Five + Fives = 2 Generations of Books to Share by Phyllis Sutton and Jen Traub
We are a family of readers. My husband is an editor, and my eldest daughter is a teacher. It is not unusual for my middle daughter, when in the midst of a good book or series, to stay in bed all day reading. And my youngest son is planning on getting a PhD in English Literature. Needless to say, when we take a vacation, we all bring books. And we talk books….a lot!
My daughter Jennifer and I share not only a love of books but a love of how books touch our students. I teach 5th grade and Jennifer teachers 3rd – 5th grade advanced literacy. One of my favorite memories of Jen is when she was probably in about 3rd grade. She was on the couch in the living room, laughing out loud. When I stuck my head in to see what was so funny, she was reading….James and the Giant Peach!
Jen and I talk books all the time, much to the chagrin of the rest of our family. We are passionate about books and passionate about our students. Typically we agree on books but every now and then we differ. I won’t say we argue, but we can both be extremely stubborn people! We each have books that we love and want our students to love just as much. Though it was hard, we each narrowed our list down to just 5!
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
My niece recommended this book to me (yes, even our extended family loves to read!). I read it and fell immediately in love with the story. It has been a class read aloud for two years so far and I am most definitely planning on reading it again this year. Watching my students follow Salva through Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya. Visualizing Nya’s experiences seeking water for her family, her arm deep in the dirt seeking any water, regardless of how dirty it is. And then the amazement when they see how the two lives come together.What I most love about this book is the call to action it provokes in students. My literacy class planned a trip to Feed My Starving Children last spring, all as a result of reading this book. Any book that makes 10-11 year olds think beyond their own life is amazing. A truly inspiring book!
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
Truth be told, I love each book in this trilogy, but since I only have five books to share, I choose the first one. Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern. Three sisters sent to Berkeley, California in the 1960s. Their eyes, and they eyes of my students, are opened as they become immersed in the civil rights movement. Huey Long. The Black Panthers. Diana Ross and the Supremes. My students have minimal knowledge of this part of our history. Their eyes were opened to the world around us -both then and now. Reading this book made us want to learn more – and we did, through books! I also love this book for the rich language. Ms. Williams-Garcia’s use of figurative and descriptive language serves as a mentor text for the students to try the same in their own writing.
Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
This past summer, Jen and I attended NerdCampMI for the first time. (It definitely won’t be the last!). Swag was being given out the second day of camp. We weren’t sure what time NerdCampMI started on the second day, so we were having a relatively leisurely breakfast. As we were having breakfast, I saw tweets stating that there were a limited number of Crenshaw ARC copies being handed out that morning. Poor Jen! I rushed her into finishing her food and we jumped into the car to head to camp. I must tell you, Jen was 6 months pregnant, but that did not stop me from expecting her to run to the swag room so we could each get our copy!
The book was well worth the race. Katherine Applegate takes a difficult topic, homelessness, and writes about it in a way that adult and child alike can relate to. Books that allow readers to experience situations help them understand what to do in real-life situations.
If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson
I cannot believe I did not know Jacqueline Woodson’s books until two summers ago. Each Kindness was recommended to me and it quickly became a mentor text that we referred to all year. Then I started reading more and more by Woodson; that’s what readers do, right? Find an author and devour everything they wrote. There is not a single book of hers that I don’t love. Brown Girl Dreaming was very popular last year and continues to be sought after in my classroom. But whenever I think of If You Come Softly, I think of a student that was profoundly touched by this book. Her indignation that society still, today, makes assumptions based on how people look and where they live, was palpable. This book made her think and feel and want to do something to change the world. What more could anyone ask for from a book?
How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied by Jess Keating
Sometimes we read for fun. To laugh! To relax and enjoy. Jess Keating’s books (there are three in this series) do just that for me. Ana’s voice is loud and clear in all three books. Her problems are those of many young girls: her best friend moves away, she has the start of a crush, she is shy and easily embarrassed. Ana’s twin brother Daz is nothing like Ana. He is outgoing, embracing his uniqueness. Their characters are well developed and stay true to themselves throughout the series (do you like the way I snuck in a few extra books again!?). Ana’s parents both work at the zoo, allowing tidbits of informational text to be seamlessly added. Reading should be fun – but it is OK to learn at the same time.
When my mom states that we are a family of readers, there’s no better way to describe us! I learned the love of reading at a young age, with memories of reading The Little Mermaid, and reciting it word for word as it was read to me. It wasn’t long after that I learned to read for myself, and spent countless hours sprawled across the couch, on the hammock in our yard, and anywhere else I could find the time and space.
Just a month ago, my husband and I welcomed our first son into the world. The first gift his Nonna (Phyllis) bought him was a onesie from a bookstore we love in New York City, The Strand. It states, “Born to Read,” so the legacy of a family of readers will continue. His current favorites are Llama Llama Red Pajama and The Pout Pout Fish… or maybe those are just the books his momma loves reading him the most!
There are so many books I’ve read and loved, and love to share with my students, with a hope that they’ll experience the same love and attachment that I do. When they ask me for my favorite book, I can’t answer… so this isn’t a list of my top 5 favorite books! It is, however, a list of 5 books that are near and dear to my heart, to my students’ hearts, and maybe to yours as well.
The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak
This historical fiction novel about a girl named Liesel, living in Europe during World War II, and who has a passion for stealing books, was originally recommended by a fellow teacher, from whom I get many recommendations! For some reason, I postponed reading it for a while… too many books on my to-be-read list, the size intimidated me, what have you. I remember the moment I started reading it, at the DMV, waiting for my new license to print. From the very first page, I was hooked. “First the colors. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try. Here is one small fact: you are going to die.” I’ve recommended this novel to countless students, and had so many amazing conversations because of it. One sticks in my head, from when a student realized that Death was narrating, but found himself sympathizing with Death as a character. Ironic, isn’t it?!
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
Also historical fiction, this book has been a beloved read-aloud, while my students were studying the Revolutionary War. Isabel’s perspective, both as a female and a slave, combined with her love for her sister, who has seizures and whom Isabel feels a desperate need to protect, account for my passion for this novel. In the very beginning, Isabel has been freed, but based on circumstances outside of her control, is sold to a Tory family anyway. From the first chapter, we feel Isabel’s anguish and the unfairness of her situation. It’s beautifully written, with primary sources at the beginning of every chapter, so we find ourselves discussing not only our thoughts and reactions to Isabel’s journey, but the facts and the historical context surrounding it. It’s safe to say that every student that reads this book, whether independently or as a group, comes out with a new feeling on the injustice of slavery and desire to keep fighting.
Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick
Stephen is a middle school student, with a younger brother named Jeffrey, the inventor of the infamous “dangerous pie.” When Jeffrey gets sick, Stephen’s life drastically changes. My first encounter with this book was during a maternity leave position, my first months out of college. As I read it aloud to a class of sixth graders, I found myself taking it home to read ahead at night. When we finally hit the end, several students found themselves with “allergies,” or oddly swollen and red eyes. I myself can’t read it without suffering the same fate. Sonnenblick’s literature is full of sarcasm and humor, which allows him to tackle some deep issues in a way that students relate to. As I’ve recommended it, I’ve watched students alternate between giggling and tearing up, and such an emotional connection to a piece of literature is something that should be truly appreciated in the intermediate classroom.
All The Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg
This novel, written in verse, follows the story of Matt, a boy who survived the Vietnam War and was sent to the United States to live with an adoptive family. The poems alternate between memories of war-torn Vietnam, and experiences here… and the secret and guilt that Matt harbors from his past. I read this book again for a book club with my mom and her students, and we took notes for discussion. I found myself with Post-Its on every to every other page! Burg does a beautiful job sharing a story, while giving the reader much deeper things to ponder through.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
The term “ugly cry” comes to mind when discussing this novel. You know the type, when you feel like you’re gasping for breath, the tears are just running down your face, mixing with the snot because you’re borderline hysterical? I read this one during my third trimester of pregnancy, and about five minutes after I finished, got a phone call from one of my closest friends… at which point I had to convince her I was, in fact, fine, a book just broke my heart. First of all, only read this if you read the novel with illustrations, as they make the book. It tells the story of Conor, who wakes up one night to find a monster outside his window, demanding the truth. The terrible truth. And the monster keeps coming back, keeps waiting, until Conor is willing to give it to him. I’ve passed this book through my whole classroom this year, and every student who I’ve passed it to has loved it as much as I did.
Phyllis Sutton and Jen Traub live and teach in the Chicago area, about 10 miles from each other. On long car rides, Jen has been known to read aloud to Phyllis as she drives. Both are looking forward to sharing books with generations of young readers.