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by Jim Trelease
• excerpts from The Treasury of Read-Alouds •
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The Treasury of Read-Alouds

NOVELS (full) page 3 of 4

These books represent a brief portion of the hundreds
cited in The-Read-Aloud Handbook.

James and the Giant Peach

by Roald Dahl      Gr. K–6      120 pages      Knopf, 1961

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

by Eva Ibbotson      Gr. 4-7      299 pages      Viking, Penguin, 2001

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

by Michael Morpurgo; Michael Foreman, Illus.    Gr. 2—5    200 pages    Harper, 2012

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.

Kensuke's Kingdom

by Michael Morpurgo      Gr. 3-5      164 pages      Scholastic, 2003 

Because 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).

book coverThe 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, while appearing 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 Paulsen: The 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)

by C. S. Lewis      Gr. 3–6      186 pages     HarperCollins, 1950

Four children 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 Magician’s 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.


by Jerry Spinelli      Gr. 4 and up       218 pages      HarperCollins, 2002

There 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.

Spinelli 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.


by John Newman    Gr. 4—8    186 pages (small)    Candlewick, 2011

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

by Natalie Babbitt    Gr. 6 and up     148 pages    Scholastic, 2012

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

by Lois Lowry      Gr. 4–7      137 pages      Houghton, 1989

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:

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (series)

by Mildred Taylor      Gr. 5 and up      276 pages      Dial, 1976

Filled 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 Boston Weatherford.

Related nonfiction 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.

Picture Books:  p.1   p.2   p.3
Short Novels :  p.1   p.2   p.3
  Novels:  p.1   p.2   p.3   p.4 Anthologies:  p.1 Fairy & Folk Tales :  p.1  Poetry:  p.1

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