Even though the end of the school year is nowhere in sight, I am already considering books to teach my students next year. My goal every year is to find high interest books that no student in the class has read– yet. No easy feat. I do reteach favorite books from year to year, but I always rotate one or two out of the line up.
This week, I have been assessing my bookshelf and determining what will stay and what will go next year. The one book that will definitely stay is The Bread Winner by Arvella Whitmore (not to be confused by The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis). I have yet to have a student who has read this book prior to entering my class, but I always have students who come back and tell me it was the best book they read in the fourth grade.
The story takes place during the Great Depression and centers on Sarah Puckett, a girl who won a blue ribbon at the 4-H fair for her homemade bread. Through her creativity and problem solving skills, she starts a bread business out of the house and solves many of her family’s problems. Sarah independently overcomes obstacles, and while she has supportive parents, Sarah is the one who takes action. Since I witness so many students asking for help before even attempting to start something new or unfamiliar, a character like Sarah is a great role model.
Other books that I would consider to be a hidden gem and are possibilities for next year are:
Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
There are many books available right now that feature characters with a learning difference of some kind. One of the hot books this year in teacher circles is Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt; I thought Rain Reign was better. My daughter read it and barely made it through due to the dog situation (tissue alert– nobody dies, but…), so that may bump it off the list. Not that I am against crying in front of my students, but I try to avoid “ugly crying.”
Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan
This novel is based on a true story. Children in a Norwegian town smuggle gold away from the Nazis during WWII. I like the fact that I would be able to hunt down the real story with students after finishing the book.
The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong
This book has a slower pace and is a little longer, but I love the way the book focuses on a group of school kids who get their community involved in investigating a question about why storks no longer settle in the town. Anything that promotes teamwork and persistance is a great option.
Kavik the Wolf Dog by Walt Morey
I think this may be better suited to 6th graders due to the tiny print in the book and more sophisticated vocabulary, but a loyal dog’s search for his home is usually a winner with all readers. It could definitely be a read aloud with students rather than a novel that is studied as a class.
For more Hidden Gem book ideas, CLICK HERE. Some of my teacher blogging friends are sharing more great-but-often-forgotten book titles!
Magical candy is kind of a draw in children’s literature. Mr. Star Wars recently read The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop and let me borrow it when he finished. In the book, a family inherits a closed down chocolate shop with lots of magical secrets. It is my newest Charlie and the Chocolate Factory “read alike” book. Books that use food (particularly chocolate) as a central plot detail are a big hit with kids.
Mr. Star Wars and I tried to name all of the books we know that use food in some way. We came up with chapter books with candy, chapter books with non-traditional foods– like worms (!), picture books, an even some books that one food item steals a scene. I cut us off after we started on the picture book titles because there are just so many books we could list. What is your favorite book that will make your mouth water?
A former student recommended I read Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein because there is a character in the story who has the same last name I do. It took me a few months to get to it, but I finally read it during my spring break.
This book follows a group of characters who are trapped in a library through a scavenger hunt of library knowledge in order to escape. The book becomes a puzzle for the reader too. It taps into your library skills and background knowledge of classic books. The riddles inserted into the story reminded me of a few other books I read and really liked. I had a starter list of this style of books in my Style-Alike book post, but I thought it was time for a dedicated scavenger-hunt-wrapped-in-a-mystery list.
Most titles on the list have the “riddle” element to them, but I also included classic mystery books like Nancy Drew where characters uncover clues to solve the crime without having to decode a puzzle first to reveal the clue.
The 7th Level by Jody Feldman
Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs
Benjamin Pratt & Keepers of the School series by Andrew Clements
Chasing Vermeer (and others) by Blue Balliett
Conspiracy 365 series by Gabrielle Lord (must be read in order)
Floors series by Patrick Carman
Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman
Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon
The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan (and The 39 Clues series)
The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart
Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene
Red Blazer Girls series by Michael D. Beil
The Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch
The Sherlock Files series by Tracy Barrett
The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley
The Teddy Bear Habit by James Lincoln Collier (older publication)
Theodore Boone Detective series by John Grisham
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
Mysteries are actually a great book style for younger readers (1st through 3rd grade) because students have to maintain plot details from earlier in the book to understand any resolutions that happen later in the book. There are many series for this lower reading level that are popular. Reading multiple books from a series strengthens reading because they typically follow the same plot pattern in each book. This gets repetitive for an adult but actually helps improve reading skills in kids because they can begin to more accurately anticipate what will happen next, which makes the story easier to follow and remember.
The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids by Debbie Dadey and Marcia T. Jones
A to Z Mysteries by Ron Roy
The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner (I like the ones by the original author the best, 1-19)
During one of our icy snow days, I read a new book called A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff. It wasn’t the best book I have ever read but what did stick with me were the connections between the characters. The quirky characters rent rooms in a run down building without knowing they all have a relationship to each other. As the book progresses, little clues are revealed that help the reader solve the mystery about how the characters’ lives intersect. By the end, we know how and why the characters were meant to be together.
A Tangle of Knots made me think about other books I know that have this fate element to them. Books that weave character stories together to create a clever puzzle of relationships. It is a little bit like a modern (and shorter) version of Great Expectations by Dickens who always intertwined lives so cleverly. Here are the books I like that have an element of fate or destiny or secret connections.
The Candymakers by Wendy Mass
Destiny, Rewritten by Kathryn Fitzmaurice
Holes by Louis Sachar
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Remarkable by Elizabeth Foley
The Secret Tree by Natalie Standiford
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
The View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
I just ordered The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech, which I think may belong on this list too. Can anyone confirm?
I just finished reading Wendy Mass’ latest book, Pi in the Sky. I have not decided if I like the book or not. Some parts confused me, but other parts about beings who oversee our universe and are responsible for keeping the planets in orbit kept me reading. There is a space/time element in the book as well.
I started thinking about books I have read where characters travel through time to a different reality, and the character’s world is still running in a parallel universe, so the space-time continuum is disrupted. I kind of like the circular thinking of a person returning to the past, disrupting an event that occurred, and then meeting up again in present day a la Back to the Future. It has the ability to blow your mind if you really concentrate on the whole concept of time. Here are a few book choices that deal with dropping in and out of time.
Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer– This is for a more sophisticated reader. The language and vocabulary is more difficult, and the story pace can be slow. I like this book, though.
Children of the Red King, Charlie Bone and the Time Twister by Jenny Nimmo– Many people list this as a Harry Potter read-alike. This book is the second in the series.
The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen– Holocaust alert!
George Washington’s Socks by Elvira Woodruff– If you are a fan of Magic Treehouse. This is like a Magic Treehouse for an older reader. Woodruff has companion books too.
The Gideon Trilogy, The Time Travelers by Linda Buckley-Archer– I loved the first book; I could not finish the sequel.
The Magic Half by Annie Barrows– My favorite time travel book.
North of Nowhere by Liz Kessler– Found this because I love the author’s Emily Windsnap series so much.
Teddy Powers: The Stone Keepers by Anne Todd– This is a self-published book by a parent at my school. My students (and Mr. Star Wars) love this book. It is available on Amazon.
The 13th Reality, The Journal of Curious Letters by James Dashner– This book can be slow in parts, but the concept of parallel lives existing at the same time held my interest.
The Wells Bequest: A Companion to the Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman– I really liked the Grimm Legacy, so you may want to read both books.
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead– This book is so much better if you are familiar with A Wrinkle in Time.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle– One of the originals for this type of science fiction (in my opinion).
I am trying to remember the name of a book I read as a child about a character who would walk down a foggy street and be transported back in time. I think the setting of the story was London. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Please help me out with a title if you read this book too!