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Find more Reid-Aloud Alert
Hard Times and Hope
The young protagonists in the following books face an array of daunting problems but persevere in a variety of ways. One uniting characteristic: they all retain a certain amount of hope. Though readers themselves may have not faced problems of the same magnitudes, they will connect with these characters due to each author’s skill of placing believable and relatable people in compelling situations—all ingredients for a successful read-aloud. The “10-Minute Selections” are designed for parents and teachers who may not have time to read the entire book to a child or group of children. The stand-alone passages will captivate a young audience, and may even convince a child to pick up the book for independent reading.
The Land of Forgotten Girls. By Erin Entrada Kelly. 2016. Greenwillow. (Gr. 4–7).
Twelve-year-old Soledad, also known as Sol, grows up tough in a tough Louisiana neighborhood. She shoplifts from the neighborhood store and taunts another girl, Caroline, even injuring her badly enough that she requires stitches. Sol’s conscience kicks in, and she summons up enough courage to enter Caroline’s nice neighborhood to apologize. We learn that Sol and her sister, Ming, abandoned by the father who returned to the Philippines, are stuck living with their stepmother, Vera, who comes straight out of a Cinderella story. Sol is an interesting, well-rounded character. She tells us, “If you want to know what happens to bad girls who live with an evil stepmother, I’ll tell you: they get put in the closet.” Sol copes by pretending the closet is a rocket. When Ming asks her to come out when her punishment is over, Sol asks, “What is your world like, Earthling?”
10-Minute Selection: Read the beginning of chapter 7, “Melting.” Sol is in the bathroom studying her face in the mirror when Vera knocks and tells her to get out. Sol shouts, “I’ll get out when I’m good and ready.” Vera retaliates by kicking open the door. “I wasn’t all that surprised that she kicked the door open, but I wasn’t prepared for the noise, so I stumbled backward and watched the lock dangle from the new split in the wood. I also wasn’t prepared for what happened next: being soaked with ice-cold water from Vera’s plastic watering pail.” Sol retaliates by sitting on the living room sofa dripping wet. End the selection where Vera tells Sol and Ming to get out. “‘Yes, go to your room, you dirty little rats,’ said Vera. And we did.”
Raymie Nightingale. By Kate DiCamillo. 2016. Candlewick. (Gr. 4–7).
The thought of being fatherless “made a small, sharp pain shoot through Raymie’s heart.” It is 1975, and Raymie’s father ran off with a dental hygienist, so Raymie makes a plan to get him to come back. This plan requires her to learn to twirl a baton so she will be able to win the title of Little Miss Central Florida Tire: “And if she became Little Miss Central Florida Tire, her father would see her picture in the paper and come home. That was Raymie’s plan.” It is through the baton-twirling lessons (although they never seemed to get through an entire lesson) that Raymie meets two other fatherless girls, Beverly and Louisiana, who work with Raymie to “see what might happen next in this world.”
10-Minute Selection: Inform your audience that an elderly neighbor of Raymie’s named Mrs. Borkowski died of a heart attack, and Raymie is at the funeral home. Read chapter 32. While Louisiana tells Raymie that she is sorry for her loss, her grandmother steals food from the memorial food table: “Louisiana’s grandmother put an entire block of orange cheese into her purse.” Raymie confesses to Louisiana that her father ran away with a dental hygienist. Louisiana says, once more, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” When someone catches Louisiana’s grandmother taking the food, Louisiana heads out the emergency door, setting off the alarm. The entire odd scene strangely benefits Raymie. The chapter ends optimistically: “She could feel her soul. It was a tiny little spark somewhere deep inside of her. It was glowing.”
Crenshaw. By Katherine Applegate. 2015. Feiwel and Friends. (Gr. 3–6).
Fourth-grader Jackson “noticed several weird things about the surfboarding cat. Thing number one: He was a surfboarding cat.” The cat, named Crenshaw, is Jackson’s imaginary companion, showing up whenever Jackson’s family has financial problems. Jackson’s father developed multiple sclerosis and had to quit his carpentry job. Jackson’s mother lost her music teaching job due to budget cuts. At one point, when Jackson was in first grade, the family was forced to live in their minivan for several weeks, and now, when the landlord arrives with an eviction notice, they face that possibility again. Always during these tough times, Crenshaw appears, and Jackson is stunned. He’s definitely too old for an imaginary friend. There must be a logical explanation: “And a part of me, the scientist part of me, really wanted to figure out what was going on.”
10-Minute Selection: Read chapter 9. Robin, Jackson’s little sister, is getting on his nerves. “She’d say things like ‘What if a dog and a bird got married, Jackson?’ Or sing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ three thousand times in a row.” Jackson is also irritated that his parents don’t always tell him the truth, especially when times are bad. “I knew way more than they thought I did.” He shares an anecdote when their dog ate a dirty disposable diaper and had to stay two nights at the vet’s office until the diaper appeared. “‘Poop in, poop out,’ my dad said when we picked her up. ‘It’s the cycle of life.’ ‘The cycle of life is expensive,’ my mom said, staring at the bill.” The chapter ends with Jackson resigned to not ask any more questions about their situation. “Somehow I just knew my parents didn’t want to give me hard answers.”
OCDaniel. By Wesley King. 2016. Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman. (Gr. 5–8).
Thirteen-year-old Daniel lives with what he calls “The Zaps.” In his words, they are bad feelings that make you feel “like you just got attacked by a Dementor.” The Zaps make Daniel go through routines that upset him. When he goes to bed at night, he goes through a nine-step routine that begins with “take ten steps from my bedroom to the bathroom,” includes “brush my teeth with ten vertical movements on either side and five horizontal ones,” and concludes with flicking the lights on and off five times and taking five steps back to his bed. If one event in the routine is out of place, Daniel has to start over, so sometimes he takes fifty steps to the bathroom, brushes “one hundred and ninety-two vertical movements on either side,” and flicks the lights “three hundred and five times.” Daniel is exhausted, sad, and confused. He gets help from a girl his classmates dub “Psycho Sara.” Sara has her own issues and recruits Daniel into a mission to find out what happened to her missing father. The two work well together, and Sara even helps Daniel’s football skills, despite her opinion that “FOOTBALL SUCKS.”
10-Minute Selection: Read the second half of chapter 17 to the end, beginning with the lines, “Practice that night was even worse than usual. I missed a fifteen-yarder that sent Coach Clemons into a yelling frenzy.” After football practice, Sara and Daniel break into the house of the man who Sara believes killed her father. While they are snooping around, the man returns home earlier than expected. Sara and Daniel head off to the back door when Daniel gets Zapped. “It happened when I stepped off the rug. I felt the rush of dread and panic and realized if I didn’t fix it now, I might not be able to get into the house again.” Daniel steps on and off the rug, caught in his routine. Sara warns him that now’s not the time: “We’re in a murderer’s house. We have to leave. It isn’t important.” But to Daniel, it is important. “My vision was suddenly blurry. I felt hopeless and crazy and lost.”
Finding Someplace. By Denise Lewis Patrick. 2015. Holt. (Gr. 4–6).
Reesie’s thirteenth birthday happening on the same day Hurricane Katrina hits her hometown of New Orleans is certainly bad luck. With both of her parents at work and her brother away at college, Reesie takes shelter with her elderly neighbor, Miss Martine. The two survive the wind damage of Katrina but, when the levees break, have to flee to the rooftop of Miss Martine’s battered home to escape the floodwaters. They are rescued, and Miss Martine is sent to the hospital. Reesie and her parents reunite, only to have the family separate again when Reesie accompanies her mother to New Jersey. Although Hurricane Katrina has passed, it still threatens to split Reesie’s family apart.
10-Minute Selection: Inform your audience that Reesie is spending the night at Miss Martine’s house. They are going to wait out Hurricane Katrina by watching old movies. Begin reading a few pages into chapter 9 with the sentence, “‘This is soooo old!’ Reesie murmured.” The power goes out a few minutes later, and the two go through terrifying moments. “An explosive burst of wind blew the candle out and rocked the building from its brick foundation up. Glass rattled and windows popped, tinkling as their shards flew everywhere.” Reesie and Miss Martine do their best to comfort each other, and Reesie notices that the storm has its own “hypnotic rhythm.” End the selection with the lines, “Reesie tapped her toe to the strange beat, and tried to imagine that she was somewhere else. Anywhere else.”
Rob Reid has written several books on quality read-alouds, including Reid’s Read-Alouds (2009), Reid’s Read-Alouds 2 (2010), Silly Books to Read Aloud (2012), and Biographies to Read Aloud with Kids (2014).
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