Fourth Grade Journey

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

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Willa of the Wood by Robert Beatty

How I Heard About It:  This new novel, released on July 10th, came to me via the publisher.  I saw that it got several 5 stars reviews.  I actually decided to listen to the story on Audio while I was getting my 10,000 steps a day!  

What It Is About - FIVE Things You Need to Know:  
1.  *Willa is a young "night spirit" who is ONE with the forest.  Humans are NOT her friends.  
2.  *She has many specials powers that come from the "forest".  
3.  *Willa has been taught to hate the humans and do everything in the name of her clan.  After she is injured, she comes in contact with a human.  This "meeting" leads her on a journey where she learns the truth about both her clan and the human population.  
4.  *Willa travels the woods with the wisdom and knowledge of her beloved grandmother.  
5.  *One father and his three children must rely on Willa to save each of them and bring justice to those that have harmed them.  

What I Thought Of It:  I was looking forward to reading/listening to this story because all of the reviews I had looked at gave the story 5 stars.  When I first started to listen, I wasn't sure why so many readers had praised and blessed this novel.  There was very little conversation, lots of written detailed description, and names that I didn't understand and/or remember.  Each day as I took my walk, I turned on the story and continued to listen.  I'm glad that I did because as I progressed into the story, I began to enjoy it more and more.  It was about half-way through, that everything really fell into place and I was hooked.  The action/events picked up pace, the characters began to be challenged, and the suspense grew and grew.  Willa was a warrior, fierce, and determined.  The author did an incredible job of connecting her story to the reader.  By the last page, I felt like I knew her personally.  Her interactions were the human population were heart-warming and touching.  I'm so glad I didn't stop listening when that thought crossed my mind.  This was an extremely satisfying reading experience.  

Who Should Read It:   If I were to put this book in the hands of a reader, I would pick a strong reader in grades four or above.  There is a lot to this story to take in and comprehend.  The plot line is complex, detailed, and thrilling.  I could see fifth and sixth grade readers enjoying Willa's adventure the most.  Middle-School readers would also be an appropriate audience for this tale.  The audio version was wonderful and well-told.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars!

After Zero by Christina Collins

How I Heard About It:  The publisher "Sourcebooks - Jabberwocky" sent me an advanced copy of Christina Collins' debut novel.  The title and cover caught my attention, but it was the story that captured my heart.  

What It Is About - FIVE Things You Need to Know:  
1.  *Elise doesn't speak and keeps tally marks of how many words she speaks each day.
2.  *Her mother is keeping a major secret from her and when Elise finds out the truth, it changes her world upside down. 
3.  *Because of her "differences" from the crowd, she has lost her best friend, but has gained a new one.  
4.  *A stuffed raven in Elise's English classroom comes to life and guides her on a journey of self-discovery and exploration.  
5.  *Elise's silence is the one thing that keeps her safe, but is could also put her in great danger and cause her to lose everything she has come to know and love.  

What I Thought Of It:  I could tell this was going to be one of those heart-wrenching and emotional reads after the first few pages.  Once I began reading, I couldn't stop.  I was drawn into Elise's world and I'm still thinking about her.  I don't want to give too much away, but I've never read a middle-grade novel with a character dealing with the issues that Elise is suffering from.  The author did an incredible job of taking the reader inside the mind and thoughts of Elise.  My heart hurt so many times while reading about Elise's struggles.  I just wanted to reach into the pages and rescue her.  There was a major "twist" with the plot and I can tell you I didn't see it coming.  As a reader, I enjoyed how the author was abel to combine elements of realistic fiction and fantasy together.  After Zero will definitely be a novel that I "book-talk" with my students during the next school year.  

Who Should Read It:  This novel can be pretty heavy at times and deals with some serious life-issues.  I would recommend the book being used in grades four and above.  The story is probably perfect for fifth and sixth graders along with middle-school readers.  Using it as a class read aloud would lead to some wonderful and deep conversations.  Adult readers who gravitate toward middle-grade stories definitely need to put this title on their TBR list.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars!

Monday, July 30, 2018

An Inside Look #56 (Author INTERVIEW)

An Inside Look with Stacy McAnulty 
(Author of The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl)

*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 FiFTH interview of what I'm calling Season #FOUR.  

*Thank you to Stacy McAnulty for being the Fifty-Sixth author that I've had the pleasure of interviewing.  I truly appreciate it.  

*Here are links to the first Fifty-Five interviews…



Interview #53 with Preston Norton (Author of Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe)

Interview #54 with Jonathan Auxier (Author of Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster)

Interview #55 with Sharon Creech (Author of Saving Winslow)

*I was thrilled to receive an arc of Saving Winslow via my #bookexpedition Twitter group.  I am a huge fan of Sharon Creech stories and was excited to read her newest work of fiction. I read the novel in one sitting and absolutely loved it.  She has written a one of a kind story.

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

*Here is a link to my review of The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl

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

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl
by Stacy McAnulty (Released May 1, 2018)

How did you come to know Lucy?  
I watched a show about a man with acquired savant syndrome. After a punch to the head, he was suddenly a math genius. His true story captured my imagination, and I began to wonder what that experience would be like for a kid. This idea stirred in my brain and over a few weeks, Lucy grew. It’s silly (and maybe even cliché), but I did hear and see her as I went about my day.  I began to understand her and what makes her tick. It was fun discovering all the things she would be calculating.

What do you think is Lucy's most admirable quality?
Her most outstanding quality would be her super math skills. But she’s so much more than that. I admire that she’s curious and seeks to understand her world and the people in it—sometimes through math and sometimes just by listening and observing.  She’s also a great go-between for Windy and Levi. Lucy’s the calming voice when they are at odds.

Is there anything you wish Lucy would have changed or done differently in her story?
Lucy could have stood up for herself sooner. She tries to avoid conflict and really any kind of attention. This seems like a good idea at the time, but the situation doesn’t improve on its own.

What do you think Lucy can offer to other children that are experiencing similar situations to what she went through?  
Very few children find themselves as sudden geniuses, but most probably feel out of place at some point during middle school. Hopefully, Lucy, Windy, and Levi illustrate that real friends are out there. It’s not easy to find the people that will accept you and not try to change you, and it’s not easy to always accept the faults in others.

How did you research Lucy and the circumstances she found herself in?
With Lucy being an acquired savant, I read 4 books on the subject of savantism. The condition is extremely rare, and I’ve never (knowingly) met a savant. So all that research came from books—3 memoirs and 1 nonfiction text by a doctor. Lucy also has OCD. To research this condition, I spoke with a children’s psychiatrist and a mom of a child with OCD. They answered my questions and opened my eyes to the struggles kids with OCD may face.

Do you and Lucy share any similarities?  
Like Lucy, I’m better at math than English. I went to college for mechanical engineering and enjoy a good math problem (algebra or geometry, preferably). And as a middle-school student, I was also very shy in the classroom. I rarely raised my hand and hated to be called on. I spent a lot of time worrying about embarrassing myself.

What was the hardest scene to write about Lucy?
SPOILER ALERT!!! The scene toward the end where Lucy and Windy fight and make up. The fighting wasn’t so bad. I have three kids; it’s easy to imagine yelling and insults. But forgiveness and apologies aren’t easy. Haven’t we all held grudges for waaaay too long? I wanted it to feel authentic to the age and not overly simple without taking 20 pages to uncover every emotion.

Who do you think was Lucy's biggest supporter and why?
This is a hard 1. I think Nana is supportive in her way without being a helicopter parent. Uncle Paul also loves and encourages Lucy. The teacher, Mr. Stoker, wants to help her too, but Lucy doesn’t let him in. So she has those 3 adults to lean on. Then there is her friend, Levi. He comes through in a big way toward the end. And of course, Windy is critical. I just can’t pick 1 biggest supporter. It takes a village to get Lucy through these first few months of middle school.

Why do you think some children (Lucy), especially bright and/or gifted, seem to hide their talents from their classmates; instead of celebrate them.  I find this to be true in my own classroom.   
I read somewhere that middle school is all about being similar to your classmates and high school is about being different. Obviously, this isn’t going to be true for every child, but this idea resonates with my experiences as a former young person and now as a mom. In middle school, I wanted Guess jeans and Benetton shirts because everyone else seemed to have these items. I joined certain clubs because my friends were interested in those activities. I liked the same music and movies as the cool kids. There was this unspoken standard of this is what you’re supposed to do, how you’re supposed to act, how you should look. Being bright, gifted, or even hardworking, doesn’t often fit the mold. A higher social currency is paid to those who mimic the popular.

What do you think Lucy is doing at the present time?  
I’m not sure. We’ve toyed with the idea of a sequel eventually, so I try not to overthink it, especially (SPOILER ALERT!)  since the ending is vague with her choice about future education. I’d like to think she’s happy and hanging out with Levi and Windy as often as she can. And they’re all still volunteering at the Pet Hut.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (7/30/18)

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 Dollar Kids by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

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

My Book Review

Grenade by Alan Gratz

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

Daring Dreamers Club #2:  Piper Cooks Up a Plan by Erin Soderberg

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

My Book Review

Elephant Secret by Eric Walters

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

My Book Review

Resistance by Jennifer A. Nielsen

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

My Book Review

Books I Will (continue to) Read this Week

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman

*My Novel Published for Adults

Willa of the Wood by Robert Beatty

*My Middle-Grade Novel (Audio)

After Zero by Christina Collins

*My Middle-Grade Novel

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Daring Dreamers Club #2: Piper Cooks Up a Plan by Erin Soderberg

How I Heard About It:  The author herself was kind enough to send me an ARC of this book.  Now that I have finished, I will be sending it on an expedition with my #bookexpedition Twitter group.  

What It Is About:  This is the second installment in the Disney Daring Dreamers Club.  In the first book, the reader got to know Milla.  This time around it is all about Piper.  She is the middle child and isn't quite sure where she fits in with her family.  Piper does have a fondness and interest in cooking, food, and science.  She is creative and adventurous in the kitchen.  When Piper finds out she is going to be a contestant on a televised cooking show, she is beyond excited.  Not only will this be an opportunity to shine and present her talent, but the contest may also help her family.  Piper relies on both her teacher/advisor and the other members of the Daring Dreamers Club to prepare for the big "cook-off".  Piper wants to find her own personal success and accomplishment; her "tie" to her Disney Princess, friendships within the club, and support from family all lead her in the direction she is meant to go.  

What I Thought Of It:  I was thrilled to get back to the Daring Dreamers Club.  I enjoyed the first book of the series and was excited to get to know Piper.  My students from this past year were lucky to have read both book one and the manuscript of book two.  After they read both installments, they met with the author herself.  They had a wonderful discussion about the books, the characters, and being the best version of yourself.  I enjoyed the story line and following Piper's dream.  Erin has a wonderful way of writing that appeals to the young reader.  The plot was entertaining while also presenting a variety of important life-lessons.  This is one series that is definitely going to be highlighted in my classroom.  

Who Should Read It:  I'm always on the lookout for books and/or series that are geared toward early fourth grade readers.  Erin Soderberg's new Disney series is just perfect.  This book/series could be read by second, third, and fourth grade readers.  Of course that doesn't mean older readers would enjoy the series.  The story line may appeal to female readers a bit more than our boys because of the princess theme.  I know my girls from my class loved both Milla and Piper's story.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars!

Elephant Secret by Eric Walters

How I Heard About It:  The publisher sent me a copy.  I was thrilled to receive it, was curious about the title and cover, and couldn't wait to get started reading.  

What It Is About:  Sam and her father have spent their lives living at an elephant sanctuary.  Sam lost her mother at a very young age.  It has always been just her and her father.  Well, and the elephants!  Sam is known as the "elephant girl" to the kids at school.  Sometimes she owns this title and other times she knows they are making fun of her.  As with her dad, at times she would rather be with the elephants than with her friends.  One of her favorite elephants is pregnant and gives birth early.  The sanctuary loses the mother elephant, but the baby survives.  Sam and the new born develop a special bond.  At the same time a new adult elephant arrives and arrives with some special circumstances.  Sam's father warns her to be careful with the new elephant.  As the newborn grows, Sam and her father begin to notice something different about the elephant.  When their "silent" partner arrives at the sanctuary, he brings some of the most extraordinary news they have ever heard.  

What I Thought Of It:  I thought this was an excellent story and was hooked right from the beginning.  Before reading this story I didn't have much interest and/or infinity to elephants.  While reading I learned so much about their lives, behaviors, and interactions with humans.  The author did a wonderful job of telling a fictional story while including pertinent nonfiction information about elephants.  I did not see the "surprise" coming and it added greatly to the story.  Not only was this a story about the relationship between a girl and elephants, but there was also a major focus on the relationships humans have with each other.  

Who Should Read It:  This book should be added to any third through sixth grade classroom.  If you know of any young readers that are drawn to animal stories, then you have to recommend this one to them.  They will enjoy and learn from it.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars!

Grenade by Alan Gratz

How I Heard About It:  Alan Gratz has written some of my favorite middle-grade novels.  One of my class' favorite read aloud from this past school year was Refugee.  His newest novel, Grenade, will be released in October of 2018.  I received an ARC from my #bookexpedition Twitter group.  

What It Is About:  Alan Gratz takes the reader on another incredible historical fiction journey.  Within this story, he takes us to the island of Okinawa.  The first character we meet is Hideki.  He is a student during WW11.  When the fighting begins on his island, he and the other young boys, are drafted into what is known as Blood and Iron Student Corps.  These new young soldiers are going to fight for the Japanese army.  They are given a grenade and sent on their way.  Hideki is afraid to be on his own for the first time and separated from his family members.  Our second character is Ray.  He is an American soldier from the farm lands of Nebraska.  He has never seen war, but has experienced the aftermath of it through his father.  Ray and the other Marines land on Okinawa and are faced with situations they never could have imagined.  As the story progresses, Hideki and Ray each make their way across the lands of the island, make incredibly difficult decisions, and eventually come face to face.  

What I Thought Of It:  I absolutely LOVED this book.  I read it in one day which would be what Donalyn Miller calls #bookaday.  To be honest, I didn't know much about the war on the island of Okinawa.  Gratz did a tremendous job of telling an interesting and intriguing story while giving pertinent information about the "situation" in this part of the world.  I immediately felt drawn to both Hideki and Ray.  They journey to each other was suspenseful, mysterious, and powerful.  What I appreciate about Alan Gratz and his writing is he doesn't sugar coat the story.  He is able to present a difficult topic with being sensitive to the intended audience.  This novel was a complete page-turner, had plenty of surprises, and broke my heart on more than one occasion.  

Who Should Read It:  As I mentioned earlier, last year I used Refugee during our historical fiction unit.  While I was reading this new story, I kept thinking how I could use the book during that same unit with my new group of fourth graders.  Some might think it is a stretch to use with fourth graders, but mine handled it just fine.  Overall, fifth and sixth grade readers would be perfect for the book.  Of course it should also be used with middle-school readers along with high-school readers.  Happy reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Wonder Wednesday #232 (NerdCampMI - Day #ONE)

Wonder Wednesday - BEST PD Ever!!!

*On Sunday, July 8th I packed up the rented van, piled in four of my Nerdy friends, and headed for Jackson, Michigan.

*This was my third NerdCampMI and thought it was the BEST one yet.  I had such an incredible two days.

*This "camp" always energizes me and gets me pumped up for a new school year.

*The time at NerdCampMI is a wonderful opportunity to connect with friends, meet new people, and take in a whole bunch of new learning.

*To me it is one of the most happiest places on earth.  The vibe is absolutely off the hook!!!

*Last year I brought two friends and this year we added two more friends.  It is my hope and dream to keep bringing more and more people so they can experience the magic.

*Here are some images from the first day...