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Karen Terlecky reads to her students.
Karen Terlecky reads to her students.

Thinking About 5th Grade Read Alouds
Karen Terlecky
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It's that time of year again - the time when I sit down at my diningroom table, surrounding myself with books I have read recently and some old favorites. And then the fun begins -- I start to think about what books would be best to share with my fifth-grade students during read aloud time.

As always, I start with a longer list than I can possibly accomplish in one school year, knowing that I have not met my students yet. Getting to know them as readers will play a huge factor in this process as well. Add to that the fact that I will be at a new elementary school this year, so I don't yet know the culture of readers I will be encountering. The list I am creating is definitely not written in stone; it just is my latest thinking about the possibilities for read aloud.

I like to stay current with what's available in children's books. I do this by visiting my local independent children's bookstore and getting wonderful recommendations from the staff. I visit my public library and constantly check out the new book section for hidden gems, and I read children's literature blogs where people review the latest books that are available.

Here's my list in progress of read aloud possibilities. I know this will evolve and change over the year, as I get to know my new class of students, and as I find new books that are terrific reads and just meant to be shared with children.

Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff. This story is about a little girl that worries about everything. She developed this habit after her brother died. Not only is this book well-written and full of rich character development, it does a fabulous job talking about grief, and how we learn to cope with it. The symbolism of the umbrella will lead to many rich discussions. The other thing I like about this book is that it allows me to introduce an author with two other terrific books (The Thing About Georgie and The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower) to my students. It gives them an opportunity to explore more by this author. I know when I find an author I enjoy, I like to try to get my hands on more of his/her books.

No Talking by Andrew Clements. Clements is a favorite author for many children because many of his books take place in school settings, and the situations within the story are ones to which students can easily relate. In this particular story, the boys have a contest with the girls to see who can go the longest without talking in a three-day contest. It becomes more than just boys against girls; it becomes kids against adults, as well. This book has been out for two years, but I think my new class will still enjoy it. The last two years, my class has even attempted some of the no talking possibilities within the story.

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look. The main character in this book is afraid of everything, and his fears allow children to laugh, yet talk about some of their fears as well. In addition, there is another Alvin Ho book out, so if a student really enjoys this book, they can pick up the next one in our new books' section. The final reason I like this book to read aloud is it demonstrates to 5th graders that they don't we don't need to read epic novels to enjoy a book together. Alvin Ho is a smaller book with large font, and fun illustrations thrown in as well.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. There has been much talk about this book in the kidlitosphere (blogs). In fact, one well-known blogger has put this book on her short list for a possible Newbery award. There are so many layers to this story that the thinking we can do together as a whole class will be amazing. We will be able to talk about symbolism, characterization, time travel, friendships, flashbacks, and foreshadowing, just to name a few. Can you imagine what rich conversations we will have?

The Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman. This book came out in the spring of 2008. I read it to my 5th graders right way, and then I read it to my class last year as well. This is a book not to be missed - full of fun, challenges, puzzles, and more. It feels like an updated version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. If I was still in the school I taught last year, I'm not sure this would have made my list. This book became highly popular and made its way to siblings and friends - many other students heard about it and read it. Being in a new environment, I would like to try it one more time. It's just a lot of fun!

Flying Solo by Ralph Fletcher. This book has been around quite a long time - its copyright is 1998. I am a huge fan of Fletcher's writing, and this book still appeals to me as a read aloud for several reasons. First, it is very character-driven. We learn much about each of the 6th graders in Mr. Fabiano's class. When the teacher is ill the substitute doesn't show up, and the students decide to run class by themselves for a day. We spend a lot of time talking about "voice" and point of view - each chapter is told from a different person's perspective. There's also the layout of the book that is fascinating - it is chronologically laid out in chapters starting at Friday at 7:03 AM, and ending the following Monday at 8:15 AM. Within the chronological layout, there are many flashbacks that we can talk through together to help understanding. There are also many opportunities where the students are writing letters within their writing workshop time - I love that these students are part of a writing workshop just like my own. Finally, I think I would read this book aloud before reading When You Reach Me (#4 on my read aloud list) - another story told by more than one person. Flying Solo would be a good scaffold before trying this more difficult book.

Also Known As Harper by Ann Haywood Leal. This book is appealing on so many levels. Harper is a girl who can write amazing poetry. She was named after Harper Lee, her brother's name is Hemingway, and her mother loves to reread To Kill a Mockingbird over and over again. Harper's dad has left his family, and her mom is left to fend for them. Harper's mom works multiple jobs but still gets so far behind with rent payments that her landlord kicks them out of the home they've always known. This begins a new life for Harper and her family - a life of being homeless. This story is a perfect way of introducing homelessness and how it can affect children, especially to students who don't experience these same issues themselves. In addition to being brilliantly written, I would hope this would serve as a platform to start conversations about people less fortunate than themselves. And Harper's poetry is amazing - great conversations could be had about each and every poem in the story.

Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix (1st in new series called The Missing). I read this book last year and loved it! Haddix has a way of writing what students seem to love - mystery, adventure, and in this case, a little time travel / science fiction as well. This was my final read aloud with my class last year. Not only was I riveted by the concept of this book, but I knew the next book in the series would be coming out in August. My goal was to "hook" my students into really wanting to get their hands on the next book after Found (it is called Sent, and will be out sometime in late August). I accomplished my mission and more - my students were moaning and complaining that they couldn't get their hands on Sent before August. As a teacher, I want them to have the great feeling that comes when a book you have eagerly awaited finally comes to your closest bookstore or library. For that same reason, I might be able to "hook" more students into this latest series by Haddix.

Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin. This is another book that was just published this year. It deals with the life of an autistic child who has difficulty processing social cues appropriately. But when he sits down at his computer to write stories with a program called Storyboard, he becomes far less challenged. The book is a great conversation starter about the everyday difficulties that some autistic children face, as well as a vehicle to encourage more empathy.

That's the list for now. Let the bulletin boards be put up, the classroom arranged, and let the students arrive. As I get to know these new individuals as readers, these nine books will be a great starting point for read aloud possibilities.

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