Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Decent Reading List

I’ve been asked to recommend good books to read for 2nd to 3rd or 4th grade.   I’ve search for a decent source so that I wouldn’t have to do this, but there is no decent source.  There are many recommended reading lists, including grade schools, libraries, and sites that bill themselves as good sources, and none of them provide even a tiny fraction of the good books that are out there.

In the book Pre-K Phonics Conceputal Vocabulary and Thinking I provided a comprehensive recipe for strong reading.  It was inspired by the very inspiring introduction to Susan Wise’s seminal work The Well Trained Mind.   She said that she would take a laundry basket to the library.  I did this for 3 years.  It’s enough to put your child squarely into ‘Chapter Books’.  In Pre-K Phonics, I took this to the next level, and maybe the level after that.

By 4th or 5th grade, your child will be reading books of their own choosing, books that take a week or two to read and have 10 more in the series or genre, and your recommendations will likely be ignored for the next 15 years.

That leaves a very important 2 year gap where the child needs help finding good books.  This is also the last time that Read To (super important) will be easy to do.

In this article, I’m going to lay out the approach, and then over the next few months, I’m going to fill in the blanks.  The math work that I provided for the early years is now coming to fruition in 4-7th grade weekend math (because of homework it’s no longer daily).  We simply need a 99% on both sections of the MAP test in order to get into high school.  That’s not asking much.  Some day I’ll tell this story, and it will sound a lot like age 4, only with much more advanced topics.  In the mean time, it’s time for reading.

Here are the buckets.

Mandatory Books
I’m convinced that the Hobbit and Roald Dahl’s complete works (including autobiography) should be mandatory reading during this age.  The list is much longer and needs work.  If your child reads the Magic Tree House somewhere between late K and early 2nd, you are where you should be.  The mandatory books will get you to the next level.  (When I say ‘reading’, I mean Read To as needed, especially with the Hobbit.)

Top Notch Books
Gifted programs have a formidable reading list that includes classics like Kira Kira.  These books are easy to spot because if you query the book in Amazon, you will see teachers guides in the search results.  I suppose that’s not easy if you don’t start with the list.  This is probably the most important list for my readers and the one I’ll work on first.

To put this list together, I’ll simply steal it from a dozen programs I’ve watched over the years.  Feel free to add to this list in the comments.  At some point, I’ll just move this to the permanent pages.

[Feb 3 - I've been trolling through material and it's so bad I'm going to have to go through all of the publisher's websites.]

2nd Grade

  • Dear Mr. Henshaw
  • The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
  • Bunnicula
  • Sarah, Plain and Tall 
  • Charlotte's Web
  • A Long Way from Chicago
  • Harry Potter (not in school; I recommend the whole series spread out over the next 5 years)
  • Boxcar Children
  • The Story of Pilgrims Progress (not sure about the age yet)

3rd Grade

  • Fair Weather
  • Mr. Tucket
  • The One and Only Ivan
  • A Wrinkle in Time
  • Bud Not Buddy (pair with historical context and there is a play on this as well that's pretty good.)

4th Grade:

  • Chasing Vermeer
  • Because of Winn Dixie
  • Love That Dog (poetry)
  • Kira Kira
  • The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Frankweiler
  • Call of the Wild (boring)
  • Amulet (graphic novel series - not taught but all kids read it)
  • The Hitchhikers Guide Guide to the Galaxy (I don't know why this is here)
  • The Watsons go to Birmingham (pair with historical context)
This link from Mensa for 4-6 grade is not bad, but dated.

New Books That Are Classics In The Making
We have two libraries near us that are the 2nd and 3rd largest in Chicago.  Because of this, we get to see all the books worth reading somewhere in the shelves.  We tried them all.

Most of these are for girls and have a girl theme.  We really enjoyed these, but being boys, ignored the girl themes and simply enjoyed the creativity and good story.  I’m sure there are good boy themed books, and I’ll list these, but mostboy themes seem formulaic.  These books are 3-5th grade.

    • Keepers Trilogy (2nd or 3rd grade advanced) 
    • Savvy (my favorite, definitely a girl book)
    • Tale of Desperoux 
    • Percy Jackson and The Olympians (my 4th grader also recommends the Magnus Chase series)
    • I have to wait for a few kids to get back from Boy Scouts to complete this list, including one boy (not mine) who read the Lord of the Rings trilogy in 1st grade and got a 100% when I grilled him on it.

    Books You Didn’t Think About
    I am a big fan of picture books and winners of foreign book awards.  The ones we choose tend to be small in words and big in mind blowing concepts.  I had to do inter library loans to get many of these.

    Shel Silverstien is on this list.  We bought his books and read them daily.  Jack Prelutsky is on this list.  David Weisner (Flotsam) and Brian Selznick (all his picture books).

    One day my child was writing a few poems for school.  They were really, really good.  It wasn’t a fluke.

    Books To Enjoy Reading
    If you search for lists for a 2nd grader (or a 4th grader because your child is an advanced reader) you’ll see a list that includes mainly junk.  It might as well be comic books or romance novels.  But we read all of these because it guarantees that your child will have one or more books in hand at all times.  The child is not gaining anything out of these books (think Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Middle School) other than the habit of reading all of the time.  So we read all of these.  But not at night, when it was reading time, and a quality book should be in hand.

    James Patterson (top selling author) started writing books for reluctant middle school readers because his son was one.  This list includes some really great works for advance 2nd and 3rd graders, especially boys, such as Treasure Hunters. You can’t put one of these books down.  There isn’t much cognitive value to his books.  That’s not the point.  It’s about becoming addicted to reading.


    1. Whats your summer academic or camp plan for your sons? Is it too early to think about? :-)

    2. Anything special you had to do during summer before they started their first year in GT class? Anything that you would go back in time and try things differently that summer? My third grader will start GT this fall and I want to think about what I want to do to prep him. Have no idea how challenging or hard the GT curriculum would be but certainly don't want to see him struggling in GT class and being just an average kid and losing confidence/interest.

      1. I don't know the details of your program, but the first time we went a few years ahead in math, me thinking at least somewhere he could coast while catching up. Then I found out all of the kids are way way way ahead in reading. The second time, we went way ahead in reading and that worked out much better. Plus math, but this is math house. Most GAT kids are GAT kids because of reading (not all but most). Plus, we did lots of crafts and projects, which turned out to be helpful. Good luck!

      2. To go ahead way ahead in reading, what should I do for the summer besides getting library books?

      3. Now that you mention it, the program was also 2 years ahead in science. We spent 4 months memorizing vocabulary from the Foss science website on 3rd grade topics (in 1st grade - it was insane). I subsequently found that if we covered a list of vocab and topics for next year's science program - not doing science or worrying about what it all meant, just covering vocab - next year's work was accelerated by the preparation. Last summer, in prep for 7th, our Word Board was covered with high school chemistry terms. So the teacher is zooming through chemistry and the kids are trying to keep up, and my kid is seeing a term and 'aha - so that's what that means'. Then confidence follows and the teacher starts calling him out as the brainiac. Unfortunately, there are legitimate braniacs in the room so this only went so far. Oh - you asked about reading. The answer to your question is vocab. Get Wordly Wise and/or Vocab Workshop 5th grade and have at it. If the school uses Wordly Wise, which is likely, just do vocab workshop. Don't bother with grammar unless you are ESL, which you are not.

      4. Anything you did for science? In 3rd GT class, they will do 4th grade science. What should we do to prepare for that?

      5. Can you find the list of topics covered in the science program for next year? Some schools have websites that list topics by classroom or teacher. The fallback is to look at the foss science website for 4th grade, then pick a few items, get a few books from the library, and do a bit of work ahead. It works. Enough to make your child comfortable in the first few months of science.

    3. My kid qualified in Kindergarten to the closest gifted program to where we lived. Unfortunately, we lived outside the district. Now we moved into the district ONLY for her to enroll into the gifted school, yet her scores this time around decreased exponentially. I was shocked. Where she scored 99% on NNAT last year, this year it was 80% (!!). Her reading and math are less than 50% now too. So I'm homeschooling her....until she takes the appeal test in 3 months. I need 3 months to get her NNAT and either Math OR Reading up past 95% in order to score into the program. It's not like she doesn't have the potential..apparently though the rate of her learning this past year was exceedingly slow compared to last year when she scored into the program (but we lived out of district). PLEASE tell me everything you know to get her back into the running. Please!

      1. Unfortunately, I won't be able to fit 9 pages of instructions in the comment window. I'll have to write an article on this topic. It's a very interesting and doable proposition. I'm pretty excited about the math and reading challenge. The key to this whole endeavor is that you are homeschooling. That will be the magic, provided you go about it the write way.

      2. I'm a bit nervous on what's going to transpire the next 3 months...I need to be meticulous on what and how I do things while homeschooling her, while simultaneously having it enjoyable for her . I'm definitely looking forward to your article, and am up for the challenge. You saying it's a doable proposition gives me hope. Thank you!!

      3. The article is condensed. You may email as needed with coaching problems. I know what you are going to encounter because we all do. I'm totally rooting for you. It should be very fun, and 'go read' and 'go do some painting or crafts while I do laundry' will save you. Also, borrow The Well Trained Mind from the library and read the first introductory section because it is so motivating. The rest of it is not useful, at least to me.