Today, I wanted to share two books that are classroom favorites. I use them every year, and yet I haven’t blogged about why, so here goes.
First, there is Jean Fritz’s wonderful narrative about the writing of the U.S. Constitution: Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution! As a history teacher and a history buff, I found that the more I read about the “miracle in Philadelphia” the more fascinating I find the whole endeavor. Nothing like this could ever be accomplished today, that’s for certain. But, my students often find the curricular material of this segment of our history year dull and dry. Every year I try to bring in something new to jazz things up and share with them all the juicy backstabbing stories, secret agreements and deals, and heated outbursts that went along with all the hard work of creating a new form of government out of whole cloth. Whatever else I choose to do, I always use Jean Fritz’s book as a read aloud to bring alive the process – her lively narration is filled with just the types of personal details and stories that my kids love (Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut, it turns out, was so intrigued by the Egyptian mummy he had seen displayed at a Philadelphia museum, that he had sneaked a taste!). Tomie de Paola’s illustrations are just the right accompaniment to the text, and make for wonderful punctuations to our read aloud/note taking.
I also discovered this video version, which I will try and find use for this year.
Another standby in my classroom is Priscilla Cummings’ Red Kayak – our first read aloud of the year. Set on the Chesapeake Bay, this is a story about three friends (eighth graders all ) who find themselves in the midst of a terrible tragedy. The book blurb from Amazon reads:
Brady loves life on the Chesapeake Bay with his friends J.T. and Digger. But developers and rich families are moving into the area, and while Brady befriends some of them, like the DiAngelos, his parents and friends are bitter about the changes. Tragedy strikes when the DiAngelos’ kayak overturns in the bay, and Brady wonders if it was more than an accident. Soon, Brady discovers the terrible truth behind the kayak’s sinking, and it will change the lives of those he loves forever.
I use this book to teach plot structure and so many strategies of reading realistic fiction and recognizing plot structure. Because the story is so gripping, my kids love it and feel invested in learning its outcome and then discussing its characters. This read aloud sets the stage for so much of what we do in reading workshop over the course of the year: how to keep track of character traits, knowing when rising action gives way to climax, being able to summarize and analyze, using evidence from the text to grow theories, and so on. Like all readalouds, it becomes a point of reference all year – which is great to have.
Cummings just wrote a sequel to Red Kayak called The Journey Back, which follows the story of one of the main characters from the first book, Digger. Although not a hero, Digger is a wonderfully complex character who my kids actually grow rather fond of during the course of our readaloud. I’ve just ordered a couple of copies for those kids who ask the inevitable question: “Is, there a sequel??!”
And, for something new, Lois Lowry’s sequel to The Giver, The Son. I’m just getting into this book, but I can already tell that the long wait for a resolution to Jonas’ story was well worth it.