Now that the school year is over, I'm reading to a very demanding young critic--my youngest son, who will be entering first grade. He is currently in an animal loving phase, which means that I'm combing the library shelves for anything that has to do with big cats, snakes, or African wildlife. His desire for information outpaces his independent reading ability...which means that I've been reading aloud a lot of expository text.
As I read many texts that deal with the same topics, it's interesting to see how different authors faced the challenge of writing for younger readers--how they organize information, how they explain ideas, how they keep sentences short.
One of my recent favorites is Owen and Mzee: The Language of Friendship. This is on my list for a read aloud or shared reading with the document camera. You've probably heard the story--a young hippo named Owen becomes friends with a formerly grumpy tortoise named Mzee. (You can find out more at the website.)
What makes the book such a great read is the way that the authors harness and use text structures throughout the book. At the beginning, Owen's arrival at Haller Park is explained through cause and effect. A chronological order structure continues as Owen's friendship with Mzee is explained.
My favorite part is at the end. As I've written before, compare and contrast text structure is sometimes difficult to find in the wilds of real text. But there is a wonderful page that explains why Owen is not acting like a regular hippo. The authors compare and contrast Owen's behavior with that of typical hippos. Then this whole comparison becomes the problem for a problem/solution part of text. It's an easy introduction to the way that authors use multiple text structures to explain ideas.
As I look at books for the next school year, I want to find books that use academic patterns and structures, but have accessible topics. Kids who don't have their own personal readers at home are often unfamiliar with the way that expository text sounds. By finding lots of read alouds, I can help students to learn more about this kind of text.