To the Read Aloud! by Phil Bildner
This one time, for read aloud, we read Kathi Appelt’s Kissing Tennessee. Everyone did individual projects. Then we turned the classroom into the Stardust Dance.
This other time, for read aloud, we read Cynthia Rylant’s I Had Seen Castles. That was our first read aloud following 9/11. We were together 9/11. We’ll always be together for 9/11. We learned what it meant to conscientiously object. Then we read A Fine White Dust.
We read Tracy Mack’s Birdland for read aloud. That was set in post-9/11 New York City. We lived in post 9/11 New York City. We read part of the book along the esplanade in Lower Manhattan near the site. When we finished, we recreated the neighborhood project Velly assigned. We turned our classroom into our own New York City tribute, how we saw our city. Tracy Mack came to see it. “The real writing takes place during the re-writing,” she told us. I repeat those words during every school visit presentation. Every single one.
We read Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants during read aloud. Tra La Laa! Of course, we read Captain Underpants. We read the very first Captain Underpants, when it first came out.
We read picture books for read aloud. We loved picture books for read aloud. Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka was the first one every year. We read When Marian Sang and marveled at Pam Munoz Ryan’s storytelling and Brian Selznick’s art. Then we discovered Brian Selznick did the drawings in Frindle by Andrew Clements (We read that for read aloud, too). Each year, the week before Christmas, we read Berkeley Breathed’s A Wish for Wings that Work. Fly!
We read Ted and Jimmy Zangwow’s Out-of-This-World Moon Pie Adventure by Tony DiTerlizzi. He came to the class. We talked about art, learned the process behind the art, and discovered the similarities between the art process and the writing process. Tony DiTerlizzi drew me on the white board.
The Runaway Pumpkin by Kevin Lewis. We had to read one of Kevin’s books. Kevin came to the school and read to the younger kids. Often. Kevin was such a big part of this. All of this.
One time, I gave one of my students Heaven by Angela Johnson. After she read it, I had her write a letter to Angela Johnson. In the letter, she said she wanted to know more about the character of Bobby. Check out the dedication in The First Part Last. Go, Elizabeth! After that, Heaven and The First Part Last became classroom read alouds.
One day, we read Ann Turner’s Learning to Swim for read aloud. We started it in the morning and couldn’t put it down. That day turned into a drop-everything-we-need-to-read-this-book-today day. So we did.
We read Holes by Louis Sachar for read aloud. When we finished, we subwayed from West Farms Square to Union Square. We met Louis Sachar before his Barnes & Noble event. We asked questions. We took pictures. To this day, the one he took with Wendy remains an all-time favorite. Thanks, Kate Kubert!
We read Walter Dean Myers during read aloud. We read 145th Street, the collection of short stories that took place not too far up the street. A few of us even lived near there. We read Scorpions, and Jamal, Randy, Tito, and Dwayne taught us all about character. We read Monster. Yeah, we read Monster as a read aloud and were fascinated by idea of the unreliable narrator. We read The Greatest. We learned us some Muhammad Ali.
We read Jacqueline Woodson during read aloud. Miracle’s Boys, If You Come Softly, I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This. After we read From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun, Jacqueline Woodson visited my sixth graders in Tremont. We sat on the stage in the school auditorium and talked about Mel, Ralph, Sean, Angie, EC and Kristen. Toshi Reagon came too. She jammed for us. We jammed.
Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Bluish by Virginia Hamilton, Getting Near to Baby by Audrey Couloumbis, Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo — all read alouds.
We read Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper. Then we got sets of Forged by Fire and Darkness Before Dawn. We read those on our own.
We often did free writes in Central Park, but one time, free write time turned into read aloud time. Laurie Halse Anderson was with us that day. She read to us from her work in progress, an early chapter from Catalyst. Whoa! We had no idea you could write about that in books for middle schoolers. We read Speak together. We read Fever, 1793 together. We read Thank You, Sarah together. Some of us went to the Thank You, Sarah book signing at Books of Wonder.
Speaking of Central Park, that’s where we were for Am I Blue?, the short stories edited by Marion Dane Bauer. Am I Blue? by Bruce Coville, the first short story in the collection, is my all-time favorite short story read aloud (but that one we have to read in the room). We were in Central Park for 13, the collection of short stories edited by James Howe. We discovered the writings of Alex Sanchez and Ellen Wittlinger. We laughed out loud during James Howe’s Jeremy Goldblatt is SO Not Moses, especially when I did the voice of the rabbi.
We read When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt as a read aloud. That’s one of the ten books in my top three all-time favorite books. “See the things that others don’t” is what Kimberly Willis Holt inscribed on the title page.
But that copy disappeared.
That what happens with the great ones. Sometimes, they find homes. Good homes. I’m sure that’s where Zachary Beaver is.
See the things that others don’t.
Those six words never left me. I say them wherever I go. I put them in books, books to shared and read aloud.
Words and the humans that create with them are amazing.
Here’s to the read aloud!
Phil Bildner taught middle school in the New York City public schools for eleven years. Now he writes books for kids and visits schools all around the country. His next middle grade novel, A Whole New Ballgame (FSG), comes out this August, and read alouds play a central role. You can follow him on Twitter @philbildner, subscribe to him on YouTube @philbildner, or find him at www.philbildner.com.