Choosing the first read aloud of the year is always difficult. Are We There Yet? meets all my criteria: the book has to set the tone for what lies ahead; the book also reestablishes my relationship with the students; and, as if that was not enough, the book also has to help students stop and reflect on where they are, in this case, the first day of school.
There is so much that is great to say about this book, but really one word suffices: Brilliant.
A young boy, on a car ride to visit his grandma for her birthday, gets bored, very bored, and in the way that only a very bored mind can do, creativity flourishes and his imagination takes off. Let me just say this, unlike our young protagonist, my students wished that this car ride would never end.
Dan must have been very bored himself because this book is incredibly creative and inventive. He has created a book that the reader turns over and begins reading backward reinforcing that time has slowed down so much so that the boy and his family are traveling backward in time. Time and space eventually right themselves and another turn of the book has the reader and the family moving forward again with more fun ahead. The qr codes bring the reader back to the future and add an element of interactivity that further engages the reader as well as explains what is happening in the scene. It's incredible.
Last year, my fourth graders Skyped with Dan for World Read Aloud Day and Dan talked about the book:
Are We There Yet? is a fabulous read aloud both in narrative and art. Engaging (and nicely hand-lettered) text is paired with detailed art, which had students pointing out changes in clothing, scenery, and expressions.
Are we there yet?
How much longer?
It was easy to get students hooked before even opening the cover. I asked the students to indicate if they had ever uttered any of these phrases on a car ride, and as expected, it was fairly universal.
Before rushing onto the activity for the day, I heeded the books message and stopped. The students and I talked about being present, in this moment, the excitement and anticipation of our first day of our 180 adventure in learning. As Dan Santat says, "there's no greater gift than the present."
I am not sure where our adventure in learning will take us, but I am glad we are not there yet because I am enjoying the journey.