Fourth Grade Journey

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

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Chemistry by Weike Wang

How I Heard About It:  While browsing the "Cloud Library" app, I came across this title.  When I saw the title and cover, I remember reading about this book in a couple of different reviews.  I decided to download it and give it a try.  

What It Is About:  The narrator of the story does not have a name.  Actually most of the characters in the book don't have names.  The main character is a female Chinese American in graduate school to get her PHD in Chemistry.  She has worked her lifetime toward this goal.  When in a particular Chemistry class, she "freezes" and isn't quite sure what she is doing.  This is both on the literal level of that particular day, and on a major level considering her entire life.  She does have a boyfriend.  He is also studying chemistry and doing very well.  She is asked to leave the program and ends up quite lost.  She isn't sure what to do with her life or the direction it is going in.  The boyfriend, and her best friend, try to help as much as they can; but she doesn't make it easy on them.  There is also pressure from her Chinese parents that push her for greatness.  The narrator finds herself questioning both her professional and personal life and may end up losing everything, and everyone, that is important to her.  

What I Thought Of It:  The writing style of this book was quite different.  It was very sparse and hard to connect with.  I thought it was odd that none of the characters didn't have names.  I'm sure the author had a reason, but I couldn't figure it out.  The story bounced around from different time periods in the narrator's life.  This made it difficult to follow the story.  I'm a reader that needs to connect with both the story and characters.  I wasn't able to do that with this one.  Toward the middle and end of the book, I ended up doing what I call the "skim" and "scan".  

Who Should Read It:  I'm not sure who would enjoy this type of book.  I know there are readers out there that did like the book because there are five and four star reviews online.  It is definitely a quirky type story and I know there are readers out there for this book.  It just wasn't me.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  2 STARS out of 5 Stars

Real Friends by Shannon Hale

How I Heard About It:  This book has been in my TBR pile for awhile.  After hearing Shannon Hale speak at #NerdCampMI this July, I came home and moved the book to the top of the pile.  I didn't get to it as quickly as I would have liked, but this morning I grabbed it and read it in one sitting.  I can now see what all the "fuss" is about.  

What It Is About:  This graphic novel is a memoir type story about Shannon's elementary years.  Each section of the book focuses on the different years of her schooling.  Each year Shannon tries to make a new friend.  During the initial stages of the friendship things seem to be alright, but then something, or someone, changes it.  Each year of school brings different challenges that she must face.  Not only does Shannon have difficulties at school, but she also faces hardships at home with her parents and siblings.  On top of all this, she struggles with her own anxiety type behaviors.  It takes years, but Shannon does figure out who her "REAL" friends are and the ones she doesn't need in her life.  

What I Thought Of It:  It had been awhile since I had read a graphic novel.  Reading this one at the beginning of my day was the highlight.  I was reminded how much I loved graphic novels.  This one was especially good because the storyline is one that we can all relate to.  As I read, I kept thinking of students I've had in the past that would totally relate to Shannon's story.  Even though it is "autobiographical", there are so many elements that ALL readers would be able to relate to.  I'm so excited to "book talk" this one when we get back to school in the fall.  

Who Should Read It:  This graphic novel should be in all classrooms from grade two all the way up through middle-school.  Even though most of the characters are girls, I can see all children LOVING this book.  I know some of my Twitter pals are thinking of putting this on their Mock Newbery List.  After reading it, I can see why.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

No One Is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts

How I Heard About It:  While at ALA in Chicago I went to a general session where Sarah Jessica Parker was the guest speaker.  She was going to announce the book club selection for "Book Central".  It was going to be the inaugural book club pick.  This was the title she announced.  I was lucky enough to receive a complimentary copy on the exhibit hall.  It was excited to start a novel that I heard the author and SJP discuss while on the ALA stage.  

What It Is About:  The character of JJ has just returned to his hometown in North Carolina.  He has returned to build the home he has always wanted.  JJ would also like to reconnect with his past "love" Ava.  Upon his return he is surprised to learn that Ava is now married to Henry.  They don't have a perfect marriage, but she is trying desperately to have a baby.  As JJ acclimates himself, both to the town and the townspeople, he realizes how different everything and everyone is.  Ava's mom, Sylvia, tries not to interfere in her life, but doesn't always find it easy to do.  She is drawn to a man that is spending time behind bars.  All of their lives are at a point where they must make decisions and move from the past and towards a future where there are no definite answers.  

What I Thought Of It:  I recall sitting in the audience at ALA with such excitement listening to Sarah Jessica Parker and Stephanie Powell Watts talk about the novel.  I was anxious to get a copy for myself and begin reading.  There are some novels I know I'm going to love from the start.  There are other novels that don't necessarily grab me right away, but I slowly begin to enjoy the story.  Then there are some stories that I struggle with right off the bat and continue to do so throughout the entire read.  That is what happened with this novel.  I just couldn't find my groove.  I struggled to find a pace where I was understanding and enjoying the plot.  I usually blame myself when this happens.  Novels that are a little more "high brow literature" sometimes propose a challenge for me.  The writing was beautiful and well done.  I just couldn't connect to the characters and/or plot.  

Who Should Read It:  I've seen (on reviews) that many readers have enjoyed the book and given it high ratings.  I think the book may appeal to the adult female reader more than a male.  I also think it is geared towards readers that enjoy a bit of a slower read that really develops the characters, setting, and plot in detail.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  2 STARS out of 5 Stars

The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

How I Heard About It:  While at ALA in Chicago I saw Emery Lord signing her books in the exhibit hall.  I didn't stand in line for an autograph, but I did take notice of her titles and added them to my TBR list.  While looking through my "Cloud Library" app, I came across this title and downloaded it.  

What It Is About:  Lucy is pretty excited about her life.  Summer is about to begin.  She is a star on the swim team.  She has a great boyfriend.  Lucy and her parents will be spending time at their church camp which is an annual summer tradition.  All of these plans come to a screeching stop when she finds out her mother's cancer has returned.  Lucy was sure they were in the clear because of all the prayers and promises she made to God.  Life gets even more "off the rails" when her boyfriend decides to take a "pause" and her parents want her to attend a different camp instead of the family church camp.  Lucy isn't sure what she has done, but definitely feels like she is being punished.  Once she gets to camp, she realizes how different it is from the family camp she is use to.  She must get to know the other counselors and learn how to handle the campers.  What she wants most is to make sure her mother is going to be alright and finds it very difficult to do that from "across" the lake.  

What I Thought Of It:  For me the story started out quite strong.  I enjoyed getting to know Lucy, her friends, and her family members.  As the story progressed and she was at the new camp, getting to know life there, and adjust to her mother's news, the story stalled a bit for me.  It wasn't hard to keep reading, but I wouldn't describe it as a page turner; more me anyway.  Sometimes I struggle with young-adult stories because the story-line just doesn't grab me as much as I want it to.  This is especially true when the protagonist is a female.  I'm glad I read the story and think that Emery Lord has a strong and interesting writing style.  

Who Should Read It:  Lucy's story will appeal most to the female young-adult reader.  I think they will be able to relate to her, her relationships, and the feelings she experiences because of her mother's health.  Adult readers that enjoy a young-adult story with a female character going on a journey to find herself; will also enjoy this book.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  3 STARS out of 5 Stars

Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers & Robert Probst

How I Heard About It:  I'm trying to include more professional books as part of my daily summer reading.  I knew this was going to be the first book because of all the great reviews on Twitter and Facebook.  As I stated online when I finished, this text was a "game changer" for me.  

What It Is About:  This time around Kylene and Robert take their ideas to an another level.  The text contains ideas on how to engage our young readers and "disrupt" their thinking while reading.  The BHH (Book, Head, Heart) strategy was shared throughout the text.  Readers think about what the BOOK said, what their HEAD is thinking, and the effect the reading had on their HEART.  This is definitely a strategy I will be using with my fourth graders.  One major theme the authors discussed was how we want our readers to be changed after reading a text.  We want them to interact with the words on the page, what they know about the text, and how the text affected them.  Our goal is to create readers that go out into the world and make changes.  The writers share ideas on how to create engagement and relevance, encourage responsive and responsible reading, how to deepen conversation, and develop lifelong reading habits.  

What I Thought Of It:  I was blown away by this resource.  Once I started I could not stop reading.  I found myself highlighting so many lines while reading.  The message/theme was such an important one for all teachers to experience.  Our educational system has come a long way, but we have so much more ground to cover.  We must move forward, "disrupt" what we are currently doing, and change our practices for the better.  One element that I took most from the reading was to stress with my readers to think about how their thinking was "changed" while and after a particular reading.  There were so many ideas on how to truly have the reader "interact" with a text.  I will definitely be revisiting this book before I head back to the classroom in the fall.  

Who Should Read It:  I believe all teachers should read this book.  It would benefit a first year teacher and a teacher with 26 years under their belt; like myself.  I've already emailed me principal to share this title and suggest we get copies of our professional resource library.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

How I Heard About It:  Another title that came to me via #bookexpedition on Twitter.  This book has made the rounds over the last year and I was the final reader to get it in my hands.  

What It Is About:  I'm sure most of you have read this text and/or know about it.  It was a fascinating read as I knew very little about the life of E.B. White.  I not only found the story interesting, but all of the post-its that were left by previous readers.  It was almost as if I was reading two different stories.  The format of the book was incredible.  Melissa Sweet told the life story of E.B. White in text.  She also included some writings and letters that White wrote himself.  There were some beautiful and incredible illustrations, diagrams, and pictures on each and every page.  I was inthralled with the book and found myself spending quite a bit of time on each two-page spread.  What amazed me most was E.B. White's love for children and wanting to make sure he put his best writing into their hands.  

What I Thought Of It:  Last night I grabbed this book off my night-stand and was immediately drawn into the life of one of our most influential writers.  The format of this book was top-notch and laid out beautifully.  There was so much information on all pages.  I kept thinking how much young readers would enjoy this book.  After finishing the text I now want to go back and read his three most notable words of fiction.  I also want to put this book in my classroom library along side of the copies of his novels that I already house in my collection.  

Who Should Read It:  In my opinion, this biography should be read by middle-grade, young-adult, and adult readers.  It is beautifully done and tells a wonderful story of a boy, a man, and a talented writer.  I'm so glad that I finally had the opportunity to read it.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson

How I Heard About It:  While in Chicago for ALA I had the opportunity to spend some time with Donalyn Miller.  After we had lunch we wandered the city in search of some local/indie bookstores.  We didn't have much luck, but we did have a great time.  At one place, we devoured the shelves and talked about which books we had and hadn't read.  This title came up and Donalyn offered to send me a copy.

What It Is About:  In 2065, Adri is spending time in Kansas before she boards a mission headed toward Mars.  In 1934, Catherine is living in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl.  In 1919, Lenore is making plans to leave England and journey to America.  Adri has been chosen to be a "colonist" on Mars, but must spend several weeks with a distant relative in the middle of the country.  While here she finds a stack of letters from the past that absorb both her mind and time.  After visiting the "Electric", Catherine is hopeful to find "eternal life" and save her family.  As the Dust Bowl gets worse, she must sacrifice all in order to save a family member.  After World War I, Lenore is suffering from the loss of her soldier brother.  Her main goal is to reach America to be reunited with a childhood friend.  The stories are each their own, but are tied together in the most unique ways.

What I Thought Of It:  When I first began the book, I was hopeful it was going to be an enjoyable read.  I found the idea of Adri getting ready to travel to Mars quite fascinating.  She was a "rough" character and had her own difficulties connecting to the people around her.  I was even curious when she found the letters in the attic.  Once Catherine and Lenore's stories were told via the letters, the plot slowed down and I found myself losing interest.  When the story returned to Adri, I read with more interest.  For some reason, the "historical" aspect of the story didn't grab my attention.  I kept wondering if young-adult readers would be interested in this type of writing and story.

Who Should Read It:  The novel was written for the young-adult reader.  I definitely believe it is geared more toward the female reader than the male reader.  For those adult readers that enjoy a "pinch" of futuristic writing with a couple "dashes" of historical fiction elements, then this is the novel for you.  Happy Reading!

Rating:  3 STARS out of 5 Stars