Reid-Aloud Alert: Literary Journeys

Book Links Nov. 2008 (vol. 18, no. 2)

By Rob Reid

Literary characters that go on long physical journeys also go on emotional journeys as well. They are somewhat different at the end of their travels, gaining new insights about themselves and the people and world around them. Cody from Sharon Creech’s book The Wanderer articulates what many of these characters go through: “How come you don’t notice the time going by, and you don’t think you are changing in any way, but then all of a sudden you realize that what you are thinking today is different from what you thought yesterday?”

The following books were chosen based on their read-aloud qualities—flowing text, engaging storytelling, and range of appeal to a mixed group of young listeners. Each title may be read aloud in its entirety during the course of a few days. The annotations also include a feature called the “10-Minute Selection” (which in reality can range from 6 to 15 minutes) that showcases a particularly captivating episode of the book that can be read in one brief sitting.

Running Away from Home

Bird by Angela Johnson: Thirteen-year-old runaway Bird hides out in a farmhouse shed. She is looking for her stepfather, Cecil, who left Bird and her mother a few years earlier. Ethan, a recent heart transplant recipient, befriends Bird. The two of them tell the story along with Jay, whose brother Derek recently passed away. Derek’s heart is now inside Ethan. Young audience members won’t have any trouble following as the story shifts among the three ­narrators. (Gr. 4–10)

10-Minute Selection 1: Read the opening chapter, which shows Bird hiding and spying on a farm family. Bird knows their routines. When the family goes to church, Bird breaks into their home, eats their food, and takes a bath.

10-Minute Selection 2: Read chapter 3. Jay talks about missing his brother. He and his friend Googy steal a pickup truck from Miss Pritchard and go joyriding. He can’t stop thinking about Ethan, who carries his brother’s heart: “Maybe his heart is searching for and not finding the place it used to live.”

Cross-Country Trips

Car Trouble by Jeanne DuPrau: Duff, a self-professed geek just out of high school, drives from Virginia to a high-tech job waiting for him in California. Unfortunately, his car breaks down. He gets an opportunity to drive a different car to St. Louis and deliver it to its owner. The owner turns out to be a swindler who has hidden thousands of ill-gotten dollars in the car. Duff finds himself traveling with a shady character named Stu; Bonnie, an aspiring musician; and Bonnie’s dog, Mooney. As Duff’s job evaporates even before he reaches California, he starts to realize that other things are more important than the job. (Gr. 7–10)

10-Minute Selection: Read chapter 6, titled “The Bikers’ Dance.” Duff and Stu stop at Pete’s Stewpot to grab a bite to eat. The place turns out to be a biker hangout. Stu is forced to dance in front of everyone. “The man with the bandanna was standing over him, scowling. ‘Boy,’ he said, ‘when my lady wants to dance with you, you dance.’” The boys safely make their way out of the place. The chapter ends with Stu realizing his wallet—with all of his money, driver’s license, and bank cards—is missing. “‘I must have left it in that restaurant.’ . . . He felt as dark as the night sky. He knew he would never see his wallet again.”

So B. It by Sarah Weeks: Twelve-year-old Heidi hops on a bus by herself and travels from Nevada to New York in order to learn about her mysterious past. As an infant, she appeared out of nowhere on Bernadette’s doorstep with her mentally disabled mother, whose vocabulary is limited to 23 words. Heidi knows the journey will change her life. “But the truth was, I would not be back at all. Not as the same person I was that day, anyway.” This powerful, multidimensional, realistic story contains a touch of magic and will move all listeners. (Gr. 4–7)

10-Minute Selection: Read the last third of chapter 3, titled “Hello.” Begin with the sentence “We don’t know exactly when my birthday is because I don’t have a birth certificate, and Mama didn’t know when her own birthday was” and continue to the end of the chapter. Heidi tells how she and her mother wound up living with Bernadette. The passage ends with Heidi believing that’s when her good luck kicked in. Continue reading chapter 8, titled “More.” Heidi uses her good luck to win enough money for the bus trip. She also plots how to buy the ticket and board the bus despite the fact that she’s too young to do either by herself.

Fantastical Journey

Hanne’s Quest by Olivier Dunrea: Hanne, “the youngest, the quietest, and the smallest hen,” goes on a dangerous journey to help Mem Pockets save her farm. It is said that a hen “who is bravest of heart, purest in thought, and wisest in the ways of the Great Goddess” will be able to lay three golden eggs. An ancient rhyme guides Hanne to an ancient barrow, to the Standing Stones, and, finally, to the Great Green Sea. The story has the feel of old-fashioned folklore. As with many characters that go on epic literary journeys, Hanne “felt a very different hen than she was when she had first set out from the farm on her quest.” (Gr. 2–4)

10-Minute Selection: Read chapter 3 where Hanne leaves the farm and goes on her first task. She finds the great barrow, meets a helpful mole, and wanders through a dark tunnel until she encounters the scary barrow-wight. The chapter is long. If you’d like to end on a cliff-hanger, finish with the sentence “Is it getting darker in here? Hanne asked herself,” right before she finds the barrow-wight.

Crossing the Border

Red Glass by Laura Resau: Sophie and her family take care of a six-year-old boy named Pablo whose family died crossing the border into Arizona. They locate the rest of Pablo’s family in Mexico. Sophie and her aunt Dika take Pablo to meet his relatives. They are accompanied by Dika’s boyfriend, Mr. Lorenzo, and his teenage son, Angel, who plan to travel further into Guatemala. Sophie, who is fragile and constantly worried about things, is exposed to new hardships and learns about strength and love. This emotional, beautifully written book has many Spanish phrases scattered throughout the text. (Gr. 6–12)

10-Minute Selection: Read the first few pages of chapter 2, “Midnight Parties.” Sophie recalls a tender memory of her family helping poor, desperate Mexicans in the middle of the night. Finish with the sentence “As I got older, they reminded me of what mattered in life.” Pick up with the suspenseful scene in chapter 16, “Unforeseen Journey,” when Sophie takes a dangerous solo trip from southern Mexico to Guatemala to find Angel and his father. Start with the sentence “The slimy-friendly guy moved next to me” and continue to “That was when a group of five guys came out of the shadows and swaggered toward us.”

Fighting Away from Home

Sunrise over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers: Robin, aka Birdy, a young man from Harlem, enlists in the army and is assigned to Civilian Affairs. It’s 2003 and America is about to invade Iraq. His unit acts “as a liaison between the military and the civilians in a war zone or disaster area.” They are never completely sure what’s going on with the big picture: “Over and over I thought we were in a war of complete randomness.” Their unit is hand-picked to take part in a risky exchange involving kidnapped tribal children. (Gr. 6–12)

10-Minute Selection: The chapters are not titled or numbered. Go to p.71 of the hardcover edition. Begin with “The portable toilet facilities stunk and the small cabin was filled with tiny flies that bit my butt. But it was the sounds of incoming mortars that shook me the most.” The unit is commanded to transport some prisoners, including an old man who was taken because he had an AK-47 in his house. Their Humvee gets stuck in foul-smelling mud, but several Iraqi men pull them out with rope and mules. “‘Birdy, this is embarrassing!’ Marla said as the guy tied the rope around the mules’ halter.” Finish with the line “It had been that kind of day.”

Oceanic Crossing

The Wanderer by Sharon Creech: Sophie jumps at the chance to sail across the Atlantic Ocean with her three uncles and two male cousins. They are going to see Bompie, Sophie’s grandfather. The Wanderer isn’t the greatest boat, but they all work together (and sometimes bicker) to make the journey a success. Each one has the task of teaching the others something. Sophie decides to tell them Bompie’s stories, while her cousin Cody teaches everyone how to juggle. Sophie and Cody alternate as narrators. (Gr. 5–8)

10-Minute Selection: Read chapter 9, titled “Beheading.” Sophie is stressed about killing fish, while Cody humorously mangles sailing terms to irritate the others. “Reef the rudder and heave ho, take off!” Then read chapter 14, “Bompie and the Car,” the first of Sophie’s Bompie stories. The story ends with Bompie whipped by his father and fed apple pie by his mother. If time permits, read the second Bompie story found within chapter 18, “Bompie and the Train.” Begin with the sentence “But Sophie did tell us another Bompie story when we were out clamming” and read to the end of the chapter. This story, too, ends with Bompie getting whipped by his father and fed apple pie by his mother. 

Rob Reid teaches at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire. His latest books are More Family Storytimes: Twenty-Four Creative Programs for All Ages (ALA Editions, 2008), Something Musical Happened at the Library (ALA Editions, 2007), and Children’s Jukebox (ALA Editions, 1995; reissued 2007). For more information, visit his Web site at http://www.rapnrob.com or the ALA Store at http://www.alastore.ala.org.