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Read-Aloud Ideas: Gifts of Character
Upper Elementary

The main character in each of these titles for older children shows selflessness born out of compassion for someone else.  A sacrifice is made for the greater good. 

Before reading, introduce the two character traits above.  Have students think of examples of unselfish actions and of situations where they felt compassion toward someone else.  Ask them to think about this question as you read: “How does the character in the book come to the decision/sacrifice that they do?”

After reading, discuss the outcome.  What was “the greater good” in each story?  What feelings do you think the character was left with afterwards?  How might the story have ended differently if the character hadn’t made the sacrifice they did?  Are acts of selflessness always rewarded?  If not, why do people make such sacrifices?  Are there things students could give up (for a day, a week) either in their own family or at school to allow for some greater good?

Deedy, Carmen Agra.  14 Cows for America.  ISBN:  978-1-56145-490-7  Lexile:  540
The true story of the symbolic gift of fourteen blessed cows from the people of a Maasai village in Kenya to the people of New York after the September 11 attacks.  Students can write a response to the words of the young man who inspired Deedy’s book: “To heal a sorrowing heart, give something that is dear to your own.”

DePaola, Tomie.  The Legend of the Bluebonnet:  an old tale of Texas  ISBN:  0-399-20937-9  Lexile:  740
A young Comanche girl sacrifices her most prized possession to appease the Great Spirits in a time of drought and famine.

Houston, Gloria.  The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: an Appalachian Story.  ISBN:  0-8037-0300-7  Lexile:  600
Set in Appalachia during WWII. With her father away in Europe and food and other supplies hard to come by, Ruthie and her mother are determined to continue a tradition and provide the tree (and the heavenly angel) for the pageant at their church.  The mother’s sacrifice of precious war-time stockings and a wedding dress is heartwarming.

Paterson, Katherine.  The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks.  ISBN:  0-525-67283-4  Lexile:  930
Yasuko, a kitchen maid, takes pity upon a wood drake that no longer pleases its master and releases it to the wild.  Shozo is accused of the deed but shoulders the blame and a humiliating punishment so that two do not suffer for one crime. 

After reading, have students go back through the story for clues as to who the imperial messengers might have been.  Discuss how it was that good fortune came to the couple at the end of the story.

Spinelli, Eileen.  Sophie’s Masterpiece:  a Spider’s Tale.  ISBN:  0-689-80112-2  Lexile:  330
A talented spinner of beautiful webs, Sophie is misunderstood and hated by the people at the boardinghouse where she lives.  One day, though, a young woman discovers her in her knitting basket and simply smiles.  Sophie begins the masterpiece she was destined to make for the woman’s unborn child, ultimately sacrificing her own heart to create it.

Steptoe, John.  The Story of Jumping Mouse.  ISBN:  0-329-08700-2 
In this Native American legend, Jumping Mouse sacrifices his sight and his sense of smell to help other creatures on his journey to the far-off land.

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