Favorite Read-Alouds for Second Grade

Every week during the school year, I read to all of the second grade classes at a local elementary school. It’s usually the highlight of my week. The kids are so happy to have a break from their normal routine, and they are old enough to point out aspects of the story or the illustrations that even I hadn’t noticed.

Stretches for Elementary School

I usually read for half an hour, so I try to build in a couple of easy activities to help the kids refocus between books. Here are two of my favorites, which I learned from a Library Explorers camp we offered two summers ago:

The Bubble

Tell the kids to close their eyes, and take a deep breath in, stretching their arms out to either side and then up over their heads. As they raise their arms, they should imagine a big bubble around their heads that is filled with their favorite color. When their arms are just above their heads, tell them to clap their hands together, and imagine the color spilling down all over them. Repeat two or three times.

The Elevator

Tell the kids to pretend they are an elevator inside a tall building. Squat down low to the ground (say “first floor”), then slowly stand up, announcing each “floor” of the building as you go. When you get to the tenth floor, stretch your arms up high, and stand on your tiptoes. Then call out different floor numbers at random, moving up or down to demonstrate each one. The kids always love rapid changes, like moving from the tenth floor to the first floor. If you have time, it’s really fun to have the kids take turns calling out the floor numbers (in the camp, the kids loved to come up with challenging floor numbers, like “negative fifth floor” or “one millionth floor”).

Favorite Books to Read-Aloud

This week was my first time reading to this particular second grade, so I started with some of my all-time favorite picture books for that age group. I’ll add more of my favorites to this list throughout the year, so watch for updates.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

Hilarious story about a T-Rex named Penelope who discovers that it’s hard to make new friends at school, because she keeps eating her classmates (luckily, the teacher always makes her spit them out). But when she tries to befriend the class goldfish, she learns firsthand what it’s like when someone tries to eat you.

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett; illustrated by Jon Klassen

This story about Annabelle and her magical box of yarn always holds the kids spellbound. They also love the illustrations, especially as Annabelle’s sweaters gradually cover everything in the town.

Claude, the White Alligator by Emma Bland Smith; illustrated by Jennifer Potter

This book always generates lots of excitement in our area, because many of the kids have seen Claude in person at the California Academy of Sciences. Even if they haven’t, they are usually excited to learn that the story is true, and to see the photograph of Claude at the end. I often use this book to discuss the difference between fiction and nonfiction, and to introduce the idea of a biography. If you aren’t familiar with Claude, he is an albino alligator, who lived in a zoo in Florida before being moved to the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. The book describes how the biologists originally tried putting him with another alligator named Bonnie, but she bit Claude so badly that he lost his pinkie toe. But afterwards, he made friends with the five snapping turtles who share his enclosure.

The Book With No Pictures by B. J. Novak

If I had to name one surefire hit to read to an elementary school class, it would be this one, which always gets the whole class laughing hysterically, and begging for me to read it again. As the book explains, even though it may seem like no fun having someone read you a book with no pictures, the rules of reading mean that whatever the book says, the person reading the book has to say. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Guess Again by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex

Second graders are the perfect audience for this book, which asks the kids to guess the answer to a rhyming riddle, accompanied by the silhouette of the person or thing in question. At first, the riddles seem so easy that even a preschooler could guess them, but the answers are always surprising, and hilarious!

Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein

This one is so much fun to read aloud, especially if you like to do different voices for the characters. It’s bedtime for the Little Red Chicken, but every time Papa tries to read her a classic fairytale, like Hansel and Gretel, she interrupts the story to give it a better ending. The kids always laugh when the little chicken says, “I’ll be good!”

What About Worms by Ryan T. Higgins

Most of the second graders are very familiar with the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems. So I like to share some of the Elephant and Piggie Like Reading books, which are written by other popular authors. In this one, a tiger explains that he’s not afraid of anything…except WORMS! In fact, his fear of worms leads him to break a flower pot, throw away an apple, and leave a book on the ground that looks like it might be about worms (but is really about tigers!). This one always gets big laughs.

Sun: One in a Billion by Stacy McAnulty; illustrated by Stevie Lewis

This is the second book in the Our Universe nonfiction series. In it, the Sun provides facts about himself, using kid friendly analogies and descriptions, and large, bright illustrations. This generated a lot of discussion about why Pluto isn’t a planet any more, and other bits of space trivia that the kids were eager to share.

Stay tuned for more favorite read-alouds for second grade. In the meantime, please share any of your favorites in the comments below.

Misunderstood Shark by Ame Dyckman; illustrated by Scott Magoon

When Bob the jellyfish and his crew of squid film a television special about sharks, they are shocked when Shark appears to be about to eat a fish “in front of the people!” But, Shark says, they misunderstood, he was only showing the fish his new tooth. Several other “misunderstandings” occur, including a group of beachgoers running from the beach thinking Shark is planning to eat them. But, Bob says, “you are far more likely to be bitten by another person than bitten by a shark.” I love the way this book folds facts about sharks seamlessly into the story, and the kids always laugh at Shark’s explanations.

Earth: My First 4.54 Billion Years by Stacy McAnulty; illustrated by David Litchfield

Like Sun! One in a Billion, this conversational picture book with simple facts about the Earth generated lots of questions and comments, especially about dinosaurs and how the continents split apart. I love the timeline of Earth’s history, and the subtle environmental message at the end, followed by a hopeful message. This series does such a great job of conveying basic information in a fun, readable, kid-friendly way.

King and Kayla and the Case of the Missing Dog Treats by Dori Hillestad Butler; illustrated by Nancy Meyers

I love to introduce second graders to beginning chapter books and series they may not be familiar with, and I always have fun reading this one aloud. In this mystery, King, the dog, is upset when Kayla assumes that he ate three of the freshly baked peanut butter dog treats that she made for her friend Jillian’s new puppy, Thor. Luckily, Kayla figures out that it couldn’t have been King because his breath doesn’t smell like peanut butter. But who did take the treats? And why does King smell an intruder in the house? The kids love the way King declares everything he eats to be “my favorite food!”

The Results Are In! Reading the 2014 Caldecott Award Winners

locomotive

This past Monday, I woke up early to catch the ALA Youth Media Awards online.  I was most curious about the Caldecott Medal because I had promised to read the medal winner and the Caldecott honor books to two classes of third graders later that morning.

I’ll confess that I was a little dismayed by the results.  Yes, they were all wonderful choices, but the winning book was extremely wordy, and all three of the honor books were wordless, or nearly wordless.  Sharing wordless books with a large group is a bit of a challenge. But a promise is a promise, so I shared all four books with both classes that day, and with two classes of second graders later that week.

I was especially nervous about reading the Medal winner, Locomotive by Brian Floca.  It’s a mini-history lesson that recreates a trip from Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California by train in the 19th century.  Floca packs an enormous amount of detail into the text, including how the railroad was built, how the train was operated, and the range of landscapes it passed through.  It’s too long to share with the toddler and preschool groups I usually read to, so I had never read it aloud to a group, and wasn’t sure if it would hold the kids’ interest.  I was relieved to find that it did.

Floca knows his audience well.  Amid all the facts about the train and the railroad, he throws in little details to grab kids’ attention.  All four classes were gleefully disgusted by the idea that the toilet dumped out onto the tracks, and that you could tell if a switchman (the man responsible for hitching the engine to the train) was new to his job if he still had all his fingers.  Floca also portrays visually the rickety terror of the narrow wooden trestles, the darkness of the rough-hewn mountain tunnels, and the dangers that could befall a train with a careless engineer.

By the time I read to the second grade, I was actually looking forward to sharing the journey.  I told the kids we were going to go on a train ride.  I showed them the map on the inside cover, illustrating how the track was built in two parts that met in Promontory Summit in Utah.  And then I read the book.  Along the way, we talked about the different landscapes, and what it would have been like to travel them by wagon before the railroad was built.  We talked about the telegraph, and what it meant to be able to send messages quickly across the country.

The kids seemed truly engaged by the book, exclaiming over the details, and asking questions about the illustrations and the current state of the railroad (I just read that most of the original track is gone, but parts of it are still in use.  Here’s a wikipedia article with a lot more detail).  But I wasn’t sure how the book had gone over until yesterday, when I ran into the mother of one of the second grade boys.  She said, “My son said you read the best book to his class!  Something about a locomotive.  He never tells me anything that happens in school, so it must have really made an impression on him.”

So kudos to Brian Floca for making history so exciting that kids even want to talk about it after school!

journey

I did “read” the Caldecott Honor books to the classes as well, and they loved them.  They exclaimed over every page of Journey by Aaron Becker, a beautiful wordless story about a girl’s adventure with a magical red crayon.  I loved that in every class, around the fourth or fifth page, the light would dawn across the group, and they’d all start saying things like: “This is like…” “This reminds me of…”  “That book!”  “The kid with the purple crayon!”  And I’d have to stop while they put the pieces together, until finally someone would shout out, “Harold and the Purple Crayon!”  It was so much fun to see them making connections, and getting excited about the story as it unfolded.

My favorite part was when the bird brings the captured girl her red crayon, and she draws a rectangle on the floor of her cage.  “What is she drawing?” I asked.  “An escape hatch!” someone would shout.  “A door!” And then I’d turn the page, and as a class they would exclaim, “A flying carpet!” and you could hear the wonder and excitement in their voices.  Sharing this book made me feel like a magician.  I loved every minute of it.

flora

Since the kids had been sitting for a while by now, for Molly Idle’s Flora and the Flamingo I had them stand up and try to emulate the motions of the flamingo, the way the little girl in the book does.  This got lots of giggles, especially when they had to put their heads between their legs, the part that makes the little girl fall down. This is a charming book, especially for fans of ballet, and several kids (admittedly mostly girls) said it was their favorite.

wuffles

All four classes loved Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner.  I explained that David Wiesner had won the Caldecott Medal three times already (for Tuesday, The Three Pigs, and Flotsam) and a Caldecott Honor for Sector 9.  Clearly he knows what he’s doing.  Mr. Wuffles is a comic book-style story about a spaceship full of tiny green aliens who nearly fall prey to a big black-and-white cat named Mr. Wuffles.  The portrayal of the cat, who disdains all of his actual toys, but torments the poor aliens, is spot on.  The kids loved the confab between the aliens and the ants, who plot out an escape plan together.  And it’s fascinating to think about an ant civilization, complete with history that they record on the walls.  I wasn’t sure if I would be able to convey the story to such a large group, since there is so much tiny detail in the illustrations, but they loved it.

At the end of the classes, I asked them to vote on the book they liked the best.  All the books had several votes, but Mr. Wuffles was the clear winner.  Granted, I had read that one last, so it was freshest in their memories.  But I figure David Wiesner is kind of the Meryl Streep of the Caldecott Awards.  We all know everything he does is award-worthy, but they can’t give him the award every year.

Anyway, in spite of my trepidation at sharing what seemed like four challenging books, the kids loved all of them, and I ended up having a blast.  Many thanks to the members of this year’s Caldecott Award Selection Committee!