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.