Fourth Grade Journey

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

Thursday, November 28, 2019

The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake

How I Heard About It:
*A reviewer I follow on GoodReads and InstaGram wrote a stellar review of this young adult novel.  I was in the market for a new YA book so I ordered it and began reading.  I would read a little, put it down, read something else, and come back to it.  I finished over my Thanksgiving break.  

What It Is About - FIVE Things You Need to Know:
1. *Violet Larkin can't seem to get away from making mistakes that not only affect her, but her family as well. 

2.  *Violet's brother Sam, doesn't make as many mistakes, but can't seem to find the happiness he is looking for.  

3.  *After a horrible incident involving Sam, Violet is sent to Lyric; a town where her family has a lot of history, including a ship wreck.  

4.  *While spending time in Lyric, Violet decides to "look into" her family's history and see if she can locate the remains of the ship wreck that involved a family member many many years earlier.  

5.  *Violet tries to escape her past, make amends with both her parents and brother, while navigating new territory with a local girl in Lyric.  

What I Thought Of It - Five Observations/Reflections:
1.  *While reading I enjoyed the story of Violet, Sam, and Liv.  However, I wasn't drawn back to the story while not reading.  

2.  *There were some sections of the novel that I was completely absorbed in; while others seemed to drag a bit for my taste.  

3.  *I was fascinated by Violet's past, the choices she made, and the relationship she had with her brother Sam.  

4.  *As a reader, I always appreciate when a character gets a chance to start over and make their life better.  That is what Violet wanted while spending time in Lyric.  

5.  *The cast of characters she encouraged while spending time in the town with a "past", were strong, unique, and added greatly to the overall story.  

Who Should Read It:
*This is definitely a story for the young adult reader.  I could also see adult readers enjoying the Larkin family tale.  The plot can be a bit slow at times, so the reader that picks up this story will need to have some patience at times.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:   3 STARS out of 5 Stars

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened by Emily Blejwas

How I Heard About It:
*One of my favorite weekends of the year is attending the annual #NCTE convention.  This year the event was held in Baltimore.  I love attending all the brilliant sessions, connecting with friends, and of course spending time on the exhibit hall floor.  After chatting with one of my favorite publisher reps, I came home with this ARC.  I began reading at the airport, continued on the plane, and finished that night when I arrived home.  

What It Is About - FIVE Things You Need to Know:
1. *This April 2020 middle-grade release is set right here in Minnesota where I live.  It was such fun to read about all the local cities and attractions.  

2.  *Seventh-grader, Justin, lives with his mother and older "sports-loving" brother.  They are each grieving the loss of their father/husband.

3.  *The mystery surrounding the night Justin's father "left", has him searching for answers with a variety of local residents who may or may not have the information Justin is looking for.

4.  *One fact Justin knows is that the war had a definite effect on his father during the Gulf War.  

5.  *Day and night, Justin explores a lake, a bench, and a trolley car to bring him closer to his father.  

What I Thought Of It - Five Observations/Reflections:
1.  *I lucked out picking this title FIRST out of a very large stack from my #NCTE19 experience.  The story was real, powerful, and emotional.

2.   *I could feel Justin's heart from the moment the story began to the moment it ended.

3.  *As I mentioned, it was fun and enjoyable to read about local cities and places that I have grown up with.  As I reader, I also appreciated how the author incorporated the history of the region into the current day story.  

4.  *The characters that surrounded Justin were supportive, heart-felt, and authentic.  

5.  *From the beautiful cover, to the amazing characters, to the rich story-line; I can't recommend this novel enough.  

Who Should Read It:
*I know every adult reader who enjoy middle-grade novels will love and devour this story just as I did.  Readers in grades four, five, and six would be appropriate for the book.  In my opinion, the journey of Justin would make for an excellent class read aloud, but could also be put in the hands of individual readers.  Put this title on your TBR list and look for it in April of 2020.  Happy Reading! 

Rating:   5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Wonder Wednesday #294 (And the WINNERS Are)

Wonder Wednesday - Charlotte Huck

*I just wrapped up my second year on the Charlotte Huck Book Award Committee.  

*We announced the winners for the best fiction of the year.  The books can include picture and/or novels.  

*Here is the "mission" statement for the committee...

Purpose: The NCTE Charlotte Huck Award® for Outstanding Fiction for Children was established in 2014 to promote and recognize excellence in the writing of fiction for children. This award recognizes fiction that has the potential to transform children's lives by inviting compassion, imagination, and wonder.

*The year was filled with powerful picture books and novels.  The decision to pick the winners was NOT an easy one.  

*The awards luncheon was held on Saturday, November 23 during the #NCTE19 convention in Baltimore.  

Monday, November 25, 2019

Tristan Strong by Kwame Mbalia

How I Heard About It:
This is not my typical read, but after a few reading a few positive reviews of the story, I decided to give it a try.  It is a big and long read, but I'm proud that I got through it and can share my thoughts here.

What It Is About - FIVE Things You Need to Know:  
1. *Tristan Strong is a seventh grade boy dealing with an incredible loss.

2.  *He holds close to him a journal of his best friend Eddie.  

3.  *On a road trip to Alabama with his grandparents, Tristan realizes there is something special/magical about the journal which is full of stories written by Eddie.  

4.  *While "trying" to sleep the first night on the farm, a small creature/doll appears in Tristan's room and steals the journal.  

5.  During a fight over the journal, Tristan and a tree, "punch" a hole in the sky; which leads them both on an epic adventure.  

What I Thought Of It - Five Observations/Reflections:
1.  *I'm not normally a fantasy reader, but as I said, I'm trying to broaden my reading "horizons".

2.  *When I began the story, I was presently surprised how much I was enjoying getting to know Tristan and his family.

3.  *The reading got a bit "bizarre" and wild when GUM Baby appeared in the bedroom.  

4.  *The adventure and journey that Tristan took was a unique one which lots of characters, actions, and twists and turns.  I may not have understood them all, but they certainly did capture my imagination.  

5.  *I can see young fantasy lovers enjoying Tristan and the cast of storybook characters he meets along the way.  

Who Should Read It:
*The story was a bit long at almost 500 pages.  Because of this, I would say the story is best for readers in grades five and above.  The best audience might be the middle-school reader.  The novel should definitely be shared with children who love to read fantasy.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:   3 STARS out of 5 Stars

An Inside Look #116 (Author INTERVIEW)

An Inside Look with Chris Baron
(Author of All of Me)

*During the summer of 2016, I added this feature to the 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.  

*The next season (season #FOUR) of interviews took place during the summer and fall of 2018.  With each interview I became more and more impressed with the authors I was having interactions with.  

*Season #FIVE ran during the 2018/2019 school year.  I took a little break at the start of June 2019.  

*During my summer 2019 vacation I continued a series of interviews in which I put under the heading of Season #SIX.

*To kick off my 29th year of teaching, I'm adding Season #SEVEN with a whole new season of authors, books, and interviews.  

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

*This is the THIRTEENTH interview in which I'm calling Season #SEVEN.  

*Thank you to Chris Baron for being the One-Hundred Sixteenth author that I've had the pleasure of interviewing.  I truly appreciate it.  

*Here are links to the One Hundred Fifteen interviews…

SEASON #ONE (2016-2017)

SEASON #FOUR (Summer 2018)

SEASON #FIVE (2018/2019)

Interview #81 with Tony Abbott (Author of The Great Jeff)

Interview #82 with Susan Ross (Author of Searching for Lottie)

Interview #83 with Gillian McDunn (Author of Caterpillar Summer)

Interview #84 with Rebecca Ansari (Author of The Missing Piece of Charlie O'Reilly)

Interview #85 with Ali Standish (Author of August Isle)

Interview #86 with Shaun David Hutchinson (Author of The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried)

Interview #87 with Greg Howard (Author of The Whispers)

Interview #88 with Lynda Mullaly Hunt (Author of Shouting at the Rain)

Interview #89 with Lynda Mullaly Hunt (Author of One for the Murphys)

Interview #90 with Laurie Morrison (Author of Up for Air)

Interview #91 with Jody J. Little (Author of Mostly the Honest Truth)

SEASON #SIX (Summer 2019)

Interview #92 with John David Anderson (Author of Finding Orion)

Interview #93 with Lisa Thompson (Author of The Light Jar)

Interview #94 with Keith Calabrese (Author of A Drop of Hope)

Interview #95 with Alicia D. Williams (Author of Genesis Begins Again)

Interview #96 with Kim Ventrella (Author of Bone Hollow)

Interview #97 with Natalie Lloyd (Author of Over the Moon)

Interview #98 with Cynthia Lord (Author of Because of the Rabbit)

Interview #99 with Tina Athaide (Author of Orange for the Sunsets)

Interview #100 with Elly Swartz (Author of Give and Take)

Interview #101 with Amy Rebecca Tan (Author of A Kind of Paradise)

Interview #102 with Varsha Bajaj (Author of Count Me In)

Interview #103 with Laura Resau (Author of Tree of Dreams)

SEASON #SEVEN (2019/2020)

Interview #104 with Laurel Snyder (Author of My Jasper June)

Interview #105 with Lisa Bunker (Author of Zenobia July)

Interview #106 with Jasmine Warga (Author of Other Words for Home)

Interview #107 with Barbara Dee (Author of Maybe He Just Likes You)

Interview #108 with Graham Salisbury (Author of Banjo)

Interview #109 with Donna Gephart (Author of The Paris Project)

Interview #110 with Jake Burt (Author of The Tornado)

Interview #111 with Jess Redman (Author of The Miraculous)

Interview #112 with Karen Strong (Author of Just South of Home)

Interview #113 with Nicole Melleby (Author of Hurricane Season)

Interview #114 with J.J. and Chris Grabenstein (Authors of Shine)

Interview #115 with Susan Vaught (Author of Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalyse)

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

*Thank you Chris Baron for writing this incredible and thought-provoking book.

*Here is my book review...

All of Me 

by Chris Baron

(June 11, 2019)

How did you come to know Ari?
Great question.  I have always been nostalgic--even a bit romantic about my own childhood wanderings and experiences.  But Ari was born out family circumstance, self reflection, and seeing my own middle grade aged kids growing up--their joys, passions, and struggles.

What do you think is Ari's most admirable quality?
Ari struggles, but one thing that is admirable about Ari is that he is open.  So many things happen to him beyond his control, but through it all he finds a way to be open to change, new experiences, and hope.

Is there anything you wish Ari would have changed or done differently in his story?
Ha! Let me just say this.  There are many "deleted scenes" or in this case, poems/chapters that never made it into the book.  One of these scenes involves a bit of a "fighting back" scenario.  I was part of the #kidsneedmentors program last year, and when I told the students about it, they were really interested in that! Even though I know it's better for the book that it's not there....I still think about that scene quite often.

What do you think Ari can offer to other children that are experiencing similar situations to what he went through?
I love this question: I want to shout something like self-confidence! Hope! Adventure! But I am also embracing the “I don’t completely know yet.”  I do know this though: I want kids (and all readers)  to see some part of themselves in Ari. I hope readers will learn about empathy and kindness for others, Jewish culture and tradition, but also faith in general, overcoming struggles with body image, friendship, taking risks, and learning more about being brave and being themselves no matter what. I hope readers, especially the young ones, will know that if they are going through difficult things like Ari and other characters in the book, they will know that they are not alone.

How did you research Ari and the circumstances he found himself in?
Since Ari finds himself in a number of difficult circumstances, I did a lot of research on psychology, weight loss, bullying, and other issues, and I combined that with the context of my own experience.  It was a lot of work, but it was incredible. I did some interviews with psychologists and nutritionists.  That was invaluable in terms of authenticity.

Do you and Ari share any similarities?
Yes!  The LA Times called it a "fictional retelling" and I think that is accurate.  There are many similarities to the way I grew up and the way Ari does.  I know the struggles, and the situations, first-hand. 

What was the hardest scene to write about Ari?
Tough question.  There were several.  Often my answer to this is usually pointing out the more internal struggles Ari has about how he feels about his weight. Right now though, I am thinking about some of the scenes between his mom and dad and trying to make those as honest as I possibly could.  Those were hard to write.

Who do you think was Air's biggest supporter and why?
Ari has a lot of support--well meaning if nothing else.  His friends do a good job of sticking with him-certainly Lisa is a central guide in the story--even with her own challenges.

Why do you think society focuses more on female weight issues as opposed to those issues that males face with weight and body image?
This is a sticky question which I might not be able to answer with accuracy, but I will say that a lot of it has to do with societal norms--we are "used to it," and what I have found is that boys are often told to just suck it up and deal with it.  So many of the boys I talked to about this (including myself) were given really no focus at all except teasing. Boy need resources to learn about health, body positivity, and empathy.

What do you think Ari is doing as the present time?
 I think he is loving his life, and he is living generously with his family.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (11/25/19)

Thanks to Jen and Kellee for hosting this idea on their site.  Here is a link to the site...

*With NCTE19 this past weekend, I didn't get much reading done.  

Books I Read this Past Week...

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky
by Kwame Mbalia

*My Middle-Grade Novel

Books I Will (continue to) Read this Week...

The New Neighbors by Simon Lelic

*My Novel Published for Adults

The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake

*My Young-Adult Novel

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

*My Novel Published for Adults (BBC - Boy's Book Club)

Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened
by Emily Blejwas

*My Middle-Grade Novel (Released in April 2020)

Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

*My Young-Adult Novel (Audio)