Back-and-Forth Read-Alouds

Elizabeth Bluemle - March 27, 2013

When I was six or seven and older, I used to LOVE a collection of poems called You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You by John Ciardi, illustrated by the incomparable Edward Gorey. (How much do I adore HarperCollins for keeping this book in print?! 9780064460606, $7.99) The poems were printed in two colors: the blue poems were easier, meant for young readers to be able to read aloud, and the poems in black font were harder, intended for adults to read to the children.This was a go-to family favorite; we all particularly liked “Mummy Slept Late and Daddy Fixed Breakfast,” with its illustration of the poor chef of a father holding a burned disc of a pancake; one could practically smell the char. The thirty-five poems in this collection are funny and clever, sometimes with a dark or slightly jaundiced edge. This is a terrific gift for families who love Shel Silverstein. As the New York Times said, back when it was published, “Every single poem and drawing is superior. A perfect book for every parent and child.”
There’s something wonderfully companionable about a book meant for both parent and child to take turns reading, so I was delighted to see that Mary Ann Hoberman and Michael Emberley’s newest addition to their series of “You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You” stories is coming out in paperback April 2. It’s a collection of Aesop’s fables, titled You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You: Very Short Fables to Read Together. This joins prior read-togethers (all published by Little, Brown): Very Short Stories to Read Together, Very Short Fairy Tales to Read Together, Very Short Mother Goose Tales to Read Together, and Very Short Scary Tales to Read Together. As in the Ciardi/Gorey collection, the passages meant for adult and child are differentiated from each other by color. (Psst: LB Kids, you might want to check this link for something funny.)
As far as I know, the books I’ve mentioned here are the only collections that feature this kind of back-and-forth read-alouds. They are so marvelous for young readers, who are proud to be able to read to their parents, but still love to be read to. Are there more collections like these to be found?

8 thoughts on “Back-and-Forth Read-Alouds

  1. Sara

    A customer told me that she and her kids each read one character from Mo Willems’s Elephant & Piggie books. I thought this suggestion was genius and often mention it to parents who are shopping in the early reader section.

    1. Valerie

      Another fun one is Fortunately, by Remy Charlip–one person can read the “fortunately” pages, the other can read the “unfortunately” pages.

  2. Tegan

    Great recommendations! I also love recommending joke books; they’re the perfect for reading together and getting a BIG reaction with the punch line.

    1. Tilda Balsley

      Readers theater, like my Let My People Go (Kar-Ben 2008) and The Queen Who Saved Her People (Kar-Ben 2011) also work wonderfully with parent and child taking turns–or a whole family for that matter.

  3. Erica Perl

    Remy Charlip’s Arm in Arm works well for this too. And the Chicken Butt books I did with Henry Cole are written entirely in parent/child dialog – though from what I’m told in many households half the fun is swapping parts so the kid gets to play the (exasperated) grown-up.


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