Sometimes I miss teaching so much that my chest hurts a bit.
And then I remember what teaching actually involved, and I shake my head and laugh. A thousand blessings to those of you who have made that your life career.
I realized recently what I really missed was teaching language arts, particularly the rare occasions when the kids could read novels (We were kind of slaves to our reading program that included such THRILLING stories as Mary McLeod Bethune, The Dream Maker – I can’t even find a link that will convey how BORING that story was. Actually it was a play, and getting the kids to *not* read the stage directions aloud was damn-near impossible.)
Reading novels was the good stuff. Sometimes the kids would read them on their own; other times they would read them in groups; the rest of the time, I would just read them aloud. We rarely had tests or quizzes on these books – I typically used them as a tool to foster longer attention spans in my students and inspire a little stick-to-itiveness.
So, in an effort to relive those days a bit, here are my top five youth fiction recommendations (in no particular order). And you don’t need a kid as an excuse to read them – they are fantastic no matter how old you are.
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord
SIGH. I love this book so much. It’s a great read-aloud or for the kids to read on their own and just get together and chat about it later. My favorite part is that the chapters are organized by month. For some reason that arrangement made it so much easier for the kids to remember the sequence of events. Plus it is technically “historical fiction,” a concept that is so hard to teach to kids. We could always look to this book as a example when that topic came up.
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
I taught 5th grade, and for some reason it is SO HARD to find novels that interest boys that age. But this one worked every. single. year. Luckily, a child’s love for all things puppy transcends gender, so the girls were into it, too. This one is also great because you can show the movie after finishing it. Although, don’t be prepared to get anything done after watching it – the kids will be tearing up and sniffling for the rest of the day.
The Witches by Roald Dahl
I loved reading this one aloud, mainly because of this line from the book talking about how witches can be anywhere:
She might even be your lovely school-teacher who is reading these words to you at this very moment. Look carefully at that teacher. Perhaps she is smiling at the absurdity of such a suggestion. Don’t let that put you off. It could be part of cleverness.
I am not, of course, telling you for one second that your teacher actually is a witch. All I am saying is that she might be one. It is most unlikely. But–here comes the big ‘but’–not impossible.
The looks on their faces were always hilarious. Of course their fear would fizzle out once they heard the phrase “big but,” but it’s nice while it lasts.
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
Hands down, this was my favorite read-aloud option. Plus, there are thirteen of them, so you can make them last throughout much of the year. During my last year of teaching I would read these to the kids for 10-15 minutes after lunch, and found the books to be the perfect way to transition them from the insanity of the cafeteria to the more settled atmosphere of the classroom. The best part? That Mr. Snicket was very smart in ending pretty much every chapter with a cliffhanger, and the kids would either 1) beg you to keep reading (every teacher’s dream) or 2) settled down all-the-more quickly the next day to find out what happens next.
The Giver by Lois Lowery
If you’re not familiar with this one, here’s the summary from Amazon:
In a world with no poverty, no crime, no sickness and no unemployment, and where every family is happy, 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the community’s Receiver of Memories. Under the tutelage of the Elders and an old man known as the Giver, he discovers the disturbing truth about his utopian world and struggles against the weight of its hypocrisy.
Heavy stuff for a 5th grader. I never read this one aloud (there’s references to certain “feelings” happening when the characters turned 11 or 12, and I was not willing to open that can of worms with a group of kids at varying maturity levels), but I would recommend it to my more mature students (emotionally and socially mature, not physically – those things DO NOT necessarily go together). I like to imagine that all of the kids that I passed the book along to are today now super into questioning authority. And Battlestar.
What are your favorite books from that time in your life – you know on the cusp between the simpler times of elementary school and the social gauntlet that is middle school?