Fourth Grade Journey

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

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