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Although the phrase “inquiring minds want to know” is now basically a cliché, it’s an apt description of many compelling characters found in children’s literature. Young philosophers want to learn the meaning of life. Young scientists want to learn about the workings of our world and the universe. Young sleuths want to follow a trail of clues and solve a mystery. And all young people want to learn about themselves and their own place in the world. The following titles about questioning kids are wonderful selections to read aloud to diverse individuals and groups of young people. Hopefully, there is time to share the entire book with your audience, but, if not, start with the “10-Minute Selection”—a stand-alone passage that will entertain kids and perhaps inspire them to pick up the book on their own.
Ben and the Sudden Too-Big Family, by Colby Rodowsky (Gr. 3–5): Ben has developed his own philosophy of life: “Some things in life are all right and some things are not all right.” He also knows that “the all-right stuff slides into the not-all-right stuff and what you end up with is a hodgepodge glop.” After living with just his father for years, Ben feels like the hodgepodge glop has arrived when his father remarries. Ben’s new stepmother, Casey, has dreamed of adopting a baby girl from China for years, and, together, the new family does just that. Later, instead of attending soccer camp, Ben finds himself joining Casey’s family members—all 23 of them—for a vacation. Ben gets stuck hanging out with the aunt everyone else avoids—Poornora.
10-Minute Selection: Read the chapter titled “Casey’s Family,” starting with the sentence, “The knock on my door was a no-nonsense kind of knock, same as Poornora’s voice when she called, ‘You’re late, boy.’” After sharing what she knows “about the flora and fauna of the Outer Banks” of North Carolina, she informs Ben that it’s his turn to teach her something. Continue reading the next chapter, titled “Turnabout.” Poornora takes Ben away from the family bocce tournament so that he can fulfill his end of the bargain, although poor Ben never has any say about this agreement. He starts telling her about the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Poornora becomes fascinated.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly (Gr. 4–7): In 1899, 11-year-old Calpurnia resists her mother’s and society’s attempts to have her learn needlework and cooking. She feels trapped. “My life was forfeit. Why hadn’t I seen it? I was trapped. A coyote with her paw in the trap.” Calpurnia would rather spend her time with her grandfather, who is enjoying learning about the natural world in his retirement. The two have found what they believe is a new plant. They document their discovery and send their research for confirmation from the Smithsonian Institution.
10-Minute Selection: Read a section of chapter 3, beginning with the sentence, “One evening while Granddaddy fiddled with his formula for making liquor from pecans, I sat on a tall stool at his elbow and watched him work.” Calpurnia asks him how he became interested in science. What follows is an emotionally powerful, somewhat gruesome account of his service in the war. A bat flew into his hand, and he kept the small creature with him in his tent. Meanwhile, men were dying nearby. Granddaddy talks about helping with a leg amputation. When word came that the war was over, he slashed a hole in his tent for his bat and then left. “I was overcome with sadness as I bid good-bye to my bat. Yet earlier I had set fire to a mountain of arms and legs and felt nothing.” End the passage with the line, “I got him his filter, and we worked on with no more talk.”
Fractions = Trouble!, by Claudia Mills (Gr. 2–4): Third-grader Wilson is embarrassed that his parents have arranged for him to meet with a math tutor twice a week for help with fractions, and he doesn’t want his friends to know, especially Josh. When his tutor, Mrs. Tucker, learns that Wilson has a pet hamster, she has him draw pictures of hamsters to learn the concept of fractions. Wilson is also trying to figure out what type of project to enter in the school science fair.
10-Minute Selection: Read chapter 2. Mrs. Porter asks her class if they have come up with ideas for their science projects. Josh tells her, “My question is: at what temperature does a pickle explode?” His procedure will be to “put my pickle in the oven.” His hypothesis is “that when it explodes it will make a big mess.” Move on to chapter 5, beginning with the sentence, “At Josh’s house, after school on Thursday, Josh and Wilson selected the largest pickle from the jar of kosher dill pickles that Josh made his mother buy.” The boys, with the help of Josh’s parents, put the pickle in the oven. After a long time, “the charred body of the pickle was in the sink under cold running water, and all the kitchen windows had been flung open to get rid of the smoke before the smoke alarm could go off.” Josh decides to continue the experiment with a microwave the following Saturday.
Owen Foote, Mighty Scientist, by Stephanie Greene (Gr. 2–4): Third-grader Owen is excited about working on a science-fair project with his best friend, Joseph. He is convinced he needs to win to get into Mr. Wozniak’s class next year. “A sign over the door said LAND OF WOZ. . . . Mr. Wozniak’s students were called Wizards.” The other fourth-grade teachers are okay. Mrs. Grady emphasizes English, and Ms. Holt’s classes put on plays and sing a lot. But Owen knows that he is a scientist. He and Joseph develop a project on the effects of fertilizers on tadpoles. Unfortunately, the tadpoles not exposed to the fertilizer die right before the science fair.
10-Minute Selection: Read the first chapter, “Those Are the Ones I Want.” Owen tries to convince his mother to help him buy the lizard called uromastyx. Owen is proud of the fact that he can say the name. “It’s euro, like in Europe. Euro-mass-ticks.” He wants “the kind of animal that would make your sister scream if it got loose in her room.” Move on to chapter 3, “Lizard Talk.” Owen is showing Joseph a lizard named Chuck. Owen is holding Chuck when suddenly the lizard’s sides balloon out and he poops. “A warm, slippery, greenish-black poop with white stuff at one end slid out onto Owen’s hand.” Owen freaks out.
The Case of the Stinky Socks, by Lewis B. Montgomery (Gr. 2–4): This, the first in the Milo & Jazz Mysteries series, introduces readers to a boy named Milo, who loves detective work, and his neighbor Jasmine, who goes by the name Jazz. When Milo sees Jazz reading Whodunnit magazine, he realizes that she also enjoys solving mysteries. The two join forces. “Milo and Jazz, private eyes. Mysteries of any size. . . . Give us a shout—we’ll figure it out!”
10-Minute Selection: Read chapter 4. Jazz’s brother, Dylan, is missing his lucky socks. “I was wearing them when I pitched a no-hitter in the first game of the season.” Milo wonders if maybe “an international sock-napping gang” is behind the disappearance. He decides to head over to the school’s locker room and investigate. Continue reading chapter 5. Milo is forced to babysit his kid brother, Ethan. Milo follows a strong smell. The odor turns out to be a vain tennis player applying mousse to his hair. Milo gets a lead when the tennis player states, “If you want stinky socks . . . you should’ve had a whiff of the ones I smelled in here yesterday. . . . I hope that guy was taking them out to be burned.” Before Milo can act on the tip, he is forced to save Ethan from the school mascot, Wildcat Willie (Ethan had bitten the kid wearing the mascot outfit). “I haven’t seen Wildcat Willie that ticked off since the head cheerleader’s Chihuahua wee-weed on his leg.”
Pie, by Sarah Weeks (Gr. 3–6): Young Alice loved spending time with her aunt Polly, a famous pie maker who put the town of Ipswitch, Pennsylvania, on the map. After Polly passed away, everyone tried to find her recipes. Alice is on the case when someone breaks into her bedroom and steals Polly’s cat. (It has been rumored that somehow Polly left the recipes to her pet.) Every chapter opens with a pie recipe, which is an optional read. However, be sure to read the back-jacket flap, which states that Weeks made all 14 pies included in the book and that her favorite was “cherry, with buttermilk coming in a close second.”
10-Minute Selection: Read chapter 6. Alice and her friend Charlie walk into Alice’s house and notice an unpleasant odor. “Sitting on the kitchen counter was the ugliest pie Alice had ever seen in her life.” Her mother tried making a chocolate cream pie to enter in the contest Aunt Polly kept winning, and it turns out that several people in town have the same idea. Charlie says his mother was thinking about it, but “she tried to make a gooseberry pie and it came out so bad, even the dog wouldn’t touch it. And he drinks out of the john!” Later, Alice and Charlie have an argument. The chapter ends with Charlie leaving. He tells Alice, “Your aunt Polly never would have talked to a person the way you just talked to me. And she wouldn’t have thought very highly of somebody who did, either.”
Rob Reid’s newest book is titled What’s Black and White and Reid All Over? Something Hilarious Happened at the Library (2012). Visit Rob at http://www.rapnrob.com.
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