The other day I received a phone call from one of my campus teachers. She needed some trade books to cover a specific objective- character analysis and characters changing over time. In just minutes, I was able to fill a cart with at least 25 books from my own library that she could either read aloud to her class, use as an assessment or assign to students.
At that moment, I felt as if I had given her a gift and realized I may have missed my calling as a school librarian. (new bucket list, I guess).
It had me thinking. As I plan with teachers, I always try to find the best anchor texts to use throughout the lessons to hit those target skills. Many of the books that I recommend or suggest aren’t familiar to them. I understand this dilemma completely because there are so many wonderful trade books out there now it is difficult to keep up. So, here is my list (for parents and teachers) of my TOP 10. (pictures all came from Bing.com)
*I have added learning objectives, topics and a quick recap/overview of each book for quick reference.
#1. Fox by Margaret Wild – Tone vs. Mood,( friendship, trust and jealousy)
I was introduced to this book by a dear friend a few years ago while I was teaching tone vs. mood.
This is a passionate book about a bond between a dog and a bird. After Dog saves Magpie from a fire, they become so close that the sly Fox becomes jealous of this friendship. Fox brings a haunting, ominous feeling to the story.
Your students or child will be affected by the relationship between Dog and Magpie, but they will understand the foreshadowing of the sly fox and his jealousy. I bet when this story is over your listener will have a lot to say.
- The book is meant for older readers (fourth grade on).
#2 Julius, Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes- Character Analysis, (family dynamics)
Anything by Kevin Henkes is worth the check-out or read aloud. He does such a wonderful job creating a voice for his characters that every child can truly relate.
In this story, Lilly is very excited about her baby brother until he actually arrives. His presents has created noise, a riff between Lilly and her mother, and she is just flat out bothered that everyone thinks Julius is so wonderful. Until, her cousin comes to visit and he starts making fun of Julius- Big sister comes to the rescue!
This is a great book to read if you are introducing a new baby to the family. 😉 I remember reading this to my students to discuss how Lilly changes over time from hating her brother to defending him. This will make an impact on your listener because I am sure they have been through this exact situation in their friendships or family.
#3 A Boy and A Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz- Story plot, keeping a promise, Cause and Effect, (Courage, and Grit)
I was first introduced to this book during my masters program while I was studying Children’s Literature. This book is a Schneider Family Book Award winner, which means the book or illustrations showcases a characters of special needs.
A literary nonfiction about the author, his stuttering and how a visit to the Bronx Zoo changed his life’s path forever.
I think the empathy that comes from reading this book is passionate. Alan cares for the animals and keeps his promise to save them even through his own nervousness and disability. His grit shows all readers that they can overcome obstacles if they keep trying.
- Warning! This is a tear jerker.
#4 The Dark by Lemony Snicket- Inferencing, figurative language,( overcoming fears)
As a young kid, I was so afraid of the dark, that I would spring up the stairs from the basement while my imagination ran wild imagining a hand creeping ever so closely onto my shoulder. Every light in the house had to be on, and I still feel comfort in the light as an adult. This book would have helped me know I wasn’t quite so alone. I guarantee your listener will have a personal connection to share with you after reading this one.
This story is about a boy, Laszlo, who is afraid of the dark. One night, his nightlight goes out and the Dark tries to make his fear of the basement go away by showing him the Light.
#5 Thunderboy Jr. – by Sherman Alexie- character analysis- (self acceptance)
Sherman Alexie is an author you should become very familiar with, if you haven’t already. Every one of his stories and poems gives voice to the Native American students sitting in your classroom or to the student that feels a little uncomfortable about their name or their small cultural differences.
Young Thunderboy Jr. wants a name all of his own. Being a “jr” just doesn’t fit him- he is desperate for a name of his own.
#6 The Other Side– Jacqueline Woodson- Problem -solution, Story elements, Character Analysis (Kindness, Friendship, Racial divide)
One of my top 5 trade books of all time. The first time I read this story of two young girls from two different cultures separated by a fence, I was blown away. Woodson has a way with making these two young girls’ seem so innocent. Their confusion over the racial divide is so tragic, but it is in this story that shows us how the color of our skin does not define us.
Unfortunately, we are still experiencing many of these same emotions and misunderstandings in today’s world. I know that this will be a hot topic for your readers, listeners. Be prepared to answer many more questions after this read. Some great companion books include…
Martin’s Big Words
#7 Each Kindness– Jacqueline Woodson- Problem-Solution, Character Analysis, (Bullying, Regret)
Again, Woodson knows her audience and understands the issues our kids are dealing with. When a new girl arrives at Chloe’s school, Chloe does not act the way she wishes she would. Instead, the kids make fun of her clothes, the way she speaks, and they flat out ignore her. Unfortunately, Chloe realizes this way too late.
This book leaves you hanging with an unsolved problem. Unlike any other children’s trade book I have ever read. The magical part about leaving the story unfinished is that it leads to deep conversations, stronger sense of empathy (even for our antagonist) and a little bit more of a sense of shame within ourselves.
- I love pairing this story with The Other Side as a paired text activity.
#8 The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig– Plot elements with a focus on the turning point (kindness, friendship)
This is one of those books that makes your heart wrench for the young character in the story. As you read this story aloud, you start to notice the illustrations. At the beginning of the story when he is feeling ‘invisible’, the young boy does not have any color to him. When a new student arrives and invites him to eat lunch with him, color begins to shade his cheeks and shirt. It is amazing to watch the students notice this turning point in the story. By the end of the story, the ‘invisible boy’ is filled with color and is not so ‘invisible’.
- also a great pairing with The Other Side and Each Kindness
#9 The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore– by William Joyce Character Analysis, theme, cause and effect ( The Power of sharing)
Academy Award winning short film- the short film doesn’t have any words and is a great paired piece before or after the books read aloud. This is a story loosely based on Mr. Morris Lessmore’s life, a library promotor, and the story of Hurricane Katrina and what it did to his life.
Mr. Morris loves writing and loves books. His life consisted of looking down in his books and in his own writing, which led him into a lonely world completely unaware of the beauty around him. Until one day, a storm sweeps away all of his books, words, and letters which sends him through his life wandering, looking up, noticing the world around him. He begins to share his love of books with others, shares his stories with others.
Trying to get students to open their eyes, look beyond their devises, and share their wonders, joys, and talents with the world is a difficult task to ask for. This book can really lead to some great opportunities to challenge students to do so.
#10 A Day’s Work by Eve Bunting- plot, character, problem-solution (work-ethic, telling the truth)
I am a huge advocate for anything Eve Bunting. Fly Away Home, Gleam and Glow, and The Wall are just 3 of the MANY books I would have added to this list.
This book is about a grandfather and grandson that are looking for work. The grandson must come along because Grandfather does not speak English. When the grandson agrees to do the job, he doesn’t completely divulge all the facts to grandfather or the employer. They don’t do the job exactly right and the consequences to this action leads to a lesson that teaches everyone about the goodness in all people.
I was recently introduced to A Day’s Work, and when I finished reading it, I couldn’t stop talking about it with my colleagues. The grandfather teaches his grandson a very valuable lesson with dignity and respect. The grandfather’s work ethic and migratory job reminds me of so many of my younger students that transferred in and out throughout the school year following the harvest. This is a book that will impact all of us; adult and children.
I will tell you this was difficult; narrowing this list down to only 10. But, I can tell you without hesitation these books will make an impact in your classroom or at home before bedtime. I guarantee long conversations, discussions about ‘character’ and these will be books/stories that your listener will never forget. Get these in your classroom or home library as soon as you can. They will be read over and over again.