Classroom Solutions > Alycia Zimmerman > Read-Alouds to Launch Reader’s Workshop

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Read-Alouds to Launch Reader’s Workshop

Reading_on_Rug During the first few weeks of reader’s workshop, the focus is necessarily on introducing routines, building stamina, and exploring the classroom library. At the same time, I need to immerse my students in the culture of reading by getting lost in good books together. There isn’t a moment to waste in initiating my students into our reading cult! How do I accomplish both goals at the same time? I use picture books that celebrate reading as a springboard into our discussions about reader’s workshop routines and expectations. Read on for my favorite picture books about reading and how I use them to launch our reader’s workshop.

Here are a few tips about how I use these books. 
  • During the first weeks of school, I read aloud several books every day. I will often share a book with a character development theme, a daily chapter from a novel, and one of the books below. At this early stage, the more I model my reading and thinking about books, the better.
  • Some of the books below have an obvious match with a teaching point. For other books, you’ll need to be creative to draw out a connection with your lesson – or just accept that there won’t be a clear connection at all, beyond building enthusiasm for living a reading life.
  • I feel strongly that picture books should be used in upper elementary classrooms. A few of the books on this list touch on more mature themes; however, many of the books are comfortable just-for-fun reads. 

Books That Celebrate Reading

Tomas and the Library Lady by Pat Mora Tomas and the Library Lady

I always tear up when I get to end of this beautiful book based on a true story. Tomas’ parents are migrant workers, and Tomas’s only books are the ones he collects from a garbage dump. Encouraged by his storytelling grandfather, Tomas visits a public library and befriends an understanding librarian. Tomas is an inspiring role model as a reader, and my students always love the surprising biographical information at the end of the book. I use this book to initiate a discussion about how reading can change our lives, but it could also lead to a discussion about the sometimes-blurry lines between genres.

The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter  Librarian of Basra

Based on true events, Alia Muhammad Baker, chief librarian of Basra's Central Library, breaks the law and risks her own life to move 30,000 books to safety during the war. This book provides a thought-provoking portrait of quiet heroism, and the suggestive portrayal of the war in Iraq lends a serious tone to our discussion about the importance of protecting books. Last year, my students spontaneously launched into a passionate debate about if and when it is okay to break laws/rules based on Alia’s example.

Library Lil by Suzanne Williams  

Library LilI’m going to let my former student Henry tell you all about this hilarious book with his video book review (below). Aside from being an incredibly fun read-aloud, this book leads right into a discussion about establishing a healthy balance between reading and TV viewing at home – a balance that is heavily weighted towards reading, of course!



Richard Wright and the Library Card by William Miller  Richard Wright

Miller writes a fictionalized account of how 17-year-old Richard Wright borrowed a coworker’s library card to borrow books in 1920s Memphis, and how those books changed Wright’s life. This inspiring story addresses issues of racism and discrimination through the lens of Wright’s experience, all the while emphasizing the power of books. The publisher has a teaching guide available on its website. After reading this book aloud, you may also want to read carefully selected paragraphs from Chapter 13 of Wright’s autobiography, Black Boy, especially for a slightly older bunch. This can lead to a sophisticated discussion about why certain people might want to control access to books.   

Biblioburro: A True Story from Colombia by Jeanette Winter  Biblioburro

In another story about a heroic librarian, Luis Soriano travels around rural Colombia on his donkeys, Alfa and Beto, to bring books to children who are desperately in need of literacy instruction. Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown tells the same story, but from the point of view of a young girl who benefits from the biblioburro. Download the teaching guide from the author’s website. After reading either story, be sure to share this video clip about Luis Soriano with your class – I never have dry eyes after watching it.

Books That Emphasize a Reading Workshop

Management Point

Leola and the Honeybears by Melodye Benson Rosales  Leola and the Honeybears

This is a rural Southern retelling of the classic story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. With vivid painted illustrations, an irrepressible African-American girl in the central role, and dialogue written with Southern cadences, my students really get into this book. They often join in chorally for the predictable “too big, too small, just right” parts, which leads straight into a classic mini-lesson about choosing “just right” books. Of course, any Goldilocks story will work, but by upper elementary, I like to use a version that is a little bit “juicier” than the typical story. Goldie Socks and the Three Libearians by Jackie Mims Hopkins is a good pick. This website has a detailed description about how to teach the “Goldilocks Strategy” for choosing just-right books.

Stella Louella’s Runaway Book by Lisa Campbell Ernst  Stella Louella

Stella has misplaced her library book, so she recruits the help of nearly everyone in town to help her find it. At first glace, this pattern book feels a bit young for upper elementary students, but there are plenty of quirky details to keep it interesting, and my students always enjoy chanting the cumulative pattern together. Best of all, there is a “secret” in this book – if you pay attention as each character is introduced, you can deduce the title of the missing book before the reveal at the end. (Hint: Stella was reading a “just right” book mentioned above.) This read-aloud leads right into a lesson about taking care of our classroom books.

But Excuse Me That is My Book by Lauren Child  ButExcuseMe

Normally I avoid books with a TV tie-in like the plague, but this really drives home the lesson about sharing books and varying our reading diet to consume a “healthy balance” of books. Written for younger children, this is a snappy read about Lola, who is peeved because another child has borrowed her “extra specially special” favorite book. My students enjoy adopting a superior tone as they discuss why young Lola is being unreasonable, and how they are far more mature (wink-wink) and therefore understand the nuances of sharing books. (Lauren Child also wrote the Clarice Bean series for upper elementary kids, which I introduce after reading this book.)

Even More Books About Reading You Might Want to Check Out:

  • Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair by Patricia Polacco
  • Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind by Judy Finchler
  • Mr. George Baker by Amy Hest
  • My Librarian is a Camel: How Books Are Brought to Children Around the World by Margriet Ruurs 
  • Ron's Big Mission by Rose Blue

What are your favorite read-alouds for launching reader’s workshop? Please share your book suggestions with us! Your comments and questions are welcome.


  • #1 Alycia Zimmerman

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 06:54 AM

    Eve, thank you for the comment! I just returned from visiting a friend in Chicago, and my bags were much heavier on the return. Why? Because we visited a unique bookstore, and I couldn't resist the picture books!


  • #2 Eve Ottavino

    Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 09:41 PM

    Thanks for the great suggestions! I am always looking for good reads
    for that first week of school.

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Alycia Zimmerman
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