Fourth Grade Journey

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

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Miles Morales: Spider-Man by Jason Reynolds

How I Heard About It:  One of my reading goals has been to experience all of Jason Reynolds' books.  I recently listened to this young-adult novel on audio during my commute to and from work.  I had heard such wonderful comments about the story and was excited to read/listen to it.

What It Is About:  Miles Morales is your typical teenage boy.  He hangs with his best friend.  He has a crush on a girl.  He listens to his parents - most of the time.  There is one slight difference.  He is "spider-man".  However, lately his "superpowers" don't seem to be as in tack as they normally are.  As Miles navigates high school, his friends, his family life, and something suspicious going on with his professors; he tries to figure out why his "spider-man" sense is acting up.  It is during this time he learns he has a cousin that is in prison and is requesting that Miles visit him.  When Miles shares this information with his parents, they are less than thrilled.  This leads to Miles finding out some family secrets that both include and don't include Miles himself.  

What I Thought Of It:  Normally I'm not a lover of superhero type stories, but this type was different.  The majority of the story really wasn't about the "super-man" aspect, but more about Miles, his friends, and family situations.  I like that there was a lot of family history presented during the story which gave a full-background of the "ins" and "outs" of the family dynamics.  Miles was an awesome character to read about and had so many different sides to him.  There was a lot of action in the story and the plot moved along at a perfect pace.  Such a fun listen. 

Who Should Read It:   At one point, I was going to get this book for my fourth grade classroom, but after talking with people that have read it and now reading it myself; I know it is not meant for middle-grade readers.  In my opinion, this book is best suited for middle-school and high-school readers.  There is some language, content, and themes that are more appropriate for this age group.  Of course adult readers who love Jason Reynolds must read this book.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

How I Heard About It:  I picked up an ARC of this at ALA in Chicago.  It then sat in my TBR.  When I read an extraordinary review of the book I went to the pile, grabbed the book, and started to read.  It took longer to read than I wanted because of the start-up of the school year. 

What It Is About:  Julia, Turtle, Kibble are all the same young fourteen-year-old girl living with her father out in the "woods" of California.  It is just the two of them after the death of Julia's mother.  They are a bit reclusive living in a run-down boarded up shack/cabin/home.  Julia attends school at times, but finds it very difficult to fit in and keep her "secrets" at bay.  During one of her many "walks" through the forests of California, Julia meets Jacob.  She isn't sure what to think of him, but is drawn to the fact that he lives a normal life with a normal family.  Julia keeps him a secret from her father Martin.  Martin has a control over her that she isn't sure she can ever break.  When he brings home another young girl, Julia realizes how dangerous he has become.  She can't quite figure out how to escape her living "hell" and desert the only family she has ever known.  

What I Thought Of It:  It is hard to believe this is a debut novel.  The writing is "ABSOLUTE" perfection.  This is one of those stories that takes hold of your mind, your thoughts, and your heart; without letting go until the very last word.  The story is not an easy one to read and may not be for all readers.  There are some tough subject matters that includes abuse, incest, and emotional punishment.  Despite these difficult topics, the reading of this novel was intense, heart-wrenching, and memorable.  I don't think I've ever read anything quite as powerful.  It reminded me a bit of the novel A Little Life which is one of my favorites. 

Who Should Read It:   It isn't easy to say who should read this.  I love to recommend novels, but sometimes get a bit apprehensive when it comes to a story like this one.  The reader needs to be ok with ddysfunction and tough subject matter.  The writing was top notch and the plot was engrossing.  Definitely an adult novel.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Wonder Wednesday #196 (Skype Visit with Holly McGhee)

Wonder Wednesday - Come with Me

*I first had contact with Holly McGhee with I read her novel Matylda, Bright & Tender last year.

*After reading it myself, I chose it for my Breakfast with Books book club.

*We then met in person during ALA in Chicago.  It was an honor to meet her and have a chance to talk in person.

*When I learned that she had a picture book coming out, I was quite excited.  She was gracious and sent me a copy of it.  It is a beautiful story of the human spirit in the wake of tragedy.

*I used this picture book as a mentor text with my fourth grade writers this fall.  After sharing the story with my class, each writer wrote their own version of it and/or created a fiction story called "Come with Me".

*We were lucky enough to spend some time with Holly via Skype.  The students had the chance to share their comments, ask questions, and some read their writing to the author.

*Here is a look at our first Skype of the year...

Monday, October 16, 2017

An Inside Look #39 (Author INTERVIEW)

An Inside Look with Tony Abbott
(Author of The Summer of Owen Todd)

*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.  

*Thank you to Tony Abbott for being the SIXTH author of the third season.  I truly appreciate it.  

*Here are links to the first THIRTY-EIGHT interviews…


*I was fortunate enough to receive and ARC of this novel.  I had heard some amazing things about the story.  When I got the book, I began reading and couldn't stop until I finished.  The story was one of the most powerful and heart-wrenching ones I've ever experienced.   

*Tony Abbott was kind, gracious, and giving with his answers to the questions.  It is an honor to post huis responses with my "Inside Look" feature.   

*Here is a link to my review of The Summer of Owen Todd

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

The Summer of Owen Todd
by Tony Abbott (Released October 17, 2017)

How Did You Come to Know Owen?
First of all, I love how the interview questions concern the story from the inside, assuming that a “character” is as real as the rest of us—this is certainly how I view the people who emerge in this and other novels I’ve written. As I’ve described elsewhere, the basic story of a boy who is abused came from a friend of my wife. Coming from outside is new for me, but almost immediately—and other writers will probably say the same—I began to hear the people in the drama; hear and see them, as if watching them on a screen, and soon afterward to feel what they are feeling. In the case of Owen, I see his face as a little downturned, with a frown or a squint, maybe because of the sunlight, but not only because of it. He is thinking, considering something. He retained that image throughout the story. Not to sound too deep-dish about it, but I think writers lean in to look and listen when such images occur to them.

What do you think is Owen's most admirable quality?
Owen respects his parents, loves them, and deeply loves his sister and his grandmother. That love shows he comes from a very good place to begin with. Owen likes Sean a great deal, feels protective of him, probably, but hasn’t really needed to go outside his comfort zone in their relationship yet. They do a lot together, but Owen has his own things, too, and he’s protective of them, as well. What happens over the summer in this book presents Owen with an extraordinary situation. A dilemma that few boys his age, or any age, have to deal with. I think, after all the arguing with himself that he does, and wanting to dodge the problem, Owen finds in himself—because of his ability to love—the strength to act. That’s a value he’ll now always have.

Is there anything you wish Owen would have changed or done differently in his story?
He does take his time acting, doesn’t he? He’s Hamlet here, hoping to reason away the terrible thing staring him in the face. But it’s also something about which he has no education. No one tells boys to watch out for older men, not in the way they need to be educated, so he is hampered in his ability to see the way forward for himself and Sean. Owen’s delay probably couldn’t be helped. He’s not a superhero, just a boy. So I guess, for there to be a story at all, Owen had to take his time. I love Owen, and I feel bad for him and for his confusion and self-punishment.

What do you think Owen can offer to other children that are experiencing similar situations to what he went through?  
Well, it dovetails off of that last question: Because they see Owen casting around for any way for his friend’s problem to simply fade away—all the while Sean is being hurt more and more—readers may not have to. Owen in a way is the sacrifice, isn’t he? It’s that question of educating children. If a reader sees the drama of Owen and Sean, he or she may act sooner. Certainly, of the children who come to know these two boys, most will understand Owen’s situation better than Sean’s. Lord, I hope they do. Owen could very well be one of their friends. Everybody knows an Owen. Empathizing with him is almost a given, I think. In itself, that may be what he offers them. A person just like them in a bad situation.

How did you research Owen and the circumstances he found himself in?
There are different kinds of research. One is the sort where you talk to people and read and travel, and I have done that quite a bit over the years and for this book, too. But what appeals to me, what makes any sense to me, is the person in the story. You can’t really install themes and motives in books, certainly not in books for children, and what appeals to me about writing for children is the life of the child I’m writing about. If I can create (wrong word) a living being, I have done what I set out to do. Regarding Sean’s situation of being molested by an adult man, yes, there are books, at least one horrific one, and other sources to consult. You read them and you extract what you understand the characters may need, but I find it true time and again that if your character is a real person, you have already invested him or her with all attributes of character that are noted in research. If that makes sense.

Do you and Owen share any similarities?  
It’s probably a common thread in my work to look at people, mostly boys, at a certain moment of crisis when all that’s happened to them comes to a point: a question is asked, and answering it is the crux of the story. Things are different after the question has been answered—or begins to be answered. I love that moment. In writing. I tend to shy away from real moments of confrontation, and I think Owen shares this with me. He loves deeply without being able to say it with any eloquence. He is a stumbler in many things. He loves go-karts. Oh, yes.

What was the hardest scene to write about Owen?
Something happened in the writing of this book that hasn’t happened before or since, which is that I could only work on it for a couple of hours at at time before it got too much. The tension and the pain of the story wore on me after only a few pages and I had to walk away. Get up from the desk. Walk around. Do something else. I didn’t want to get too far away, I didn’t want the thread to break, but I was exhausted as I am not normally. When the scenes are very tough, like Sean and Owen on the porch in the rain, I knew what I wanted from that scene, and I knew I could do it, but even a page worth’s of dialogue would take more out of me. This was new for me. I was in Owen’s head, and it’s the fatigue of what he was dealing with that made it hard to go on.

Who do you think was Owen's biggest supporter and why?
That prize would go to his grandmother, with his little sister a close second. His parents are supportive, of course, as mine were of me, my mother especially, but I find age and experience are often more helpful to a child because they come from a little farther away. The same with Ginny. She shouldn’t be able because of her age to help much, and she doesn’t at all get what has happened to Sean, but she is there for Owen always. AND she will be there for Owen to protect and love his whole life. After his grandmother passes away and Sean leaves town, that bond between Owen and Ginny is forever. 

How do you think children, like Owen, process and understand such evils in the world, like what look place in the story?  
I think most children know that really bad things exist; they can’t help but be aware of darkness, even if it’s vague and distant. They may not know of body counts or home invasions or ugly things of that sort, but children are fearful and confused from early on. They don’t want evil anywhere near them, and for the most part it doesn’t come close. The problem with what happened to Sean is that it was dressed in respectability and familiarity. A child has few defenses against evil that slides into the family so easily. It’s subtle and it has studied to be, to fool and charm before striking. My hope is that readers finding Owen and Sean’s story will become more aware of the trembling vibrations around them, the moods and undercurrents among the people they meet that are often overlooked. An aware child may have lost some innocence, but they may be less open to victimization. They may go to their parents and teachers, trusted adults, and speak at the first sign of something “off.” They can stand up for what they can, but in any case, they can talk about it. If we abandon the idea that for children this world is a sort of Disneyland and be more sober about it, children will benefit. You know, they talk about transparency in politics (ha!) and in the church and in banking and so forth, I think there has to be transparency to children, too. We have to tell them the truth and deny nothing.

What do you think Owen is doing as this present time?  
Oh, well, the kart track is open and will remain open until roughly Thanksgiving, so he is probably there. If it’s a summer without Sean, as most (but maybe not all) summers will be from now on, he’ll be thinking about what Sean is doing now; he’s never far from thinking about that. Maybe he and Ginny are doing something together—outdoor theater, a ball game, buying school supplies. Maybe Owen and his dad are showing Ginny how to drive a kart. Maybe they’re at the beach in Wellfleet. He’s out there, I know that. My wife and I are going to the Cape in September; maybe we’ll see him at the Chatham Squire, eating fish and chips. I’ll wave.

Music Monday #6: The World's Greatest by R. Kelly

"The World's Greatest" by R. Kelly

*Music Monday is BACK and I'm excited to share a year's worth of musical selections with you.

*I know it is going to be a GREAT year of music, writing, thinking, and sharing.

*It has been several years since I've used this piece of music, but I decided to bring it back.  I love the music, the words, and the entire message.  

*Today is our SIXTH Monday together and that means it is time for our musical selection.

*I truly believe Mondays are my favorite day for our writer's notebooks.  

*Each Monday I present a piece of music to my fourth graders.  I usually present the song via a video so they are hearing and "seeing" the music.  

*After I share the video, we discuss the song/video for a few minutes as a class.  It is always a joy to hear what my young listeners have to say about the song.  

*They then get busy writing in their notebooks.  We start off at the beginning of the year writing for about five minutes.  This will gradually increase as the year progresses.  

*Here are some ideas I give the writers to think about during their writing time...

*Their opinions of the song.
*Their likes and dislikes of the song.
*What the song reminds them of.
*Any connections they may have to the music.
*What they think the message in the piece may be.
*What listeners can learn from the song.
*A fictional story about the music/video.

*These are just some ideas I give to the writers.  They are really free to write anything they would like as long as it connects to the song.

*After our silent reading, we spend a few more minutes sharing out what we wrote.  

*I keep a collection of the videos on our Schoology Site so that my students can always go back and rematch them anytime they wish.

Our Musical Selections for 2017/2018...

Week #1:  "What I Am" by                        Click Here for Week One MUSIC
Week #2:  "Hopeful" by Bars and Melody              Click Here for Week Two MUSIC
Week #3:  "Somebody" by Lemonade Mouth      Click Here for Week Three MUSIC
Week #4:  "Dream Big" by Ryan Shupe                Click Here for Week Four MUSIC
Week #5:  "Unwritten" by Natasha Bedingfield      Click Here for Week Five MUSIC

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (10/16/17)

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...

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne

*Novel Published for Adults (5 STARS out of 5 Stars)

Pablo and Birdy by Allison McGhee

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

Books I Will (continue to) Read this Week

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

*My Novel Published for Adults

The Temptation of Adam by Dave Connis

*My Young-Adult Novel

Miles Morales:  Spider-Man by Jason Reynolds

*My Young-Adult Novel (Audio)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Pablo and Birdy by Allison McGhee

How I Heard About It:  While browsing my Cloud Library app I ran across this title and recognized Allison's name.  I downloaded it and spent the last week or so listening to it during my commute to and from work.  

What It Is About:  Pablo and his parrot Birdy arrived at the sea-side town of Isla and no one is quite sure where they came from.  Pablo is about to turn ten, or at least they think he is turning 10, and begins to question his beginnings, where he came from, and how he ended up in the small village.  Most of the birds and parrots in this area have the ability to talk and communicate.  All of them except Birdy.  She has never said a word.  Pablo and the people who surround him, know that it is the bird that holds the answers to Pablo's past and why he was sent off alone with his companion.  Everyone wonders if they will ever get the answers, and when Birdy slowly begins to "talk", Pablo realizes he could get the answers he has been searching for.  But with this information, might come some consequences that Pablo isn't sure he is ready to face.  

What I Thought Of It:  I enjoyed the adventure of Pablo and Birdy.  The story reminded me a bit of Beyond the Bright Sea which I recently finished.  Both stories involve a character searching for answers and where they came from.  I liked the cultural flare of the story and the charming characters.  It was cool that Allison herself narrated the story and did an incredible job.  Such an enjoyable audio, sweet story, and showed the power of relationship between boy and animal.  

Who Should Read It:   I think this novel would be best suited for readers in fifth and sixth grade.  I also think middle-school readers would enjoy it just as much.  If a teacher was going to use this as a read aloud, I think listeners could be in grades three, four, and above.  As always, adult readers that read middle-grade books, should definitely look this one up.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne

How I Heard About It:  I saw this novel published for adults pop up on several lists at the end of the summer.  I was in need of a new novel written for adults and ordered it from Amazon.  I began when it arrived in August, but got extremely busy with the start of the school year.  Time and other commitments didn't allow me to read as much as I would have liked.  I finally finished this incredible story about a week ago.  I'm still thinking about the main character and the life he lived.  

What It Is About:  Cyril Avery began his life with a young teenage mother who was "thrown out" of her Irish village.  While pregnant she ventured out on her own while leaving her family and members of her Catholic church behind her.  After giving birth to Cyril, she decides to give him up for adoption.  Mr. and Mrs. Avery are in "need" of a child and adopt him, but make it clear throughout his life that he isn't a "TRUE" Avery and only their adopted son.  He doesn't receive much love and/or support from either parent and learns to rely on himself.  As a young boy Cyril hears, sees, and experiences more than a young child should.  While his adopted father is dealing with "business", Cyril meets Julian Woodbead.  The two boys hit it off and years later, become classmates at a boarding school.  Cyril is conflicted on who is truly is and struggles with this "identity" for most of his life.  He and Julian cross paths throughout their life, remain steadfast friends, and lean on each other no matter how different they are.  

What I Thought Of It:  I have been reading more and more middle-grade novels which doesn't allow me to read as many "adult" novels as I use to.  It was so incredible to get back to a novel published for adult readers.  This one was a true winner.  I loved the writing style and found myself being transported back in time in different European locations.  Cyril was an amazing character and Boyne did a tremendous job of making him quite real and jump off the page.  I wouldn't say there was a lot of "action" throughout the story, but I was engaged throughout the entire reading experience.  One of the best well-told stories I've read in a long time (for adults).

Who Should Read It:   This is the perfect book for adult readers that enjoy strong character-driven stories.  You will NOT be disappointed.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars