Three Books I’m Considering Reading Aloud to 5th Graders

This is one of the hardest parts about reading aloud: Selecting the title! One of the 5th grade classrooms invited me to read aloud in their classroom in November. As a former 5th grade teacher, I’ve scoured past and present titles. Here are my top three candidates, listed in order by author’s last name:

  • The Secret School by Avi (Harcourt, 2001)

This story takes place in a one room schoolhouse in 1925. Fourteen-year-old Ida Bidson wants to graduate from high school. Unfortunately, the teacher leaves and the school is set to close for the remainder of the year. While the rest of the students seem resigned to this fate, Ida’s determination to continue her education takes her from student to teacher, secretly taking over the classroom represented by many age levels and personalities.

Why I’m considering it: School has become an entitlement in the present day. What if school meant more to students that something compulsory? How might students today rethink these opportunities if public education was no guarantee? I would look forward to having these conversations with 5th graders if this book were selected.

  • The Landry News by Andrew Clements (Simon & Schuster, 1999)

A once-effective and now jaded educator, Mr. Larson, is going through the motions as a 5th grade teacher. Cara Landry is not settling for less regarding her learning, so she creates a classroom newspaper that highlights the issues in her classroom. As you can imagine, humor and drama ensue. The principal, Dr. Barnes, looks to use Clara’s reporting as a way to oust Mr. Larson from his current position.

Why I’m considering it: Freedom of speech is at the forefront of conversations today, especially with social media and other ways to communicate online. Tweens and teens need to have deep discussions about the importance of balancing “truth with mercy”. Stories like The Landry News, along with thoughtful questions and a teacher’s guidance, can facilitate this type of classroom talk.

  • Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998)

Joey has ADHD, and his medication isn’t working like it used to. The title for the story reveals an example of his situation: During class, Joey kept swallowing his house key, then bringing it back up via the string it was attached to…until the string broke. Gantos tells this story through Joey’s perspective, which includes living in a single-parent family. His situation at home, including a father who “doesn’t believe in meds”, makes life for Joey a challenge.

Why I’m considering it: As another educator once told me, you could throw a ball in the hallway at school during passing time and probably hit someone with ADHD. But what is school life like for someone with this condition? If I were to read aloud this book, I would look to build empathy and understanding for learners with all sorts of challenges.

Whichever book is selected, I am confident it will be well-received by the 5th grade class. Maybe you can help. Leave a comment on this post that includes the title we should enjoy in November and why. I’ll share your opinion with the class on November 3rd, when we vote on which one to read. Better yet, join us next month by reading aloud the same text to your intermediate/middle level classroom. Maybe we can connect online and share our thoughts with each other as a larger learning community of readers and thinkers.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District, also in Wisconsin (http://mineralpointschools.org/). He also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Matt tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

10 thoughts on “Three Books I’m Considering Reading Aloud to 5th Graders”

  1. This is a tough call! I would go with either Secret School or Joey Pigza. Great idea to go in and read to a fifth grade classroom. Currently, I am working with a group of on-grade level girls (20 of them) during their intervention block – hoping to open their eyes and minds to more books/genres. Once they are done with their independent books/book clubs, I’m wondering how using the time to do an interactive read-aloud would go? If not the full time, then for sure the first 10 minutes before they read independently…

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    1. I think they would really enjoy the read aloud Emily. I find this activity one of the best ways to turn kids onto reading who otherwise might not.

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  2. That’s a great list of ideas. I think I would have to go with Joey Pigza, although The Landry News is very intriguing. I think I’ll put it up to a vote for my class of 5th graders when we finish our current read aloud.

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  3. Have you made your decision? Why not consider selecting a component of each novel to wet their appetites?
    I know that this isn’t on your list, however, my 5th graders loved “The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963.” Talk about engaging! The kids are rolling on the floor. The message is powerful and could lend to some authentic conversation for a future or a return visit? Just a thought…

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    1. Intriguing idea & a smart way to introduce each book to the students. Christopher Paul Curtis’s book would also make a great candidate. I want to say that the 5th grade teachers already use this text in class, but I could be wrong.

      Liked by 1 person

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