: this blog and podcast has always been an independent project and that will not change. If we find ourselves reading more Penguin books, it will only because it will (hopefully!) be easier to get our hands on them. As for any changes in the rest of publishing because of the merger, it’s far too early to know, and any change takes time. For now, it’s business as usual.


Reading Aloud to Children


The Read Aloud HandbookAsa from Sweden, a children’s librarian, emailed us to ask for a segment on books suitable for reading aloud with children. Michael decided to take this on, as he struggles with reading longer books to his son and hasn’t yet found the right book. I confess that I was a read-aloud failure with my kids: they preferred the silliness of my husband, but really they wanted to read their own books, not listen to one with the whole family.

In addition to this great list of read aloud chapter books from Goodreads, we mention the following titles as possiblities:

There’s a brand new edition of The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, a great resource for finding books and methods for reading aloud to children.

We’d love to hear about your experiences reading aloud to your kids — and if you have suggestions for specific books, we’d love to hear those, as well.


Two books we can’t wait for you to read:


Instructions for a Heatwave  The Son


I’ve been a fan of Maggie O’Farrell since I read The Vanishing Act of Esme Lenox and The Hand that First Held Mine. Her newest book, Instructions for a Heatwave, tells of a family that comes together when the father disappears. The children are grown and well into their own lives, but they come back to London to support their mother and try to find their father.  I loved the portrayal of the grown children who revert back to their childhood issues and personalities as soon as they step foot into the family home.

Michael’s pick for this week is the audiobook of The Son by Philipp Meyer, read by Will Patton, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Shepherd and Clifton Collins.  The book is dark and brutal, and the writing is amazing. It’s the story of Eli McCullough, who is kidnapped and raised by Comanches. The story of this family in the American west is also told from Eli’s son Peter and Eli’s great-granddaughter. Michael mentions that the hardcover of the book has a family tree in the front, so if you like to refer to things like that, you may prefer to the book to the audio.




  • matthewdicks

    Loved the conversation about read alouds today! As a fifth grade teacher, I still read aloud to my class everyday. I read a lot of Shakespeare aloud, novelizations of the plays so that when the kids are reading the actual text, they have some background understanding of the story. But I also read picture books that I love to them, too, because I know this is probably the last time this will happen for them.

    Never any round robin reading as you described, Ann, and I would encourage teachers to avoid this at all costs. Students like your daughter despise it for the reasons you mentioned. Students with difficulty reading or students who are shy dread it and sometimes find it shaming. It is always a bad idea.

    But a teacher reading aloud… A must!

    I used to read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to my students, but after three years in a row, I got bored reading it and so I invented a new character and added him to the story. I held the book and made it look like I was reading, but in reality, I was making the story up as I went along. Years later, a former student contacted me and asked me if I had read a special edition of the book to them, because he hadn’t been able to find a copy with my added character, so I had to fess up.

    I never repeat books anymore. I always try to find something new or wait a year or two between books. The Tale of Despereaux is my one exception to this rule.

    Michael, try the shorter Dahl books like The Twits, The Magic FInger and George’s Marvelous Medicine. They are still chapter books but quick reads and heavily illustrated, and I’ve found that once kids read these (or hear them read aloud), they are willing to dive into bigger books like The Witches and The BFG or give an adult a chance to read them aloud.

    I also spent many hours during my first few years of teaching listening to other teachers read aloud. It’s a skill that not everyone has and must be developed. I was not great in my early years of teaching but have learned from some masters at the craft.

    • Matthew, this is great, thank you! Your story reminded me of MISTER PIP. Have you read it?

      • matthewdicks

        I haven’t. But I’m finishing up an audiobook so maybe I’ll make this my next listen. Thanks!

      • matthewdicks

        Not that I couldn’t read it as well, but I have a small pile of galleys awaiting readings and possible blurbs. Priorities.

  • Vanessa D

    Completely agree with Matt on the round robin reading. I was never a great read-alouder and hated being the focal point of attention. It’s like going up to the blackboard to solve a math problem. Humiliation town.

    I DO agree that teachers reading aloud is a MUST! My dad read aloud to me for years. Some that stick out in my mind as being fantastic for out-loud reading:

    1. My Father’s Dragon – beautiful story, great read aloud.

    2. Where the Sidewalk Ends – Great for Michael’s son because they are short little poems – like short stories for kids almost!

    3. The Stinky Cheese Man – When in doubt, go with funny. Kids can’t resist obscure humor, especially when there are funny voices involved.

    Michael – Just read The Phantom Tollbooth for my first time several weeks ago and I am not surprised your son became disinterested. I thought all the nuances and symbolism relating to language would be extremely hard for a child to understand. I loved it though.

  • JanetS.

    When my son was about Michael’s son’s age, we stumbled on a book called The Cay by Theodore Taylor. It’s a great read-aloud. It’s an adventure novel set in the Caribbean and although I’m not adept at voices, I was able to do “hey mon” reasonably well. My son was enthralled and we both remember it as a terrific bonding experience.

  • Carol Kubala

    I immediately thought of the Jim Trelease books as this discussion of read-alouds for kids began. I also wondered if they were just too old to be useful though I swore by them when my kids were young (many moons ago) so I was excited to hear from Michael that Jim has a revised updated edition. I can’t wait to take a look at this. It will be useful for gift giving in my family.

    My daughter loved hearing the Anastasia Krupnik series by Lois Lowry when she was in 5th grade.

    Loved this topic and thank the listener for suggesting this.

  • Linda from Ohio

    Oh, my! I agree with Matthew about round robin reading, UNLESS someone WANTS to do that, but I would only take volunteers. I would NEVER “volunteer” one of my students. (That said, I had a student who was an unsmooth aloud reader, but he loved doing it, so I let him. When I was in school, I was a good reader and always read way ahead of the out loud reader, so I had to keep track of two places.)

    I read to my son, now approaching 24, long after I though I would be. He wanted it, so I read most nights – complete with voices. In fact, we started the Harry Potter series when he was 10. (Little known fact, Jim Dale who narrates the Harry Potter books stole my Hagrid voice.)

    I am a broken record about Brian Jacques’s Redwall series. There are about 20 books in which anthropromorphisized mice and weasels and foxes and… live and fight for Redwall Abbey.

    The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden.

    The Narnia Chronicles by C. S. Lewis

    A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

    The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

    A Wrinkle in Time Series by Madeleine L’Engle

    Stuart Little by E. B. White

    The Time Warp Trio series by Jon Scieszka (Heck, anything by Jon Scieszka or Lane Smith)

    Hoot by Carl Hiaasen or Scat or Flush or Chomp

    The Lost Merlin Series by T. A. Barron

    The Westing Game by Ellen Weskin

    Holes by Louis Sachar (or any book by him).

    The Chronicles of Prydain (5 books) by Lloyd Alexander

    Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

    Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis.

  • chickadee24

    I have happy memories of reading the Narnia series to my children when they were young. We started one summer and every morning they would play with legos on the floor while I read. Having something to do while I read seemed very enjoyable to them. We read that series twice. The books are not too long and they were captivated by the story. My son was about 4 when we started and my daughter was six.

  • I just finished reading The Son and was completely blown away. I loved it so much that with a great audiobook recommendation, I would have no problem turning on my heels and listening to it all over again.

  • Joanne in Canada

    Michael, maybe your son is just not keen on fiction! You mention that he likes to read Weird But True. You could read that out loud. Maybe he prefers reading for information on a favourite topic (dragons, dinosaurs, baseball, motors, outer space, knitting, food–who knows!) Maybe he’d like a magazine subscription. You could let him pick out a few single issues from a newsstand and then choose which he would like for a birthday present subscription.

    If you do want to read something with a narrative, perhaps he prefers something short and plot-driven like The Magic Tree House series. Have you tried science fiction? Mysteries? History? Biography, especially about someone who does a sport, career or hobby that interests him?

    By the way, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is one of my all time favourite books and is the source of a lifelong desire to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, if not actually stay there.

    As for reading to our two daughters, they were completely different. My older daughter loved to be read to by my husband long after she could read herself. They read the Little House in the Prairies series at least twice, and they would come charging into the kitchen for a snack, ravenous after reading about cracklings or doughnuts. If he was away, I was not allowed to read from “their” book. My younger daughter stopped wanting to be read to at a younger age. She would occasionally ask us to read a bit, but she would read the book in between. This was especially frustrating when she read the Series of Unfortunate Events; I have read a chapter or two from each volume!

  • Scott Schiefelbein

    I tried posting this earlier, so I apologize if I’ve double-posted. The books are a little dated, but my kids have loved family reading time with Thornton W. Burgess’s “Mother West Wind” stories. These animal-centric fables from the first half of the 20th century are perfect for kids – they range from short stories to novellas. Like “The Wind and the Willows,” they are a little dated, but the characters are classic archteypes and they lend themselves to wonderul pretend voices for Daddy to play around with.
    Highly recommended.

  • We set a high bar with our oldest child. When she was born and struggled to sleep, I read her Homer’s Odyssey and Illiad. For the first two years of my daughter’s life she was strongly influenced by the Trojan War. I am not sure if this is a good or bad thing. The child does have a flair for the dramatic. Over the years and with the addition of our second daughter we have read Great Expectations and A Wizard of Earthsea. Last year, we struggled to get our daughter to read and enjoy books, but when she turned nine, it was like a switch flipped on and now she doesn’t put down a book (although she is more drawn to graphic novels). The latest family read all of us enjoyed and simultaneously became better educated was A History of the World in 100 Objects. We read about one or two objects each evening.

    • matthewdicks

      I’ve listened to The Odyssey and The Iliad on audio (and read them more than once in college) and loved the recordings. Such GREAT stories to listen to. Highly recommended!

  • Josh

    Finally got around to listening to this episode! I have an 8 year old boy and an 11 year old girl, and I read aloud to them every night. What’s difficult is finding books that they both like, as they’re in different stages in reading ability and development. I think we’ve discovered many great books that resonated with both of them, although some of the content might be a bit more mature even for an 11 year old. With that said, here’s my list of the favorite read alouds we’ve done that are a bit less known than your Harry Potters and Percy Jacksons, although we loved those too:

    (1) Out of my Mind, by Sharon Draper

    (2) The BFG, by Roald Dahl

    (3) The Witches, by Roald Dahl

    (4) The Golem, by Isaac Bashevis Singer

    (5) A Tale Dark and Grimm, by Adam Gidwitz

    (6) In a Glass Grimmly, by Adam Gidwitz

    (7) Haroun & the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie

    (8) The Willoughbys, by Lois Lowry

    (9) The Giver, by Lois Lowry

    (10) Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made, by Stephan Pastis

    (11) Belly Up, by Stuart Gibbs

    (12) Spy School, by Stuart Gibbs

    (13) The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster

    (14) Pi in the Sky, by Wendy Mass

  • Alexa Schrock

    The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer. I read it out loud to my class of third graders (it’s about a 5th grade level book) and all 27 of them loved it. They hated when I had to stop every day. Also, I loved it and laughed a lot. Older kids will get more of the jokes, but younger kids can appreciate it and those older jokes aren’t inappropriate. Bonus: there are a lot of great characters that are easy to do fun voices for.

  • Laura Brennan

    The Benedict Society books, especially the first one, are awesome read-alouds – we started on them when my son was nine. When he was younger, I read him the Raggedy Ann and Andy series, which is dated only to adults; it’s so sweet and caring and funny, like a warm blanket to small children. He still loves these books.

    • Laura Brennan

      Oh, and I just thought of these, for more reluctant readers like your son: the Knights of the Lunch Table and the Dragonbreath series. These are both graphic novels, so there’s less reading and lots of pictures, and they’re funny and exciting. Goofy voices are always a hit!

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