The Treasury of Read-Alouds
NOVELS (full) page 4 of 4
These books represent
a brief portion of the hundreds
cited in the print edition of The-Read-Aloud Handbook.
The Ruby in the Smoke (series)
Not one to take himself too seriously despite his
many awards, Pullman will produce a fairy tale parody
(I Was a Rat!) one minute and a heart-stopping thriller
like this the next. His own description of this Sally
Lockhart series goes like this: “Historical thrillers,
that's what these books are. Old-fashioned Victorian
blood-and-thunder. Actually, I wrote each one with a
genuine cliché of
melodrama right at the heart of it, on purpose: the priceless
jewel with a curse on it—the madman with a weapon that could
destroy the world—the
situation of being trapped in a cellar with the water
little illiterate servant girl from the slums of London
who becomes a princess.”
Ruby in the Smoke contains one of
the great read-aloud openings. Set in 1872 on a cold
October afternoon in the London financial district, a young girl
steps out of a hansom cab and into the second paragraph:
“She was a person
of sixteen or so—alone, and
uncommonly pretty. She was slender and pale, and dressed
in mourning, with a black bonnet under which she tucked
back a straying twist of blond hair that the wind had teased loose.
she had unusually dark brown eyes for one so fair. Her name was
Sally Lockhart; and within fifteen minutes, she was going to kill
There is absolutely no chance of your attention wandering
after that. Note: It is Sally’s question that will kill
the man (heart attack). These books are for experienced
listeners. The Sally Lockhart quartet: The Ruby in the Smoke;
The Shadow in the North; The Tiger in the Well; and The Tin
Princess. Related books: The
December Rose by Leon Garfield; and The Case of the Baker
Street Irregular by Robert Newman. More on
the author online at: www.philip-pullman.com;
and Pullman and his teacher.
The Secret Garden
books spin such a web of magic about their audiences
as does this 1911 children’s classic about the sulky orphan
who comes to live with her cold, unfeeling uncle on the
windswept English moors. Wandering the grounds of his
immense manor house one day, she discovers a secret garden,
locked and abandoned. This leads her to discover her
invalid child hidden within the mansion, her first friendship,
and her own true self. While this is definitely for experienced
listeners, try to avoid the abridged versions, since
too much of the flavor is lost in those. Also by the
author: Little Lord Fauntleroy; A Little Princess;
and The Lost Prince. Two recent books by Eva Ibbotson
are so reminiscent of the Burnett's genre, you'd almost
think she'd come back from the dead: The Star
of Kazan and Journey
to the River Sea. Other
books: Mandy by Julie Edwards; and Understood
Dorothy Canfield Fisher. For a deeper look at The Secret Garden,
consider NPR's essay by Sloane Crosley:
and Light in 'The Secret Garden.'
Sideways Stories from Wayside School
chapters about the wacky students who inhabit the thirtieth
floor of Wayside School, the school that was supposed
to be built one story high and thirty classes wide, until
the contractor made a mistake and made it thirty stories
high! If you think the building is bizarre, wait until
you meet the kids who inhabit it. Sequels:
Wayside School Is Falling Down; and Wayside
School Gets a Little Stranger. Also by the author: Holes;
Johnny’s in the Basement; and There’s
a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom. Other humorous books: Skinnybones by Barbara Robinson; The
Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson;
and Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing by Judy Blume.
The Star of Kazan
you've been yearning for the good, old -fashioned solid
storytelling that made The Secret Garden and Anne of
Green Gables the favorites of
devoted readers for a century, look no further than this
book. Set near the beginning of the last century in Austria
and Germany, we meet a young girl being raised by two
maiden Austrian housekeepers who discovered her as an
abandoned baby in a church. Young Annika now lives with
them in the house where they work for three finicky professors.
It's an idyllic life for all, though the child does dream
that someday her mother will return to claim the child
she misplaced that day.
then the great upheaval: the woman who had abandoned
the child 12 years earlier arrives to claim her. Frau
Edeltraut von Tannenberg is as aristocratic and snobby as her name
implies but she is, after all, the mother Annika has dreamed of all
her life. Simply put, Annika's dream has come true, and her adopted
family's worst nightmare has come with it. Heartbroken at her departure,
her Austrian family reassures themselves that it is best for the
child. After all, in her mother's huge German estate she will be
able to enjoy all the luxuries they could never afford to give her.
But all is not what it appears and the ensuing chapters are filled
with disappointments, deceits, cruel relatives, sheltering servants,
buried treasure, scheming lawyers, loyal friends, and perilous last-minute
One of Ibbotson's favorite
tools is foreshadowing and she plants intriguing clues
in chapters that usually end with a cliff-hanger. Ibbitson
also offers a clear sense of the creeping infection called
nationalism that would envelope Germany in the coming
years and lead to two world wars.
An integral part of both the setting
and the plot is the world famous Lipizzaner stallions
and their home at the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. Several Web
sites offer colorful views of the animals and their training: www.lipizzaner.com/Intro.asp;
Also by the author: Journey
to the River Sea and One Dog and His Boy. Related books: anything
by Frances Hodgson Burnett; and Understood
Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.
Alex Rider is informed that his bachelor uncle/guardian
has died in an auto accident, he’s understandably
distressed. But he’s also perplexed by the news that he wasn't
wearing his seatbelt—something he was fanatical about wearing.
He’s even more confused when two men show up at the funeral wearing
loaded shoulder holsters under their jackets. Why guns
at a bank manager’s
funeral? Before long his questions bring him into Britain’s top-secret
intelligence agency and he may not make it out alive.
As someone has noted elsewhere, if James Bond had a kid-relative,
it would have been Alex Rider. This first book in a fast-paced,
increasingly popular series by Horowitz has, like most
thrillers, a certain amount of violence, though none
of it gratuitous, and far tamer than you’d
find in an Arnold Schwarzenegger film. Books like this
Newbery or Carnegie awards but they’re very likely to produce
a kid who likes to read at least as much as he likes
to play video games. For an excellent 5-minute BBC interview
with the author (complete with video), online at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/breakfast/4415169.stm.
Sequels: Point Blanc; Skeleton Key; Eagle Strike;
Angel; and Snakehead.
In 2007, Philomel additionally began issuing the Alex
Rider series as graphic novels, adapted by Antony Johnston
amd Kanako and Yuzuru. Also by Horowitz: Raven’s
Related book: Gordon Korman's series: On the Run.
Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer
Theo Boone is the 13-year-old only child of two successful lawyers, both of whom give Theo lots of encouragement but not a lot of attention. What get’s his attention is the local court system where he’s become a little legend among the judges, lawyers, and clerks for his love of all-things-legal. He has even taken to doling out legal advice free of charge to his eighth-grade classmates. This first adventure in the series finds Theo involved in a controversial local murder trial since he’s just discovered information that would surely convict the defendant but for several large liabilities: 1) the trial has already started (all evidence is supposed to be presented before the trial begins); and 2) the person who gave him the information is an illegal immigrant. The same smooth, believable style Grisham has brought to multiple adult-bestsellers is here in his first YA title, offering insights to the workings of a small-city legal system. Sequels: Theodore Boone: The Abduction; Theodore Boone: The Accused; and Theodore Boone: The Activist.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
children are exposed to the movie version, treat
them to the magic of this 1900 book, which many regard
as the first American fairy tale, as well as our earliest
science fiction. (Incidentally, the book is far less
terrifying for children than the film version.) The magical
story of Dorothy and her friends’ harrowing
journey to the Emerald City is but the first of many books about
the Land of Oz. Among those sequels, one is regarded
as the best—Ozma
of Oz. Author study: Michael Patrick Hearn’s The
Annotated Wizard of Oz: The Centennial Edition (Norton, 2000),
and L. Frank Baum: Creator of Oz by Kathaine M. Rogers (St.
Martin's, 2002). On the Web: www.eskimo.com/~tiktok/index.htm;
as well at this site: Baum.
is, however, another side to Mr. Baum's writing resume:
Fourteen days before the battle of Wounded Knee, an editorial
appeared in the local press urging an assault on the
Lakota tribe: "Their
glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced;
better that they die than live the miserable wretches
that they are." How
many of the resulting 150 dead Indians could be attributed
to that editorial is pure conjecture but a century later
the writer's great-great grandson devoted his master's
thesis to the writer's racist views—L.
Frank Baum. Listen to NPR's "'Oz'
Family Apologizes." See also: the Indian-Oz
When the Whistle Blows
This fine first novel traces one family’s life in a small West Virginia town that is so dependent upon its trains and steam engines that it literally lives and dies by them. And there is some of both in this volume. Each of the book’s chapters is set on Halloween night for seven successive years, 1943-1949. Each episode finds the book’s protagonist, Jimmy Cannon, a little older and a little wiser but still yearning to work the rails—much to his rail machinist father’s dismay. The railroad’s days are coming to an end, declares the father, but Jimmy turns a deaf ear. By novel’s end, however, the father’s prescience is clearly evident. In this respect, the changing times of the 1940s are reflected in the employment ruptures today in American industry.
As the book spans the years. Jimmy’s Halloween adventures move from giggly preteen stuff to sobering adult, from a cemetery prank to a gut-wrenching high school football contest, and, finally, to Jimmy’s father’s death. This is a pulsating slice of small town America as it used to be (and still is in parts of rural America).
| Novels: p.1 p.2 p.3 p.4
& Folk Tales : p.1