Opening Day Read Aloud (or trying to hook undergrads)

I am almost finished with my syllabus for the children’s literature course I will be teaching this semester at Michigan State University in the College of Education. This will be the 15th time I have taught TE348. I still love it.

I’ve never taught the course the same way twice, even when teaching 2 or 3 sections at the same time. Part of this is because each class has it’s own personality and I try to incorporate that into the readings and discussions that I plan.I also change the literature – both that I bring into read and that the students read. Right now I’m thinking about what to read aloud on the first day of class. I always begin and end our first class meeting with a read aloud. Though I will continue to read aloud throughout the semester, I do it more than usual on this first day. I want to try and hook my students, to have them either remember the enjoyment of being read to or perhaps experience it for the first time. They are 19, 20, 21 years old – mostly education majors. They have forgotten about what Perry Nodelman so perfectly calls “The Pleasures of Literature” (also the title of his 2003 textbook co-authored with Mavis Reimer).

I have started many a semester by reading the opening chapter of The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. I love it not only because it is beautifully written but because every time I wonder if the toddler is going to escape The Man Jack. Mostly I love it because my undergraduate students are completely silent. They don’t move. They don’t text or facebook or tweet. The listen and hold their breath right along with me. And then as they are leaving I hear 2 or 3 of them say, “I didn’t know children’s literature could be like THAT!”

I’m not sure yet if I’ll start with the Graveyard Book again or try something different. Keeping in mind I’m limited to 2-3 books (or chapters of books), what would you select?


11 thoughts on “Opening Day Read Aloud (or trying to hook undergrads)

  1. Oh, The Graveyard Book is such a good choice for this! Some of my favorites I read this year include A Tale Dark & Grimm (Adam Gidwitz), Toys Go Out (Emily Jenkins), Wonderstruck (Brian Selznick), and Inside Out & Back Again (Thanhha Lai). These are all fun to read aloud/listen to, and they all have unique styles of storytelling. Enjoy the first day with your class! I was a 7th grade English teacher before having my kids, and I loved reading aloud to my students — and they loved it, too. I look forward to reading & following your blog!

  2. Can I go back to school and sign up for this course? It sounds fantastic.

    The Graveyard Book is an excellent choice. I’d also suggest The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, or The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Let us know what you ended up reading!

  3. I haven’t read The Graveyard Book but I do remember my Children’s Literature course in college. It was one of my favorite courses I took when I was preparing to be a teacher. A seed was planted in that class that grew slowing when I was a teacher but has really taken off now that I am a parent. Reading good books to children is so important. I wish you luck with your course this semester! I look forward to reading your blog.

    • I have thought about that seed analogy before and shared it with my students. The children’s lit course at MSU is one of the few courses that students can take before they are accepted into the College of Education. This is both good and bad, I worry that it means that they won’t make connections back to it as they move through their coursework and field experiences. This semester I’m teaching the senior level Language Arts Methods course for the first time and am anxious to make connections from the seeds that were hopefully planted earlier.
      Thanks for the comment!

  4. The Graveyard Book is a great choice. I was hooked from the first sentence. Charlotte’s Web is another good one, although perhaps not quite as compelling for college students. Then there are The Westing Game and Bridge to Terabithia. If you do picture books, I think college students could also relate to Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

    • Pat –
      I love Charlotte’s Web as well, I often share it later on in the semester. Might be a fun one to start with though. I had forgotten about Alexander – I’m adding it to the shortlist!
      Thanks so much for your comment – Kristin

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