Twice a month, we invite an educator to share their perspective on essential books for your classroom. To apply to become a contributor, please send us an email!
Inspired by my recent reading of The Enchanted Hour by Meghan Cox Gurdon, I am always looking for the next great read aloud. It has always been a cherished time, sharing a story with students of all ages. From a board book that seems so simple but you return to time and time again because the limited choice of words are so clever, to novels that seem to have long and luxurious chapters. Sometimes we get lost in the pictures. Sometimes we get caught up in the words. And sometimes, we can’t decide. The illustrations and the words have us so engaged, we lose track of where we are and fall deep into the story.
As a teacher-librarian, parents and students are always asking about favourite books. However, it is a different story when I say: Do you want to hear a new favourite book? There is a rush to sit up close on the carpet, sometimes pull up a cushion, and then it’s all eyes on me. Actually, it’s not all eyes on me. It is all eyes on the magic I hold in my hands. A creative expression that wants to be opened up and explored through the sound of my voice, using the author’s words and showing the illustrator’s artwork.
Fortunately, I have come across more than one book for all my readers. It's time to settle in on a carpet, cushion, or bed with these new favourites...
Tallulah plays the Tuba by Tiffany Stone, illustrated by Sandy Nichols
Oom-pah! Oom-pah! The sound of the tuba written on the page demands this musical story to be read aloud. Readers will delight in the musical sounds but because Tallulah is so tiny, they will also enjoy the creativity and problem-solving skills that our young musician uses to play this great instrument.
Create a soundscape with the students. What would the other instruments sound like in a band? Create a word wall of instrument sounds. If the students are not familiar with the sounds, find short videos online or ask the music teacher to show the students the instruments. You may even want to introduce the students to a capella musicians who create sounds with their voices.
Write a short story about another instrument using one of the made up sound effects. What would that word look like on paper? Have students illustrate the “sound” words.
Princess Puffybottom...and Darryl by Susin Neilsen, illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller
My youngest readers giggled in delight as we met Princess Puffybottom and her need to be the centre of her owners’ attention. If you haven’t figured out, the princess in this story is a beautiful well-groomed cat and Darryl is a mischievous puppy. The illustrations are fun and the shenanigans are hilarious, as Princess Puffybottom navigates her relationship with the newest addition to the family. When she finally accepts that Darryl is here to stay, she discovers the bonus of having him in her life. The last picture in the book will elicit giggles and shouts as readers discover the story is not over for Princess Puffybottom...
Create a new picture ending for the book. What would make Princess Puffybottom and Darryl happy? What would that picture look like?
Sir Simon: Super Scarer by Cale Atkinson
Not all ghost stories need to be read at Halloween. This one was pulled off the shelf a couple of weeks ago by a couple of young readers who requested the read aloud. Once we started, we couldn’t stop. The pictures are fun (the front and back cover will elicit giggles) and that’s only the beginning! By the last page, the readers were closer and closer, listening and looking at the pictures. Funny, charming, and just a good friendly ghost story.
This is just a fun read aloud. Enjoy!
Birdsong by Julie Flett
You know the books where your reader asks you to go back a page and read it again? Or the books where they ask you to stay on the page so they can drink in the picture with their eyes? Birdsong is that book. As the seasons change, you can feel your reader’s heart getting bigger with each flip of the page. The small glossary at the front of the book not only gives you meaning of the Cree words from the text but a pronunciation guide, as well.
This is one of those stories that I would love an Art teacher to use watercolours and take students outside and paint pictures of nature. And as a writer, I would love students to find the right words to express their ideas of what they see and feel. An opportunity for students to use a second language and integrate into the story would be a great expression of storytelling.
The Girl Who Rode a Shark: And Other Stories of Daring Women by Ailsa Ross, illustrated by Amy Blackwell
My readers want real stories. They want true adventure. They want to know it’s real. There have been strong and daring women around the world for centuries and in this one book, Ailsa Ross and Amy Blackwell have designed a collection of women’s stories that can be read aloud, one page at a time. Strong women. True stories. One page. The maps in the book are a great story starter as our globally minded listeners visualize these worldly adventures and dream of their own future stories. This is a read aloud that can last for a day, a week, a month, or even the whole year in a classroom. Think of all the adventures you will share!
Whose story is missing? Research someone who you think should be in the book. Add their location to a class map.
The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden by Heather Smith, illustrated by Rachel Wada
What is it about a book that is so haunting that it demands to shared? This is one of those books that is tempting to keep to yourself but at the same time, so important to share. This one requires a gentle voice, as it may stir feelings for your readers, as the phone booth is a place where people can call friends and family that have died. At the end, readers will be in awe that it is based on a true story and will see a photo of the phone booth that Itari Sasaki built to deal with his grief at the loss of his cousin. Heather Smith’s gentle words and Rachel Wada’s inspired illustrations engage the reader. You will want to read their bios aloud to discover why they were so inspired.
Not everyone has experienced a loss like Mr. Hirota. But many of us have felt lonely and sad. Some schools have a friendship bench where you can join a friend who feels sad and lonely. What are some things you can say to a friend who is feeling sad or lonely? Create a poster with your students of some sentence starters that may help a friend who is feeling sad or may be missing someone.
Fatma Faraj is a teacher-librarian at an independent school in downtown Toronto. She is an advocate for all readers, hoping to find the best book, at the right time, for everyone.