I don’t go back to school till after Labor Day, but know that many others are going back now. Like other teachers, I think carefully about the books I read aloud that first week. My way of connect to kids is very much through books. And so I Iook for books that will relax them, see me as someone safe to be around, and consider that this is likely to be a good school year. Ideally the first book will be school-related, but not necessarily. There are many, but tend to be for younger kids. I’m far from my classroom right now (being on a Swiss Alp:) and so not able to browse through what I have there. Also, I have to love the books myself. I’m going to be establishing a tone and a way of engaging with read aloud books and so need to be at my best. This first week isn’t the time for me to check out a book I’m not so sure about. So, as of this writing (a month to go for me) here are three books I’m considering:
Edda: A Little Valkyrie’s First Day of School by Adam Auerbach. This distinctly amusing twist on the “being at a new school” trope was a big hit last year so it is top on my list to use again this year. Edda lives on Asgard, one of the homes to the Viking gods and when her father decides she needs some experience with other kids her age (there being none on Asgard), he sends her to school on Earth. The result is a gently humorous look at Edda learning how to bring her own self into a new and very different place. This is a book that is definitely one that can be best appreciated by my students — some of them have already studied the Vikings and others know about them. And Edda’s fish-out-of-water feeling is one they probably are all feeling on that first day of school. Not to mention, it is quirky and different — I mean, are there any other first-day-of-school books inspired by Wagner’s Ring series (as this evidently was)? Though that it was doesn’t matter a wit; I don’t know Wagner’s operas firsthand, but do know that this little off-beat story is a great one to start my class out on their 4th grade year.
Each Kindness Jacqueline Woodson. I fell in love with this book the fall it came out and advocated for its consideration for the Newbery that year. Since then I’ve been pleased that so many others agree. This is not a book I read aloud the first day. It is one I read at the end of the first week (or sometimes a week or two later) to start an ongoing conversation about kindness. It is a book that we refer back to all year.
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones. I always start reading aloud a novel that first day. It is definitely challenging to find time every day in my schedule to read aloud, but I do it. At our morning meetings I usually read a fun picture book and then a novel for the last 15 minutes of an afternoon period that is called Lab. This is an important element of my school’s philosophy — it is a time where kids can work on various projects, see teachers, etc. Taking 15 minutes out it for a read aloud is tricky for me. I love the idea of Lab, but also feel strongly that we need to have a read aloud period. So the latter trumps the former. I like to start with something that is new or not out yet and so am still considering what this year’s will be. I adored Jones’ book and would like to see how kids react to it. It isn’t long, something I think is very important as I think we teachers have to assume that no matter what the kids say to our faces that not every child in the class is going to be equally in love with a read aloud and so if they aren’t they don’t have to live with it too, too long. But I’ve got time to contemplate this decision. I do know I would like it to be a sure fire hit — not something that I have to abandon before we are done. I’ve done that very occasionally with read alouds the kids are just not warming up to, but never the first one.
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?