Fourth Grade Journey

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

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Wonder Wednesday #346 (Readers will READ)

Wonder Wednesday - Making it WORK

*We all know how different life in the classroom is during Covid-19.  

*My students are thrilled to be back and have been nothing but positive.  

*The other day during our independent daily reading, I noticed three readers not in their seats at their desks in ROWS.

*I thought maybe the three of them had snuck off to the bathroom together.  I wasn't amused.

*Then as I was walking around observing the readers, I found the missing girls.

*Seeing them trying to get comfortable as they read, warmed my heart.  

*As we all know, readers will READ, and they will READ as comfortable as they can.  

*Here are the readers in action...


Monday, September 21, 2020

An Inside Look #145 (Author INTERVIEW)

An Inside Look with Barbara Dee
(Authors of My Life in the Fish Tank)

*Welcome to my favorite feature of my blog.  

*Season #ONE (June of 2016 to March of 2017)

*Season #TWO (Summer of 2017)

*Season #THREE (School Year 2017/2018)

Season #FOUR
ummer/fall of 2018)

*Season #FIVE (School Year 2018/2019)

*Season #SIX (Summer 2019) 

*Season #SEVEN (Fall 2019) 

*Season #EIGHT (Winter/Spring 2020)

*I'm excited to be back for season #NINE with brand new interviews/authors.  

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

*This is the THIRD interview in which I'm calling Season #NINE.  

*Thank you to Barbara for being the One-Hundred Forty-Fifth author I've had the pleasure of interviewing.  I truly appreciate it.

*Here is my Review of the Novel...

My Life in the Fish Tank

by Barbara Dee

(September 15, 2020)

How did you come to know Zinnia?
Zinny is a product of my imagination. But I drew a bit on my daughter's experience when my son (her oldest brother) was in treatment for cancer. Of course, for that entire difficult year, our family's focus was on my son. But we all lived through his illness too--and coped in our own ways.

What do you think is her most admirable quality?
Zinny is a great family member, sensitive to everyone's needs, responsible and loyal. Some of this loyalty gets her into trouble, though, as she feels compelled to keep the family's secret.

Is there anything you wish she would have changed or done differently in her story?
I wish she had spoken up to her parents earlier about the need to keep Gabriel's condition a secret. I know she didn't because she was trying to be a good kid, not make waves, be respectful and considerate during a family crisis. But sometimes even an "easy," quiet kid needs to make some noise. Self-advocacy is an important survival skill.

What do you think Zinnia can offer to other children that are experiencing similar situations to what she went through?
A few things. I hope Zinny's experience can show kids that mental illness happens even to nice, "normal" families, and should never be hidden or stigmatized.  Also, when one family member is affected, the whole family is affected, including siblings. Everyone may need some help, which can come in many forms--one-on-one talk therapy, a peer group like the Lunch Club, or maybe just informal conversation with a trusted adult like Mr. Patrick, the guidance counselor.  The important thing is to not push people away, even if you think no one understands, or that you shouldn't divulge personal family matters.

How did you research Zinnia and the circumstances she found herself in?
In addition to much reading, I interviewed a child psychologist whose patients include kids dealing with the mental illness of a sibling. She told me that a number of these siblings have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, which typically appears in late adolescence.  So her patients tend to be younger siblings trying to cope both with the older sibling's mental illness and the changed family dynamic.

Do you and Zinnia share any similarities?
We both try to make people laugh--and we both love ice cream and pizza!

What was the hardest scene to write about her?
I think probably the hardest scene to write was the family therapy scene at the end, when Zinny finally confronts her parents about their wish to keep Gabriel's condition secret. I wanted Zinny to be strong in that scene, but the focus needed to stay on Gabriel--his shock and hurt. Also, the parents' reactions had to be raw but not overwhelming.  Balancing all this emotion for a middle grade reader was tricky.

Who do you think was Zinnia’s biggest supporter and why?
Zinny has several important supporters: her science teacher, her guidance counselor, and the other kids in Lunch Club. But I think her biggest supporter may be her friend Kailani, who remains loyal even as Zinny pushes her away. And I think the way Kailani secretly arranges for Zinny to join the lunch Club is brave and selfless.

Why do you think young people, like Zinny, show such resilience during difficult times when some adults don’t display positive and productive coping mechanisms.
Great question! Maybe one reason is that Zinny's curiosity and enthusiasm about science, particularly marine biology, brings her outside of herself, and gives her an understanding of what she can control--and what she can't. Also, Zinny is surrounded by caring people. Many adults going through difficult times simply withdraw without an institutional safety net like school.

What do you think she is doing at the present time?
I think Zinny is a brilliant marine biologist researching the effect of climate change on our oceans and its wildlife. She's both a scientist and a born nurturer, and that nurturing will extend into the natural world.

*Here are links to the One Hundred Forty-Two interviews...

SEASON #ONE (2016-2017)

SEASON #FOUR (Summer 2018)

SEASON #FIVE (2018/2019)

SEASON #SIX (Summer 2019)

SEASON #SEVEN (Fall 2019)

SEASON #EIGHT (Winter/Spring 2020)

Interview #121 with Melissa Savage (Author of Nessie Quest)

Interview #122 with Tamara Bundy (Author of Pixie Pushes On)

Interview #123 with Lindsay Lackey (Author of All the Impossible Things)

Interview #124 with Tae Keller (Author of When You Trap a Tiger)

Interview #125 with Jamie Sumner (Author of Roll With It)

Interview #126 with Hena Khan (Author of More to the Story)

Interview #127 with Phil Bildner (Author of A High-Five for Glenn Burke)

Interview #128 with Leslie Connor (Author of A Home for Goddesses and Dogs)

Interview#129 with Gillian McDunn (Author of Queen Bee and Me)

Interview #130 with Jody J. Little (Author of Worse Than Weird)

Interview #131 with Jenn Bishop (Author of Things You Can't Say)

Interview #132 with Kaela Noel (Author of Coo)

Interview #133 with Rebecca Stead (Author of The List of Things That Will Not Change)

Interview #134 with Gae Polisner (Author of Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me)

Interview #135 with Emily Blejwas (Author of Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened)

Interview #136 with Joy McCullough (Author of A Field Guide to Getting Lost)

Interview #137 with Kim Baker (Author of the Water Bears)

Interview #138 with Erin Entrada Kelly (Author of We Dream of Space)

Interview #139 with Jess Redman (Author of Quintessence)

Interview #140 with Melanie Conklin (Author of Every Missing Piece)

Interview #141 with Lindsey Stoddard (Author of Brave Like That)

SEASON #NINE (2020/2021)

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (9/21/20)


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

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

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy

*My Novel Published for Adults

The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

*My Young-Adult Novel

Anxious People
 by Fredrik Backman

*My Novel Published for Adults 

What Stars are Made Of by Sarah Allen

*My Middle-Grade Novel

Books I Read this Past Week...  

Rowley Jefferson's Awesome Friendly Adventure 
by Jeff Kinney

*Middle-Grade Novel (3 STARS out of 5 Stars)

Trowbridge Road by Marcella Pixley

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

A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan

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

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

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

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Trowbridge Road by Marcella Pixley

How I Heard About It:
*I received this book from Candlewick Publishers.  As I was looking through the books in the box, this title and cover caught my eye.  I knew nothing of the book, but something told me this was a story not to be missed.  I put aside all the other books I was reading at the time and devoured the story in a couple of days.

What It Is About - FIVE Things You Need to Know:
*June Bug Jordan lives with her mother who is struggling with life.

*Ziggy lives with his mother who is also struggling with life.

*June Bug has an uncle that would do anything to help her and improve her situation at home.

*Ziggy has a grandmother that would do anything to help him and improve his situation at home.

*When June Bug and Ziggy meet each other, both of their lives are changed forever.

What I Thought Of It - Five Observations/Reflections:
*Once I began reading, I knew this was going to be a special story.

*When I finished, I knew I had read one of the best and strongest middle-grade stories I've read in 2020.

*June Bug and Ziggy worked their way into my mind and heart, and I felt all the "feels" as I read about their lives and the special friendship they formed.

*Everyone needs an uncle and grandmother like these children had.

*There were several difficult and complex issues presented in the story, but written about with grace, sensitivity, and truth.  

Who Should Read It:
Because of some of the content, I would recommend the novel to fifth and sixth grade readers.  The story might be even more appropriate for the middle-school reader.  If a younger reader were to read the book, I would say they should experience it with adult by their side.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

How I Heard About It:
*This book has been on my TBR list for quite some time.  I"m not sure why I never got around to reading it, but now that I'm done, I'm sure glad I did.  I listened to the story via Audible during my commute to and from work and also while prepping in the classroom.

What It Is About - FIVE Things You Need to Know:
*Zoe Washington receives a letter from Marcus when she turns twelve years old.

*She hasn't heard from Marcus during her first eleven years, and wonders why she is getting a letter from him now.

*Zoe has enjoyed life with her mother and her step-father.  She also has great friends, but is on the outs with her best friend at the moment.

*After she begins to communicate with Marcus, she and her best friend bury the hatchet and work together to solve a case that involves Marcus and why he hasn't communicated with her.  

*While hiding her plan from her mother, Zoe does everything she can to prove that Marcus didn't do what people said he did.

What I Thought Of It - Five Observations/Reflections:
*The narration was incredible and so easy to listen to.

*I loved the character of Zoe.  Her strength, determination, and guts were presented in a positive and sensitive way.  

*As I listened, I so enjoyed the friendship between Zoe and her best friend.

*The themes of friendship, family, race, and acceptance were woven throughout the pages of the novel.

*There were a few elements that I believe were a bit unrealistic, but the story is fiction, so I tried not to get too weighed down by these events.

Who Should Read It:
*I think this would be a wonderful novel to share with readers in grades four, five, and six.  The middle-school reader would also be the perfect target audience for the story.  The adventure of Zoe could be used as a read aloud and/or put in the hands of individual reader.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

Rowley Jefferson's Awesome Friendly Adventure by Jeff Kinney

How I Heard About It:
*After reading the first book in this new series, I knew I wanted to see what the second story had in store for the reader.  I read the first book to my class and they voted unanimously to have this book be our second class read aloud. 

What It Is About - FIVE Things You Need to Know:
*Rowley and Greg are back for another installment in Rowley's perspective of their friendship.

*This time Rowley is creating a fictional story on his own about Roland and his friend Garg.  

*Each character in the story represent the relationship between Rowley and Greg.

*Every-time Rowley finishes a chapter, he shares the writing with Greg who always has an opinion on what should happen in the "adventure" story.

*Rowley wants to create a character that his parents would be proud of while Greg has another set of ideas.

What I Thought Of It - Five Observations/Reflections:
*I think I enjoyed the first story better, but still thought this sequel would be right up the alley for the young reader.

*I enjoyed how Kinney included lots of great life-lessons within the funny and silly story.

*Rowley is such a great boy and always wants to make his parents proud.  I love that he could be a role model for readers.  

*Now that I'm sharing the story with my students, I'm seeing a new side to it from their viewpoint and my fourth graders are loving it.

*Lots of adventure, great illustrations, and a plot that will definitely engage the reader.

Who Should Read It:
*As with the first book, this novel is perfect for readers in grades three and above.  Readers of the Dairy of a Wimpy Kid series definitely need to check out these new stories.  They are awesome and fun.  Happy Reading!

 3 STARS out of 5 Stars

Friday, September 18, 2020

Feedback Friday #2 (Chapter One)

 Feedback Friday

*If you follow the blog, you know that I tried my hand at writing over the summer.

*As I stated then, I'm not sure where this writing project will go or end up, but I'm proud of myself for carving out time to write each day, create a story, and follow through on my summer writing plan.

*By the end of the summer, I had a thirty-five chapter adult novel with almost 90,000 words.  Each day during the week, I would write a chapter.  I haven't gone back and reread anything.  I've made no changes, adaptations, or rewrites.  

*Being a complete novice, I'm not sure what the next steps would be in moving forward with the story.  I came up with the idea of posting a chapter here on the blog each Friday.  By doing so, I'm hoping to gain some insight from readers.

*If you should choose to, please take a gander at the submitted chapter and leave any of the following comments for me in the comment section of the blog.  I welcome any and all feedback...

-What did you enjoy about the chapter?

-What didn't you enjoy about the chapter?

-What was a strong point in the chapter?

-What was a weak point in the chapter?

-What was confusing, misleading, or unclear?

-What worked, or didn't work, within the chapter?

-Is there anything you would like to see added, or deleted, within the chapter.  

-Any other comments, questions, or concerns would be greatly appreciated.

Chapter One – Friday, July 22, 2011


I’ve heard people say that when you experience a traumatic event in your life,

time seems to stand still.  Sitting here in my car in the unknown parking lot, I’m

trying to form some sense of time that has passed over the last week.

I close my eyes and try to focus, but all I see, and feel

is a blur of complex, distressing, and horrible images.  Quickly, I open my eyes.  Those images

have been with me for the last week and I’m not sure I can handle them anymore.  The breaking

point seems closer than ever before and I’m not sure I’m going to make it.  How did I get to this

point?  I guess that is why I’m sitting in this particular parking lot located a few miles from our

home nestled up on the hill.


This July day is almost as it was one week ago, but the world looks completely different now.

I feel like I’ve aged years in the last seven days.  Looking into the review mirror, I hardly recognize

the man looking back at me.  I’m unshaven, dark circles border my tired eyes, and I appear

thinner.  That has never been a good look on me.  So many people say they eat when stressed,

sad, or depressed.  I’m the exact opposite.  I can go days without eating much. The past days

have shown me how long I can truly go without putting much substance into my system.  My dry

throat begs for more water and I grab the water bottle that has become my constant companion.

At least this companion isn't as dangerous as my other constant friend. The car clock catches

my attention.  My check-in time is in five minutes.  Part of me wants to bolt and escape the

moment, but I’ve come this far; no turning back now. 


Walking toward the front door, I can feel how wobbly my legs are.  Not only am I emotionally

weak, but more physically weak than I’ve been in a long time.  Another patient is walking out just

as I’m about to go in.  Is that what we are called?  Patients?  For lack of a better term, I’ll go with

the term.  Once again, I’m stressed and worried about what people in the waiting room will think

of me.  Will they be able to look at me and know the horrible person I am.  The façade that has

been carefully crafted and built built feels like it has crumbled away to small bricks, stone, and

dust.  I make my way to the front desk where an overweight young woman sits and greets me

with a warm and sweet smile. 


“May I help you?” she asks.  Her smile, voice, and eyes are warm and inviting.  She is probably

placed in the welcoming position for a reason. 


“I have a two o'clock check-in and a 2:30 appointment with Dr. Glass,” I reply, wondering if she can

hear my soft spoken and beaten down voice.  I shouldn’t be standing here.  This is not my life.

I don’t belong in the room with all the losers of the world. 


“Your name sir,” she interrupts my thoughts. 


“What?” I say and stare back at her and know I’m about to cry or lose it. 


“Could I have your name please so I can get you checked in and provide you with the forms you

will need to fill out before you see Dr. Glass," she patiently says. 


“Oh yes, I’m sorry.  JP Evans.  I have an appointment with Dr. Glass at 2:30 and I guess I’m

supposed to be here at 2:00 to fill out some, well some papers.  That is what the lady said I talked

to on the phone the other day.”  I can tell I’m rambling and looking foolish. 


“Could I get your full name sir, or is JP your legal name,” she asks. 


When did I start going by JP, I think to myself.  Thinking back on all the times I’ve wanted a fresh

start.  So many fresh starts and yet nothing seems to work.  Oh, I remember now.  It was transitioning

from high school to college.  No one would know me on the college campus.  I could be anyone

I wanted to be.  My new chapter was in my hands and I could create what was on those new

pages.  Starting with my name was the perfect place to start.  Jonathan Phillip could be an image

of the past.  I didn’t like him much to begin with.  Not wanting to completely change my name with

anything legal which would upset my parents, I thought why not just shorten it.  At the time, I was

not a fan of the name John, Phil, or any combination of the two names.  Studly, athletic, and masculine

guys always seemed to have cool names or initials.  JP.  There was a nice ring to that.  Within

three summer months, I would go from Jonathan Phillip to JP. 


“Sir are you alright?”, the receptionist asked and brought me back to the waiting room and out of

my hazy thoughts. 


“Yes, what was your question,” I asked.


“I need your full name so I can process your information and get you checked in,” she smiled.


“JP, I mean Jonathan Phillip Evans, is my name and I have an appointment today.”


She smiled once again and so patient.  Hopefully I'm not the craziest guy she encounters during

her day.  She is probably use to crazy since we are in the midst of a counseling center.

As she gathers some papers, a clipboard, and a pen; I look behind me at the other people sitting

in the old and worn chairs scattered throughout what looks like a 1980’s style waiting room. 


“Fill these out while you wait and bring them in with you when you see Dr. Glass,” she states as

she hands me the clipboard.  Saying thank you as I turn toward the nearest chair, I try to muster

a smile for her and get myself from the front desk to a chair. 


Just as I was finishing up the last form, a large bearded man opened one of the lobbies’ doors

and called my name.  The appointment hadn’t started yet, and already I was exhausted.

  Every task that required my focus was tiring and stressful.  The forms had caused irritation,

frustration, and anger.  Half of the information I wasn’t sure of and the other half caused me to

reflect on how I wanted to answer.  One questionnaire hit hard.  I had to answer ten questions

about my emotional and mental state.  Sure, I could lie like I normally have during my life; or I

could get serious and answer honestly.  If the position I was currently in didn’t force me to look

at my life honestly, then I don’t know what would have. 


I straightened the papers and put them all under the clip.  I knew Dr. Glass was a man, but as I

was walking toward him, I wish I would have requested a female counselor.  Conversations with

women have always come more natural to me.  At the time I made the phone call for the

appointment, he was the first available appointment.  Quickly, I told the receptionist I would take

the appointment. 


He smiled and held out his hand as he greeted me.  Another warm and friendly smile.  I wonder

if all the staff had a training on how to greet the crazy patients.  Reaching my hand out, I tried to

return the strongest handshake I could manage.  Walking behind him toward what I assumed

would be his office, my stomach reminded me I wanted to escape or throw up right here in the hall.

My mind took over and continued the walk down the hall without incident. 


“Here we are,” said Dr. Glass as he welcomed me into his small and cramped office space.

 A desk, his chair, and couch took up most of the space.  One wall had a large bookshelf that

looked like it might collapse under the weight of the books stacked on the shelves.  “Have a seat,”

he offered. 


My spot must be on the couch since the only other spot was the office chair and I’m pretty sure

that was for him.  I sat down realizing I wanted to be anywhere, but here.


“My name is Dr. Glass, but you can call me Trevor if you would like,” he said as he sat down in

the chair and smiled again at me. 


“I’m JP, I mean Jonathan Phillip," I struggle to say back with as much energy and enthusiasm

as I can.  “Which do you prefer, JP or Jonathan Phillip?” he asked.  “I don’t care, either is fine.

Most people call me JP, “ I said. 


“JP it is then.” Dr. Glass replied. 


“The first visit is always the hardest,” he stated and reached for a tablet of paper on his cluttered

desk next to him.  He wrote something down, but I couldn’t see what it was. 


“I’m not sure where to start,” I whisper and wonder if he can hear me.  I can feel the tears coming

and I fight them with every ounce of power I have left.  They can not visit now. I was afraid if they

showed up, they would never leave; while consuming every inch of my being.  I knew in my heart

the flood works would be just as upsetting and horrible as that fateful day back in the summer of

1997.  No way was I allowing that to happen.


“Start with whatever you would like to talk about, what brought you here today, or what is on

your mind,” he interjects with a calm and soothing voice.  We sit in silence for several minutes,

but he doesn't seem in a rush.  My mind is racing, but not as fast as my heart.  I’m not sure what

a heart attack feels like, but the internal feeling I'm experiencing could definitely be close. 

I need to calm myself or I will be sick or pass out.  Not sure how much more I can take, I close

my eyes and bow my head. 


“Hey, JP.  You are in a safe place and whatever you tell me is confidential.  You have nothing

to worry about.  I’m here to listen, talk, and help you with anything you would like.  You might not

be ready to talk about the heavy stuff just yet.  How about we start with your childhood?”


Looking up, I meet his eyes for the first time since he called me in from the waiting room. 

He smiles and I think I smile back.  “What about my childhood?” I asked.  “Nothing bad happened

when I was little.” 


“Oh, I didn’t say there was.  Talking about our early life is a place to start a conversation.  Plus,

I find hearing about a person’s upbringing helps me to get to know them as an adult.  Would that

be ok with you,” Dr. Glass asks.


“Sure, I guess," I say, not sure I want to go back in time.  What did my childhood have to do with

what happened last week?  Maybe nothing and probably everything, I think.  People have said

therapy isn’t easy, and I’m beginning to see they may be right.  “Where should I start,” I ask.

  “Wherever you would like.  What do you remember most about being a young boy?  What stands

out?  What are some of your favorite memories?  I find once people begin talking, it becomes

quite easy and they find themselves in a normal and helpful conversation. 


“Well, I guess I can do that,” I say without much conviction.  We sit in more silence and I look

up at him again while he nods his head telling me I’m going to need to start since my early years

are what we are about to discuss.  Trevor Glass waits, smiles, and waits some more. 

I guess I could tell you about starting school as a kindergartener…