At my church, we have a segment of the service called “Story for All Ages.” The idea is to tell a short story that will appeal to everyone in the congregation, from little kids who are just learning how to listen to grown-ups who may have not had a story read to them since they were toddlers. The story can be one the reader simply pulls from her own mind, but more often, our members pick a book and read from it. As a librarian, it should not surprise you that I get requests to read the Story for All Ages pretty frequently. (Since I purchase all the children’s books for my library, I have a good knowledge of what’s out there, too!)
I like to choose books that most of the audience may not have read before. Most other readers tend to choose titles that are very serious and message-heavy, that relate directly to the topic of the sermon or talk. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but I like to mix it up a little. The books I choose are usually funny ones, and the adults are often the ones who laugh the hardest. I look for stories that aren’t too long, that have bright, large illustrations and an easy to follow narrative with relatively few words per page.
Below are a few of my favorites.
Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems
This was the first Story for All Ages I ever read and it’s still my favorite. The pages, font, and illustrations are all large, and it’s a fantastic readaloud. The story itself – about a monster who is so terrible at being a monster he can’t even scare the most scaredy-cat little boy of all – is hilarious, ready-made for funny voices. You’ll get mad respect from the audience if you can read the full-page rant consisting of a long run-on sentence without pausing to take a breath.
Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems
This is another fun and funny little story from Willems, who is my go-to author for crowd-pleasing picture books. Wilbur flouts convention in his town by wearing clothes! The other naked mole rats are shocked. What will Grandpah Mole Rat, the nakedest mole rat of all, think of him? Animals in clothes are precious, particularly as drawn by Willems. There’s a gently-conveyed message to be yourself (normal in picture books), but I’d love it without the message, too.
Jeremy Draws a Monster by Peter McCarty
McCarty’s book is a great one to share with a group because of the illustrations, which are more integral to the story than most picture books (plus they’re a bit unusual, lending extra interest). When Jeremy draws a monster, it starts to take over his life. It demands that Jeremy draw all sorts of things for it: a sandwich, a checkerboard, a chair, a hat, and so on. It drives Jeremy up the wall, until he finds a clever way to solve the problem. The humor is more understated here than in the Willems’ titles. I like the emphasis on creative problem-solving, but more than that, I love the idea that what you create on the page can come to life.
Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown
The title alone gets an immediate chuckle from the adults in the audience. The adults also dig the somewhat retro feel of the illustrations, I think, and the story – about a bear who finds a stray human boy and wants to make it her pet – is one with wide appeal to all ages. The kids dig the absurdity of a bear having a human pet and the adults dig the parallels of the bear’s troubles with the kids of their acquaintance who have at some point or other asked “Can I keep it?”
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
This is a book that can be enjoyed on two levels: by the very young who may not get the final joke and therefore won’t be disturbed by it, and by the older children and adults who will get the final joke, but are old enough to find it funny instead of upsetting. Klassen’s no slouch when it comes to illustrating, either, as his Caldecott honor (for Extra Yarn) and win (for this book’s companion) show.
A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Caldecott winners and honorees are a good place to look for stories to be shared with a diverse audience (with diverse tastes), and I loved Erin E. Stead’s illustrations the moment I laid eyes on them. They’re beautiful and detailed and beg for further examination. The story is lovely, too, with a nice focus on fellowship and how we show our friendship and love through our actions, always good for a church audience.
Instructions by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Charles Vess
I have a serious weakness for Charles Vess’ illustrations. They’re gorgeous and colorful and always remind me of my ideal fantasy world. While I’m not Gaiman’s biggest fan, he has a tremendous way with words that works so well in this short poem. It reads just like a story and incorporates common fairy tale tropes in a creative way, managing to also surprise and amuse the reader at turns. I love how it invites the reader into the world, quite literally, and fires the imagination. My boyfriend was actually the one to read this to the congregation, and it was a huge hit.