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“Few children learn to love books by themselves. Someone has to lure them into the wonderful world of the written word; someone has to show them the way.”Orville Prescott, A Father Reads to His Children The New Haven school system has recently proclaimed that trade books are the primary medium for teaching children how to read. This approach will prove challenging to even the best classroom teacher. Teachers will no longer be able to depend on the textbook and workbook approach to reading; we will have to be more innovative and creative. In addition to reading as part of the daily curriculum, students will be expected to do supplemental reading on their own. Group activities will include small group discussions of books read, along with supplemental exercises to explore characters, settings, historical perspectives, etc. What better way to bring about this reading “revolution” than by setting a positive example every day of the school year—by reading aloud to the class? Old-fashioned teaching methods associated with reading and reciting lost out to the invention of the ditto machine and more recently to photocopy machines. Educational researchers are now blaming the use of written busy work for the general lack of interest—even boredom-.children feel toward reading. The challenge for teachers today is to keep their students interested in reading purely for the sake of enjoyment, because reading is fundamental to acquiring other forms of news and information.
“If we could get our parents to read to their preschool children fifteen minutes a day, we could revolutionize the schools.”Dr. Ruth Love, Superintendent, Chicago Public Schools (1981) Even though our students are older, we can still stress to them the importance of reading aloud. As teachers we can invite the parents to our classrooms for reading activities, for storytelling, for sharing life experiences. Our students need to be drawn beyond their own boundaries, and to feel important and positive about who they are. Reading is a key vehicle through which to accomplish this. Children are members of a society that needs to know and understand them. Reading and talking about the characters in various books and stories gives them a basis of comparison for themselves and for people they know. Life’s lessons found in reading go beyond relating to characters in stories; they include introducing the reader to situations and conflicts that occur in all walks of life. Reading provides children with strategies for how to cope with and resolve these problematic situations. Through reading we can establish that there is a sameness of human needs that young people share. What better way to do this than by class discussions about the books we are reading together?
I have prepared a unit of eight books to be read aloud to fifth-grade students. Over the past few years, we have taken part in the city wide “Read Aloud Day” but I have usually found it a chore to complete the book that is so generously donated to our class library. Last year I discovered R. L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” and “Fear Street” series of books. My class and I were delighted to be so entertained; every chapter ended with us wanting to continue to see what would happen next. Sometimes we would read the first paragraph of the next chapter because we just couldn’t wait; students would actually sneak a peek if I left the book lying on my desk. These books are not written to a specific gender, race, or age. They are both silly and scary, just plain entertaining and fun.
I believe that I have found other books that the students will enjoy as much as they do the R.L. Stine series. I want to expose them to other authors who have written books that they can compare to the ones they so enjoy. We will read these books together and form a means of comparison, a literature appreciation course so to speak. The beauty of reading aloud is that everyone can participate; the activities can be done both as a class and in small groups. In addition to the topics for discussion at the end of each summary, the class will talk about how the books are alike and how they are different. All of the books are supposed to be an adventure, which (according to Webster) is:
I am sure that each book fits the broad definition of adventure and will easily lend itself to an in-depth discussion during and after the reading. As the teacher I will have a general plan for discussion of each book, but I will be seeking to create an atmosphere of spontaneity and curiosity as we move into questions and answers concerning each text. The children’s insights and perspective on each book are what is most important, and my role will be to facilitate their sense of discovery. Remember that this is to be enjoyable for both student and teacher!
- 1. Hazard; risk; chance.
- 2. An enterprise of hazard; a bold undertaking in which hazards are to be encountered, and the issue is staked upon unforeseen events.
- 3. A remarkable occurrence in one’s personal history; a striking event; as, the adventures of one’s life.
- Scott: a boy who is bored with the lack of adventure in his life. He’s yearning for a good story to tell at school.
- Glen: Scott’s best friend.
- Kelly: Scott’s older sister who often bears the ill effects of Mac’s reign of terror.
Topics for discussion during or after the reading of this book:
- 1. Scott and Glen are the very best of friends. Tell about your best friend and an adventure you had when you were really glad you had each other to depend on.
- 2. Do you have an older brother or sister that you consider to be a pain in the neck?
- 3. Role-play one of the situations that the boys got in trouble for; pretend that you are trying to explain to your parents what happened.
- 4. They way the book ends leaves it wide open for the author to write a sequel. Let’s brainstorm and see if we can write just one more chapter.
- Aremis Slake: the main character in the story, a story about his survival in the city of New York.
- The Pink Cleaning Lady: one of Slake’s newspaper customers, who befriends him and gives him some used clothes.
- The Manager: a man who runs a coffee shop in the subway station.
- The Waitress: a kind woman who works in a subway restaurant.
- Willy Joe Whinny: a subway motorman whose route goes by Slake’s hiding place.
Topics for discussion while, or after, reading this book are listed as follows:
This book was also used as the basis for the ABC Kidsworks video called Runaway. Viewing the video after reading the book will provide your class with the opportunity to compare characters as well as the story line. The book jacket depicts Slake as a white boy with blond hair and blue eyes but the video depicts him as a young black boy.
- 1. You can’t hide from life; you have to face your problems and find solutions.
- 2. What is meant by the bird in Slake’s chest? Can you think of other metaphors?
- 3. Think about the people Slake makes friends with: how are they the same and how are they different?
- 4. Why is Willy Joe Whinney important? Could he have been left out of the book?
- 5. Consider the symbols used in the book; write a paragraph about rose-colored glasses, the bird, or the rat.
- Nancy Drew: an eighteen-year-old super sleuth.
- Hannah: housekeeper for the Drews since Nancy was born.
- Daryl Gray: a sexy high school senior with an instant attraction to Nancy.
- Walt “Hunk” Hogan: the tough football captain who’s acting strangely paranoid.
- Carla Dalton: a student who hates Nancy on sight.
- Hal Morgan: the class brain who catches Nancy cheating on a test.
- Ned: Nancy’s long time boyfriend.
Topics for discussion during, or after, the reading of this book:
- 1. What are the best and worst parts of Nancy Drew’s job as a detective?
- 2. Was this story believable? Is this the way that crimes are solved?
- 3. Compare this story to another detective story that you have either read or seen on television.
- 4. Write a letter to Nancy Drew describing a case that you would like her to solve for you. Be sure to include all the details that she will need to know (who, what. when,. where and why.)
- 5. Draw a poster advertising a detective agency of your own.
- 6. Why did Nancy cheat on the test?
- Matthew Carlton: the club president.
- Katie Carlton: the pesky younger sister.
- Quentin, Hooter, and Tony: the other boys in the club.
Topics for discussion during, or after, reading this book:
- 1. Choose one of the people that the children met up with when they went back to the days of the revolution and look them up in the encyclopedia. Write a short report about them.
- 2. Have you ever formed a club with some of your friends? What did you do together?
- 3. Why did they call the army “Washington’s ragtag band of rebels?” Do you think you could come to school tomorrow dressed as one of Washington’s men? Let’s look back in the book to find some descriptions.
- 4. What souvenir did the group have from their adventure? When you go somewhere on a school trip or a vacation do you like to bring back something to remember the occasion with? Maybe you can bring it to school tomorrow to show to the class!
- Jeffrey Lionel (Maniac) Magee: a very human, caring boy who crosses boundaries that many people don’t dare to cross.
- Amanda Beale: a young black girl who befriends Maniac when he comes to Two Mills.
- Mars Bar Thompson: the first black kid to challenge Maniac.
- John McNab: a white kid who taunts Maniac about his views on race.
- Russell and Piper McNab: John’s little brothers who idolize Maniac.
- Grayson: a former baseball player who works at the zoo.
- Mrs. Beale: Amanda’s mother, who gives Maniac a home
Topics for discussion during, or after, reading the book:
Jerry Spinelli has written a number of books for children; many are available through the Scholastic book clubs.
- 1. Is maniac a homeless person or a runaway? What is the difference?
- 2. Maniac doesn’t say much about himself; how would you describe him?
- 3. If everyone in the world were the same color, would the author have been able to write this book?
- 4. What do you think is the most important lesson in this book?
- 5. Let’s write a sequel to this book; what characters should we keep and what happens to them?
Cracker Jackson: the eleven-year-old hero.
Goat: his best friend.
Alma: his former baby-sitter who is in trouble.
Billy Ray: Alma’s husband.
Topics for discussion during, or after, the reading of the book:
- 1. Cracker and Goat do some things that are against the law while they are trying to help Alma. Is this behavior excusable because, in their minds, they are doing something good?
- 2. What is Cracker’s real name and how did he get his nickname? A discussion of personal experiences with nicknames can follow.
- 3. Have you ever known someone who was in trouble but you didn’t know what to do to help them? Did you get any ideas from reading this book as to what you might have done?
- Jamal Hicks: A seventh grader who is torn between being in a gang and being the good child his mother believes him to be.
- Tito: Jamal’s best friend.
- Sassy: Jamal’s younger sister who is always minding his business and threatening to tell their mother everything she knows.
- Mama: a hardworking woman trying to do her best for her children (Randy, Jamal, and Sassy,) but not fully aware of what is going on.
- Abuela: Tito’s grandmother with whom he lives.
- Mack: a member of a gang called the Scorpions.
Topics for discussion during, or after, reading the book:
- 1. Choose a scene from the book and act it out for the class the way that it happened in the book. Then act it out the way that you wish that it had happened.
- 2. Pretend that Mama and Abuela are having a telephone conversation about Jamal and Tito. Write a short skit with the dialogue between them.
- 3. Jamal never tells anyone except Tito what is going on in his life. Is this a good way to handle his problems? Why or why not? What would you do differently?
- 4. Write a letter to Mama telling her about Jamal’s feelings.
- Milo: a very bored young man until he embarks on his adventure.
- Tock: an imaginary talking dog who is Milo’s partner throughout the story.
Topics for discussion during, or after, the reading of this book:
Introducing these books to a group of children and having lofty goals for their interest in and their analysis of the plots, characters, and settings is a little unnerving. The challenge lies in sustaining the attention of the group. I hope to be creative and use a variety of approaches. Having taught for close to twenty years, one of my theories is that successful teaching is often a variation of entertaining the group. Children have a great imagination, a sense of humor, and lots of curiosity. These characteristics, along with the fine books selected, lead me to believe the read aloud unit and the group activities will be successful.
- 1. In the end, Milo realizes that he has been dreaming. Do you ever recall your dreams when you wake up?
- 2. Make a list of at least ten different things that you can do when you feel bored.
- 3. Choose one of the places that Milo visits and draw a picture of it. Don’t label it as we will display the pictures and see if the class can identify where it is and what happened there.
- 4. Think about the role sounds play in the story. Make a list of ten good sounds and ten bad sounds.
- 5. The king gives Milo a box of all the words that he knows. How many words do you think are in there? I am going to set the timer for five minutes and I would like you to write as many words as you can in that time.
Students who enjoy reading horror and suspense books by R.L. Stine might also enjoy books by the following authors:
Richie Tankerley Cusick
Joan Lowery Nixon
This was taken from a Wallingford, CT Public Library booklist for Teens 6/95.
Butler, Francella and Richard Rotert. Triumphs of the Spirit in Children’s Literature. Library Professional Publications, 1986. PN1009/A1/T76/1986
Landsberg, Michelle. Reading For the Love of It. New York, 1987. Z1037/L313X/1987/(LC)
Miller-Lachmann, Lyn. Our Family, Our Friends, Our Worlds. New Jersey, 1992. Landsberg, Michelle.Z1037/M654X/1992/(LC)
Rosenberg, Judith K. Young People’s Books in Series. Englewood, Colorado, 1992.
Trelease, Jim. The Read-Aloud Handbook. Penguin Books, 1995.
Contents of 1997 Volume II | Directory of Volumes | Index | Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute