Fourth Grade Journey

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

Monday, January 15, 2018

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (1/15/18)

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...

Enticing Hard-to-Reach Writers by Ruth Ayres

*Professional Reading (5 STARS out of 5 Stars!)

The Absolutist by John Boyne

*Novel Published for Adults (4 STARS out of 5 Stars!)

My Book Review

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

*Young-Adult Novel (4 STARS out of 5 Stars!)

My Book Review

From Striving to Thriving by Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward

*Professional Reading (5 STARS out of 5 Stars!)

Books I Will (continue to) Read this Week

The Immoralists by Chloe Benjamin

*My Novel Published for Adults

The Problem Children by Natalie Lloyd

*My Middle-Grade Novel

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

*My Young-Adult Novel

One of the Boys by Daniel Malarial

*Novel Published for Adults (Audio)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Absolutist by John Boyne

How I Heard About It:  Last fall, I read The Heart's Invisible Furies for my BBC (Boy's Book Club).  The story was wonderful and all the members of my book club enjoyed the book.  I looked into what else John Boyne had written and found this title.  I ordered it and decided to make it my first novel published for adults for the year 2018.  

What It Is About:  Tristan is twenty-one years old and traveling from London to Norwich in the year 1919.  The war is over, but Tristan is far from feeling anything but sadness.  He is on a journey to deliver a stack of letters to the sister of his best friend Will.  Tristan and Will met each other during the war, fought side by side, and forged a friendship that neither of them could really describe.  They had good times together.  They had bad times together.  They had agreements.  They had major arguments.  These two young men shared more together than with anyone else.  They also had more secrets than any soldiers should have.  Years later, Tristan knows he must deliver Will's letters and share with his sister what really happened between the two soldiers.  

What I Thought Of It:  While I don't think this was as strong of a novel as The Heart's Invisible Furies, I completely enjoyed it and found it to be quite an emotional experience.  Tristan was so conflicted not only after the war, but during his time fighting side by side with Will.  Boyne did a phenomenal job of describing what life was like for Tristan and how he felt during the different obstacles he faced.  Even though I can't image what life must have been like for men in the early 1900's, but with talent, grace, and beautiful writing; Boyne did an incredible job of enticing me in and not letting me go until the very last word.  It really was an incredible reading experience.  

Who Should Read It:   I would recommend this novel to all adult readers who enjoy and gravitate toward historical fiction.  The writing was strong.  The characters were real, raw, and personal.  The twists and turns kept happening chapter after chapter.  I can't really imagine any reader not finding satisfaction with this story.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

How I Heard About It:  I have had this title on my radar for quite some time. When it made the Nerdy 2017 Awards list, I checked my Cloud Library app to see if my local library had it.  They did.  I downloaded it.  This was my first audio listen for the year 2018.  

What It Is About:  Molly and Cassie.  Cassie and Molly.  Twins that are alike.  Twins that are quite different.  Molly is a bit overweight.  Cassie is not.  Molly is a bit shy.  Cassie is not.  Molly is careful.  Cassie is not.  Molly has never been kissed.  Cassie has had many kisses.  Molly is straight.  Cassie is gay.  Molly has decided this is going to be the year where she isn't so careful.  She wants to take some risks.  She wants to live a little.  She wants love.  Molly goes about her new adventure with caution and care.  Her sister encourages her to get out there and show the world who she is.  When Molly meets not only one boy, but two, her safe and predictable world is turned upside down.  She has spent her life keeping herself safe from rejection.  Now she may have put herself in a position to not only be rejected by one boy, but two.  

What I Thought Of It:  The story started a bit slow for me and I was thinking it wasn't going to be the best "listen" to start the year with.  But after several chapters, I began to get to know Molly and started to enjoy her story.  I loved how different the twins were, how they supported each other, and how they dealt with their differences.  The supporting cast was outstanding and brought such life, energy, and emotion to the story.  There were moments when I couldn't relate to the story, but I am a 50 year old man.  However, most of the time I was completely content listening to the story and found myself chuckling from time to time.  I'm not sure the overall story was as strong as I was thinking it was going to be, but I'm glad I listened and got to experience Molly and Cassie's adventure navigating the world of high school, friendship, and love.  

Who Should Read It:   This is the perfect novel for the female high school reader.  I don't mean to say males can't read it, but I think females will be able to relate to Molly, Cassie, their friends; and all that they went through.  Readers who read Becky Albertalli first novel, I'm sure will enjoy this one.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  4 STARS out of 5 Stars

Professional Reading - Part #ONE

 Professional Reading

*One reading goal I have for myself during the year 2018 is to read more professional books.

*I'm not real great at it, but when I do, I find myself really enjoying the reading experience and learning so much that I can apply with my students.

*2018 is off to a great start with two incredible professional books...

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Life-Lesson #15: Be Giving

"Be Giving"

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

*One of the biggest messages I try to share with my students is to make a positive impact on the world.

*This isn't always easy, but I work very hard to spread this theme/lesson/idea each and every day.  

*This one always captures the hearts, minds, and imaginations of my students.  They are usually spell-bound the first and second time they watch.  This is one video clip that is shown multiple times in order to fully capture the essence of the video.  I must say this is one of my FAVORITE life-lessons of the year.

*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
Week #4:  Be Responsible                                                                 This Week's Life-Lesson
Week #5:  Be Brains                                                                           This Week's Life-Lesson
Week #6:  Be a Friend                                                                        This Week's Life-Lesson
Week #7:  Be Life-Changing                                                              This Week's Life-Lesson        
Week #8:  Be Spooky (Halloween Fun Edition)
Week #9:  Be a Bully - NOT!                                                              This Week's Life-Lesson
Week #10:  Be Courageous (to continue on)                                     This Week's Life-Lesson
Week #11:  Be Motivated                                                                   This Week's Life-Lesson
Week #12:  Be Inspired                                                                      This Week's Life-Lesson
Week #13:  Be Merry                                                                          This Week's Life-Lesson
Week #14:  Be a Team                                                                       This Week's Life-Lesson

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Wonder Wednesday #207 (Writer's Notebooks)

Wonder Wednesday - Writers in Action

*We read everyday!

*We write everyday!

*One goal I had for this year was to have my readers and writers share more.

*I wouldn't say I have reached this goal, but I am getting better.

*I try to build in "share" time each day for both the readers and writers.  This piece of the workshop has been a great addition and we have found it extremely valuable.

*What I have noticed as the year has progressed is that the students themselves will ASK to share either their writing and/or what they are reading.  I love when this happens.  There may not always be time to fit this type of sharing in during the day, but I'm making a point to make this a priority.

*Recently two of my writers asked to share pieces they worked on during our writer's notebooks time.  Here is our weekly schedule for our writer's notebooks...

Monday - Music Monday (Write about a piece of music)

Tuesday - Random Topic Tuesday (Write about a random topic from a list of 156 topics)

Wednesday - Picture Wednesday (Write about an image/picture)

Thursday - Life Lesson Thursday (Write about a video with a life-lesson)

Friday - Friday Choice (Write about whatever they would like)

*I've included the two pieces that were recently shared.  I was thrilled to see what the writers are coming up with and creating on the page...

This piece came from Life-Lesson Thursday - "Being Inspired"

This piece came from Music Monday - "Rise Up" by Andra Day

Monday, January 8, 2018

An Inside Look #45 (Author INTERVIEW)

An Inside Look with Jarrett Lerner
(Author of Enginerds)

*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 Jarrett Lerner for being the TWELVTH author of the third season.  I truly appreciate it.  

*Here are links to the first FORTY-FOUR interviews…


*It is always such fun to see a book being raved about on Twitter.  I remember when I started to see "comments" about a new book named Enginerds by Jarrett Lerner.  The readers were talking about how much they loved the story and that it was going to be a HIT with young readers.  After I bought and finished the book, I reached out to Jarrett and found that he was a really COOL guy.  

*He 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 Enginerds

*Thank you Jarrett Lerner for writing this story for readers and taking the time to share your thoughts with us here on the blog...

by Jarrett Lerner (Released September 12, 2017)

How did you come to know Ken?  
All my characters, Ken included, are products of both my experiences and my imagination. Bits and pieces of people I know in real life show up in the characters I create, but throughout the writing process, my imagination gets involved, adding this and getting rid of that, exaggerating one thing and tamping down another. Sometimes, after dozens and dozens of revisions, the character who started out sort of like someone in my life no longer resembles them at all.

What do you think is Kens most admirable quality?
I think Ken possesses certain admirable qualities of leadership. In the latter half of EngiNerds -- and especially in the closing scenes -- the boys need someone to step up to the plate and be a leader, to keep them organized and on the ball and say a few words to lift their spirits when the going gets tough. But leadership is a very tricky thing. A good leader can very easily turn bad. Power and authority can be dangerous. I hope to broach some of these thorny questions with the EngiNerds books, and to get kids thinking about them. What are some qualities a good leader possesses? What about a bad one? Are leaders born, or can they be made? Can a group of people be led by more than one leader? What would be the benefit of such a scenario? What about the drawbacks?

Is there anything you wish Ken would have changed or done differently in his story?
Definitely! But the story wouldn't have been as exciting if Ken didn't now and again make mistakes or do things that I (and my readers) didn't necessarily agree with. For instance, I wish he'd been a little easier on Dan and had been quicker to give John Henry Knox a chance. If Ken wasn't so stubborn, though, a lot of the drama and comedy of the story would go away.

What do you think Ken can offer to other children that are experiencing similar situations to what he went through?  
I think Ken can offer a model for how to act in situations in which a friendship, for one reason or another, becomes strained. Ken doesn't want to "share" Dan, his best friend since forever, with anyone else. Doing so makes him nervous that his own friendship with Dan will somehow become less meaningful or important. I think he learns, though, that that's not how friendships and friend-groups work. You can have more than one best friend. And if one of your friends develops interests that you don't share, that doesn't mean you're destined to grow apart.

How did you research Ken and the circumstances he found himself in?
I'm constantly amazed by authors who do researchresearch -- those who, say, write historical fiction or "hard" science fiction. The thought of undertaking such projects is daunting to me. But that doesn't mean I'm not constantly reading and investigating and asking questions for the betterment of my stories. While writing and revising EngiNerds, I reread some of my favorite adventure stories and looked back at books that I recalled having excellent, extra-snappy dialogue. I've also got a handful of friends who are engineers -- and one who is an actual roboticist! -- and I spoke to them all about a variety of matters. But unlike a writer of historical or "hard" science fiction, when the facts they shared with me didn't suit my imaginative needs, I threw them right out the window.

Do you and Ken share any similarities?  
One quality I share with all the EngiNerds is my love of tinkering. I like to play around with things, to take them apart and put them back together again, to see how they work. I like to create, whether it's building stories with words or, say, building catapults with a bunch of random "junk" I've got lying around the house.

One quality that I hope I share with Ken is his loyalty. Although his stubbornness and pride initially get in the way, he comes through for his friends. Dan approaches Ken with a problem -- a big one, and one that Ken played no part in bringing about. Technically, it's not Ken's responsibility to solve that problem. But because Dan is his friend, because they are loyal to one another, Ken ultimately treats the problem as if it is his own. That's something I admire and strive to practice in my own life, too.

What was the hardest scene to write about Ken?
The hardest -- but also, in a way, most enjoyable -- scenes to write were those that featured Greeeg. I tried to make the robot both cool and creepy at the same time. It was a balancing act, and I needed to use Ken's reactions to the bot to help guide what I wanted the reader to feel. Hopefully that came through: both the excitement of having a walking, talking robot of your very own -- and the fear of the thing when it begins to behave in less-than-ideal ways.

Who do you think was Ken's biggest supporter and why?
I think Dan is Ken's biggest supporter, and that Ken is Dan's biggest supporter right back. They have their differences and their troubles, but at the end of the day, they admire and respect one another immensely. Once Ken gets over his anger and the hurt caused by the secrets Dan kept from him (with good reason, arguably!), he is proud and impressed by his best bud's brilliance. And during the final, climactic scenes of the book, Dan supports Ken, and trusts in him to make the right decisions.

Why do you think is it hard for some children, like these “Enginerds”, to find a group to connect with and feel a part of?  
If I had a solid answer to that, I think I could help prevent a lot of kids' confusion and frustration and sadness and strife. I think a big part of the reason, however, is that the "middle grade" years are the ones during which kids are beginning to truly connect with themselves -- to get a sense of their likes and dislikes, their wants and wishes, their strengths and weaknesses, their interests and passions and values and dreams. To undergo that process while also trying to build relationships with other kids who are undergoing that same complex, dramatic process -- well, it's kind of like trying to put together a puzzle that doesn't have all its pieces. Oh, and you're blindfolded, too!

One of the reasons I do so much work outside of my writing to promote literacy and help get books into kids' hands is because reading can be such a tremendously powerful tool in putting together that metaphorical puzzle.

What do you think Ken is doing at this present time? 
Well, since I've already written the sequel toEngiNerds, I actually know what Ken is doing right now. I can't say too much about the new book, but I can tell you a few things: Kitty plays a big role, as does a very stinky sock; a familiar, curiously shaped cloud drifts by a few times; and a girl EngiNerd joins the crew -- her name's Rebecca, and believe it or not, she might be even smarter than the one and only John Henry Knox.

Jarrett Lerner writes books about farting robots, belching knights, and other serious matters. You can find him online at and on Twitter at @Jarrett_Lerner. You can also often find him hanging out at, which he cofounded and helps run. He lives with his wife, his daughter, and a cat in Medford, Massachusetts.