I am a big fan of subversive books, say the “recommended inappropriate books for kids” featured in Lane Smith’s Curious Pages. That said, I also have observed that kids respond better to some of these more than others, an issue I explored years ago in a Horn Book article “Pets and Other Fishy Books.” So when I ran into Jon Scieszka a few months ago and he excitedly told me about the forthcoming Battle Bunny, I was intrigued but also wary — was this a book kids would get or would it be something more amusing for adults? Then an advanced copy of the book showed up in the mail and I took it to school to see what my students thought.
First of all, let me try to explain just what it is (and how tricky it was to read aloud). If you look at the cover above you can perhaps see that it appears to be a sweet book of the Golden Book sort, originally titled Birthday Bunny, that has been erased, scribbled on, and reworked by…someone. I began by showing the cover to the kids and we discussed what that original book was; some of them knew Golden Books, but all of them appreciated that it was meant to be one of those sweet little journey books they’d all read when very small. Next we explored the scribbles — evidently someone named Alex had received the book from his grandmother for his birthday (there is an inscription on the inside front cover), wasn’t too happy, and decided to make it into a completely new story. And so he thoroughly erased the original title and put his own in instead. As for the interior, he crossed-out text, added new words and art, and turns the story into something completely different.
The first day I tried reading the book aloud on my own— alternating between the original text and Alex’s. The next day I invited one child to join me, reading Alex’s story and then had the kids take over completely — one reading Birthday Bunny and the other reading Battle Bunny. They had a great time! It may well be that the best way to take in the book is solo or with one other child, but I still think it was a blast to read this way. The group reacted, pointed out small things to one another, and just had a lot of fun. Jon tells me they are planning on providing a copy of The Birthday Bunny online for kids to print out and rework just as Alex did. Great idea!
So for those like me who go for this sort of thing (and not everyone does, I know), Battle Bunny is an excellent addition to the world of subversive books for children.
For years one of my favorite books to read aloud to my 4th graders was The Hobbit. Tolkien’s narrative voice, the adventures, Bilbo, Smaug, the riddles, the wit, everything about it was just great fun. The last time I did so was when Jackson’s Lord of the Ring movies were starting to come out so it has been a while and I’d been debating to do so again.
Regarding that movie, having not seen it yet (though I will later today) I’ve been trying very, very, very hard not to be harsh about what Jackson is doing with the story — adding in stuff from elsewhere, stretching out the one novel into three movies, changing what is a lovely singular adventure story into a massive epic…and so on. But still…there is no way it is going to be the charming story I remember. I do get that it is what Tolkien later wanted — to rework what was originally a plain children’s story into a prequel for the LOTR, but to mind something is lost by doing so.
And so what a pleasure to come across (via Mr. Schu) Mark Guarino’s article, “‘The Hobbit’ is a tale that begs to be read aloud.” Guarino and those he interviewed capture beautifully what indeed made the book such fun to read aloud, notably that slightly intrusive omniscient third person narrator.
I have one more week to figure out my first read aloud book of the year. I’ve got several in mind, but I’m still unsure which will end up being THE ONE. Last year at this time, having the same dilemma, I asked others what they were selecting. I ended up with Frank Cotrell Boyce’s The Unforgotten Coat as it related beautifully to our year-long focus on migration and immigration. I’m considering starting with it again, but others tantalize me too.
I love to read aloud books that are almost, but not yet out yet. This way, if my students get hooked, they cannot go out on their own to find and read the book, but have to experience with the whole class and me together, all at the same time. (When I do read a book that is available I make them promise not to get it while I’m reading it to them.) Or a really, really old book that is out, but they don’t know. A couple of years ago when I first did a year-long study of Charlie Chaplin I started with Brian Selznick‘s The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I wondered if it would work as a read aloud, but it did, beautifully.
This year I’m considering Sheila Turnage‘s Three Times Lucky because I like it and because there is a possibility that she may visit us next month. I’m also wondering about Adam Gidwitz‘s terrific new book, In a Glass Grimmly, as he will definitely be coming again to work with our fourth graders this winter as he did two years ago though I’m leaning against it as I need to know my class first to see what their tolerance for gore is and also because our librarian may be reading it to them. Another that I’m considering very seriously is Rebecca Stead‘s Liar & Spy. Since I prefer to select read aloud books that aren’t terribly long so that any child who isn’t heavily into whatever I’m reading aloud (and since taste is so varied there are bound to be a few in my class) doesn’t have to suffer endlessly this one is very attractive on that score as well as being simply terrific otherwise.
Meantime, while I fret over this decision, enjoy this delightful video from fellow fourth grade teacher Colby Sharp with the books others have selected.
Today is Litworld’s World Read Aloud Day. As someone who has always read aloud to her class it is a celebration I can totally get behind. Right now, in preparation for Jack Gantos’ visit to our school in May, I’m reading aloud to my fourth grade class his Newbery winner Dead End in Norvelt. Earlier in the year I read aloud Carman Agra Deedy and Randall Wright’s The Cheshire Cheese Cat with great success so I’m delighted to see it as a finalist for the E. B. White Read Aloud Award. Here are a few favorites of the many posts I’ve done on this topic:
Celebrate the Power of Words and Stories and Take Action for Global Literacy with LitWorld
Worldwide at least 793 million people remain illiterate. Imagine a world where everyone can read…
On March 7, 2012, LitWorld, a global literacy organization based in New York City, will be celebrating World Read Aloud Day. World Read Aloud Day is about taking action to show the world that the right to read and write belongs to all people. World Read Aloud Day motivates children, teens, and adults worldwide to celebrate the power of words, especially those words that are shared from one person to another, and creates a community of readers advocating for every child’s right to a safe education and access to books and technology. By raising our voices together on this day we show the world’s children that we support their future: that they have the right to read, to write, and to share their words to change the world.
To learn more about LitWorld and to register to participate in World Read Aloud Day, please visit: http://litworld.org/wrad
Someone on one of my lists just asked for suggestions for a beginning-of-the-year book to read-aloud to her new class and, of course, we all chimed in with our opinions. Since many of you are already back in school and some about to start, I hope you will tell us what you’ve chosen and why. I’m still considering what I’m going to start with.
Last year my first book was The Invention of Hugo Cabret because I was doing a year-long study of silent movies (focusing on Charlie Chaplin) and it turned out to be a great choice (which surprised me as I wasn’t sure about how the image sections would work, but the did). This year I’m still considering my options. Maybe I’ll go for Frank Cotrell Boyce’s Cosmic which my students have always adored. Both are gender-neutral and aren’t particularly scary. (For more recommendations, I’ve a bunch of posts about books that worked well for me here. )
My preference is to start with a book that is brand new so the kids are unlikely to know it and so right now I’m leaning toward Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright’s The Cheshire Cat Cheese. I’m a hard-sell on animal stories, but was completely charmed by this one and since we will start the year with a close look at Charlotte’s Web I’m thinking this may be just the ticket for a first read-aloud.
So enough about my choices, what are yours?
I’m a big fan of reading aloud to my class and often post here about what works and why. That’s why I also enjoy reading about others’ reading aloud experiences and what works for them and why. Today Mal Peet weighs in over at the Guardian with some interesting choices. (And of course there are some more interesting as well as snarky suggestions in the comments.)
Because of Mary Lee, a fellow classroom teacher as well as the author of a book about reading aloud, I’ve come around and decided to play, inspired by her superb post today on reading aloud in the classroom. You see, my first response to Rick Walton’s call for stories for his blog, “Why Read Aloud?” was more a feeling of ennui to be completely honest, that here was yet another well-intentioned person outside the classroom telling teachers what to do. Wrote Rick:
And then we will figure out a way to get your stories to the administrators and teachers who need to hear them. Your story of how being read to made your life better might motivate a teacher to read to her kids and make their lives better.
I know, I know. Best of intentions here, but the reasons as to why teachers do or don’t read aloud may well be more complicated than simple motivation. Things like standards, test prep, parental pressure, and more may be significant factors too. And so, inspired by Mary Lee, here are a handful of my posts about reading aloud to my class.
First two on some general thoughts about reading aloud to a whole class of children:
And then a bunch (but not all) of my posts on specific books:
This year I’m doing a year-long study of Charlie Chaplin and so, wanting my first read aloud book to connect, I decided to start with Brian Selznick’s marvelous Caldecott winner, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. As many know it has much to do with early films in plot, art, sensibility, and design. Having read aloud many a picture book and the occasional graphic novel I figured I could pull off this unique hybrid of a book.
It turned out to be absolutely fantastic and even better than I could have hoped. The handful of kids who already knew the book absolutely adored having it read to them. And those new to it were loving it too. One had dreams about it! The cinematic quality of the drawings and text made it work perfectly alongside our viewing and consideration of Chaplin’s earliest films. These kids are becoming expert viewers!
It was a very quick read and so I finished it yesterday, two weeks into the school year. And then I took them to the book’s website where they saw a bit more about aspects of the book and, most importantly, they saw A Trip to the Moon.
Now we are eagerly awaiting the movie. I will be curious how the book is repackaged at that point.
My students won’t be in school for a couple more weeks yet, but I’m slowly starting to turn my mind back to the classroom. I’m thinking about how I want to set up the room when I can first get into it on Monday. I’m thinking about changes in curriculum. I’m thinking about the new fourth graders I’ll be meeting in a few weeks. And I’m thinking about what I’m going to read aloud on our first day, that magical story that will help connect us all and turn us from a bunch of strangers into a tight and unique learning community. And so that first book has to be the right book.
It has to be a book that I can feel confident will be embraced by all. And so it can’t be too long. Or the slightest bit scary. Not that first book. After all, I don’t know the kids yet and I don’t know what they can tolerate in terms of scariness or book length. It does have to be funny. And ideally it needs to be a book none of the kids have read yet. It has to be a book that hooks them right away, one that I can dive into that first day that will help that bunch of shy (with me and with each other), nervous, and uncertain kids start to claim the room and space as their own, start to gel as a classroom community. Sure, I’ll do some ice-breaking and community-building activities before this, but for book-lover me, it is the read- aloud that works best.
At one time I started with Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s The Grand Escape. This is a charming story of the small adventures of two house cats. The children and I loved their misunderstandings, their distinctive personalities, and the wit of the book. Who knows? Maybe I should go back and try it again. Another was Barbara Robinson’s The Best School Year Ever with the shocking Herdmans. Both fit my requirements: short, funny, and immediately engaging. For the last two years I’ve started with Frank Cotrell Boyce’s Cosmic. It didn’t come out in the US till this year and so I’d read from a copy I’d gotten from England. (You can read my rave review here.) I’m tempted to start with it this year as I suspect it may still be under their radar and I know that it will be a sure-fire hit. But I’m still mulling things over and may pick something spanking new.
While I love reading aloud too much to cede it to anyone else, I do know that there are folks out there who use audio books. And so let me put in a plug for one I had a part in, the Lend Your Voice recording of The Wizard of Oz which I was part of along with many others and is now available for your listening pleasure here. At some point I’ve got to figure out just what page I read, go find it, and listen to it. But in the meantime, anyone who feels they don’t want to read aloud themselves to a group of kids, may I recommend they give this book a try. I’ve been teaching Baum’s for years and can assure you that it holds up as a grand and engaging adventure.
Reading aloud — after all these years it is still one of my favorite aspects of teaching. If you want to know more about my thoughts on this teaching method, the particular books and experiences I’ve had with kids (as often the books I read inspire us to do all sorts of cool things), please check out these posts.