Saturday, June 15, 2013

Favorite Classroom Read Alouds

1. Wonder by RJ Palacio: Wonder is so "hot of the presses" new. It's the first summer read that I finished (in just a few days and I am a SLOW reader). I am so excited to share this book with students as my first read aloud this year. Auggie was born with a craniofacial disorder. He was born with droopy eyes, a cleft pallet, and missing part of his jaw. He is used to people looking at him and quickly changing their gaze or looking down. His parents chose to homeschool him until 5th grade. The book chronicles his 5th grade year in a middle school setting. As you would predict, he experiences bullies, fake friendships, and hurt feelings, but he also experiences true friendship, triumph, and finally--acceptance. I had to fight off the urge to sob the entire time I was reading this book. I truly think it's a wonderful way to start the year, bring together a group of students, and teach compassion. I also feel that this book challenges every reader (young and old) to see through how superficially we live our lives and to challenge how critical we are of our own looks. I can't say enough amazing things about this book (but I can promise you will hear more about it as I use it with my students!) Other key highlights:

* The inspiration for the name of the book, Natalie Merchant's "Wonder" is icing on the cake and will provide opportunities for text-text connections. ("I must be one of the wonders, God's own creation!")
* The story is told by a number of characters, mostly chronological, but sometimes overlapping the previous teller's section (opportunity for multiple-perspectives)
* A number of mantras are shared throughout the book through Auggie's English teacher
* RJ Palacio quotes a song at the beginning of each characters' section
* Many references to pop culture--Elephant Man, Star Wars, the Ugly Duckling, Beauty and the Beast (just to name a few)

2-3. Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne AND Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli: I must confess that these two were not read alouds this year, but book club books. However, through my minilessons on themes, symbolism, re-reading to catch things you might have missed originally, etc. I pulled excerpts of each of these books into my lessons. And, students were so into discussing their books and making connections during minilessons that I felt like every student got a good sense of the books no matter what they were reading individually. This year was the first time I read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Milkweed myself, and after sharing the experience with my 5th graders, and knowing that we referred to and repeated lines from these books ALL the YEAR LONG, these books top my FAVORITE books of ALL time list. The symbolism of angels throughout Milkweed is so strong that I now believe in "everyday" angels. The Holocaust is a sensitive topic for 5th graders, but we got so much out of the unit last year that we plan to do this unit again. I created a parent letter to inform them of our plans to learn about the Holocaust. (You can download it for free and change to fit your needs.) For more about my Holocaust lessons...
4. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli: Stargirl almost always makes itself into my year as a book club, but this year,  I used it as a read aloud to target the theme of "conformity."  I hope you are already familiar with Stargirl, but basically Mica Area High School is the "hotbed of conformity." Everyone, even the unpopular kids, seems to follow along with Hilary Kimball and Wayne Parr. Until, Stargirl, a homeschooled, unique, march-to-the-beat-of-her-own-drum, girl comes along. Leo, the narrator, eventually falls in love with Stargirl, but soon realizes that he is being ostracized because of his friendship with her. The critical conflict in the book is the choice Leo feels he must make between being accepted by his peers and continuing a friendship with Stargirl. Regret, "being caught between a rock and a hard place," and accepting others for their uniqueness (rather than expecting them to conform) are huge themes in Stargirl.

5. Firegirl by Tony Abbott: I have used Firegirl as a read aloud once and in a book club this year. If you want a read aloud that gets at some of the same themes as Stargirl and Wonder but that is a shorter, less complex read, Firegirl is the one for you. Jessica comes to Tom's school mid year because she is receiving burn treatments at a local hospital. Jessica was badly burned when a gas tank exploded while her mom was pumping gas. As you can imagine, the environment in the classroom totally changes when Jessica joins the class. Although she is not able to come to class all of the time because of her medical treatments, when she does, no one speaks to her or wants to touch her. Mid-book, Tom begins a friendship with Jessica when his teacher asks him to drop off some of her school work at her house. When Jessica returns to her regular home, Tom has major regrets about not reaching out to Jessica and befriending her sooner. This book again gives you the opportunity to teach compassion and regrets, but also lends itself to discussing with students how to be a leader rather than a bystander.

5. The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo: The Tiger Rising is CAPTIVATING for students, but I love it because it has so much to teach us about dealing with our demons. The description does not do this book justice, "Walking through the misty Florida woods one morning, twelve-year-old Rob Horton is stunned to encounter a tiger—a real-life, very large tiger—pacing back and forth in a cage. What’s more, on the same extraordinary day, he meets Sistine Bailey, a girl who shows her feelings as readily as Rob hides his. As they learn to trust each other, and ultimately, to be friends, Rob and Sistine prove that some things—like memories, and heartache, and tigers—can’t be locked up forever." During my reading aloud of this novel, I taught students to walk in the characters' shoes, have compassion, and deal with their own "suitcase" of emotions. I seriously felt like I was teaching guidance lessons at the same time that I was teaching reading skills. To me, the tiger is the LEAST of importance in this book, but it keeps the kids wanting more and is a symbol of Rob and Sistine's own imprisonment by their emotions. Sistine's father is out of the picture and Rob's mother has recently died. Rob's father moved them to another town to get away from the pain, never talks about his mother, and has a hard time showing love towards Rob. Rob stuffs his feelings inside a metaphorical suitcase. On the otherhand, Sistine is always ready to let her feelings explode and often lets them out by beating on the bullies at the school. If you have not read this book, you MUST put it on your "to read" list. It took me all of an hour to finish and I did not want to put it down!!!!

From the looks of this list, it's safe to say that I like to choose read alouds that help teach my students how to treat one another with tolerance and compassion, how to face life, and how to become better people. I think each of these read alouds stick with students forever.

Hop on over to Mr. Hughes blog, Created by Mr. Hughes to check out this growing list of suggested read alouds. Although I suggested read alouds for 5th grade, the linky list ranges from 3rd through 8th and is divided by grade level. If you are a blogger, you can link up too!

Happy reading!

Green Chevron Background in first picture by


  1. I've never read Firegirl but I am sure I would love it because I absolutely love every single other suggestion you made! Great minds... :)
    Creating Lifelong Learners

  2. Thank you for linking up. I hope that we can keep this list growing! I love your suggestions and can't wait to check them out.
    -Mr. Hughes
    An Educator's Life

  3. Come join us for the Carolina blogger meet up!



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