Fourth Grade Journey

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

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan

How I Heard About It:  This was a novel that had a lot of chatter on Twitter.  It was one of those books that I put on my TBR list right away, but took awhile for me to actually purchase and then to read.  I started at the beginning of the summer, but got distracted by other titles.  I got back to it yesterday and finished it late last night.  

What It Is About:  I did not realize that his novel was actually a collection of poems written by the classmates of a fifth grade classroom at Emerson Elementary.  At the beginning of the their fifth grade year, the students in the class learn that at the end of the school year, their school will be closed and turned into a grocery store.  Their teacher has them write a variety of poems in their notebooks on a daily basis.  The children in the class share their thoughts, their lives, and their worries in the poetry entries.  Each poem has a different format.  It is in these poems that the reader gets to know each member of the class.  Through the entries, they share ways they think they can stop the closing of their school, events happening in their own homes, and struggles and "happiness" they are experiencing with their classmates.  Each student in the class learns what it means to be responsible for themselves and for their classroom community.  

What I Thought Of It:  As I mentioned earlier, when I started the book I was surprised to see that the format was in poem entries instead of a traditional novel format.  I wasn't sure I would enjoy it, but I soon found out I was wrong.  It was a perfect way to tell the story.  There are many students in the class that write multiple poems throughout the book.  At first I had a hard time keeping track of each character and how they connected to the other characters.  Once I started to not worry about character names and just take in the story, it was such an enjoyable reading experience.  There are so many elements in the book that I can't wait to share with my fourth grade class.  This novel will definitely be used during the school year and most likely during the poetry unit I teach.  

Who Should Read It:  As I was reading the story, I kept thinking about what type of student would enjoy this book the most.  I think it would appeal to readers that enjoy short entries and are fans of poetry.  It is the perfect novel for young readers that don't enjoy, or can't handle, the traditional format of longer novels.  Readers in fourth, fifth, and sixth grade would be the perfect audience for the book.  I'm going to use it as a read aloud during the poetry unit we teach.  At the end of the novel are many poetry examples and samples that were used throughout the book.  I loved that these "extras" were included in the book.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

Saturday, July 30, 2016

If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period by Gennifer Choldenko

How I Heard About It:  I've had copies of this novel in my classroom collection for years.  I was also curious about the cover, but never got around to reading it.  For my drive to the Reading Summit, I checked out the audio version of this book and listened to it on my way back.  

What It Is About:  Starting seventh grade is hard enough, but when your parents are arguing, your best friend has decided to hang with the popular mean girl, and the new boy in school has more to do with her than she realizes; Kirsten's year just might be the most difficult of any of her classmates.  Walker is not quite sure of how being the only black student at an all white school is going to work, but his mother insists it is the best thing for him and his future.  Walker meets Matteo and the two of them hit it off while maintaining their great grades and good behavior.  When the "mean" girl Brianna has a secret about Matteo, she makes life for him, Walker, and Kirsten miserable.  Kirsten has enough to worry about at school, but when she finds out why her parents are having issues, she has a whole lot more to deal with.  

What I Thought Of It:  The narration of this novel was excellent.  It provided me four hours of enjoyment.  The story was somewhat "typical" with middle-school issues and relationships, but the plot held my interest for the entire listen.  I enjoyed that the story focused on both Kirsten's school and home life.  There were plenty of events that took me my surprise and many life lessons that I'm sure lots of middle-schoolers have to deal with.  I'm pleased that I finally got to his story.  

Who Should Read It:  This is a hard one for me to answer.  I've seen that the target audience is for readers in grades five through seven.  In my opinion, that audience is a bit young for this book.  I found there were many mature issues, themes, and words used throughout the story.  Readers in grades seven, eight, and above would be more appropriate for the novel.  Of course, this is just my personal opinion.  I would just read it first before putting it into the hands of a young reader.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes

How I Heard About It:  This has been the summer of reading 9/11 novels.  I started with Nine, Ten, a September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin.  Recently, I just finished The Memory of Things by Gae Polisher.  Both were such powerful and personal stories.  The other day I visiting Anderson's Book Shop in Naperville on my way back from The Reading Summit.  After chatting with one of the book sellers, I decided to buy this novel.  

What It Is About:  How does one's home and personal community relate to our country and its history?  This is the question that Deja's fifth grade teacher would like her class to explore.  Deja is the new girl and trying to fly under the radar.  She doesn't want the other students to know about her home because it isn't the home that most fifth graders would want.  She is one of three children of a mother that has to work all the time and a father that is suffering from an illness that Deja doesn't quite understand.  The new school she is attending is in New York City and fifteen years after 9/11.  For various reasons, Deja doesn't know all the details of 9/11 as her classmates do.  After "bonding" with Ben and Sabeen, the three of them begin an academic and personal journey to connect their present "history" to one of the past.  

What I Thought Of It:  After enjoying the first two 9/11 novels so much, I wasn't sure if another story about that event would measure up.  I was wrong.  This was such a wonderful and touching story.  Everything about it was top-notch.  Deja and her family wove their way into my heart and I rooted for their success the entire story.  Jewell Parker Rhodes did an outstanding job of interweaving the events of 9/11 and what was happening at this school fifteen years later.  Supporting characters Ben and Sabeen were an integral aspect of the story and created a strong "triangular" relationship with Deja.  I finished the novel in about a day because once I started I couldn't put it down.  I'm thankful for my visit to Anderson's Book Shop and the seller that pointed out this incredible story.  

Who Should Read It:  In my opinion, this story was written for readers in fourth, fifth, and sixth grade.  The chapters are relatively short with a writing style that is perfect for this age group.  The book could be used for a class read aloud and/or to put in the hands of an individual reader.  If an adult reader has read either of the other two 9/11 books, this would be the perfect one to add to make it a "trifecta".  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Friday, July 29, 2016

Friend Friday #150 (Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher)

Hi!  I'm Stacy and I read the book called Dear Committee Members written by Julie Schumacher.

I think this book is funny and a bit heart breaking because the author packs so much wit and intellect into the letters of recommendation, and at the same time weaves in a sad story about one of the college students.  

My favorite part in the story is the fact that it is written entirely in letters of recommendation because I had never read a book in this format and it worked so well.  

The character that I liked best was the English professor because he is not at first a person to admire, but as the story continues, one sees the caring and concerned teacher and friend underneath the bitter and inappropriate exterior.  

I think the author wrote this book because she has experienced inequalities at the college that she works and because she wanted to write a book in a unique format.  

I would recommend this book to my friends because this is an author that can truly manipulate English vocabulary.  

Reading to me is continual way to increase my written and spoken vocabulary because at any age one can learn to use new words.  

*Stacy is another staff member that I have worked with for years.  
*I actually had her son in my class several years back.
*Her son was (and is) an avid reader and it was so great to share book titles with him.
*Stacy and I talk books all the time.  We both have similar tastes and give each other titles.  
*She is a teacher that really gets the importance of getting young people to love reading!  

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Corner of the Universe by Ann M. Martin

How I Heard About It:  This is another one of those novels that has been on my radar for years, but I just have never gotten around to reading it.  When I was stocking up on audio books for my drive to the Kentucky Reading Summit, I added this one to the collection.  

What It Is About:  A Corner of the Universe takes the reader back to the 1950's and twelve-year-old Hattie's family.  Hattie's grandparents are wealthy and the pillars of the town.  Hattie's parents run the boarding house where their tenants come from a variety of walks of life.  Hattie and her parents find it difficult to live up to the expectations of her grandmother.  Hattie is somewhat of a loner and struggles to fit in with the other children in town.  When Hattie finds out that she has an uncle that she didn't know about, her life is about to turn upside down.  Adam is twenty-one years old and has spent most of his life at a school for "special" children.  The school closes which sends Adam back to live with his parents.  Hattie is surprised to learn that she has an uncle she didn't know about and nervous to meet him.  After their initial meeting, Hattie is thrilled to spend time with Adam and has a summer like she has never known before.  The summer has both its ups and downs, but changes Hattie's family forever.  

What I Thought Of It:  As I drove to and from the Reading Summit, this story provided me hours of entertainment.  I loved the story of Hattie, her family, and the return of Uncle Adam.  The writing was beautiful and really captured that time in our history and what it was like to live during these years in a small town.  The cast of characters were out of this world and added so greatly to the story. I found Hattie and Adam's relationship quite special and really enjoyed "watching" them get to know each other and bond.  There were a few "big" surprises that added to the plot and made for an engaging read.  The only downfall of this novel was that it took me so long to finally get to it.  

Who Should Read It:  In my opinion, I think this book would make for an excellent read aloud in grades four, five, or six.  There are so many elements in the book that would lend itself to great class discussions.  Independent readers in grades five, six, and seven would find this a riveting read.  I would also recommend this novel to any readers that have read other stories by Ann M. Martin.  She is a talented and gifted writer.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Trailer Thursday #150 (Student Trailer #8)

The Ranger's Apprentice Series by John Flanagan

Book Trailer Created by Jacob (Fourth Grade Student)

*Not a lot of students in my class read this series, but the ones who did, loved them.

*Each student in my class created book trailers (using iTrailer).

*They could pick a book they read, I read to class, or a "Breakfast with Books" selection.

*This was their first attempt at creating book trailers.

**Here are some other trailers we found to promote this book…

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Dog's Life by Ann Martin

How I Heard About It:  Ann M. Martin is one of my favorite middle-grade authors.  Her novel Rain, Reign is just an incredible story that I have shared with many students.  I know A Dog's Life is one of her older stories, but I grabbed the audio book of it at the public library before heading off to the Reading Summit in Kentucky.  It was a quick "listen" and I'm glad I finally got to it.  

What It Is About:  Squirrel and Bone are two puppies that love living with their protective mother.  She teaches them everything they need to know.  That is a good thing because one morning Squirrel and Bone awake in the barn to find that their mother is gone and they have been left on their own.  Squirrel and Bone venture out into the world and find that it isn't as safe, cozy, and peaceful as the barn they had been raised in.  These two strays have to rely on each other for their survival.  When they become separated, Squirrel is left on her own.  She comes across various locations, many humans, and lots of "steps" and "missteps".  Squirrel just wants to find a home that she can call her own.  She uses her keen senses and everything her mother and brother Bone taught her to survive and find that special place.  

What I Thought Of It:  This was such an enjoyable and sweet story.  I love that it was told from the point of view of the dog.  It reminded me of the adult novel The Art of Racing in the Rain.  The narration was excellent and the plot held me attention the entire read/listen.  The many adventures and situations that Squirrel found herself in were interesting and heart-warming.  I liked to see the world from her viewpoint.  This view reminded me of my own dog.  After listening to this Martin novel, it just firmed up even more what a great author she is.  

Who Should Read It:  This middle-grade novel would be perfect for readers in grades four, five, and six.  I also think it would be a phenomenal read aloud.  Young readers who love animals, especially dogs, would find this to be a wonderful story to read.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

How I Heard About It:  To get ready for my summer road trip to #NerdCampMI in early July, I stocked up on audio books so I would have lots of choices in the car.  This has been a title that I have been aware of for years.  I just never put it at the top of my list.  When I saw the audio of it, I decided to finally give it a shot.  

What It Is About:  The story begins with a large birthday party being held in a South American mansion.  The party is in honor of a Japanese diplomat.  Inside the mansion, are terrorists who want to take the President hostage.  Little do they know, the President has decided not to show up at the party and has sent the Vice-President instead.  One of the most famous guests is a famous American Opera singer.  As soon as she finishes her performance, the hostage situation begins.  Eventually all the women except the singer are released.  The terrorists keep the remaining guests in the home for days, weeks, and finally months.  There are many unique relationships and developments between the hostages, the terrorists, and the American singer.  

What I Thought Of It:  So many readers raved about this story that I had high hopes for it.  Sometimes when they happens, the actual story doesn't measure up to all the "hype."  I would have to say that happened with this particular book.  It just didn't grab me like I thought it would and overall the plot didn't captivate me like I know it has for many readers.  I'm not sure if it was because of the narrator on the audio, or just the plot line.  There were some interesting moments throughout the pages that kept me listening.  While writing this post, I got a call from my sister and mentioned I was reviewing the book and she praised it as one of her favorites.  

Who Should Read It:  There are many readers who put this novel at the top of their "favorite" list.  Just because that didn't happen for me, I still think there are many people who will enjoy this story.  Adult readers who enjoy a detailed fictional tale of intrigue, secrets, and suspense will find this a satisfying read.  Ann Patchett does an incredible job of describing her characters so readers of charter driven stories, will also be a great audience for the novel.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  3 STARS out of 5 Stars

Wonder Wednesday #150 (Reading Summit)

Wonder Wednesday - Reading Summit

*What a summer it has been!

*First, I finally got to #NerdCampMI at earlier in July.

*Now, I was able to attend one of the six Scholastic Reading Summit's that have been held this summer across the country.

*I jumped into my car on Monday and drove for about 10 1/2 hours to Covington, Kentucky.

*The Reading Summit was held on Tuesday, July 26th.  It was a PD day to end all PD days!

*I learned so much from so many incredible presenters.

*Here is a look at how I spent my day...

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Treat Tuesday #150 (Book Release Day)

Treat Tuesday:  Scholastic Reading Summit

*Another week that I'm featuring a "treat" that doesn't involve food and/or beverage.

*I'm spending the day at the Scholastic Reading Summit in Covington, Kentucky.

*It was a long drive on Monday, but so worth it.  Such great energy at this Summit.

*More thoughts will follow on a future blog post.

Treat Tuesday:  Middle-Grade Novel

Treat Tuesday:  Young-Adult Novel

Treat Tuesday:  Adult Novel