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by Jim Trelease
• excerpts from The Treasury of Read-Alouds •
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The Treasury of Read-Alouds

NOVELS (full) page 4 of 4

These books represent a brief portion of the hundreds
cited in the print edition of
The-Read-Aloud Handbook.

The Ruby in the Smoke (series)

by Philip Pullman      Gr. 5 and up      230 pages      Laurel Leaf paperback, 1988

Not one to take himself too seriously despite his many awards, Pullman will produce a fairy tale parody (I Was a Rat!) one minute and a heart-stopping thriller like this the next. His own description of this Sally Lockhart series goes like this: “Historical thrillers, that's what these books are. Old-fashioned Victorian blood-and-thunder. Actually, I wrote each one with a genuine cliché of melodrama right at the heart of it, on purpose: the priceless jewel with a curse on it—the madman with a weapon that could destroy the world—the situation of being trapped in a cellar with the water rising—the little illiterate servant girl from the slums of London who becomes a princess.”

Ruby in the Smoke contains one of the great read-aloud openings. Set in 1872 on a cold October afternoon in the London financial district, a young girl steps out of a hansom cab and into the second paragraph:

“She was a person of sixteen or so—alone, and uncommonly pretty. She was slender and pale, and dressed in mourning, with a black bonnet under which she tucked back a straying twist of blond hair that the wind had teased loose. she had unusually dark brown eyes for one so fair. Her name was Sally Lockhart; and within fifteen minutes, she was going to kill a man.”

There is absolutely no chance of your attention wandering after that. Note: It is Sally’s question that will kill the man (heart attack). These books are for experienced listeners. The Sally Lockhart quartet: The Ruby in the Smoke; The Shadow in the North; The Tiger in the Well; and The Tin Princess. Related books: The December Rose by Leon Garfield; and The Case of the Baker Street Irregular by Robert Newman. More on the author online at:; and Pullman and his teacher.

The Secret Garden

by Frances Hodgson Burnett      Gr. 2–5      240 pages      numerous publishers

Few books spin such a web of magic about their audiences as does this 1911 children’s classic about the sulky orphan who comes to live with her cold, unfeeling uncle on the windswept English moors. Wandering the grounds of his immense manor house one day, she discovers a secret garden, locked and abandoned. This leads her to discover her uncle’s invalid child hidden within the mansion, her first friendship, and her own true self. While this is definitely for experienced listeners, try to avoid the abridged versions, since too much of the flavor is lost in those. Also by the author: Little Lord Fauntleroy; A Little Princess; and The Lost Prince. Two recent books by Eva Ibbotson are so reminiscent of the Burnett's genre, you'd almost think she'd come back from the dead: The Star of Kazan and Journey to the River Sea. Other books: Mandy by Julie Edwards; and Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. For a deeper look at The Secret Garden, consider NPR's essay by Sloane Crosley: 'Darkness and Light in 'The Secret Garden.'

Sideways Stories from Wayside School

by Louis Sachar      Gr. 2–5      124 pages      Random House, 1990

Thirty chapters about the wacky students who inhabit the thirtieth floor of Wayside School, the school that was supposed to be built one story high and thirty classes wide, until the contractor made a mistake and made it thirty stories high! If you think the building is bizarre, wait until you meet the kids who inhabit it. Sequels: Wayside School Is Falling Down; and Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger. Also by the author: Holes; Johnny’s in the Basement; and There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom. Other humorous books: Skinnybones by Barbara Robinson; The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson; and Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing by Judy Blume.

Star of Kazan coverThe Star of Kazan

by Eva Ibbotson      Gr. 2-5      405 pages      Dutton, 2004

If you've been yearning for the good, old -fashioned solid storytelling that made The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables the favorites of devoted readers for a century, look no further than this book. Set near the beginning of the last century in Austria and Germany, we meet a young girl being raised by two maiden Austrian housekeepers who discovered her as an abandoned baby in a church. Young Annika now lives with them in the house where they work for three finicky professors. It's an idyllic life for all, though the child does dream that someday her mother will return to claim the child she misplaced that day.

And then the great upheaval: the woman who had abandoned the child 12 years earlier arrives to claim her. Frau Edeltraut von Tannenberg is as aristocratic and snobby as her name implies but she is, after all, the mother Annika has dreamed of all her life. Simply put, Annika's dream has come true, and her adopted family's worst nightmare has come with it. Heartbroken at her departure, her Austrian family reassures themselves that it is best for the child. After all, in her mother's huge German estate she will be able to enjoy all the luxuries they could never afford to give her. But all is not what it appears and the ensuing chapters are filled with disappointments, deceits, cruel relatives, sheltering servants, buried treasure, scheming lawyers, loyal friends, and perilous last-minute rescues.

One of Ibbotson's favorite tools is foreshadowing and she plants intriguing clues in chapters that usually end with a cliff-hanger. Ibbitson also offers a clear sense of the creeping infection called nationalism that would envelope Germany in the coming years and lead to two world wars.

An integral part of both the setting and the plot is the world famous Lipizzaner stallions and their home at the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. Several Web sites offer colorful views of the animals and their training:; and

Also by the author: Journey to the River Sea and One Dog and His Boy. Related books: anything by Frances Hodgson Burnett; and Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.

Stormbreaker (series)

by Anthony Horowitz      Gr. 5-8      234 pages      Philomel, 2000

When 14-year-old Alex Rider is informed that his bachelor uncle/guardian has died in an auto accident, he’s understandably distressed. But he’s also perplexed by the news that he wasn't wearing his seatbelt—something he was fanatical about wearing. He’s even more confused when two men show up at the funeral wearing loaded shoulder holsters under their jackets. Why guns at a bank manager’s funeral? Before long his questions bring him into Britain’s top-secret intelligence agency and he may not make it out alive. As someone has noted elsewhere, if James Bond had a kid-relative, it would have been Alex Rider. This first book in a fast-paced, increasingly popular series by Horowitz has, like most thrillers, a certain amount of violence, though none of it gratuitous, and far tamer than you’d find in an Arnold Schwarzenegger film. Books like this don’t produce Newbery or Carnegie awards but they’re very likely to produce a kid who likes to read at least as much as he likes to play video games. For an excellent 5-minute BBC interview with the author (complete with video), online at: Sequels: Point Blanc; Skeleton Key; Eagle Strike; Scorpia; Ark Angel; and Snakehead. In 2007, Philomel additionally began issuing the Alex Rider series as graphic novels, adapted by Antony Johnston amd Kanako and Yuzuru. Also by Horowitz: Raven’s Gate. Related book: Gordon Korman's series: On the Run.

Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer

By John Grisham    Gr. 6-9    263 pages    Dutton, 2010 e-book

Theo Boone is the 13-year-old only child of two successful lawyers, both of whom give Theo lots of encouragement but not a lot of attention. What get’s his attention is the local court system where he’s become a little legend among the judges, lawyers, and clerks for his love of all-things-legal. He has even taken to doling out legal advice free of charge to his eighth-grade classmates. This first adventure in the series finds Theo involved in a controversial local murder trial since he’s just discovered information that would surely convict the defendant but for several large liabilities: 1) the trial has already started (all evidence is supposed to be presented before the trial begins); and 2) the person who gave him the information is an illegal immigrant. The same smooth, believable style Grisham has brought to multiple adult-bestsellers is here in his first YA title, offering insights to the workings of a small-city legal system. Sequels: Theodore Boone: The Abduction; Theodore Boone: The Accused; and Theodore Boone: The Activist.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

by L. Frank Baum      Gr. 1 and up      260 pages      Numerous publishers

Before children are exposed to the movie version, treat them to the magic of this 1900 book, which many regard as the first American fairy tale, as well as our earliest science fiction. (Incidentally, the book is far less terrifying for children than the film version.) The magical story of Dorothy and her friends’ harrowing journey to the Emerald City is but the first of many books about the Land of Oz. Among those sequels, one is regarded as the best—Ozma of Oz. Author study: Michael Patrick Hearn’s The Annotated Wizard of Oz: The Centennial Edition (Norton, 2000), and L. Frank Baum: Creator of Oz by Kathaine M. Rogers (St. Martin's, 2002). On the Web:; as well at this site: Baum.

There is, however, another side to Mr. Baum's writing resume: Fourteen days before the battle of Wounded Knee, an editorial appeared in the local press urging an assault on the Lakota tribe: "Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are." How many of the resulting 150 dead Indians could be attributed to that editorial is pure conjecture but a century later the writer's great-great grandson devoted his master's thesis to the writer's racist views—L. Frank Baum. Listen to NPR's "'Oz' Family Apologizes." See also: the Indian-Oz Connection.

When the Whistle Blows

By Fran Cannon Slayton    Gr. 6 and up     162 pages    Philomel, 2009 e-book

This fine first novel traces one family’s life in a small West Virginia town that is so dependent upon its trains and steam engines that it literally lives and dies by them. And there is some of both in this volume. Each of the book’s chapters is set on Halloween night for seven successive years, 1943-1949. Each episode finds the book’s protagonist, Jimmy Cannon, a little older and a little wiser but still yearning to work the rails—much to his rail machinist father’s dismay. The railroad’s days are coming to an end, declares the father, but Jimmy turns a deaf ear. By novel’s end, however, the father’s prescience is clearly evident. In this respect, the changing times of the 1940s are reflected in the employment ruptures today in American industry.

As the book spans the years. Jimmy’s Halloween adventures move from giggly preteen stuff to sobering adult, from a cemetery prank to a gut-wrenching high school football contest, and, finally, to Jimmy’s father’s death. This is a pulsating slice of small town America as it used to be (and still is in parts of rural America).

Picture Books:  p.1   p.2   p.3
Short Novels :  p.1   p.2   p.3
  Novels:  p.1   p.2   p.3   p.4 Anthologies:  p.1 Fairy & Folk Tales :  p.1  Poetry:  p.1

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