I love looking for new books to share with my students during African-American history month. This year, I found quite a few that I really enjoyed for all ages. This book really resonated with my fourth and fifth graders.
The Case for Loving is the story of the marriage of Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred Jeter, an African-American woman. The Lovings lived in Central Point, Virginia. In 1959, interracial marriage was illegal in Virginia and 16 other states; so, the Lovings went to Washington, D.C. to get married. Upon return to their home in Virginia, the Lovings were arrested for illegal cohabitation and sent to jail. (I heard gasps from my students. It does make you gasp, doesn’t it?) They were told to move out of Virginia if they wanted to live together. The Lovings moved to Washington, D.C. and had three children; but, they were not happy with their new urban life. The Lovings wanted to return to Virginia where they could live in the countryside. “By now it was 1966, and the times they were a changin’.” The Lovings moved back to Central Point and filed a lawsuit, Loving v. Virginia. The Loving case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Richard and Mildred did not attend the Supreme Court hearings. Their lawyers read Richard’s words to the justices, “Tell the Court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.” These words were so plain and so honest, they resonated with all my students.
The Lovings were victorious in their battle and nine years after marrying, they were able to legally move back to Virginia to live.
When I finished reading this book, my students all asked if this book was true. I found the author’s note at the end of the book particularly poignant. Selina Alko, a white, Jewish woman, married Sean Qualls, an African-American man and one of the illustrators of this book, in 2003, having benefitted from the Lovings fight for justice so long ago.
There have been a few books in my library that have made students laugh and roll on the floor. Not polite little “I’m using my library voice” laughing and rolling on the floor…happy, loud laughing and rolling on the floor. And, really, why not? If you can make your usually quiet librarian say things like, “My best friend is a hippo named Boo Boo Butt,” just by asking her to read this book, wouldn’t you do the same? Not since their favorite “Pigeon” books, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late by Mo Willems have my students found a book that is SO funny. I wasn’t planning to read this book a second week in a row, but my students insisted. 🙂
Why is this book such a success? Like Mo Willems Pigeon books, this book puts kids in control. They get to tell you what to do, and they really love it.
I loved reading this book and seeing my students have a great time.
We are approaching Halloween, and it’s time to find great read alouds for my classes.
This book absolutely grabbed my 4th and 5th graders’ attention this week. I think lots of my students had heard of Dracula but never actually knew the story. They were surprised that Transylvania really exists and had lots of questions about vampires, including whether they are real. (Thank you, Twilight.)
This book recounts the Dracula story from the classic 1931 black and white film. The next chapters include: a short biography of Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula; superstitions about vampires; the stories of the real Vlad Dracula and another ruler of Transylvania, Countess Bathory (gruesome by the way); Vampires in Books and Films; and Vampire Bats.
I only read Chapter 1, the story of Dracula to my classes. It was just the right length read aloud, about 10 minutes. You could have heard a pin drop while I was reading. My students loved it. Several students asked if they could check out the book after I read it to them.
There is nothing like a good vampire story to get your older students ready for Halloween! Enjoy.
Quest is the incredible sequel to Aaron Becker’s 2014 Caldecott Honor Book, Journey. It, like Journey, is a wordless book with breathtaking illustrations.
I particularly like to use wordless books with my fourth graders. They are a restless bunch, usually wanting to talk amongst themselves rather than listen to a read aloud. With a book like Quest, I stand in front of my students and page through the book for them as they “read” it to themselves.
Even those students who were reluctant to pay attention quieted quickly. Quest held their attention so well, you could only hear the whispers as they “read” this book and said soft “aahhs” at the beautiful illustrations. At the end, my intractable group smiled and clapped. They loved it!
Quest begins at the end of Journey. (To be sure my students understood this, I showed them Journey first and then Quest.) The two children, a boy holding a purple crayon and a girl holding a red crayon, meet a king who gives them a written message, with multiple colors on it. The king is abducted by soldiers and taken away. The boy and girl use their crayons to try to save the king using the clues in the message he gave them. To see if they succeed, read this wonderful book and enjoy.
I was drawn to this book because of the illustrations by Frederic Clement. They are beautiful. I was delighted that the story is beautiful as well.
Teiji is a famous painter whose paintings are sought after by people far and wide. One day, while he is painting, he sees a beautiful flock of birds fly by. The birds are the most beautiful that he has ever seen. So beautiful, in fact, that he cannot paint anymore. He goes off in search of the birds. He walks and walks until he finds an old man. The old man tells him that the birds are wild swans who come from Siberia and spend the winter on an island in the middle of the lake. The old man warns Teiji that it is dangerous to cross the lake in the winter, because of the ice. Teiji says that he can’t paint unless he sees that real beauty again. He feels such a strong need to see the birds that he sells everything he has, with the exception of his brushes and paints, and gives it to the old man for his boat. Teiji takes the boat across the lake. When the ice breaks the hull and the boat capsizes, Teiji is plunged into the icy water. Freezing, but determined to see the beautiful birds again, he drags himself to the island. There he sees the wild swans. He realizes that true beauty is impossible to capture in a painting and is grateful that he has had the chance to see the birds before he dies.
My students were very quiet while I read this book. I think they were taken in by the fact that Teiji would give away everything he had just to see the birds again. Although adults reading the book understand that Teiji has died at the end of the book, not all students do. We often spend time discussing the ending as so few books end this way. This is a thoughtful, beautiful book.
Interestingly, Claude Clement and Frederic Clement are not related. Please note that both their last names should appear with l’accent aigu over the first “e”.
The beautiful princess kisses the frog. The frog becomes a prince, and the prince and princess live happily ever after. Right? Well, unfortunately, in Jon Scieszka’s fractured fairy tale, the marriage is not one made in heaven.
The Princess is annoyed that the Prince keeps sticking out his tongue and hopping on the furniture. She wishes the Prince would just go out and slay a dragon. The Prince, upset that the Princess won’t hang out at the pond with him, is miserable.
They need a change. When the Princess says she wishes the Prince would just turn back into a frog, the Prince has an idea. He leaves the castle in search of a witch who can turn him back into a frog. He finds plenty of witches in the woods. The first wants to cast a nasty spell on him so he won’t wake up Sleeping Beauty, the second wants to feed him a poison apple so he won’t bother Snow White, one invites him into her gingerbread house, the fourth turns him into a carriage. He escapes from all four witches and sits, lonely, in the dark woods. The Prince realizes that he really belongs at home with the Princess who took a chance and kissed him when he was a frog. So, the Prince goes home to his worried Princess and kisses her. They both turn into frogs and live happily ever after.
This is a fun read aloud for older students who will love recognizing familiar fairy tales, Steve Johnson’s creative illustrations and Jon Scieszka’s funny re-imaginining of the Frog Prince.
The Chinese Emperor is looking for someone to succeed him as Emperor. The Emperor launches a competition. He provides all the children with seeds to grow. The child who grows the most beautiful flowers from the seeds will become the new ruler of the empire.
Ping is a child who not only loves flowers but is able to grow beautiful flowers. When he receives his seed, he plants it and cares for it every day. Unfortunately, nothing grows. Ping replants the seed in a new pot. He changes the soil that the seed is planted in, and still nothing grows. The children around him are all able to grow beautiful flowers. When it is time for the children to present their flowers to the Emperor, they laugh at Ping and tell him that he can’t present an empty pot to the Emperor. Ping’s father overhears the other children and tells Ping that it’s fine to present his best efforts to the Emperor.
On the day that the children present their pots, Ping approaches the Emperor with his empty pot. The Emperor, much to everyone’s surprise, smiles. Ping was the only child unable to grow the seed he was given by the Emperor. Since the Emperor had boiled the seeds before he gave them to the children, not one of the seeds should have grown. Ping was the only child who was honest about trying to grow only the seed he was given by the Emperor. Because of his honesty, the Emperor crowns Ping the new Emperor.
My students loved this ending and couldn’t stop talking about how the other children were deceitful and how Ping’s honesty was rewarded.
The easiest books to read to a group of students are funny books. Oliver Jeffers has written a great book that was a real favorite with my students.
“It all began when Floyd got his kite stuck in a tree…” Poor Floyd. When his kite became stuck in a tree, he threw a shoe to loosen the kite. Sadly, his shoe became stuck, too. Floyd threw his other shoe and then his cat at the tree to loosen his kite. Both became stuck. When Floyd got his ladder, all my students expected that Floyd would climb the ladder to get his kite, shoes and cat. To their amazement, Floyd threw his ladder into the tree as well. 🙂 It, a bucket of paint, a bicycle, the kitchen sink…an orangutan, a BIG Boat, even the firemen who were sent to help all became stuck in the tree. The tree was completely full. So, Floyd got a saw. As you might expect, Floyd threw the saw into the tree as well; and, finally(!), Floyd’s kite fell out of the tree. Floyd, happy, walked away with his kite in hand. In bed that night, Floyd wondered if there was anything he forgot to do. The firemen realizing they might be in the tree for a while, began strategizing about how they might get themselves and everyone else “unstuck”.
This funny and absurd book is a gem. Don’t miss it!
Journey is beautifully illustrated wordless book and uses color very effectively to tell a story of a good deed and its reward.
As I paged through the book for my classes, I could hear my students whispering the story to themselves. Their spontaneous applause when I finished the book matched my feelings exactly. I love this book so much that I’ve shown it to countless adults since first reading it.
A lonely girl takes her red crayon and draws a door in her bedroom wall. The door leads her into a beautiful forest filled with lanterns and lights. There she finds a small stream. She draws herself a boat and follows the stream to a beautiful city. The city could be from medieval times with its stone walls and golden domes. She floats through a city canal. When she comes to the end of the canal, the girl draws herself a hot air balloon. She flies away and sees a purple bird flying away from city soldiers. When the soldiers catch the bird and place it in a cage, the girl steals the bird’s cage and frees the bird. Caught by the soldiers herself, the girl is suspended in her own cage. The grateful bird brings her a crayon so that she can draw herself a magic carpet. The girl follows the bird until she finds a door. When she opens the door…well, you’ll have to read Journey and find out what happens.
This is a book you won’t want to miss and that you and the children you read to are bound to read over and over again.
I was drawn to this book because of Eric Carle’s illustrations. As I read The Mountain that Loved a Bird, I really fell in love with it, as did my students. It’s a book filled with longing, friendship and dedication.
Joy is a bird that lands on the side of a mountain. The mountain is lonely. When it hears Joy’s beautiful singing it asks her to stay. Joy says that she can not stay, because there is no food or water for her on the mountain. She says that she’ll return every year to visit and sing to the mountain. She also says that she’ll name her daughter Joy and her daughter will name her daughter Joy so that every year bird named Joy will visit the mountain to sing to it. Each year, Joy returns and each year, the mountain begs Joy to leave and is sad when it’s time for Joy to leave. One year, the mountain is so sad that it cries, and a stream of tears starts running down the mountain. The next year, Joy brings a seed with her and drops it near the stream. Over the course of years, the seed grows roots and draws water from the cracks deep within the mountain. Soon, more plants grow, and the mountain’s tears of sadness grow into tears of happiness at everything growing around the mountain. The book closes with Joy bringing a twig to begin her nest on the mountain. She tells the mountain, finally, that she is there to stay.
This is such a beautiful book. I hope you enjoy it.