Fourth Grade Journey

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

Friday, June 30, 2017

Smart Cookie by Elly Swartz

How I Heard About It:  Looking back I think one of my very first ARC's was Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz.  Through Twitter I began to hear about an upcoming book called Finding Perfect.  Readers were raving about it.  I was lucky enough to receive an ARC and connect with Elly.  That story was quite special and I used it as a read aloud during the past school year.  After we were done we had the opportunity to visit with Elly.  I would say it was one of our best Skype visits all year.  It was exciting to learn that Elly was coming out with a new novel in January of 2018.  I'm a member of #bookexpedition and Smart Cookie is making the rounds.  I received a personal delivery of the book at ALA.  I began the story yesterday and finished it up early this morning.  

What It Is About:  After losing a family member can that unit ever feel complete again?  That is the question that Francine (Frankie) is trying to answer.  She was once a family of three and now it is just her dad and herself.  Frankie decides to take action and posts an "ad" on a dating site.  She is looking for "Possibles" that can slide into the role of wife and mother.  Keeping this from her father is no easy feat and she isn't thrilled with the potential prospects.  Her best friend Elliot is a fan of "ghost" searching and Frankie finds herself going along for the ride.  During one "search", they stumble across some information that touches Frankie's father, grandmother, mother; and even the evil land developer who wants to take away their B&B.  Frankie wishes she could rely on her former best friend Jessica to help, but for a variety of reasons, they aren't speaking.  As Frankie and Elliot venture further into their "search", they need to figure out how to stop the plan.  During this "journey", Frankie will uncover secrets about all of her family members both alive and dead.  All she really wanted was to put her family back together; but she realizes life isn't as easy as that.    

What I Thought Of It:  After reading Finding Perfect, I didn't know if Elly could write another "PERFECT" novel.  Well, now that I've completed Smart Cookie; I know she can.  There are some novels that you know are going to be "perfection" and I knew that was the case with this book.  The plot started strong, continued strong, and ended on such a high note that I could hardly stand it.  Frankie was a one-of-a-kind character I won't forget.  I also thought Elliott, gram, dad, and Jessica were so thoroughly developed.  If I wasn't reading so fast to find out what was going to happen, I would have slowed down and highlighted the many beautiful lines that Elly put on the page.  The themes of family, friendship, and love were sprinkled on each and every page.  There were moments when I was laughing out loud and moments when my eyes were quite "watery".  I'm not doing this book justice.  There is really no way that I can put into words how much I loved, enjoyed, and "FELT" this story.  I can't wait to share with my new students during the school year.  Well done Elly, well done!  

Who Should Read It:  This story would make the PERFECT read aloud for a group of fourth, fifth, sixth; and even middle school classrooms.  There were many chapters that ended on a "cliff hanger" that would leave listeners "begging" for more.  I also love the fact there would be so many moments where a class could have a deep and meaningful conversation about family, friends, and the struggles that we all face.  Of course the book could also be put into the hands of individual readers.  The chapters are short, include awesome chapter headings, and the plot is one that will touch each and every reader.  If you are an adult reader that craves top-notch middle-grade stories, then this is the book for you.  I know you have to wait until January of 2018; but it is WORTH the wait.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5+ STARS out of 5 Stars

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

How I Heard About It:  While at Erin Soderberg's launch party for Moon Shadow, I was browsing books at Wild Rumpus bookstore here in Minneapolis.  This cover and title popped out and grabbed my attention.  I bought it that night and finished reading it this afternoon.  

What It Is About:  Virgil Salinas (VS) is a shy boy who doesn't have many friends and is the target of the bully.  Valencia Somerset (VS) is a strong girl with definite opinions.  She also happens to be deaf.  Kaori Tanaka is a "fortune teller" that helps both Virgil and Valencia.  Chet Bullens is the bully that doesn't make life easy for Virgil.  Virgil has "admired" Valencia from a distance and can't quite seem to find the courage to approach her in any way, shape, or form.  He seeks out Kaori for advice and help with this situation.  Virgil works at keeping his distance from Chet, but when they cross paths in the woods; he knows he is in a heap of trouble.  When Chet pulls a horrible prank with Virgil and his pet guinea pig; Virgil is left in danger and knows he can't get out of it alone.  Both Valencia and Kaori play a role in trying to find Virgil before it is too late.  

What I Thought Of It:  A tender and special story.  I enjoyed how each chapter was told from the point of view and/or about each character.  This gave me an inside look into each child that played such an important role in the plot of this story.  As the story progressed I was pulled into the pages more and more.  The author did an incredible job of allowing me to get inside their minds and hearts. I enjoyed how each character was on a personal journey of self discovery and improvement.  There were many life-lessons strewn throughout the pages which made me pause, think, and reflect.  Some beautiful writing in this novel.  

Who Should Read It:  This book should definitely be shared with young readers in grades four, five, and six.  In my opinion it would make for such a strong read aloud because there is so much suspense in the story.  It would have listeners on the edge of their seats.  I can also see individual readers in these grades handling it with ease on their own.  I also lean toward a class read aloud because there would be so many moments where a deep and meaningful conversation could be had.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett

How I Heard About It:  I love to post book ideas and reviews on social media.  I also enjoy getting recommendations from other readers.  My friend Kristin from Atlanta replied to a book post I did on FaceBook.  She also suggested this title to me.  I downloaded it via Audio and listened on my way to and from Chicago for the Scholastic Reading Summit and ALA.  

What It Is About:  A family left behind by the "mother" can have a devastating effect on the remaining members of the family.  Each member of the Babbitt family handles the "disappearance" of their mom in different ways. Elvis relies heavily on science, facts, and time.  Her older sister Lizzie acts out in destructive ways that could both harm herself and family members.  Lizzie also suffers from "sleepwalking" just like her mother did.  Elvis and her sister Lizzie are not close and their relationship suffers once their mother is out of the picture.  Their father handles the loss of his wife by taking on some of her "behaviors" and brings in a pet bird that may or may not contain the spirit of her.  While Elvis is counting the days for her grieving process, she learns some of her mother's secrets which put her in a state of turmoil.  She relies on a physic to help her navigate some "muddy" waters.  Each family member must take this "journey" on their own while finding their way back together.  

What I Thought Of It:  Audio version was top-notch.  This story kept me company for a long drive to and from Chicago last week.  The narrator was wonderful and so easy to listen to.  The story was so many things.  It was party drama.  It was part family relationship.  It was part "fantasy" and magical.  Above all, it contained one of the most unique and special families I have read about.  I also enjoyed the several surprised that popped up throughout the book.  It certainly kept my interest.  

Who Should Read It:  This novel published for adults should be read by all adult readers.  I'm so glad that my friend Kristin suggested the title to me.  Since reading/listening and finishing the book I have been telling many of my reading friends about it.  For those readers that enjoy family literature will definitely enjoy the story of Elvis, Lizzie, and their father.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

An Inside Look #23 - Season #2 (AUTHOR Interview)

An Inside Look - With Elana K. Arnold (Author of A Boy Called Bat)

*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 the last year 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 didn't have time for interviews during the school year, but I'm excited to be back for "SEASON #two".  

*I'm hoping to run this feature at least once a week.  There is nothing more satisfying than sharing and promoting a book/author/character that I have fallen in love with.  

*Thank you to Elana for being the first author of this new season of interviews.  I truly appreciate it.  

*Here are links to the first TWENTY-TWO interviews…

*The first exposure I had to Elana K. Arnold and her writing was when I read her novel Far From Fair.  I loved it and shared with many of the readers in my class.

*When I started to hear positive praise about A Boy Called Bat, I knew I had to read it.  The story was wonderful, important, and current.  I reached out to Elana after reading it and asked if she would be willing to do an interview about the novel and her character Bat.  She was gracious and agreed.  

*Thank you Elana for writing this novel for middle-grade readers and taking the time to share your thoughts with us here on the blog.  

*Here are the responses she shared with me and I'm thrilled to share them with you...

A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold (Released March 14, 2017)

How did you come to know Bat?

Bat came to me, all at once, as I was driving one night. But, like with any sudden flash of insight, Bat is really the result of my long-term loves, interests, and work: animals, odd pets, siblings, the autism spectrum, unconventional learning, and active listening.

What do you think is Bat's most admirable quality? 

I very much admire Bat’s determination and commitment to a cause.

What do you think Bat can offer to other children that are experiencing similar situations to what he went through?
Bat’s main concern in A BOY CALLED BAT is how to convince his mother that he can be a good skunk caretaker, but there’s actually quite a lot going on in Bat’s life in addition to the skunk kit: he’s negotiating between two households, as his parents are divorced; he and his sister Janie have their ups and downs; Bat doesn’t have any close friends, but might like to; Bat gets overwhelmed and overstimulated and has a hard time with change. I hope that watching Bat navigate his challenges might help kids feel more empathy both for fellow children who are having a hard time, and also for themselves. Also, I hope that parents and caregivers might be inspired to be as gentle with their children as Bat’s grown-ups are with him.  

Do you and Bat share any similarities?

Oh, many! Like Bat, I am crazy for animals, and especially enjoy unusual pets. Like Bat, I can find it challenging to make friends, often misunderstanding their cues or tiring them out by talking too much about the things that are interesting and important to me. Like Bat, I like to spend a lot of time on my own, researching my interests. Like Bat, I adore vanilla yogurt and think the fruit-on-the-bottom kind is gross.

What was the hardest (or easiest) scene to write about Bat?

My favorite scene to write comes close to the end of the book, when Bat is feeding Thor at sunset and his mother comes out to join him. This scene makes me feel a little like crying, but in a good way, every time I write it.

Who do you think was Bat’s biggest supporter and why?

Bat is very fortunate in that he has a strong network of family, teachers, and other adults. But I’d say that his mother, Dr. Valerie Tam, is the most consistent, dependable member of his support team.

Why do you think children and animals have such a bond?  

That is a great question. I know that there are some kids who are afraid of animals, but I was never one of them. Growing up, it always seemed to me that all the animals of the world must love me as much as I loved them, and that I was only just a step away from unlocking the secret to communicating with them. I think one of the great things about animals, from a kid’s perspective, is that they need our help, and no kid is too young to offer that help—whether it’s a pat on the head, a dropped piece of toast, or a cuddle, kids have something that animals need. And we all want to be needed. We all want to be of service.

What do you think Bat is doing as the present time? 

Ah! I know the answer to this question, as I am working on the sequel, entitled BAT AND THE WAITING GAME. But, as the title indicates, readers will have to wait to find out.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Swing Sideways by Nanci Turner Steveson

How I Heard About It:  When I began reading tweets about a new novel called Georgia Rules, I began to so a little "research" about the book and/or author.  I found this title on my Hoopla app and checked out the audio version to listen to as I began my summer vacation.  I finished it just as I was pulling in the Chicago Reading Summit.  

What It Is About:  Annie needs a break from the "real world".  Her parents take her to a vacation home away from all the stresses in the world.  It is here that she meets California.  California is spending the summer with her grandfather.  The two girls immediately bond with each other and begin to share all their likes, dislikes, and secrets.  California is on a quest to find some ponies that she is sure will reunite her mother and grandfather.  She enlists the help of Annie and the two of them begin a summer of adventure and a "quest" that will change their lives forever.  Annie struggles for her own "freedom" away from all the rules and her mother's strict guidelines.  California struggles with the "distance" between her mother and grandfather.  These young girls rely on each other to find their place in the world with the people around them.  Most secrets they reveal to each other, but some they keep to themselves, which could have dire consequences.  

What I Thought Of It:  A sweet story.  It may have started a bit slow for my tastes, but once I moved forward in the story it got stronger and stronger.  I was completely hooked by the final 1/3 of the book.  It was also shocking to me when certain elements of the plot were revealed.  I did not see it coming.  The relationship between Annie and California was written with such force, conviction, and truth.  Stevenson was able to portray the true elements of a young friendship showing both the positive and negative.  After reading (listening) to this story, I'm excited to read her newest novel.  

Who Should Read It:  The story of Annie and California needs to be in the hands of all young female readers.  They will absolutely love the journey that these two girls take during one summer.  The book could be read by readers in grades four, five, and six.  I'm not sure about using this as a read aloud because I'm not sure the male listeners would have a great interest, but I could be wrong about this.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

Saving Marty by Paul Griffin

How I Heard About It:  While at ALA in Chicago I was walking the exhibits hall and from a distance I saw Paul Griffin.  I wanted to go over the introduce myself, but he had a long line while signing books for When Friendship Followed Me Home.  When I checked back, he was walking away with his agent/publisher.  I went up and introduced myself.  It was such a surreal moment.  He was one of the most genuine and kind men I've ever chatted with.  I learned he would be signing ARC's of the new book on the following day.  Making a point to get in line, I received a copy of the book, and was able to chat a bit more with Paul.  This was my #bookaday and read the novel in one sitting.


What It Is About:  Can a pig be a boy's pet dog?  Well, according to Lorenzo (Renzo) Ventura it can.  When this runt is left behind on Renzo's farm, he bonds with it immediately.  He convinces his mom and Double (grandfather) that the pig should remain on the farm with the new litter of puppies that their dog Bella just delivered.  As Marty grows (much faster than the puppies), he makes himself right at home while taking on many of the dog behaviors.  Renzo and his friend Paloma enjoy taking care of Marty and bonding over their love of music.  Paloma has dreams of becoming a famous singer with Renzo as her partner with his guitar.  When Pal gets the opportunity to travel to a special music camp, she leaves Renzo and Marty on their own.  Marty is getting bigger and bigger and Renzo's mother isn't sure they can keep the pig on their farm.  Renzo can't quite believe we may lose his beloved pet.  He sets out to find a way to "save Marty".  The biggest obstacle is finding the courage in himself to accomplish the biggest goal he has ever set for himself.  Renzo wishes his father could help, but all he has from him is a series of letters he wrote to him before he was born while serving in a war.  Within these letters are some of the answers Renzo has been searching for his entire life.  

What I Thought Of It:  As I mentioned above, this was today's #bookaday.  I literally walked out onto my deck, sat down, and read the entire story.  I could not put it down.  As much as I adored When Friendship Followed Me Home, I think I loved this story even more.  Renzo was a strong, admirable, and kind boy.  The characters of Paloma and Double were enjoyable to read and learn about.  They were such a wonderful support system to Renzo.  As Renzo read the letters from his father and his story unfolded, I was drawn more and more into the story.  The unveiling sure hit me with an emotional punch to the heart.  I would describe this story a #heartprint book that will stay with you for quite some time.  Paul, you have done it again.  

Who Should Read It:  The book will be released during September of 2017 and needs to be in ALL classrooms.  There are so many discussions and sharing that could be had with the story.  The book would make for a strong and powerful read aloud in grades three, four, and/or five.  If not used as a read aloud, then please put it in the hands of individual readers in grades four through six.  Adult fans of middle-grade books, must read this story.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (6/26/17)

Thanks to Jen and Kellee for hosting this idea on their site.  Here is a link to their site...

*I actually had the opportunity to meet Kellee in person at ALA.  What a trill!  

*Not much reading got done with past week with being at the Scholastic Reading Summit and ALA.

*I'm looking forward to this week and getting back to some real-time summer reading.  

Books I Read this Past Week...

Swing Sideways by Nancy Turner Steveson

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

*Review Coming Soon

Books I Will (continue to) Read this Week

Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst

*My Professional Book

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

*My Novel Published for Adults

Between Two Skies by Joanne O'Sullivan

*My Young-Adult Novel

Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

*My Middle-Grade Novel

Monday, June 19, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (6/19/17)

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 Problem with Forever by Jennifer L Armentrout

*Young-Adult Novel (4 STARS out of 5 Stars!)

My Book Review

A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold

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

My Book Review

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling

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

Lemons by Melissa Savage 

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

Books I Will (continue to) Read this Week

Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst

*My Professional Book

Swing Sideways by Nancy Turner Steveson

*My Middle-Grade Novel (Audio)

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

*My Novel Published for Adults

Between Two Skies by Joanne O'Sullivan

*My Young-Adult Novel

Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

*My Middle-Grade Novel