Three Recent Readalouds: "B" is for Betsy, The Show Must Go On, and Gooney Bird Greene

Jul 22, 2019

A couple of months ago, with the approach of his fifth birthday, I felt like I needed to make more of a concerted effort to invite Clark to listen when I was reading aloud to the other boys. I mean, the invitation was always there, but he almost always opted for Mike to read a picture book to him instead (definitely not a bad thing). I couldn't really blame him since the last few books we had read hadn't exactly been preschool-friendly.

So I followed my own advice and picked several books with short chapters, lots of pictures, and characters/plot that would appeal to a five-year-old. My older boys were super accommodating, which proves that kids just love to be read to, even if it's not what they would choose to read on their own.

1. "B" is for Betsy by Carolyn Haywood

This was a really sweet and adorable story. It felt like a cross between Betsy-Tacy and Ramona with that innocent old-school charm (it was first published in 1939) and just a touch of spunkiness (although not up to Ramona levels).

Betsy enters first grade at the beginning of the story (which, we soon realized, was more like kindergarten would be today). She meets Ellen on the first day, and they become fast friends. She gets lost on her way to school. Under her teacher's gentle supervision, her classroom grows tadpoles, organizes a gift for an older friend in need, and create their own circus.

You might think that this story would be too old-fashioned or too girly for my kids, but the truth is, we all enjoyed it. And it was especially a winner for Clark. The plot wasn't intense or complicated. He could keep track of all of the characters. And he latched onto all of Betsy's little adventures because, even in 2019, they still sounded like just the kind of thing he'd like to do, too.

Although this wasn't Clark's first time listening to a chapter book, it was the first time with all of his older brothers listening as well. And I think it made him feel like part of the club. He enjoyed jumping in with the answers when we did a little review every night and coming up with his own ideas for what was going to happen.

And it meant he got to have his back scratched, which Clark is always in favor of.

2. The Show Must Go On! by Kate and Sarah Klise

This was our second readaloud with Clark. And while it was a cute story, in retrospect, I actually wish I hadn't read it aloud.

I always say that first readalouds should have lots of pictures, but it turns out that it actually is possible to have too many pictures, and this book is the perfect example. There were pictures on almost every page, which in and of itself wasn't necessarily a bad thing. The problem was that many of the pictures contained speech bubbles or other textual information that was actually critical to the plot of the story but that had to be explained if you weren't reading it yourself (i.e., "This is a conversation between Gert and Bert"). It was a bit like reading a graphic novel aloud, which would be very difficult.

When Sir Sidney decides to take a much needed rest and go on vacation, he leaves his circus in the seemingly capable hands of Barnabas Brambles. But Barnabas is only interested in making money, and in just a short week's time, he has effectively done way more damage than good and has literally only made a dollar in the process.

It was a fun story, and we made it work as a readaloud, but I honestly think it would have been much more enjoyable for my kids if they had just read it on their own.

3. Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry

I started reading this one with just Clark, but the other boys were around during the final three chapters, and even though they pretended they weren't listening, they totally were (especially Max, who picked up the book after we were finished so that he could read the first four chapters).

Turns out, this was actually a really easy book to just jump into the middle of because each chapter is kind of its own self-contained story. In fact, the art of storytelling is really the whole point of the book.

When Gooney Bird Greene arrives at Watertower Elementary, everyone can tell she isn't an ordinary girl (and it isn't just her name, although that alone is enough to make a person look twice). When Mrs. Pidgeon teaches the class about the format of a good story (it must have a beginning, middle, and end, etc.), all of the students agree that the story they most want to hear is about Gooney Bird Greene. And since that puts Gooney Bird right smack in the middle of everything, she is happy to oblige by sharing absolutely true stories about herself.

The thing is, they don't sound like true stories. One of them is titled "How Gooney Bird Came from China on a Flying Carpet." Another, "Beloved Catman is Consumed by a Cow." But by the end, the kids realize that Gooney Bird actually has lived a fairly ordinary life, but when presented in just the right way, it sounds rather extraordinary.

We liked this book, but it wasn't until the final chapter that I finally saw the genius behind it, and then I kind of loved it. Everything came together beautifully as Gooney Bird revisited the stories she had told and showed the class how each one of them also has similar experiences that are just waiting to be told.

I don't know if teachers use this book as a way to introduce the story format, but I can't imagine that they don't. This book is just too perfect not to use in a classroom setting.

What are some other short, easy readalouds Clark would enjoy?


  1. Wedgie and Gizmo might work well. I know my son read it with a young friend over the summer, and he said it went well. (The characters swap chapters, and the dog chapters are easy to read so I think the young kid took over the dog chapters).

  2. I just got Gooney Bird Greene from the library and was charmed. I might try it with the kids in my elementary school book club this year.


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