Great Read-Alouds for Families with Teenagers
Aren’t read-alouds just for littles? Not so fast.
As a classroom teacher, I learned the quickest way to calm a room full of teenage crazy can be with a great read-aloud. Teens love to settle in and get cozy just like we do, entranced in great narrative and fixated by a comforting voice. How can we stop and slow, and make read-alouds an attribute of our home life? It’s time to curl up on the couch and invite. Dad, be chill about it. Mom, try not to push. Just invite the kids to great books, great stories, thoughtful topics, and gospel fodder, and watch what happens.
Take it Easy on the Blueprint
Whenever it comes to considering an addition to your family plate, beware any sneaky expectations or yucky comparisons attempting to thieve joy and dictate parameters—such as who has to be the only one doing the reading, or that audio books are off limits. When considering reading aloud, set your sights on mesmerizing the whole crew, including yourself, and resist the pressure to select the best, most perfect read-aloud there ever was. When choosing, invite creativity. Think outside the box to something that can spur lively discourse. Don’t shy away from hard topics, biographies of people you may not agree with, or fiction that’s an imperfect example of redemptive narrative. As my pastor would say, put on your gospel goggles and find the threads of truth. After all, the gospel is the greatest story, which means every creative is aspiring to mimic it in their own way.
Getting the Ideas Flowing
This list is in no way exhaustive or a must-read situation. Hopefully it’s just a starting place, a seed of an idea that could spur a memory of a book you’d love to share with your teen. The point is to find what fits your family’s needs in regard to interest level, time, intellectual density of topic or style–whatever your parameters–and then inspire you to create space and make an invitation.
The Heart Mender: A Story of Second Chances (originally published as Island of Saints), Andy Andrews — In this attainable read, Andrews tells the unbelievable true story of unearthing artifacts that harken back to a dark and unexpected past in the history of World War II-era Gulf of Mexico. If you’re looking to try with a book that feels quick and doable, this could be a great start. The themes are fascinating and likely to send your family on a collective Google deep dive.
Evidence Not Seen, Darlene Diebler Rose — Speaking of read aloud expectations, while the great options for your family don’t have to include this kind of Christian-y/missionary-type book, you also can pick this kind of book. The lesser known memoir Evidence Not Seen feels like the big sister to A Hiding Place, and offers opportunity to address hard topics like suffering, injustice, and evil, but also God’s absolute sovereignty and his kind providence over his children.
Lifeboat 12, Susan Hood — Mesmerize your crew with this new release, a clever and unique novel in verse. Based on a true story from World War II, this is a great pick for younger teens.
Bud, Not Buddy, Christopher Paul Curtis — A personal favorite in our home, this is the book I dangle over my daughter’s head when I need to remind her that I do indeed know a thing or two about picking things she’ll like, and that maybe sometimes she could find it in herself to accept one of my recommendations.
On Writing, Stephen King — This is my not-so-subtle request to expand the concept of what it looks like to pick a great book. There are amazing options with a narrative feel for books on writing, music, art, athletics, standup—whatever your teen is interested in that offers opportunity to build community in your family. Read the room as best you can and seek out something your family members will find compelling, interesting, or funny.
Short story collections — From the category of super-attainable and low commitment, try a short story from a YA collection like Pretty Monsters, by Kelly Link, or The Curiosities, A Collection of Stories, a collaboration including Brenna Yovanoff and Tessa Gratton. For a little more meat on the bone, try Raymond Carver’s Where I’m Calling From or Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, but you’ll definitely want to read ahead in any mainstream fiction short story collection and select only the stories that you feel appropriate for your teens’ age and stage.
Happy reading this summer, and hope you’ll consider inviting your teen to cozy up and join in! You’ll find some tips below to help get the conversational party started.
Be on the Lookout: Gospel Themes to Identify with Your Kids
Forgiveness, substitution, sacrifice, redemption, grace-based theology vs. works-based theology, free will and sovereignty, suffering, need, atonement
Some Q’s to Get the Family Discussions Going
What type of worldview does this character represent?
What was the decision that a character made that upset you the most, and what decision do you wish they would have made instead?
Where do you see any of the themes of creation/fall/redemption/restoration/consummation reflected in the story?
Did anyone reflect Jesus, and what attribute of him did they reflect?
Who was your favorite character and why?
What do you most want to remember about this book?