Read Across America Day, March 2, 2016, is fast approaching. You may be wondering what to read to your class, your child or grandchild, or to a group for which you are volunteering. Maybe you know exactly what you will read – you’re someone who reads often to young children and this day is no more special than any other day where you’ve sat, hip to hip or face to face with words and pictures cementing a life-long bond. That’s wonderful! But if it’s newer to you, what to do?
The 2016 National Ambassador for Young Literature, Gene Luen Yang, wants kids to ‘read without walls’, to explore the world through literature by reading outside their comfort zone. I couldn’t agree more. The best way to erode prejudices is through connection, and literature provides a way to foster those connections. It is a start toward understanding that can have profound and positive implications for society.
Perhaps the group you are volunteering to read to is a majority of one ethnicity. Choose a book that portrays a different ethnicity. Perhaps the group is a rural demography. Read a book about the city, and vice-versa. You get the idea. I might add, though, that for a minority population it can be empowering to read a book where the characters reflect them and their life experiences. Such empowering is important – a reader needs to develop a comfort zone before he or she can leave it.
If you’re still not sure what to read and you’d like some examples, I list some below. They are just a few of my favorites, a list too long to include in one essay. The key to this day, and any time you are fortunate to share a book with a child, is to show your enthusiasm for the written word, your awe at the illustrations, your enjoyment of the process of reading and your emotions surrounding your connections with the characters. Such enthusiasm will compel children to become readers who will climb over or tunnel through walls to read outside their comfort zone.
Some of my favorites:
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss (Random House, 1971)—A classic, yet still relevant (unfortunately) way to show children that greed has consequences. This is a great book for grades 3-6, especially in a science class.
The Story of Ferdinand by Monro Leaf and drawings by Robert Lawson (Viking, 1936)—A wonderful book about the importance of being true to yourself, that it’s ok to be different. This book is also good for grades 3-6.
Runny Babbit by Shel Silverstein (Evil Eye, LLC, 2005)—This book of poems is perfect for the younger grades and to entice a reluctant listener/reader. A book for plain old fun, but I do advise practicing the poems you want to read first!
Maple by Lori Nichols (Nancy Paulson Books, 2014)—This is a charming and sweet story of becoming a big sister with parallels to caring for a special tree. I love the illustrations and story and perhaps many young children can make a connection with themselves and their own siblings. If you’re a teacher, you may be interested in the lesson I wrote to go with this book: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Guided-Reading-Lesson-using-book-Maple-by-Lori-Nichols-1146913
A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long (Chronicle Books, 2007)—This is a beautiful book for grades K-4 about seeds. It is perfect for science class or curious minds in general.
Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis (Nancy Paulson Books, 2012)—This book has the power to take readers out of their comfort zone in two ways. First as seeing what it is like to be a child of poverty and made fun of, and second, what it is like to be the child/student who is unfriendly to another child. There may be many young children who squirm inside if they can connect with the latter. But that is what makes this book so powerful and necessary.