3 Read Alouds for Home or School

Friends are always asking me what they should read next with their children . I loved these three middle grade novels for their unique worlds and dynamic characters. Appropriate grade levels and independent reading levels are included.

The Heartwood Hotel: A True Home by Kallie George 

The Heartwood HotelMona the mouse gets separated from her family in a terrible storm. She wanders through the woods and stumbles upon The Heartwood Hotel. On a stormy night she finds shelter, and the most magnificent home. There are perches for the birds, burrows for the badgers, and a home for little Mona.  The kind owner gives her a job and a place to stay. Life at the Heartwood is not always easy. Her co worker Tilly is nothing but a pest, and Mona misses her family terribly. However, she finds community and belonging. This book is enchanting, and delightful. The world building is charming, and any animal loving child will eat these books up.

Read Aloud to K-4th Grades. 3rd Grade Independent Reading Level.

To Purchase this book on Amazon, click here: Heartwood Hotel, Book 1 A True Home

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

the wild robotRoz the robot washes up on an isolated Island.  When her button is pushed, and she is turned on, she explores and meets all the wild inhabitants of the Island. She soon discovers a little gosling in need of care. Roz begins a journey of learning to mother the gosling and trying to fit in with all the other animals.  Not every animal is trusting of outsiders, and Roz faces many challenges. This book is engaging and sweet. The themes of acceptance and friendship are a wonderful springboard to conversation with children. Read Aloud to 2-5th graders.  5th Grade Independent Reading Level.

To Purchase this book on Amazon, click here: The Wild Robot

Winter House by Ben Guterson 

Winter HouseElizabeth comes home from school to find her mean aunt and uncle have left for the holidays. She is being sent to the mysterious Winter House hotel. This is the best twist of fate Elisabeth has had in years. Winterhouse is an unusual and enchanting old hotel at the foot of a mountain. Elisabeth meets the all the quirky guests and the peculiar owner, Norbridge Falls. Soon she has met a friend her age, and life has never been better. With fluffy treats baked fresh each day, skiing, ice skating, and the most extensive library anyone has ever seen, Winter house is truly paradise. Until some strange events begin to unfold, and Elisabeth finds herself in the middle of an old family mystery. This book was fantastic, you will wish you could book a room in Winter house, it is reminiscent of the world of Harry Potter. I loved it, and I know children will too. Perfect for 3rd-6th grades. 6th grade independent reading level.

To purchase this book on Amazon, click here:  Winterhouse

 

 

A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold

a boy called batBixby Alexander Tam, nicknamed Bat, likes his routine. One afternoon, his routine is interrupted by an extraordinary surprise. A newborn skunk. Bat’s mother is a veterinarian, and brings home a motherless skunk to be nursed back to health. This small animal, who cannot yet open its eyes, becomes Bat’s whole world. His mission becomes finding a way to keep the skunk forever.  Bat has autism, and relating to others is a challenge. However, connecting to animals is second nature to Bat. The story is told through Bat’s perspective. The author does a magnificent job of showing the reader what it is like to have a brain that processes social and emotional information in a different way. Bat is relatable for young readers, however, he has challenges navigating his world, as most children do. This book can spark important discussion with young readers about autism, and social thinking.  I have always had a compassionate heart for children on the Autistic spectrum, and this book gives a voice to their struggles, and shows their amazing gifts and strengths as well. A brilliantly thoughtful, and important book.

To Purchase this book on Amazon, click here: A Boy Called Bat

 

5 Books to Encourage Empathy

Each book featured here is written about children triumphing in harsh circumstances. I was moved deeply by each and every story. If you are a teacher or parent, read them with your children, they make for thoughtful discussion. If you are an avid reader, add them to your list, they are powerful stories worth every moment of your time.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War that saved my lifeThis book pierced my heart. I ached with the characters, cried for their pain, and rejoiced in their victories. Ada and her brother Jamie have lived with their mother void of all care and love for their entire existence. Ada was born with a clubfoot and has never left her small flat in London. The best thing to happen to these two children was World War II. The children are sent away from London for fear of bombing, and their life opens up great and wide.  They land on the doorstep of a kind woman, not at all prepared for tending to children.  They are all rescued through love. This is a story that proves the people you choose to love are your family. It is tender and full of redemption. It teaches children history, and a heaping serving of empathy and compassion.

To purchase this book on Amazon, click here: The War That Saved My Life

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

esperanza risingEsperanza has only known luxury, comfort, and love on her large ranch in Mexico. Her father is a good boss, providing well for the workers in his vineyards. When an uprising tears Esperanza’s family apart, her life of luxury is taken, and her world is forever changed.  Their family boards a train for the United States, hopeful to find work harvesting crops. I was reminded of The Secret Garden reading Esperanza’s first experiences with class differences and hunger. This book is imperative, it shows children the human side of immigration, and can be a perfect tool to discuss the issues facing our country right now. Esperanza learns to work hard, to humble herself, and that the power of a loving family can sustain you through very rough circumstances. The chapters follow the seasons as they harvest crops. I loved the framework it gave the story. If you teach middle grade novels, add this to your list of must reads. It can open up important discussions about immigration, refugees, and social justice. It is a superb book.

To Purchase this book on Amazon click here: Esperanza Rising

Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt

Fish in a treeSixth grade is hard; and even harder when reading seems impossible and bullies are a constant. For Ally Nickerson, school is grim, like living under a raincloud without a sunbreak in sight. However, a teacher named Mr. Daniels and two off beat characters come into Ally’s life, and become the sunbreak she has needed. Hunt writes about dyslexia with a pen of empathy, she brings understanding and compassion to a problem that many students face in school. Many themes resonate through this book, accepting yourself, and standing up for your friends, persevering through struggles, and looking at the world through someone else’s eyes.  If I taught intermediate students I would add this to a summer reading list. If I have a voracious reader who enjoys realistic fiction, I would feed it to them. If I knew a child with dyslexia I would read it out loud to them, so they could enjoy a story and cheer with Ally as she finds her courage, faces her challenges, and triumphs.

To purchase this book on Amazon, click here: Fish in a Tree

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

The Hundred DressesThe_Hundred_DressesWritten over sixty years ago, this classic story is powerful. Sadly, the themes are still relevant in present day struggles. This simple story exemplifies the pain of bullying and the regret of staying silent instead standing up for another person. Wanda is the child with a single parent lacking resources, a child learning English only at school, a child struggling to read, or any immigrant or oppressed people group. Wanda, the poor immigrant from Poland could be any child. This books shows bullying is wrong and hurtful, but passively letting it happen is equally as wrong. An affecting book to start a discussion.

To Purchase this book on amazon, click here: The Hundred Dresses

Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

counting by 7Living inside a truly brilliant mind is a gift and a trial.  For 12 year old willow Chance, both of these are true.  Willow is gifted beyond measure with a love of horticulture.  If you are my soulmate you read that sentence and thought, you had me at love of horticulture.  If you are not my soul mate, I will press on to sell you on this middle grade novel.  Willow does not fit in at school but is deeply loved by her parents, this grounds her and gives her the footing she needs in the world, until she enters 7th grade.  Her fashion choices, odd interests, and obsessions work against her.  Tragic strikes Willow and she is unmoored.  This is a story about unlikely heroes, how people change, and taking care of those around you, family or not.  This is a sweet and simple story and a quick read, but it will move you.  I loved seeing the world through Willow’s detailed and quirky mind.  I adored her knowledge of the natural world and the kinship she feels towards plants.  My own heart runs green with love for the science of growing things.  I hope you give Willow a Chance, it will be time well spent.

To Purchase this book on Amazon, click here: Counting by 7s

 

 

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

theboundlessIf you are looking for a book full of suspense and twists, read ‘The Boundless.’ The protagonist, William, is the son of a railroad worker. When the book opens the race to complete the railroad through the deep wilds of the United States is heated. The works is dangerous, the men are desperate, and William is caught in the madness of men seeking fortune, power, and immortality.

While William waits for his father to come down off the mountain from his job laying train tracks, he stumbles upon a traveling circus. A cunning girl catches his eye and lodges herself in his heart for good. William lets her convince him to meet his father in the mountains. He can simply board the train going up and ride the train back down with his father. However, a simple plan rarely remains simple. William heads into the snowy mountains and is reunited with his father. As soon as he thinks he is safe and sound, the crew is about to drive the last stake into the track, his plans are destroyed. A bloodthirsty Sasquatch, a gold hungry railroad worker, and an intricate conspiracy take William on an untamed ride in unchartered territory. Part magical realism, with historical references to the first railroads, there is suspense on every page. It is thrilling, wild, and touching.  Perfect for a 6th-8th grade reader looking for an adventure novel, with full adult appeal as well.

To Purchase this book on Amazon, click here:  The Boundless

If you liked The Book Thief…

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

echoIf you liked The Book Thief or All the Light We Cannot See, this is your next book, without the sadness.  The value of this novel is two fold; it is a brilliantly written and powerful historical fiction. The story is about three children facing different life circumstances as World War II is unfolding. All the children are musical prodigies, with their own hardships to overcome. The children’s lives follow an invisible magical trail as a harmonica is passed around the world.  Music plays an integral role in the novel; it is the background character orchestrating the life paths of each child.

Their stories seem separate, yet there is a magical and invisible tie that connects their lives. It exemplifies for children the complicated and devastating rise of Adolf Hitler, the irrational and unfair treatment of the Japanese, and the people who never stopped working for good in the face of evil. These hard themes are balanced with the hope of love and family, and the power of music to comfort and create beauty in hard times. The beautiful writing and finely crafted story make this a read for a voracious grade school reader, or any adult.

To Purchase this book from Amazon, click here: Echo

3 Books to Teach Compassion

Here are three middle grade novels that are perfect to teach compassion and lead to disucssions on empathy. I had to update this post because I read the most wonderful book, it had to be mentioned.  Please read Wonder this year, you will be glad you did.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder-1 (1)It is rare that I cry while reading a book, but I did as I read Wonder.  It is rare that I am so moved by a book that by the time I am finished I resolve to be a better person.  In most of my reading I am delighted, charmed, informed, and entertained.  But Wonder moved me.  August, the main character was born with a facial deformity, a one in a million chance, but he got it.  He elicits gasps of shock from strangers when their eyes take in his physical appearance for the first time.  When we meet Auggie, he is starting school for the first time, not just school, middle school.  The story is told from Auggie’s point of view, as well as his sister, and classmates at school.  The characters are written with such sharp and strong voice, you are enveloped and rooting for Auggie from the first page.  You feel his pain deeply and triumph in his joys with exuberance.  This is a must read for every adult, every teacher of 4th grade and up needs to share this book with their students.  I loved this book from start to finish, it is brilliant.

To Order on Amazon, click here:  Wonder  (Only 6.99! Get it)

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate 

the one and only ivanThe One and Only Ivan tells the story of a Gorilla kept in the Tacoma Mall as a tourist attraction.  Told from the perspective of the animals, this books tackles issues of animal cruelty in the most perfect way.  It is honest, but heart warming.  It was moving and made you feel horribly sad and wonderfully happy all at the same time.  This book shows children that all life has value, it is our responsibility is to care for others and animals and make the world a better place where we can.  If you are an adult that loves animals, please read it, you won’t regret it.  A modern day Charlotte’s Web.

To Order on Amazon, click here: The One and Only Ivan (Only 6 Bucks!)

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Gaff 

Absolutely almost

Absolutely Almost is about Albie, a boy who is almost always striving and missing the mark.  Albie is 10 and lives in New York City.  Spelling tests are hard, reading is harder, and he is aware of every worry his parents try to hide.  Albie is at a new school, and absolutely does not need a baby-sitter; then arrives Callista , to hang out with him after school.  Callista and Ablie form a special bond.  She serves as a catalyst to show Albie his hidden talents.  Although this book is a middle grade novel, it was a superb read.  The writing was tender and relevant; it reminded me of a modern, less silly, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.  If you are a teacher looking for a book to teach show compassion, dealing with bullying, and learning to stand up for yourself, this is a good pick.  If you have a young person in your life that likes realistic fiction, this is a great book.  I loved that it was realistic, not preachy, and relatable, without inappropriate content.  Jaff is a fantastic writer; she captures emotions and struggles from a young person’s perspective with ease.

To Order this book on Amazon, click here:  Absolutely Almost (Cheap as well!)