Top Ten Books for Principals to Read Aloud at Staff Meetings by Matt Renwick
Files are saved, paperwork is completed, and instructions are left for the new principal. As I prepare for a new adventure as principal of Mineral Point Elementary School (Wisconsin), there is one thing left to do for my successor: Provide a list of excellent books to read aloud to staff members to start meetings.
It is my belief that school leaders need to lead by example when it comes to promoting authentic and necessary literacy practices in schools. Instead of “Lead Learner,” what about “Lead Reader”? Our actions speak louder than anything we might say. The following books have served as excellent texts to share with faculty to start meetings.
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena (Illustrated by Christian Robinson)
This picture book should be in every classroom, K-12. The main character, a young African-American boy in an urban neighborhood, takes a Sunday bus ride to the soup kitchen with his grandmother. Whenever he sees a part of his world through the eyes of inequity, his grandmother points out the beauty. It is an inspiring book about perspective and appreciation. I read aloud this book to start a potentially contentious staff meeting.
Stuck by Oliver Jeffers
With staff meetings, humor is the coin of the realm, especially in the spring when our collective patience wears thin. This picture book describes one boy’s attempt to get his stuck kite out of a tree. Each subsequent item he throws into the tree to dislodge his toy is more ridiculous. This book will get lots of laughs. It can also serve as a teaching point, as we as educators can make problems worse with good intentions but poor solutions.
Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin (Illustrated by Daniel Salmieri)
Okay, no moral points to be made here, just a lot of fun. The main character is told time and again that dragons love tacos, as long as we leave out the spicy salsa. You can guess what happens next. The repetition of the title throughout the text can be highlighted as a strong example of organization for students’ writing.
Life’s Literacy Lessons by Steven Layne
This professional text is filled with brief essays and poems by Dr. Layne, a well-respected literacy professor. Topics the author addresses with both humor and honesty include standardized testing, formulaic writing, reading levels (who else was an “Aqua”?), and the importance of reading aloud. After reading aloud several selections to my faculty one school year, I randomly selected one teacher’s name and gave this book to her.
Neville by Norton Juster (Illustrated by G. Brian Karas)
From the author of The Phantom Tollbooth comes this picture book about a boy struggling to adjust to a new location. Instead of the traditional approach to making acquaintances, he calls out the name “Neville!” at the top of his lungs. Other kids in the neighborhood wonder who Neville is, so they join the him in his apparent search. The ending is somewhat of a surprise and leaves the reader thinking long after the story is done. I read Neville! aloud in my prior school, which has higher transiency rates. A good story for starting a discussion on this topic.
What Do You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamada (Illustrated by Mae Besom)
This quick read aloud served to start a two day curriculum writing workshop I facilitated a few years ago for faculty. It can serve as a parable about the process of idea generation, development, iteration, and finally shared with others and celebrated. The concept of letting our creations become a part of the world has connections with collaboration and personal learning networks.
Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm by Jon Katz
Nonfiction texts are too often overlooked as read alouds. Katz wrote one of my favorites to read and share. Four dogs – Rose, Izzy, Frieda, and Lenore – each serve a special role on the author’s farm. What is Rosie’s job? Through clues provided in this informative text and authentic images, the reader discovers the importance of taking care of others and providing support for our friends. Definitely a book to share when developing diverse learning communities.
by Judith Viorst (Illustrated by Lynne Cherry)
Has Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day reached its read aloud limit at school? Explore another of Viorst’s publications, a poetry anthology that aptly describes the angst and irreverence that encompasses adolescence and growing up. A great selection for secondary school leaders.
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
This mystery for middle level readers offers one of the best leads I have ever read:
“Trouble cruised into Tupelo Landing at exactly seven minutes past noon on Wednesday, the third June, flashing a gold badge and driving a Chevy Impala the color of dirt. Almost before the dust had settled, Mr. Jesse turned up dead and life in Tupelo Landing turned upside down.
As far as I know, nobody expected it.”
Other literary elements worth pointing out to teachers include the parallelism between Mo LeBaeu’s past and the murder currently being investigated, and the character development of Mo herself, the main detective.
The Whispering Cloth: A Refugee’s Story by Pegi Deitz Shea (Illustrated by Anita Riggio; Stitched by You Yang)
Mai and her grandmother stitch pa’nduas, or story cloths. “But why?” Mai asks. Our classroom and school libraries too often underrepresent the cultures, races, and diverse backgrounds of our students. I shared this book in the past with teachers, as many of our students were Hmong, whose families came from Southeast Asia after the Vietnam War. It is also an excellent read aloud, conveying how every culture uses stories to describe and honor their past.
What books would you recommend for reading aloud at staff meetings? How can these titles connect with educators and professional topics? Please share in the comments.
Matt Renwick is a 17-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher. After seven years of teaching, he served as a dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary principal in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt is now an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District (http://mineralpointschools.org/). Matt tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).