Fourth Grade Journey

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

Monday, July 31, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (7/31/18)

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...

You May Already Be a Winner by Ann Dee Ellis

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

My Book Review

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee

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

My Book Review

Saving Wonder by Mary Knight

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

My Book Review

Refugee by Alan Gratz

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

My Book Review

Books I Will (continue to) Read this Week

Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop
by Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak

*My Professional Resource Book

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

*My Novel Published for Adults

A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared Reck

*My Young-Adult Novel

Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

*My Middle-Grade Novel

An Inside Look #28 - Season #TWO (AUTHOR Interview)

An Inside Look With Paul Griffin

(Author of Saving Marty)

*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 Paul for being the SIXTH author of the new season.  I truly appreciate it.  

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

*While at ALA in Chicago I was lucky enough to meet Paul in person.  He was such a great and personable guy.  I'm not a huge fan of standing in long lines for autographs, but for Paul and an ARC of his new novel; I was more than WILLING.  

*This was one of first novels I read upon my return.  I read it ONE sitting and enjoyed every single page.  I can't wait to share the story with my new group of fourth graders this fall.  

*Here is a link to my review...

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

Saving Marty
by Paul Griffin (Released September 19, 2017)

When Friendship Followed Me Home
by Paul Griffin (New paperback cover released July 18, 2017)

1.  How did you come to know Lorenzo?
Lorenzo Ventura is very much the kid I wanted to be.  He is comfortable with who he is, a quiet kid who celebrates close friendships without feeling the need to be popular or perceived as great.  My mom is from a close-knit Sicilian family, and her mom’s family immigrated to the Pittsburgh area.  They had very little in the way of money, and the family worked hard to get the kids educated.  In turn, my mom’s generation worked hard to teach my generation of the family to work hard and see education as a way to improve not just one’s own prospects, but also the lives of those in your circle—your family’s, your friends’, neighbors’ lives.  I think Lorenzo has a strong work ethic and the sense that life is more beautiful when it’s other-centered.  I loved visiting the “Pittsburgh LaMonicas.”  My cousin Randy once took me out into what seemed to be an endless field of fireflies at dusk, and he taught me how to catch them.  More importantly, he taught me to set them free.

2.  What do you think is Lorenzo’s most admirable quality?

Renzo is fundamentally a kind person.  I remember in college, in a class about world religions, a debate arose about kindness and heroism.  One very smart young man contended that being kind is an inherently selfish act, because being perceived as kind often leads to being perceived as “a really good person,” the sort other people want to be.  I was quiet and didn’t say anything—I lacked the ability to offer a simple, clear rebuttal, but I distinctly remember being very upset by that idea, that kindness could be equated with selfishness.  I also remember my professor’s saying what I was thinking, as if he had scanned the jumble of thoughts banging around my mind and made them concise: “The person who's kind when no one is looking—isn’t that person the real hero?”  It was one of those moments when you take a big step forward in envisioning the sort of person you want to be: kind always, but especially when no one is looking.

3.  Is there anything you wish Lorenzo would have changed or done differently in his story?

I have found regret to be useful for about five minutes—the act of wishing you’d done something different is important, because it forces you to think of new ways you might approach similar situations in the future.  But dwelling on mistakes—mine or others’—is disempowering for me.  I focus on what I can change, and really I can’t change what others might do or not do.  I let my characters lead me.  They get into trouble sometimes.  I follow them into it and hope they’ll find a way out for themselves.  I often don’t know how or if they will, until they act.  It’s as if I’m watching a movie in my mind, hoping for things to go one way, and then I’m saddened or ticked off when they don’t, and then I’m relieved when the characters figure out a way fix the problem or resolve to live with it.  Not everything resolves cleanly, and understanding that—there’s power and growth in that understanding.  

4.  How did you research Lorenzo and the circumstances he found himself in?

Working as a volunteer EMT for many years here in NYC, I’ve seen what we often read in the news or see on TV: that correlation and causation are linked in terms of military service, depression and homelessness.  Devastating, not just for the person suffering from PTSD secondary to battle trauma, but for the people who love that person.  I remember a call where a young woman, homeless, was very sick, probably with pneumonia.  She had served in Afghanistan.  We brought her into the hospital.  Now her boyfriend, also homeless, was looking not so great.  “She’s gonna do it.  She’s gonna kill herself, I know it.  Then what happens to me?”   So, that got me thinking back to the times when people in my family, including me, were suffering from PTSD—maybe secondary to the death of a loved one or an illness, the loss of a job, an attack seemingly from nowhere, a conflict—and where that left the people in that person’s life: grasping to understand what to do next.

Then there’s the resilience that PTSD provokes.  I think of a young woman I’m working with, helping her with her memoir.  She for the last nine years has lived in a series of orphanages—instituciones—in Bogotá.  Her six years before that were what I think of as hell, a storm of poverty, disease, violence, abuse physical and emotional.  Yet she smiles.  She laughs.  She writes not just to understand her life and the people in it, but also to celebrate the potential for beauty in people, in simple acts of kindness.  She’s a true hero.

5.  What do you think Lorenzo can offer to other young people that are experiencing similar situations to what he went through?

I hope that young folks in Lorenzo’s shoes might always remember two things.  First, you are not responsible for somebody else’s self-destructive act.  If you can prevent that act, do.  But if you can’t—and oftentimes you can’t—don’t blame yourself for the destruction.  Secondly, when someone close to you does something self-destructive, that person is still your friend, neighbor, family member.  That person is still the person you love.  So keep loving that person.

6.  Do you and Lorenzo share any similarities?

I’m definitely comfortable being quiet, happy to strum a guitar by myself, not well, but with joy.  I love animals for their consistency, how they are always there for us, especially when we’re dealing with turmoil.  Like Lorenzo, I love that animals are terrible liars, that they are so open with their love for us, their want to be with us, even when things aren’t going well.

7.  What was the hardest scene to write about Lorenzo?

I never think of writing as being hard.  It’s a ride, and sometimes that ride is scary.  I don’t wallow in my characters’ pain.  When things get rough for my characters, I don’t resist.  I let them fall down, and then when they get up I follow them into their triumph.  If they don’t get up or can’t get up, I do what I do in my life outside of writing: I focus on doing what I can to make things better, and I don’t beat myself up when I can’t fix something.  I move forward.

8.  Who do you think was Lorenzo biggest supporter and why?

Renzo is the kind of person who will always find supporters.  While he does wonder a lot about his predicaments, he is an other-centered person, and focusing on others creates strong friendships.  Mom drives hard at Lorenzo sometimes, urging him to be practical, to be safe.  Double Pop urges Renzo to dream.  Paloma urges Renzo to celebrate his awesomeness, his heart.  Renzo is unlucky in some ways, but he’s so lucky in his friendships.  Maybe lucky is the wrong word.  He’s where he should be, where his kindness has put him.

9.  Why do you think children, like Lorenzo, have such a special and personal bond with animals?  

People often talk about the middle grade years as “the sweet spot.”  They’re when we’re still very open-minded, eager to learn, but on the cusp of deciding what kind of people we want to be.  To have an animal for a friend in those years—what a gift.  Animals remind kids that being consistent is a behavior that people in your life will greatly appreciate.  A surprise party can be fun, but blindsiding somebody—that just always feels bad.  I remember all of my dogs.  They took care of me (and still do), especially when I was young.  When the world seemed upside down, they were always there, always eager to hang out, cuddled up to me as I tried to disappear into a comic or a dream.

10.  What do you think Lorenzo is doing at the present time? 

He’s doing great.  He’s playing guitar with that new band—maybe they’re not the most awesome musicians, but they’re having a good time.  He’s working at the shelter, feeling great each time he helps a rescued animal be a little more peaceful, a little less traumatized.  He has his eye on being an Army veterinarian.  I flash forward and see him at my age, and he has his own veterinary practice, maybe one that specializes in caring for farm animals.  He’ll find his way.  

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Refugee by Alan Gratz

How I Heard About It:  While at ALA in Chicago I stopped by the Scholastic booth.  They had a table of some ARC's.  During my chat with one of the reps, she suggested this title.  I added to my backpack and brought it home.  I didn't give it much thought at this point.  Then I started to notice so many Twitter comments about the book.  Many readers were RAVING about the story.  I went to my box of books that I got at the convention and found this title.  Once I started I could not stop!  

What It Is About:  There are three stories in the book.  The first one is about Josef who is a Jewish boy living in Germany in 1930.  With the threat of his family being sent to a concentration camp, they pack up and head toward Cuba.  The second story takes the reader to Cuba in 1994 where Isabel and her family are about to escape for America and get out from Fidel Castro's control.  The final plot tells the story of Mahmoud, who is a Syrian boy in 2015, during the bombing and unrest in this country.  All three of these children, along with their families, must escape their homeland and find safety in the "arms" of other countries.  While traveling, each family faces danger and difficult situations that could prohibit them from their final destination.  

What I Thought Of It:  A complete WOW and incredible book.  I know many readers had praised the story, but I had no idea.  Once I started, I could NOT put it down.  I enjoyed how there were three different stories and was curious as to how they would all tie together.  Each character brought such heart and determination in their quest for freedom.  I'm not normally one for historical fiction stories, but this one grabbed me and didn't let go until the end.  Actually, I still find myself thinking about the three refugees and their journeys.  There are so many elements to this story that give the reader so much to think about and consider about our ever-changing world.  

Who Should Read It:  I already know that I will be sharing this story with my fourth grade class during our historical fiction unit.  It will be our read aloud.  My thought is that this story would make for a terrific read aloud because each and every chapter ends on a cliffhanger.  It will for sure leave the listeners wanting for more.  I actually think all students, young-adults, and adults should experience the magic of this story.  It is just incredible.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

How I Heard About It:  I noticed that several of my Twitter friends posting their thoughts about this young-adult novel online.  I was intrigued by their thoughts, the title, and the cover of the book.  During an Amazon order, I added the book to my shopping cart.  It is a beautiful hard-cover novel that will definitely be included now in my home library.  

What It Is About:  This story takes the reader back to 18th-Century England. Henry "Monty" Montague is a son of a British Lord, but isn't your typical royal "son".  He is about to embark on his "Grand Tour" of Europe with his best friend Percy.  These two young men have grown up together as the best of friends.  Monty has a "crush" on Percy and isn't sure if Percy will return the same feelings.  Percy is going to accompany Monty on the "tour".  Monty is hoping the trip will be a wild ride with lots of fun, drinking, and wild adventures.  When he finds himself in trouble during their first stop, what had been planned for the summer; is put on the wayside.  Monty, Percy, and Monty's sister Felicity find themselves traveling all over Europe evading dangerous people, hiding out in secret locations, and trying to save themselves; each in different ways.  

What I Thought Of It:  I was so glad to come across this young-adult novel because I've been in a bit of a slump with these types of stories.  This book was so different from anything else I've read.  It was a fun ride and I enjoyed the characters of Monty, Percy, and Felicity so much.  There were many laugh out loud moments.  Monty has his own agenda on how to live his life and it is all about HIM.  The story had everything:  great characters, grand adventures, and twists and turns around every corner.  I don't normally like stories set back this far in history, but for some reason this one really worked well for me and provided me hours of enjoyment.  

Who Should Read It:  Both young-adult and adult readers will enjoy this historical fiction story.  It is quite the read and I know they will love the story just as much as I did.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

You May Already be a Winner by Ann Dee Ellis

How I Heard About It:  While scrolling through the "Cloud Library" app on my phone and came across this title.  For some reason the title and cover seemed familiar to me so I downloaded it and listened via audio.  

What It Is About:  Olivia is twelve-years old.  She has a younger sister Berkeley.  They live with their mother in a trailer park.  Olivia has made a goal to get them out of the park by winning one of the many contests she enters.  They are trying to make the best of it since their dad took off and left them alone.  Olivia's mother is trying to make ends meet and isn't around much.  When Olivia meets a new boy named Bart, she is hoping life is about to turn around.  But when Bart suddenly disappears, she is left alone again and battling "adult" issues.  She isn't sure can handle it all, but definitely gives it her best.  It all comes to a head when her mother asks her to take her little sister to school because she has nowhere else for her to go.    

What I Thought Of It:  This was an enjoyable audio book.  I didn't know anything about the story so it was a fun listen.  Olivia was such an endearing character and I found myself rooting for her the entire story.  There were times when it was difficult to listen to because of the difficult life situations that Olivia and her family had to endure.  It was heart-breaking.  She has such strength and heart that always moved her forward and fighting the right cause.  I'm really glad I came across this novel because it provided me hours of enjoyment while driving (and mowing) around this summer.  

Who Should Read It:  The perfect audience would be fourth, fifth, and sixth graders.  There is so much in the story that would provide both female and male such great discussions and life-lessons.  The story would make for a strong read aloud in these grades.  Of course middle-school and young-adult readers would also enjoy the story.  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Saving Wonder by Mary Knight

How I Heard About It:  I got this book at one of our Scholastic Book Fairs this past school year.  I had a coupon that I got from a student.  While browsing the shelves for new titles I came across this one.  I actually got the one with the cover that I've included below.  I knew nothing of the book, but was intrigued by the cover and title.  

What It Is About:  This story takes the reader to the beautiful and magical place of Wonder Gap, Kentucky.  It is here that we meet Curley Hines.  Curley hasn't had the easiest life.  He first lost his dad to a coal mining accident.  Then his mother and brother perish in a different type of accident related to the mines.  He and his best friend Jules have grown up together enjoying their life in the hallow, a special tree, and a mountain they claim as their own.  When the mine gets a new owner, Curley and his grandfather wonder how this will change their life.  When the owner's son starts school, Curley isn't sure he is happy about it because of how it affects his friendship with Jules.  When the mine threatens the town and its surrounding area, the three classmates join forces to "Save Wonder".  

What I Thought Of It:  It is always risky to grab and buy a book that you know nothing about.  Sometimes it works and of course sometimes it doesn't.  I'm happy to report this "unknown" book worked quite well for me.  I truly enjoyed the story.  It had all the elements I want in a plot.  There were strong relationships, great life-lessons, and young people learning how to make a difference on the bigger world.  The author included some great WORDS that the grandfather would present to his grandson.  This got me thinking how I could do this in my own classroom.  On a small side-note, I actually prefer the cover that I have instead of what I think may be a new cover.  

Who Should Read It:  This is the perfect middle-grade novel.  I know that I will be sharing the book in some way during the upcoming school year.  It could be read by individuals in grades three, four, five, and/or six.  Saving Wonder would also make for a terrific read aloud.  There would be so many wonderful discussions that would come from Curley, Jules, and all the happens in the town of Wonder.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Monday, July 24, 2017

An Inside Look #27 - Season #TWO (AUTHOR Interview)

An Inside Look - With Kate Messner 
(Author of The Exact Location of Home)

*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 Kate for being the FIFTH author of the new season.  I truly appreciate it.  

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

*I received a copy of this novel through my #bookexpedition Twitter group.  I was quite excited to read it because I had heard such great things.  

*This book brought me an afternoon of complete pleasure.  The story was wonderful and it was such fun to revisit these characters 

*Here is a link to my review...

*Thank you Kate 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...

The Exact Location of Home
by Kate Messner (Released September 12, 2017)

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.
by Kate Messner (New Paperback cover released September 12, 2017)

How did you come to know Zig?
Zig is a character in my 2009 debut novel, THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. He’s Gianna’s best friend and by her side as she struggles to finish her leaf collection project and deals with her grandmother’s dementia. I hadn’t planned on a sequel or companion book for this novel, but I finished writing Gianna’s story, I still heard Zig’s voice in my head. So I started brainstorming, and THE EXACT LOCATION OF HOME is the story of what happens to Zig in eighth grade, the year after the leaf project.

What do you think is Zig's most admirable quality?
Zig has a lot of qualities that I love. Among them are loyalty as a friend, creativity, and determination (sometimes to a fault!).

Is there anything you wish Zig would have changed or done differently in his story?
The lovely thing about this story is that I wrote my first draft back in 2009, even though it’s coming out now, in 2017. I’ve read and revised it so many times that this is one where I really don’t have any regrets. Zig’s story plays out just as I imagine it would if he were a real kid (and of course, he still feels that way to me!)

How did you research Zig and the circumstances he found himself in?
I used to belong to a church that offered temporary emergency housing in its basement, and obviously, I also did a lot of reading about homelessness and shelters and talked with a shelter director. But most of the Truth of Zig’s story comes from the students I taught in my fifteen years in a middle school, the readers I talk with when I visit schools and libraries, and the kids who write me letters. Zig’s story is many of their stories, too.

What do you think Zig can offer to other young people that are experiencing similar situations to what he went through?
I think when kids are experiencing something difficult in their lives – whether that’s a parental separation or temporary homelessness or a family member struggling with addiction – there tends to be a feeling of loneliness. There’s a sense that they’re the only ones going through this, so they feel different from everyone else and sometimes ashamed. Nothing could be further from the truth, though, and I think talking about issues like this helps to show kids they’re not alone, especially when it’s being experienced by a beloved character like Zig. (In the mail I get from kids about THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z, so many identify Zig as their favorite!)

Do you and Zig share any similarities?
Only that we both have big hearts and sometimes struggle asking for help when we need it. Zig’s other personality traits – particularly his love of electronics – were inspired by my son. He was in middle school when I was writing this book but is now all grown up, studying electrical engineering and interning at Apple at the moment. But when he was younger, he was always messing around with things like broken toasters and rigging up buzzers and alarms, just like Zig.

What was the hardest scene to write about Zig?
Well…without giving any spoilers, probably the water tower scene. When you love a character, it’s tough to let them fail, to let things not work out. But that’s also essential for characters to grow (and the rest of us, too).

Who do you think was Zig's biggest supporter and why?
Even though they were kept in the dark about his situation, I still think Gianna and Ruby were amazing friends to Zig throughout the story. Those are the kinds of loving, supportive friendships I always loved to see when I was teaching middle school.

Why do you think young children like Zig want to believe the best in an adult when the adult hasn’t shown much in return?
I don’t think that’s exclusive to kids at all. It’s human nature to want to believe the best about the people we love, even when the evidence shows otherwise. But I think for kids, being let down can feel especially difficult because your parents are the people who are supposed to be there, no matter what. It’s their job. That’s the rule. So when things fall apart, I think young people can feel especially lost.

What do you think Zig is doing at the present time? 
I can’t really answer this one for you. My characters exist in a sort of frozen-in-time world in my imagination, so I always picture Zig riding his bike to the park, skipping stones with Ruby and Gianna. Kids ask this question a lot. “What happens to Zig after the story ends?” And I always tell them the truth – that my story about Zig ended with the last page you turned. Anything past that is up to readers to imagine.