Fourth Grade Journey

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

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie Sue Hitchcock

How I Heard About It:  I can't remember how this title ended up on my TBR list.  It has been there for quite some time.  While browsing my "Cloud Library" app on my phone I came across the book and downloaded it.  I've spent the last week or so listening to it during my commute to and from work.  

What It Is About:  The reader is taken to the state of Alaska during the 1970's.  It is here we meet four different young adults that are each dealing with difficult situations.  Ruth and her younger sister are being raised by their grandmother.  She feels isolated and completely alone.  Dora is dealing with an alcoholic father, but has been taken in by a kind family in town.  Alyce splits her time between her mother and father who are divorced.  She has a dream to be a dancer, but this would take her away from Alaska and her father.  Hank and his two brothers escape from a troubled home only to "lose" one of the boys during their escape.  Each character's story stands on its own, but as the plot unfolds each person is brought closer to the other.  

What I Thought Of It:  This was a beautiful story with extremely incredible writing.  I enjoyed how each story was told on its own, but as events unfolded, the lives of these four characters were brought closer and closer together.  The pain and difficulties of each character was brought to life by such detailed, vivid, and descriptive writing.  The setting of Alaska was "picturesque" and I could imagine myself in the different location of the story.  The plot moved along at a perfect pace and kept me interested the entire "listen".  

Who Should Read It:  The novel is targeted toward the young-adult audience, which I agree with, but I also think adult readers would enjoy the story just as much.  Everything about it will appeal to readers of strong fictional literature.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

Friday, September 29, 2017

Life Lesson #4 - Be Responsible

"Be Responsible"

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

*Our school participates in a school-wide PBIS system.  One of those aspects if "being responsible".

*I thought it would be great to share a fun video about being responsible in our bigger world.  

*This was a "fun" and "different" way to look at being responsible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017/2018 Life Lessons...
Week #1:  Be a Reader                     This Week's Life-Lesson
Week #2:  Be Kind to Others             This Week's Life-Lesson
Week #3:  Be Safe                            This Week's Life-Lesson

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Wonder Wednesday #193 (SAVE Fred)

Wonder Wednesday - Can You SAVE Fred?

*My fourth graders are divided into SIX teams.  They will work in these teams of four throughout the year on both team building activities and science experiments.

*The teams are Jayhawk Blue, Red, and Yellow.  I also have three teams that are Husker Red, White, Black.  The teams are in honor of my two college-aged children.

*This was our THIRD team activity that we participated in this week.  I know this activity might not be new to most of you, but was a new one to me as of last year.  It is a GREAT one.

*As the students worked on solving the "task", I was able to wander around and capture the moments via pictures.

*Here are my fourth graders in action...

Monday, September 25, 2017

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

How I Heard About It:  One of my favorite read aloud last year was Wolf Hollow which I read during our historical fiction unit.  I was quite thrilled to learn that she had a second novel for readers to enjoy.  This has been another title that has been sitting in my TBR pile and I finally got around to reading it.  

What It Is About:  Lauren Wolk has weaved another brilliant historical fiction story for middle-grade readers.  This time the story takes us to the Elizabeth Islands off Massachusetts in the 1920's.  The main character is Crow who is twelve years old.  She arrived on the island years earlier when she was just a newborn baby.  Osh rescued Crow when he discovered her in the small boat.  Crow grew up while living with Osh and considering him her "father".  A neighbor lady, Miss Maggie, helps Osh raise this young girl.  Crow must deal with the fact that all the residents of her island will not touch and/or interact with her.  They are fearful of her because of where they think she comes from.  One night when Crow sees a fire on another island, she begins to question her beginnings and if she has a "family" out there.  She sets off on an adventure to find her parents and siblings that may or may not know about her.  Crow takes many risks and not only put her life in danger but that of Osh and Miss Maggie as well.  

What I Thought Of It:  This was just as wonderful as Wolf Hollow was.  I'm not normally a fan of historical fiction, but Lauren has a way of weaving an interesting and fascinating tale that I'm drawn into.  This story was completely different from her first novel, but just as strong.  I so enjoyed the character of Crow and her determination in reaching her goals.  There was lots of suspense, great plot development, and characters that I fell in love with.  The descriptions of the East Coast were vivid and I could picture exactly where these people were and how they were living.  This is another one of those novels that I wish I had gotten to sooner because it was so good.  

Who Should Read It:  I think this book would be best used with fifth and sixth graders in an elementary setting and/or middle-school readers.  It could be used as a read aloud in grade four.  Readers that enjoy historical fiction would be the perfect audience for Lauren's book.  Not only will young readers enjoy, but adult readers will be completely satisfied with the story of Crow and her discovery of who she truly is and where she came from.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

An Inside Look #36 (Author INTERVIEW)

An Inside Look with Jared Reck
(Author of A Short History of the Girl Next Door)

*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 first season 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 ran a series of interviews for Season #TWO over the summer of 2017.  It was great to get back to these conversations, that I decided to run Season #THREE during the 2017/2018 school year.  

*Thank you to Jared Reck for being the THIRD author of the third season.  I truly appreciate it.  

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


*I read this novel over the summer of 2017.  I received a copy of an ARC while at ALA in Chicago.  It was a terrific young-adult read and I can't wait for others to read.

*Jared Reck was kind, gracious, and giving with his answers to the questions.  It is an honor to post his responses with my "Inside Look" feature.   

*Here is a link to my review of The Short History of the Girl Next Door

*Thank you Jared Reck for writing this novel for young-adult readers and taking the time to share your thoughts with us here on the blog...

A Short History of the Girl Next Door
by Jared Reck (Released September 26, 2017)

How did you come to know Matt?  
I teach 8th grade ELA, which I run as a Writing Workshop, and every year we do a pretty in-depth unit on fiction writing. We always start the process by developing a believable main character using a simple questionnaire—about twenty questions answered in the voice of that character, almost like you’re sitting down across the table from your character and recording whatever he or she says to you. (I still start all my stories this way, with about 20-30 pages of character responses before I ever try writing the first chapter.)

About seven or eight years ago, I’d finished my first short story with my students—a 30-page story about a dweeby 8th-grade orchestra member sitting in in-school suspension—and I loved how it turned out. So when I sat down and started a new character with my students the next year, I ended up loving this kid even more: he was funny, and self-deprecating, and stuck inside his own head all the time, and he lived and breathed basketball. He was Matt. 

What do you think is Matt's most admirable quality?
I love that Matt is a good big brother. Little Murray is quite a bit younger than Matt, and I think he handles the teenager-to-pre-schooler relationship pretty well—taking him Trick-or-Treating, even though he’s stuck in a humiliating costume in front of the girl he loves; playing endless rounds of Candyland, even though Murray smokes him every single time; concocting voices for Murray’s legion of stuffed animals. He does all right.

Is there anything you wish Matt would have changed or done differently in his story?

I know Matt would absolutely do some things differently if he could, but in the end, I’m happy with Matt’s growth, despite the enormous pain I put him through. (Sorry, Matt.)

What do you think Matt can offer to other young people that are experiencing similar situations to what he went through?  
I’m not sure there’s any right way to go through what Matt goes through—if there’s really one way we all grieve. But here’s what I hope readers take away from Matt’s story—that there’s beauty and emotion and connection in particular, ordinary, seemingly insignificant moments.

In the book, that comes across as, “Any given moment just might be perfect.” Trick or Treat traditions, favorite candies, neighborhood home run derbies and Candyland with little brothers. Playing in the snow as kids. That stuff matters, you know? That’s what we all wish we could get back once it’s gone. Little things.

How did you research Matt and the circumstances he found himself in?
Like I said, I don’t think there’s any one way to grieve. But I did research the Kübler-Ross model, or the five stages of grief, as I was writing, just to make sure Matt’s reactions and responses were believable.

Do you and Matt share any similarities?  
Matt is very much like me, especially as a teenager. I lived and breathed basketball in high school, and I’m still stuck inside my own brain a lot of the time, running the movie of how things should turn out, if only…

What was the hardest scene to write about Matt?
There are a couple scenes later in the book that were really difficult to write (can’t name them without major spoilage, unfortunately) because there were so many different people to try to include and so much emotion. The handwritten draft in my notebook was a disaster of arrows and scribbles and sidebar notes to myself to fix later.

In the first half, there’s a falling-out scene between Matt and Tabby in Matt’s bedroom that took some time to get right, because it was such an emotional rollercoaster for Matt.

Who do you think was Matt's biggest supporter and why?
Geez, one of the great things for Matt—even though he doesn’t always see it when things get really bad—is that he has an incredible support system. He has wonderful parents, a little brother who looks up to him. Grampa plays a huge role for Matt throughout the story. His friend Trip. Even Tabby, despite Matt’s feelings throughout the story, was incredibly supportive. It’s really one of the things I love most about the book—Matt’s family and friends.

In your opinion, why do young people experience loss in such deep and profound ways; like Matt did?    
I think young people experience everything in deep and profound ways because it’s usually the first time, and there’s no personal roadmap or playbook to handle it—first love, first major break-up, first public humiliation, first devastating loss.

What do you think Matt is doing as this present time?  
Shooting baskets in his driveway, thinking about the upcoming season.

Music Monday #3 - Somebody by Lemonade Mouth

"Somebody" by Lemonade Mouth

*Music Monday is BACK and I'm so excited to share a year's worth of musical selections with you.

*I know it is going to be a GREAT year of music, writing, thinking, and sharing.

*It has been several years since I've used this piece of music, but I decided to bring it back.  I love the music, the words, and the entire message.  

*Today is our THIRD Monday together and that means it is time for our musical selection.

*I truly believe Mondays are my favorite day for our writer's notebooks.  

*Each Monday I present a piece of music to my fourth graders.  I usually present the song via a video so they are hearing and "seeing" the music.  

*After I share the video, we discuss the song/video for a few minutes as a class.  It is always a joy to hear what my young listeners have to say about the song.  

*They then get busy writing in their notebooks.  We start off at the beginning of the year writing for about five minutes.  This will gradually increase as the year progresses.  

*Here are some ideas I give the writers to think about during their writing time...

*Their opinions of the song.
*Their likes and dislikes of the song.
*What the song reminds them of.
*Any connections they may have to the music.
*What they think the message in the piece may be.
*What listeners can learn from the song.
*A fictional story about the music/video.

*These are just some ideas I give to the writers.  They are really free to write anything they would like as long as it connects to the song.

*After our silent reading, we spend a few more minutes sharing out what we wrote.  

*I keep a collection of the videos on our Schoology Site so that my students can always go back and rematch them anytime they wish.

Our Musical Selections for 2017/2018...

Week #1:  "What I Am" by                        Click Here for Week One MUSIC
Week #2:  "Hopeful" by Bars and Melody              Click Here for Week Two MUSIC

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (9/25/17)

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...

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

*Middle-Grade Novel (5 STARS out of 5 Stars)
Ugly by Robert Hoge

*Memoir for Middle-Grade Readers (5 STARS out of 5 Stars)

Chasing Augustus by Kimberly Newton Fusco

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

Books I Will (continue to) Read this Week

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

*My Novel Published for Adults

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne

*My Novel Published for Adults

The Temptation of Adam by Dave Connis

*My Young-Adult Novel

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Ugly by Robert Hoge

How I Heard About It:  During one of Donalyn Miller's online Scholastic "chats", she recommended this memoir.  Anytime she shares a book title, I'm pretty sure to get on Amazon and order it.  That happened with this one and I just finished the book a few minutes ago.  WOW!  

What It Is About:  I can't remember ever reading a memoir written for middle-grade readers.  Robert Hoge was born in Australia to a family with four older siblings.  When Robert was born, his parents learned that he had a large tumor on his face and disfigured legs.  At first his parents were shocked and not sure how to handle this newest addition to their family.  Once they brought him home, they became his biggest advocates.  As Robert grew up, he had to endure many difficult and complicated surgeries to repair both his face and legs.  Robert wants to be like all the other kids at school and his own older siblings.  He challenges both himself and his parents on the activities he wants to participate in.  While growing up Robert faces both children and adults that treat him differently and others that look beyond his differences and treat him as any other child should be treated.  

What I Thought Of It:  Thank you to Donalyn Miller for pointing this book out to me.  I absolutely loved it and could NOT put it down once I started.  Robert is such a talented writer and had such a heart-warming and touching way of telling his story.  I appreciated how he wrote it in a way that young readers would be able to understand and learn from his story.  There were many moments when my heart hurt for Robert and his family.  They all had such courage and strength in dealing with the differences and facing the world.  Stories as these need to be shared with children so they can see what others are dealing with.  I think by reading this memoir made me a better man and teacher.  

Who Should Read It:  I would say EVERYONE!  As I posted on FaceBook, this is a memoir written for middle-grade readers, but I think all readers should read the book on their own and/or have it read to them.  I know I'm going to use this as a read aloud with my fourth graders.  I can't wait for the powerful discussions that I know will come from the story.  There are so many important life-lessons that can be gained from Robert's story.  This will be a book that I will be sharing with EVERYONE.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Chasing Augustus by Kimberly Newton Fusco

How I Heard About It:  I remembering reading some "buzz" about this novel via Twitter.  I reached out to the author and was lucky enough to receive a copy of her book.  I was intrigued by the cover and title and couldn't wait to read it.  I've also enjoyed my Twitter "conversations" with Kimberly over the last few months.  

What It Is About:  After Rosie's dad has a stroke, she is left in the care of her grandfather.  Both Rosie and her grandpa Harry could be described as a bit "ornery".  They are strong, bull-headed, and stubborn.  Rosie's mother lives in California chasing her own "dreams".  She calls her daughter from time to time, but these calls are not well received by Rosie.  Before her mother left, she gave away Rosie's favorite friend; her dog Augustus.  Rosie spends all of her "free" time searching for Augustus.  She wants nothing more in the world than to get her pal back.  This search doesn't please Harry, but doesn't stop Rosie from her hunt.  She knows she can't find Augustus alone and requests the help of a new "friend" Philippe.  He lives in the same building as Rosie and Harry.  Philippe isn't your typical young boy and is keeping "secrets" of his own.  The two of them take risks, face danger, and must rely on each other to achieve the goal of "chasing" Augustus and learn what truly happened to Rosie's best friend.  

What I Thought Of It:  I had the chance to start the story a few nights ago, but because of time I didn't get very far.  When I sat down last night to continue, I could not put it down and finished the entire thing.  I LOVED this story and was completely engaged during the entire reading.  Rosie was a spit-fire and made me laugh, cheer, and even tear-up on occasion.  In my opinion, the best aspect of the story was her relationship with Harry, Phillippe, Swanson, and several other characters.  KNF has a unique and special way of describing the interactions and relationships between characters.  Just when I thought I had figured out what was going to happen, KNF would throw me off and take me in another direction.  I also appreciated that not everything was "roses" but real "thorns"; just like real life.  This is definitely a must-read novel.  

Who Should Read It:  I already have quite a few titles on my list for read aloud this year, but now I have another one.  This would make for an extremely strong story to share with a group of middle-grade readers.  I could see it being read to fourth, fifth, and sixth graders.  Individual readers in these grades would also be perfect to put this novel in their hands.  Of course middle-school readers should not be forgotten when it comes to this title.  Way to go Kimberly Newton Fusco.  You wrote one heck of a story that young readers will come to love.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Saturday, September 23, 2017

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds

How I Heard About It:  I'm embarrassed to say how long this book has been in my TBR pile.  I'm not sure why I didn't get to it earlier, but it seemed so many other titles made their way to the top.  I finally decided it was time to read this story and experience more of the Jason Reynolds magic.  

What It Is About:  Genie and Ernie are in for quite a summer.  They are leaving the city of Brooklyn to spend time with their grandparents out in the country of Virginia.  They realize there may be more than one reason why they are being "shipped" off to the their grandparents.  Once they settle into the "farm life", each boy begins to explore the surrounding land and people.  While spending time with his grandfather, Genie learns that his grandpa is blind.  Genie can't quite believe this because he admires him so much and sees him as the bravest man he knows.  Genie and his grandfather spend a lot of time together and begin to learn about each other in ways no one else knows.  Genie also finds out new information about his own brother Ernie and the ways he is brave and even the ways he isn't.  Both boys also have to adapt to their grandmother's strict ways.  Life may have been a bit complicated in Brooklyn, but it gets even more so during a summer none of the family members will forget.  

What I Thought Of It:  Jason certainly has a way with words and telling a story.  I appreciate his diversity in story telling and the way he weaves a plot that the reader won't soon forget.  Genie and Ernie were unforgettable characters that wove their way into my heart and mind.  I found myself thinking of these two young men even when not reading the book.  The experience they had out in the country with their grandparents was unique, special, and heart-warming.  I absolutely loved the relationship they had with both grandparents.  The writing was eloquent, beautiful, and endearing.  

Who Should Read It:  In my opinion, this novel might be best suited with middle-school readers.  I'm not sure fourth and/or fifth grade readers would be drawn into the story as older readers might be. I can see readers in grade six and above would be best.  High school readers may even enjoy the journey of these two boys.  Of course any fan of Jason Reynolds MUST read this middle-grade novel.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars