Fourth Grade Journey

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

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova

How I Heard About It:  I went back to my classroom in early August.  There was a box from a Scholastic Book Order that I had put in before I left for the summer.  One of the books was Awkward.  Before putting in the graphic novel section of our class library, I brought it home to give it a quick read.  

What It Is About:  Peppi is starting a new school.  She is going to try to follow the middle-school "rules" by not getting noticed by bullies and hanging out with similar students.  After getting noticed by the bullies on her first day, she knows she isn't off to a great start.  She trips and falls into a male student named Jamie.  To cover up her embarrassment and "name-calling", Peppi pushes that boy.  She can't believe what she has done, but the action has been done.  Peppa is an artist so she decides to join the art club.  The boy she pushed, Jamie, is a scientist, so he joins the science job.  The kids at school learn that only ONE club will be attending a future school event.  This leads to a  "mini-war" between the clubs each vying for the coveted club position.  Some tactics are "legal" and some are quite the opposite.  Peppi first wants to make things right with Jamie and she also wants her club to win.  She questions herself at what lengths she will go to make her goals a reality.  

What I Thought Of It:  What an enjoyable read.  I've found myself enjoying graphic novels more and more.  It is fascinating to me that some educators don't want students reading graphic novels because they think they are too easy.  I actually think the opposite is true.  I find myself reading slower, rereading, and spending more time on the graphics and text.  The plot is perfect for young readers and they will be able to relate to the story while enjoying it at the same time.  Now that I've read this one, I want to order book number two in the series.  

Who Should Read It:  This is going to be a new graphic novel on the shelves of my classroom library.  I think fourth, fifth, and sixth graders would really love the story of Peppi and Jamie.  Of course our middle-school readers will also want to follow their adventures navigating the halls of middle-school.  Such great lessons presented in the story that all readers will gain something from reading this.  Happy reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City by Jodi Kendall

How I Heard About It:  I knew nothing of this book until I saw it listed on our #bookexpedition spread sheet.  I decided to give it a shot and added my name to the list.  

What It Is About:  Josie is growing up in a big family that lives in the very busy city.  She has older and younger siblings.  Sometimes she gets lost in the shuffle.  During the Thanksgiving holiday, her older brother brings home a runt that he rescued from a farm.  He and Josie talk their parents into keeping the pig as a "pet".  Their dad gives them until New Year's Eve to find a proper home for the little pig that will grow and get quite large.  Josie wants to keep the pig named Hamlet so badly that she is willing to do almost anything to make sure this happens.  While trying to take care of an ever-growing pig, she is getting herself ready for a major gymnastics meet.  Her family is struggling with monetary issues so she isn't sure how she will get the necessary equipment.  When the city finds out Josie's family has a pig living in their apartment, they show up and demand for changes to be made.  Josie and her siblings get busy making sure Hamlet is safe and ends up in the best home possible.  

What I Thought Of It:  When I first started the book, it reminded me of Saving Marty by Paul Griffin.  I was thinking it must be the year of the PIG.  For me, the story started out strong, but then lost me a bit toward the middle and end.  There are some middle-grade novels that captivate my attention and then there are others that are not as interesting for someone my age.  Yes, I'm getting to be an old man.  It was interesting to learn about all the struggles that Josie's family was facing.  I liked how the author didn't reveal all right away, but slowly as the story unfolded.  The writing was realistic and showed how a large family deals with the ups and downs of real life.  

Who Should Read It:  The book is a bit longer at a little over 300 pages.  I'm thinking readers would need to be in fifth and/or sixth grade.  A strong reader in fourth grade would also be appropriate for the novel.  For young readers that love animals, gymnastics, and/or comes from a large family; would be the perfect audience for this book.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  3 STARS out of 5 Stars

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Swing It, Sunny by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm

How I Heard About It:  I was lucky enough to score an ARC of this graphic novel at ALA in Chicago.  I was even more lucky to get it signed by the author herself.  My readers loved the first book in this series and I know will enjoy the second installment just as much.  

What It Is About:  Sunny is back.  This time she is back at home after her visit to Florida to see her grandfather.  She is spending her summer days watching lots of television with her best friend.  As a side note:  I enjoyed all the references to the 70's television shows!  Her family life is a bit hard because her older brother has been sent to a military school.  His parents did this in order to help him get back on track.  Sunny is missing him terribly and feels like their family isn't complete.  When she meets a new neighbor girl, life takes a turn.  Sunny learns a new skill/hobby/talent that allows her to express herself more than she has been able to.  She continues to reach out to her brother, but doesn't always get the response she would like.  It is a time of growth, new learning, and growing up.  

What I Thought Of It:  This was so much fun to read this afternoon.  It was GREAT to revisit these characters and see what they were up to.  I heard Jenni speak at ALA about the graphic novel so as I kept hearing her voice while I was reading.  I enjoyed how the story deals with some light-hearted topics while also tackling some tougher issues.  The story line about the brother was well-done and showed the "realness" of families.  This is going to be an awesome addition to my graphic novel section in the classroom library.  

Who Should Read It:  The graphic novel is a quick read and would be great for third through sixth grade readers.  There are LOTS of illustrations and not a lot of text per page.  This doesn't mean it is an easy read, but would be appealing to most readers.  The character of Sunny is engaging and fun so young readers would definitely enjoy the reading ride.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

Amina's Voice by Hena Khan

How I Heard About It:  Before I went to ALA in Chicago in June I began to hear about this novel.  While at ALA, I passed a booth that was hosting the author and she was signing copies of her novel.  I was excited to receive a book that was autographed for my fourth grade class.  

What It Is About:  Some people use their voice for good.  Others may use it for bad; while some won't use it at all.  Amina is a young girl that has a beautiful singing/speaking voice, but doesn't always use it because of her shyness and not wanting attention drawn to herself.  Her best friend tries to encourage Amina to show people just how talented she is.  Amina isn't sure she wants to do that.  When her best friend begins to include a girl they use to dislike, Amina isn't so sure how she feels about it.  When Amina's family's Mosque is vandalized, she isn't sure why this happened and how her family fits into the world.  As she navigates these difficult times, she learns so much about herself, her friendships, her family, and those that are out in the bigger (sometimes cruel) world.  

What I Thought Of It:  I thought this was a beautiful story of courage, uniqueness, and above all friendship.  Amina was a special character and taught me so much about what it feels like to come from a different cultural and religious background.  The theme of inclusion, acceptance, and tolerance was woven throughout the pages of this book.  There were so many different aspects to the plot.  I liked learning about Amina and her talent.  It was enjoyable to read about her friendships and how those were changing.  The most important part for me was reading about her family, their culture, and how they dealt with the "incident" to their Mosque.  I know this story would be important for all of our students, but especially those that come to our schools with cultural differences.  

Who Should Read It:  In my opinion this novel should be shared with fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students.  Of course readers in middle-school would be ideal for the story.  They would have no problem reading the story on their own.  If used in an elementary setting, I would lean toward a read aloud so that a class discussion could be had while you share the story with the students .  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

John Lockdown is in the Building by Sally J. Pla

How I Heard About It:  This novel was sent to me via my #bookexpedition Twitter group.  I had read Sally J. Pla's first novel The Someday Birds and really enjoyed it.  It was exciting to learn that the author has a new novel coming out in February 2018.  I've heard some "news" that they may change the cover before the actual book is released.  

What It Is About:  Is the story about Stanley Fortinbras?  Or is the story about John Lockdown??:  Maybe the story is about both?  Stanley has anxiety out in the real world.  John Lockdown does not.  He is more like a "super hero".  Stanley doesn't cope well with his fellow students, crowds, or being out in public.  This isn't an issue for John Lockdown.  Stanley and his one buddy decide to enter a contest about comic book trivia.  He isn't sure he can handle it, but decides to give it a try.  When his friend ditches him to do the contest with someone else, Stanley thinks is it all over.  But John Lockdown encourages him to continue on.  Stanley actually teams up with his new neighbor girl named Liberty.  She is spending time with a family member away from her mother for reasons she isn't ready to share with anyone.  The two of them give it their all to win the trivia contest and come out as winners.  

What I Thought Of It:  As I mentioned above, I really enjoyed Sally J. Pla's first book.  It was a great and strong story that holds a special spot in my reading heart.  When I saw this book was on our  #bookexpedition list I signed up right away.  What I noticed first was how different this story was from her first novel.  I'm always amazed when authors can create unique and stand-alone stories.  I was completely entertained during the entire reading experience.  The characters of Stanley, John Lockdown, and Liberty were fascinating, interesting, and thought-provoking people.  I even liked some of the "mean/bully" characters because they added greatly to the over-all story.  I'm not a comic-book fan, but found myself interested in this aspect of the plot.  As I was reading, I was already thinking of future "comic-book" fans that would enjoy the book as much as I did.  

Who Should Read It:  I'm thinking this would make for a terrific read aloud in grades three, four, and/or five.  There is so much action, fun, and suspense throughout the whole book.  Individual readers in grades four, five, and six would be perfect for the story.  If you have a student that is interested in comics, then this would be great for them to read.  I'm excited for the actual book to be released in February and curious to see the new cover.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

Monday, August 14, 2017

An Inside Look #30 - Season #TWO (AUTHOR Interview)

An Inside Look With Ellie Terry

(Author of Forget Me Not)

*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 Ellie for being the EIGHTH author of the second season.  I truly appreciate it.  

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

*As I got more into the idea of "Mock Newbery" I kept seeing this title as a possible contender with young readers.  So many readers were raving about the story on Twitter and I knew it was time for me to read it.

*I sat down one afternoon and read the entire story.  It was so good and I could see why people were talking about the book and how good it was.  I know this will be a story I share with my fourth graders during this upcoming year.  

*Here is a link to my review of Forget Me Not...

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

Forget Me Not
by Ellie Terry (Released March 14, 2017)

How did you come to know Calliope?
Because I put so much of myself into this novel, Calli formed pretty easily in my mind. I'd say she's a good mix of past me, present me, and the me I'd like to be in the future. 

What do you think is Calliope's most admirable quality?
It's a toss between tenacity and hope. 

Is there anything you wish Calliope would have changed or done differently in her story?
Bold question! 😁 I can't think of anything off the top of my head, so I think the answer is no. 

What do you think Calliope can offer to other children that are experiencing similar situations to what she went through?  
Strength to go through hard things. Courage to embrace what makes them different. 

How did you research Calliope and the circumstances she found herself in?
Because two of my children and I have Tourette's and OCD, I had already done at least a year of heavy research on those topics, not to mention a lifetime of personal experiences. Some of Calli's situations are pulled from my own head/heart. For example, I had to move to new states twice in my youth. The second time was ON MY 14th BIRTHDAY (I know!) and leave behind a school I loved and many wonderful friends and it was extremely hard on me emotionally. Other situations came from ones that members of my family have experienced.

Do you and Calliope share any similarities?  
Yes. We both have Tourette syndrome, OCD, and other anxiety disorders. We both love cheese puffs, the moon, and astronomy. Also... I lived next-door to a cute boy the same age as me who became my very good friend. 

What was the hardest scene to write about Calliope?
Emotionally? Or physically? Haha. I'll tell you both.

Emotionally: it was the poem called "Forget Me Not". I don't want to give away spoilers, so I'm not going to explain the scene, but writing that page broke my heart... and it breaks my heart again every time I read it.

Physically: the scene where Calli first experiences her jaw-popping tic. I was popping my jaw as I wrote it (which really hurts!) but it was also very therapeutic for me to get that feeling down on paper.  

Who do you think was Calliope's biggest supporter and why?
Jinsong! Maybe he's not there for her through out the entire story like a true friend should be... but he was the one who got Calli thinking more positively about herself and he is definitely a true friend in the end. 

Why do you think some children are able to share their “disabilities” so easily with their friends/classmates while others do everything in their power to hide the “disability”?    
I think a lot of factors come into play here. Firstly, the child's parent's/doctor's/teacher's attitudes toward the disability can have a huge impact on the child's attitude toward the disability (for good or for bad). Reasons a child may have trouble sharing could include the fact they've already been bullied because of it, they may be embarrassed by it, they may be worried about fitting in, or they may have a certain image they are trying to uphold. Also, I think a lot of it depends on the child's personality. Some are outgoing and confident by nature. Some are quieter (and less likely to want to share personal things) in general.

What do you think Calliope is doing as this present time?  
She's picking out new school clothes with her mom and step-dad, while silently conjuring up a way to visit Jinsong again. 

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (8/14/17)

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...

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

*Professional Resource Book (5 STARS out of 5 Stars!)

Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson

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

My Book Review

All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

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

My Book Review

The Perfect Score by Rob Buyea

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

My Book Review

Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker by Shelley Johannes

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

EXIT, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

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

My Book Review

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade by Jordan Sonnenblick

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

My Book Review

The Losers Club by Andrew Clements

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

My Book Review

Books I Will (continue to) Read this Week

The Middle-Grade Novels in my 21 Day Reading Challenge

21 Days/21 Books Challenge 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson

How I Heard About It:  I'm actually not exactly sure where I got my copy of this book.  I'm thinking it was ALA, but the publication date is May 2017 and I was at ALA in June of 2017.  Anyway, it was fun to read (my 6th book for my 21 Day/21 Book Challenge) during the car ride back today from Lawrence, KS where we left my son for his junior year.  

What It Is About:  The story of two very different girls.  Emmie is quiet and wants to be "invisible".  She wants no attention drawn to herself.  She does everything she can to stay hidden during one full school day.  Then we have another girl at the same school.  Her name is Katie.  Katie could not be more different from Emmie.  She is the center of the school.  Everyone wants to be friends with her.  Everyone wants to be like her.  Everyone flocks to her.  Katie takes it all in with grace and ease.  At the day progresses, Emmie finds herself in a delicate situation when something of hers ends up in the wrong hands.  More than ever, she just wants to disappear.  Katie takes notice of the situation and decides to help as much as she can.  The lives of these two girls drawn closer and closer together until they COLLIDE.  

What I Thought Of It:  This was such a fun read and perfect for the car.  Emmie's story was told more in prose with some illustrations/graphics.  On the other hand, Katie's story was told mostly in graphic novel format.  I loved how the two view points were presented differently.  It was a joy to read about both girls and see how different children can experience school; especially middle-school. As I got closer to the end, I saw that events were changing for both girls.  There was a major BIG surprise at the end that I didn't see coming.  This surprise was absolutely brilliant and I'm frustrated with myself for not seeing it as a reader.  Certainly excited to share this one when I get back to school.  

Who Should Read It:  Even though the setting and characters are in middle school, the story would be fine for any reader.  Children will be able to relate to both characters and what they are going through.  Girls may be a bit of a better audience, but there are definitely male characters that the boys will get a kick out of.  I will be curious to see if my fourth graders pick up on the "surprise" unlike their teacher.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

How I Heard About It:  Many of my Twitter friends were talking about Victoria Jamieson's new graphic novel.  I added it to my TBR list because I had enjoyed Roller Girl so much.  I had kind of forgotten about it until I came across a booth at ALA where they were given out ARC's.  I was excited to see what all the fuss was about.  This was the 5th story for my 21 Day/21 Book Challenge.  

What It Is About:  Imogene has been home-schooled her entire life.  She has also grown up in a Renaissance Faire environment where both her parents work.  It has been a unique and slightly off the main route upbringing for a girl Imogene's age.  She asks her parents if she can attend public middle-school.  They agree.  At first Imogene can't believe she gets to go to school with all the other "regular" kids.  As the date gets nearer, she gets more and more nervous.  She wonders if she can fit in after spending so many years living a very unusual environment.  When Imogene first gets to school she is surprised at how hard it is to fit in.  The more she tries, the more confused she gets about the "rules" of middle-school.  The other kids aren't sure about her and some give her a hard time while others try to include her.  After deciding she will do anything to be part of the crowd, she realizes just how much she has changed and how much damage she has caused.  

What I Thought Of It:  When I first started the graphic novel I was a bit taken aback.  The setting was in Renaissance time and I thought that was where and when it really took place.  After getting into the story I realized this was just where the character and her family worked.  Once the story got going in "modern" times everything fell into place.  I did find the "language" of Renaissance a bit confusing and wondered if young readers would be able to understand it.  The plot was spot on and the author did a wonderful job of describing what life would be like for a new student in a middle-school.  The events in Imogene's story kept me interested from the start to the end.  

Who Should Read It:  I know more and more children love graphic novels.  Sometimes they gravitate toward specific ones that may or may not be appropriate for their age.  This particular one is a bit tricky.  Overall, it is just fine for any reader.  There are one or two points where the girls in Imogene's life talk about and read a romance novel and the word "sex" is used.  I know fourth graders would be distracted by this.  It is always frustrating when one or two words can take readers off course from the bigger picture of the story.  I've gotten better at talking with students about this and trying to teach them to not make this a BIG deal.  I'm thinking this graphic novel is best suited for readers in grades five and above, but that doesn't mean children younger than this can't read it.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Perfect Score by Rob Buyea

How I Heard About It:  While at ALA in Chicago this past June, I was lucky to obtain quite a few ARC's.  This one I was excited about because the "Mr. Terupt" books are some of my favorite stories to share with my students.  I was thrilled to learn that Rob had written a new story.  And how intriguing is this cover!  I know, right... 

What It Is About:  A group of sixth graders are "psyched" for the start of their school year because they all have been lucky enough to be placed in the "cool" teacher's class.  When they find out he had to take a leave for personal reasons, they are bummed.  They are even more upset when they find out they will now have Mrs. Woods who they think is older than the oldest people they know.  She has come out of retirement to cover the class for the year.  Each member in the class comes to school with their own story and history.  They all are dealing with "pressures" from either home, their family, or the other kids at school.  As they get to know their new teacher, they each are surprised by what they find.  The class also gets to work with a teacher across the hall who is the complete opposite of Mrs. Woods.  As the much anticipated "TEST" approaches, the school goes into test prep mode.  The students, and their teacher, are not thrilled about the changes being made to accommodate the test.  The group of kids, some of whom are not even close to being friends, bond together to ensure they each receive the "perfect score".  

What I Thought Of It:  Oh my goodness!  I can't even describe how much I loved this story.  I read it on my way down to KU where my wife and I were bringing out son for his junior year.  The book came with me everywhere we went.  I finished the story earlier today while in a store.  As I mentioned in a "tweet", I'm not sure I've ever finished a book in a store with major tears in my eyes.  I thought the cast of characters were interesting, special, and completely unique to themselves.  I'm a sucker for a teacher/student/classroom story and this one has gone to the stop of my list.  There are just so many phenomenal aspects of the plot that I'm having a hard time describing them  here.  All I can say is you have to read it.  

Who Should Read It:  Because I loved this story so much, I know it will be one of my class read alouds that I will share during the 2017/2018 school year.  I want all of my students to experience the plot that Rob Buyea so beautifully created.  The book is perfect for readers in fourth, fifth, and sixth grade.  I'm thinking sixth graders will really enjoy the novel because the class is their same age.  If you are a teacher who loves teaching reading and the love of books and not be consumed by testing requirements, then this is the story for you.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars