I have always had a hard time labeling my “favorite” of something. For some reason I have an enormously hard time narrowing things down to 1. I can’t choose just one amazing ice cream flavor; my favorite concrete has Oreos, Heath bars AND pecans. How in the world do you choose ONE favorite song from your 40 years of life? Favorite movie? No way! There are too many good ones. And don’t even get me started on my favorite book. Can’t do that either.
Somehow it seems unfair to me. Or just too hard to spend my time on it. Also, every movie, book, song, food, etc. is so different from every other one there’s NO WAY to decide. Apples and oranges here, people! (Oh, wait! There you go. My favorite fruit is apples. Organic fuji apples, thank you. 🙂 And they are the ONLY fruit that can be cooked or baked into another food).
So I already mentioned not having a favorite book, and it seems that as a teacher, that’s teh one that I most often get asked to identify. “Hey, Mrs. Bearden! Let me take a picture of you and your favorite for this library display!” Mrs. Meihaus so kindly asked me a year or so ago. Nope. Couldn’t do it. I had to at least include two in my picture. ‘Cause really ALL THE BOOKS are my favorites. Because they’re books. And there are just too many.
But while I cannot nail down ONE definite favorite book, I have always been able to identify a short list of titles, as well as a short list of admired authors. And not surprisingly, the two lists often have similarities. I can even remember a time when I mentioned many of them in an old blog post I wrote about reading. And as I reread it, I did designate a book and an author, but I think I said it was “one of my favorites.” There. See, still hard people. 🙂
But here’s the thing. It wasn’t until recently that I really could nail down what it is about why I am drawn to certain authors and why I read all of their books. I think at one point I would have said that it was the characters. For example, Fig Pudding has the most realistic characters ever (maybe because they are based on actual people!), and I love the way I feel when I read about a big, loving family and all of their crazy antics. That is NOT the family I live in and it’s fun to see how the other side lives. Walk Two Moons was another great story about a real character, and became even more “real” after I had babies. The tears that streamed on the second read were much more intense. And that’s another thing: I seem to be drawn to stories that bring forth strong emotions. Guess I’m a sucker for a good cry (gotta give Fig Pudding another point in that category!). For some unknown reason I also seem to LOVE to read books that involve baked goods. 🙂 . You put pie, cupcakes, cookies, a restaurant or a recipe in a story and it’s for me. And man–the WHOLE series that Giada DeLaurentiis put out where the kids travel around the world and experience the food and culture–genius (I really enjoyed the one about Paris).
And so it wasn’t until just these last few books I’ve read–with my first graders in our classroom–that I was able to see exactly what it was that make my favorites my favorites….
Because I’ve been eye-deep in the #classroombookaday challenge for the last few years, that has meant that I’ve read many less chapter books with my kiddos than I have in years past. And also differently than previous years, I gave kids more control in choosing what those chapter books would be. I did give them a list to choose from, rather than just having them go all willy-nilly, but ultimately they were in charge.
They chose Roscoe Riley Rules #1–Never Glue Your Friends to Chairs as their first book. I put it in the pile (along with books like Clementine, My Father’s Dragon and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane) because it was a new series to me–one that I had bought for my son (who is a RILEY!) but that he had never read. I was pretty sure it was good, since I knew the author (which I will say more about later). We soon grew to love Roscoe and his antics, and especially were drawn to the way he talked right to us. He tells the whole story from timeout! Not to give anything away…the major idea of the book series is that Roscoe tries to be helpful but then accidentally breaks a rule and goes to timeout, tells you the story and then is out of timeout in the last chapter. He’s a kid, he goes to school, he has a funny family and he gets in trouble–perfect first grade fodder!
Our second choice–probably because the first one was HILARIOUS–was Roscoe Riley Rule #2–Never Swipe a Bully’s Bear. We read this one in about two school days because we just couldn’t put it down. It follows the same routine, which makes it predictable enough for kiddos that haven’t heard lots of chapter books before (makes it easier to hold all the info and characters in their head!), but told about a new rule that Roscoe had broken. Kids connected with the “bully” theme in this one, as well as the “lovey” that the kid wanted to bring to school.
So fast-forward to our current read aloud, which is NOT a Roscoe Riley book, but is related to it because it’s written by the same amazing author–The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. I fell in love with this book when it first came out (I was teaching 5th grade at that time) and I have read it to every class I’ve taught since then–in 1st grade, 2nd grade and 5th grade. And I think I read it to my own kids at home at least 3 times. Yep, because it’s that good.
And as we’ve been getting further into this book, I’ve been noticing more about what makes all these books I’ve mentioned (and the ones I listed earlier) similar: voice. They are written in the character’s first-person voice. They use funny ways to describe things. The words they say are real, and I can imagine myself actually saying some of them. The sentences don’t follow all the rules–which I LOVE–because it’s how I write, too. The characters who tell the stories also have a little bit of a sarcastic streak in them. Which I also have. And particularly with Ivan, there are strong emotions involved. Because of the way Applegate tells the story, you want to (you HAVE to, really) care about what happens to the characters.
So…here’s a list of MANY of my favorite books (and their authors are also my favorites), most of which are written with a strong lead voice and probably make me either sob like a baby or laugh out loud hysterically. Or maybe both. 🙂
1.) Walk Two Moons, Granny Torelli Makes Soup, Pleasing the Ghost and The Unexpected Angel by Sharon Creech
2.) Fig Pudding and Marshfield Dreams by Ralph Fletcher
3.) Crash by Jerry Spinelli
4.) Everything by Joan Bauer. I’ve read them all. 🙂
5.) Roscoe Riley Rules Series and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
6.) The Watsons Go to Birmingham and The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis
7.) The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and the Mercy Watson series by Kate Di Camillo
8.) The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
9.) Countless others that I cannot remember right now but that I will think of as soon as I hit PUBLISH. 😉
And of course since there are millions more picture books than chapter books that I’ve read and there are TOO MANY OF THEM TO MENTION THAT ARE MY FAVORITES, I ‘ll save that for another time. And goodness, that list will be long, too. Because I love all the books. Just ask any kid in my class. 🙂
What are YOUR favorite books? Who are YOUR favorite authors? Do you know why you love them? I’d love to hear your thinking, and maybe even get a recommendation for something that could become a NEW favorite book of mine! Please leave a comment!
I read biographies a lot as a kid… there was this series we had in my school that I devoured, then as an adult not so much until I student taught in Marcie’s class and Lucy Caulkins had me teaching a narrative non-fiction unit. And now they’re bumped back up to my favorites again. Because life is hard, in different ways, for everyone, and I like the reminder that from great struggles can come great stories. And that people I admire faced other people around them as naysayers. (Shark Lady, Pocketful of Colors, The World Is Not a Rectangle, Whoosh, Take a Picture of Me James Van Der Zee, etc.)
As for meant-for-grown-up-books I analyzed all the books we read at book club the past year and realized I liked contemporary or realistic fiction with a gripping story and social commentary (The Underground Railroad by Whitehead, The Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood, Behold The Dreamers by Mbue) best. …non-fiction books has a whole other list! …actually, two–personal and professional. 🙂