Our Favorite Read Aloud Books (so far) for English Language Learners by Erika Victor
My class this year is made up of 18 third graders, 17 of whom speak a language other than English with one or more of their parents. We use read alouds to build a reading community, share mentor texts, introduce or expand lessons in a variety of subject areas, create shared experiences, and develop vocabulary. I maintain that my class would sit quietly while I read the phone book, but I know that really this is not true. They are quite careful listeners when listening to a read aloud and many will raise points that I may not have noticed. They clamor to read the books we share again on their own as soon as the last page is turned.
We keep a list of the books we have shared this year, as do many other classes. Some of my students remark with pride when they see similar lists in other classrooms that our list is much longer, and that may be. We have read a lot, but I always feel like there is not enough time to share all of the great texts I want to share with them. Because the students in my class come from such diverse backgrounds and cultures, books have become our shared language. We often compare situations to books we have read. We refer back to some books over and over. As I gathered their thoughts about the books they loved the most so far this year they could not keep their hands off the books. These books have changed them and have bound us together!
I asked my students for their input for this post. Each student submitted her/his top three read alouds of the year. They were sad to have to limit their choices, and by the time this is published new books will have undoubtedly be added to our list of favorites.
The read aloud most students chose as a favorite was Bigger Than a Breadbox, by Laurel Snyder. This is our current read aloud and I am amazed at the discussions that this book has sparked. We read the first chapter before we Skyped with the author. To be honest, I thought that the language of the book might make it inaccessible to my students, so Laurel and I had arranged for the majority of the Skype visit to focus on one of her picture books (Inside the Slidy Diner), which she read aloud to them that day. Literally as soon as the Skype visit was over my students begged me to continue reading Bigger Than a Breadbox – one chapter was not enough! Through this book they are learning a lot of colloquial English that is new for most of them, but because of the main character’s voice, the language is understandable. This was a good reminder to me to never underestimate the power of a great book. The main character, Rebecca, goes through a forced move and my students relate well to her, as many of them have moved from their “home country”. Elle says it is a good book and very exciting, because you never know what will happen next.
Boy + Bot was another class favorite. This simple story still used some language that was new for many of the students. It was also a reminder to me to not assume that students are understanding all that they read or hear. It was later the day we shared the book that one of my students asked me what “affirmative” meant- an important word in the story. This is a book that several students have read repeatedly and taken home to share with parents and siblings. We also were lucky enough to Skype with Ame Dyckman and my students speak as though she is a personal friend. Months later they still will refer to her often. “This book was fun and you can learn stuff about friendship,” says Emmy.
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett was a book that had my students reacting right away. As I turned each page they were making predictions about what would happen next. It shows a confident girl who makes change in her world. My students were rooting for her when it looked like all was lost. Emmy says that although this book has few words the pictures were very descriptive.
Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson stopped my students in their tracks. My students do not have much exposure to poverty, but they immediately were empathetic to Maya’s challenges as the new girl at school. Because the story did not end “happily ever after” it kept them thinking after the last page was turned and the silence was amazing. The metaphor of a stone being thrown in water has stayed with them.
Marty McGuire Digs Worms by Kate Messner was our first long term read aloud. This book bound us as a class, as it allowed us to make connections to the characters in the story and Marty’s zest for life. Marty was true to herself and her adventures were an inspiration to others as they shared what was important to them. Our Skype visit with Kate Messner was so exciting for the students, as they got to hear first hand about Kate’s new deal for another book in the series.
Sea Monster’s First Day also by Kate Messner resonated with my students as Sea Monster looked for acceptance at his school. Students reflected on their first day at new schools and in new classes. Jules really liked that at first everyone was scared of the sea monster, but then they learned what he had to add to the community.
Peter Reynold’s’ books The Dot and Ish were books that we used to strengthen our school community. Our class celebrated International Dot Day with students all over the world, but equally importantly we celebrated it with students at our school. The Dot was shared across the school in classrooms and assemblies, and my students immediately latched on to the idea that being a risk taker and having faith in yourself are important messages for continued success.
Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin had my students laughing, yet they decided that the main message was that words have power. This was powerful for my students to hear as they strengthen their writing skills.
Thank You, Mr. Falker Funnily enough, this is a book that I have not even read aloud (yet) to this class. Lilly says that this book will never leave her book box, because it is such a favorite book and she enjoys reading parts of it over and over.
What I have been reminded of this year is that books can raise us up. This class is like any other class anywhere else in the world, but they are also unique. The carefully chosen words that they have heard each day have spoken to THEM and have made them better people. Their favorite books share a few common themes – friendship, persistence, confidence, and individuality. These are messages I wish for all children.
A former student, Soheyla, recently shared a quote she loves with me. She quoted Garrison Keillor who said, “A book is a gift you can open again and again.” We can all benefit from reading favorite books again and again and great books really keep on giving! I am so glad to be able to share great books with children every day. I have the best job in the world.
Erika Victor is a third grade teacher at an international school in the suburbs of Berlin, Germany. Her love for books and reading has always been an important part of her identity. It has been so fantastic to discover that there are other Nerdy Book Lovers all over the world. She has been lucky enough to teach in many different places and feel that the most important part of her job is to help students discover a love of reading if they have not already found it. She and her students have been lucky enough to meet several authors via Skype this year which has opened new windows for them.