Fourth Grade Journey

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

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The History of Jane Doe by Michael Belanger

How I Heard About It:  One  of my summer reading goals is to read a young-adult novel each week.  During this last school year, I got away from reading this genre and I wanted to get back to it.  This particular novel was written up as one of the best for the month of June on Amazon.  During a visit to the local bookstore, I picked up a copy of the book.  

What It Is About:   Ray and Simon are best buddies.  They are outcasts at their high school, but they have each other and that is enough for them.  Then "Jane Doe" arrives at school.  She is a unique, out of the box, and city girl.  She and her parents have come to Ray and Simon's small town to get away from Jane's "past".  Ray and Simon aren't sure what to think of this new girl, but they are curious to get to know her.  The three of them begin to spend more and more time together.  Each of them adds a unique quality to the friendship.  Ray begins to "like" Jane more and more and eventually the two of them begin to date.  Simon doesn't want to be the "third-wheel", and Ray and Jane work hard to make sure this doesn't happen.  The more time Ray spends with Jane, the more he realizes she is running away from something in her past.  He tries to get her to open up to him, but his proves more difficult than he imagined it would be.  

What I Thought Of It:  I laughed.  I cried.  I laughed again.  I cried again.  These characters provided me with a range of emotions.  The emotions changed from page to page.  I can't remember when I have laughed out loud so many times during a reading of a book.  The interactions between the three main characters were funny, sarcastic, and real.  It was a joy to read the dialogue.  Even though I figured out what was going to happen right away in the story, it was still a shock and crushing when it actually happened.  Part of the reason the reader is let in on the "outcome" is because of the format of the story.  That is all I want to say so as not to give too much away.  Such an enjoyable and emotional read.  

Who Should Read It:   High-school and/or college readers will begin this story and not be able to stop.  It really is such a strong young-adult story.  Adult readers will also find it a satisfying read.  I'm recommending it to all of my reader friends.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars!

Sticky Notes by Dianne Touchell

How I Heard About It:  This novel came to via the publisher.  I had not seen it before nor had I read any comments about the story from any of my fellow readers.  It is exciting to read a new book you know nothing about.  

What It Is About:   Foster and his dad.  His dad and Foster.  That is the way it has been for the first ten years of Foster's life.  He loves his mother, but he has a special bond with his dad.  They share a love of "stories" and creating them together.  During Foster's tenth year, he and his mother begin to notice different behavior from his father.  At first they think it may be a period of depression, but as the days unfold, they begin to worry more and more.  Foster's father is finally diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.  Foster isn't sure exactly what this disease is or how it will affect his father, but he wants his father to stay and same.  This becomes more and more difficult as his father spirals down into the harsh reality of Alzheimer's.  Foster, his mother, and an aunt all work together to provide the care and safety his father needs.  

What I Thought Of It:  My mother has had Alzheimer's Disease for the last ten years or so.  She is currently in memory care.  She doesn't talk.  She doesn't walk.  It is no way to live a life.  As I read Foster and his dad's story, I was reminded so much of my own journey with my mother.  Dianne Touchell did an accurate and intimate portrait of what it is like for someone to suffer from this awful disease.  I liked the fact that it was the father who was diagnosed.  It seems like most middle-grade stories center around the mother character and her illness.  It is important for young readers to see that "life" can happen to either parent.  This will be an important novel to put into the hands of readers that have a family member and/or friend dealing with this crippling disease.  

Who Should Read It:   In my opinion, this particular novel could be used in grades four, five, and six.  There are some mature themes/words/concepts strewn throughout the pages.  It is nothing major, but may require a discussion on why certain words/language were used.  These instances were accurate and true to the disease.  This would be the perfect novel for a reader who has had or is having an experience with Alzheimer's Disease.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

How I Heard About It:  This novel came to me via the publisher.  I was excited to read as I had heard and read such positives reviews of the book.  

What It Is About:   What are the odds of being struck by lightning?  They aren't great, but a lightning strike actually happened to Lucy.  It occurred when she was a young girl and she doesn't remember it.  One of the major "side effects" of this strike is that Lucy now has incredible math skills.  She is only twelve years old, but is performing at the college level.  Since the accident, she has been home schooled by her grandmother.  Her uncle is also part of her life, but not on a day to day basis.  Lucy's grandmother's decides she wants her  to experience "regular" school and asks her to attend middle-school for one year.  After that, she can decide what type of schooling she would be most comfortable with.  Lucy isn't thrilled, but is willing to give it a try.  Once at school, she finds it very difficult to fit in and to hide her "striking knowledge" along with some of her OCD behaviors.  Lucy finds a couple of kids that are willing to accept her as she is, along with a few that makes this new experience quite difficult.  During a class project, Lucy truly learns who are the kids who accept her for who she is, and who are the ones she wants to stay clear of.  

What I Thought Of It:  This story was fascinating to me.  I enjoyed reading about Lucy and the circumstances she found herself in after the lightning strike.  I felt such compassion and empathy for her.  It is hard enough to deal with the middle-school years.  Then you add some "brilliant" behaviors along with OCD, and life can really offer you a punch.  Stacy McAnulty did a tremendous job of describing Lucy's journey, emotions, and struggles.  I can't say enough about the grandmother and uncle characters.  Everyone young person needs these two people in their lives.  I enjoyed the presentation of a variety of young characters and appreciated how real they were to real-life.  

Who Should Read It:   Readers in grades four, five, and six would be the perfect audience for this novel.  If you know of a young person that struggles with OCD and/or having extreme academic knowledge in a particular area, then they must read this novel.  The story would also be appealing to middle-school readers.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Wonder Wednesday #230 (Scholastic Reading Summit)

Wonder Wednesday - Top Five Moments

*I spent Thursday, June 21st in Chicago at the first "summit" of the summer.  It was a day of learning, reflection, and of course lots of great conversations.  Here are my top five personal moments...

Moment #ONE - Listening to Malcolm Mitchell on his journey from a nonreader to an author.

Moment #TWO - Listening to Franki Sibberson about her first mini-lesson with students called "100 Things About Me as a Reader".

Moment #THREE - Learning from Franki Sibberson about the structure of her mini-lessons and how to view them as "invitations" and how it it not about the actual mini-lesson, 
but our lives as readers.  

Moment #FOUR - Learning from Jess Lifshitz lead and discuss how she takes her students on a journey of self-discovery and making positive changes on their world.  The work we do in the classroom can be very different from the world outside the classroom.  

Moment #FIVE - Closing out the day with Dav Pilkey who shared his reading journey from a small child who was discouraged as a reader until his mother took control and lead him on a positive journey of finding true joy in the act of reading.  

Monday, June 25, 2018

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech

How I Heard About It:  Sharon Creech is one of my favorite middle-grade authors.  I have read ALL of her novels.  I even had the honor of meeting her at the NCTE convention.  Her newest novel, out September 11th, came to me via my #bookexpedition Twitter group.  

What It Is About:   Louie "inherits" a mini-donkey from his Uncle Pete.  Everyone in Louie's family doesn't think the donkey has much time left, but Louie thinks differently.  He takes it upon himself to care for this little creature and make sure he lives.  Louie names the donkey Winslow and the two of them begin a beautiful relationship.  Winslow fills a hole in Louie's life because his older brother Gus is away at "war".  Day in and day out, Louie does everything in his power to make sure his new donkey friend grows, thrives, and survives.  He has some friends that are in his corner and a few that think he is crazy to get attached to a living creature that will most likely disappoint him and "leave".  

What I Thought Of It:  I believe that every novel of Sharon's just gets better and better.  I loved the format of this story.  The chapters were short, the writing was beautiful, and the characters came to life on each and every page.  Anytime you take a young boy, add a struggling animal, and create a relationship where they depend on each other; you have a sure-fire winner of a novel.  As I read, it was fascinating that the writing was succinct, sparse, and wise; yet told one of the most deep and introspective middle-grades stories I've read in quite some time.  The supporting cast of characters were thoughtful and necessary to Louie and Winslow's tale.  Really everything about the novel was top-notch and A+ material.  But what else would you expect from an author like Sharon Creech.  

Who Should Read It:   I love it when authors put books into the world that are attainable for all middle-grade readers.  This novel is perfect for readers in grades two through six.  The story would be awesome as a class read aloud, used as a book club selection, or put in the hands of an individual reader.  I know I will definitely be "book talking" this novel in the fall with my new group of fourth grade students.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

An Inside Look #53 (Author INTERVIEW)

An Inside Look with Preston Norton
(Author of Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe)

*During the summer of 2016, I added this feature to my blog which was called "Season #ONE".  This first season ran from June of 2016 to March of 2017.  

*I started up the interviews again in June of 2017.  It was great to get back to Season #TWO.  This season ran throughout the summer.  

*Season #THREE ran during the school year of 2017/2018.  

*It has been such an honor to connect with authors and "chat" about their novel, characters, and thoughts about the story.

*This is the SECOND interview of what I'm calling Season #FOUR.  

*Thank you to Preston Norton for being the Fifty-Third author that I've had the pleasure of interviewing.  I truly appreciate it.  

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


*One of my summer reading goals was to get back to reading young-adult novels.  While browsing the book store, I came across this title.  I had seen it written up on Amazon.  After reading a few reviews, I bought it.  Once I started it was a quick read because I could not put it down.  After finishing the book, I reached out to Preston to let him know how much I enjoyed the story.  I also asked if he would be willing to be author #53.  

*Preston was kind, gracious, and giving with his answers to the questions.  It is an honor to post the responses here on the blog.  

*Here is a link to my review of Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe.

*Thank you Preston Norton for writing this story for readers and taking the time to share your thoughts with us here...

Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe
by Preston Norton (Released June 5, 2018)

How did you come to know Cliff?  
I have a friend who likes to get Freudian in his analysis of my books. When he read Neanderthal, he suggested that all of my characters were fragments of myself, and that the size of their role in the story directly paralleled how big of piece of me. Therefore, according to my friend, Cliff is very reflective of myself. I don't think my friend is wrong. (Although creating a cast of characters out of a zoo of Preston clones was certainly not my intention!) In that sense, I never really "came to know" Cliff. Writing him was the most organic and natural thing I've ever done.

What do you think is Cliff's most admirable quality?
Cliff's got a big heart. He likes to hide it, or just pretend it isn't there so he doesn't get hurt like always does, but it's there. It's always there  caring too much for its own good.

Is there anything you wish Cliff would have changed or done differently in his story?
Not a thing. Although my editor and I had some creative differences, Cliff — in and of himself  is one thing we will always agree on. He's one of those characters who you never really question or debate how they will behave in any given situation.

What do you think Cliff can offer to other children that are experiencing similar situations to what he went through?  
Cliff is the ultimate pessimist. And yet, he still finds hope. I hope Cliff will give others the insight to examine the doors of their own lives, and the courage to open them and to step into the darkness of the unknown. Stepping out of our comfort zones is hard (and uncomfortable, obviously), but when you're standing up for your fellow human beings, it is always always ALWAYS right.

In your opinion, why do you think high school students get “targeted” or “labeled” and find it so difficult to break from these “bars” when they are so much more than the label?  
So much of being a teenager is trying to find your own identity. I think the problem is that, when someone tells you "you are this," like, who the hell are you to argue? You don't have a f***ing clue who you are! So, as a teenager, I think it's easy to accept what others believe of you. This is why the coming-of-age experience is so important. There is so much shaping going on here. It's not easy to find yourself, but I also think it's not as difficult as we make it out to be. We are seeking so desperately to find acceptance from others, when really, the most important thing is to accept ourselves for who we are. No one has ever turned themselves into something they're not, and lived to tell their grandchildren about what a great decision that was.

What do you think Cliff is doing as this present time?
College! (Remember, the journey to publishing a book is a long one, so I technically wrote this book quite a while ago.) I have no idea what Cliff would be majoring in  and he probably has no clue either  but I love to think of him figuring out that next chapter of his life. He is a great big bundle of insecurities, but no one can deny that he's a smart kid. He'll figure it out, I'm sure!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (6/25/18)

Thanks to Jen and Kellee for hosting this idea on their site.  Here is a link to the site...
Books I Read this Past Week…

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton

*Novel Published for Adults (Memoir) - 5 STARS out of 5 Stars

My Book Review

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

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

My Book Review

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech

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

Review coming soon!

Books I Will (continue to) Read this Week

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

*My Middle-Grade Novel

The History of Jane Doe by Michael Belanger

*My Young-Adult Novel

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman

*My Novel Published for Adults

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Wonder Wednesday #229 (Scholastic Reading Summit)

Wonder Wednesday - 
Summer Professional Development

*Today I'm heading to Chicago to attend my third Scholastic Reading Summit.

*My first Summit was in Covington, Kentucky.  It was a rewarding and thought-provoking day.

*After attending my first Summit, I knew I would have to return again and again.  Last summer, I attended the Summit in Rosemont, Illinois.  Right after this day of professional learning, I headed to my very first ALA.  It was a full week I'll never forget.

*The Scholastic Reading Summit is being held again in Rosemont.  I'm excited to reunite with fellow learners, listen to incredible speakers, and learn a new thing, or many, to take back to my students in the fall.

*Here are some images from my trip to Chicago...