Thursday, July 7, 2016

Powerful new Fiction and NonFiction Read-Alouds

There's nothing better than a good book.  Even better than that is a good book that's been recommended by a student!  These two books came with strong recommendations for me to read  "first thing" this summer!

Last year, one of my students had two penpals.  She would often show me their letters, so when she heard me talk about this new book I'd purchased at the end of the year, she grabbed it up immediately. She didn't finish it before school ended, but she bought her own copy to finish. And she bought copies to send to each of her penpals.  How sweet is that?

This would make a wonderful read-aloud on several levels: 
  • It's NONFICTION and that's one genre many of us don't use as frequently for read-alouds. 
  • How much do your students know about ZIMBABWE?
  • The CONTRAST between Caitlin's and Martin's lives is dramatic, and would allow for good exploration about first- and third-world countries
  • The chapters alternate between Martin's and Caitlin's POINT OF VIEW
  • Martin exemplifies GROWTH MINDSET!
  • It could lead your students to find and write to PENPALS 
  • It could lead your students to start a SERVICE project
Caitlin is required to write to a penpal, and she can choose from a long list.  Most kids pick penpals in Europe, but she picks Martin because she knows nothing about Martin.  Martin gets to write back because he's the top student in his class, and only ten students get chosen to have penpals.  Writing back and forth, they forge a friendship that lasts years and changes both of them in ways they never imagined.

Now, being totally honest, I have to admit that Caitlin's affluent lifestyle got on my nerves at times, but I have to remember that she's telling the story from her vantage point as a teenager, not mine as an adult.  And she and her family have hearts for this young man, and went out of their way to help him in ways that took a lot of their time and money. There are some powerful lessons here!

A number of my students raced through this book when I bought it last year.  I didn't get to read it because it was never on the shelf, but I was surprised when I asked students to vote on their favorite books from the year,.  This one came up again and again.  So, into my reading bag it went!

I curled up with this book a couple of mornings ago; it was a rainy day, and I thought I'd read for an hour or so.  Surprise!  I could not put this book down.  Every time I left it to do something, I'd find myself wondering what would happen next.  I finished the book the next day.

There are many things to like about this book.  Serafina is an unusal, likeable, courageous girl who can see things other people tend to overlook.  She lives, hidden from the owners, in the basement of the Biltmore Estate in 1899, so there's lots of good historical fiction (and an element of Downton Abbey-like living from the owners!).  This book is part magical fairy-tale, part historical fiction, part courageous girl wins out in the end.

Children at the Biltmore Estate are going missing, and only Serafina know what's happening.  It has to do with the man in the black cloak who roams the corridors of the great building late at night. Taking every ounce of courage she has, Serafina enters the woods to solve this mystery, the very woods she's been told to stay out of.  

The book is recommended for grades 5-7 and I have to agree.  The fairy-tale spooky part might be too scary for children younger than that.  But I think my sixth graders will love this!  There's just enough suspense to keep them going, and Serafina and Braeden, her friend, make very believable female and male protagonists.

Check these books out if you're looking for a good read for next year!


  1. Ahhh, nothing is better than a book loved by many kids! They can always spot things that have that needed drop of truth in them. These sound like great reads. Thanks for reviewing them.

  2. These books look great. I'm going to try and make sure they get added to our school library. Thanks for reviewing them!