The Treasury of Read-Alouds
NOVELS (full) page 3 of 4
books represent a brief portion of the hundreds
in The-Read-Aloud Handbook.
James and the Giant Peach
Four-year-old James, newly
orphaned, is sent to live with his abusive aunts and
appears resigned to spending his life as their humble
servant. Then a giant peach begins growing in the backyard.
Waiting inside that peach is a collection of characters
that will captivate your audience as they did James.
Few books hold up over six grade levels as well as this one does, and
few authors for children understand their world as well as Dahl did.
Also by the author: The BFG; Danny, Champion of
the World; Fantastic Mr. Fox; Matilda; The Minpins; The Wonderful Story
of Henry Sugar; and The
Roald Dahl Treasury, which contains the best collection of his work.
Journey to the River Sea
In 1910, we
find Maia, a wealthy orphan girl, residing at The Mayfair
Academy for Young Ladies, a setting very reminiscent
of Frances Hodgson Burnett's Sara Crewe or A
Little Princess. When Maia's
legal guardian informs her that a world-wide search has produced her
only living relatives (her father's second cousin and his family, including
twin daughters her age) who live on a rubber plantation
in the Amazon, her imagination takes flight. The opportunity to see
the world's largest river, to explore the exotic jungles of Brazil,
to spend her childhood hours and dreams with twin-cousins—it's
a young girl's dream come true.
Wrong, of course. The plantationed Carters
are deeply in debt, the father is a leach looking for
Maia's inheritance, the wife is a shrew, and the twins
are nothing short of vipers. Sounds like poor Sara Crewe,
right? How Maia extricates herself from this predicament,
with the aid of a mysterious Indian boy with a large
British inheritance, a homesick child-actor, along with
a host of savvy natives, makes for an old-fashioned melodrama
that has you rooting out loud for Maia and hissing her
relatives all the way down the Amazon. Also by the author: The Star
of Kazan. Related books—everything
by Frances Hodgson Burnett; Riding Freedom by Pam Muñoz
Ryan; and Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.
Kaspar the Titanic Cat
Fourteen-year-old Johnny Trott is the savvy orphan bellboy at London's swanky Savoy Hotel when he's spotted by a Russian countess and designated to care for her prized black cat Kaspar. Soon a tragedy leaves him the sole protector of the cat, which he must hide in his room against the hotel rules. Unfortunately Kaspar refuses to eat without his countess and is starving to death—until Lizziebeth, an eight-year-old American heiress, arrives on the scene and saves the day, though not before her dangerous impulsiveness requires her to be publicly rescued from the rooftop by Johnny. No good melodrama should be without a villain and Morpurgo provides a dandy in Skullface, the feared head housekeeper. When it's time for Lizziebeth and her parents (and Kaspar) to depart to America, their ship is the Titanic (with Johnny aboard as a working-stowaway). Of course all survive, including the cat. Better yet, it's not even the end of the book. The description of the Titanic sinking is based on careful research and includes realistic portrayals of the crew’s heroics. For other books by the author, see Kensuke's Kingdom, below.
childhood can sometimes be a case of survival, preteens
and teens often gravitate to survival books,
as proven by Paulsen's success with the Hatchet series.
This volume ranks with the best of that genre, with nod
to The Cay by Theodore Taylor and Daniel Defoe's Robinson
Crusoe. Like The Cay, it has a World War II connection
and there is a tiny island with two survivors, a boy
and an old man who eventually form a powerful bond. But
there the similarity ends, for Morpurgo has carved a
unique tale that stands on its own eight feet (if you
count the dog with the two people).
boy, Michael, is 12 years old when he and his dog are
washed overboard from the family's yacht and into the Coral Sea off
Australia. Clinging to the dog and a soccer ball (a touch of Tom Hanks
there), the boy is washed up on a tropical island. This island,
uninhabited, has a host of animals, plants, and fish
that might keep him alive. It also contains one old man—a very
old and very angry Japanese man named Kensuke Ogawa,
a navy doctor who has been on the island since the end
of WW II. Initially, Kensuke was marooned there when
his ship sank but eventually he was there by choice, more than 55 years
after his home in Nagasaki was bombed with one of the first atomic bombs.
The rest is his story and Michael's. To say the tale is inspiring is
a great understatement. Entwined with the modern survival story are
the issues of war and peace, brotherhood, family ties, art, nature,
and hope. Related books: Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuk
(a story from the Japanese internment camps); Robinson Crusoe by
Danel Defoe (one of the Scribner Illustrated Classics series [abridged,
thank you] and illustrated by N. C. Wyeth); and three books by Gary
Foxman; Hatchet; and The Voyage of the Frog. Also by the
author: Kaspar the Titanic Cat; Private Peaceful; War Horse; and The War of Jenkins' Ear.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Narnia series)
discover that the old wardrobe closet in an empty room
leads to the magical kingdom of Narnia—a kingdom
filled with heroes, witches, princes, and intrigue. This
is the most famous (but second) of seven enchanting books
called the Chronicles of Narnia, which can be read as
adventures or as Christian allegory. The series in order: The
Nephew; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Horse
and His Boy; Prince Caspian; The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader”;
The Silver Chair; and The
Last Battle. The Land of Narnia by Brian Sibley is an
excellent guide to Narnia. Many reasonable comparisons
have been made between the dual world of Narnia and the
Harry Potter series as well as Brian Jacques' Redwall
series beginning with Martin the Warrior.
are Donald Zinkoffs in every neighborhood, in every classroom,
and in many if not most families. They go by a variety
of names: bumbler, dope, klutz, loser. As Jerry Spinelli points out
in the first chapter of Loser, these people are largely ignored by the
outside world until one day somebody notices them and labels them. Not
since The Hundred Dresses, Eleanor Estes' timeless novel (1944) of a
poor girl's trial by classroom prejudice, has anyone grabbed this subject
of the odd-child-out with such force. Zinkoff is not retarded, nor is
he ADHD. He's just a little out of focus, not enough to send him to
special education classes but enough to leave him without a best friend.
Donald also has a giant sense of humor. His appreciative laughter and
choice of clothing send early warning signals to his
first grade teacher. Just as importantly for this story,
he is the son of loving but not overbearing parents. Indeed, it is their
abiding, unconditional love (along with the affection of two master
teachers) that allows the boy to grow a heart that abounds in exuberant
love for everything and everyone around him. Spinelli has injected a
large dollop of irreverent humor that will have middle-grade readers
doubled over (to say nothing of the adult who tries to read it aloud.
It is the humor that pulls the reader through the first half of the
book, each chapter provoking you to wonder what will he pull next. It
is this humor that also prevents the story from becoming a tale of despair.
writes that around fourth grade, children develop their "big kid
eyes," eyes that notice things they missed
with "little kid eyes." Twenty-seven classmates now turn their
new big-kid eyes to Zinkoff, and suddenly they see things
they haven't seen before. Zinkoff had always been messy
and giggly and slow. But now they notice. In light of
efforts to make the school climate less hate-filled and
more human-friendly (in the wake of Columbine-like events),
this is a novel that will succeed on more than it's formidable
story and character. Related book: A Corner of
the Universe by Anne Martin. Also by the author: Maniac Magee;
Milkweed; Star Girl; and Crash.
We meet this family—a father, two teens, and one primary-grader—five months after the mother dies in a traffic accident. The tale is seen through the witty but penetrating eyes of Mimi, the youngest. Though no one is finished grieving, they are all going through the motions, especially Dad who is on leave from his job and tuned out to everyone’s needs except his own This isn’t a depressing tale, but instead one about family dysfunction, and humans working their way out of a wreckage. The author is a classroom teacher who has obviously met a few struggling families. In this case, it’s a supporting cast of relatives, teachers, and classmates who come to the rescue. There are gobs of laughter as well as pure wisdom in these pages (”‘You said that with your head, love, not with your heart—so it doesn’t count,’ said Dad” after an angry outburst by the teenage daughter. Related books on grief, see: Pearl Verses the World (s).
The Moon Over High Street
In a publishing age awash in wizardry, apocalypses, dystopias, and teenage vampires, it’s easy to forget there is anything left to resemble old-fashioned storytelling about normal people. And that's what we have here in the tale of a 12-year-old orphan boy, Joe, raised lovingly by his homespun grandmother in the 1960s. This summer Joe has gone downstate to visit his aunt in a small town filled with common mid-west folk. Across the street from Joe's aunt is a family with a girl Joe's age and they become fast friends. Out of the blue, Joe is given the chance of a lifetime, something people play the lottery for every day. The millionaire in town would like to adopt him, send him to the finest schools, let him live on wealthy High Street, and eventually give him the family factory to run. Only one string attached. This is a wise but simple novel about ambitions, friendship, family, wealth, and hubris. What are we willing to do to be happy? It has a feel-good ending that leaves us wondering about the rest of Joe’s life. Also by the author: Search for Delicious and Tuck Everlasting.
Number the Stars
In 1943, as the
occupying Nazi army attempted to extricate and then exterminate
the 7,000 Jews residing in Norway, the Danish people
rose up as one in a determined and remarkably successful
resistance. Against that backdrop, this Newbery winner
describes a ten-year-old Danish girl joining forces with
her relatives to save the lives of her best friend and
her family. Related books: Darkness
Over Denmark by Ellen Levine, an excellent
nonfiction companion to this book, with photos of Denmark
and the resistance fighters; the popular novel Snow Treasure by
Marie McSwigan, about Danish children smuggling gold
past the Nazis; and The
Little Ships and The
Greatest Skating Race,
both by Louise Borden. Also by the author: Gooney
Bird Greene. Author profile online at: www.loislowry.com/.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (series)
with the life blood of a black Mississippi family during
the Depression, this Newbery winner depicts the pride
of people who refuse to give in to threats and harassments
from white neighbors. The story is told through daughter
Cassie, age nine, who experiences her first taste of
social injustice and refuses to swallow it. She, along
with her family, her classmates and neighbors, will
stir listeners’ hearts
and awaken many children to the tragedy of prejudice
and discrimination. For experienced listeners. Caution:
There are several racial epithets used in the dialogue.
Other books in the series: The
Land (a prequel
to Roll of Thunder); Let
the Circle Be Unbroken; The Road to Memphis; and
four short novels, The
Friendship; Mississippi Bridge; Song of the Trees; and
The Well. Also by the
author: The Gold Cadillac. Related picture
books: Goin’ Someplace Special by Patricia McKissack;
and Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro
Sit-ins by Carole
titles: Christmas in the Big House,
Christmas in the Quarters by Patricia and Fredrick
McKissack; Mary Banneky by Alice McGill; Getting
Away With Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case by
Chris Crowe; More Than Anything Else (Booker
T. Washington learns to read) by Marie Bradby; Rosa
Parks: My Story by Rosa Parks;
and The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles.
| Novels: p.1 p.2 p.3 p.4
& Folk Tales : p.1