Fourth Grade Journey

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

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Word of Mouse by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

How I Heard About It:  This book has been in my TBR box for quite some time.  I think I got the ARC at NCTE last year.  I had it in my classroom for the school year, but brought it home to read during my summer break.  The book was my last one of my 21 Day/21 Book Challenge that I recently just finished before heading back to work.  

What It Is About:  Isaiah is a mouse.  Isaiah is a blue mouse.  Isaiah can read and write.  He can also talk to humans.  Isaiah and his "mischief" have been living in a laboratory in an unfortunate environment.  After they all escape, Isaiah is separated from his family and left alone.  He must survive cats, owls, and humans who are not fond of mice.  Life gets especially interesting when Isaiah meets a girl named Hailey.  At first he thinks she will respond just like all the other humans have, but he is surprised to learns she is quite different and more than open to forming a friendship with a little mouse.  The two of them begin a new journey together trying to reunite Isaiah with his family and save them from some evil forces.  

What I Thought Of It:  While searching my TBR box I wanted, and needed, something completely different from what I had been reading.  When I saw this title I knew it was the perfect book to end my "challenge" with.  I love all things James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein.  I'm not sure I had read an animal story by them so I was excited to see what it was all about.  I love animal stories and I love mouse stories.  This one was wonderful.  Isaiah was endearing, thoughtful, and such a sweet character.  His adventures kept me interesting and engaged for the entire reading experience.  I know many young readers will also enjoy this fun and energetic story.  

Who Should Read It:  I think third, fourth, and fifth grade readers will completely LOVE the story of Isaiah and his friends.  The chapters are short and full of life and energy.  Young readers tend to enjoy animal stories and this one will really capture their heart.  The books has lots of illustrations which I also think is a strong point for readers in elementary school.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban

How I Heard About It:  This was a shot in the dark.  I came across the title on my Cloud Library app and checked it out via my public library.  I chose the audio version so I could listen while driving and mowing.  I knew nothing of the story, but was just in the market for a YA novel.  

What It Is About:  There are two narratives.  The first one is about Tim who is starting a new prestigious high school.  He is a bit nervous because he is an albino and knows how the "crowd" will react.  Been there, done that.  One his way to school he gets stranded with a girl named Vanessa.  Turns out she is the most popular girl at the new school with the most popular boyfriend.  Tim ends up really liking her, but she isn't sure if she can return those same feelings.  The following year a new senior attends this same school and "inherits" Tim's dorm room.  Inside the dorm room, Duncan finds a series of CD's that Tim left.  Tim narrates his "journey" with Vanessa and an incident that happens during his final year in high school.  While listening to the CD's, Duncan also experiences his own love interest and series of unexpected events.  

What I Thought Of It:  I listened to this on audio and thought it was an OK listen.  The narrator was really good.  The story was also good, but just not GREAT.  I did enjoy the story of Tim and Vanessa and Duncan and Daisy.  It was kind of cool how both narratives followed a similar path.  There were parts when I grew a bit bored, but then something would happen and catch my interest again.  Overall, I enjoyed the listening experience.  

Who Should Read It:  I can see high school readers enjoying the story of Tim and Duncan.  They would especially like it if they are attending a private school like the characters did.  There are lots of interesting aspects in the plot so I'm sure any reader would enjoy either in the written or audio form.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

Monday, August 28, 2017

An Inside Look #32 - Season #TWO (AUTHOR Interview)

An Inside Look With Jordan Sonnenblick

(Author of The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade)

*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 Jordan Sonnenblick for being the TENTH author of the second season.  I truly appreciate it.  

*Here are links to the first THIRTY-ONE interviews…

*Jordan Sonnenblick's novels are some of my favorites.  I love his stories.  I love his characters.  I love the messages he includes in the novels.

*I picked this one up at ALA in Chicago and when I started, I just couldn't stop reading.  This may be one of his best books to date.  As soon as I finished, I texted two sixth grade teachers and told them about it.  I for sure want to share it with my fourth grade readers.

*As I reach out to authors to ask if they would be willing to do an interview, I'm always a bit nervous.  I don't want to intrude on their lives and I'm wondering if they will say yes or no.  I'm not sure why I question this because everyone has always said YES.  Jordan was another example of a gracious author that agreed to answer some questions for me.  

*Here is a link to my review of The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade...

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

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade 
by Jordan Sonnenblick (Released August 29, 2017)

How did you come to know Maverick?  
Maverick was inspired by a young man named Jack Kunkle, who died of cancer at age 18 in September 2014.  I had first met Jack when he was a tiny sixth grader, and what I wanted to capture was Jack’s good humor, courage, and unflinching optimism in the face of a devastatingly uphill fight.  While Maverick’s battle isn’t with a disease, the inner resources he brings to bear all come from Jack Kunkle.

What do you think is Maverick's most admirable quality?
His never-ending desire to do good.  Even though his tendency to leap into the breach sometimes has disastrous consequences in the short term, Maverick rolls up his sleeves again and again to do what he thinks is right.

Is there anything you wish Maverick would have changed or done differently in his story?
No way.  Maverick is a force of nature.  His path can’t be changed or diverted by mere human wishes.  :)

What do you think Maverick can offer to other children that are experiencing similar situations to what he went through?
I think that Maverick, like Jack, offers hope.  Even when he is losing a battle, Maverick never caves.  Ernest Hemingway wrote in The Old Man and the Sea that “Man is not made for defeat … A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”  I want Maverick to be the kind of beacon to other kids that Jack Kunkle was to me.

How did you research Maverick and the circumstances he found himself in?
Well, I was a public school teacher for 14 years, mostly in high-poverty areas.  My wife is a school counselor, and has spent most of her career working in impoverished communities.  Our last 25 years of dinner-table conversation have been research for this novel.

Do you and Maverick share any similarities?  
Absolutely.  I went through an extremely rough patch from 4th-7th grades.  I switched schools twice, and got into a ton of fights after each move.  Maverick’s tendency to go in swinging was something that resonated pretty deeply with me.  By contrast, Jack Kunkle was quite a peaceful young man.  So I guess the nobler parts of Maverick are mostly Jack, while the parts that get him into trouble are mostly me!

What was the hardest scene to write about Maverick?
Whenever his mother disappointed him.  I loved that little guy, and crushing his spirit felt like kicking a puppy or something.  And of course, few experiences are as soul-stompingly awful as having a parent who fails you when the chips are down.

Who do you think was Maverick's biggest supporter and why?
Mr. Overbye, who is based on my real-life assistant principal from middle school.  I spent a ton of time in that man’s office, for a wide array of colorful offenses, and while he may have lost his temper with me on numerous occasions, he never, ever gave up on me.

Why do you think some of our young children decide to be heroes, like Maverick, and others decide to take the bullying route, like Bowen?  
I truly don’t know.  But I wish I could bottle up that spark of goodness and resilience, and then find a way to spread it around like some kind of happy virus.  This country is in desperate need of more Mavericks right now.

What do you think Maverick is doing as this present time? 
He’s trapped in limbo on the hard drive of my Macbook, wishing I would hurry up and write him into a sequel!  Sorry, Mav — I promise I am brainstorming extremely hard ...

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (8/28/17)

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...

Books I Will (continue to) Read this Week

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Welcome to Wonderland: Home Sweet Motel by Chris Grabenstein

How I Heard About It:  There is a large box in our entryway closet of books that I'm intending to read.  It is always so fun to go to the box and discover what I'm going to read next.  Some of the books are new and some have been there for quite some time.  This is one such title that has been waiting to be read.  I have both book #1 and #2 in the series.  I wanted to get them read so I can book talk them with my new students.  

What It Is About:  P.T. Wilkie doesn't live in a home.  He lives in a motel in Florida.  Life is pretty great living in this environment.  P.T. lives here with his mother and grandfather.  His grandfather created "Wonderland" motel just at about the time a park by Walt Disney was being created.  P.T. learns that the motel is in danger of closing down because of no customers and bills that are piling up.  When a newscaster and his daughter Gloria check into the motel, P.T. realizes he can help save the motel.  He and Gloria set into action a plan to bring in customers, new attractions, money, and get the place back on its feet.  Everything is gone well until two "thugs" show up searching for something that was left behind years ago by a woman they both knew.  These men complicate things for P.T. and Gloria, but they are up for the challenge.  

What I Thought Of It:  I have been reading such amazing stories in the last twenty-one days for my 21 Day/21 Book Challenge.  I was in the mood for something different, light, and fun.  This was exactly what I needed to fit that bill.  I always enjoy whatever Chris Grabenstein writes as do the students I teach.  It was a fun and exciting story with a lot of action, mischief, and antics.  Stories that have children going up against "evil" adults make for quite the engaging read.  This was a quick read and I look forward to reading the second book in the series.  

Who Should Read It:  I love these kinds of stories because they appeal to so many young readers.  There was just the right amount of text and lots of incredible illustrations.  The chapters were short.  They each ended with a "cliff hanger".  I can see readers in grades three through six enjoying the adventures of P.T. and Gloria.  This will be a novel that I book talk during the first few weeks of school.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez

How I Heard About It:  There are many books that are discussed on Twitter, but this one in particular has really been chatted about.  After seeing so many positive "tweets" I knew it was time to order the book.  I read it as my 19th book of my 21 Day/21 Book Challenge.  

What It Is About:  Malu has a lot on her plate.  She has just moved to Chicago from Florida with her mother.  Her musical father is back in Florida running his music store.  Malu takes after her dad and embraces her uniqueness and love of "punk" music.  She isn't so thrilled about celebrating her Mexican background on her mother's side.  On her first day of school, she ends up violating the school dress code and getting on the wrong side of the "popular" girl.  Malu refuses to compromise who she is.  She keeps hoping she will find her people.  It takes a bit of work, strength, and risk; but she finds three other students who are willing to share her love of music.  They audition for the school talent show, but are NOT accepted.  The group of musicians decide to form their own show on the side.  This comes with some positives, negatives, and a few consequences.  Malu keeps true to herself while navigating some new territory.  

What I Thought Of It:  I sat on my front porch on Friday and pretty much read this entire book.  I loved it.  No only was the strong great, but the "zines" that were included throughout the book were interesting and fun to look at.  Zines were not something I knew about so it was great to learn about them.  They may be something I try to incorporate into my own classroom.  Malu was an awesome character and such fun to read about.  Lots of great life-lessons and I'm all about those.  I can now see why so many readers are talking about this book.  This will be an important book for not only certain students, but all students.  

Who Should Read It:  I can see readers in third grade and above getting a "kick" out of this story.  There are so many elements that will appeal to the middle-grade reader:  awesome characters, fast plot, mean bullies, and so much more.  Not only would individual readers be great, but this would also make for a wonderful read aloud in grades three through six.  When we talk about needing diverse books in our classrooms, this one fits the bill.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

Friday, August 25, 2017

Skeleton Tree by Kim Ventrella

How I Heard About It:  I picked up this ARC during ALA in Chicago this past June.  It has been sitting in my TBR pile since then.  I picked it up yesterday and read the entire thing in one sitting.  The story was quite good!  

What It Is About:  When Stanly finds a bone in his backyard, his whole life changes.  He isn't quite sure where this bone comes from or what it is, but he bound and determined to figure it out.  Stanly confides in his little sister and his best friend about the discovery.  He submits this discovery to a "contest" in order to win with the hopes of bringing his father home.  As the bone changes from a bone into an actual Skeleton, the three children realize they have something unique and special on their hands.  When Stanly's sister becomes ill, he believes it is because of the "skeleton".  His sister on the other hand has found a friend in the skeleton and wants to spend all her time with it.  The more Stanly wants to distance his sister from this "creature", the more she seems to need it around her.  Stanly is torn between two worlds and must come to terms with some difficult decisions.  

What I Thought Of It:  I read the book in one sitting.  It was quite good and kept my interest for the entire story.  I'm normally not a fan of "fantasy" stories, but I did enjoy the one.  I was intrigued by the idea of a bone, a skeleton, and the effect it had on Stanly and his family.  I enjoyed how the author created two plot lines.  The first being the discovery of the skeleton and the second the family dynamics dealing with the sister's illness.  I recently finished The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street and this is the second story that I can see sharing during the month of October.  

Who Should Read It:  The book isn't very long at just over two hundred pages so it would be ideal for the fourth and fifth grade reader.  A strong reader in third grade would also be a reader that would enjoy the story.  This would make for an excellent read aloud, especially during the month of October and the holiday of Halloween.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

Thursday, August 24, 2017

American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse

How I Heard About It:  As much as I've been on a middle-grade novel "kick", I'm still always looking for books published for adults.  When I saw Franki Sibberson post a "tweet" about this book, I ordered it from Amazon and finished it this afternoon.  

What It Is About:  This story takes the reader to Accomack Country, Virginia during the years of 2011, 2012, 2013, and beyond.  It all began with one fire.  This was nothing out of the ordinary.  What was different was when there was a second fire in the following days.  Then a third.  After this a forth fire.  They kept coming night after night.  The fire fighters couldn't believe this was happening.  They grew tired, frustrated, and "burned out".  Law enforcement  agencies did everything they could to find the "arsonist".  The citizens of Accomack Country grew weary and suspicious of everyone.  Fire after fire.  Night after night.  Destruction after destruction.  After many, many fires; the "arsonist" and/or "arsonists" are finally caught and the story they have to tell is unreal, unprecedented, and unbelievable.  

What I Thought Of It:  One of the reading gaps in my reading life is nonfiction for adults.  Actually all nonfiction.  It is really a reading goal I would like to focus in on more.  This is the second nonfiction book I've read in the last couple of weeks.  I'm learning that nonfiction that falls in the "narrative" format is quite to my liking.  This story read as a novel and I had to keep reminding myself that is was a true story.  The book was a page-turner and there were moments when I just couldn't believe what I was reading.  I was curious and interested during the entire read.  It was fascinating to learn about the actual arsonists, but I also enjoyed learning about the history of arson.  All and all it was completely enjoyable and shows me how wonderful nonfiction narratives can be.  

Who Should Read It:  I would recommend this book to all of my friends that enjoy strong nonfiction stories.  Both male and female adult readers, and some high school readers, would find this an intriguing and thought-provoking reading experience.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie

How I Heard About It:  This was another title that had some Twitter "buzz".  I then saw that the author was creating a FaceBook page and became part of that.  This was my 17th book of my 21 Day/21 Book Challenge.  

What It Is About:  Tessa was enjoying life in Florida with her best friend, when her family announced they were moving to Chicago.  To make matters worse, they move into a very old home.  During the first few days living here, the family begins to notice strange "happenings".  At first they chalk it up to forgetfulness and the "move".  But then they realize something bigger is going on in this house.  Tessa isn't sure what to think, but is also trying to navigate her way around seventh grade.  After meeting a few new friends, she confides in them about some of the unusual events she has experienced at this house.  The friends decide to help her figure out the mystery of the "haunted" house.  One of them, in particular, has a fascination in paranormal activities.  The group of kids begin a hunt, an adventure, and a whole lot of research, to find out who the presence is in both the house and the local cemetery.  

What I Thought Of It:  I was excited to read this because of all the praise I was reading by fellow readers.  This was definitely a page-turner.  I haven't read a mystery in quite some time so it was extremely fun and enjoyable.  The characters were unique and interesting to read about.  The plot moved along at a terrific pace and kept my interesting for the entire read.  The overall mystery of the story kept me guessing right up until it was revealed.  As I was reading, I kept thinking how fun this book would be to share with my students during the month of October.  

Who Should Read It:  If you have readers in your class that enjoy a strong and suspenseful mystery, then this is the book for them.  The perfect age range is from fourth grade all the way up through middle-school.  As I mentioned earlier, this would be such a fun story to share around Halloween.  I think most children enjoy "scary" stories or ones that are full of mystery.  This one definitely has that.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Someday Suitcase by Corey Ann Haydu

How I Heard About It:  While browsing for books at a local independent bookstore with Donalyn Miller, Yes I'm name dropping, I came across this title.  I had read positive reviews and tweets about the novel so I decided to buy it.  

What It Is About:  Some kids have friends.  Some kids have good friends.  Some even have best friends.  Clover and Danny aren't any of these.  They are closer than most friendships.  There is something truly special about this fifth grade girl and boy.  They exist in a world where they can't survive without each other.  When Danny begins to miss school because of his "cold/cough, she isn't quite sure how to get through her day.  Everything just feels "off".  Once he returns to school, all is right with the world again.  Unfortunately Danny's illness gets worse and he ends up in the hospital.  Clover puts her science knowledge to use and decides to figure out what is wrong with her best friend and "cure" him.  What they each need is a bit of scientifically sound advice, medical intervention, and maybe a dash of magic.  

What I Thought Of It:  I need to be careful on where I read certain middle-grade books.  This one went with me to the neighborhood pool and there was more than one occasion where I was "drying" my eyes.  After reading, I can see why so many readers have been raving about the story.  It was real, meaningful, and full of beautiful moments between Clover and Danny.  I could feel Clover's willpower on wanting to help her best friend.  The author did an incredible job describing what fifth graders would feel and go through when dealing with difficult situations.  There was so much HOPE woven throughout the entire story.  I know that Clover and Danny will remain in my heart for quite sometime.  

Who Should Read It:  As I was reading the novel, I kept thinking on how this would be the best story to share with my fourth graders.  There are so many elements that would foster meaningful and deep conversations.  The characters are in fifth grade so those readers would be able to relate closely to the story.  This is definitely a novel that needs to be read, shared, and discussed.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Monday, August 21, 2017

Ban This Book by Alan Gratz

How I Heard About It:  After reading Refugee by Alan Gratz and having some online conversations with him, I learned that he has another novel coming out during the fall of 2017.  He was gracious enough to send me an ARC that I'm going to share with my #bookexpedition group on Twitter.  

What It Is About:  Amy Anne is a fourth grader.  Amy Anne has two younger "annoying" sisters.  She is an avid reader.  Amy Anne lives for books.  When she arrives in her school library after waiting the required five days to recheck her favorite novel, she finds it missing.  Rushing to the librarian, she finds out it has been "banned" by the school board.  Not only has her favorite book been banned, but many other titles as well.  The kids at her school find out it isn't actually the school board that is banning books, but one particular parent of a student at her school.  Amy Anne and a bunch of her reading friends, as well as other students, come together to put an end to this nonsense.  The fourth grade students create a "secret library" in a locker, attend a school board meeting, and come up with the ultimate plan to show how important books are not only to the school library, but to the entire population of students.  

What I Thought Of It:  I began the book last night and finished it up this afternoon.  I could NOT put it down.  The plot was so engaging.  Being a book and reading lover, this storyline was right up my alley.  Amy Anne was an awesome character and I would so want her in my fourth grade classroom.  The overall plot is about "banned books", but there were several important sub-plots that added greatly to the book.  One of the strongest aspects of the story was the character development that Gratz created.  These characters jumped off the page and were so real.  I know that is going to be a book that I use in the coming year.  

Who Should Read It:  The cast of characters are fourth graders so I think it would be awesome to use this book in a fourth grade classroom.  I personally am going to use it as a read aloud because I know we will have some incredible discussions related to the story.  Of course it would also work in a fifth and/or sixth grade classroom.  Alan Gratz is such an amazing writer and one that ALL young readers should be introduced to.  If you are a reader and believe in freedom of readers choosing their own books, then you have to read this novel.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

The Stranger in the Wood: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel

How I Heard About It:  My Twitter buddy Scott Fillner "tweeted" about this novel.  I checked the app Cloud Library to see if they had it.  They did.  I downloaded it and listened to it while driving and mowing this summer.  

What It Is About:  In 1986 Chris Knight parked his car, walked into the deep woods of Maine, and didn't come out for 27 years.  No, he didn't get lost.  No, he was abducted.  He went in by choice.  He stayed by choice.  At a young age, he knew he didn't want to live in the "crazy and busy" world.  He preferred his solitude.  One might ask, how was he able to live off the land for so many years.  Chris became a thief and began taking objects, food, and equipment from different cabins around the lake.  The residents of this community couldn't figure out what was going on and why so many items went missing.  One law enforcement officer may it a goal to find who was responsible for these thefts.  After a search, he found Chris Knight and he was arrested for many counts of stealing.  When Michael Finkel found out about this man, he began to visit him in jail and conduct a series of interviews.  Those interviews turned into this story which read as a novel.  

What I Thought Of It:  I'm not normally a fan of nonfiction, but do know that it is a "book gap" in my reading life.  If I'm going to read this genre, I prefer narrative nonfiction.  This was such a fascinating read/listen.  The narration was top-notch and riveting to listen to.  I just kept thinking how long Chris was out in those woods alone.  I'm one for alone time, but this is taking it to an extreme.  I liked how the author included information about other "hermits" around the world.  The debate between people who thought Chris should be prosecuted and others who thought he should just receive help was one that I had with myself while listening to the story.  I'm so glad I took Scott's recommendation and listened to the story.  I'm even thinking I may dive into more stories similar to this one.  

Who Should Read It:  I would recommend this story to all adult readers.  I think both fiction and nonfiction readers would be satisfied equally.  High School readers would also be an appropriate audience as it would make for deep and meaningful discussions.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

An Inside Look #31 - Season #TWO (AUTHOR Interview)

An Inside Look With Katherine Applegate

(Author of wishtree)

*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 Katherine Applegate for being the NINTH author of the second season.  I truly appreciate it.  

*Here are links to the first THIRTY interviews…

*Even as I write this, it amazes me how incredible it is that the one and only Katherine Applegate is one of the authors I have had the chance to interview.  I remember the first time I met her at #NCTE in Minneapolis.  It was truly an honor and a moment I'll never forget.

*This past June I was lucky enough to cross paths with Katherine again.  She was signing copies of her newest novel, wishtree.  We chatted for a few minutes and it was such fun to see her in person again.

*After this meeting, I reached out to her to inquire if she would be interested in an interview about her newest work of fiction.  Being as kind and gracious as she is, she agreed.  This story is one that warmed my heart and touched me in ways that are indescribable.  I can't wait to share this book with my class.  There will be many important discussions that come from the storyline.  

*Here is a link to my review of wishtree...

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

by Katherine Applegate (Released September 26, 2017)

How did you come to know Red?
I was caring for a tree in my courtyard that wasn’t feeling well—or so I presumed. (I live in California, and we’d been going through an extended drought.) The tree was right outside the window where I wrote each day, and I got so I thought I could tell when the it was having a good day (new buds) or a not-so-good day (new bugs.) Did it need more water? Fertilizer? Less sun? If you’ve ever cared for a plant, or attempted to grow a garden, you know how frustrating it can be, trying to figure out what’s needed. It’s the botanical version of the way you sometimes feel with a pet or a baby: you have to figure out what’s needed without the benefit of language.  

If only trees could talk, I thought to myself. . . . and that’s how Red was born.

What do you think is Red's most admirable quality?
You know, I started to say “wisdom” or “patience,” but I think what I most admire about Red is the way she (or he) isn’t ready to give up on trying to change the world. She knows her limitations (lack of mobility being an obvious one), and yet she decides, against all odds, she’s going to help a young girl in her neighborhood. 

I like that a lot.

Is there anything you wish Red would have changed or done differently in the story?
Hmm. What an interesting question—an especially fun one for a writer, because of course every book goes through many, many incarnations. I suppose she could have spoken up sooner, in her efforts to help Samar and Stephen.

And she could learn to tell better jokes.

How did you research Red and the circumstances the tree was involved in? 
I love doing research! It’s one of my favorite parts of the writing process. Trees, it turns out, are infinitely more complicated and fascinating than I ever dreamed. I highly recommend The Hidden LIfe of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World, by Peter Wohlleben. Who knew that trees had a social life?

I also learned a great deal about crows. They’re incredibly intelligent, wily, and amusing birds. 

The only danger with research is that it’s addictive—and a great way to procrastinate!

What do you think Red can offer to the children that will be reading the book this fall?  
I would be happy indeed if Red’s tale helps young readers think about how they treat others who are different from themselves. It can be hard to reach out, to extend kindness, to make a leap into the unknown. I wish I’d been braver as a kid, more willing to take that kind of risk. 

I also love the reassurance that Red provides that things change, and that things can get better. There’s always hope. Always.

Do you and Red share any similarities?
I wish! I love writing about optimistic, life-affirming types because I’m a bit of a pessimist myself. (OK, maybe more than a bit. Depends on the news that day.)
But despite all that, I’m like Red in that I don’t want to give up. I want to keep trying. Keep fighting. Keep thinking we can make a difference.

What was the hardest scene to write about Red?
Perhaps the scene where a boy who carves the word “Leave” into Red’s trunk. It’s a dark moment, directed toward a new Muslim family in the neighborhood. Red’s seen a lot of human behavior, not all of it admirable, but this is a particularly hard event. 

It made me sad to write this, because even as I did, the real world was providing way too many similar examples of intolerance. I tried to keep the details in the novel simple and accessible to a very young audience. But any time you describe cruelty, it’s a hard write.

Who do you think was Red's biggest supporter and why?
Bongo, her crow pal, for sure. We all need a Bongo: someone who loves you dearly, who knows your faults, and who isn’t afraid to tell you the truth. 
If they can poop on your enemies, that’s just the frosting on the cake.

Why do you think children share such a special bond with  animals, plants, and other living things; much more so than adults?  
Isn’t a shame, the way we seem to lose that bond as we grow up? I think kids recognize the vulnerability in plants and animals because they’re so vulnerable themselves. 

On the other hand, they’re often able to offer care and protection to animals and plants. And how lovely is that?

What do you think Red is doing at the present time?  
Protecting a fresh round of “newbies”: baby owls, opossums, skunks, kittens, and crows. 

And, of course, her beloved human friends.