Fourth Grade Journey

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

Monday, September 17, 2018

An Inside Look #61 (Author Interview)

An Inside Look with Phil Bildner
(Author of the Rip and Red Series)

*During the summer of 2016, I added this feature to my blog which was called "Season #ONE".  This first season ran from June of 2016 to March of 2017.  

*I started up the interviews again in June of 2017.  It was great to get back to Season #TWO.  This season ran throughout the summer.  

*Season #THREE ran during the school year of 2017/2018.  


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

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

*Thank you to Phil Bildner for being the Sixty-First author that I've had the pleasure of interviewing.  I truly appreciate it.  

*Here are links to the first Sixty interviews…

SEASON #ONE

























SEASON #FOUR

Interview #53 with Preston Norton (Author of Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe)

Interview #54 with Jonathan Auxier (Author of Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster)

Interview #55 with Sharon Creech (Author of Saving Winslow)

Interview #56 with Stacy McAnulty (Author of The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl)

Interview #57 with Kelly Yang (Author of Front Desk)

Interview #58 with Jennifer A. Nielsen (Author of Resistance)

Interview 59 with Christina Collins (Author of After Zero)

Interview #60 with Eric Walters (Author of Elephant Secrets)


*I remember when I read the first book in the "Rip and Red" series called A Whole New Ballgame.  I was amazed at how good the story was and how the author truly knew what kids were like.  It was even more cool when I had the chance to meet Phil in person.  He does not disappoint.  Some of my classes have been lucky to Skype with Phil about one of the novels in the series.  It was sad to learn that there would only be four books in the story of these incredible boys, but they are four books that I always highlight in my classroom.  

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

*Here is a link to my review of the fourth and final story in the series...

*Thank you Phil Bildner for writing these stories for readers and taking the time to share your thoughts with us here...

Most Valuable Player (May 29, 2018)

Tournament of Champions (June 2017)

Rookie of the Year (July 2016)

A Whole New Ballgame (August 2015)

Rip and Red Series 
by Phil Bildner



How did you come to know Rip and Red?
That's easy. Rip and Red are based on the kids in my life. They're composites of all the kids I've come to know over the course of my existence. 

I first met them growing up in the suburbs. Then I got to know them better when I was a middle school teacher in the city. Then I got to know them even better visiting schools all over the country and world. Hanging with my nieces and nephews and all of my friends' kids has brought them even closer to me. 

We all have people like Rip and Red in our lives.



What do you think are Rip and Red's most admirable qualities?
I love the way they look out for one another. 

Sadly, there are still far too many people in our culture who subscribe to an archaic mindset that believe boys should act a certain way and shouldn't engage in certain behaviors. This unenlightened segment possesses a warped perception of what it means to be man. Unfortunately, this world and worldview is a breeding ground for toxic masculinity.

Rip and Red debunk this backwards and broken way of thinking. Through their actions and words, the boys demonstrate how all men should behave, how all humans should behave. They are kind, sensitive, genuine, and true.



Is there anything you wish they would have changed or done differently in their story?
Yes and no.

Whenever I re-read one of my books, I'm always reading it with a critical eye. Not entirely, but at least in part. I'm constantly questioning the way I crafted a scene or developed a character. Without getting into specifics, there are definitely places where I think I could have explained things more clearly or developed an idea differently and more effectively.

But overall, no. Taken as a whole. I love the Rip and Red relationship and friendship. Over the course of the four books, I think readers have a clear sense of who these characters are, what they mean to one another, and what they mean to me.



What do you think the boys can offer to other children that are experiencing similar situations to what they went through?
We often talk about books being mirrors and windows and sliding glass doors, and when we do, it's important we drop the footnote and credit Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop for the concept. 

I was very mindful of this when I was writing the series. I wanted kids -- all kids -- to see themselves or perhaps better versions of themselves in Rip and Red. Many kids go through similar experiences, and perhaps how Rip and Red reacted to their situations and worked through them could provide readers with guardrails, guideposts, and road maps.



How did you research Rip and Red and the circumstances they found themselves in?
More than anything, I found talking to people and engaging people was the most useful form of research.

Of course, as a middle school teacher for eleven years, I felt I had a fairly solid grasp on what inclusion, community, and empathy in a classroom looked like. Still, I spent a great deal of time speaking to educators and visiting schools since it's been quite a few years since I had my own classroom.

When it came down to getting the details -- the finer details -- I was constantly talking to and interviewing people. It was verbal exploration. That's how I learned about Avery's wheelchair for the "That's Nasty" project (A WHOLE NEW BALLGAME), Tiki's father and family (who we never actually see in ROOKIE OF THE YEAR), peregrine falcons (for the hotel room scene in TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS), and the rules of wheelchair basketball (needed in MOST VALUABLE PLAYERS).



Do you and the boys share any similarities?  

Tons!

Like Rip and Red, as a kid, I was super active, loved basketball, liked being the center of attention (occasionally), and was prone to clowning around (more than occasionally). So I guess I'm still a lot like Rip and Red!

At the same time, both Rip and Red are considerate and thoughtful. They're not just nice to one another; they're kind to one another, and kindness is a lifestyle choice. I like to think I'm constantly working towards making similar lifestyle choices.



What was the hardest scene to write about them?
The next scene!

Whenever I write a scene, I always ask myself the same question: How does this scene move the story forward?

Of course, that applied to every scene with Rip & Red, but there were always many other factors I needed to take into consideration. I needed the scenes to be consistent with one another, and I needed the boys to be true to their respective characters. But the scenes couldn't be repetitive. There could be similarities -- and that's important -- but the scenes had to be interesting and engaging. They needed to possess a forward momentum that made the reader want to keep on reading.

With each next scene, that became more challenging, but I think I rose to the occasion, which is life!



Who do you think were their biggest supporters and why?
Teachers and parents, without a doubt.

A WHOLE NEW BALLGAME came out in the summer of 2015, and the ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) was available months ahead of the publication. From the moment teachers and parents began reading the first Rip and Red book, I started seeing their posts and comments, receiving their messages and emails, and reading their reviews that said this is a book they had to share with their middle grade readers.

I think there are a number of reasons for this, but I often find myself going back to the same one. In many ways, the book (and series) contains an idealized version of things. Rip and Red's friendship is the beautiful friendship we wished our own kids had. Mr. Acevedo's classroom and the sense of community is genuine and what we wished we had in our own classrooms. The basketball scenes are fun and exciting, but at the same time, they're tender and inspirational. The books contain the worlds we wished we had and the ones we aspire to build.



Why do you think some young people (Rip) are able to accept and befriend others that may be different from the “norm” when other kids shun, ignore, or lash out at them?
When given the chance, I think all kids are able to befriend and accept all kids and all kinds of kids. I just think it takes some kids longer to get there, and for some of those kids, that longer journey may involve points in time where there is shunning or lashing out.

As to why this is the case, I think there are countless reasons, so it's up to us as educators and parents to help young people navigate these moments and provide them with the necessary tools to deal with them. This applies not only to the kids being less than kind, but also to the ones being targeted.



What do you think these two boys are doing as the present time?
That's such an interesting question. At one point, we were discussing the idea of a book five and book six for the series. Book five would've taken place during the summer between fifth grade and middle school, and book six would've taken place at the start of middle school. 

For book five, at summer camp, I saw Red blossoming in this new, fresh environment, but I envisioned Rip struggling being away from home. That changing dynamic would've continued in book six, when the two boys began middle school.  

In my mind, that's where the two boys still are. That's the world where I currently see them.

Boo-yah!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (9/17/18)



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…



Wonderland by Barbara O'Connor

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









Lions & Liars by Kate Beasley

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







Origin by Dan Brown

*Novel Published for Adults (Abandoned this novel)









Books I Will (continue to) Read this Week


Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner

*My Young-Adult Novel








Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

*My Middle-Grade Novel









The Boy at the Keyhole by Stephen Giles

*My Novel Published for Adults









The Perfect Secret by Rob Buyea

*My Middle-Grade Novel









Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

*My Novel Published for Adults (Audio)









Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh

*My Middle-Grade Novel 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Lions & Liars by Kate Beasley

How I Heard About It:  This cover captured my attention the first time I saw it.  The cover is fun, intriguing, and special.  I was thrilled when I received a copy of the book from the publisher.  I know what a great writer Kate Beasley is so I will thrilled to read her newest work of fiction.  


What It Is About - FIVE Things You Need to Know:  
1.  *Frederick Frederickson doesn't exactly fit in at school.  He believes in a "food chain" type ranking system and puts himself at the bottom of that chain.

2.  *He is suppose to be going on a cruise with his family but those plans get foiled and Frederick finds himself at a camp for "undisciplined" youth.  His name isn't on the camp list so he takes on a new identity when he takes the name of a camper that didn't show up.  

3.  *Frederick wants to use this opportunity to redefine himself and become someone new.  He is bunking with four other campers.  They all have a past and a story.  As much as Frederick wants to find out about them, he doesn't want the other boys to learn his true identity and story.

4.  *As the five boys spend more and more time together, they learn about their similarities and differences.  When one of the campers disappears, Frederick makes it his mission to rescue him.  

5.  A hurricane is approaching the camp and all the boys could be in great danger; not only from the storm, but from their secrets being exposed.  


What I Thought Of It:  The characters were awesome.  The plot was fun, interesting, and engaging.  The action didn't stop.  I enjoyed how Kate Beasley was able to intertwine serious life themes while using humor and silliness to do so.  Frederick had quite a journey and learned a lot about himself.  I'm all for characters learning who they truly are and becoming the best version of themselves.  Each of the other boys brought substance and entertainment to the overall story and helped in making Frederick who he was truly meant to be.  I know my fourth graders are going to enjoy the writing of Kate Beasley.  


Who Should Read It:   The cover alone will attract readers to this book.  Once they start, I know they will be hooked.  The novel could be easily read by fourth, fifth, and sixth graders.  I'm also thinking that middle-school readers would also enjoy the adventures and fun that Frederick had.  The story could be used as a read aloud and/or read by individuals.  If you have a strong and mature reader in grades two/three, I think the story would be appropriate for them as well.  Happy Reading!  



Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Wonderland by Barbara O'Connor

How I Heard About It:  In my opinion, this was one of the most "buzzed" about novels of summer 2018.  Everyone I knew was reading it, raving about it, and recommending the book to other readers.  I got behind on my middle-grade novel reading so I didn't start this newest work of fiction by O'Connor until right before school started.  It was one of my favorite reads of the season.  


What It Is About - FIVE Things You Need to Know:  
1.  *Mavis and her mother have not had the best of luck.  They have had to move multiple times because her mother keeps losing her job.  Mavis' mother's newest job has landed them in a new town where Mavis has to start all over again.

2.  *Rose has lived in Landry, Alabama for her entire life.  She resides in an exclusive southern "gated" neighborhood.  Her own mother has a certain standard for the way they conduct themselves and appear to others.  

3.  *Rose considers the security gate keeper , Mr. Duffy, her only true friend because she doesn't seem to fit in with the other "rich" girls in the area.  She and Mr. Duffy spend lots of time together talking, playing games, and enjoying animals.  Mr. Duffy has become sad and distant since the lose of his beloved dog.  

4.  When Mavis and her mother arrive in Landry, she is determined to find a new best friend and make it stick this time.  After meeting Rose, Mavis feels like she has hit the jackpot in the friend department.  

5.  The two girls, along with a few others, go on a quest to make sure Mr. Duffy is happy again; both in his personal and professional life.  


What I Thought Of It:  Barbara O'Connor certainly can write a strong and solid middle-grade story.  Each one of her books just gets better and better.  I absolutely loved the characters of Mavis and Rose.  They were so different from each other and unique to themselves.  I enjoyed how each girl brought something new and special to the other girl's life.  The characters of the two mothers made me smile and laugh on more than one occasion. They were as different from each other as their daughter's were.  Any story that contains a dog as a character, has me from the first page.  Henry was a one of a kind dog.  I enjoyed reading the chapters told from his point of view.  The novel had several important life lessons/themes strewn through out the pages, but the author did a tremendous job of not being preachy or judgmental.  It is always fun when a middle-grade story has a bit of an adventure and Wonderland did not disappoint in this department.  I'm excited to share these beautiful and touching story with my fourth graders later this fall.  


Who Should Read It:   I would recommend the book to all readers in grades three through six.  Of course it could also be read by middle-school readers.  I'm planning on using it as a read aloud selection.  The book should also be put in the hands of as many individual readers as well.  Any adult reader who enjoys middle-grade books MUST read Barbara's O'Connor's newest work of fiction.  Happy Reading!  


Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Wonder Wednesday #237 (READERS)

Wonder Wednesday - Readers in Action

*Today was our 7th day of fourth grade and I'm starting to feel like our reading workshop is falling into place.


*I had a couple of moments as ALL my readers were engaged in a book of their choice.

*I wandered the room and tried to get an image of each and every reader.

*These pictures bring me such joy and happiness...







Monday, September 10, 2018

An Inside Look #60 (Author INTERVIEW)

An Inside Look with Eric Walters
(Author of Elephant Secret)

*During the summer of 2016, I added this feature to my blog which was called "Season #ONE".  This first season ran from June of 2016 to March of 2017.  

*I started up the interviews again in June of 2017.  It was great to get back to Season #TWO.  This season ran throughout the summer.  

*Season #THREE ran during the school year of 2017/2018.  


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

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

*Thank you to Eric Walters for being the Sixtieth author that I've had the pleasure of interviewing.  I truly appreciate it.  

*Here are links to the first Fifty-Nine interviews…

SEASON #ONE

























SEASON #FOUR

Interview #53 with Preston Norton (Author of Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe)

Interview #54 with Jonathan Auxier (Author of Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster)

Interview #55 with Sharon Creech (Author of Saving Winslow)

Interview #56 with Stacy McAnulty (Author of The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl)

Interview #57 with Kelly Yang (Author of Front Desk)

Interview #58 with Jennifer A. Nielsen (Author of Resistance)

Interview 59 with Christina Collins (Author of After Zero)


*I received an advanced copy of the novel from the publisher during the summer of 2018.  I remember picking it up, bringing it out to the deck on a beautiful summer afternoon, and being transported to a world full of elephants and incredible characters.  I reached out to Eric after reading it and asked if he would be interesting in an author interview.  As with most of the authors I contact, he answered back with a great big YES!  

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

*Here is a link to my review of Elephant Secret...

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


Elephant Secret
by Eric Walters (Released August 28, 2018)


How did you come to know Sam?
I had the idea of a girl who had lost her mother at birth so that she could identify with the baby woolly mammoth.  She evolved from there.


What do you think is Sam's most admirable quality?
Sam is strong, she is a survivor, she has great empathy for the elephants - even if she doesn't for people.


Is there anything you wish Sam would have changed or done differently in her story?
Once a story is done I never look back so no changes, no differences.  She is her own person and for me she is so real that I don't even entertain the thought that I can change her.


What do you think Sam can offer to other children that are experiencing similar situations to what she went through?
Sam is a role model for surviving tragedy.  She was knocked down before she was even  old enough to have ever been on her feet.


How did you research Sam and the circumstances she found herself in?
My mother died when I was four.  I think I understand the emotions.  I also have degrees in psychology and social work and worked as a family therapist and understand the dynamics.


Do you and Sam share any similarities?
Similar histories.  I'm a survivor. 


What was the hardest scene to write about Sam?
The death scene was pretty emotional for me.


Who do you think was Sam's biggest supporter and why?
Her father, the members of the herd, and I think, to her surprise, Joyce.


Why do you think humans and animals have such a special connection?
Elephants probably share more characteristics with humans (compassion, grief, family connections) than almost any other animal.  We apparently share 98.5 % of our genetic information with a chimpanze so how different can we be?  Often animals allow us to show our compassion and caring more than with people. Sam certainly feels more comfortable with the elephants than she was with people.


What do you think Sam is doing as this present time?
She's in high school, caring for the elephants, becoming more comfortable with people.