Starting with a Visit




At the beginning of every school year, I prioritize spending time with students. I enjoy welcoming students who are returning and meeting those who are new to our school. I want to develop relationships with students that are based on trust and respect, and I want them to know that my main role is to support them and their learning. These visits help me start the year off in a positive way!

During each class visit, I share a bit about myself and a favorite book (or books) that I think they might also enjoy. I’ll either read the whole book if it’s a picture book or I’ll read a chapter if it’s a longer book. I also share why each book is a favorite of mine and what role it has played in my life. After all, isn’t that the power of a good book… to transform lives?

Every year I carefully select different books for each grade level. This year my list included the books below.

Grade 3

  • ada twistAda Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty & illustrated by David Roberts
    This is my favorite new book of the year. The kids loved it!
  • Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
    The third graders will read this book during the school year, so I just show the cover as a lead-in to the next book that is…
  • The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
    I read the first chapter of this book to the children. I warn them that it will be a very dramatic reading because the character of Antoinette, who is the mouse mother, is a very dramatic character!

I explain to the students that books can be very personal. I have a special connection to the two by Kate DiCamillo because both Winn-Dixie and Despereaux were favorites of my daughter when she was in third grade. As a matter of fact, the copies of the books that I share with the students are actually my daughters’ books, and I show them where she wrote her name inside the front covers.

Grade 4

  • mixed upFrom the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
    This book was a favorite of mine when I was in fourth grade. I probably read it three times over the course of the school year. I dreamt of visiting The Met someday so I could trace the steps of Claudia and Jamie through the museum. I loved the story so much that it led me to a second book by Konigsburg that was…
  • Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth by E.L. Konigsburg
    Konigsburg was an artist who could craft stories and develop characters like few others I’ve encountered. With Jennifer, I so identified with Elizabeth that I often pretended I was her and practiced taking on many of her idiosyncrasies. I even wore an old key on a piece of string around my neck. Just like Elizabeth.

Since our fourth graders start the year with the writers workshop The Arc of Story: Writing Realistic Fiction unit, I share the Mental Floss article, 17 Fun Facts About ‘From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler’ that highlights several small moments from Konigsburg’s life that she used to develop her story. I love making connections to what students are learning in class!

Grade 5

  • wrinkleA Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
    Talk about a transformative book. I read Wrinkle for the first time when I was in fifth grade and it truly changed me as a reader. L’Engle challenged my ideas about what genres of books I liked, how I read for deeper understanding, and what it meant to lose myself in a story. I’ve since read this book too many times to count, including as an adult. And I have it by my bedside to read again soon.
  • When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
    Influenced by her own childhood reading of Wrinkle, Stead wove the novel throughout her own story. My daughter read this book when she was a fifth grader, and she still counts it among her favorites.

When I present these books, I suggest that one way to read them is as companion books. I explain that the students don’t need to read both books to enjoy them, but that the connections between the two can provide a deeper level of understanding for both because of the new perspectives they can have as readers.

Given the place that Wrinkle holds for many as one of the most beloved children’s books of all time, I share a bit of its backstory with the students. Mental Floss once again comes to the rescue with their article 12 Fantastic Facts About A Wrinkle in Time. The perseverance that L’Engle had to approach – and be rejected by – 26 publishers before the book was published is a true lesson in determination and grit. In addition, L’Engle was a pioneer by identifying Meg Murray, a girl, as the protagonist in a science fiction/fantasy book in the 1960s. I love the looks of disbelief and even indignance on the children’s faces when I tell them that this was unheard of at the time.

So how do I determine if my visits are actually inspiring the children to find those books that speak to them and that can even change the way they think and view the world? Well, a fifth grader stopped by my office this past week. She wanted to share a book that she’d just finished reading and that made her think about topics she’d never thought about before. That book was George by Alex Gino. The student gave me a summary of the story and said, “Mrs. Black, I loved this book and I think you will, too. You really need to read it.”

Wow. That’s the stuff right there.


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