Fourth Grade Journey

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

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

How I Heard About It:  I bought this book quite some time ago.  It seemed to be on many "must-read" lists.  It sat by my bedside until a member of my BBC (Boy's Book Club) chose it as our December/January selection.  I was thrilled I already had it in my pile.  

What It Is About:  Jojo is thirteen years old.  He is the main care taker for his younger sister Kayla.  This is because his mother, Leonie, is more concerned about her drug use and their father is in prison.  Luckily Jojo and Kayla are able to live with their grandparents.  Leonie's parents are the one solid in these two young people's lives.  When Jojo's father is released from prison, Leonie, Jojo, Kayla, and a friend take a road trip to pick him up.  Jojo's grandfather isn't sure this is a good idea, but they head out anyway.  While on the way to the prison, Jojo recalls many stories his grandfather told him about his early life and a young boy named Richie.  Once his father is picked up, "life" in the car on the return trip only gets worse.  Jojo wants to prove he can be the man his grandfather has taught him to be.  

What I Thought Of It:  This is one of those novels that has received so much praise, that I was afraid it wouldn't live up to the hype.  I was a bit confused at the start-up of the story, but once I got in a few pages, the story began to flow and I found rhythm.  The more I read, the more I found myself becoming completely absorbed in the journey of Jojo, his sister, and the other family members.  The writing was exquisite and so many lines that I found myself rereading.  At first I wasn't sure of the "magical" and/or "ghost" moments, but they worked so well in this overall plot.  I can see why this title has earned many awards and so glad I ended 2017 with it.  

Who Should Read It:   This is definitely a read for adult readers who enjoy "real" literature with descriptive and emotional writing.  I learned today that the book made a list the former President Obama posted.  I'm in good company.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

How I Heard About It:  Nancy Paulsen was gracious enough to send me an advanced copy of Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed.  I'm always excited to get books from Nancy because she publishes the best of the best.  This title will now be included in that list.  

What It Is About:  Amal is the oldest daughter living in a small Pakistan village.  She dreams of getting an education and becoming a teacher.  After her mother delivers the fifth daughter in the family, Amal must stop going to school and help the family at home.  She isn't happy about this, but hopes to get back to school as soon as possible.  During a visit to the local market, Amal insults/stands up to one of the most powerful men in the area.  She knows she has made a terrible mistake and hopes the consequences aren't too severe.  Much to her and the families' dismay, Amal is sent to be a servant at the mansion of the powerful man and his family.  Her father tells her it will be a short stay, but Amal has a sinking feeling it will turn into something more.  She becomes the man's mother's aide and must take care of her every need.  Amal tries to fit in with the other servants, but they don't make it easy for her and often pull tricks on her which in the end makes life even more difficult for Amal.  When Amal learns a major secret of this powerful family, she must decide what to do and how this will effect her entire life.  

What I Thought Of It:  I began the novel this morning and finished in the afternoon.  I could not put it down.  The story was fascinating.  Before reading the story, I knew very little of what like is like in the country of Pakistan.  Even though the story is fiction, I gained a great knowledge of what life, family, and education is like for young females.  The characters were engaging.  The plot moved along at a perfect pace, and there were lots of cliff hangers.  I also appreciated that the chapters were short because I think this is a selling factor for young readers.  One of my new favorite middle-grade novels.  So pleased I had the opportunity to read it early.  

Who Should Read It:   I see this novel begin used in a fourth, fifth, or sixth grade classroom.  The story would be perfect for a class read aloud because it would lead to such deep and wonderful discussion.  The book could also be read by middle-school children as they will gain so much from 
Amal's story.  Adult readers will also find it a powerful and meaningful reading experience.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Favorite Reads of 2017

My Favorite Books of 2017

*I wasn't going to do a "best of" or "favorite" list for the year, but I've been noticing so many of them today that I decided to add my two cents.

*It was another great year of reading.  I think the books being published just get better and better.  I'm still trying to keep a balance of middle-grade, young-adult, and adult novels.

*Looking over my GoodReads lists, I saw that I read a lot more middle-grade than the other two categories.  As much as I love and adore middle-grade, I still want to keep reading young-adult and adult novels as often as I can.

*At first I was going to pick one favorite from each category, but soon realized that was going to be way too difficult.  I decided to list my top three, but as you can see, I couldn't pick just three in the middle-grade "list".

*So much fun to reflect on the year of reading and look forward to the next year and anticipate what the publishing world will bring.

*These are not in any particular order, but the stories that stood out, touched my heart, and became an important part of my reading life...

Favorite Middle-Grade Novels (69 Titles Read)...

The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish

Matylda, Bright, & Tender by Holly McGhee

Lemons by Melissa Savage

The Perfect Score by Rob Buyea

Smart Cookie by Elly Swartz

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling

Saving Marty by Paul Griffin

Young-Adult Novels (29 Titles Read)...

List of Cages by Robin Roe

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Novels Published for Adults (29 Titles Read)...

The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

The Hearts of Invisible Furies by John Boyne

Friday, December 29, 2017

Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske

How I Heard About It:  I was lucky enough to receive this book from the author herself.  I brought it to the classroom right away, had a few readers read it, and then brought it home with me to read over Christmas break.  I just finished it earlier today.  

What It Is About:  Kat Greene has a lot to deal with.  She lives with her mother in New York City.  Her father lives on the other end of the city with his new wife and their young son.  Kat is happy sharing the city apartment with her mom.  Kat begins to notice that her mother's behavior is changing.  She is spending more time in the apartment and starting to exhibit some "odd" behavior.  Kat decides to keep this information from her father, her best friend, and the counselor at school.  The more her mother's behavior shows itself, the more Kat isn't sure what to do.  While keeping all this "stuff" to herself, she has to deal with a school project, a best friend that is "obsessed" with a boy, and figuring out her role in two families.  

What I Thought Of It:  For some reason, I thought this was going to be a "light" and "funny" story.  I'm not sure why I thought this, but I was surprised to find out this wasn't the premise of the story.  There were many important and difficult themes presented in the story, but done in such a thoughtful and graceful way.  Kat Greene was a unique, strong, and "real" character.  The plot moved along at a perfect pace with a few surprises along the way.  I appreciated that the emotional "issues" were presented in a real and authentic way.  There were an appropriate amount of light moments surrounding the "tougher" real-life problems that Kat had to deal with.  

Who Should Read It:   For any child that is dealing with a parent that struggles with any type of mental illness, this would be the perfect novel to put in their hands.  It isn't overly heavy, but deals with topic of OCD in a way that middle-grade readers could understand and appreciate.  The book could be handled by a fourth, fifth, or sixth grade reader.  I think it could also be read by middle-school readers.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

How I Heard About It:  I think it was last summer during ALA that I saw a promotion for John Green's new book.  I was intrigued by the title and have enjoyed past Green novels.  I added the title to my TBR list.  Last fall, I began the book, but it went by the wayside when I started other books.  During my winter break, I had the opportunity to get back to the story and finish it.  

What It Is About:  Aza is struggling.  She is struggling with her thoughts, her ideas, and the her journey through what she calls "crazy".  Aza tries to keep it together for her mother, her best friend Daisy, and her therapist.  The more she tries to stay "normal", the more her thoughts get away from her.  When a classmate's father disappears, Aza and Daisy decide to "investigate" and possibly earn the reward money.  Aza begins to get to know Davis, who is the son of the billionaire that has disappeared.  Davis lives a very different life than Aza, but the two of them forge a friendship that may or may not lead to more.  The closer Aza gets to answers about Davis' father, the more she begins to feel out of control.  

What I Thought Of It:  When I first started the book this past fall, I wasn't drawn to it as much as I hoped I would be.  Maybe that is why I put it aside.  Starting it again this Christmas break, I found I was interested in the story line right away.  Sometimes it is all about timing.  The plot was fascinating, the characters were unique and original, and the "emotions" of the story ran high.  John Green has such a special way of writing that you feel like you are sitting right beside the characters and sharing the experience with them.  Aza, Davis, and Daisy all had such a profound effect on me while I read.  I could really feel what Aza was dealing with and how she so wanted to be "normal".  This may be one of my new favorite JG books.  

Who Should Read It:   I know that all John Green fans will enjoy and devour his latest work of fiction.  The story would appeal to both the young adult and adult reader.  People that also find stories about mental illness fascinating, would be a great audience for the book.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4+ STARS out of 5 Stars

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Everything Else in the Universe by Tracy Holczer

How I Heard About It:  How lucky am I!  After reading Tracy's first novel The Secret Hum of a Daisy, she and I became friends both online and in person.  It was exciting to learn her second novel would be coming out in June of 2018.  It was even more exciting to find out she was sending me an advanced copy of the book.  I received it in the mail right at the beginning of my Christmas break and it was the first book that I read and finished during the vacation.  

What It Is About:  Lucy is an only child.  Her parents are orderly, responsible, and always do the proper thing.  That is how she was raised and that is how she lives her life.  Her father spent many years in medical school and is ready for his career.  All of that changes when he is sent to Vietnam to serve as a medical doctor during the war.  Lucy and her mother move themselves from Chicago to California to be closer to relatives while her dad is away at war.  When Lucy finds out her father is returning early, she is beyond excited.  She and her mother, along with a bunch of relatives, welcome him home.  Lucy was hoping things would return to "normal", but quickly realizes how different things are.  Not only is her father different physically, but also emotionally.  Everyone says he just needs time, but Lucy isn't sure she can give it the time it needs.  Her mother sends her to the relatives to spent time with them and to stay out of the way of her father.  While she spends her summer days with a "wacky" group of Italian family, she meets a boy named Milo who is spending the summer with his grandmother.  They hit it off.  When they find a Purple Heart, along with other military items, they began a search to find the owner.  During the search both Lucy and Milo find out about themselves, their families, and what true friendship means.  

What I Thought Of It:  Wow!  I absolutely loved this story.  Tracy's first novel is one of my all-time favorite middle-grade novels.  I was so excited to see what Tracy came up with for her second book.  This one did not disappoint.  The character of Lucy was one of a kind and wove her way into my heart and I know will be there for quite some time.  The relationship between Lucy and her father was touching, thoughtful, and full of hope.  The book could not exist without Milo who I adored.  There were so many beautiful lines scattered throughout the pages.  I think I could have tweeted one from every page.  Tracy Holczer sure has a way with words.  I can't say enough about this story, except be sure to put it on your TBR list for June of 2018.  

Who Should Read It:   I know this will be a novel that I share with my students next fall.  If I get the copy back from my #bookexpedition group before the end of the year, I will read it to them this spring.  I know it will make for a tremendously strong read aloud.  The book could be used for a read aloud in grades four, five, and six. I also think it could be read to middle-school children.  If a reader were to read it independently, they could be in grades five or higher.  I will also be recommending it all of my adult reader friends, teacher friends, and social media friends.  A must read for all.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5+ STARS out of 5 Stars

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

How I Heard About It:  During my trip to St. Louis for NCTE I ran into my favorite publishing rep.  She works for Penguin, is amazing, and I always love chatting with her at the different conventions.  I had made the mistake of shipping all my books home and needed something to read on the plane.  She was nice enough to hand me a copy of this young-adult novel.  I started it on the plane and loved it.  The problem was when I got back to reality, time didn't allow me to spend as much time with the book as I wanted.  

What It Is About:  Four high schoolers, well five, end up in detention.  By the end of detention, one of them is dead.  Everyone thinks one of them "did it".  Simon is the outcast and the boy that ends up dead.  Bronwyn is the brain and heading for an elite college.  That is if she can keep her secret to herself.  Addy is the "queen" of the school and has the perfect boyfriend.  That is if she can keep her secret.  Nate is the class "criminal".  He is OK with this image as long as no one gets to know the true Nate.  That is if he can keep his secret.  Cooper is the baseball star and heading for the majors.  That is if he can keep his secret.  Simon was the publisher of a gossip paper that went out to all the students in the school.  Simon died, or maybe killed, during Monday study hall.  It comes to light that he was about to publish another edition of the paper on Tuesday and all four of his classmates that were in study hall with him; were going to be featured.  Who did it?  Who is telling the truth?  Who is lying?  

What I Thought Of It:  This was a perfect young-adult novel that the Penguin rep put in my hands for the plane ride home from NCTE.  I'm just sad that I didn't have the time available to read it as fast as I would have liked.  The book was a definite page turner.  Each chapter ended with a cliff hanger.  I enjoyed how each chapter was told from the perspective of the different high school characters.  It was fun to read about them and find out what each was hiding from the rest of the school.  I did not see the ending coming which is always a great way to end a book.  An excellent read and I highly recommend it.  

Who Should Read It:   Readers who are in high school and above would be the perfect audience for the young-adult novel.  The target audience is for the younger reader, but I'm thinking many of my adult reader friends, would eat this story up.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

How I Heard About It:  This seems to be one of the most buzzed about novels of 2017.  So many people I know read it.  It was written up on many best-of lists for the year.  I found it on the "Library Cloud" app and downloaded it to my phone to listen to during my commute.  It would be the last audio experience of 2017.  

What It Is About:  The setting is Shaker Heights which is in Ohio.  The Richardson family is center stage.  Elena Richardson leads her family in the most "perfect" way.  Or so it seems to the outside world.  Mia and her daughter Pearl arrive in Shaker Heights which is one of many moves they have experienced.  Pearl is in high school and meets one of the Richardson children as soon as they move in.  Mia is an artist and seems to be running from her past.  Mia couldn't be more different from Elena, but their lives seems to intersect in more ways than one.  When a Chinese-American baby is left abandoned in Shaker Heights, a custody fight ensues which draw in both Elena and Mia.  Not only will they have conflict, but their children will get caught in the cross-fire.  

What I Thought Of It:  This novel had too much hype I think before I read it.  That seems to happen.  When a book gets a lot of press, talk, and praise; it doesn't always match up to the expectations.  I enjoyed the story, but didn't LOVE it.  There were parts that were more enjoyable than others, but overall it was a solid story.  The character development was top-notch and the writing was quite good.  I thought it would be a bit more of a "page-turner", or can't leave my car, but I found that wasn't the case.  I'm glad I read/listened to it and the novel was a great one to end the year with.  

Who Should Read It:   Based on all of the positive reviews of the story, I would say this is a wonderful choice for adult readers.  If you read Celeste Ng's first novel, then you can't miss her sophomore book.  Not to offend anyone, but in my opinion, the story would appeal more to the female reader than male.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Life Lesson #13 (Be Merry)

"Be Merry"

*This is the THIRTEENTH Thursday of our school year together and that means it is "Life Lesson" Thursday.

*One of the biggest messages I try to share with my students is to make a positive impact on the world.

*This isn't always easy, but I work very hard to spread this theme/lesson/idea each and every day.  

*I love this one.  It is just about happiness, joy, and celebrating the holidays.  So big message this week, but just something light, short, and enjoying for my writers to watch and record their observations.  

*I set aside time during each day for us to work in our writer's notebooks. 

*We talk about what types of writing we can do in the notebook.  Here are some of the possibilities...

-What we notice in the video
-What we wonder about
-Connections we have to the video
-Thoughts, feeling, emotions about the video clip
-Reminders we have from the lesson/message
-Create a fiction story about the video

*Once the video is shared with the writers, we spend a few minutes "talking" about what we observed.

*My writers set up their HEADING in the notebook and we get busy writing.

*During the start-up of the year, I have my students write for about five minutes.  We slowly build our stamina for writing and slowly add time to the writing block. 

*At the end of the individual writing time, we call on a few volunteers to share their actual writing and/or further thoughts about the video we watched and wrote about.

*If there is time, I sometimes share the video clip with my class at the end of the writer's notebook time.  

2017/2018 Life Lessons...
Week #1:  Be a Reader                                                                      This Week's Life-Lesson
Week #2:  Be Kind to Others                                                              This Week's Life-Lesson
Week #3:  Be Safe                                                                             This Week's Life-Lesson
Week #4:  Be Responsible                                                                 This Week's Life-Lesson
Week #5:  Be Brains                                                                           This Week's Life-Lesson
Week #6:  Be a Friend                                                                        This Week's Life-Lesson
Week #7:  Be Life-Changing                                                              This Week's Life-Lesson          
Week #8:  Be Spooky (Halloween Fun Edition)
Week #9:  Be a Bully - NOT!                                                              This Week's Life-Lesson
Week #10:  Be Courageous (to continue on)                                     This Week's Life-Lesson
Week #11:  Be Motivated                                                                   This Week's Life-Lesson
Week #12:  Be Inspired                                                                      This Week's Life-Lesson

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Wonder Wednesday #205 (Breakfast with Books)

Wonder Wednesday:  Our Third Breakfast with Books

*Our first book club of the year was The Quirks by Erin Soderberg with an author visit.

*Our second book club was Lemons by Melissa Savage with an author visit.

*We had our third Breakfast with Books on Thursday, December 14th.  

*The readers had read Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling.  

*Everyone read the book, wrote comments/questions for Dusti, and brought in treats to share.  

*The book club spent about an hour Skyping with the author.  We had a blast interacting with her and learning more about her writing life, her novel, and so much more.  

*These mornings are truly the highlight of my teaching career.

*Take a look at the book club in ACTION...