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By Jodell Sadler, Alexandria Virtual Librarian. June 1, 2022. Updated Oct. 4, 2023.



Selecting that just-right read for in class or in the library is not always easy. It's a major concern to keep even the most reluctant of readers engaged. Here's a few titles that will do just that.

I encourage you to buy books that can be both shared and gifted to students. Buy hardcover or library binding for the library. Then, budget current titles, hardcovers or paperbacks, for use in the classroom with a purposeful “pass-it-on to a next reader” mission. Remain focused on current titles within the past five years as professional writing gets better and better and more creative and engaging every year.

Support your students with the most current, award-winning titles. By doing this, you not only support your students by showing them the importance of celebrating each book and reading the kind of storytelling that drives success, you also support future readers, and the authors and illustrators that fill the library bookshelves.

My top picks for read alouds are more current titles: 2018 to 2021. These also make for a great speed dating events in the library, too. Let students help select the next read. Speed date for 1) Best Opening Chapters, 2) Scavenger Hunt Literary Devices, and 3) Most Intriguing PLOT Exposition (Character, Setting, and Story Problem reveal). Have students tally and vote.

1. Amari and the Night Brothers

by B.B. Alston. Harper Collins/Balzer + Bray, Jan. 19, 2021. (9781725418295); 416 pgs; Grades 3-7.

Amari Peters never stops believe her missing brother, Quinton, is alive. Police tell her otherwise. She gets in trouble for standing up to bullies who claim he's gone. So when she finds a ticking briefcase in his closet, a nomination for tryouts for the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain she can find him. If she can accept magic, compete against kids who live with magic, and confront her classmates, who think she’s an enemy. Alone, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

Hardcover. Amazon. $11.49. Paperback. Bulk Bookstore. $5.66 (25-copy pack: $141.50). BookPal. Unavailable.Kindle. Amazon. $8.99. Audible. Amazon. $11.86.

2. The Canyon's Edge

(Aussie, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture) by Dusti Bowling. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Sept. 8, 2020. (9780316494694) 320 pgs; Grades 3-7.

A year after a random shooting changed their family forever, Nora and her father explore a slot canyon deep in the Arizona desert, hoping to find peace. Nora longs for normal, while dad craves isolation. When they reach the bottom of the canyon, a flash flood sweeps Nora's father and all of their supplies, leaving Nora alone to face dehydration, venomous scorpions, deadly snakes, and, worst of all, the Beast who has terrorized her dreams for the past year.

First Pages on Google Reads.

Hardcover. $11.04. Paperback. Bulk Bookstore. $4.00. (25-copy pack: $129.79.). BookPal. $4.87 (25 minimum). Kindle. Amazon. $7.99. Audible. Amazon. $19.85.

3. The Last Cuentista

(Mexican-American Culture) by Donna Barba Higuera. Levine Querido, Oct. 12, 2021. (9781646140893); 336 pgs, Grades 5-9.

2022 Newbery and Pura Belpré Award Winner. What will Petra Peäna, a girl who wanted nothing more than to be a storyteller like her abuelita, do when she realizes her world is ending? When Earth has been destroyed by a comet, and only a few hundred scientists and their children have been chosen to journey to a new planet, how will she accept who she must leave behind, and how will she carry on? Hundreds of years later when Petra wakes on this new planet, she discovers that only she remembers Earth, and a sinister Collective has taken over, bent on erasing the sins of humanity’s past.

See Levine Querido Discussion Guide.

Hardcover. BooksAMillion. $15.11. (25-copy pack: $377.75—less 15% for first purchase.) BookPal. Unavailable. Paperback. Not Yet Available. Kindle. Amazon. $8.99. Audible. Amazon. $17.14.

4. The Bridge Home

(Indian Culture) by Padma Venkatraman. Nancy Paulsen Books, Feb. 5, 2019. (9781524738112); 208 pgs, Grade 5-6+.

Life is harsh on India's streets, so when runaway sisters Viji and Rukku arrive, they very quickly discover how vulnerable they are in this uncaring, dangerous world. When the girls find shelter and friendship on a bridge, two homeless boys, Muthi and Arul, form a family of sorts. They make a living scavenging trash heaps, find plenty to laugh about and take pride in. They are their own boss and free from untrustworthy adults. However, illness strikes and Viji must decide between seeking help or holding on to freedom.

Random House Discussion Guide.

Padma Venkatraman's Project Lit Guide.

Hardcover. BulkBookstore. $11.69. Paperback. Bulk Bookstore. $5.84. (25-copy pack: $146.00) Kindle. Amazon. $8.99. Audible. Amazon. $18.38.

5. Red, White, and Whole

(Indian-American Culture)by Rajani LaRocca. Quill Tree Books, Feb. 2, 2021. (9780063047426); 224 pgs, Grades 3-7.

Newbery Honor Novel in Verse. Reha feels torn between two worlds: school, where she’s the only Indian American student, and home, with her family’s traditions and holidays. But Reha’s parents don’t understand why she’s conflicted—they only notice when Reha doesn’t meet their strict expectations. Reha feels disconnected from her mother, or Amma. Reha soon finds out that her Amma is sick, really sick. While she dreams of becoming a doctor (but cannot stand the sight of blood), but remains determined to make her Amma well again, be the perfect daughter, and save her Amma’s life.

YouTube Chat with the Author.

Hardcover. BulkBookstore. $9.68. (25-copy pack: $242.00.) Paperback. Not yet available. Kindle. Amazon. $10.99. Audible. Amazon. $11.49.

6. Harbor Me

by Jacqueline Woodson.(Multicultural). Nancy Paulsen Books, Aug. 28, 2018, 9780399252525); 192 pgs; Grades 5-6+.

New York Times Best Seller celebrates the healing that can occur when a group of students share their stories. Six kids: Esteban, Tiago, Holly, Amari, Ashton, and Haley, meet weekly to chat by themselves without adults to listen in. In the ARTT Room (short for “A Room to Talk”), they discover it’s safe to talk about what’s bothering them: Esteban's father’s deportation, Haley’s father’s incarceration, Amari’s fears of racial profiling, Ashton’s adjustment to his changing family fortunes. When the six are together, they express both feelings and fears and together, they grow braver and more ready for the rest of their lives.

Penguin Random House: Discussion, pg 12.

Hardcover. Amazon. $9.76. Paperback. Bulkbooks. $5.84. (25-copy pack: $146.00.) Kindle. Amazon. $8.99. Audible. Amazon. $16.54.

7. Strongheart, Wonder Dog of the Silver Screen

by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann.(Animal Culture). Schwartz & Wade, Feb. 6, 2018. (9781101934104). 256 pgs; Grades 3-7.

When movie director Larry Trimble travels to Berlin searching for his next big star—a dog!—he finds Etzel, a fierce, highly trained three-year-old German shepherd police dog. Larry sees past the snarls and growls and brings Etzel back to Hollywood, where he is renamed Strongheart. Along with screenwriter Jane Murfin, Larry grooms his protégé to be a star of the silver screen—and he succeeds, starting with Strongheart's first film, The Love Master, which is released in 1921. Strongheart is soon joined by a leading lady, a German shepherd named Lady Julie, and becomes a sensation.

Strongheart Quizlet.

Hardcover. Bulkbooks. $11.69. (25-copy pack: $292.25.) Paperback. Not yet available. Kindle. Amazon. $8.99. Audible. Not yet available.

8. Long Way Down

by Jason Reynolds. (Black, African American Culture). Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, Oct. 24, 2017. 320 Pgs. Grades 7-9.

Fifteen-year-old Will shoves a gun in the back of his jeans. His brother Shawn was murdered. And, Will knows the rules: 1) No crying. 2) No snitching. 3) Revenge. He has seven elevator floors and sixty-four seconds to decide: Will he avenge his brother's death—or not? The Long Way Down speaks to how time slows during crisis, and despite having a new visitor each floor, when Will gets off that elevator... He must decide what to do.

Test PLOT knowledge prior to starting this novel and retest after. You will be amazed by what students learn and retain.

Want a cool experience for students? Present the Kindle visuals for the Graphic Novel while reading from the freeverse novel. Let students Turn-N-Talk about how the visuals added to the storytelling.

GimKitLive Game Play, first chapters.Hardcover.

Amazon. $13.99. Paperback. Bulkbooks. $6.62. (25-copy pack: $165.50.) Kindle. Amazon. $9.99. Audible. Amazon. $8.99. Paperback Graphic Novel. Amazon. $6.79.

9. All Thirteen, The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys' Soccer Team

by Christina Soontornvat. (Thai Culture). Candlewick, Oct. 20, 2020. 288 Pgs. Grades 3-7.

2021 Newbery Honor, Robert F. Sibert Honor, YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Finalist and Orbis Pictus. This amazing Thai cave rescue is told in a heart-racing suspense, added scientific strategies, and cultural insight. On June 23, 2018, twelve players on the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach enter a cave in northern Thailand for an adventure. But when they turn to leave, rising floodwaters block their path out. They get trapped! Soon, news of the missing team launches a seventeen-day rescue mission. Thousands of rescuers around the globe come to help. As the world sits vigil, people begin to wonder how long these kids can survive without fresh air, food, or clean water?

Play a Jeopardy prepped GimKitLive for this story.

Hardcover. Amazon. $17.29. Paperback. Not Available. Kindle. Amazon. $9.50. Audible. Amazon. $17.99.

 10. Millionaires for the Month

by Stacy McAnulty. (American Culture). Random House for Young Readers, September 20, 2021. 336 Pgs. Grades 3-7.

Felix Rannells and Benji Porter are NOT the best field-trip partners. Felix follows the rules. Benji does not. Plus, they are not friends. They don't have anything to talk about.

Until... They find a wallet that belongs to a tech billionaire: Laura Friendly. They decide to return it. But not before Benji "borrows" twenty dollars to buy hot dogs (twenty dollars is like a penny to a billionaire, right?).

But a penny doubled every day for thirty days is $5,368,709.12! So that's exactly how much money Laura Friendly challenges Felix and Benji to spend.

They have thirty days. And, they can't tell anyone else (and LOTS of other rules). If they succeed, they each get ten million. Challenge accepted!

Enjoy a game of GimKitLive.

Hardcover. Amazon. $8.59. Paperback. $6.02. Amazon. $8.99. Kindle. Amazon. $8.99. Audible. Amazon. $19.60.

What makes for a great read aloud for your library (or classroom)?

When it comes to read aloud selections, I often think about Mother Theresa and her stand on attending Anti-Bullying Rallies. She would not go. But, she would attend a Peace Rally. Take care in your selections and think about how the conversations will benefit your school's culture.

A read aloud should gift students with an experience that may be compared and contrasted against their own life experiences. It should open discussions, celebrate cultures, and make cross-curricular connections.

Our library bookshelves are filled with talented works. So choose wisely. But, I know that with these picks, you cannot go wrong. No matter what selection you make, consider adding the Kindle—and Audible editions—especially when it is recorded in the author’s own voice:

  • The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman
  • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

At times, you might select great read alouds by similar themes or topics and have students select or compare. For this, I’d suggest three recent titles that surround kids and prison life:

  • Born Behind Bars by Padma Venkatraman
  • A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat
  • All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor.

As a librarian, the best gift we can give students is a glimpse into other worlds. That’s what books do. They allow us to stretch and grow and dream and think more about the world in which we live.

Happy Read Alouding! Enjoy helping students become their best readers!

Fun Freewrite Friday Game

Reading is writing and writing is reading. So, now spin the above book discussion into a voice and choice writing lesson and turn your awesome reading discussion into a freewrite activity!

IT'S FUN TO PLAY and invent and invite creativity as a librarian. Here's a great exploration of what that looks like. If you have 30 novels, create a card for each one that shares the plot, but pose it as a Fun Freewrite Friday activity for all your classes. Trust me, students will have a blast writing—and you will never have more fun witnessing their excitement and enjoying a little reading of your own.

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