Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Read Alouds for an Older Crowd

As part of my library outreach, I visit a fair number of year-round daycares. My daycare numbers increase in the summers, since many school-age kids find themselves in these programs once school is out of session. To accommodate this wider age range, I've been asked to provide multiple story times when I visit daycares in the summer: one for the younger kiddos I've been visiting all year, and a second one for the older school-age kids. I'm happy to oblige, even considering the extra planning involved.

These visits do take extra planning--I wouldn't dare read the older kids the same books that I read to the little ones! For one, the older kids would complain about being read "baby" books. And secondly, these kids' school experiences have equipped them for longer, more complex stories. They are able to think at least somewhat abstractly, to recognize themes and morals, and to understand cause and effect with more depth than their younger siblings. Older kids also have more nuanced senses of humor, a fact that makes reading with them all the more enjoyable. I try to keep all of these things in mind when I select stories to read aloud with a school-age group. Here are some of my go-to book categories when planning these outreach story times.

Folk Tales and Fairy Tales
     I'm always surprised at how many kids don't know classic folk and fairy tales these days. Sure, they've got traditional tale references in popular culture (think the Shrek films, kids' tv shows, everything Disney, etc.), but more often than not kids are unfamiliar with the actual story of a folk or fairy tale. Thus I always try to bring at least one such book to my school-age read alouds. Knowing classic tales like Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and Hansel and Gretel helps kids grasp some of the most common themes in life, and it also prepares them for the allusions they'll see in everything else they read in their lives. Once kids have a basic understanding of common fairy tales, they can get greater enjoyment out of variations, too (e.g., Princess Furball as a wonderful variation on Cinderella). And folk tales have been passed down through the generations for centuries because they impart something true about life to everyone who hears them. Sure, lots of folk tales can be a bit scary--my favorite, Heckedy Peg, included--but kids gobble that up. These older kids are of an age that they enjoy testing their limits, and study after study demonstrates that books and stories are the optimal forum for doing so. If your audience turns out to already know the stories you've selected, you need not fret. These books are almost always beautifully illustrated, and I've known a ten-minute story to take twice that long because everyone wanted to admire the pictures.

 Narrative, Illustrated Non-Fiction
     School-age children have ever-developing understandings of fiction versus non-fiction, and I always love to highlight some amazing true stories in my read alouds to help reinforce this difference. Imagination is important in sharing stories with kids, but the fascination prompted by a true story can often reach that hard-to-please young listener. Luckily for us librarians, there are more and more fantastic non-fiction picture books published every year, and many of these make terrific read alouds. Some of my favorites: Pierre the Penguin, about a penguin who, I am sad to say, has a major problem in that he has no butt feathers (Oh my gosh! The librarian just said "butt!"); and Librarian on the Roof!, an account of one Texas librarian's advocacy for young readers at her library. Sharing true stories like these allows kiddos to not only see the world they know reflected in the pictures of a book, but to also see themselves and the things they care about most.

Proven Favorites
     I probably don't need to make much of an argument to encourage librarians to include their favorite stories in school-age read alouds. After all, we are well aware of the enduring popularity of such titles--maybe we even have fond recollections of having them read aloud to us when we were youngsters. My short argument, then, is this: don't assume just because a book is a proven favorite or classic that kids have read it; and even if they have already read it, don't assume they don't want to read it again. These favorites are like a rite of passage: once a child has read the story, he or she is part of the group that is "in the know." Some perennially popular titles that come to mind are Purple, Green and Yellow and Miss Nelson is Missing! Both of these stories have great endings--one silly and laugh-inducing, one that feels like being let in on a secret. Kids love knowing that they are part of the club that "gets" these books after they've experienced them; and I love that I get to initiate them into that club whose members love books. With titles like these, we all win.

So there you have it, my three most-used categories of read aloud material for older children. What titles do you share with your school-age crowd? What are your go-to types of books?

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