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Find more Read-Aloud Alert: Walk a Mile
The children’s musical group Vitamin L wrote and sang my all-time favorite children’s song, “Walk a Mile,” the inspiration for this issue’s read-aloud column. Vitamin L is a leader in children’s music celebrating diversity, and this song captures the group’s mission with the following lyrics: “I want to know / what you think and what you feel, / So I really want to walk a mile in your shoes.” The song also inspires sharing cultural differences in literary read-aloud settings. While exploring differences, we also see similarities among other people’s lives. The following book titles feature an array of diverse experiences that inspire readers to imagine life from another perspective—and in another’s shoes. For more about Vitamin L’s music, check out the group’s website, at vitaminl.org. As always, the “10-Minute Selections” below serve as stand-alone passages that require little or no introduction and highlight a significant point or points in the story. They work when a teacher or librarian doesn’t have time to read the entire book. One can also use them when giving booktalks to young readers. The passages themselves actually range from 5 to 15 minutes in reading time.
The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond, by Brenda Woods (Gr. 4–8): Eleven-year-old Violet thinks that a “dead and dull summertime awaits me.” She worries that without her best friend, the summer will be like “mashed potatoes without gravy, or macaroni cheese minus the cheese.” Instead, Violet learns about a side of her family that she didn’t know existed.
10-Minute Selection: Inform your audience that Violet’s father, who was African American, has passed away. His mother (Violet’s grandmother Roxanne), has never met Violet and doesn’t seem interested in her at all. Violet’s mother, Justine, who is white, is taking Violet to meet her grandmother for the first time. Read chapter 16, “Meet Roxanne Diamond.” Roxanne is at an art gallery featuring her paintings. Violet walks right up to her and says, “I’m Violet . . . your granddaughter.” Roxanne responds with, “So here you are.” Violet was expecting kisses and hugs. Later, away from people, Roxanne mentions how much Violet looks like her father but then says, “Coming here was a mistake, Justine.” Violet and her mother immediately leave. The chapter ends with Violet crying and thinking, “Too sad + very mad = lots of tears.”
Buried Alive: How 33 Miners Survived 69 Days Deep under the Chilean Desert, by Elaine Scott (Gr. 4–7). The world focused on the mining disaster that occurred in the Chilean desert in August 2010. Thirty-three men were trapped 2,300 feet beneath the earth’s surface. Scott successfully captures the tension of being buried underground as well as the hard work and faith of the family members and rescuers in this nonfiction work.
10-Minute Selection: Read the chapter titled “Working Together.” Foreman Luis Urzua helps pull the trapped men together as they cope with their situation. Luckily, they find themselves near an emergency shelter that contains a small store of food. Unfortunately, supplies are low. Luis orders food rationing. “Each man was allowed two spoonfuls of tuna, a sip of milk, a bite of cracker, and a tiny morsel of canned peach a day.” Water was also scarce. Luis made sure the men worked and kept busy. “It provided something for the miners to focus on aside from their possible fate.” One man, Edison Pena, took up running in the dark tunnels. “I wanted God to see that I really wanted to live.” The days dragged on. The chapter ends with the men hearing the sound of drilling, “drilling that meant someone was searching for them. The question was, could they be found in time?”
A Million Shades of Gray, by Cynthia Kadohata (Gr. 6–9): It is 1973, and 13-year-old Y’Tin is determined to be an elephant handler in his small South Vietnamese village. The American soldiers, who Y’Tin’s father worked for as a tracker, have just left the country. North Vietnamese soldiers invade Y’Tin’s village and destroy it, killing dozens of citizens. Y’Tin is separated from his family, and he tries to survive in the jungle with two other teens and his pregnant elephant, Lady. He learns the hard way that “the jungle changes a man.”
10-Minute Selection: Read the long chapter 4. Y’Tin makes his case to his mother that he should drop out of school to take care of the elephants. His parents are worried about the Vietcong raiding their village. Some of the villagers want to move into the jungle and establish a guerrilla camp. His mother says, “They can kill me if they want, but I’m not leaving. This is my home.” The chapter ends with tension in the air. “Everyone is scared. Our fathers are scared. Our grandfathers are scared. The chief is scared.”
Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper (Gr. 4–8): Fifth-grader Melody has cerebral palsy. She is frustrated that people don’t know that she’s actually very intelligent. She wishes others would take the time to learn what she’s thinking. Melody acquires “Elvira,” a Medi-talker that allows her to communicate verbally. She tries out for the school’s Whiz Kids academic team, to the surprise of some and the chagrin of others.
10-Minute Selection: Read the very short first chapter. Words are a big part of the narrator’s life: “But only in my head. I have never spoken one single word. I am almost 11 years old.” Continue reading chapter 2. The narrator describes herself and how she thinks others see her. “I guess they see a girl with short, dark, curly hair strapped into a pink wheelchair. . . . Sometimes people never even ask my name, like it’s not important or something. It is. My name is Melody.” She goes on to describe her parents and their music choices (jazz for Dad and classical for Mom). Melody likes the song “Elvira,” by the Oak Ridge Boys, but her parents don’t know this. Melody has no way to tell them. Move to chapter 11. Melody has started fifth grade and, for the first time, is enrolled in inclusion classes. “I’ve never been included in anything. But these classes are supposed to give kids like me a chance to interact with what everybody else calls the ‘normal’ students. What’s normal? Duh!” The chapter ends with Melody excited to meet a new friend in Rose. When Rose talks about going to the mall with her friends, Melody thinks, “It would be so tight to be able to do that.”
The Running Dream, by Wendelin Van Draanen (Gr. 6–9): Sixteen-year-old track star Jessica loses part of her leg in an accident involving a driver hitting the team’s school bus. Because of her family’s financial troubles, Jessica’s teammates rally around her to raise money for a new prosthetic leg, even possibly one that will enable her to compete again. Jessica gains an unexpected new friend in Rosa, a classmate with cerebral palsy. Jessica incorporates Rosa’s dreams with her own.
10-Minute Selection: Read the first two short chapters of “Part 1: Finish Line.” The opening chapter begins with, “My life is over.” Jessica looks at “the monstrosity below my knee” and feels that she’ll never run again. Chapter 2 reveals that Jessica has always seen herself as a runner. Move to chapter 4. Jessica relives her record-breaking race. “It’s also the last race of my life. My finish line.” Move on to the first chapter of “Part 3: Straightaway.” Jessica is waiting for an appointment with her doctor. The receptionist, Chloe, cheerfully tells Jessica that she’ll be “walking again in no time” and that “things will change. From here on, they’ll get better.” Chloe stuns Jessica by stating that she, too, is an amputee. The passage ends with, “She jumps up and hurries across the room, and in the blink of an eye, she’s gone, leaving me with my jaw dangling.”
The Thing about Luck, by Cynthia Kadohata (Gr. 4–6): Twelve-year-old Summer joins her grandparents on their annual trek harvesting wheat for farmers. The Japanese American family is having a bout of bad luck. Summer’s parents have to travel back to Japan to care for ailing relatives. Summer’s grandmother, the harvest team’s cook, has a bad back, and her grandfather, a combine driver, is also not feeling all that well. Summer feels intense pressure and worries that they might not be able to keep their jobs and pay the mortgage. Summer steps up when both of her grandparents are sidelined and, with determination, makes her own luck.
10-Minute Selection: Read chapter 10. We learn that Summer’s dog, Thunder, killed three chickens. Summer knows that if she keeps quiet, the farmer will blame coyotes. Instead, she takes her life savings and confesses to the farmer that Thunder was responsible. Summer tells her strict grandmother, Obaachan, what she did. Obaachan gives a cryptic response: “Sometimes you have to do something stupid to do right thing. But right thing more important than stupid.” She does let Summer know that she is not ashamed of her granddaughter. The chapter ends with Summer feeling lighthearted, “like I had saved the world or something.” She also wishes for better luck tomorrow.
Yes! We Are Latinos, by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy (Gr. 3–6): First-person narrative poems profile 12 Latino and Latina young people in this collection. Although the profiles are fictional, Ada and Campoy acknowledge the real people who inspired the vignettes. Each piece is accompanied by historical background supporting the various experiences. “My Name Is Juanita,” the first profile, features a girl who grew up in Mexico and now lives in New York City. She arrives at her new school “where my language, my sweet Mixtec / is a secret language that no one in this school / even suspects exists.” Other young people profiled show the diversity of Latino backgrounds, including those who state they are Spanish, Panamanian, Peruvian and Japanese, Hispanic and Native American, Sephardic, and Zapotec.
10-Minute Selection: Read the poem “My Name Is José Miguel—Not Joe, Not Mike.” A boy is teased by bullies about his name. When a teacher suggests that he anglicize his name, José Miguel proudly states to us that he was named after his grandfather. “That is why I will not be Joe, or Mike, in spite of all the Rogers in the world, but José Miguel Martinez. Cubano, a mucha honra. Yes, very proud to be Cuban. Para servirle. And at your service.” Follow this up with the companion poems “My Name Is Lili” and “My Name Is Michiko.” Lili is Guatemalan and Chinese, while Michiko is Peruvian and Japanese. Lili reports that people are surprised when they look at her and then hear her speak Spanish. She and Michiko want to learn Chinese and Japanese so they “can speak / and listen /around the world /and always feel at home / and among friends.”
Rob Reid’s latest book is Biographies to Read Aloud with Kids: From Alvin Ailey to Zishe the Strongman. He can be reached at rapnrob.com.
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