10 Literary Guides for Expanding Family Reading Time

Literary Guides 2014

This summer’s installment of the annual series Summer Reading Resource: Literary Guides for Expanding Family Reading Time presents families with suggestions for rich reading material to explore together. Each suggested title is accompanied by a teacher-designed guide that includes a description of the book’s educational potential, critical thinking questions to help readers process what they’ve read, activities to support and strengthen literacy skills, and suggestions for activities that allow readers to explore the themes presented in each story deeply and experientially. Written by graduate students in Antioch University New England’s Integrated Learning program, the literary guides offer families a comprehensive resources to help enrich at-home learning and touch upon a wide variety of topics.

The books included in the series include both picture and chapter books, and appeal to a wide range of ages and abilities (young, beginning readers to skilled upper elementary-aged readers). Though each guide is designed with a specific age and/or grade in mind, families can easily adapt the guides’ resources in order to cater to their own skills and interests.

This summer’s stories address themes that fit underneath three different topic umbrellas: Cultural Studies, Life Lessons & Mystery.

Cultural Studies

Abuela by Arthur Dorros – Available in both English and Spanish, this bilingual children’s book uses a little bit of magic and imagination to explore immigration, Hispanic culture, and family. Even the English edition includes lots of Spanish phrases, and no matter what language you read it in, the story is sure to spark discussion of your own family’s culture and childhood memories. (Ages 6-8)

Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story by S.D. Nelson – Based on a true account of Native American life, the story explores a year’s worth of seasonal work through the eyes of a young Hidatsa girl. The story teaches readers about Hidatsa culture, and encourages exploration of seasonally-dictated activities and a seasonally-dependent lifestyle. Suggested accompanying activities leave room for some place-based learning, too! (Ages 7-9)

Alec’s Primer by Mildred Pitts Walter – A story of freedom (a true story, even!), Alec’s Primer teaches readers about the life of a childhood in slavery and the struggle for freedom. Readers will learn what life was like for black men during the Civil War, and can contemplate the price of freedom and the role of human rights in the abolition movement. The story even has some local ties, as Alec eventually settles in Grafton, Vermont – not far from western Massachusetts. (Ages 7-9)

The Mountains of Tibet by Mordicai Gerstein – A deep exploration of the Buddhist theory of reincarnation, The Mountains of Tibet encourages readers to consider a perspective on life and death that is perhaps different from their own. In doing so, readers learn to think about the things that they love and appreciate about their own lives, and the things that they value most. (Ages 7-9)

Life Lessons

If You Hold a Seed by Elly Mackay – Written by Mackay while she was pregnant with her son, the story beautifully intertwines human growth and development with the growth and change of a tree. As the boy in the story grows and changes, so does the tree that he plants as a small child. The story encourages children to love and cherish nature, and can help children begin to grow their own metaphorical roots amongst the local landscape. (Ages 4-6)

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig – A Caldecott Medal-winning classic, Steig’s story is centered around learning to be careful what you wish for. Great for early readers, the story includes lots of rich vocabulary and allows lots of space for readers to use schema and observations to make predictions about the events that take place in the tale. (Ages 6-8)

The Fire Cat by Esther Averill – An I CAN READ book, The Fire Cat is a silly story about an enthusiastic feline named Pickles who is struggling to find his place in the world. Children can relate to the cat’s troubles, and will contemplate the importance of community as they watch Pickles figure out where he belongs. (Ages 6-8)

My Rotten Red-Headed Older Brother by Patricia Polacco – Infused with references to the agrarian Ukranian culture in which the author was raised, the story explores sibling rivalry in a meaningful and realistic way. As the main character takes on challenge after challenge and struggles to keep up with her older brother, she learns how to have a relationship with him that is not based on differences rather than similarities. (Ages 7-9)


The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall – Set in the Berkshires, The Penderwicks is a story of summer vacation, friendship, mischief, and mystery. One of two chapter books featured in the series, the award-winning adventure tale draws readers in with its quirky details and nearly unbelievable characters. A bit of mystery and magic surround the plot, making for lots of opportunity to practice activating schema and tracking details. (Ages 9-11)

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead – Set in New York City in the late 1970’s, When You Reach Me tackles the themes of friendship, honesty, trust, and safety within its riddle-filled mysterious plot. Written with intense attention to detail, the story challenges readers to remember every tidbit of information in order to solve a mystery. (Ages 10-13)

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