A First-Grade Class’s Top Ten Books – Mirrors and Windows of Life, Learning, and Action by Andrea Greene
Teaching children how to read well is one of the absolute highlights of being a first-grade teacher. Encouraging an insatiable desire to devour books is another of my primary aims. Reading aloud books that are mirrors into children’s lives or windows into the lives of others helps me accomplish both goals. This is a compilation of books from many years of first graders looking at themselves and the world as they become people who read widely and wildly.
* The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
If I live to be 300 years old, I will never forget the way we grew as readers and bonded as a community over this book. Not only did they process complex vocabulary, the kids made connections, asked important questions and wowed me with their depth of insight into some pretty mature social, emotional and character issues. Through this one story, I believe they learned to do ALL of the things good readers do.
* Charlotte’s Web by E.B.White
We read one chapter a day. Everyday the kids would BEG me to read more. If absent, students wasted no time asking classmates, “What happened? Were our predictions right?” For the love of all things teaching! When the kids realized Charlotte was dying, their whimpers and moans filled our room. Their adoration caused a ripple effect and other classes fell in love with Charlotte and Wilbur, too! Helping my students to embrace empathy, principles of friendship and commitment was made much easier with Charlotte’s Web as the backdrop.
* Love That Dog by Sharon Creech
The dog died and the children cried. Actually, they wept. They fell in love with poetry and wrote from the inspiration of some of the masters – Langston Hughes, Mr. Walter Dean Myers, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Emily Dickinson, Eloise Greenfield and more. We hosted a poetry cafe for almost 40 guests. They blew away the audience as they recited their favorite published poems and read their own. It was one of the hippest things I have had the pleasure of being a part of in my life.
* A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr., Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King, & Martin’s Big Words
We read these books, listened to Dr. King’s speech, and a passion was ignited to learn all they could about the Civil Rights movement. The superintendent happened to be in the building while we were reading these books; he was dragged into our classroom by children on fire with indignation over the injustices we had read about. They questioned his knowledge of the time and expressed gratitude for how things had changed. Convinced they, too, could make a difference, my six-year-olds executed a campaign to help North American endangered animals by contacting the President to support animal protection legislation and writing letters persuading their families to help them earn money to “adopt” animals. They adopted three animals and received letters from the White House and the Defenders of Wildlife. These books lit a spark leading different classes to tackle different BIG issues year after year.
* Chicken Soup with Rice: A Book of Months by Maurice Sendak
We read these classic verses and my students eagerly awaited the poem of the month. We had copies of the book in the class library. Some of the kids would give in to curiosity and read ahead. Most others loved the surprise and refused to look ahead. Sometimes, these would be tempted to look over the shoulders of the peekers to get a glimpse of Sendak’s whimsical illustrations and read a few lines, but just as quickly they would turn away and wait with great anticipation. I bet former students in 9th grade still know the words to most of these poems.
* The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
This classic has a similar effect on every reader. Each grows a little kinder, more thoughtful and more aware. For weeks after reading this title, the kids made connections to the Tree and the Boy in their interactions with each other and other narratives we read. It is a wondrous thing to hear children say things such as, “You don’t want to be selfish like the Boy. You should think about sharing your special colors with him. That’s being giving.”
* Now One Foot, Now the Other by Tomie dePaola
This book came to us when several students were having tearful, anxious days because of ill grandparents and family friends. One young lady in particular kept expressing her thanks for me sharing the story. She was more hopeful about her grandfather getting well. Another wrote a brief memoir about her grandfather’s death that brought grown-up teachers to tears of sadness and pride.
* Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges
Mari was brand new in our class the week I read this book. She sat quietly fixated as I read. When our class discussion ended, she came to me and asked if she could have the book for her Book Box. I happily gave the book over to her. She could not read the words, but she could read the pictures and retell the story. She “read” it practically every day for many days. She dictated her goals for herself in her new school: “I want to read and to write (like the girl, Ruby). I want to teach other kids.” I’ve lost touch with Mari, but I have to believe she continued toward the goals she set that year.
* Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco
We learned about admitting and conquering our fears. We learned if we open ourselves up to new things we might find something really sweet (chocolate cake made with tomatoes as the secret ingredient tastes spectacular). And baking Thunder Cake on a stormy April day at school with friends makes learning hard lessons even better!
*The Dot and Ish by Peter H. Reynolds
If you think you can’t, or if you think you can, you’re right! Choose to try! You’re worth it. The world needs your art. It’s okay if your hands or your voice shakes a little. Just make your mark. There is always someone who believes in you even when you don’t believe in yourself. Trust them and see yourself through their eyes. I’m so grateful these books could help me to give wings to my firsties.
Andrea Greene is a former first grade teacher, current fourth-grade teacher, mother of four avid readers, wife of an awesome husband who also reads, an introspective essayist at writingfourlives.blogspot.com , a runner and a lover of life. She also enjoys cooking, conquering her family and friends at word games, reading all kinds of writing and daydreaming about making a mark on the world. Luckily, she gets to do this every day in all of her many roles!