Thursday, February 10, 2011

Reading Aloud in the Classroom: Mick Harte Was Here Is a Quick, Emotional YA Read

My students begged me to keep reading this book, even when the last bell of the day would ring. Several kids -- not normally big readers -- implored me to let them borrow the book overnight so they could read ahead. I'm not sure there's better praise for a YA book.

I decided this year that I would be reading aloud to my students every day most days. We try to always stop whatever we are working on and just read for the last five or ten minutes of every class period. My homeroom gets a little bonus, because we sometimes have opportunities to read first thing in the mornings or late in the afternoons as we are preparing to go home. (For more on why this is a good idea, even if it doesn't necessarily align with state standards, go here.)

The first book we read was The BFG and it took... Well, I'm embarrassed to tell you. A long, long time. Turns out a dense book with invented words might not be the best book for beginning read-alouds. Nevertheless, my kids liked it, and many have checked out other Roald Dahl titles from the classroom library. When we finished The BFG, I was determined to find a short, fast read. I also wanted something very different from Dahl's fantastical, giant-filled land. Something more of my students could relate to. After poring over Jim Trelease's Read Aloud Handbook (a fantastic reference book for teachers and parents), I bought a stack of YA books at McKay's Used Books in January.

Mick Harte Was Here was our first read from that stack. At 88 pages, it took me only two weeks to finish -- a definite plus. And (best of all), my students LOVED it. 8th grader Phoebe narrates the short novel, set in the aftermath of her brother Mick's death. Rather than being melancholy, the book is instead both funny and sad by turns. Phoebe recalls fights with her brother and moments when the two of them teamed together to cause trouble. Readers see the natural progression of grief as she and her family deal with what it truly means to lose a family member. Although no real conclusion is reached in under 100 pages, Park manages to bring a ray of hope for Phoebe before the novel's end.

Barbara Park is a successful YA and children's author; she has penned favorites like Skinnybones and The Kid in the Red Jacket, but also writes the Junie B. Jones series.

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