Some of the very best reactions I have gotten from students in the last six years of doing #ClassroomBookADay is to those books that demand a reaction. The books that have shocking and surprising endings or unexpected plot twists or reveals at the end of the story. Many of the surprise-ending books are ones that will beg students to dissect, reread to look for clues, or debate what they think really happened.
From animals being eaten to fairy-tale twists, to unreliable narrators, to surprising reveals that make you think, to unexpected reasons for actions to books that make you want to cheer on the characters, to ones that make you want to be braver, to stories that make you wonder how you missed what was coming, each of the picture books in this book list are ones that are tried-and-true to engage students, of any grade, and make them sit up and take notice.
I will never forget reaching the end of Pardon Me! during my first year of #ClassroomBookADay read-alouds, with a shocking reveal about what’s actually been going on the whole time, and hearing Michael cry out, in full-on eighth-grade boy sarcasm reaction, “You’ve ruined my childhood!” This not only shows that he was shocked by the ending, but also shows a deeper understanding that it is often expected of picture books to be sweet and simple. But there are picture books that will shock kids into the realities of the world, and this one would be an eye-opener about nature for young kids.
Whenever I share Where Are My Books? at the beginning of the school year, and the culprit of the missing books is revealed, students start calling out in surprise with the page turn that they did not expect that was the thief.
Every single time I read aloud I Want My Hat Back, I have to go back and review pages as students desperately try to defend their side of what happened at the end using text and illustration evidence to support their stance. What a great skill to encourage through the use of a fun picture book – one that can lead into lessons on argument writing as well.
And then there’s Spencer’s New Pet, which has garnered one of the biggest reactions from ME! As a teacher friend and I stood together reading it, we had a full-on speechless, what-just-happened moment at the end and then had to flip back pages ourselves to see what details we missed in the wordless book that caught us completely, mind-blowingly off guard.
It’s fantastic when books can surprise us and feel fresh and interesting – especially when we are reading so many of them. I hope in these selections you will find some titles that will perk up your daily read-alouds and give your students some fun and unexpected surprises and reasons to engage in conversation.
Jillian Heise, NBCT and MLIS, is currently a K-5 Library Media Teacher in southeastern Wisconsin. She previously taught Grades 7 and 8 ELA in the Milwaukee area for 11 years. Jillian is the founder of #ClassroomBookADay and dedicated to supporting all student identities and lived experiences through access to inclusive literature. She brings her literacy expertise and knowledge of kidlit to her role as Chair of the USRA Children's Literature Committee. You can find Jillian online at Heise Reads & Recommends and @heisereads.
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