Every year at our school I hold a reading competition for the 4th and 5th graders called the Battle of the Books. This competition is purely voluntary and the main goal is to encourage reading. I pick around 15 titles over the summer and then buy enough copies to have for the start of the school year. I book talk all the titles to my 4th and 5th grade classes and give them a handout with the rules and titles so they can cross them off as they go. Over the course of the school year they read all 15 books and then take an elimination quiz in the spring to see which students make it into the battle. Then in June we have a big assembly and the kids who make it into the battle with with their teams and answer questions I have typed up about all the books in a Jeopardy format. All the students get small engraved trophies for participating. My favorite part is reading all the books over the summer and picking my absolute favorites. I am careful to pick books that will appeal to both boys and girls and I also make sure to pick one nonfiction book and one biography. Here are the books I choose for the past 2011-2012 school year.
Benjamin Pratt and the Keepers of the School: We the Children By Andrew Clements
This is the first book in a mystery series by prolific author Andrew Clements. I love his books because the characters are so relate-able for elementary school students. Good twists, dialogue and humor keep you turning the pages.
Candymakers By Wendy Mass
This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. It was definitely the favorite out of all the Battle of the Books titles I picked this year according to the students. Many students that didn't try out for the battle still read this book after hearing my book talk. I had to buy 5 copies for the library because it was always checked out! It is reminiscent of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory because it takes place in a candy factory and is about a contest, but that is where the similarities end. Four children have won the opportunity to invent a new candy at the Life is Sweet candy factory. The book is divided into sections with each of the four main characters telling their version of the story. Every time you think you have it figured out you realize all these new things. I can't say enough good things about this book, just trust me and get it!
Brixton Brothers: The Case of the Case of the Mistaken Identity By Mac Barnett
Awesome book with mystery and adventure and tons of humor by amazing author Mac Barnett. This is especially good to give to a reluctant boy reader. Every boy who has read it at my school loved it and insisted I buy the other books in this series.
Clarence Cochran A Human Boy By William Loizeaux
This is a cute short book about a cockroach who wakes up one day to discover that he has changed into a human boy (still cockroach sized). It's about his fight to be accepted by his family and cockroach friends that are disgusted by the sight of him and to protect them all from being exterminated by the family whose apartment they call home.
Crunch By Leslie Connor
This book is about Dewey and his family's bicycle repair business. Dewey's parents go away for a short trip leaving him home alone with his brothers and sisters only to get stranded because there is an energy crisis and they can't get gas anywhere to fill up the tank for the drive back home. Dewey and his brother Vince are forced to take care of the family business in his parents' absence. When some thefts start taking place the story really picks up.
Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat By Lynne Jonell
This book is so funny! it's about a girl named Emmy who gets bitten by a rat that had been the class pet and discovers after being bitten she can understand what he says when he talks. She uncovers an evil plot by her nanny to brainwash her parents and along the way gains some wonderful new friends.
The Magic Finger By Roald Dahl
This book about a girl who remains nameless touches on the morality of hunting in a very humorous way. Her neighbors love hunting ducks and it makes her so angry that she gives them the "magic finger" which ends up turning them into mini humans with wings. They learn firsthand what it's like ot be shot at and live in a nest. Cute, short story that encourages discussion.
Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo
Kate DiCamillo is such a powerful writer and her stories are poignant in that they ring so true and deal with raw emotions. This book is no exception. Tiger Rising is about a boy named Rob whose mother has passed away and he lives in a motel with his father as they jut manage to scrape by. He is bullied relentlessly at school and then meets a new girl named Sistine who is also dealing with the loss of a parent (divorce/abandonment). She too is bullied though she handles herself in a much different way when tormented. the two form an unlikely bond over the discovery of a caged tiger int eh woods behind the motel. This is a sad and emotional book, but one which so many students in this age range relate to on many levels.
Waiting for the Magic By Patricia MacLachlan
Not just my favorite Patricia MacLachlan book, but one of my favorite all-time books. Ever. This book is wonderful to read aloud as a family or a classroom or as an independent read for children in grades 3 or up. It's narrated by Will and tells about the tough time his family goes through when his father moves out of the house. His mother decides to go adopt a dog at the local shelter since his father never allowed them to have pets. At the shelter she is won over by the animals and ends up bringing home 4 dogs and a cat! Will and his younger sister Elinor (such an adorable character!) quickly fall in love with their new pets. But the Magic is when Will realizes Elinor can hear what the animals are saying and soon Will can too. This book has a happy ending as their father moves back home and the parents have a resolution which reminds us all of the power of love, patience, and the bond between families and their pets.
Wild Wings By Gill Lewis
Callum and Iona discover a rare osprey nesting on Callum's family farm in Scotland. Trying to keep the osprey a secret and protect it from poachers they begin to forge a friendship. This is a sad story and definitely one for a more emotionally mature reader.
Wonderstruck By Brian Selznick
This amazing book is done in the same style as Selznick's other huge novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret: part text, part sketch. More than half the book is pictures which tell one story, while the pages of text tell a different story. It's not until you get towards the end of the book do you see how the two stories are intertwined. The story in text is about a boy named Ben who is searching for clues about the father he has never known and runs away to New York City to try to locate him. The story told in illustrations takes place decades earlier and is about a girl named Rose who is obsessed with an actress and after reading a headline about her appearance sets off to find her. Filled with twists and turns this book is best read independently because of the format.
The Familiars by Adam Epstein and Andrew Jacobson
Jack, a young wizard, chooses Aldwyn to be his familiar (pet who assists wizards and have some magic powers of heir own) without knowing that he is just a stray alley cat with no magic powers at all. Aldwyn is then brought to live with Jack and his two fellow wizard classmates and their familiars a red-eyed tree frog (Gilbert) and a bluejay (Skylar). When Jack and his two classmates are kidnapped by the kingdom's evil witch it's up to Aldwyn, Skylar and Gilbert to set off and rescue them. Very funny dialogue keep you reading this fantasy book reminiscent of Harry Potter.
A Butterfly is Patient By Dianna Hutts Aston
A gorgeous book about butterflies. It's filled with beautiful paintings about the butterflies' life cycle, what they eat, and other interesting facts.
The Cricket in Times Square By George Selden
Every year I try to pick one title for the battle that is a classic. It's nice to expose my students to a book they might not otherwise pick up. Sometimes they shy away from books just because they look "old". I thought The Cricket in Times Square would win them over and it did! This sweet tale about Chester Cricket, Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat who all live in Times Square subway station brings you back to another time.
The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with the Chimps By Jeanette Winter
This was my biography selection this year. It is a nice introduction into the life of Jane Goodall and her work without being too long or dry. I really enjoyed the illustrations as well.