In Search of a Read-Aloud? Don't Miss These

Make room on your read-aloud shelves for titles that will ignite discussions about contemporary issues, highlight little-known true stories, and tug on the heartstrings.

Educators in search of engaging new chapter books to read aloud to their students need go no further. From titles that will ignite discussions about contemporary issues, highlight little-known true stories, or tug on the heartstrings, these books will find a place on classroom shelves.

When choosing a classroom read-aloud, I look for tightly-woven plots that keep students rivited, and topics that invite discussion and reflection. With short chapters, a whodunnit mystery, and uplifting themes, Owl’s Outstanding Donuts (Carolrhoda, Sept., 2019; Gr 3-6) by Robin Yardi hits the right notes. Young Mattie is startled by an owl tapping on her window, alerting her to strange happenings in the neighborhood. Somebody has dumped a suspicious substance near her aunt’s donut shop—which is bad for the environment and bad for the shop. With help from the mysterious owl and two loyal friends, Mattie is determined to get to the bottom of this ecological crime and save the donut shop, even if it means confronting deep-seated fears she developed after her mother’s death. Ideal for upper elementary, this book gives appropriate weight to sensitive topics such grief and trauma, yet the overall tone is optimistic, weaving friendship, community, and perseverance into Mattie’s healing journey. Students will enjoy putting together clues and discussing how they would solve the mystery, and the decadent donut descriptions at the beginning of each chapter make this book the perfect excuse for a classroom donut party.—Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CA  

In Pablo Cartaya’s Each Tiny Spark (Penguin/Kokila, Aug. 2019; Gr 4-6) readers meet Emilia Torres, a sixth grade Latinx student with ADHD. In this sweet, timely tale, Emilia is researching her town, Merryville, for a school project. Through her investigations, she learns more about a plan to solve overcrowding in nearby schools and begins to form her own opinions about this and other concerns facing her community. Concurrently, Emilia’s father, a marine, returns home, and the two struggle to reconnect. Through the girl’s growing interest in welding, she and her father find a way to communicate. Featuring a winning heroine and tackling such issues as immigration, neurodiversity, veteran’s health, and race, this book is bound to spark exciting classroom discussions and would be an excellent introduction to current events for young readers. Eric Hanshaw, Cleveland Public Library, OH

From Eoin Colfer, the author of Artemis Fowl, comes the story of Oz, a puppy who journeys from pound to best pal when he meets human Patrick in The Dog Who Lost His Bark (Candlewick, Sept. 2019; Gr 2-4). Patrick and Oz immediately develop a special connection as both struggle to belong. Oz wonders if Patrick will be any different than his cruel first owners, and Patrick pins all his hopes on Oz to help him adjust after he and his mom move in with his grandfather following his parents' divorce. Colfer switches between Patrick’s and Oz’s points of view; elementary kids will find much to relate to in Patrick’s experience, while the silly, sweet voice of Oz begs to be read aloud. P. J. Lynch’s beautiful black-and-white illustrations light up the scene as readers discover that home is where your humans are.—Chelsea Woods-Turner, New Brunswick Free Public Library, NJ

Two books that make great classroom read-alouds and offer opportunities for discussions about identity are Cynthia Kadohota’s A Place to Belong (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Bks., May. 2019; Gr 5 Up) and Sharon Draper’s Blended (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Bks., Oct. 2018; Gr 4-7). A Place to Belong is a somber, thoughtful look at one Japanese-American family's decision to leave the United States after their internment during WWII. Through it all, 12-year-old Hanako learns to get by on the love and support of her family, despite the hardships they face when they move to Japan. While mostly solemn and straightforward in her telling, Kadahota never strays far from the hope of a brighter future. In Draper’s novel, 11-year-old Isabella's world is rapidly changing. Through navigating her parents' divorce and the subsequent family changes that follow, she learns to embrace her racial identity and find strength in the person she is. Conversations are sure to ensue when sharing these stories with students.—Caroline Molnar, Worthington City Schools, OH

In Mañanaland (Scholastic, Mar. 2020; Gr 4-7) Pam Ryan Muñoz employs magical realism in a timely, haunting story of love, family, coming of age, and the sociopolitical realities and consequence of governmental atrocities. Almost 12, Max Córdoba yearns to understand more about why his mother left their family when he was an infant. Yet his loving, overprotective father and extended family believe he is still too young to know the whole story. When a new soccer coach enforces strict age limits requiring prospective players to prove their age, his father must retrieve Max's birth certificate in another town. During this time, Max pieces together portions of his untold life story and secretly becomes a Guardian to learn more of his past. Through vivid imagery, meaningful symbolism, and beautiful word choice in  English and Spanish, readers become emotionally invested in this tale where truth is found in dreams, stories, love, and doing the right thing.—Ruth Quiroa, National Louis University, Lisle, IL 

Wait, is this real? is a phrase I can almost guarantee you will hear when you read these three nonfiction showstoppers aloud.

Otis and Will Discover the Deep; The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere (Little, Brown, 2018; Gr 1-4) by Barb Rosenstock creates more suspense and drama than you’ll find in most picture books. Listeners follow Will Beebe and Otis Barton as they pursue their dream to be the first to glimpse deep-sea creatures. Observe as students wince as the explorers are bolted into the four-foot diameter Bathysphere. Watch their hands go to their faces as Will and Otis descend into the deep despite stops and dangerous pitfalls along the way. Both harrowing and magical, their story is brought to life by Katherine Roy’s beautiful illustrations. Detailed back matter and the Internet will come to the rescue as students will ask questions—lots of questions—about these two intrepid adventurers who pursued their passions and accomplished what was earlier thought inconceivable.

In Joan Proctor, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles (Random House, 2018; K-Gr 4), Patricia Valdez introduces students to another individual who passionately followed her interests. Joan Proctor grew up with a soft spot for the slithery and scaly at a time when that was not what girls and women admired. She went on to serve as the curator of reptiles at the London Zoo and became an early expert on the Komodo dragon. Students will enjoy meeting Sumbawa, her pet—a Komodo dragon (naturally). Felicita Sala’s vibrant illustrations evoke the era and add a playful touch.

Who knew that a Japanese pilot dropped bombs on American soil after the United States bombed Tokyo in retaliation for Pearl Harbor? Marc Tyler Nobleman’s Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot’s World War ll Story (HMH, 2018; Gr 2-5), illustrated by Melissa Iwai, tells the little-known story of Nobuo Fujita’s bombing raids on the Oregon Coast during WWll. Most intriguing is what happens years later when the residents of Brookings, OR, the town near where the bombs were dropped the bombs, invite Fujita amid celebrations and parades, and a cross-cultural friendship ensues. Thirty Minutes is a story of regret, forgiveness, reconciliation, and hope for peace. I can’t imagine better themes than this in starting a year with children.

Don’t overlook nonfiction as you choose your read-alouds this year! —Julie Waugh, third grade teacher, Zaharis Elementary, Mesa, AZ

Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop famously wrote about books as “Windows, Mirrors and Sliding Glass Doors” that allow children to see themselves and learn about the lives of others. One of my favorite read-alouds is Remi Lai’s Pie in the Sky (Holt, May, 2019; Gr 3-6). This hybrid chapter book/graphic novel tells the story of Jingwen, who has just immigrated to Australia with his mother and spirited little brother. In an unfamiliar country, Jingwen feels like an alien. He is also mourning the death of his father whose cake-making dreams he is determined to live out. Pie in the Sky is imbued with humor, while deftly dealing with important topics such as immigration, assimilation, and grief. I cannot recommend this book enough—whether or not your students have an immigration story of their own, this is a book that deserves to be shared.—Julia Guthrie, fourth grade teacher, Notre Dame Academy, Palisades Park, NJ

Jasmine Warga’s The Other Words for Home (B&B/HarperCollins, May. 2019, Gr 4-7) is a wonderful middle grade novel-in-verse that invites readers into the thoughts and experiences of Jude, a Syrian girl adjusting to life in a new country. A timely choice for a classroom read-aloud in middle grades, Jude’s story provides a “window” that touches (gently) on events unfolding in Syria while serving as “mirror” to the challenges of finding friendships and meaningful activities as kids find their way through middle school in America. As read aloud by Vaneh Assadourian, the audiobook has a lovely lilt that makes it worth sharing as well.

The Only Road (S & S/Paula Wiseman, 2016, Gr 3-7) garnered a Pura Belpré Honor for a good reason. In her novel, Alexandra Diaz tells the story of 12-year-old Jaime and his 15-year-old cousin Angela who must flee the violence in their Guatemalan village for a chance to cross the border to reunite with a sister in the United States. Maneuvering past dangers experienced by many, the two follow a series of routes and safe havens. Read aloud to a class, the perils of their journey allow the echo of the journey that thousands of others have taken, while encouraging readers to connect to other migrations, including the Underground Railroad of the mid-1800’s, that have brought freedom and safety to people throughout the world.—Craig Seasholes, elementary teacher-librarian, Seattle Public Schools

For additional suggestions, see our 2017 and 2015 lists of read-aloud recommendations.


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