November 24, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Top-Shelf Chapter Book Read Alouds for A New School Year

Savvy teachers seek recommendations for engaging new chapter book read alouds each fall—after all, what’s better than sharing a story to inspire a sense of community and ramp-up anticipation of all the wonderful things yet to come during the school year? Below find a few suggestions from our readers and reviewers—and be sure to add your recommendations of new titles to the comments section below.

Virgil, Valencia, Kaori, and Gen are neighborhood kids who don’t yet realize that the Universe has plans for them. When a cruel prank results in Virgil and his pet guinea pig, Gulliver, trapped at the bottom of a well, it will take a whole lot of courage, some quick thinking, and a little bit of trust in fate to save them. Erin Entrada Kelly’s middle grade novel Hello, Universe (HarperCollins/Greenwillow, Mar. 2017; Gr 3-7), clips along at a brisk pace, holding readers’ attention with the humor and warmth of these four quirky, would-be friends as a quiet urgency builds with each chapter. With a diverse cast of characters and deftly interwoven cultural elements, this contemporary novel is an exciting choice for reading aloud.—Kristine Macalalad, Escondido Public Library, CA

Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give (Balzer + Bray, Feb. 2017; Gr 8 Up) is a perfect novel for high school students to read and discuss in class or in a book club setting. The author skillfully captures the raw pain of 16-year-old Starr Carter as she experiences the tragic loss of her childhood friend and finds her own voice. Readers will feel the whirlwind of scrutiny of Starr’s friends, school, and community that the young woman endures as she defends the character of her deceased friend. This cautionary tale of right and wrong aligns with today’s headline news of police brutality and misconduct. It’s an unflinching, in-your-face American story and must-read for upper grade students.—K.C. Boyd, District of Columbia Public Schools 

When choosing a book to read aloud, I look for something exciting, fun, and infused with substance. Katherine Applegate’s latest Wishtree (Feiwel & Friends, Sept. 2017; Gr 3-5) satisfies these requirements and more. When a word of hate and vitriol is carved into the trunk of a long-standing oak tree, a neighborhood bands together to express that there is no room for intolerance in their community. The story is told from the perspective of the tree and its inhabitants, making this tough, yet timely, topic accessible. Never didactic, Applegate’s writing is both lyrical and intriguing and guaranteed to hold the interest of young listeners.—Christopher Lassen, The New York Public Library

Caraval by Stephanie Garber (Flatiron, Jan. 2017; Gr 7 Up) is an excellent choice for reading aloud because of its surreal setting and lyrical language. Scarlett always dreamed of going to Caraval, a magical event that is part theater, part mystery, and part game. When her invitation finally arrives she wants to attend, but first she must decide if she is brave enough to defy her cruel father and escape the island where she lives with her sister Tella. Scarlett doesn’t realize that Caraval is a bigger game than she imagined, and she and Tella are part of it. This is an amazing and imaginative story that echoes the mood of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.—Andrea Lipinski, New York Public Library

Never mind that Mira Bartók’s The Wonderling (Candlewick, Sept. 2017; Gr 3-5) stars an introspective, tenderhearted 11-year-old foxlike creature and his courageous best friend, Trinket (who could resist such a setup, anyway); it is the author’s sumptuous yet careful language that makes her debut perfect as a read aloud with upper elementary schoolers. Short, somewhat episodic, chapters chronicle how Arthur (née Number Thirteen) and Trinket escape from the abusive Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures and journey together toward their true destiny. Familiar, yes, but Bartók skillfully juxtaposes scenes of quiet reflection with those of grand adventure and friendship to create a thoughtful tale ideal for fans of sprawling fantasy. An excerpt:  “There was no time now for futile wishes or birdsongs or the music of snow. No time to muse about the lovely little mice, their French cheese and poetry, for it was not a special day after all. It was just the beginning of yet another week at the Home. And as on all the days of Number Thirteen’s life thus far, there was ever so much work to be done.”—Della Farrell, School Library Journal

The following three books, with significant themes, will challenge students to think deeply as they enter the new school year.  Students will recognize the love as well as the growing pains among two dads and four brothers in Dana Alison Levy’s The Fletcher Family Takes Rock Island (Delacorte, 2016; Gr 4-6). Relatable characters and realistic, age-appropriate situations involving racism and discrimination will keep listeners riveted.

Anais never wanted to leave the Democratic Republic of Congo and her loving extended family, but when her Dad and brother run afoul of the government, the girl and her mother must escape to the United States. Anais’s letters to her grandmother back home are so full of complaint and homesickness that the woman challenges Anais to recount one good thing about the United States in each missive. Ask students to notice the actions and attitudes that make Anais feel welcome in her new community, and those that exclude her as you share Ruth Freeman’s One Good Thing About America (Holiday House, Mar. 2017; Gr 3-7).

Cora asks her fairy godmother for a fluffy yellow dog, but instead the fairy godmother wisely sent an irascible crocodile that inspires the girl to break out of the deadening royal educational routine and find her own way as a learner. Laura Amy Schlitz’s Princess Cora and the Crocodile (Candlewick, Mar. 2017; K-Gr 3) delivers lots of silliness and crocodile biting, and there’s nothing like hearing students shriek with laughter as they are challenged to consider what true learning looks like.—Chris Gustafson, Richmond Japanese Immersion Elementary School. Portland Public Schools, OR

Students will empathize with “Lolly” (Wallace Rachpaul) in David Barclay Moore’s debut The Stars Beneath Our Feet (Sept. 2017; Gr 6-8). Lolly is an African American child living in Harlem and coping with the recent loss of his older brother. Students will identify with this 12-year-old’s plight, as he navigates his grief, guilt, friendships, and self-discovery. Pause to encourage your listeners to write and discuss their predictions (reactions), as this book warrants discussion. This is a genuinely beautiful story with a relatable cast of supporting characters.– Kate Herz, Weber Middle School, Port Washington, NY.

As we start a new school year, it’s time to start asking why. Why do we have the laws we have? Why does our government work (or not work) the way it does? Everyone won’t agree with every point made in Cynthia Levinson and Sanford Levinson’s Fault Lines in the Constitution (Peachtree, Sept. 2017; Gr 6-9), but the book raises important questions about the decisions that the framers of the constitution made and how living with those choices affects us today. Each chapter is similarly structured with a recent real-life event, followed by insight into how it relates to questions raised in 1787, how some states and other countries address the same issue differently, and an update on the opening story. The book can be read straight through, or, selections can be used throughout the school year to push collective thinking on what it means to be an active citizen. As it should, something in every chapter is bound to jar readers, and, hopefully, encourage them to speak up about what matters to them and/or spur them to take action. For students who want to continue the conversation, the authors do just that in a blog.

In Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree, community members come to Red, a huge oak, to tie their wishes onto its branches. Every wish is a story of hope, and even though there is goodwill in the community, not everyone’s wishes are admirable. The book addresses community, love, and the complexities that we face in our world. Who knew so many current topics could be brought up through the point of view of a tree? Readers and listeners who take time to reflect on how we can all support one another’s dreams will be greatly rewarded. The book offers an opportunity to frame the school year with a positive message.—Andy Plemmons, David C. Barrow Elementary School, Athens, GA

I recently read with my son—for the second time—The Wild Robot (Little, Brown, 2016; Gr 3-5), the first in a series of middle grade books written and illustrated by Peter Brown. The main character, a robot named Roz, is shipwrecked on an island devoid of humans. Roz must learn how to survive and adapt to her new environment, while attempting to form relationships with the not-so-welcoming animal inhabitants. As the story progresses, Roz adopts a gosling, whom she accidentally orphaned, and together they survive, flourish, and gain acceptance within the community. When trouble arrives, it is Roz’s new friends and extended family that come to her aid. The chapters are short and packed with accessible themes—survival, the environment, family, friendship, community, loyalty, diversity, kindness, and trust—and accompanied by contextual illustrations. It’s a touching tale that’s sure to spark discussion with readers of all ages. My son and I will be looking for The Wild Robot Escapes when it arrives next spring.

For older readers, there’s Ramona Blue (HarperCollins, 2017; Gr 9 Up) by Julie Murphy. While this hefty volume may be too long to share in its entirety with a class, a chapter or excerpt read aloud is guaranteed to keep this book circulating all year. Ramona Leroux was five years old when Hurricane Katrina tore through her world, destroying her home, and her family dynamic. Her mother left not long after, leaving Ramona to fend for herself. Now 17, six-foot-three, with blue hair and out, Ramona lives with her well-meaning but ineffectual father, and her pregnant sister, Hattie, in a dilapidated FEMA trailer in the small town of Eulogy, MS. Though her absentee mom insist Ramona’s declared sexual identity is just a phase, the teen never falters in her sense of self—she likes girls, and that’s that. However, as Ramona reunites with her childhood friend Freddie, she begins to realize that not everything is clear cut. Through their shared history and a deep love for competitive swimming, the teen unexpectedly falls for Freddie. The two become entwined in a relationship that defies labels and begins to alter Ramona’s outlook. Murphy’s book deals with a multitude of themes—sexuality and sexual identity, family, poverty, pregnancy, race, and escapism. It’s a superb, heartfelt contemporary story.—Amanda Lawrence, Dartmouth High School, MA

While words are sparse in Jason Reynolds’s free verse Long Way Down (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Bks. Oct. 2017; Gr 9 Up), the power and emotion they hold is anything but. There are three rules:

No. 1: Crying
Don’t.
No matter what.

No. 2: Snitching
Don’t.
No matter what.

No. 3: Revenge
Do.
No Matter what.

Fifteen-year-old Will readies himself to follow these rules after the shooting death of his brother; gun in waistband he enters the elevator. In the 60-plus seconds that it takes Will to reach the ground floor, he is confronted by the ghosts of others who were also bound by rules. The teen faces a potentially life-changing decision when the elevator doors open; will he follow the rules or break them? This book is well suited for reading out loud as the poetry gains gravity when heard aloud. Through this book, students will be able to explore what social, societal, and emotional constraints and the “rules” that help shape their actions and framing of the world.—Liz Phipps Soeiro, Cambridgeport School, MA

For additional chapter book read-aloud suggestions, be sure to see last year’s recommended list. Chances are those books are already on your shelves, ready to be borrowed.

 

 

Curriculum Connections

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Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek dgrabarek@mediasourceinc.com is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.

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