Always a reader.
Always. If you visit here often you already know this and you probably also know that the last Friday of each month is a Book Review day for me. Usually, I share five adult books, but last month I threw in a book I once read to my third-grade students.
Wow, I got some great responses to that! So, I thought I would devote this post to five of my favorite books to read to students!
The Summer My Father Was Ten by Pat Brisson
This picture book was one I read aloud on the first day of school for a really long time. It’s the story of a young girl who plants a garden every summer with her father and every summer he tells her about the year he was 10.
The dad, at age 10, lived in an apartment building next to an empty lot. He and his friends played ball in the lot every day. An elderly neighbor, Mr. Bellavista, planted a garden in the lot that summer. While the boys were playing they started picking the vegetables and throwing them- until the garden was ruined.
Mr. Bellavista was unhappy but said very little. The next summer the boy offers to help Mr. B plant a new garden and the man agrees. They plant it and work together to harvest the vegetables and then Mr. B and the boy’s family cook spaghetti together.
What is incredibly beautiful about this story are the pictures. In the beginning, Mr. B is just a grouchy, lonely, unhappy man. But, when the family is eating and visiting over their spaghetti his expression has changed to joy. I would always stop on those pages and have my students examine the faces of the people and notice how everyone had changed.
The boy continues to plant this garden every year- even when Mr. B goes away to a nursing home. There is a page in this book that makes me cry every time I read it. It’s a bus driving to the nursing home so the boy, now age 16, can see Mr. B. It’s a powerful message of what love and caring can do for people. It’s a perfect first day of school book.
Flying Solo by Ralph Fletcher
This is another book I read every year for a long time. It’s a chapter book filled with hilarious, poignant, stories about a sixth-grade class. The book opens with a substitute teacher calling in sick to the school. Her message goes unnoticed and when school begins the class has no teacher. The students, led by a few natural leaders, get the morning routine started and this continues for the entire day. The kids run the classroom without a teacher.
It works, though, with only a few problems. It works because the classroom has procedures for everything and a tremendous sense of community. In every chapter, you learn a little background about each one of the students- a mute girl named Rachel, a classmate that died earlier in the year, and a boy that is moving to Hawaii and must make a decision about what to do with his dog.
The kids resolve a lot of issues and the book wraps it up neatly in the end. Each student shares their writing throughout the book and the honesty of these journals is the heart of this book.
What I really love about this book is how closely it mirrored my classroom. We have many of these same procedures, we write in a writer’s notebook, we have morning meetings, and we have a closing ceremony when someone moves away. Whenever I would read a portion of the book that sounded exactly like our classroom the students were amazed and often asked me if I wrote this book!
This is a good one for the beginning of the year as you are working to establish a community in your own classroom!
Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney
Set in 1923, Missouri, it’s the story of Eben. The little community he lives in is very tiny and he just wants to travel. He flips through a book about the seven wonders of the world every day and one day his dad issues a challenge. If Eben can find seven wonders right in Sassafras Springs in seven days, dad will send him on a train ride to visit his aunt in Colorado.
So, Eben sets out and finds wonders large and small. This includes an outhouse that sails in a cyclone, a bookcase that floats in a flooded river, and locusts that are charmed by someone playing a tune on an old saw. In the midst of it all is Eben learning that his community might not be so small after all.
The author has a delightful way of making the story funny and touching. The end is the most powerful wonder of all. I read this book to my third graders year after year and they loved it so much. It has a tall tale quality and a little bit of magic, but that’s what makes it a great kid read-aloud!
Love That Dog by Sharon Creech
We always read this book while studying poetry. The book is written entirely in free verse poems. I have a class set and we read this one together because the kids need to see the way words are arranged on the page.
The main voice in the story is Jack and he hates poetry, but his teacher encourages him by showing the class famous poems and encouraging them to write in those styles. Jack writes about his dog and his teacher types his poems on yellow paper to display them. He gradually begins to write more and add such creative touches and words and develops his style. You can see him developing as a writer as his story unfolds.
And his story will break your heart. The dog he writes about and loves so much was killed by a car and I can just tell you that every single year when we read the page where Jack writes about this, we had to stop and just take it in.
It is a beautiful book and the kids loved it and so just imagine how overjoyed we were to discover this next book.