5 Books Every Kid Should Read

I have simple but strict criteria for books I read aloud to my class: I have to like the books I'm reading. These five books are my perennial favorites, guaranteed to have your students wanting more!

The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis 
The first time I read this book was as a read-aloud to my class. That may not have been the wisest decision on my part for a couple of reasons. First, as I was reading aloud, there were times in the story I was laughing so hard at the antics of Kenny and his 13 year-old brother, Byron, I had to re-read that passage again so the kids could understand me. Secondly, I like historical fiction because kids can learn about events through the stories, with plots and characters that help the events unfold. In this case, when I got to the actual historical event at the church in Birmingham,it was hard to go on because I got all choked up. On the plus side, kids wanted to know more about what actually happened, so it became an extended learning opportunity.  And, as with so many of my read-alouds, it became a favorite group novel in my class.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

I admit it - I'm a sucker for a catchy cover and this book just didn't have it. Therefore, I was definitely a late-comer to this gem. The language is incredible. Plays on words, idioms, metaphors - literal and figurative language galore! I started by using it as a class read-aloud, but some of the kids insisted on following along (and reading ahead because I love leaving them hanging), so we ended up with a class set. It quickly became one of my favorite read-alouds, with kids debating which king was correct, King Azaz or Mathemagician. 

As for me, lesson learned: Don't judge a book by its cover!

Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz 

If you want to get a reluctant reader to read, pull out Stormbreaker and I guarantee you'll hook boys, as well as girls. This was another one that had my class wanting to follow along. The draw - Alex Rider, the main character, was a resourceful 14-year-old, living with his uncle (who dies on the first page). Except for the housekeeper, Alex is now completely alone. Intrigue, drama - Stormbreaker is filled with amazing twists and turns, with my kids begging me to read, "just one more chapter, please!"

I love reading the first book in a series to hook kids, and I frequently started a new school year with this one.  The first time I read it, the second book hadn't been finished yet, and there wasn't a movie to jaundice their imagination. (Actually, the movie didn't matter because the kids panned it, saying they liked the book better, which is so often the case.) Horowitz does a good job of setting up the next novel, and they were chomping at the bit for more. I gave it to them with a RAFT reliving the events through various characters perspectives.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

When I was in 6th grade, my teacher read this wonderful book to the class. I was mesmerized. It's probably my all-time favorite book, and one I truly love reading aloud. Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit were my favorite characters to give voice, although it drove the kids crazy when I drug out Mrs. Which's voice for effect. I still smile whenever I think of those three charming ladies.

For me, the best part of this book is the embedded lesson: Different (in this case, gifted) is not a bad thing. Meg's difficulty is in learning to trust her instincts and not listen to the outside "chatter" of what others think she should be like.  Charles Wallace, a worldly old soul in the body of a young child, is the epitome of one who accepts his giftedness, blazing onward, seeking answers.  And Calvin - who doesn't love the stalwart hero who somehow manages to hold them all together.

Regardless of how many times I read this book, I still tear up at the end.

Voices After Midnight by Richard Peck 

This book makes time travel believable! It's a fun story with Chad, the sensible middle brother, Luke, the youngest with a knack for visualizing the past, and Heidi, their older sister with a few surprises of her own. Mixing business with pleasure, this typical California family is whisked away to New York for the summer, with Mom and the kids scheduled for sight-seeing excursions, while Dad works in the New York office.

The family has rented a house that's over 100 years old, with strange things happening almost immediately. One minute the kids are in the air-conditioned comfort of the late 20th century, and the next thing they know, Chad and Luke hear the voices and see the people who lived in the house over 100 years earlier. It's as if the house is trying to tell them something. The big question: Will they figure it out in time to save the voices?

My students loved the suspense. Once they knew it tied to an actual historical event, the Great Blizzard of 1888 that paralyzed New York City, as well as a good part of the eastern seaboard, they wanted to know more about it.  It actually made a great writing jump-off. 

Unfortunately, I think this book is out of print, although you can still find some used copies around. I used to have several well-worn copies, but the kids liked the book so well, many of my copies ended up in their backpacks. ;)

My last piece of advice: Be sure and have several copies of these books on hand for those that want to follow along (some students are not auditory learners, and need to see the print in order to understand the story) or, in some cases, read ahead because they just can't wait.  Yes, I let them do that with the understanding they are sworn to secrecy until I get to that part! 

What great reads would you add to this list? 

"A book is a dream that you hold in your hand." Neil Gaiman

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