My Favourite Read Alouds for IB PYP Units

I’ve been reflecting lately on the books I’ve used as read alouds  throughout our various units of inquiry, that have both reinforced the inquiry as well as integrated many reading skills and strategies.  I’ve compiled a list that may help you also, when planning your units of inquiry and aligning them with the elements of the PYP as well as your reading standards. Over the years, I have taught mainly from 3rd grade ( Primary 3/4) up to 6th grade ( Primary 7) and so you’ll find these books to fit the upper elementary age range more.

There is another blog post relating specifically to books that I love when reinforcing the traits of the Learner Profile. You can link to that post here. But this list is more for read alouds that will tie to many of the essential elements of the PYP, as well as slot in nicely to particular Transdisciplinary Themes.

I have created this list for your convenience. You can click on the picture and the title of each book and it will take you directly to its page on Amazon, where you can flip through pages, read reviews and  look at similar titles.

You’ll notice that I’ve added some of the essential elements that I felt were within the books,  beside each title. Obviously, your interpretation may find there is more than one attitude or another concept within the book but these are the elements that I have reinforced with that particular tale. I currently teach fifth grade but have used these books with 3rd and 4th too.

Literacy planner, integrating into UOI

I hope it can offer some help with your planning for your units. You’ll find a planner here that I like to use to help me with planning my units and integrating literacy and literacy skills into that unit. Feel free to download it for free, right here. Click away and enjoy!

How We Express Ourselves

Reading skills: main idea, summarising, cause and effect. IB PYP – Attitudes & Key Concepts of Change & Reflection

Fish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Oh the incredible ways that we learn to compensate for things that we think we aren’t good enough! The main character, Ally, believes that she can’t read as well as others and so she tries to hide this through a myriad of creative ways. Each chapter is written in a way that is good for practising the skill of finding the main idea and summarising.With a look at how we judge ourselves but also others, this book is fantastic for approaching the attitudes of confidence, appreciation and acceptance. It fits well with Who We Are as well since it covers a lot about learning abilities that children will be able to identify with.

I added it to the theme of How We Express Ourselves, having used it within a unit of how the media can impact our views of ourselves and others. You can link to that resource here and take a peek.

Not too unlike the book above, with regards to the over all theme, this very well known book, Wonder, by RJ Palacio,  focuses on caring, loving and accepting the fact that we all have something special within, regardless of how we appear on the outside to others. With several perspectives told in the story,

Reading skills: Inferring, synthesising, IB PYP- Learner Profile, Action inspiration, Key Concepts of Form, Change & Reflection

the different ways of expressing our fears, beliefs and feelings is studied well throughout the story as these children learn to cope with the world around them and expressing themselves quite uniquely. Communication skills are key within this one.


Where We Are in Place & Time

Reading skills: Compare & contrast, summarising IB PYP – Learner Profile & Attitudes, Action inspiration, Key Concepts of Connection, Form

A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park.

Based on a true story, this powerful book tells the tale of two 11 year olds in Sudan, at different times. 1985 and 2008. The perspective is incredible as these children have different stories to tell of their courage and acceptance of what it is that they must do to survive. The little girl walks two hours each way, to a pond, in order to collect water for her family. The boy walks across the African continent, as one of the “lost boys”, refugees from war, looking for a safe place to live. The comparison of stories, time and place is excellent for units that inquire into the effects of war, the impact of environment and the attitudes of courage, commitment and enthusiasm. This inspired a lot of kid centred action too. I have also read this book within Sharing the Planet, which we used for our EXHIBITION one year.


Reading skills: Sequencing, Cause & Effect, descriptive writing IB PYP- Learner Profile of Risk taker, Commitment & Caring, Attitudes of Empathy, Key Concept of Causation, Change

This classic book, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, is by far a favourite of mine. I have read it so many times, over the years, to my upper elementary kiddos. Set in Denmark, during World War 2, it ultimately focuses on the theme of good versus evil. As the Nazis are spreading their agenda throughout Europe, the main character learns just how ugly humanity can be to one another. But, she also sees the other side, of how brave and loving we can choose to be too, in order to save another life. I have used this read aloud within units of inquiry that have delved into war, revolutionaries and their causes and effects. It is perfect for the theme of Where We Are in Place and Time.


Reading Skills: Cause & Effect, Inferring, Character development, Figurative Language. IB PYP Attitudes: Tolerance, Independence. Learner Profile – THE ENTIRE THING! Key Concepts: Perspective, Change, Reflection

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley This book! I cannot say enough good about this incredible tale of courage, persistence and faith. Set during World War 2, it is a tale of two neglected children who are evacuated out of London into the countryside, for their own safety. Ada is a ten year old little girl with a club foot and has been kept prisoner inside her home for her entire life. Upon arriving in the countryside, the story tells of her awakening as she experiences life outside of the four walls of her room and comes to recognise that there is good and love in her world. The ENTIRE Learner Profile is covered within this incredible story, together with quite detailed historical moments of Britain’s struggle throughout World War 2


How the World Works

Reading skills: Cause & Effect, sequencing, descriptive writing/figurative language IB PYP: Communication & Self management skills, Key concepts of Causation, Function & Perspective

Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse.

Learning to cope with things that are outwith our control is demonstrated through the story of this young girls as she lives through The American Depression era coupled with the impact that the weather(plus over-farming)  can have on our lives, in this case, causing the environmental devastation in the American mid west. History is brought to life, as we learn, also, how the government stepped in to try to help these poor farm people survive this dustbowl. I used this book within our unit that looked into how extreme weather could impact society ;  thus covering many, many factors, not least, how we live through it. Self management scenarios were presented to my class as we read this book and we had many interesting collaborative group discussions, as to how we might have handled the circumstances that the young girl was presented with.

Sharing the Planet

Reading skills: Main idea, inferring, character development, parts of a story IB PYP : Action inspiration, Research skills, Key concepts of Form, Function & Perspective

Big business versus local kids! This story, Hoot by Carl Hiaasen, examines how youngsters can take ACTION in a meaningful way to protect the environment. A colony of rare burrowing owls live in an area that is about to be demolished to make way for the building of a pancake diner. Inspiring, you will find the theme of young people raising awareness as environmental activists, educating a community on the importance of nature and how to friendships can come in all shapes and sizes. Open mindedness is a big deal in this story. Kids love it! You’ll be amazed at how many kid’s are inspired to take action, from this one.

Reading skills: Author’s purpose, inferring, character development, descriptive writing IB PYP: Key Concepts of Responsibility, Reflection, Action inspiration.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Friendship and hope prevail in this unforgettable tale of these animals who are captured and kept in captivity for the entertainment of humans. Based on the shocking real life story of a young gorilla sent to a shopping mall in America, it is such a lovely story that fills you with love for the unlikely bond between these animals share. A story of hope,  I dare you not to cry at least once! If you are inquiring into anything involving animal welfare, friendship or helping others, this would be a great addition.  Plus, you can actually buy a novel study guide for this one too, with lessons and activities about the true story of Ivan.  Click through here for a look at it.The One and Only Ivan: An Instructional Guide for Literature (Great Works) )

Reading skills: Cause & effect, summarising, inferring ( using images) IB PYP: Key concepts of Connection, Causation, Function, Attitudes of Cooperation, Appreciation, Action inspiration

The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry is a lovely book set in the Amazon rainforest, with beautiful pictures. It tells the story of how all of the living things are interdependent for survival. It works as a great provocation for the beginning of any unit that is looking into interdependence of living things and the key concept of connection. I have a fun follow up activity that also demonstrates interdependence and connection. You can download that right here for free. 🙂

Who We Are

Reading skills: main idea & supporting details, sequencing, visualising IB PYP: Key concept of Perspective, Change, Learner Profile & Attitudes

The Wish Tree by Katherine Applegate is a short story, told from the perspective of a great oak tree, who has lived for many years and has seen a lot of life passing by. Locals believe that this tree will help their dreams to come true. With a great deal of emphasis on connection and reflection,  it delves into the relationship of a new family moving into the area and how some go over and above to make them feel welcome and others definitely do not. Great for looking at relationships, how we can be caring and show empathy.


Reading skills: Compare & contrast, descriptive writing, IB PYP: Attitudes of Creativity, Learner Profile of Open minded

The Lightning Queen by Laura ResauThis is a lovely story set in rural 1950’s Mexico. It looks a lot at how other people have lived in different cultures, thus a lot of compare and contrast could be worked into literacy skills. In  particular, two Indian cultures within Mexico are learned about. The main character is an 11 year old boy who loses his family and his perspective is a great part of how the story shapes itself. It is a great tale to compare how we live in our society today and how other cultures live and have lived in the past. It would also fit nicely under the theme of How We Express Ourselves.

Reading Skills: Sequencing & inferring Learner Profile: Risk taker, Thinker, Principled. Attitudes of Independence & Appreciation. Key Concepts: Change, Causation, Responsibility

Orphan Train by Kristina Baker Kline
I put this book under the theme of Who We Are but it could easily go under Where We Are in Place and Time also. Sometimes, real life is stranger than fiction. This dark but heart warming story is based on real life events in American history. Hundreds of orphaned children were sent on trains across the USA, to the homes of strangers, where they were to be adopted. Many of them found loving homes and many of them were simply used as cheap labour. This story tells of the strength within us, the bonds of friendship and of second chances. I would recommend this book for 4th grade and up.

How We Organise Ourselves

Reading Skills: Compare & contrast, Cause & effect, Sequencing IB PYP: Key concepts of Perspective, Causation & Change, Research skills

Turning 15 On the Road to Freedom by Lynda Blackmon Lowery. A great addition to any unit of inquiry that explores human rights, equality and government. This is an inspiring memoir of a young American girl caught up in the era of civil unrest in America during the civil rights movement of 1960’s. It tells her story of how her beliefs for equality helped to shape her, specifically her part in the voting rights demonstration march to Selma. Beautifully written but straightforward with the message.

Reading skills: Character development, elements of a story, figurative language, compare & contrast, questioning IB PYP: Key concepts of Causation, Change, Form, Learner Profile of Inquirer, Courageous, Global thinker

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan. This story also has the underlying theme of human rights but this time looking at the migrant Mexican farmers who worked in conditions of hardship in the USA. It is the story of a little girl, used to a comfortable life in Mexico until tragedy strikes and she is forced, along with her family, to leave her home and her country an move to America. Suddenly, her life is about poverty and hardship, coming to terms with racism and inequality. There is so much to work with within this novel; the figurative language, sequencing, cause and effect – the history and human rights issues are numerous. One of my all time favourites! Highly recommended for upper primary grades. (ages 9-12) You can also find a Great Works literacy study guide for this one here. Esperanza Rising: An Instructional Guide for Literature.  I like this one since it suits upper elementary grades better than the rest, which I feel are more aligned with middle school ELA standards.

I put this next book, Sophia’s War, under the theme of How We Organise Ourselves because it does focus a lot of the different sides of the American Revolution and how spies played an important role in this war, as well as any revolution. It would of course fit in just as nicely with Where We Are in Place and Time.

Reading skills: Summarising, inferring, character development, sequencing IB PYP: Research skills, Learner Profile of Principled, Attitudes, Tolerance, Integrity, Key Concepts of Causation, Change, Perspective

Sophia’s War by Avi. Set in 1776, it is about a young girl who witnesses the execution of Nathan Hale, one of the prominent American players in the American Revolution. With a lot of cause and effect, inferring ( because of the secretive role of spying and backstabbing within the tale) it presents a fabulous timeline of the American War of Independence, from a very different perspective. Thus the key concepts of form, function, perspective and change can all be very nicely covered within this novel.

I really hope you find this list useful and can bring some of the stories into your inquiries. You can also find complete units of inquiry for every theme, in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. These are planned across all curricular areas with concept based inquiry activities and can be easily fit into most themes for upper elementary. Check it out here and see if anything suits your programme of inquiry. 



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