I am a firm believer that students are never too old to be read to. Hell, I still love to be read to, which explains my obsession with audiobooks. While some educators would say that students out of elementary school don’t need such “crutches”, I find that my students are all the more engaged and interested in class and in reading when we are all immersed in a read aloud together. Research shows that hearing a fluent reader read a text helps students comprehend better because they are not struggling to decode. In addition, they can learn vocabulary and I can stop to check for understanding of subtext and inferences as we read. Most importantly, as any literacy teacher will tell you, students still NEED STORY. No matter how old they are (or pretend to be), relaxing and just listening to a good story is sometimes the best medicine for over-tested students’ souls. So here are the five best read alouds I’ve used with middle schoolers.
Swear to Howdy by Wendelin Van Draanen is a gem of a book that I feel is overlooked. Van Draanen is known for Flipped, The Shredderman books & her Sammy Keyes mysteries. This book floats along inconspicuously. At the beginning of the story we meet Joey & Rusty and we get to watch their friendship develop along with the story. On the surface, the book seems to be a collection of humorous stories about two boys growing up in the South. However, as the story develops it takes a serious turn to deal with issues including child abuse, betrayal, and the toll of keeping secrets.
Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz is James Bond for the teen years. Horowitz includes all the 007 touchstones: gadgets, secret identities, and bad guys with penchants for strange pets. In the first installment of the series, Alex Rider discovers that his uncle who has raised him is not who he said he was. Alex is soon dragged into his uncle’s world and sent on a mission to figure out what his uncle knew about a technology tycoon that got him killed.
S. E. Hinton has been a force in YA literature for years and no matter how many years I teach, her stories still ring true. Students are consistently awed that she was only 15 when she wrote The Outsiders and it provides them with proof that they can be SOMETHING. The Outsiders is a Haves versus Have-nots story that all students can identify with. Most teens feel left out or ignored at one point or another and they identify with Johnny. As he struggles to reconcile what he’s done, Pony Boy tries to determine what they right thing to do is and how to save himself and his friend. True to real life, it’s not a happy ending but sometimes the only way life’s lessons is to learn them the hard way.
Silent to the Bone by E. L. Konigsburg is a book that starts slow but packs a punch. If I started with this in the beginning of the year, students would be disheartened by the lengthy set up in the beginning. I wait to offer this as a read aloud until later in the year when the students trust my choices. Once the story gets moving, it’s well worth the wait. Readers try to beat Connor in figuring out what happened between his friend Branwell and his family’s nanny that has caused Bran to stop speaking. It’s a true mystery with rich characters and a heartbreakingly happy ending.
I saved the most versatile book for last. Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick is an amazing follow up to Hugo Cabret. The selling point for this book is the dual narratives and the striking illustrations. Because there is both a boy and girl narrator, there is little chance of alienating anyone during the read. Students want to figure out how the two stories will end up coming together and it is a delightful resolution. In addition, teachers can work with inferencing through the illustrations. I projected this book with my Elmo so that everyone could read along and see the drawings clearly. I was also able to parlay the story into a writing activity by having students write about what they would keep in their own cabinet of wonders. It was a hit with almost every student.
I love to read to my students and I’ve had only a handful make complaints in my 12 years. Here’s hoping you make it a part of your classroom practice this year regardless of your students’ ages. Happy Reading, everyone and here’s to a great year.