I teach fourth grade and have elementary school aged children, so I have a legitimate reason for reading children’s books. The truth is– I just like them. They are (usually) fabulous stories; they are fast reads, and it is an activity I can share with my children.
Many of the stories my children and I have been reading lately have a familiar ring to them. Authors are recycling the same plot details and character types from the best books I read growing up. I was so struck by the similarities between Phantom Tollbooth and Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes that I wrote the Peter Nimble author to ask about it. He responded! The Just Deserts section of the book is a small tribute to Jester and his play on words. Jody Feldman credits Dahl as a source of inspiration for her book, The Gollywhopper Games (See the Author Letters post about contacting authors).
Below is a list of some new and old favorites. Is there something on the list that brings back memories of your favorite childhood book? Is there a recent version that is almost as good?
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
The One and Only Ivan by Applegate
Lord of the Rings by Tolkien
The Ranger’s Apprentice by Flanagan
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by Konigsburg
Last year, the school librarian where I work sent an e-mail to all parents suggesting we start a book journal with our kids. When our librarian’s son was in the first grade, she started recording every book title her son read in a basic black and white composition journal. Her son is now a 9th grader and is still adding to his book journal.
My niece started her book journal when she was in the 4th grade. When I visited last summer, I asked her if she had any new book recommendations for me. She could not think of any suggestions immediately, so she handed me her book journal. I paged through all of the titles dating back 4 years. When I would ask about specific titles, it immediately sparked discussion. Without her yearly lists, she would not have been able to recall nearly as much.
The book journal is a great tool for several reasons. To begin with, it shows how much your reading improves by looking at the book choices from year to year. My son moved from the Jigsaw Jones series (2nd grade range) to Henry Huggins (4th grade range) last year alone.
There is a sense of accomplishment when you see a list of completed books. It is fun to be able to announce that you read 49 books during the school year!
The list prompts memories of books you might have forgotten. It also shows if you followed one author or style of book during a certain period. If you need some new book choices, it is easy to return to the list to help jog your memory for author names or book series. What are other good ways to log book lists?
What To Do: List the grade level at the top of each new page. List the date the book is completed in the left column. List title then author name. In addition, you could add reading level, page count, a rating scale of some kind. Keep it simple so it is not a chore to complete.
My mom discovered the Scribble Press Store in New York City and picked up an Author’s Tool Kit ($28.95) as a Christmas present for my son a few years back. He LOVES writing stories, and this was an awesome gift idea. It is a design your own book kit. There are a variety of page layouts included in the kit, and the child writes a story and illustrates it. The kit also includes templates for a cover page, dedication page, and an about the author page. Once the pages are completed, you mail them back to Scribble Press, and they professionally bind the book. The book binding fee was included with our gift, but you have the option to order extra copies. Wrap the extra copies and give the finished books as a gift at the next holiday. It is the gift that gives back!
If you happen to live in New York City, you should look at the class and party options at their store. I also noticed an app and online book functions on the website that would be great for teachers (or parents).
I will admit that I am not as familiar with juvenile non-fiction as I am with fiction titles. I always have a few students who prefer to read biographies or history books, so I am trying to expand my non-fiction knowledge. I have put together a starter list and am hoping to build it this year. Please let me know what else I can include.
Just a reminder, non-fiction is usually more difficult for children to read than fiction. If your child is reading for pleasure, definitely choose books that are below his/her reading level to keep the comprehension (and enjoyment) high.
While the majority of the titles are intended for a “school aged” audience, there are many that adults will love. I had a father and son read Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World this past school year and both raved about the story.
Biographies: Older Readers– 4th grade through high school
Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming
Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini by Sid Fleischman
A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska: the Story of Hannah Breece by Jane Jacobs
Autobiographies: Older Readers– 4th grade through high school
Chapters: My Growth as a Writer by Lois Duncan (out of print, copies available through Amazon)
Boy by Roald Dahl
A Girl from Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
My Life in Dog Years by Gary Paulsen
History: Older Readers– 4th grade through high school
Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World by Jennifer Armstrong
Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson
Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917 by Sally M. Walker
Series: Younger Readers– 1st grade through 6th grade (** I included titles that are familiar to me from each of the series, but there are many more from which to choose.)
Part of my Harry Potter book collection. Original box set purchased in England. Advanced reader’s copy of Prisoner of Azkaban (no cover art).
I have not done any official research on this or anything, but I am pretty sure Harry Potter kicked off a demand for books with sequels. I know it inspired a whole slew of fantasy-wizard-magic books. In my never ending quest to find the best young person’s book, I feel like the majority of my new reads often have “Book I” printed on the spine. I also noticed my students tend to reach for books with a sequel more than ever. I actually had a student who read nothing but Hank the Cowdog books all year (there are 59 of them). I tried to encourage a little diversity in his reading, but he was determined to finish the series. I have to admit I was a little impressed that he stuck with it; a series like that can get pretty repetitive. My point is, books with a sequel seem to be more popular than ever.
Which series are the most satisfying to you? Which series didn’t work and should have ended after that great first book? Below are my picks.
Young Readers (1st grade to 4th grade)
Magic Treehouse by Osborne (on the verge of the repetitive thing but that can be a good thing for emerging readers)
Boxcar Children by Warner (up through book 19, author changes after that and falls victim to repetitiveness– see note above)
Henry Huggins by Cleary
Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing and Fudge by Blume
Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist by LaFevers
The Sherlock Files by Barrett
Older Readers (4th grade and up)
Chronicles of Narnia by Lewis
Ranger’s Apprentice by Flanagan
Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Riordan
The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Kessler (have not read the newly released 4th book yet)
Mistmantle Chronicles by McAllister
Peter and the Starcatchers by Barry
Conspiracy 365 by Lord (must be read in order)
The White Mountains (Tripods) trilogy by Christopher
Wrinkle in Time by L’Engle
43 Old Cemetery Road by Klise
The Magic Thief by Prineas
The Magickeepers by Kirov
Not exactly a series, but there are companions
Rosie and Crooked Little Heart by Lamott
Lemonade Wars and Lemonade Crime by Davies
The Giver, Gathering Blue, and Messenger by Lowry
Hoot, Flush, Scat, and Chomp by Hiaasen
Sequels are in the works, and I am anxiously awaiting more
Museum of Thieves by Tanner
The False Prince by Nielsen
The Books of Elsewhere by West
Series that should have stopped after the first or second book (in my opinion)
Mysterious Benedict Society by Stewart
Secret Series by Bosch
Series of Unfortunate Events by Snicket (Can these kids ever catch a break?)
Junie B. Jones by Park (Kindergarten was great; first grade was obnoxious.)
The Gideon Trilogy by Buckley-Archer (long and slow)