(Scroll down for recommendations.)
The following are books you might like to read aloud or recommend to students. You are the only one qualified to determine which books your students might like and I will do my best to recommend a variety I think are worth your consideration. Sometimes a book meant for younger children can really speak to the needs of older kids, so I encourage you to skim the reviews regardless of the age range. I will try to review some new books and some older books because I know it’s not always possible to buy new books.
I am a firm believer in reading books to students of all ages (although I have included age ranges for you to use as a general guideline). Don’t assume that a picture book won’t work for your students because they are too old or that a nonfiction book will be too difficult for your primary students to understand. In the end, a good read comes down to your enthusiasm and your presentation. Your excitement about the lesson a book teaches and your choices about the best ways to choose which part of a text to highlight are key in getting students into new books.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens helps readers understand the power of both good and bad habits. Written in a fast-paced style with many stories and examples from teens the author has met, this book helps teenagers examine their current habits, eliminate those that are negative, and form positive habits. Readers who learn and practice the 7 habits will understand the purpose of living with intentionality. I highly recommmend this book.
We Forgot Brock! by Carter Goodrich
We Forgot Brock is the story of a little boy named Phillip who spends a lot of time with his imaginary friend named Brock. One night when the family leaves the town’s fair, they accidentally forget Brock. Will they ever find him? Fun to read aloud and sure to please young children, We Forgot Brock is an entertaining picture book.
The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
Every once in a while I find a novel with well-developed characters, a serious issue, and a tightly written story line. The Lions of Little Rock is that novel. Set in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1958, 12- year-old Marlee is beginning junior high school. Her only true friend (who is new to the school) suddenly stops attending for reasons Marlee eventually figures out. The Lions of Little Rock is about growing up in the midst of battles over racial segregation and trying to figure out what is right when the adults you love are divided over the issue. It is about bravery, friendship, and forging new paths toward peace. I highly recommend this book to students and adults. (Age range: 5th grade to adult)
Aaron and Alexander: The Most Famous Duel in History by Don Brown
Aaron and Alexander is the story of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, both of whom were orphaned at a young age and fought in the Revolutionary War. Although at one time they were friends, a series of events led to the end of their friendship and to the most famous duel in American history. This masterfully written book ends with a quote I have repeated over and over since reading it. We would all do well to apply the lesson that Aaron Burr learned too late. (Age range: 3rd – 8th grade)
Who Was Babe Ruth? by Joan Holub
Baseball fans will appreciate this book about baseball legend George Herman Ruth. Written in chronological order, it tells the story of Babe Ruth’s troubled childhood days in reform school through his glory days playing baseball for the Red Sox and New York Yankees. Full of information about the important events in his life and interspersed with double page spreads about baseball and historical facts from the time period, this book informs and delights the reader.
Over the summer I have read a number of the Who Was books including Who Was Mother Teresa, Beatrix Potter, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, Queen Elizabeth, Sojourner Truth and more. There are over 70 in the series and I highly recommend them. Students will enjoy the conversational writing style and will be inspired by learning about each person’s unique contribution to society.
Be Happy (A litttle book for a happy you and a better world) by Monica Sheehan
Be Happy! is full of double-page spreads and short sentences that tell readers ways enjoy life. By suggesting ideas like, “Sing and dance a little!” or “Be curious!” the book reminds readers to take action and do what they can to make the world a better place for themselves and others. The text (written in various fonts and sizes) and the simple illustrations make Be Happy! an excellent mentor text for young writers. (Age range: K – 3rd)
Proverbs for Young People by Jack E. Levin
Proverbs for Young People shares simple tried-and-true bits of wisdom with children. Each page features one proverb and illustration on a double-page spread. Many of the proverbs support rules of working together in a learning community which make it a great read-aloud at the beginning of the school year. Once read aloud by the teacher, the proverbs can be referred to in teachable moments during the year. (Age range K-2)
Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts
Jeremy wants a pair of shoes like the ones the cool boys in his class are wearing, but his Grandma cannot afford to buy him those expensive shoes. He wants a pair so badly that when he finds a used pair in a thrift store, he buys them even though they are too small. Walking is painful and he soon realizes he cannot wear them. When he notices another boy in his class who could use the shoes, he wrestles with a difficult decision. Students who hear this story will appreciate Jeremy’s struggle to make a good choice when faced with a dilemma. Read Those Shoes slowly and thoughtfully and ask students questions as you stop to ponder the author’s message in this beautiful book. (Age range: 1st – 6th)
In November by Cynthia Rylant
Perfect illustrations cover the pages of this masterfully written book by Cynthia Rylant. Using the words “In November . . .” to introduce each page, she takes the reader through the sights and sounds of November and captures the beauty of nature, the coming of winter, and the warmth of family. This book makes an excellent mentor text for students of all ages who want to write about the events that make each month unique. (Age range: 1st – 8th)
Finally by Wendy Mass
Finally by Wendy Mass is the funny story of Rory who is almost 12 years old. Over the years she has made a list of things she wants to do, but has not done because her somewhat overprotective parents have told her she must “wait until she’s twelve.” Once she turns 12 and is allowed to get a cell phone, shave her legs, and buy her own pet, she realizes that some of the privileges she looked forward to require a great deal of responsibility. Both my 12-year-old daughter and I found ourselves laughing out loud at some of the situations Rory endured as the story unfolded. While reading it, if I wasn’t thinking about how much the book reminded me of my daughter, I was recalling my own experiences at that age. Wendy Mass knows and understands tweens and proves it in this hilarious book. (Age range: 5th – 7th grade)
Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball by John Coy
Hoop Genius by John Coy is the true story of a substitute teacher named James Naismith who invented the game of basketball in 1891. Naismith was a regular man who encountered a problem (a rowdy class of boys), thought about a way to solve it, put his thoughts into action, made some revisions and ended up inventing a national sport. Students will be interested to hear how the first game of basketball was played with a soccer ball and two peach baskets. Teachers can use this book to provide a model for writing narrative nonfiction and can highlight Naismith’s problem-solving ability. (Age range: 3rd through 6th)
Scarecrow by Cynthia Rylant
Scarecrow by Cynthia Rylant is a must-read for fall. This thought-provoking text about a scarecrow’s perspective on his life begs to be read slowly with time for readers to think and take in the words Rylant has written. Using short text and powerful phrasing, she makes scarecrows seem real and causes readers to wonder if scarecrows actually think as they humbly stand in fields and watch the world around them. The illustrations are striking. The combination of the text and pictures may cause the reader to look more closely the next time he sees a scarecrow. (Age range: 3rd through 6th)
Ruthie and the (Not So)Teeny Tiny Lie by Laura Rankin
Ruthie loves tiny things and when she finds a tiny camera on the playground, she cannot resist keeping it even though she knows it belongs to another student in her class. She insists that it belongs to her and so badly wants that to be the truth, but finds that she cannot tell a lie and be her happy-go-lucky self. Ruthie and the (Not So) Teeny Tiny Lie is an excellent book to read aloud because it is written in such a sweet way that the reader both knows Ruthie is wrong and feels sorry for her at the same time. This book definitely teaches students that a lie is a lie no matter how tiny, and that the truth really does set you free. The loving parents and wise teacher as well as the forgiving original owner of the camera all model grace when Ruthie does tell the truth. I love, love, love this book! (Age range: Pre – 3rd)
Here’s Hank: Bookmarks are People Too by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver
Henry Winkler (known as the Fonz from Happy Days) has partnered with Lin Oliver to write a new book series for children, especially children with dyslexia. Since Winkler himself struggles with reading, he wrote the series in larger than usual print with letters weighted at the bottom to help kids with dyslexia more easily differentiate between letters. (I am not sure if there is scientific proof that this specific font helps kids read more fluently.) Bookmarks are People Too is the story of Hank and his classmates who are preparing to perform a play. Hank has to deal with a class bully and difficulty reading print, but is surrounded by his supportive Papa and mom as well as understanding friends and a compassionate teacher. The large print, short chapters, and Hank’s positive attitude all help the reader propel through the book quickly. Bookmarks are People Too is a fun book and students who have academic or social troubles will connect with Hank’s struggles and find in him a positive role model for making the best of difficult situations. (Age range: 2nd – 4th)
Sorry by Jean Van Leeuwen
Sorry is one of my favorite picture books to read to help launch discussions about forgiveness and the things that keep us from saying “I’m sorry.” The book is about two brothers who live in the same house, get into an argument over a bowl of oatmeal and hold a grudge that lasts for generations. The water-color pictures and language make it an excellent read aloud although you may need to simplify some of the language depending on the age of your students. I have read Sorry to students in grades 2nd through 6th and have been amazed at the discussions and feelings it provokes in listeners. While some picture books are just fun for read aloud time, this one begs the teacher to pose hard questions to help kids realize the power of forgiveness and to consider the people who have forgiven them as well as those they may need to forgive. (Age range: 2nd through 8th grade)
I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More! by Karen Beaumont
This classic rhythmic book is sure to be a hit with young readers and listeners as they see every color splashed on its pages and on the body of its main character who is an overly enthusiastic painter. There is no way to read it without smiling and most kids will want to hear it read again and again. I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More can be re-written using different verbs, such as talk, run, yell, etc., so after reading it, the class can write their own version to read together chorally. Immediately after I read it to my daughter (who was 6 at the time) she began writing her own story entitled I Ain’t Gonna Bark No More. (She was going through a dog phase at the time!) (Age range Pre – 2nd)
Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert
Lois Ehlert’s imagination, writing, and creativity never cease to amaze me. Leaf Man is on the move, flying through the air on the whispers of autumn. He is moving over the fields and forests and we can see all that is below him in this simple, amazing book. Students, adults, and anyone artistic will enjoy recognizing the objects in the pictures Lois handily crafted using leaves. After reading Leaf Man, I cannot take a walk in the fall without looking for him. This book is a favorite of mine. (Age range: Pre – 4th)
You Get What You Get by Julie Gassman
I love this book about Melvin, who is in the habit of throwing tantrums at home whenever something is the slightest bit unfair. He is well-behaved at school, however, because of his teacher’s rule: You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. Eventually, Melvin’s family finds out that he follows the rule at school, and they begin expecting him to follow it at home.
Kids love this book because they have dealt with someone like Melvin and because they can see themselves in him. The rhythm of the story sticks with students and the book’s lesson gives the class a reference point each time they find themselves dealing with something unfair. I LOVE saying “you get what you get” while passing out birthday treats (like cupcakes with two different colors of frosting) as it keeps the kids from saying, “But I wanted one with green frosting.” All year long if anyone begins to say, “But I wanted . . .” some other child will say, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit!” (It’s a lovely side benefit of reading this book.) Although I recommend this book for primary age kids, its lesson is applicable to students of any age who get stuck when something isn’t fair. (Age range: K – 3rd)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul by Jeff Kinney
The Heffleys pile into their minivan for a road trip in the ninth book of this series. The Long Haul chronicles the family’s adventures from staying in less than desirable hotel rooms to accidentally winning a pig who travels with them. I read this book aloud to my sister and our kids as we drove to visit family this past summer. We cracked up and had fun recalling a variety of situations that had occurred on our own family trips. Kids and adults will enjoy this book. (I have read all nine and this is my favorite.) (Age range 3rd – 6th)
No Talking by Andrew Clements
No Talking is the story of fifth graders who are the most talkative students the school has ever known. Dave, one of the main characters, decides not to talk for one day and eventually challenges Lynsey to join him in a contest between the boys and the girls. While their not talking is a relief to teachers at first, a whole new set of problems emerges in this funny, thought-provoking read aloud that will inspire every reader (and listener) to talk less. (Age range: 3rd to 6th)
My Teacher is a Monster by Peter Brown
My Teacher is a Monster is a fun book told from the perspective of a student who believes that (you guessed it) his teacher is a monster. Once he gets to know her at the park (and not in the classroom), he realizes that she is actually a human. This cute book helps students understand that while teachers’ expectations for school are different than their expectations for play time, they are real people. (Age Range: K – 3rd grade)
Never Let a Ghost Borrow Your library Book: Book Care Guidelines for the Library Secret Service by Karen Casale
Using a series of “Very Official Guidelines” (V.O.G.’s), this brilliant author talks to students about the appropriate way to take care of their library books. With a sense of humor and an imagination for all of the goofy things kids might do with their library books, Casale teaches readers the do’s and don’ts of borrowing and reading library books. This book is perfect for teaching students appropriate library habits. (Age Range: K – 4th)
Just Kidding by Trudy Ludwig
Just Kidding is one of a series of books (written by Trudy Ludwig) that addresses issues such as bullying and using appropriate social skills. Students will identify with the main character as he struggles to learn the best way to deal with kids who are mean and who make harassing other kids a hobby. Just Kidding is short and practical with a helpful foreward and a list of suggestions (from The Bullying Prevention Handbook by John Hoover and Ronald Oliver) in the back. Reading it aloud will help give voice to students’ concerns in a non-threatening way. (Age Range: 1st – 6th)
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
The Crossover is the 2015 Newberry Medal winner. Written in verse, it reads quickly and is full of action on the basketball court and in the lives of the two main characters. Josh Bell and his twin brother are the stars of their middle school basketball team. The short poems tell the story of their season and the challenges they face. Their experiences and feelings will resonate with intermediate and middle school students. The concise and colorful language kept me turning the page to read just one more poem and I suspect many readers will feel the same way. Addressing themes such as family, anger, loneliness, talent, and relationships, it is ripe for discussions after reading. Reading the book aloud will require practice due to the rhythm and rhyme of each poem. The Crossover is an excellent mentor text for writing, leads naturally to conversations about writing verse and all sorts of poetry, and will attract reluctant readers. (Age Range: 5th through 8th)
Note: Kwame Alexander has written other books which I have not read yet. After reading Amazon reviews for those books, they appear to be written for high school students and contain subject matter that is not appropriate for elementary or even middle schoolers. I just wanted to provide that disclaimer so you don’t recommend his other books which are written for older students.