24 Top Literacy Picks

Posted on June 25, 2013
24 Top Literacy Picks

24 Top Literacy Picks

Posted on June 25, 2013

During the 2013 Literacy Retreat, Kristina Smekens rolled out her favorite books. Below are synopses, book trailers, reviews, and more for her top 24. Titles are listed in alphabetical order within categories:Informational Text, Literary Nonfiction, Literature, and Chapter Books.

Informational Text

Animals Black and White, Phyllis Limbacher Tildes

A black-and-white animal book with clues that invite predictions. Each animal is presented with a short clue or two. Then the question is asked What am I? Turn the page to reveal the answer.

  • For further reading on why animals are different colors, Ask a Biologist.
  • TumbleBooks is available through the Atlantic City Free Public Library. Animals Black and White is a featured nonfiction book.
  • Students can repeat the text structure and format of this book by writing their own Q&A animal book. Visit Wikimedia Commons for a collection of 45 black-and-white animals pictured in living color. Extend this writing activity to include all things black and white.

Life-Size Zoo, Teruyiki Komiya

Open the pages of this book and find out how big animals really are! Each page offers an up-close and life-size image of an animal as well as amazing facts and interesting information. Kids will love finding out how big they are compared to an elephant's ear.

A Rock is Lively, Dianna Hutts Aston

With poetic flair, this book offers hard & lively facts about different kinds of rocks.

  • Visit Dianna Hutts Aston's page to learn more about the author and the other books she's written.
  • Sweet on Books (where reading is a treat) offers a review and tips on how to use the book, a summary, and discussion questions.
  • For more information and photos of rocks, check out RocksforKids.com.

What if You Had Animal Teeth? Sandra Markle

A factual trip of imaginative possibilities for kids to consider what it would be like if their own front teeth were replaced by different animals' teeth.

Literary Nonfiction

The Best American Essays 2012, eds. Robert Atwan and David Brooks

Best American Series--Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The best 20+ current essays compiled in one volume. This year's best include mostly expository texts.

A Boy Called Dickens, Deborah Hopkinson

Charles Dickens worked long, hard hours as a child in a blacking factory in order to support his family. In the 1800s, there were no laws to protect children. During those years, Dickens wandered the streets of London, encountering people who would act as inspiration for many of the creative characters in his later writing.A picture-book biography, fictionalizing 12-year-old Dickens and how his dreams finally came true.

60-Second Recap® Pick of the Week by Deborah Hopkinson

George Washington's Teeth, by Deborah Chandler

Although George Washington did have dentures, they were not made out of wood. Based on some of Washington's primary source documents (e.g., diaries and letters, along with other records), find out what really happened to George's teeth!

Helen's Big World, by Doreen Rappaport

Fall in love with this picture-book biography highlighting the life of Helen Keller, a visionary who saw more through blind eyes than many see through sighted. This book invites children of all ages to be inspired by her courage and impacted by her insight.

Video by Abby from Friendly Hills Middle School (SchoolTube)


Agatha's Feather Bed, by Carmen Agra Deedy

An old woman who weaves beautiful things from thread and cloth encounters trouble with six grumpy (very cold) geese who pay her a visit. Woven throughout the story is the message that everything comes from something. Agatha satisfies the geese with a fitting gift.

  • Add an element of informational text to the reading of this picture book by layering students' knowledge of the types of feathers.
  • Find out how silk is made.
  • Conduct a text-to-text comparison between Agatha cutting her hair to solve a problem and kids who donate their hair to Locks of Love--a not-for-profit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children who suffer from long-term medical hair loss.

Double Trouble in Walla Walla, by Andrew Clements

What begins as a normal day in Walla Walla turns topsy-turvy in this language gone higgledy-piggeldy picture book!

  • Timeless Teacher Stuff offers a Double Trouble in Walla Walla reader's theatre script.
  • Visit the author's website that includes Andrew Clements explaining the original ideas that sparked so many of his books.
  • Find out more about reduplicative word forms. This might inspire a fun poetry-writing assignment.

Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson

When a new girl comes to her school, Chloe doesn't even smile at her. Chloe and her friends don't ever play with her or speak to her. Then one day, the new girl isn't at school. The teacher gives a lesson on kindness, and Chloe takes it to heart, but too late to reach out to the new girl.

Courtesy of NBC Learn. Click here for more Writers Speak to Kids videos.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, William Joyce

Mr. Lessmore loved books. He loved stories. But he realized that "every story has its upsets." The power of story saves the day in this imaginative modern-day classic.

Fox, by Margaret Wild

An allegorical story of the friendship between a blinded dog and a flightless magpie who take care of each other. When a fox enters their lives, how will they respond to him and to each other? And how does it really end? The book invites questions and predictions and incites discussion.

  • Visit Writing Fix for a 6-Traits writing lesson based on the book.
  • Teach students the symbolism behind the fox in this text and other literary works. Here's a great resource for common symbols to build background knowledge for your students.
  • Compare the details learned about the Fox within the picture book and the nonfiction information gleaned from these websites--The Animal Files.com and all about foxes.

Goodnight iPad, Ann Droyd

This spoof on Goodnight Moon brings today's beeps and tweets into the picture of the familiar nighttime scene. Written by Ann Droyd, a perfect pseudonym for this technology-rich parody, Goodnight iPad will make you think about turning off your technology--at least for a night.

Pajama Day, Lynn Plourde (out of print)

When Drew goes to school and discovers that he's forgotten that it was pajama day, he puts his best foot forward (into a lost-and-found glove/slipper) and makes the best of it. Over and over again, Drew finds a way to create a solution for each forgotten element of the day from a breakfast snack to a nap-time pillow.

The Race of the Century, Barry Downard

With creative photograph illustrations and modern-day twists, this version of the tortoise and the hare puts Tom Tortoise against Harry Hare in an extreme media event--the race of the century! The pictures are hilarious and offer more for the reader who looks deeper for the extra details embedded within the illustrations.

  • Listen to an audio version (with still images) of the classic Aesop's Tale at Speakaboos. Students could conduct a text-to-text comparison of the verbal and visual differences.
  • View a modern-day race: Porsche v. bicycle conducted in Beijing--a city known for horrendous traffic. Watch the video to determine if the race's end is similar to or different from the classic fable.
  • Find out more about the illustrator, Barry Downard.

Seven Blind Mice, Ed Young

Interesting twist on the old fable of the blind men trying to identify and elephant by touch. Instead of blind men, it's seven creatively colorful blind mice.

Super Hair-O and the Barber of Doom, John Rocco

The hero of this book thinks his super powers will disappear when he gets his hair cut. His superhero friends fear they have lost their powers as well. When someone in need calls out, will they find the powers they need to help?

The Table Where Rich People Sit, Byrd Baylor

From the perspective of the oldest daughter in the family, they are poor. She feels strongly about that fact until she sits down at their homemade table for a long talk about their assets. When her parents finish listing all they value (a view of the sky, bear tracks, the desert, etc.), she finds out that they are very rich indeed.

Chapter Books

Because of Mr. Terupt, by Rob Buyea

Follow seven students as they journey into fifth grade with a teacher they all love. But find out each student's perspective as short chapters introduce their take on him and on their classmates.

Flutter, by Erin Moulton

Sisters set out on a journey for a miracle for their newest sister who is born prematurely. In the process, they discover things about themselves they never knew.

A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness

A13-year-old boy struggles with nightmares both while sleeping and while awake. His mother is dying, and his father is in America with a new wife and baby. Conor is visited by a monster in his dreams--a monster who tells him three parables and requires that after the telling, Conor tell his own truth. The book offers a look at raw grief and a hope for healing within the same cover.

Paperboy, Vince Vawter

An 11-year-old boy who struggles with stuttering is thrown into a situation that requires communication. He becomes a paperboy.

The Secret School, Avi

Ida Bidson wanted to be a teacher. But, when the one-room schoolhouse in her remote Colorado town may shut down, her hopes for a high school education seem impossible. Who could teach her small school? Could she?

Any questions? Call Smekens Education toll free at 888-376-0448.