Saturday, June 29, 2013

Unleashing Readers: Books for Primary Classrooms

Today I am joining the blog hop at Unleashing Readers a new blog hosted by Kellee and Ricki.  I'm looking forward to watching this blog evolve as it looks like it will be a go-to resource across many grade levels.
Here's what Kellee & Ricki say, "The goal of Unleashing Readers is to be a go-to resource for all levels of teachers to find resources for utilizing the best pieces of literature and nonfiction in their classroom. 

 As a primary teacher, I just can't get enough books for our classroom shelves.  As the school year ended I had the crazy idea to inventory my bookshelves and was surprised (well, not really) to realize how many books I had collected over the years.  I probably shouldn't purchase another book, but spending time following blogs and learning on Twitter will make that impossible.  

Here are some of my favorites for our classroom:
My favorite read aloud:  Really, just one?  That's impossible.  If I have to choose one, today my favorite read aloud is !.  Yes, Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld.  Mem Fox, in her Ten Read-Aloud Commandments, reminds us: 

"Read with joy and enjoyment: real enjoyment for yourself and great joy for the listeners." 

Amy's book, Exclamation Mark (my earlier review) is one of those books which makes that easy.  The story is so enjoyable.  In the story, ! (Exclamation Mark) just doesn't feel like he fits in anywhere.  He's sad and a little lonely.  Then along comes ? (Question Mark).  ? helps ! discover who he really is.  Young readers love the characters and problem in the story, but it is the language that makes this such a perfect book for reading aloud.  The words fall musically off the tongue.  The play with font size allows the reader's voice to rise and fall magically.  My students were spellbound with this book from beginning to end --- over and over.  

My favorite close read:  One again?  This category is tough.  My favorite close read really depends on the strategy I'm trying to teach.  Different concepts require different types of books and reading.  Honestly, with young readers I want to be very selective about the amount of time we spend looking closely at a text.  I want it to be short --- and powerful.  Most of our time is spent listening to language, enjoying reading, and talking together about the author's message.  While students reread many of their books, these examples are books I like to discuss with students and use to model this deep thinking.  
My favorite fiction text (today):  I Love You the Purplest by Barabara Joose and illustrated by Mary Whyte.  This book works for a million different conversations, but one of my favorite discussions is about the language used in the book.  In this story, Max and Julian try hard to get their mom to say she loves one of them more than the other, but their mom is clever and skillfully dances around the question.  Mom shares her reasons for loving each one differently in beautifully chosen words.  

My favorite nonfiction text (this second):  Smart Kids Reptiles by Roger Priddy.  Deb Frazier at Primary Perspective first brought this series of books across the hall to me after discovering them at our school bookfair.  It's still hard to find readable nonfiction for beginning readers.  Even harder to find it with some of the elements that are characteristic of this genre.  This book is perfect for projecting a page to discuss the author's message - to read and reread (the others in the series are worth a look too).  

Book club book:  This is a tricky one for me as I can't say I usually have "planned book clubs" in our first grade classroom, but often small group studies pop up in the workshop usually around authors or topics.  The best small group discussion of a single title usually happens around this book The Nest on the Beach by Annette Smith.  This story is about a grandmother and granddaughter who are out walking on the beach when they discover a turtles nest in the sand.  Living in the midwest many students do not have experience with this so it always brings great conversation --- and much further reading.  

Favorite Classroom Library Book:  Now this is getting impossible.  The best books in a classroom library are the ones students pick up over and over again; the books that go home day after day with students.  What's a primary library without Mo Willems?  I'm going to have to give this one to Elephants Cannot Dance by Mo Willems.  Elephant and Piggie books go home night after night in my classroom, but this one seems to be a particular favorite.  Piggie tries to teach Elephant to dance, but it just doesn't go very well.  My students laugh, chant, and actually get up to dance in this fun book about friendship.  

My Personal Favorite:  I'm going to stick to children's books for young readers here since that's the focus of my post.  I'm grateful to Kellee and Ricki for this category because I've learned that MY favorites and STUDENT favorites are not always the same.  We vote for a favorite book each week in our classroom from the books we've read together, and rarely --- and I mean rarely --- do students choose the book I'm hoping they will.  In the previous categories I've picked books that I think my young readers would have picked.  So which book is my favorite?  Only one?  I keep lists of books I love to read to young readers.  In August of each year I work hard to get my list down to ten titles for Picture Book 10 for 10 (#pb10for10).  Just one, huh.   

I'm going to have to say my personal favorite is The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis.  I just think this a beautiful story of friendship, hope, and tearing down fences (speaking metaphorically).  Most of all, its message speaks to what I believe:  the power of change is in the hands of children.  In this story, Clover and Annie are neighbors but live with a fence that keeps them separated.  They're not supposed to go over the fence so for a long time they live side by side watching one another.  Together these young girls realize life isn't black and white, but perhaps lines are a little gray --- and maybe fences are made for crossing.  

Well, that was hard --- and fun.  If you see me out and about, don't ask me these same questions because I will likely give you different answers.  :o) 


  1. Cathy,

    Thanks for sharing these books! I am embarrassed to say that I haven't read any of them, so now I can go put them on my to-read list! I am leaving the high school world to be a college professor, so I am trying to learn more about non-high school books, so this truly helps.

    Thanks for joining us in the blog hop! :)

  2. Since you wrote about your younger readers, I enjoyed all that you said, Cathy. I've been working hard to catch up with what's happening in primary classrooms these past three years since I moved from a middle school classroom to working with all the ages. I know all these books-great choices, and some of course have come from the 10for10 the past years. I do love that new Exclamation Mark-very fun. I think it would work for a mentor text for older students too, to write their own stories about different punctuation marks. Thanks!

  3. I just love Amy Krouse Rosenthal, and Elephant & Piggie are SO cute!

  4. I loved the variety of your book choices. I too struggle because my favorites don't always match those of my students. I teach elementary, but love YA. :)

  5. I'm a first grade teacher and always enjoy your blog. Truthfully, I don't know how you narrowed down your selections. (Quantifying it was smart!) I applaud your list. I will check out the blog hop.

  6. This definitely shows me that I need to do a picture book readathon. I try to pride myself in keeping up with all levels of books, but obviously I need to get some reading done.

    Elephant and Piggie are by far my favorite picture book series. They CRACK ME UP! And I loved Woodson's other PB she did with Lewis, Each Kindness, so I am sure I will love this one as well.

    Thank you for being part of the blog hop :)