What makes a book the perfect read aloud?

For the past week, I have been "sitting with" A TANGLE OF KNOTS by Lisa Graff.  When I say "sitting with", I am referring more to the feeling that is left behind.  The one where you want to hold the book close to your chest in a tight embrace or find yourself lost in thought reliving a scene or two or thinking about what might happen if you used a line from the book as a snappy comeback.  Graff's newest book left me wanting to live in the world of talents and wondering about all the connections between peoples lives that are out there.

As I was having dinner last night with Kellee Moye, Nerdy Book Club friend and awesome educator, we chatted about read alouds.  I shared with her that last year I had read aloud THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by Katherine Applegate to at last 3 classes and how every class loved it.  What makes one book the perfect read aloud and another book simply one that we recommend a lot? Is it a feeling that one gets? Or is it something more.

Several years ago now I read aloud AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS by Gennifer Choldenko to a class.  At that time, I can honestly say I probably didn't have a good reason for why I picked the book.  Luckily, it turned out to be a great read aloud choice and the class & I had a lot of fun.  A few years later, I decided to read AL CAPONE again, but this time I was much more intentional.  I clustered it together with TURTLE IN PARADISE by Jennifer L. Holm and BUD, NOT BUDDY by Christopher Paul Curtis.   As a class, the students and I could discuss the Great Depression and 1935 from the perspectives of Moose, Turtle & Bud.  I added in snippets of movies and music and comics from that era to provide further background knowledge for students.

Being intentional about books plays a large role in selecting books for read alouds.  However, before that there has to be something else.  Some stories seem to have a special element that just works for a certain class or group of students.  When I finished reading TORTILLA SUN by Jennifer Cervantes, I just knew I had to share it with my students who come from a predominately Latino culture.  Here was a story that they might resonate with at a completely different level than they have with other books. 

At other times, when I read a book, a class will come to mind.  It might be a little like Miss Mallory's (from A Tangle of Knots) talent for matching orphans with their perfect families.  Is there a talent for matching just the right story, or book, or character to just the right class?  When I read MARTY MCGUIRE by Kate Messner, I immediately knew that the I had just the right class of second graders who would love Marty.  After reading it aloud to them, I knew a perfect match had been made.

Sometimes while I am reading a book, I find myself asking if my __________ (fill in the blank with whatever grade or class I am currently working with) would be able to read and understand a book.  I have a lot of students that are English Language Learners who often struggle with books with complicated vocabulary or ones with lots of imagery that they may not understand.  When I read GOBLIN SECRETS by William Alexander a few months ago, I realized that I must have mentally asked myself 5 or 6 times how I could make the book accessible to a class of fifth grade English Language Learners.  I realized that most would likely miss the meaning of many of the words and phrases leaving them with a less than satisfactory understanding of the book.  If I wanted them to appreciate the story and enjoy it as much as I had, then I would need to read it aloud.  Sharing a book through a read aloud can provide teachers with a means of making a wonderful book accessible for their students when it may be beyond their current independent reading level.

So back to A TANGLE OF KNOTS... as a read aloud.  Sometimes, a book just feels right for a read aloud.   You don't always need a super special reason for why you want to read a book aloud.  And right now this beautiful story is begging to be shared with a class of students.

What are some of your favorite read alouds?

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