Read Across America week takes place the first week of March and is always such a fun time to celebrate reading and great works of literature in the upper elementary classroom. In the past, we have taken this week to celebrate and honor Dr. Seuss since his birthday is March 2nd. But recently, many educators have realized that there are more inclusive stories and authors to explore instead. The whole purpose of this week is to instill and cultivate a love for reading in our students and there’s no better way to do that than through stories that offer a chance to learn about different cultures, backgrounds, and inspiring people.
Try out these nonfiction picture books and discussion questions for Read Across America Week with your upper-elementary students. And yes, upper elementary students still like to be read to! Discussion questions can be answered aloud in whole group, used as a journal prompt, or talked about in partners.
Read Across America Week Day 1: Danza! By: Duncan Tonatiuh
A book that takes us on a journey
To kick off Read Across America Week is a book that takes us to a place and shows us one of the most special aspects of a culture- its dance! The story follows Amalia Hernandez as she is inspired by two dancers she sees in her town. She grows up to study dance and incorporates her Mexican culture as she forms a famous company called Ballet Folklorico de Mexico.
Discussion question: Who or what has inspired you and led you to do something you are proud of?
Read Across America Week Day 2: I Talk Like a River By: Jordan Scott and Sydney Smith
A book about being different and celebrating your own voice
The theme explored in this book is how although our uniqueness can be scary, it is something that we can also be proud of. This book was inspired by the author’s difficulty behind his stuttering as a young boy. The story includes beautifully written metaphors that describe how painful it was when he was asked to speak. The author’s dad takes him to a river one day where he explains that he “talks like a river.” The boy feels less alone and even proud that his speech can be connected to something as beautiful and strong as a river.
Discussion question: What is something that makes you different, unique, and special?
Read Across America Week Day 3: Sweet Dreams, Sarah By: Vivian Kirkfield and Chris Ewald
A book about persistence even when things are difficult
Sarah’s story begins during her and her family’s enslavement. From a young age, she is inspired by her father’s carpentry skills and wishes to use tools in the same manner. We follow Sarah’s journey as slavery is abolished and she pursues her dream to invent a cabinet that folds out into a bed. Unfortunately, her patent is denied the first time around but of course, Sarah does not lose sight of her dream. She tries again and is successful. She becomes the first African-American woman to receive a patent for her invention.
Discussion question: Is there something you have faced that was difficult, yet you didn’t give up?
Read Across America Week Day 4: Magic Ramen The Story of Momofuku Ando By: Andrea Wang
A book about never giving up and how one person can help many
This story begins after World War II when Momofuku Ando would see the neverending lines of hungry people trying to get a warm bowl of soup. He believed everyone should be granted a full stomach from a hearty meal. Ando wanted to invent a soup that was both nutritious and easy to make so he could help these hungry people. Ando tried and failed many, many times. The thought of helping people in need kept him going. Finally, he made the perfect recipe- crunchy noodles that when soaked in hot water for 2 minutes, would become soft, resulting in a healthy soup! Ramen noodles became a staple in every household but most importantly, helped feed many people.
Discussion question: Have you ever been motivated to do something to help others?
Read Across America Week Day 5: Malala’s Magic Pencil By: Malala Yousafzai
A book about having the courage to dream big
Closing out the week is this autobiographical story of Malala starting when she was a little girl. She had wished for a magic pencil that would grant her the power to do small things like put a lock on her door! As Malala grew older, she realized there were bigger things to wish for like to rid the world of war or that all girls and boys would be equal. Malala goes on to show how when she stood up for what she believed in, she was able to make a difference on matters that were important and resulted in making the world a better place. The story encourages both young and old to hope, wish, and work towards a better future and world.
Discussion question: If you had one wish for your town, city, or the world, what would it be?
These stories not only showcase important people that have proven to be resilient during difficult times, but also show young readers how books can transport us to whole new places. Include people of all walks of life in your Read Across America celebrations this year.