Mystery readers are adults who volunteer to come in and read to the class for 30 minutes. The students don’t know who the reader will be until they all walk into the classroom and see the reader. The mystery reader also chooses what will be read. I love this idea, and frankly, wish I had thought of it with my reading classes I taught years ago. The element of surprise combined with a variety of high-interest books is a genius combination.
I’m brand new to the school, and almost brand new to having a third grade child frankly, so it took a little bit of thought to determine what title to select. I have a gazillion titles that I’ve loved reading to the small people as babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and early elementary students. But, as it always is with the oldest child, we are in uncharted territory now.
My question on what to read essentially centered around the fact that third graders seem, to my inexperienced eye, to be hovering between two worlds. They are now beyond the early elementary stage, but not quite at the upper elementary stage. In terms of reading, they are often transitioning from picture books to chapter books, but are still moving back and forth between the two worlds at varying rates and with varying interests in both.
At any rate, I had 30 minutes to read, and I had decided not to read a chapter book, which would have meant leaving the kids “hanging” after a couple of chapters or so. Don’t get me wrong; this is an extremely effective technique for piquing kids’ interest in reading, provided the book is well-written, and is one I have used before in other situations. In this case, however, I had just determined that I wanted a conclusion for this, so I was looking for shorter books. However, so many of the good picture books aren’t age appropriate for third graders.
Plus, since the book the kids had just finished reading in class, if my son’s report is correct, included a female protagonist, I was looking for a book with a male protagonist, to balance things out a bit.
By the way, one of the nasty little facts of life is that, very generally speaking, girls tend to easily read books with either male or female protagonists, but boys tend to gravitate toward books with male protagonists. No, it’s not fair, and it can be irritating to contend with, both as an educator and a parent. But, it tends to be true, and is something to consider if you have a male reluctant reader lurking by the video games in your house. My boys are both pretty good readers, and I do make a point to expose them to both male and female protagonists, but even as non-reluctant readers, I see evidence of this preference.
Since kids also often prefer reading books with protagonists who are slightly older than they are, I was also looking for older protagonists or ones who at least could be older (some books don’t specify). I remember being frustrated several times as a high school teacher, when I’d be previewing a book for some of my reluctant readers that looked great, only to find that the main character was 11. Sometimes, I wanted to just scratch out the 11 and put 16, because the character acted more like a 16-year-old, frankly, and would have gone over well with some of my targeted readers, were it not for the fact that the author defined the character as being younger than he/she acted.
In the end, I chose Chris Van Allsburg’s Zathura to read. The book is about two brothers (ages not specified, but with one brother clearly “older”) who find a box with a space board game in it. The younger brother starts to play the game, and instantly they are transported into space where they must remain, fighting for their lives, until they can get out of the game. I also brought along a copy of Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Jumping Frogs in the event that I had extra time. Leroy “Encyclopedia” Brown is a smart 10-year-old boy with a virtually infinite amount of information running around in his head who solves mysteries in his seaside town. I did have extra time, and was pleasantly surprised to find the series new to most of the students, so I gave a brief summary of the history behind the main character, and read the chapter “The Case of the Air Guitar” to them, stopping to give them a chance to guess the answer to the case before I read the conclusion.
And, despite that fact that I never ran across any supporting research to prove this in my reading classes, I feel it never hurts to have kids associate reading with chocolate, so I brought these for afterward. It’s one more example of how chocolate is, for me, the ultimate all-purpose elixir.
I’d love to hear ideas from you about great children’s reads, regardless of what age they are best for or whether they are best read as read-alouds or individually. I’ve even posted the question on the Hammock Tracks Community, as I’m always looking for new titles to read and know that some of my favorite books have been referred to me by friends who just stumbled on a good story worth sharing.