I recently began reading aloud to my older two before bed (while their baby sister slumbers in her crib) (or screams from her crib). And I love it! I don't know why I didn't begin this tradition earlier. The first book I read to them, NUMBER THE STARS by Lois Lowry, was one I'd read a couple times already. We've been doing a (very casual) unit study of WWII, and this book (which I love and own) coincided nicely. It's based on one of my favorite true stories--when the Danish helped their Jewish citizens escape to Sweden during the German occupation.
The novel centers around the fictional character, Annemarie Johansen, who lives in 1943 Copenhagen with her family. When their dear friends, the Rosens, find they are to be "relocated" with the rest of the country's Jewish citizens, the Johansen's harbor their daughter, Ellen (also Annemarie's best friend). They undertake the dangerous task of helping the family escape Danish soil, and Annemarie learns about bravery and what she is truly capable of.
The author paints a good (middle-grade) description of the deprivation and loss of privacy that occupation brings to the country's citizens. And she has a way of writing so that younger middle-grade children aren't lost. She reinforces themes and character motivations more than once-- subtly enough that I didn't catch it when I read it by myself. Yet, I didn't have to stop and explain a whole lot to my children (who ask a lot of questions).
Bonus: there are a lot of cliff hangers. My son was very frustrated with all the unknowns I left him with at night, always begging me for more "hints."
NUMBER THE STARS holds a special place in my heart. Perhaps because I've walked the streets of Copenhagen myself. Or because my children and husband are part-Danish. (My husband's grandfather left Denmark just before the beginning of WWII.) Or because it's just that good. And well, John Newbery agrees. Can't argue with the Newbery (of which Ms. Lowry has two).