The Love of Reading in Upper Elementary
Books and stories are a powerful tool in connecting people of all ages. They are a vital part of any curriculum and can evoke different emotions and lessons based upon the author’s message, or the reader’s interpretation. My literacy professor in teacher’s college David Hornsby (a well respected educator in Australia that promotes the whole language approach) believed that for a student to be ready to enter kindergarten he/she should have been read 500 books prior to entering. This is just an example of how powerful books and stories are in language development, creating knowledge and solidifying past information. In the Early Years we often talk about the ‘love of reading’ and the books that are designed for this age are often designed with rhyme, rhythm, flashy pictures and riveting stories.
However, we often lose sight of the importance of books and stories in the upper years. There are many ‘Must Read’ book lists currently out there for students, but how many of these books have the students read? Or how many of them would they actually recommend?
Throughout this past year I was given book recommendations by my students and made an effort to read them. Three to four times a week the students would be given time to read quietly to themselves, and I would do the same. At the beginning of the year, when the focus of the reading development was on Book Clubs (it then transitioned to Guided Reading, then back to Book Clubs towards the end of the year) we had a class check-in based on Kimberley L. Mitchell’s book ‘Experience Inquiry: 5 Powerful Strategies, 50 Practical Experiences’ (which I highly recommend) and the students’ feedback regarding more choice in the classroom was directly related to being given the opportunity to choose their own reading materials during quiet reading. I listened to their feedback and allowed the change and saw how the students flourished in their reading choices. However, during that time I always tried to lead by example and sit and read also. I would read the books they recommended and then participate in their Book Club meetings as a participant; I shared my favourite parts of the book, ideas for a sequel, or ideas I would have if I was the author. I would allow the students to start the discussion and only participate as a contributor. Through that process I learned a lot about which books were popular amongst the students and why, what genre each specific student liked because of his or her interests and some personal information when they shared a connection during these small and intimate gatherings.
Over the year I was able to read quite a lot of the books along with the students and here are the ones that I was recommended and would recommend to others.
1.The Apollo Trials by Rick Riordan
I read the first book ‘The Hidden Oracle’ in February of this year and found it incredibly funny, entertaining and riveting. Riordan has personally created a new surge of interest in Greek Mythology, Roman Gods and other historical myths and legends due to these books that many teachers often observe the students personally inquire into during their I-time projects, or other personal time. His stories have created young students to independently inquire into more, however his books are very impressive and they have a ‘Sesame Street’ type of humour (humour that can connect with all ages) and I found myself laughing out loud during quiet reading time. I always had post-its close to my seat and would add them to any pages or quotes that I wanted to share with others and that included the students, other teachers and my husband.
I was very impressed with the Riordan’s ability to acknowledge Gay and Lesbian relationships in an authentic way within the story. The story is a narrative by Apollo who speaks about his past relationships with men and women. I am currently reading the second story ‘The Dark Prophecy’ where Riordan introduces two female characters that are together and have a daughter. These characters and their relationships are brought up authentically, and in a respectful manner that allows readers of all ages to understand different relationships. As an educator that promotes inclusiveness I found these books to address equal rights in a way that is part of a story, not as a separate entity that needed to be scrutinized and because of that it allowed for a genuine respect for all rights.
- Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo
The book Kensuke’s Kingdom was recommended to me by a quiet, respectful young boy in my class who is one of those students that does not seek attention for himself, and those students as educators that you think about at 2 am to make sure you have connected enough with them. Often times I will make a point to ask that student some specific questions, but these are also the students who are more interested in their peers than their teachers (which is a hard truth that I wrote about in my EY-G4 blog post), however this specific student read this book in February and then gave it to me to read. I read it over the Chinese New Year break and found it an easy read that focuses on topics such as adventure, loneliness, survival and hope. The book has fond memories for me as it was the basis of connection that this student and I had. I wrote him an email after I read the book thanking him for the recommendation, telling him what my favourite part was, and asked him specific questions about what he liked. He wrote back with a very well thought out response. This book created an instant connection that took 6 months of previous attempts.
- Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories by R.J. Palacio
Auggie & Me is described as a ‘companion’ book, rather than a sequel to the widely popular book ‘Wonder’. At the school that I currently teach at Wonder is used as an independent read in Grade 3 so the majority of my students who found a connection to Wonder read Auggie & Me, however a few hadn’t and it was offered as a Book Club choice at the beginning of the year. Both books are powerfully emotional with an underlying morale of kindness and inclusivity. Auggie & Me delves deeper into three characters that we are introduced to in Wonder and goes into their own personal stories and their perspectives. As a person who becomes emotional very easily I had the same reaction to Auggie & Me as Wonder and while reading it in the class I would well up and allow my tears to come. I would sniffle an ugly cry, but I wanted my students to see my reaction. Some books are able to stir something so deep in you that touches you and both these books do. The Book Club discussions were always of empathy and perspective and throughout the year the students would often bring up Julian and his personal struggle with inclusivity as a lesson to be more caring towards others.
- Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
Out of My Mind is a story that follows a young girl named Melody Brooks and her journey with cerebral palsy. At a young age Melody is diagnosed with inability to learn by a doctor, although she is able to hear, understand, learn and observe her surroundings around her. The story follows her journey and her relationship with her neighbour Ms. V, her new role as a big sister to her new sister Penny and her relationships with students at a mainstream school. Some people around her root and guide her in her journey, while other characters are confused over who she is and what her ability is. The story focuses on the need to be inclusive, the responsibility to be nice to others who may be different and the act of empathy. The book was recommended by quite a number of students in my class who read it independently, then chose it as a Book Club book. The book is wonderful as the above, or would be great to be integrated into any ‘Who We Are’ unit that focuses on identity and inclusion.
Books to Introduce Next Year
As much as I love speaking to students about their book choices and what they recommend, I love listening to other educators and what they recommend to read and introduce into the language curriculum, and/or the class library. I have some very talented educator friends and they have recommended the following (which I read over the summer holidays).
Floodland by Marcus Sedgwick
This book was recommended on a PYP facebook chat for upper elementary students in regards to the unit ‘Where We Are in Place and Time’. Many schools have a focus on migration for this unit in upper elementary and this book was recommended as a connection to that. The premise of the book was set in the future where the United Kingdom is under water. The lead character, a young girl named Zoe is introduced as an abandoned young child in an area where food and water is becoming more and more scarce. Driven by the need to be reunited with her parents and to find land that is occupied by a more civilised society she sets forth in a boat she finds. Her adventures take her to a chaotic island before she escapes and is rescued by fishermen on another island and is then reunited with her parents. The story has a deep thread of empathy, survival and the need for positive relationships during a challenge. Students in Grade 4 would be excited by the drama of the story and may be able to connect with the overall theme of a forced refugee determined by an environmental factor, but the overall theme may be a bit too mature for the beginning of Grade 4. I would highly recommend waiting a few months to make sure the students would be able to handle some of the graphic scenes (one describes a war) and also to use it as a read-aloud and observe how the students react to the story first hand. It would also be interesting to start the book during the ‘Where We Are in Place and Time’ unit and see if the students can connect the theme of the book to the unit.
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
This book was recommended by a very talented educator (and friend) that now teaches Grade 6 in a private school in Toronto. A Long Walk to Water is a biography that follows Salva Dut and a fictional girl Nya and their journey at different years. Dut’s story starts as a young boy in school and follows his courageous journey as he walks East across where he settles in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. However, after a number of years there the camp closes and he is forced to walk again south to a refugee camp in Kenya. His survival skills, in addition to his leadership skills allows him to make friends and meet new people. One person (an Irish aide worker in Kenya) helped him apply as a refugee and he is granted to live in the United States. Dut is welcome by a family, attends and graduates from university and starts his own fresh water aid service and returns to Sudan. The story finishes when he returns to Sudan and meets Nya while putting a fresh water well in her village. The story focuses on triumph and positivity, however there are some graphic and violent scenes woven in. At one point while Salva is travelling across Sudan as an 11 year old boy he witnesses his uncle getting shot by rebels. Some educators (including myself) question if this may be too mature for the age of Grade 4, however another educator pointed out it is similar to the violence that most Grade 4 students see in movies. This book would be a great read aloud for the ‘Where We Are in Place and Time’ unit where the students explore migration and the push and pull factors.
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
The Wild Robot was recommended by another talented educator/friend who teaches English to middle years and high school in Vancouver. The Wild Robot follows Roz the Robot’s adventure from being shipped to another area and experiences a hurricane where her ship capsizes and she finds herself all alone on an island. A kind and generous robot Roz perseveres through her loneliness and isolation and eventually finds a family through a small gosling who she adopts as her son. Her desire to be a good and loving Mom enables her to make connections with the other animals on the island when they experience first hand her kind heart and good intentions. The book can be experienced through many different lenses; that a kind and generous heart will always connect people to others and that persistence and grit can always overcome issues. The book would be a great read aloud and can be used in any unit regarding migration or sustainability.
Have your students (or other educators) recommended any good books recently for Upper Elementary? If so, please share them below for others to read!