'Reading aloud with children is known to be the single most important activity for building the knowledge and skills they will eventually require for learning to read.' Marilyn Jager AdamsReading aloud to a class of any age can be a wonderful experience and is absolutely essential in helping to create a class reading community. To find out more about the numerous benefits, have a read of this great blog post by Nikki Gamble.
However, choosing the 'correct' book is never easy. It needs to tick several boxes: it has to capture their imagination in the first few pages, it should provide opportunities for them to reflect and think about the world, it should entertain them and make them want to read more and, equally importantly, it should be a book that the teacher also enjoys. I've occasionally started books before with classes without reading them first, got about three chapters in and realised that if I'm totally bored by the book, then there's a pretty good chance that the kids are too. I'm now well into my second year of teaching the same class and we've read some absolutely incredible books together, many of which I intend to revisit in the future.
A story I often read with a new class (Year 5/6) is The Busker by Paul Jennings. Paul has written a huge number of short stories, most of which are thoroughly enjoyable with a clever twist at the end. However, out of them all, The Busker is the one that always has the biggest emotional impact. It's a story about a busker who wins several million dollars in the Australian lottery and the incredible loyalty of his dog. Gasps of shock and outraged faces are guaranteed.
One of the most popular novels that we read in Year 5 last year was One Dog And His Boy by Eva Ibbotson. It's not my favourite book of hers (that would Journey To The River Sea, which I adore) but it is my favourite one to read aloud. It's about a young boy, Hal, whose parents are far too busy and far too important to spend any quality time with him, so they try and make up for it by buying him expensive gifts. All Hal wants for his birthday is a dog and he's absolutely delighted when he is given Fleck as a present. Unfortunately, Hal doesn't realise that his parents have only hired Fleck for the weekend. He comes home from school on Monday, finds Fleck missing and decides that his only option is to run away to find him. It's a simple story, beautifully written, and always causes lots of discussion (and quite a few tears) in class. It has a lovely ending, where Hal's parents finally discover the error of their ways and realise what is actually important in life.
Another Year 5 classic is The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, the story of Nobody (Bod) Owens, a small boy raised in a graveyard. Bod came to the graveyard as a toddler, escaping after the murder of the rest of his family by the man Jack. It's full of action and slightly scary in places, with a wonderful range of characters for the children to enjoy.
Last year, I also read Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman with a class for the first time. It's one of my favourite books but I wasn't sure how it would be received, as it's about two child refugees from Afghanistan who are trying to flee to Australia. It was actually the most popular book of the whole year! I think because we'd done a fair amount of work about the refugee situation around the world, the children were able to empathise with Jamal and Bibi, the two main characters. There are some highly emotional chapters, especially when the children get separated from their parents, but every child in the class was desperate to hear how the story turned out. Several of them have asked if we can read the follow-up, Girl Underground, later this year and some of them have already read it independently.
We also read some more light-hearted books across the year. The ones we most enjoyed were a couple in the Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face series by John Dougherty, and The Spy Who Loved School Dinners and Baby Aliens Got My Teacher by Pamela Butchart. Both series are enjoyably written, with ridiculous plots, and are an absolute treat to read aloud.
In Year 6, the highlight so far has definitely been Wonder by RJ Palacio. It's already regarded as a classic and, in my opinion, should be read to (or by) every child in Year 6. It tells the story of Auggie, a ten-year-old with a rare facial deformity, and his experiences when starting middle school. It's written in the first person from a variety of character viewpoints and, as well as being a heartwarming story, teaches valuable lessons about empathy and understanding. When we finished the book, several parents asked if they could borrow it to read, as their children had gone home every day telling them about how amazing it is!
We're currently enjoying Welcome To Nowhere by Elizabeth Laird. It's a fantastic book, although I've had to selectively edit a couple of the more graphic passages. It's led to a lot of questions and further reading about refugees by the children, although it's possibly more suited to Year 7 upwards.
Below are some of the class stories we've read, or are planning to read over the next few months. We also try and share picture books together as often as we can. This year we've read Isn't It Great by Gerard Greverand, My Big Shouting Day by Rebecca Patterson, Azzi In Between by Sarah Garland and Mr Wuffles by David Wiesner as well as several others. All of them can be enjoyed on more than one level and be used as a basis for some interesting debate.
Several of these books will definitely make the cut for next year (assuming that I'm teaching in Year 6), but it's also exciting to read new books with a class. Next year, I'm very tempted to give The Nowhere Emporium by Ross MacKenzie a try, as well as Once by Morris Gleitzman. I'd be really interested to know which books other teachers enjoy reading to their class and try to revisit regularly.
'You're never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.' Dr Seuss