A good source for high quality nonfiction is the American Library Association’s publication Booklist – in particular, the “starred reviews.” Below are some newer titles that received “starred reviews” and that I think would read aloud well in our PreK-1st grade (even 2nd) grade classrooms.
Machines Go to Work in the City by William Low (2012). Read this and immediately ordered my own copy. You can tell from the cover that the “machines” are well illustrated, providing plenty of visual details for discussion. The author reaches out to the reader – informing, then asking a question, and then giving an unexpected answer.
VROOM! Here comes the garbage truck, making its run!
TURN THE PAGE
When the truck makes its last pickup, are the garbage collectors done for the day?
OPEN A HIDDEN FLAP
No, they must go to the landfill to empty the trash.
The author doesn’t shy away from domain specific vocabulary for our young listeners – train yard, engineer, brakes, giant vacuum truck, water pipe, vacuum truck, etc. LOVE the end pages which give more details about each of the “machines” featured in the book. You could easily read this aloud – a couple of times and leave in the classroom library. Even with emergent and early writers, you could create opportunities to sketch, label, and write in response. Young writers could also use this book as a mentor text for their own writing – using the structure of informing, asking questions, and giving unexpected answers.
While it didn’t receive a “starred review” in Booklist – I also like Low’s Machines Go To Work (2009) too – for the same reasons as described above.
Planes Fly! (2013) by George Ella Lyon. Lyon plays with rhyming language as he takes the reader on an exploration of different kinds of planes, plane parts, the people who work on and with planes –
This could be an entertaining read aloud in preK-kindergarten that offers opportunities to play with rhyming language while also deepening children’s understanding of air transportation with domain specific vocabulary like cockpit, yoke pedals, dials and details like “pilots on the skyroad logging in the miles.” This text is an introduction – in that there is no labeling, no endpapers with more information (which I think should have been included), no further explanation. You can infer what the author is talking about from the illustrations for the most part, but children might want to learn more. Our youngest writers could engage in research, sketching and labeling.
Locomotive by Brian Floca (author of Moonshot and Lightship). This book is AMAZING. There’s so much to say about what can be done with this book. It’s much more complex than the previous two and would be a good read aloud for late first grade and second grade (if they have the stamina for listening to informational texts read aloud). The rhythm of the language lends itself to reading aloud –
Here is how this road was built,
with a grunt and a heave and a swing,
with the ring of shovels on stone,
the ring of hammers on spikes:
CLANK CLANK CLANK!
Floca tackles engineering, those who run the train and work on the train, a variety of landscapes, distance and more. Our youngest listeners will not understand it all, but I believe they will be fascinated nonetheless and understand enough, as a result – which might be the point. Caution – it will take a few days to read this aloud – it’s long and thorough. One thought – to make this interactive – the onomatopoeias (like CLANK CLANK CLANK!) are in big, bold print and might be fun for students to repeat (enthusiastically) after you. This is a book you can pass UP the grades, too. I can see using this as a mentor text for 4th and 5th grade writers.
Booklist does require a subscription (which is a bit pricey for individual teachers); if you’re interested in perusing for more titles, ask your school or public librarian if she or he subscribes for the school or community. There are hard copies as well as a digital archive of current and past issues.