Fourth Grade Journey

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

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

How I Heard About It:  Another title that came to me via #bookexpedition on Twitter.  This book has made the rounds over the last year and I was the final reader to get it in my hands.  

What It Is About:  I'm sure most of you have read this text and/or know about it.  It was a fascinating read as I knew very little about the life of E.B. White.  I not only found the story interesting, but all of the post-its that were left by previous readers.  It was almost as if I was reading two different stories.  The format of the book was incredible.  Melissa Sweet told the life story of E.B. White in text.  She also included some writings and letters that White wrote himself.  There were some beautiful and incredible illustrations, diagrams, and pictures on each and every page.  I was inthralled with the book and found myself spending quite a bit of time on each two-page spread.  What amazed me most was E.B. White's love for children and wanting to make sure he put his best writing into their hands.  

What I Thought Of It:  Last night I grabbed this book off my night-stand and was immediately drawn into the life of one of our most influential writers.  The format of this book was top-notch and laid out beautifully.  There was so much information on all pages.  I kept thinking how much young readers would enjoy this book.  After finishing the text I now want to go back and read his three most notable words of fiction.  I also want to put this book in my classroom library along side of the copies of his novels that I already house in my collection.  

Who Should Read It:  In my opinion, this biography should be read by middle-grade, young-adult, and adult readers.  It is beautifully done and tells a wonderful story of a boy, a man, and a talented writer.  I'm so glad that I finally had the opportunity to read it.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson

How I Heard About It:  While in Chicago for ALA I had the opportunity to spend some time with Donalyn Miller.  After we had lunch we wandered the city in search of some local/indie bookstores.  We didn't have much luck, but we did have a great time.  At one place, we devoured the shelves and talked about which books we had and hadn't read.  This title came up and Donalyn offered to send me a copy.

What It Is About:  In 2065, Adri is spending time in Kansas before she boards a mission headed toward Mars.  In 1934, Catherine is living in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl.  In 1919, Lenore is making plans to leave England and journey to America.  Adri has been chosen to be a "colonist" on Mars, but must spend several weeks with a distant relative in the middle of the country.  While here she finds a stack of letters from the past that absorb both her mind and time.  After visiting the "Electric", Catherine is hopeful to find "eternal life" and save her family.  As the Dust Bowl gets worse, she must sacrifice all in order to save a family member.  After World War I, Lenore is suffering from the loss of her soldier brother.  Her main goal is to reach America to be reunited with a childhood friend.  The stories are each their own, but are tied together in the most unique ways.

What I Thought Of It:  When I first began the book, I was hopeful it was going to be an enjoyable read.  I found the idea of Adri getting ready to travel to Mars quite fascinating.  She was a "rough" character and had her own difficulties connecting to the people around her.  I was even curious when she found the letters in the attic.  Once Catherine and Lenore's stories were told via the letters, the plot slowed down and I found myself losing interest.  When the story returned to Adri, I read with more interest.  For some reason, the "historical" aspect of the story didn't grab my attention.  I kept wondering if young-adult readers would be interested in this type of writing and story.

Who Should Read It:  The novel was written for the young-adult reader.  I definitely believe it is geared more toward the female reader than the male reader.  For those adult readers that enjoy a "pinch" of futuristic writing with a couple "dashes" of historical fiction elements, then this is the novel for you.  Happy Reading!

Rating:  3 STARS out of 5 Stars

Thornhill by Pam Smy

How I Heard About It:  This book came to me via my #bookexpedition group on Twitter.  The release date is August 29th.  Recently I noticed some chat about this book online so I was curious to read it when it arrived in the mail the other day.  

What It Is About:  The first surprise was that the book was in the same format as Brian Selznick books.  There were two story lines.  One was set in 2017 and the second one was set in 1982.  The 2017 plot was told in beautiful black and white illustrations while the 1982 plot was in diary form. In 1982 Mary is living in the Thornhill orphanage.  She is an outcast and has been targeted by the leader/bully of all the girls that live here.  Mary records her daily torments in her journal and all she wants is to be left alone.  Finding refuge in creating puppets, Mary finds her life a bit easier to deal with.  No one, including the adults, believe that she is being treated so terribly.  After most of the girls leave Thornhill, Mary is left alone with her tormentor.  When life gets so unbearable, she takes things into her own hands to deal with things once and for all.  Years later in 2017, Ella moves into a home across the street from Thornhill which is now closed and abandoned.  Ella knows no one and her father is always at work.  As she spends time in her room, she notices a girl in the gardens of Thornhill.  Over time, she slowly makes her way into the gardens and Thornhill to find out who this mysterious girl is.  

What I Thought Of It:  I began the book last night and about an hour and a half later I finished the last page.  I can honestly say I've never read a story like this one.  It was haunting, terrifying, disturbing, and upsetting.  I've read stories about kids being bullied, but nothing like Mary had to endure.   I actually cringed during several scenes.  I wanted to jump into the book and rescue Mary.  The combination of illustrations and text made for an amazing reading experience.  The two stories moved toward each other at a most perfect pace and built to one heck of a climax.  I would have never predicted the conclusion and was in complete shock and disbelief.  

Who Should Read It:  The age and grade range on Amazon is ages 10-14 and grades 5-9.  In my opinion is this more of a middle school and up story.  Because of the topics, themes, and content, I would lean toward readers being in grades seven and up.  There were actually times as I was reading that it felt more like an young-adult and/or adult novel.  It is beautifully written and tackles some relevant and important issues, but I'm not sure I would want readers under seventh grade reading it on their own.  Just my opinion.  Read for yourself and then decide.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Tumble & Blue by Cassie Beasley

How I Heard About It:  Cassie Beasley's first novel, Circus Mirandus, holds fond memories for me.  I remember reading it to my class in September of 2015.  It was our first read aloud.  The reading of it was a complete hit and some of those students still talk with me about the story.  When I learned that Cassie had written a new story I was excited.  I was even more excited when I had the chance to meet her in person and get an autographed copy of an ARC.  This occurred at ALA in Chicago.  She has done it again and created a beautiful "magical" story.  

What It Is About:  Tumble & Blue are about to begin a "magical" summer.  Blue has been "dropped" off by his race car father to spend the summer with an usual crew of relatives.  Tumble and her parents have just moved into a new home next door.  She isn't sure why they have relocated, but is determined to find out.  Blue feels like he is a "loser" and can't win at anything he tries.  He is confused by why he has been left with his grandmother and can't be with his dad.  Tumble has made it her goal to be a hero and help people that she meets.  The problem is, she doesn't have much luck when it comes to helping  others.  When Tumble and Blue meet each other, they know there is something special between each of them and their families.  Tumble sets out to help Blue overcome his path of losing at things.  While the two friends navigate their summer they uncover a mystery that involves both family histories and an underwater creature named "Munch".  

What I Thought Of It:  I always have a sense of "hesitation" when I'm going to read the SECOND novel from an author whose first book has such a special place in my heart.  That was the case with Circus Mirandus.  All the positive hype was well deserved.  This story did not disappoint.  What I appreciated most was how different this story was from Cassie's first one.  While reading I could not compare the two stories which helped me enjoy the new story of Tumble & Blue.  I loved the many lessons that surrounded these two amazing characters.  Each of these children were searching for something important and it was incredible to follow them on their journey.  Cassie's writing is so strong and draws you into the middle of all the action.  The "magical" elements were spot on and brought the story to another level.  

Who Should Read It:  Some readers didn't think Circus Mirandus would work with fourth graders.  I went ahead and shared with my class and they LOVED it.  I feel the same way about this story.  In my opinion it could be used with children in grades four, five, and six.  Of course the book definitely needs to be in middle-school libraries.  The story would make for a strong and beautiful read aloud in the upper elementary grades.  I would also put it in the hands of strong independent readers in grades four and up.  I know I will use the book in some capacity during the upcoming school year.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Monday, July 17, 2017

An Inside Look #26 - Season #TWO (AUTHOR Interview)

An Inside Look - With Elaine Vickers (Author of Paper Chains)

*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 the last year 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 didn't have time for interviews during the school year, but I'm excited to be back for "season #TWO".  

*I'm hoping to run this feature at least once a week.  There is nothing more satisfying than sharing and promoting a book/author/character that I have fallen in love with.  

*Thank you to Elaine for being the FOURTH author of this new season.  I truly appreciate it.  

*Here are links to the first TWENTY-FIVE interviews…

*I received a copy of this novel through my #bookexpedition Twitter group.  I was quite excited to read it because I had heard such great things.  

*This book brought me an afternoon of complete pleasure.  The story was endearing and heart-warming.  

*Here is a link to my review of the story...

*Thank you Elaine for writing this novel for middle-grade readers and taking the time to share your thoughts with us here on the blog.  

*Here are the responses she shared with me and I'm thrilled to share them with you...

Paper Chains
by Elaine Vickers  (Released October 17, 2017)

How did you come to know Katie and Ana?
I knew Katie first—she moves away in chapter one of my first book, Like Magic. Even though she’s only an off-screen character in that book, I knew some core things about her and knew she had a story to tell. As I began to write about her adventures in Boston, Ana came along, and immediately the two became best friends. And after only a few chapters, I realized Ana had her own story as well.

What do you think are Katie and Ana's most admirable qualities?
Ana is fiercely loyal and quick to forgive. She is brave in ways I’ve always wanted to be. She’s tough and determined but has such a soft spot for her little brother, Mikey. Katie is kind and good and selfless. She has a way of making everyone feel that they are valued, that they are seen. Between the two of them, it adds up to so many of the things I aspire to be.

Is there anything you wish Katie and/or Ana would have changed or done differently in their story?
Of course, characters always have to make mistakes, because that’s how we learn and grow. There’s a moment when Katie holds something inside that still makes me ache when I read it—but ultimately, the mistakes they make are essential not only to who they are, but essential to the journey each is taking.

How did you research Katie and Ana and the circumstances they found themselves in?  
As much as we are alike, Katie and Ana are different from me in a lot of ways. I’m not adopted, for example, and I grew up with two steady, wonderful parents, neither of whom was a professional hockey player. I can’t imagine telling stories that feature only characters that are just like me. That would be terrible! But of course, writing anything that isn’t autobiographical, whether it relates to race, religion, culture, geography, medical conditions, or a whole host of other facets, requires a great amount of thought, care, and research. After countless hours reading books and blogs and website, I was fortunate to have the help of incredible and experienced friends and readers on everything from adoption to Russian language and culture. I couldn’t have written this story without them, and I’m immeasurably grateful for their perspective and generosity.

I also made the journey from Utah to Boston after the story was drafted. I’d grown up visiting a fun family of cousins in Belmont and based Katie’s house on theirs, but it had been years since I’d been back. So I grabbed one of my very best friends and we made the trip. We wandered and explored and ate and discussed and even though it was April, there was a snowstorm just for my research purposes. We took a tour of TD Garden, the arena where the Bruins play, and I think I made the tour guide a little nervous with my persistent questions about how to best sneak back into the locker rooms. We spent a lovely evening with Boston-area friends watching The Sound of Music at the beautiful Boston Opera House. It was a trip I’ll never forget.

What do you think these girls can offer to the children that may be experiencing similar situations?  
There’s a line from Like Magic that comes back in Paper Chains that I love. “Remember this truth: You are not alone.” This is one of the threads that weaves through both stories, and sometimes I feel a little tug at my heart that makes me write it as I sign a book for someone. That’s what I hope Katie and Ana can provide for readers who are wondering about their own history, missing a loved one, wondering what their future holds, or connecting to the story in ways I haven’t yet imagined. Whatever the circumstance, I think that’s so essential to what all stories provide: the reassuring embrace of knowing that we are not alone.

Do you and Katie and Ana share any similarities?
Absolutely. They’re both searching and longing for many of the same things: a true sense of belonging, a way to be heard and seen by their parents, meaningful and lasting friendship. They’re both afraid of losing the people they care about most. I think it’s the combination of these really deep core similarities and all the ways they’re complementary and different that makes their friendship unique—and the kind of friendship that will really last.

Where did the idea for this story come from?
The very first seed of this story came from a story my grandmother read to me when I was young: The Snow Child by Freya Littledale. I was lucky enough to have parents, grandparents, teachers, and librarians that surrounded me with stories as I was growing up, and those stories became part of me. It was this idea of a broad range of stories shaping each of us—with The Snow Child at its center—that became the heart of this book.

I thought I was writing Katie’s story of longing to know about her past and heritage; it wasn’t until I was almost finished editing the book that I realized my own longing had found its way into the story. In my church, we do a lot of family history. I can trace most of my ancestry back for centuries. But one set of my great grandparents emigrated from what is now Poland and Ukraine, and we know very little beyond the general region where they came from and the date and church where they were married. As I was finishing copyedits—one of the very last steps of the process—I had a moment that truly floored me: Two of the major characters of the story are Ana and Mikey, and I literally lost my breath when I made the connection that my great grandparents whose past and heritage remain largely a mystery are named Anna and Michael. As I said, this realization didn’t come until the book was finished, but on some level, my heart must have known that this was partly my search and my longing too.

What was the hardest scene to write about the girls?
All of the scenes where they are in conflict with one another. Katie and Ana are so different in their interests, abilities, strengths, etc. But at their core, they long for the same things, and perhaps the biggest among those is that deep, life-changing friendship that they can so uniquely provide for each other. It was hard to keep getting in the way of that friendship when that connection is exactly what each of them needed.

Who do you think were Katie and Ana's biggest supporters and why?
Katie’s are her parents, and perhaps her dad most of all. Ana’s biggest supporter at the beginning of the book may be herself, but I’m glad to say that things change throughout the course of the story. And, of course, Katie and Ana both find a lot of strength and support in each other at different points in the story.

Why do you think children don’t think they can share their most intimate secrets with their friends?  Why do people keep so much from the people around them?   
As I think back on my own friendships, I always had a sense that I might mess things up. I wanted so desperately to be liked and to do things right that I not only kept things inside, but I often pretended to be someone other than my truest self. Katie and I have this in common. I think most of us are afraid of being vulnerable, even with people that love us. Maybe especially with people who love us. We like the idea of unconditional love, but it seems so rare and unreachable that we don’t really believe we’re worthy of it, and we hold back those parts of ourselves that we think are unlovable. At least, that’s how I think of it.

What do you think Katie and Ana are doing at the present time?  

They are ice skating! I know it’s July, but I love picturing them just as they are in the title page art, smiling in the fresh air and moving forward with hope in their hearts—together.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (7/17/17)

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

*There are some weeks when a whole lot of reading doesn't get done.

*Last Sunday (7/9/17) I head to Jackson, Michigan for #NerdCampMI.  It is always interesting to me that during a reading conference I do very little reading.

*Life got busy upon my return home and I just didn't find the time to sit down and read.

*I'm hoping after this last weekend, I will be able to hit my patio with book in hand and do some MAJOR reading!!!  

Books I Will (continue to) Read this Week

Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst

*My Professional Book

*I've been having such fun reading fiction, but am going to get back to this professional resource.  

No One Is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts

*My Novel Published for Adults

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson

*My Young-Adult Novel

Tumble & Blue by Cassie Beasley

*My Middle-Grade Novel

Monday, July 10, 2017

An Inside Look #25 - Season #TWO (AUTHOR Interview)

An Inside Look - With Melissa Savage (Author of Lemons)

*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 the last year 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 didn't have time for interviews during the school year, but I'm excited to be back for "season #TWO".  

*I'm hoping to run this feature at least once a week.  There is nothing more satisfying than sharing and promoting a book/author/character that I have fallen in love with.  

*Thank you to Melissa for being the THIRD author of this new season.  I truly appreciate it.  

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

*I actually picked this up as an ARC last November at #NCTE in Atlanta.  It made the rounds with my readers during the school year, but I didn't get to it until June.  I remember the publishing rep RAVING about this story and she was right.  I absolutely loved this story.

*I could not put it down and pretty much read the entire thing in a sitting or two.  As I was reading it, I knew I was going to share it with my 2017/2018 fourth grade class.

*The best news was when I found out that Melissa Savage is actually from the Twin Cities just like me.  I'm hoping we will be connect during the school year.

*Here is a link to my review of the story...

My Book Review

*Thank you Melissa for writing this novel for middle-grade readers and taking the time to share your thoughts with us here on the blog.  

*Here are the responses she shared with me and I'm thrilled to share them with you...

by Melissa Savage (Released May 2, 2017)

How did you come to know Lemonade?

I had the idea to write a story about a character named Lemonade, after the popular adage when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I knew this character would come across a very difficult problem in her life that she would struggle with, however at the time, I didn’t know what that adversity would be. In the end, I decided she would face a very difficult loss, as some kids do. I wanted the focus of the story to be about the hope and healing that would come from the kindness, friendship and love she received from the new friends and family should would meet along the way.

What do you think is Lemonade’s most admirable quality?

I think Lemonade’s most admirable quality is the perseverance to find her happiness despite the struggles life gives her.

Is there anything you wish Lemonade would have changed or done differently in her story?

I think overcoming grief is a very difficult lemon for anyone and each person’s path is their own when it comes to healing from loss. I think Lemonade comes through her grief with both ups and downs, which is very human. Although I would wish for Lemonade or anyone else to avoid life’s lemons altogether, it isn’t our reality. However, to be able to come through adversity much stronger and smarter while holding on to the gratitude of our experiences is a gift, even if it can take some time to see it. And Lemonade does find her way, despite some rocky moments along the way.

How did you research Lemonade and the circumstances she found herself in?

Unfortunately, much of my research originated with my own loss after our son, Tobin, passed away in 2012 at nine months of age. Since that time, I have met many other children and adults who have struggled with a devastating loss of their own. So many people have a story of loss that affects them very deeply, yet we often feel isolated in our grief because people don’t want to talk about it or hear about it. I wanted to write a story about sharing memories of lost loved ones, about the real feelings people can be afraid to talk about, and about the love and support of others and how that can be very healing to someone experiencing the pain of loss.

What do you think Lemonade can offer to other young people that are experiencing similar situations to what she went through?

My greatest wish for this story is that young people find a great deal of hope as they walk with Lemonade on her journey of healing. I think story can be so powerful in many ways for all of us. Not only can story entertain us, it can help us to be empathetic to another’s plight. It can teach us about life experiences we haven’t experienced ourselves. It can offer us a friend who shares the same struggles and help us to feel we are not so alone. And finally, story can be a guide to help us learn adaptive coping for later in life when we come across a lemon we hadn’t expected. It is my hope that each reader may find something in this story that speaks to their own heart.

Do you and Lemonade share any similarities?

I would say just like Lemonade, I am always searching for the positive, regardless of the lemons life gives. I feel that despite our sadness, there is always gifts to be discovered in the experiences we’ve had. Even if it takes some time to find them.

What was the hardest scene to write about Lemonade?

The most difficult scenes for me to write in this story were the grief scenes. I’ve been told by many readers that they have cried while reading these scenes. I must share that I cried while writing them.

Who do you think was Lemonade's biggest supporter and why?

I think Lemonade was very fortunate to have so many supporters in her corner as she dealt with the loss of her mother. Isn’t that something we all wish we had when we’ve had to endure something difficult? However, I think Charlie is probably her biggest champion and will continue to be.

Why do you think young people/children can handle loss like Lemonade and Tobin in ways that sometimes adults can’t?

I’ve worked many years as a therapist and in my work with children and families I have seen great hardship, including loss. I believe that children have a quiet wisdom about them and an innate resilience that, as adults, we can sometimes lose along the way. However, they also need our guidance in navigating hardships. I know that many children have experienced loss or may know someone else who has. At the very least, these children are all too familiar with what goes on in our world today and they need our guidance to understand it at a developmentally appropriate level as they learn to sustain their own coping. And story is a wonderful avenue in which to bear witness to experiences that help children learn empathy or feel they are not alone. Loss is one of the most difficult things we will go through in our lives. However, through hardship we find strength, a sense of who we are and who we will become. What an amazing lesson to teach our children.

What do you think Lemonade is doing at the present time? 

If Lemonade was ten in 1975 that would make her 52 years old today. I see her either working in Willow Creek as a Veterinarian or . . .  maybe making a run for the first female president in our next election (with Tobin by her side as Vice President of course!).