Inspiration. Satisfaction. Sadness. Triumph. Longing. All of these emotions might describe what readers feel when reaching the end of a great story.
Room 212 just wrapped up another read-aloud and the overwhelming consensus was that Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper gave us lots of mixed emotions to sort out and just as much to think about. For some, this powerful story about a brilliant girl with cerebral palsy strengthened our beliefs and was a call to action. When asked to share their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs related to the book, along with how they might be motivated to take action, the kids had plenty to say…
This book makes me want to stand up to bullies so people could have a good time at school and learn better. I feel good about “Out of My Mind” because it tells us that people who have a disability are smart. I believe this book is good to show people who have a disability are talented.
I think “Out of My Mind” is one of the best chapter books I’ve ever read. It made me so sad when we finished the book. Almost everyone in my class was sad and we all asked is there a sequel? I loved that book. This book makes me sad, happy and confused. If I were in the book “Out of My Mind,” I would stick up for Melody.
This book makes me want to have even more empathy than I have already and it makes me want to give people a lot of chances because people might be rough on the outside but nice in the middle. I think that Melody was very tough. I really think they should make a sequel. I wish Melody could be a real person so I could meet her. I believe that after everything Melody’s been through, she can get through anything.
To some, ending a read-aloud and moving onto a new title might not seem like such a big deal. But in Room 212, it’s more than a big deal. With a teaching and learning plate that’s always overflowing, it’s a never-ending challenge to fit everything into our school day. The time we manage to carve out for this favorite activity has become sacred. I feel a strong sense of responsibility to make sure our daily read-aloud is all that it can be. When deciding which books deserve a seat at the table, I consider my commitment to “windows and mirrors” and making sure kids get to experience a wide range of culturally and racially diverse stories and characters. I think about the importance of sharing a range of genres. I contemplate how the language and vocabulary in the books might impact my multi-lingual students. Finally, I take into account the length of the book, knowing that if we’re lucky, we might only get to share a half dozen different read-alouds during the school year.
As we neared the end of Out of My Mind, the kids were already starting to buzz about what we should read next. My desire to give kids voice and choice is always a priority yet I also have many personal favorites that I’d love to share. So, what’s a teacher to do?
In Room 212, we start by compiling a list of book suggestions. Kids take turns “book talking” the titles they’ve nominated. This time around, we had seven different books to consider (five from students and two from me). After we heard a bit about each book, we did a first round of voting with kids getting two votes each. They cast both votes for the same book or choose two different titles to award one vote each. Our list got narrowed down from seven to three. Next, we watched a book trailer of the top three vote-getters. We talked a bit more about the books’ genres, main characters and reasons for wanting or not wanting a certain title. Finally, we held our second round of ballots, one vote per student, and our coveted new read-aloud was selected!
Sounds like a great plan, right? However, just like a dinner party that doesn’t always meet your expectations, sometimes a great plan doesn’t work out. This time it didn’t.
Our top three titles were Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson, The Endling, by Katherine Applegate and Framed by James Ponti. The kids in Room 212 showed tremendous support for the highly-acclaimed book The Endling, thanks to the enthusiastic student-led book talk and the book trailer presented by the author. We eagerly launched the book (which received starred reviews from ALA, Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and more) by reading the first three chapters. We quickly discovered that this 400+ page book might not actually be a great fit for our class. A number of students expressed concern about keeping all of the made-up animal names and words straight. One student explained that he was having trouble visualizing the story because he wasn’t sure what the fantasy animals looked like and others agreed. Several more pointed out that it would take a long time to finish such a long book.
It was obvious that we needed to rethink our choice. We talked about how readers sometimes abandon books and recalled that it happened once last year with a different read-aloud. We also discussed the power of “yet”… Maybe we weren’t ready for this book “yet” but we might be in the future. Then we went back to the menu of books before us and turned our attention to the runner up title, Framed. The student who shared the book loved this clever and captivating tale about a 12-year-old covert FBI agent, Romanian mafia, and an art heist. We decided to read a couple of chapters and the majority of kids were instantly intrigued and entertained (we also realized this would be our very first mystery read-aloud!). We made a pact that in the future, before taking our final vote, we would read a chapter or two from each of the finalists.
Reading a great book aloud with the kids in Room 212 is most definitely one of the highlights of our day. This is one of the ways we discover the magic of books and reading. This is how we explore feelings, thoughts, and beliefs that books and reading can bring to us. This is what builds our community. This is why we are oftentimes called to action. It all starts with a great book and some really great kids.