Fourth Grade Journey

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

Monday, August 21, 2017

Ban This Book by Alan Gratz

How I Heard About It:  After reading Refugee by Alan Gratz and having some online conversations with him, I learned that he has another novel coming out during the fall of 2017.  He was gracious enough to send me an ARC that I'm going to share with my #bookexpedition group on Twitter.  

What It Is About:  Amy Anne is a fourth grader.  Amy Anne has two younger "annoying" sisters.  She is an avid reader.  Amy Anne lives for books.  When she arrives in her school library after waiting the required five days to recheck her favorite novel, she finds it missing.  Rushing to the librarian, she finds out it has been "banned" by the school board.  Not only has her favorite book been banned, but many other titles as well.  The kids at her school find out it isn't actually the school board that is banning books, but one particular parent of a student at her school.  Amy Anne and a bunch of her reading friends, as well as other students, come together to put an end to this nonsense.  The fourth grade students create a "secret library" in a locker, attend a school board meeting, and come up with the ultimate plan to show how important books are not only to the school library, but to the entire population of students.  

What I Thought Of It:  I began the book last night and finished it up this afternoon.  I could NOT put it down.  The plot was so engaging.  Being a book and reading lover, this storyline was right up my alley.  Amy Anne was an awesome character and I would so want her in my fourth grade classroom.  The overall plot is about "banned books", but there were several important sub-plots that added greatly to the book.  One of the strongest aspects of the story was the character development that Gratz created.  These characters jumped off the page and were so real.  I know that is going to be a book that I use in the coming year.  

Who Should Read It:  The cast of characters are fourth graders so I think it would be awesome to use this book in a fourth grade classroom.  I personally am going to use it as a read aloud because I know we will have some incredible discussions related to the story.  Of course it would also work in a fifth and/or sixth grade classroom.  Alan Gratz is such an amazing writer and one that ALL young readers should be introduced to.  If you are a reader and believe in freedom of readers choosing their own books, then you have to read this novel.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

The Stranger in the Wood: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel

How I Heard About It:  My Twitter buddy Scott Fillner "tweeted" about this novel.  I checked the app Cloud Library to see if they had it.  They did.  I downloaded it and listened to it while driving and mowing this summer.  

What It Is About:  In 1986 Chris Knight parked his car, walked into the deep woods of Maine, and didn't come out for 27 years.  No, he didn't get lost.  No, he was abducted.  He went in by choice.  He stayed by choice.  At a young age, he knew he didn't want to live in the "crazy and busy" world.  He preferred his solitude.  One might ask, how was he able to live off the land for so many years.  Chris became a thief and began taking objects, food, and equipment from different cabins around the lake.  The residents of this community couldn't figure out what was going on and why so many items went missing.  One law enforcement officer may it a goal to find who was responsible for these thefts.  After a search, he found Chris Knight and he was arrested for many counts of stealing.  When Michael Finkel found out about this man, he began to visit him in jail and conduct a series of interviews.  Those interviews turned into this story which read as a novel.  

What I Thought Of It:  I'm not normally a fan of nonfiction, but do know that it is a "book gap" in my reading life.  If I'm going to read this genre, I prefer narrative nonfiction.  This was such a fascinating read/listen.  The narration was top-notch and riveting to listen to.  I just kept thinking how long Chris was out in those woods alone.  I'm one for alone time, but this is taking it to an extreme.  I liked how the author included information about other "hermits" around the world.  The debate between people who thought Chris should be prosecuted and others who thought he should just receive help was one that I had with myself while listening to the story.  I'm so glad I took Scott's recommendation and listened to the story.  I'm even thinking I may dive into more stories similar to this one.  

Who Should Read It:  I would recommend this story to all adult readers.  I think both fiction and nonfiction readers would be satisfied equally.  High School readers would also be an appropriate audience as it would make for deep and meaningful discussions.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

An Inside Look #31 - Season #TWO (AUTHOR Interview)

An Inside Look With Katherine Applegate

(Author of wishtree)

*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 the last year 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 didn't have time for interviews during the school year, but I'm excited to be back for "season #TWO".  

*I'm hoping to run this feature at least once a week.  There is nothing more satisfying than sharing and promoting a book/author/character that I have fallen in love with.  

*Thank you to Katherine Applegate for being the NINTH author of the second season.  I truly appreciate it.  

*Here are links to the first THIRTY interviews…

*Even as I write this, it amazes me how incredible it is that the one and only Katherine Applegate is one of the authors I have had the chance to interview.  I remember the first time I met her at #NCTE in Minneapolis.  It was truly an honor and a moment I'll never forget.

*This past June I was lucky enough to cross paths with Katherine again.  She was signing copies of her newest novel, wishtree.  We chatted for a few minutes and it was such fun to see her in person again.

*After this meeting, I reached out to her to inquire if she would be interested in an interview about her newest work of fiction.  Being as kind and gracious as she is, she agreed.  This story is one that warmed my heart and touched me in ways that are indescribable.  I can't wait to share this book with my class.  There will be many important discussions that come from the storyline.  

*Here is a link to my review of wishtree...

*Thank you Katherine Applegate for writing this novel for middle-grade readers and taking the time to share your thoughts with us here on the blog...

by Katherine Applegate (Released September 26, 2017)

How did you come to know Red?
I was caring for a tree in my courtyard that wasn’t feeling well—or so I presumed. (I live in California, and we’d been going through an extended drought.) The tree was right outside the window where I wrote each day, and I got so I thought I could tell when the it was having a good day (new buds) or a not-so-good day (new bugs.) Did it need more water? Fertilizer? Less sun? If you’ve ever cared for a plant, or attempted to grow a garden, you know how frustrating it can be, trying to figure out what’s needed. It’s the botanical version of the way you sometimes feel with a pet or a baby: you have to figure out what’s needed without the benefit of language.  

If only trees could talk, I thought to myself. . . . and that’s how Red was born.

What do you think is Red's most admirable quality?
You know, I started to say “wisdom” or “patience,” but I think what I most admire about Red is the way she (or he) isn’t ready to give up on trying to change the world. She knows her limitations (lack of mobility being an obvious one), and yet she decides, against all odds, she’s going to help a young girl in her neighborhood. 

I like that a lot.

Is there anything you wish Red would have changed or done differently in the story?
Hmm. What an interesting question—an especially fun one for a writer, because of course every book goes through many, many incarnations. I suppose she could have spoken up sooner, in her efforts to help Samar and Stephen.

And she could learn to tell better jokes.

How did you research Red and the circumstances the tree was involved in? 
I love doing research! It’s one of my favorite parts of the writing process. Trees, it turns out, are infinitely more complicated and fascinating than I ever dreamed. I highly recommend The Hidden LIfe of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World, by Peter Wohlleben. Who knew that trees had a social life?

I also learned a great deal about crows. They’re incredibly intelligent, wily, and amusing birds. 

The only danger with research is that it’s addictive—and a great way to procrastinate!

What do you think Red can offer to the children that will be reading the book this fall?  
I would be happy indeed if Red’s tale helps young readers think about how they treat others who are different from themselves. It can be hard to reach out, to extend kindness, to make a leap into the unknown. I wish I’d been braver as a kid, more willing to take that kind of risk. 

I also love the reassurance that Red provides that things change, and that things can get better. There’s always hope. Always.

Do you and Red share any similarities?
I wish! I love writing about optimistic, life-affirming types because I’m a bit of a pessimist myself. (OK, maybe more than a bit. Depends on the news that day.)
But despite all that, I’m like Red in that I don’t want to give up. I want to keep trying. Keep fighting. Keep thinking we can make a difference.

What was the hardest scene to write about Red?
Perhaps the scene where a boy who carves the word “Leave” into Red’s trunk. It’s a dark moment, directed toward a new Muslim family in the neighborhood. Red’s seen a lot of human behavior, not all of it admirable, but this is a particularly hard event. 

It made me sad to write this, because even as I did, the real world was providing way too many similar examples of intolerance. I tried to keep the details in the novel simple and accessible to a very young audience. But any time you describe cruelty, it’s a hard write.

Who do you think was Red's biggest supporter and why?
Bongo, her crow pal, for sure. We all need a Bongo: someone who loves you dearly, who knows your faults, and who isn’t afraid to tell you the truth. 
If they can poop on your enemies, that’s just the frosting on the cake.

Why do you think children share such a special bond with  animals, plants, and other living things; much more so than adults?  
Isn’t a shame, the way we seem to lose that bond as we grow up? I think kids recognize the vulnerability in plants and animals because they’re so vulnerable themselves. 

On the other hand, they’re often able to offer care and protection to animals and plants. And how lovely is that?

What do you think Red is doing at the present time?  
Protecting a fresh round of “newbies”: baby owls, opossums, skunks, kittens, and crows. 

And, of course, her beloved human friends.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (8/21/17)

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

Reformed by Justin Weinberger

*Middle-Grade Novel (3 STARS out of 5 Stars)

My Book Review

Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King

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

My Book Review

Hope in the Holler by Lisa Lewis Tyre

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

My Book Review

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova

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

My Book Review

The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City by Jodi Kendall

*Middle-Grade Novel (3 STARS out of 5 Stars)

Swing It, Sunny by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm

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

Amina's Voice by Hena Khan

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

John Lockdown is in the Building by Sally J. Pla

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

My Book Review

Books I Will (continue to) Read this Week

The Middle-Grade Novels in my 21 Day Reading Challenge

21 Days/21 Books Challenge 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King

How I Heard About It:  I bought this novel after reading such positive reviews about it.  I was curious about the title and wondered if it had anything to do with "Monopoly".  For some reason it rested in my pile of books to be read, but I finally grabbed it for my 21 books/21 days challenge.       

What It Is About:  Obe Devlin isn't the happiest of kids.  His family, for the last 100 years has owned land, but has been getting taken over by developers.  Obe also is learning how his great-grandfather lost some of the very land that Obe spends his days on.  He has also lost what he thought was his best-friend. The friend has decided to hang out with the "cool" kids.  This leaves Obe alone spending time by the creek and enjoying nature.  He does befriend the "loner" girl who lives nearby, but she isn't always "allowed" to be outside according to her parents rules.  When Obe discovers an animal out near the creek, he life changes dramatically.  This animal has never been seen before and Obe isn't quite sure what type of animal it is.  But the two of them bond right away and become friends.  He even names him "Marvin Gardens" after his family's favorite game Monopoly.  Obe isn't sure what to do with the information about the animal, but when news gets out to both kids and adults, he must do everything he can to make sure Marvin stays safe and alive.  

What I Thought Of It:  A completely enjoyable read.  I so enjoyed the story of Obe and his new friend.  As a reader I couldn't quite picture what this "animal" looked like and created a curiosity to keep reading to find out more.  Obe's former friend was such a strong antagonist that I found myself so angry at him on several occasions.  I liked that the story wasn't just about this new animal/pet, but there were several other plot lines that added greatly to the overall story.  The flashbacks one hundred years were interesting to read about and figure out how that time period fit with the current story.  I "tweeted" that I am beginning to notice that many middle-grade novels contain short chapters.  This is a benefit for readers at this age.  Even as an adult reader, I prefer short chapters.  This was a fun, engaging, and page-turning read.  

Who Should Read It:  The book could be used for either a class read aloud or to put in the hands of an individual reader.  Fifth and sixth grade readers may be the best audience.  Of course middle-school readers would also enjoy the story of Obe, Marvin, and all the other characters in the story.  I also know many adult educators that have read the book and enjoyed it.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

Reformed by Justin Weinberger

How I Heard About It:  I have had this book in my TBR pile for quite some time.  I picked it up at the spring Scholastic Book Fair in my building.  I knew nothing of the book, but was intrigued by the cover and title.  This was my 14th book in my 21 day/21 book challenge.  

What It Is About:  School bullies or nice kids? Sometimes who you hang out with determines your fate. After four boys get in trouble on the last day of school, they get sent to summer reform school. Will this change their behavior? Will they find out who the real bullies are?  These end of the year fifth graders pull a dangerous prank on a "friend" of theirs.  The principal has had enough and lets the boys know they will be attending a summer camp.  The problem for the boys is that it is not truly a camp, but more of a reform school for "misbehaved" boys.  They each are surprised when they arrive as the other "campers" are a bit tougher, a bit rougher, and a bit more of a bully.  Each boy navigates camp in different ways and comes to terms with what happened back at their school with their so-called friend.  

What I Thought Of It:  I picked this out of my stack because it was a relatively short book and I wanted to make sure I finished it today.  Overall, this was a good story, but some of the elements confused me.  The writing was a bit different with the narrator (one of the four boys) was talking to someone named "Tom".  I may have missed who Tom was, and I didn't take the time to go back to find out who it was.  I'm thinking maybe an imaginary friend.  Once the guys got to the camp, I got confused by some of the characters and how they were related.  The theme of the story was an important one, but one that got a bit muddled for me.  I am glad that the main character did the right thing; even though it was very difficult for him.  

Who Should Read It:  I'm thinking certain male readers would be perfect for this book.  They would enjoy the antics of the boys and other campers the reader meets along the way.  There are humorous scenes throughout the story, but more importantly some important life-lessons that ALL young readers should learn.  The book would be perfect for kids in grades four, five, and six.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  3 STARS out of 5 Stars

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Hope in the Holler by Lisa Lewis Tyre

How I Heard About It:  I was lucky enough to have Nancy Paulsen from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Books send me an ARC of this upcoming novel.  It will be released in early 2018.  It is so fun to read a story that I know nothing about and end up loving the story!    

What It Is About:  How can you lose your mother twice?  It isn't easy, but unfortunately Wavie was one child that did lose her mother.  Not only once, but twice.  The first time was as a baby and the second time was as an upper elementary student.  After losing her the second time, Wavie had to leave the only home she knew and go live with her "evil" aunt and horrible cousin.  Wavie's mother left her a list of instructions to insure a happy and fulfilling life.  Wavie is determined to make each item on the list come true.  After arriving in Conley Hollow, or "Convict Hollow" as the residents call it, she meets two wonderful friends that makes living here somewhat bearable.  While living with her aunt, Wavie begins to learn about her mother's early years and her life living in this small town.  Her aunt doesn't have anything good to say about her mother, and Wavie isn't sure how she will be able to stay here.  After she finds out some "secrets" about her mother, Wavie and her friends begin a journey to find out what is the truth, what is a lie, and where Wavie should truly be.  

What I Thought Of It:  When I began the book, I knew it was going to be one special story.  I was drawn to Wavie and her mother and appreciated their incredible relationship.  Then the story flipped and I had to "meet" the terrible aunt and endure her meanness toward Wavie; everyone for that matter.  Wavie's two new friends were delightful and made me smile on many occasions.  I loved how they supported their new friend and did everything they could to make life better for her.  The back story of Wavie's mom growing up in the "holler" was fascinating.  The writing was excellent and flowed from page to page.  I'm so grateful that I got an "advanced" chance to read this incredible story.  

Who Should Read It:  I have lots of titles that I want to share with my fourth graders and now I have another one.  I hope I have time to get them all in during the school year.  This novel would make for an interesting and engaging read aloud in grades four, five, and/or six.  I also think it could be used for individual readers in these grades.  I've been noticing that many of the new middle-grade novels I've been reading contain short chapters.  I think this is a positive move in the world of publishing.  Kids seem to read more when the chapters are shorter.  I actually enjoy books with short chapters compared to long ones.  Be sure to look for this novel in January of 2018.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova

How I Heard About It:  I went back to my classroom in early August.  There was a box from a Scholastic Book Order that I had put in before I left for the summer.  One of the books was Awkward.  Before putting in the graphic novel section of our class library, I brought it home to give it a quick read.  

What It Is About:  Peppi is starting a new school.  She is going to try to follow the middle-school "rules" by not getting noticed by bullies and hanging out with similar students.  After getting noticed by the bullies on her first day, she knows she isn't off to a great start.  She trips and falls into a male student named Jamie.  To cover up her embarrassment and "name-calling", Peppi pushes that boy.  She can't believe what she has done, but the action has been done.  Peppa is an artist so she decides to join the art club.  The boy she pushed, Jamie, is a scientist, so he joins the science job.  The kids at school learn that only ONE club will be attending a future school event.  This leads to a  "mini-war" between the clubs each vying for the coveted club position.  Some tactics are "legal" and some are quite the opposite.  Peppi first wants to make things right with Jamie and she also wants her club to win.  She questions herself at what lengths she will go to make her goals a reality.  

What I Thought Of It:  What an enjoyable read.  I've found myself enjoying graphic novels more and more.  It is fascinating to me that some educators don't want students reading graphic novels because they think they are too easy.  I actually think the opposite is true.  I find myself reading slower, rereading, and spending more time on the graphics and text.  The plot is perfect for young readers and they will be able to relate to the story while enjoying it at the same time.  Now that I've read this one, I want to order book number two in the series.  

Who Should Read It:  This is going to be a new graphic novel on the shelves of my classroom library.  I think fourth, fifth, and sixth graders would really love the story of Peppi and Jamie.  Of course our middle-school readers will also want to follow their adventures navigating the halls of middle-school.  Such great lessons presented in the story that all readers will gain something from reading this.  Happy reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City by Jodi Kendall

How I Heard About It:  I knew nothing of this book until I saw it listed on our #bookexpedition spread sheet.  I decided to give it a shot and added my name to the list.  

What It Is About:  Josie is growing up in a big family that lives in the very busy city.  She has older and younger siblings.  Sometimes she gets lost in the shuffle.  During the Thanksgiving holiday, her older brother brings home a runt that he rescued from a farm.  He and Josie talk their parents into keeping the pig as a "pet".  Their dad gives them until New Year's Eve to find a proper home for the little pig that will grow and get quite large.  Josie wants to keep the pig named Hamlet so badly that she is willing to do almost anything to make sure this happens.  While trying to take care of an ever-growing pig, she is getting herself ready for a major gymnastics meet.  Her family is struggling with monetary issues so she isn't sure how she will get the necessary equipment.  When the city finds out Josie's family has a pig living in their apartment, they show up and demand for changes to be made.  Josie and her siblings get busy making sure Hamlet is safe and ends up in the best home possible.  

What I Thought Of It:  When I first started the book, it reminded me of Saving Marty by Paul Griffin.  I was thinking it must be the year of the PIG.  For me, the story started out strong, but then lost me a bit toward the middle and end.  There are some middle-grade novels that captivate my attention and then there are others that are not as interesting for someone my age.  Yes, I'm getting to be an old man.  It was interesting to learn about all the struggles that Josie's family was facing.  I liked how the author didn't reveal all right away, but slowly as the story unfolded.  The writing was realistic and showed how a large family deals with the ups and downs of real life.  

Who Should Read It:  The book is a bit longer at a little over 300 pages.  I'm thinking readers would need to be in fifth and/or sixth grade.  A strong reader in fourth grade would also be appropriate for the novel.  For young readers that love animals, gymnastics, and/or comes from a large family; would be the perfect audience for this book.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  3 STARS out of 5 Stars

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Swing It, Sunny by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm

How I Heard About It:  I was lucky enough to score an ARC of this graphic novel at ALA in Chicago.  I was even more lucky to get it signed by the author herself.  My readers loved the first book in this series and I know will enjoy the second installment just as much.  

What It Is About:  Sunny is back.  This time she is back at home after her visit to Florida to see her grandfather.  She is spending her summer days watching lots of television with her best friend.  As a side note:  I enjoyed all the references to the 70's television shows!  Her family life is a bit hard because her older brother has been sent to a military school.  His parents did this in order to help him get back on track.  Sunny is missing him terribly and feels like their family isn't complete.  When she meets a new neighbor girl, life takes a turn.  Sunny learns a new skill/hobby/talent that allows her to express herself more than she has been able to.  She continues to reach out to her brother, but doesn't always get the response she would like.  It is a time of growth, new learning, and growing up.  

What I Thought Of It:  This was so much fun to read this afternoon.  It was GREAT to revisit these characters and see what they were up to.  I heard Jenni speak at ALA about the graphic novel so as I kept hearing her voice while I was reading.  I enjoyed how the story deals with some light-hearted topics while also tackling some tougher issues.  The story line about the brother was well-done and showed the "realness" of families.  This is going to be an awesome addition to my graphic novel section in the classroom library.  

Who Should Read It:  The graphic novel is a quick read and would be great for third through sixth grade readers.  There are LOTS of illustrations and not a lot of text per page.  This doesn't mean it is an easy read, but would be appealing to most readers.  The character of Sunny is engaging and fun so young readers would definitely enjoy the reading ride.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

Amina's Voice by Hena Khan

How I Heard About It:  Before I went to ALA in Chicago in June I began to hear about this novel.  While at ALA, I passed a booth that was hosting the author and she was signing copies of her novel.  I was excited to receive a book that was autographed for my fourth grade class.  

What It Is About:  Some people use their voice for good.  Others may use it for bad; while some won't use it at all.  Amina is a young girl that has a beautiful singing/speaking voice, but doesn't always use it because of her shyness and not wanting attention drawn to herself.  Her best friend tries to encourage Amina to show people just how talented she is.  Amina isn't sure she wants to do that.  When her best friend begins to include a girl they use to dislike, Amina isn't so sure how she feels about it.  When Amina's family's Mosque is vandalized, she isn't sure why this happened and how her family fits into the world.  As she navigates these difficult times, she learns so much about herself, her friendships, her family, and those that are out in the bigger (sometimes cruel) world.  

What I Thought Of It:  I thought this was a beautiful story of courage, uniqueness, and above all friendship.  Amina was a special character and taught me so much about what it feels like to come from a different cultural and religious background.  The theme of inclusion, acceptance, and tolerance was woven throughout the pages of this book.  There were so many different aspects to the plot.  I liked learning about Amina and her talent.  It was enjoyable to read about her friendships and how those were changing.  The most important part for me was reading about her family, their culture, and how they dealt with the "incident" to their Mosque.  I know this story would be important for all of our students, but especially those that come to our schools with cultural differences.  

Who Should Read It:  In my opinion this novel should be shared with fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students.  Of course readers in middle-school would be ideal for the story.  They would have no problem reading the story on their own.  If used in an elementary setting, I would lean toward a read aloud so that a class discussion could be had while you share the story with the students .  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars