Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Nonfiction Read Aloud, part 1

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I'm going to highlight some great nonfiction read alouds that I've come across recently.

Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom
by Shane W. Evans
Roaring Book Press, 2011
review copy provided by the publisher

How did I miss this book when it first came out? The instant I read it, it jumped to the top of my Potential Caldecott list. This book does just what a picture book is supposed to do: the words need the pictures and the pictures need the words.

There are only about 50 words in the whole book. They come in short phrases and sentences on each page or spread: "The darkness. The escape. We are quiet."

The book is dark at the beginning, lit only by a sliver of moon and the stars, as the slaves steal away and are helped along.

About midway, when the text reads, "We are tired," the horizon begins to lighten. In our darkest hour, after the longest journey, the light of hope and the hope of freedom shine through. The book glows with light at the end and the silence and fear and darkness on the front cover are replaced with hope and light and new life on the back cover.

UNDERGROUND is deceptively simple. Not only would it make an excellent introduction to the Underground Railroad for young children, it would work in talking with older children about theme, and about the mood invoked with the use of color and the choice of words. Older readers already familiar with the Underground Railroad could think about the inferences and connections they make as they read, and they could brainstorm other people who work or have worked to bring light into the world, who have strived for freedom and justice.

More reviews and promo:
Carol's Corner
ALSC/ALA Notable Children's Book Nominee
ACPL Mock Caldecott shortlist

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans
by Kadir Nelson
Balzer+Bray (HarperCollins), 2011
review copy provided by the publisher

Here's another fabulous nonfiction read aloud. This one is longer -- about 100 pages, including full-page and double-page illustrations. Kadir Nelson's paintings and words show us and tell us the story of America from the point of view of African Americans. The voice in the narrative is a grandmotherly voice which engages and speaks directly to the reader.

Students of American history need to read this book alongside the "official" story told in their textbook. They need to compare and contrast; notice what's been left out of the textbook and wonder why.

This would also make a great nonfiction read aloud. There are twelve chapters. Read one a week and in twelve weeks your students will have a more complete understanding of American history.

More reviews:
Fuse #8
Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Watch. Connect. Read. (MrSchuReads)
PW ShelfTalker
The Art of Kadir Nelson


  1. Anonymous6:49 AM

    I'm glad that you spotlighted Underground, one of my favorite picture books this year. I haven't seen too much of it around the blogs. But then, my feeder leans more toward the MG/ YA side. My heart was happy to see it get some love, then surprised to see that you linked to my review! Thanks!

    Heart and Soul will be on my pile as soon as I can pry it away from the seventh grade social studies teacher. I made the "mistake" of showing it to her when I took it out of the box. Kadir Nelson just keeps getting better and better with each project.


  2. This is AWESOME! We just chatted about non-fiction read alouds via Twitter and I am glad you have some ideas to help me get started! Thanks!

  3. I just bought "Heart and Soul" at Bank Street Books - what a great resource!


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