Five Indispensable Read Alouds for Boys

I’m not sure what I did to prompt the chromosome gods to unleash a class with twice as many boys than girls upon me. But it must have been epic!

These boisterous boys are fun! But what they really seem to prefer is action. (Who knew? It’s a major breakthrough in gender studies!)

Sarcasm aside, don’t shoot the messenger. I’m telling you what I’m observing in action. And don’t come at me with that, “But, you’re reinforcing gender stereotypes!” My last post should have made it amply clear that I’m not trying to box boys in. This is what I see. Not what pop-psychologists are telling me to see.

In honor of this group I’ve compiled the aforementioned:

Five Indispensable Read Alouds for Boys

Shark vs Train crop

It’s the classic struggle: The Dark Lord vs… well actually it’s two boys having a ridiculously funny toy battle… just as good!

This is Not My Hat

Jon Klassen might be the most groundbreaking picture book author in the mainstream. This is Not My Hat is about crime and punishment (and it’s much more concise than Dostoyevsky’s rendering).

Oh No!

“But there’s a GIRL on the cover!” Honestly, they don’t care: giant monsters, urban battlefields… these kids play Halo and Black Ops at home. Oh No! is speaking their language. It’s not about what their teacher likes. It’s about hooking them into literature.

That is NOT a Good Idea!

That is NOT a Good Idea looks like a predictable fair tale(ish) story. Nope! It’s riveting suspense and the perfect twist at the end.

Battle Bunny

Not only did the boys love Battle Bunny; it’s brilliant commentary on why boys disconnect from school literacy.



Mo Willem’s Motivation to Write

Goldilock and the Three Dinosaurs

In picture books, absolutely brilliant writing will help me overlook simplistic illustrations. (The opposite is rarely true.) Apparently I’m not alone, because Mo Willems‘ smash hit picture book career has consisted of an entire collection of such books.

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs is another fantastically funny addition to Willems’ collection.

In this spin-off, the “poorly supervised” Goldilocks ignores all common sense and trespasses onto the Dinosaurs’ residence. There she scarfs down all three bowls of chocolate pudding regardless of their temperature because IT”S CHOCOLATE!!! (Personally, I’d do the same.) Eventually she grows suspicious of the noises outside the house that sound like dinosaurs (who  want to eat her) and she escapes their trap just in time.

A few years ago a child asked Willems’ where he gets his inspiration to write such creative stories. He said, “I’m lucky. My motivation comes in the mail. It’s called bills!” Whatever the source, it’s working. Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs is another great read aloud.


The Bullying Disconnect: Picture Books and the Playground

Leave Me Alone

The intersection of bullying and picture books makes me cringe. The issue is extremely troubling; but most of the picture book “solutions” are worse: possessing all the street cred of a wannabe suburban gangster.

In this dreamworld, one act of kindness can reform a bully and saying, “STOP IT” works. Meanwhile, back on reality ranch, bullies target the isolated and exploit them because no one stands up for them.

Not in Leave Me Alone.

Despite the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness that dominates our unnamed protagonist, friends rally to his side and turn the bully back with a realistic solution: strength in numbers.

Unfortunately Kes Gray and Lee Wildish’s work is not completely uncontaminated by the picture book fantasy of easy solutions. (The bully never returns.) But Leave Me Alone reduces the disconnect between picture books and the playground by showing how to actually stop a bully; and I’m all for that.

Abe’s Honest Words

Abe's Honest Words

There are over 15,000 books about Abraham Lincoln.

So, is there anything left that hasn’t already been said?

Probably not. But his is a story that bears repeating to the next generation.

From the cover to the story, Abe’s Honest Words is graphically and textually set up like Martin’s Big Words.

Doreen Rappapor chose to make this picture book about Lincoln’s quest to end slavery. She takes us from his formative years through his presidency to his assassination, with quotes from the legend interspersed. It’s sad and moving, but Kadir Nelson‘s impeccable illustrations offer a less somber tone than Martin’s Big Words.

With so many books on Lincoln it’s about time that a fitting story for young readers hit the market. Lincoln was (and is) too important in the US to be relegated to the picture book cheap seats!

A Slave Named Dave

Dave the Potter

The historic record doesn’t tell us much about Dave: which is not uncommon for those whose rights are trampled in the name of profit. What little we do know comes largely from the poems he wrote on the pottery he created: both of which make Dave remarkable.

I like this book. But, I almost panned it because it’s not  representative of the overwhelming majority of the historic American slave experience. Laban Carrick Hill leans heavily toward the romanticized side of slavery to tell the story of Dave’s extraordinary gifts. Thus his owner – and any signs of oppression – are completely absent.  However, because I’m balancing this account with other books depicting the horrors of slavery, Dave the Potter has a place in my classroom. But it couldn’t possibly stand alone.

As is often the case with Bryan Collier‘s work, his moving, well-researched illustrations alone were enough to make this book worth my time.

Under the Quilt of Night

Under the Quilt of Night

If you told me, “Hey! Check this out! I’ve got an awesome POETIC picture book on the underground railroad!” My reaction would be something like, “Hmm, you want me to bore my students death?!”

Don’t get me wrong. I legitimately enjoy poetry. As in, I’ve written a couple hundred poems. But few authors seem capable of producing poems that work well in the picture book market. Call me a doubter… because I am.

But forget about that for now; because Deborah Hopkinson and James E. Ransome delivered the exception to the rule. Under the Quilt of Night is historical fiction told from the perspective of a young girl as her family escapes slavery on the Underground Railroad.

Hopkinson and Ransome give us a sense of real danger as “the master” peruses her family with hounds and guns. But they balance this looming threat with the kindness of strangers, as good prevails and the family finds their way into the arms of freedom.

Lyles Station

A Place Called Freedom

Lyles Station Indiana was a small African American settlement in southern Indiana founded by freed slave Joshua Lyles. Told in the words of his son, A Place Called Freedom is historical fiction based on Joshua’s story of journeying to and starting Lyles Station.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and absolutely recommend it because it captures the essence of both the underground railroad and the Lyles Station story. But I was hoping Scott Russell Sanders would have not embellished the story quite so much. It’s a fault I’m almost willing to overlook.