When we visit the children’s section of Barnes and Noble or when we hear one of our favorite authors is coming out with a new book, we get giddy. We love rich illustrations and precise language and children’s books are often filled with both. We appreciate that children’s literature serves so many purposes–from helping to make our big, confusing world accessible to children to supporting us in our efforts to teach children the habits and skills of proficient readers. Our list today focuses on the latter and features our top ten fiction choices (in no particular order–that was too hard to decide!) along with a brief description about how we use them.
Come On, Rain! is the quintessential picture book, marrying story and illustration so that they support each other. This book is fabulous for teaching voice, character development, narrative story structure, and vocabulary. Karen Hess is to words as Jon J Muth is to illustration; as a pair they are unsurpassed. Come On, Rain! has an obvious, simple story but, if students read closely and think deeply, they can see the ways the main character creates the situation she wants.
We love this book for lots of reasons, but mostly because it is a beautiful story about a determined woman who braves the elements and harsh landscape of West Virginia to make sure that boys like Cal have books in their home. At first, Cal doesn’t see the point; however, he begins to realize that there might be a reason she goes to such trouble. We use this book in many ways, among them we use it to show students the transformative power of reading, how mindset can affect growth and improvement, as well as how to identify and work through dialect when it appears in text.
In this book we meet Ramon, who loves to draw, but is frustrated by his brother’s criticism of one of his drawings. His sister Marisol, who unbeknownst to him is his greatest fan, helps him see the value and beauty of imperfect work. We love this book for its simplicity. We love to share it at the beginning of the year to prime students’ understanding of mindset and how trying and not trying can affect how we improve. In addition, we revisit to study character development and look at how characters can change from the beginning of a story to the end.
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge offers students a study in contrast. The story is unexpected, from the plot line to the relationship between the characters. We love this book for teaching inference, for prediction, and for making connections. We also love it for its service to a classroom community, as an anchor text for discussions about shared memories (and memorabilia) from classroom experiences.
Lilly is enamored with her teacher Mr. Slinger–that is until he reprimands her for impulsively sharing the news about her new movie star sunglasses, shiny quarters, and purple plastic purse. Angry, Lilly does the unthinkable and writes a nasty note to Mr. Slinger. Overcome with remorse, Lilly apologizes as she learns an important childhood lesson about the consequences of our actions. This book is especially good for helping students understand character development. Throughout the book, Kevin Henkes strategically repeats the line, “Wow, that was just about all she could say, wow.” which invites students to read closely and carefully and consider how word choices convey important meaning about plot and character.
This is the story of a little girl who is nervous about riding a roller coaster for the first time. Wonderfully written, the real charm of this book are the illustrations which reveal to readers that it’s not just little girls who feel a mixed bag of emotions about doing scary things like riding giant roller coasters. This book is fantastic for close reading and teaching students to notice the details that contribute to deep understandings of text.
The only non-picture book included in our list, Hey World, Here I Am! is a book of vignettes about a girl struggling with many of the family and friend issues that commonly complicate adolescence and pre-adolescence. The stories in this book are short yet poignant and are perfect for helping children use details to reach logical inferences. It can be read in pieces or as a whole and both approaches offer readers endless possibilities for practicing close reading and mining text for its deepest meaning.
In this book, Morris Lessmore is trying to write the story of his life but realizes that it just isn’t very colorful. A tale about a man who learns a new meaning of “living” this books celebrates the transformative power of reading as well as offers endless possibilities for examining literary devices such as metaphor. This book cannot be understood with just one read and children adore revisiting this text to notice the many subtleties layered into the text and illustrations of this book.
9. Waiting for Winter by Sebastian Meschenmoser
Waiting for Winter is subtle, but profound. The illustrations of the animal characters as they wait for winter (instead of hibernating) are whimsical and captivating. As if that isn’t enough, this book is hilarious. We have yet to share it with teachers or students without them falling in love with it. In terms of instructional value (beyond that of helping readers fall in love with books), it is great for teaching the relationship between the illustrations and the words, because the pictures carry a completely different story. This is also a great book for launching a conversation about truly understanding the meaning of something vs. hearing about it second-hand.
10. Every Single Elephant and Piggie Book by Mo Willems
Nobody writes for young children like Mo Willems! We love the entire Elephant and Piggie series mostly because nothing is more joyful than reading these books aloud to children. The laughter these books evoke is contagious and nothing motivates a kid to want to read more than joy. That alone would make these books achieve top ten status. However, the writing and illustrations in these books offer children wonderful opportunities to explore how to look past the obvious to see more meaning layered into text. Elephant and Piggie are great for teaching inferring, reading with expression, and noticing how character change throughout a story.
On Thursday, we’ll share our top ten nonfiction picks and, in the meantime, we hope that in the comment section below you will share your favorite fiction titles, why you love them, and how you use them!