Reading aloud to children of all ages is important for their successful literacy development. Read alouds can be used effectively to introduce topics across the curriculum in any grade level or to simply inspire a love of books and reading. When looking for good read alouds to share with children either at school or home consider some of the books reviewed in this column.
Bears Don’t Cry! Emma Chichester Clark. (2023). Kane Miller.
George, the extraordinary talking bear living with Clementine and her mother who taught him to read in Bears Don’t Read (2016), is finished with the book he has been reading while they’ve been out. He decides to go to the library on his own to return the book and check out another. As the big, friendly bear walks down the street and tries to talk with people, they are terrified. Through a series of calamities, George finds himself flying into a fountain, getting all wet and soaking his book. When Clementine comes out of the crowd of people laughing at him, she consoles the tearful bear and teaches the onlookers a lesson about friendship and kindness. Even bears cry! British author-illustrator Emily Chichester Clark’s colorful, richly detailed illustrations featuring the charming the bear complement the lively text as they portray the emotions and actions of George, Clementine, and a diverse group of townspeople in this wildly imaginative picture book adventure. (PreK-Gr 2)
Big. Vashti Harrison. (2023). Little, Brown.
This beautifully crafted picture book begins with a contented Black baby girl who has a “big laugh and a big heart and very big dreams.” As time goes by, however, the use of the word “big” takes on a negative connotation for the girl. By second grade, it brings jeering remarks and unthoughtful judgments, as well as humiliation on the playground, in the classroom, and at her dance studio. Author-illustrator Vashti Harrison takes readers on the girl’s journey of advocating for herself as she gives back the hurtful words to those who used them on her and surrounds herself with positive words reflecting self-acceptance and self-love. “I like the way I am.” Through spare text and expressive pink-hued digital artwork with chalk pastels, Harrison tells a compelling story that demonstrates the power of words for affirmation as well as condemnation and the importance of self-esteem. (PreK-Gr 2)
Finally Seen. Kelly Yang. (2023). Simon & Schuster.
Ten-year-old Lina Gao has lived in Bejing with her grandmother. Lao Lao, for the last five years since her parents and little sister moved to Los Angeles. Lina cannot wait to join her parents and sister in their picture-perfect life in California she has imagined. When she is finally reunited with her family, Lina discovers that their life in the U.S. does not match what has been communicated. Instead of a house, the family lives in a tiny apartment and owes back rent. Now Lina must reconcile the new life she thought she was starting with reality as she deals with the hurt of having been “left behind” in China and wonders where she stands in her family. Additionally, Lina feels inadequate as her sister demonstrates her command of English and knowledge of American culture while she struggles in school. Then Lina begins classes with Mrs. Ortiz, an English language Lerner Instructor, becomes friends with Finn, a boy in her class who understands a little Chinese, and makes an important connection to a relatable book they are reading. Through these experiences at school and working with her mom and sister to earn enough money to pay the back rent by selling bath bombs at home, Lina begins to find her voice. (Gr 3-5)
Maurice. Jessixa Bagley. (2023). Chronicle.
Times have changed, and Maurice, a once famous canine musician, is now making a living sharing his love for music with people by playing the accordion on the streets of Paris. “Their love for his songs clattered and clinked into his jar with appreciation.” Maurice uses his earnings to feed the many beloved birds he houses in his apartment, but as times change and the crowds around the city ignore his music, he is no longer able to care for his feathered friends. What Maurice knows he must do—set the birds free—is dramatically revealed with the opening of a double gatefold. Without his muses he has no desire to make music, and his sadness spills into other aspects of his life. Once spring arrives, however, he sees scenes of love in the park that recall precious memories and feels inspired to make music once again. When he starts to play his accordion, his bird friends rejoin him, and together they enchant the crowd that gathers with their song filled with love. There is more to be discovered in the colorful, detailed illustrations rendered in watercolor and digital collage with each rereading of Jessixa Bagley’s charming story about the power of friendship, love, and music. (PreK-Gr 2)
Nubby. Dan Richards. Illus. by Shanda McCloskey. (2023). Alfred A. Knopf.
Nubby, a well-loved blue stuffed bunny, is tired of being dragged, dropped, chewed, and torn. When he is left in the backyard, Nubby sees an opportunity for a fresh start with possibilities for popularity, fame, and riches in “the great wild world” (actually the cul-de-sac). His new adventures find him being dropped by the family dog amid some rabbits who ignore him, meeting a young girl who wants to make him a star in her magic show, and getting dirty searching for treasure on the playground with the dog. Nubby soon misses his boy and longs to return to his old life, realizing that he had taken for granted how wonderful it was to be hugged, cuddled, and cherished. Dan Richards tells the story from Nubby’s perspective in a way that helps young children understand how the toy bunny must feel. Shanda McCloskey adds to Nubby’s engaging story with her humorous, expressive illustrations created using pencil, watercolors, and digital artwork. (PreK-Gr 2)
Oh No, the Aunts Are Here. Adam Rex. Illus. by Lian Cho. (2023). Chronicle.
“The aunts are here, they’re here, they’re here.” With the frenzied entrance into her quiet home by four effusive aunts, a young girl is quickly overwhelmed. The hugging upon their arrival is quickly followed by fixing her hair, commenting on how big she has gotten, giving her gifts, and peppering her with questions. And when the aunts are ready to go sightseeing, beginning with the Quilt Museum, they want her to join them, of course. That night the aunts take over her bedroom, and she must sleep on the couch. They even invade her dreams. In the morning, the chaos continues as the aunts seem to be all over the house, but when she finds an unwelcomed and scary surprise at the breakfast table, she is thankful that her aunts are there to keep her safe! Adam Rex’s rhythmic text with repeated lines presented in different sizes and fonts and Lian Cho’s vibrant, mixed-media cartoon illustrations combine to create a great read-aloud story about a comical family reunion with a giggle-inducing ending. (PreK-Gr 2)
The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow. Elaine Dimopoulos. Illus. by Doug Salati. (2023). Charlesbridge.
Butternut is a rabbit who lives with her nine siblings, mom, and Grandmother Sage in a burrow in Milkweed Meadow. Her family uses storytelling to teach the truths that guide their lives, and Butternut is a gifted storyteller. She has many fears and faithfully abides by her family’s strict rules to stay close to home and keep away from humans and other species. Then she meets Piper, a persistent little robin determined to involve Butternut in scary activities that will have her breaking rules. Before long, Butternut and Piper are best friends sneaking out on adventures during the night that lead to meeting and helping other species of animals, including an injured deer named Winsome. Butternut begins to question her family’s resolve to stick to their own kind as she wrestles with the truth she finds in her new experiences. Doug Salati’s black-and-white illustrations enhance this animal fantasy by a giving a glimpse into Milkweed Meadow and its creatures. (Gr 3-5)
Simon Sort of Says. Erin Bow. (2023). Disney Hyperion.
Simon O’Keeffe’s claim to fame is not something anyone would want to attain. At the age of ten, he was the only survivor in his classroom from a school shooting. Now it is two years later, and his family has moved to Grin and Bear It, Nebraska, a town with no internet. What the town does have are scientists in search of signs of life from space. Together his family navigates Simon’s return to school for the first time since the tragedy in the new town where no one knows their past. Simon befriends an autistic girl named Agate who wants to help the scientists find what they are looking for and involves Simon in her plan. For Simon, putting the plan into motion is a means to write a new story by which he will be known. Erin Bow uses humor to effectively convey the story of a child who has experienced trauma and must learn to move on with his life. (Gr 3-5)
This Book Is My Best Friend. Robin Robinson. (2023). Simon & Schuster.
Two young readers, Sunny and Aarush, claim the same book as their best friend when they get to it at the same time in the library. Sunny loves the book because it has a robot in it; Aarush likes that the story is about a mouse. They find solace in the same book for different reasons, one as a companion when feeling lonely and the other as a haven for being alone. Since there is only one copy of the book, the two boys move throughout the library trying to convince one another to check out other books that have characters that match their interests. Ultimately, they realize their favorite part of the book is the same and wonder if sharing could be the answer to their problem. Robin Robinson’s digitally rendered illustrations in muted tones of orange, brown, and teal provide a glimpse into the comfort provided by the book for Sunny and Aarush while also showing the busy environment of the library full of many books that can be best friends. (PreK-Gr 2)
Winston Chu vs. the Whimsies. Stacey Lee. (2023). Rick Riordan Presents.
In Stacey Lee’s reimagining of a traditional Chinese folktale, Winston Chu is a 12-year-old boy whose mother is striving to keep everything together after his father’s death from a friendly fire accident in Iraq. He also has a grouchy older sister and a cheerful toddler sister. On the three-year anniversary of his father’s death, or Dad-iversary as he refers to it, Winston is skateboarding in Chinatown with a pie he has baked at the local cooking academy in honor of the day when he is knocked off his board and the pie flies from his hands onto two suspicious guys peering into the window of Mr. Pang’s Whimsies shop. As a thank you for protecting the shop from thieves, Mr. Pang invites Winston to choose any item he wants from his shop full of fantastic whimsies. The only stipulation is that he take the first thing he touches. Through a series of unlucky events, Winston ends up taking home a spirit-inhabited broom and dustpan he inadvertently touches. Thus begins Winston’s magical adventures with his friends Mav, Cassa, and Bajal in this humorous, action-packed story full of mystery and twists that make it a lively read aloud. (Gr 3 Up)
Nicole Maxwell is an associate professor specializing in literacy instruction in the Elementary and Special Education Program at the University of North Georgia.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).