Fourth grade at my elementary school marks a really interesting immigration unit that introduced my kids to their first group project experience. They learned, the hard way, about freeloaders but the end result was a “Wax Museum” where each child played a wax statue that, when prompted by dropping in a fake coin in a bucket, recited a speech about life as a new immigrant. Each group chose a different country to emigrate from that included Poland, Ireland, Italy, China, Japan and more. They also created a Wax Museum display bulletin board that talked about the immigrant experience from their country. What was most noticeable was how every, single group talked about the racism and prejudice they faced upon coming to America.
It seems that in fourth grade, kids are starting to really develop empathy skills so historical fiction about immigration or the mistreatment of dogs moves them deeply. I’ve included the books that my kids remember reading as part of a classroom assignment or as a read aloud in 4th grade and added a few of my favorites. My son just started 4th grade this year, so I will keep track of his classroom read alouds and will add them to this list all year.
Please share your ideas for 4th grade read alouds. Thank you!
4th Grade Read Aloud Chapter Books
10. Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
My two girls loved Shiloh in 4th grade and I was excited to see that my son’s class is starting their read alouds with Shiloh right now! Can young Marty Preston do anything to help a young beagle he fell in love with from an abusive owner with a drinking problem, a gun and a temper? Is it too much to take on? This is a wonderful series that kids can read independently too, especially if introduced by the teacher at the start of school. My son is really enjoying this book. Let’s hope I can get him to read the next two books of the trilogy on his own. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
9. Frindle by Andrew Clements
My son has finally strayed from his beloved Rick Riordan books and Frindle was the first book he read as a 4th grader. It came highly recommended by his older sisters’ and their peers. Is 4th grade a good time to start thinking about what leadership means? Is it being popular, relating well to adults in charge, or being able to pull off a subversive act the trait of a true leader? Do troublemakers in school — those who always have big ideas and energy to pull them off — turn out to be great leaders as adults? Is this the time to plant that seed?
I say yes to all! 5th grader Nick Allen wonders, as part of classroom diversion tactic, how new words get created; not just words to describe something new but to replace a well-known word. His stalling antic blossoms into an all out vocabulary revolution; can he get the word pencil replaced by a made up word? [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
8. Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Grasshopper and Sensei read this book for her 4th grade immigration unit and loved it so much that she insisted I read it; even going to far as to borrow the book from her teacher for me. If you ever saw the movie Far and Away, this is a Mexican version of it; a rich girl forced to immigrate with her mother to California during the Great Depression and work as a farm worker. Thirteen-year-old Esperanza Ortega is faced with choices she never dreamed she’d have to make to save her family. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
7. The City of Ember by Jeanne DePrau
Our babysitter that went on to become a 4th grade teacher recommended this book, telling us that every child in her NY classroom was riveted from this read aloud. It was Grasshopper and Sensei’s first taste of dystopian novels and she loved half the series and says this first one is the best and also recommends the second one, The People of Sparks, but did not enjoy the pre-Ember books after that.
PickyKidPix also wanted to note that this book can be a little high for 4th grade so she recommends it as a classroom read aloud towards the end of the school year.
The city of Ember was built as a last refuge for the human race. Two hundred years later, the great lamps that light the city are beginning to flicker. When Lina finds part of an ancient message, she’s sure it holds a secret that will save the city. She and her friend Doon must decipher the message before the lights go out on Ember forever! This stunning debut novel offers refreshingly clear writing and fascinating, original characters. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
6. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
Fourth grade is a year of introductions to authors that hopefully the kids will want to seek out and Judy Blume is at the top of my list with a 4th grade story that I loved when I was in elementary school. It’s the first of the Fudge series and I think it works especially well to draw in reluctant readers, particularly boys. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
5. Savvy by Ingrid Law
PickyKidPix loved her 4th grade book club based on Savvy, a story of the Beaumont family with a magical secret. At age 13, each child in their family develops a secret power they call a “savvy.” Mib’s brothers can cause hurricanes and creates electricity so she’s hoping that her upcoming birthday will reveal a spectacular savvy for her! But then Mib’s father gets into a terrible accident and Mibs sneaks a ride on a bus to the hospital convinced that her soon-to-be savvy will help save her father. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
4. The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
PickyKidPix recommends this book: “It’s about a girl who is very shy but finds her voice through her best friend. But her best friend is black and she lives in a segregated community and she has to find ways to see her friend but it’s very dangerous because they don’t support white people seeing black people.” It also works nicely for the 4th grade unit on Civil Rights that our school does towards the end of the year. It also pairs nicely with The Watson Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
3. Love, Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wiles
What makes this such a great read aloud is that it is crafted in layers of story. On the surface, the book is a highly amusing account of Ruby Lavender’s relationship with her beloved grandmother; now on vacation in Hawaii which makes Ruby miss her and the hijinks they pulled off together like rescuing chickens from a slaughterhouse. Ruby writes letters to her grandmother (her sign off is Love, Ruby Lavender — hence the title, which confused me for a long time), complaining of the long summer before her without anyone to play with. Her grandmother is truly her best friend. As Ruby deals with her life — making new friends and finding things to get involved in — the story peaks with the reader finally realizing what is going on all this time. I won’t spoil it for you, but both the grandmother and Ruby are grieving and the reason for this summer of separation becomes clear. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
2. Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech
It’s hard to pick which Sharon Creech book to introduce to 4th grade, but PickyKidPix and I loved Ruby Holler, a lyrical love story between two unlikely pairs: unwanted orphan twins Dallas and Florida who have a reputation for being trouble, and an elderly eccentric couple, Tiller and Sairy, who are restless for one last big adventure. They live in a rural area called Ruby Holler and as the four of them prepare for two big journeys, the magic of their environment takes over. For any adult who ever considered becoming a foster parent, this book will tip you in that direction. And for any child who never knew about such as thing as foster homes, this chapter book will help seal a deep love of Sharon Creech books. At least it did for us! [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
1. Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Does a novel in verse make a great read aloud? I think it does when it is this kind of book: an unexpected point of view from a 10-year-old young girl. Hà, escapes from war-torn Vietnam with her family and relocates to Alabama. You’d think she’d be grateful to be in this great country, not cynical, dismissing the local food choices and plotting revenge on school bullies. As an immigration story, Hà’s voice is unexpected, politically incorrect, and so poignantly honest as to be riveting. Her coming of age journey also is not something that ties up neatly with a bow with a happy ending, but it is satisfying none the less and leaves the reader with a deeper insight and empathy for anyone who might speak English with an accent.
This would be a great addition to the 4th grade immigration unit AND the poetry unit! Two for 1 and a Newbery Honor book to boot! [novel in verse, ages 9 and up]
4th Grade Read Aloud Honorable Mentions
So Far From Home: The Diary of Mary Driscoll, An Irish Mill Girl, Lowell, Massachusetts, 1847 (Dear America Series) by Barry Denenberg
We live near Lowell, Massachusetts and the fourth graders will be visiting the Lowell Mills museum where they will learn about child labor and the Industrial Revolution. They seeing this from Mary Driscoll, a young Irish immigrant’s point of view. This is my son’s second read aloud in 4th grade.
If you want picture books to explore the Industrial Revolution, I’d also recommend The Bobbin Girl by Emily Arnold McCully which is also set in Lowell, MA. Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 is the true story of Clara Lemlich who led the largest walkout of women workers the country had seen.
Maggie’s Door by Patricia Reilly Giff
If you want a read aloud with an Irish immigration theme, this works both as historical fiction and a great read aloud. I’d add the video below to really cement the history in an age appropriate school video. Bonus points for its tie in to American History of the Choctaw Nation which can set up a comparison of what happened when new nations immigrated to America versus those who were already here.
Maggie’s Door is the story of the journey from Ireland to America told by both Nory and her neighbor and friend Sean Red Mallon, two different stories with the same destination—the home of Nory’s sister Maggie, at 416 Smith Street, Brooklyn, America. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
Narrated by Irish actor Gabriel Bryne, this is a SchoolTube video on the Irish Potato Famine. It’s interesting that he grew up in Ireland and still himself knew very little about the Irish Potato Famine. It’s a great 12 minute video and ties back into the history of conflict between England and Ireland.
The unsung heroes of the Irish Potato Famine are the Choctaw people in America who suffered their own trail of tears. It’s a great story of compassion of how they reached out to help another suffering nation. The lesson is that maybe we all realize that we can indeed make a difference.
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