Tuesday, March 31, 2015


My class in in our fourth read-aloud book of the year. We alternate between historical fiction that complements our social studies curriculum and books that I love but think my students will probably never find on their own.

We switched from assigned group books with discussions and worksheets a few years ago to choice reading after my partner found The Book Whisperer. It was a good decision; the kids are more engaged with reading when they get to choose their books. But our reading unit had been heavy on historical fiction that we still wanted to use to reinforce social studies units. So we decided to turn some of those historical fiction novels into read-alouds.

We start the year learning about the Pilgrims and Plymouth. We do some activities about Jamestown in order to learn about that settlement, too, and to be able to compare the two early English colonies. So now we read Blood on the River by Elisa Carbone, which tells the story of the settling of Jamestown, narrated by Samuel Collier, a real boy who came over on the first ships. It's an excellent novel, especially for the upper elementary age group.

Our next social studies unit jumps to colonial America, followed quickly by the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. We read James Printer: A Novel of Rebellion by Paul Samuel Jacobs. This novel takes place in 1675, so it fills in the time period between the founding of Plymouth and the most established colonial time period later. The story revolves around the conflict between the English settlers in Massachusetts and the Indians, who are beginning to lose land to the English. It's a wonderful novel that explores fairness, loyalty and the choices people are sometimes forced to make. It is unfortunately out of print, but available secondhand.

In between those novels, I intersperse two delightful fantasy novels: The Return of the Twelves by Pauline Clarke and Minnie by Dutch author Annie M.G. Schmidt. In The Return of the Twelves, a 10 year old boy discovers an old set of wooden soldiers that may have belonged to the Brontes. I got this novel as a gift from my book-loving uncle when I was a kid and it led me to read Jane Eyre, and from there, other great novels. I bought Minnie for my own children, and we read it aloud together and loved it. Minnie is a young woman who until recently was a cat. The other characters are cats and people.

Usually my students really enjoy listening to these stories, though occasionally I have a student who has trouble listening and following the plot. I have tried to add more expression and use different voices to engage my listeners.

When my own children were actually children we read aloud nearly every night and it was always a favorite activity and a positive way to end the day. I'm happy I can continue to read aloud to my students.

I'm still looking for a really good historical novel set during the American Revolution. Any suggestions?

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