First, Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman. My daughter and I read this aloud together a few years ago in less than an hour. If you have a reader who enjoys a crazy, silly, unexpected adventure, then this is your book. When mum goes away for a trip and leaves dad in charge, he runs the family out of milk. Bad show, Dad! He has to make it up to his son and daughter. He goes to get the milk, "And then something odd happened." This adventure has pirates, hot air balloons, a dinosaur inventor, wumpires, talking volcanoes, and ponies, of course. Clever ponies. Don't be surprised if you have to read it aloud again, and again...
The only series I'm going to mention in this post is The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley. My daughter and I read these, making it through book 6 before she finally got to the point where she felt she was too old to read aloud together. Many of you have memories that stand out in the lives of your kids which mark a turning point, one of those moments you realize your child is getting older and even though you know it is supposed to happen, you can't help but feel sad when it comes and know you'll never get back what has just passed. For me, this is a big one. We spent a lot of time reading aloud together, and it was hard to let that go. But back to the book. This series is a good mix of adventure and mystery. I do need to mention that there are fairy tale murders to investigate, so you need to keep that in mind when deciding if this is right for your audience. If you have a group of kids who want a story with clues and a little danger, these fractured fairy tales are an excellent choice. The kids will love to see how familiar character become new again.
Another great read for campfire settings, October, or anytime you want a little fright is Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz. This is a collection of old stories and folklore many of you may have forgotten from your childhood. All the stories in this book are short to very short, and several can be read in one setting. I have used these for scary story time for both a 4th-5th grade group and a middle school group. There are some great, repetitive stories and thought provoking stories in here. My favorite, however, are the "jump stories." These are the ones where you stomp your foot, or get real quiet, sucking the readers in before making a loud noise and watching them all jump. I recommend picking a few for your reading and practicing them so that you'll be able to maximize the fun and spookiness of these tales.
Kate DiCamillo's name may be familiar to many of you who know children's books. Unfortunately, one of her books is charming and too often overlooked; that book is The Magician's Elephant. This quick, quaint read involves many of the characters who live in the village which gives the book a good sense of community. It's central figure is a boy looking for his sister who is probably dead, but he is given hope by a fortuneteller who states to him, cryptically, "You must follow the elephant." Another great part to this book involves a magician who only knows one trick. When this magician decides to use his magic in order to impress a woman (and why else do you learn magic, I ask), it goes terribly wrong. Also, you don't want to miss Yoko Tanakas' fantastic illustrations. This is an absolutely enchanting read.
Another spooky entry, Mary Downing Hahn's Took, was all the rage at the school's book fairs last year. My stepdaughter, who is an excellent reader and a reluctant one, read this one last year and then gave it to me to read (after, of course, she let her bff read it). Ms. Hahn, who is a former librarian, specializes in ghost stories for kids. This one is based on an old story that my stepdaughter and I found and read following her reading of this book. She really enjoyed seeing that this book was an expanded version of an American folktale, and we actually had the opportunity to talk about the differences in the two. There is plenty that is creepy in this book. There are dark woods, conversations with a doll (shiver), missing kids, an old woman who may be a witch, and a man-eating hog called Bloody Bones. If you want a eerie story that you can also use to talk about folktales, Took is likely for you.
I hope you have a chance to read these books to your class or kids at home. Please let me know in the comments what other books you have found are good read aloud books for children in these grades.
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