Fourth Grade Journey

A Fourth Grade Teacher's Journey Through the World of Books

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton

How I Heard About It:  Some of Oprah's book club selections I have enjoyed.  Some of them were not for me.  After seeing her interview on Facebook with Anthony Ray Hinton, I went to the book store and bought of a copy of this memoir.  

What It Is About:   Anthony Ray Hinton had a few "run-ins" with the law in Alabama, but nothing major.  He learned from his mother to live the most honest life he could and do right by God.  One day while mowing his mother's yard, two police officers showed up and arrested him.  He wasn't sure why and told himself and his mother it was all a mistake and he would be home soon.  Ray was charged with three murders that had occurred in Alabama.  He was appointed a lawyer by the state.  He had an solid alibi.  The bullets they said killed those men, didn't match.  All of the evidence said Anthony Ray had nothing to do with these crimes, yet he was found guilty and sentence to death row.  This man spent thirty years on death row trying to find a way to prove his innocence.  There are moments when he is ready to end it all and there are moments when he knows the truth will prevail.  

What I Thought Of It:  I couldn't believe this was a true story.  It read like a novel, but I had to keep reminding myself this was one man's true life story.  It was unbelievable to me that a state could convict a man and they "knew" it was innocent and they just needed someone to take the rap.  Anthony tells of his horrific life from the day he was arrested to the day he was finally released 30 years later.  I can't imagine how someone can spend that many years in a 5-7 cell, knowing they are innocent, and not go completely crazy.  It was amazing to me that Ray could find humor in his situation at different moments during his experience.  After reading his story, it makes me want to live my life to the fullest and enjoy every single moment of FREEDOM.  

Who Should Read It:   I think every adult should read this memoir.  It will make them a better person and appreciate all they have in their own lives.  It is a story that you leave you reading late into the night and thinking about even when you aren't reading it.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

An Inside Look #52 (Author INTERVIEW)

An Inside Look with Tony Abbott
(Author of Denis Ever After)

*This was a new feature I added to the blog during the summer of 2016.  It was a shot in the dark that it would work, but much to my surprise; it took off and over first season I conducted 22 interviews with a variety of authors.

*It has been such an honor to connect with authors and "chat" about their novel, characters, and thoughts about the story.

*I ran a series of interviews for Season #TWO over the summer of 2017.  It was great to get back to these conversations, that I decided to run Season #THREE during the 2017/2018 school year.

*This is the FIRST interview of what I'm calling Season #FOUR.  

*Thank you to Tony Abbott for being the Fifty-Second author that I've had the pleasure of interviewing.  I truly appreciate it.  

*Here are links to the first FIFTY-One interviews…


*I've had the honor of interviewing Tony before about his novel The Summer of Owen Todd.  I was thrilled to learn that he had a new novel coming out and was lucky enough to receive an ARC from the author himself.  After finishing Denis Ever After, I reached out to Tony asking him back for another round of "Inside Look" questions.  

*He was kind, gracious, and giving with his answers to the questions.  It is an honor to post the responses here on the blog.  

*Here is a link to my review of Denis Ever After

*Thank you Tony Abbott for writing this story for readers and taking the time to share your thoughts with us here...

Denis Ever After
by Tony Abbott (Released July 24, 2018)

How did you come to know Denis?  
The initial spark for Denis Ever After came some years ago with the thought that one brother of a set of twins had passed away and was watching over his brother from the afterlife. He would narrate the story from the afterlife. Despite his death five years ago, it would be a loving, brother comedy. I thought. But I suppose there is something in my psyche that feels that life—and death, for that matter—is a mystery to be solved. It wasn’t long before my sketching out of Denis’s story began to turn on the point that his death was a puzzle of some kind. It turns out that Denis died in mysterious circumstances, surrounded by a series of baffling clues that suggest he was killed. The moment that notion took control, I began to see Denis quite clearly, as a boy living peacefully in the afterlife, with the great-grandmother he never knew in life, and an odd assortment of souls, and being called back by his living twin to solve his apparent murder. The first scene, where Denis and GeeGee walk down to the shore in the afterlife, begins a description—my personal description—of what the life beyond this one might look like. 

What do you think is Denis' most admirable quality?
He loves. Despite the danger to himself of coming back here, Denis loves his brother, and his parents, and the wonder of being alive. Before his brother Matt essentially calls him back here, Denis is living a peaceful forgetful existence in Port Haven, the first stop in the afterlife. When he comes down here, however, he realizes for the first time in five years that his family is on the brink of dissolving under the weight of his death. Adding to this, there appears to be a dark past his parents refuse to acknowledge, a warren of secrets about his father’s father, alcoholism, a crime, prison, and a host of other unexplained hints his family suffers from. Ignoring the threat to his own future, Denis pledges to help Matt end the mystery of his death and try to put his family on a hopeful path.

Is there anything you wish Denis would have changed or done differently in his story?
I’m not sure. I love Denis. I think he acts as, perhaps, I would want to act, were I given the same information. Certainly, he tries to deny the mantel of suffering that is being put on him here—to solve his murder—and he tries to minimize the pain his family is suffering, but these moments are brief. He is honorable about what he has to do. In the five years since he died (at age seven) he has grown so very much, taking on the heart of a much older soul, it seems to me (and I hope to the reader), so it’s difficult to say I would change the way he acts. And we have to remember that before Matt explains his death to him, Denis has forgotten how he died. He is perfectly happy in the afterlife. It’s a great shock to him that his death was caused by someone else, and has itself caused so much pain in so many people. When he learns this, he acts as I hope I would act. 

What do you think Denis can offer to other children that are experiencing similar situations to what he went through?  
I suppose being able to understand and to love people, even faulty people and knowing their sins and crimes to love them all the more because they are frail and weak. That is a huge thing to ask, and Matt, for example, has problems with that, but Denis can find a way to love through the mess and the resentment and failure and darkness. If we could only all do that. 

How did you research Denis and the circumstances he found himself in?
Denis is a twin. I am not, but my brother, who passed away, was a short year older than me. We were close, not so close, apart when he died, and that is always there. I had two twin sisters who didn’t make it out of the hospital at birth. Twins run through my family. What happens between brothers (or very close friends) is not something I will ever get, or want to get, out of my system. It’s there in everything I write. Brothers were in Lunch-Box Dream, in the relationship of Tom and Jeff in Firegirl, in Owen and Sean in The Summer of Owen Todd. This isn’t research, I suppose, just part of the fabric of what I write.

A great part of Denis Ever After involves a road trip across Pennsylvania. I did a long bit of map research. I also spent summers in Western Pennsylvania when I was growing up, and I modeled the town of Backwood a little after Ellwood City, where my grandparents lived. A major scene and thread of the story involves the military park at Gettysburg, and my wife and I spent a good long time there, studying the battlefield and the monument where Denis’s body was discovered. 

Do you and Denis share any similarities?  
He is certainly nobler than I am. He jokes a lot, and I have been told I joke too much sometimes, so I share that trait with him. Also, he has a lot of doubts about what he does and should do. Ditto.

What was the hardest scene to write about Denis?
Actually, the last one. At first, I had Denis doing one thing, and it seemed right, but I realized it finally was not the best thing, for him, for Matt, for his parents, for anyone. It’s hard to think about, but it was the right thing for both of us to do—me to write it, and Denis to do it. I won’t give any more of it away. One of my great hopes is that readers will get to the last chapter. You never know until it happens.

Who do you think was Denis' biggest supporter and why?
His great-grandmother, GeeGee, by far. She loves him as a part of herself. She suffers, too, of course. The afterlife isn’t a place of no pain. Just listen to the crazy bunch of souls there. But she will do anything for him—and she does.

Why do you think people that have passed still have such a connection with those left on Earth?
We, the living, remember them, and that gives them life. Those who have passed, well, I’m not one yet, but I can imagine they are as concerned with us as we are with them. It’s funny. Maybe. But the day I am answering this question, June 14, is a case in point. Last night I dreamt of my brother. He passed away twelve years ago. And yet there he was, neck deep in a swimming pool, talking to me, asking me to do something. It wasn’t a happy conversation, because I refused to do whatever it was. But there you have it, the connection between souls. Faulkner famously wrote “The past is not dead. It’s not even past.” I have found that to be one of the undeniable truths of human existence. It’s all here, no matter how long ago it seemed to go away. It’s all here. The people are here. And we’re moving around together. Why do they have a connection? The same reason we do. To try to discover the meaning of it all.

What do you think Denis is doing as this present time?  
Playing cards with GeeGee and Russell on the shady porch of the beach house in Port Haven, watching the ships that dock and leave off the latest souls. I love Denis as my son and brother. Maybe he’ll be there when I reach the port. I like to think so. 

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (6/18/18)

Thanks to Jen and Kellee for hosting this idea on their site.  Here is a link to the site...
Books I Read this Past Week…

Nevermore The Trails of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

*Middle-Grade Novel (4 STARS out of 5 Stars!)

My Book Review

Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe by Preston Norton

*Young-Adult Novel (5 STARS out of 5 Stars!)

My Book Review

Sweep a Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier

*Middle-Grade Novel (5 STARS out of % Stars!)

Books I Will (continue to) Read this Week

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton

*My Novel Published for Adults (Memoir)

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

*My Middle-Grade Novel

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sweep the Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier

How I Heard About It:  This novel, due out in September of 2018, came to me via the publisher as an ARC.  

What It Is About:   The Sweep has left Nan Sparrow on her own.  She has spent her life as a "Climber" and is known as one of the best in London.  Nan and the other climbers work long and hard hours under the supervision of a greedy and harsh man.  The one item that Nan has from her Sweep is a "char" that she keeps in her worn and tattered coat pocket.  One night during a climb, Nan finds herself stuck in the chimney facing death by fire.  When she awakes, she finds herself in another location with a "monster" type creature taking care of her.  Nan learns this creature came from the "char" that has resided in her pocket since the Sweep gave it to her.  Nan and the "char' which eventually become Charlie, spend all of their time together, staying away from the dangers of London, and trying to figure out what each means to each other.  Nan also wants to learn why the Sweep left the "char" for her and how she can keep him safe and alive.  

What I Thought Of It:  I absolutely LOVED this story.  I could tell it was going to be one of those special stories the minute I began reading.  There was such a sense of solid plot, character development, and setting.  I'm not normally a reader of fantasy, but everything about this one worked so well and had me HOOKED.  The character of Nan was written with such grace, integrity, and realism.  The reading process was a complete joy because I was fascinated by the growth Nan took from the unfolding scenes to the emotional conclusion.  As I was reading, there were so many wonderful life-lessons that could be shared with young people.  Of course I loved that the love of reading/books was such an integral part of the story.  

Who Should Read It:  I'm already thinking this will be one of my shared read aloud during the 2018/2019 school year.  I want all of my students to experience the magic that Jonathan Auxier penned in his newest novel.  The book would work in grades four, five, and six.  Of course it could also be used with middle-school readers.  Adult readers that read and enjoy middle-grade stories definitely need to add this title to their TBR list.  It arrives in book stores in September 2018.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe by Preston Norton

How I Heard About It:  One of my favorite things to do during my down time is to browse books at the nearby bookstore.  Last weekend while I was doing just that, I came across this title in the young-adult section.  After a bit of "research", I added the novel to my pile of books to be purchased.  I spent my first week of summer vacation reading about Cliff, Aaron, and their incredible "list".  

What It Is About:   Cliff is the outsider of Happy Valley High School.  Aaron is the quarterback and "star" of the high school crowd.  These two boys couldn't be more opposites and have no time for each other.  After Aaron has a near-death experience, he returns to school a very different kid.  What surprises Cliff the most is when Aaron asks him for help with a "list" of items. The items on the list are to make Happy Valley a better place for all the kids that attend.  Cliff isn't sure he wants to be a part of this "journey", and is really thrown when Aaron tells him he saw God and God told him about the list itself.  After some consideration, Cliff agrees to help Aaron and the two of them begin a personal, intense, and eye-opening venture.  While "checking off" items on the list, Cliff is forced to come to terms with the suicide of his older brother Shane, which occurred a year earlier.  

What I Thought Of It:  I have been in a bit of reading "slip" when it comes to my young-adult and adult reading.  When I came across this title last week, I immediately felt a bit of a spark and had a feeling this was going to be one heck of a read.  I was right.  This story grabbed my interest right from the get-go.  The characters jumped off the page, came to life, and absorbed my thoughts, heart, and emotions.  I'm not sure I've ever read a story about two young men that were so different yet so much alike.  The cast of supporting characters were strong, necessary, and filled-out the story.  I think the plot was true to life, raw, and personal.  The big surprises along the way didn't hurt either.  

Who Should Read It:  This is the perfect novel for the young-adult reader.  That would include high school and/or college readers.  I also think any adult reader would also enjoy the story just as much.  I've already started recommending it to my reading friends via social media.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Wonder Wednesday #228 (A Year of Reading/Books)

Wonder Wednesday - Reflections

*These are some of the statements I gave to my students to respond to at the end of our year together.

*I wanted to gather some information for a couple of reasons.

*First, I wanted to see what their thoughts were about some of the reading we did and the books we covered.

*I'm also participating in a couple of presentations in the upcoming months, and I wanted to get feedback from my students that I could share during the presentation.

*As I sift through the results, I will most likely share some of the reactions during my Wednesday posts.

I thought #classroombookaday was

I think Mr. Andrus did #classroombookaday because

Something I learned during #classroombookaday was

One of my favorite #classroombookaday was

I thought "Breakfast with Books" was

I think Mr. Andrus did "Breakfast with Books" because

Something I learned during "Breakfast with Books" was

I think the author Skype visits and/or classroom visits were

I think Mr. Andrus did Skype and/or author visits because

Something I learned from these visits was

My favorite visit was

This was my favorite because

I think our class read aloud time was

I think Mr. Andrus did class read aloud because

Something I learned from class read aloud was

My favorite class read aloud was

This was my favorite because 

Nevermoor - The Trails of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

How I Heard About It:  This book had been in my pile for quite some time.  I can't remember why I purchased it, but must have heard about it from someone I trusted as far as book recommendations go.  It was a long story.   I guess there will be a second book coming out in the fall of 2018.  

What It Is About:   Morrigan Crow was born on "Eventide", which is the least favorable day to be born.  Because of this birthdate, she carries a "curse" that brings bad luck to everyone around her.  Worse is that she is destined to die on her eleventh birthday.  As Morrigan sits down for her final birthday dinner, a mysterious man appears and whisks her way.  He takes her to new and strange land called Nevermoor.  The man's name is Jupiter and he has chosen Morrigan to participate/compete in "four trails" that will decide if she can be a member of the mysteries and magical world of the Wundrous Society.  There are hundreds of other children that are contestants in the four trails.  The final trail is where each child demonstrates their special "trait/talent".  Morrigan is nervous because she isn't sure what her talent is, but Jupiter assures her that she will fine and shine in that final trial.  Morrigan isn't so sure...

What I Thought Of It:  This was a long read, but very good.  It did remind me a bit of Harry Potter, but not as dark.  I enjoyed the magic, mystery, and suspense.  There were so many incredible moments where I was in awe of what the author created in the story.  Morrigan was an awesome character and I enjoyed following her on this fantastic journey.  I look forward to reading the second book when it arrives in October.  

Who Should Read It:  I'm thinking this novel would best be suited for readers in fifth grade and above.  It is 481 pages long.  The plot is a bit complex and I think more mature readers would be able to follow better.  Of course younger strong readers would be able to handle it.  Readers of fantasy, magic, and the "unheard" of; are perfect for this story.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars