How I Choose a Read-Aloud by Cynthia Alaniz

Choosing read-alouds has never been easy for me. So, for several years, I read from the same titles, confident that my choices were perfect. After all, the class the year before had loved them! In their book, Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop (2003), Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak share their thinking on read-alouds and their use in the classroom. After reading this very helpful book (which I highly recommend), I’ve decided choosing different titles each year for read-alouds is okay! (However, I do reserve the right to reread Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner at any time.)

My decision to bring a book into our classroom community –a place I guard and treasure—is based on many things. But here are a few of the questions I ask myself:

  • Will it be a good model of writing?
  • Will it be a story my students will want to hear?
  • Will it develop and support my students’ reading comprehension?
  • Will it take us to higher levels of thinking?
  • Does it have the “Please!” factor? (Often, when students are really enjoying a read-aloud, they will not want you to stop. They will erupt in a chorus of “Please! Please!” When this happens, you know the book is a hit.

To put this all in perspective, I must share that my last read-aloud was The One and Only Ivan by the awesome Katherine Applegate. Any book I chose after that had a tough act to follow. It remains a touchstone book in our classroom history. My students STILL refer to it, and Ivan’s name is spoken daily AT LEAST three times by someone in our class. Even after reading it aloud, someone is rereading it on their own in our classroom EVERY DAY. Ivan took our discussion to dizzying and higher levels, evoking such comments as:

“I would recommend this book to kids my age because it is written in a special way.”

“Ivan teaches me great lessons.”

“Some of the story is sad. Some of the story is happy. You never know what’s coming.”

“Katherine Applegate wrote the best book ever.”

So, in choosing How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor, I was hoping for the same deep thinking.

I’m happy to say I was not disappointed.

Published in 2007, this book tells the story of Georgina and her family who are homeless after their father leaves them. The family has been living in their car after being evicted from their apartment and Mama is working to get them back on their feet. Through Georgina’s eyes, we see the story of an imperfect family going through tough times. Determined to find a solution to their problem, Georgina devises a plan to steal a dog so that they may use the reward money to get them a permanent place to live.

Georgina writes her plan in a notebook, and as she express her hopes and thoughts, my students react and respond with disbelief, understanding, and questions. They judge her actions, and as the plot unfolds, they strongly debate the right and wrong. They stick up for a misunderstood little brother, and they understand why Georgina has trouble completing her homework. While they disagree with decisions Georgina makes and the things she says, they also empathize with her as her best friend Luanne treats her coolly.

We haven’t finished reading the book, but already my students have formed their opinions:

“I like this book and how it makes me think.”

“So far, I am loving How to Steal a Dog. It really gets your mind going.”

“I wish we could read it all day long.”

“I think this is a good book because after every page it really makes you stop and think.”

“Stealing is bad. This book is good.”

“I would totally, definitely, recommend this book to anyone.”

How to Steal a Dog shows what a good read-aloud can do. But to truly be effective, I believe a read-aloud must be combined with a classroom environment that encourages students to engage in rich discussions with one another. The rest of the magic comes from young readers/thinkers who, thankfully, share their brilliance with us.

Cynthia Alaniz is a fourth grade teacher in Texas, a grade-level team leader, and a Teacher Consultant with the North Star of Texas Writing Project. She was named her district’s Elementary Teacher of the Year in 2009 and is passionate about reading and writing workshop. She is also a very proud lifetime member of the Nerdy Book Club. She loves Tuesdays (book release days), and she is always in search of another book (and a new pair of shoes). You can find her on Twitter as @utalaniz and on her teaching/book Blog Teaching in Cute Shoes .