4th through 6th grade

All posts in the 4th through 6th grade category

Zita the Spacegirl, by Ben Hatke

Published July 2, 2015 by Dagmar

This graphic novel might just rank with Amulet as my favorite in my library.  Zita the Spacegirl has characters you’ll love, evil villians, wonderful drawings and a plot full of suspense.  It is a huge favorite with my students.

Zita the SpacegirlZita and her friend Joseph are surprised when a small meteor hits the earth where they are playing. Zita is adventurous.  She goes into the small crater and finds an interesting object that looks like a button. As all adventurous girls are wont to do, Zita pushes the button. Off goes Joseph onto another planet. Zita quickly presses the button again and finds herself on the same strange planet, just in to see Joseph kidnapped.

Zita meets new creatures that soon become friends, a large creature she names Strong Strong, another called Mouse and Piper.  She learns that this new planet is just about to be destroyed by an enormous asteroid.  Everyone is trying to get off the planet before the asteroid hits.  Zita is determined to find her friend.  She learns that he has been taken prisoner by the original creatures to inhabit the planet, Scriptorians.  The Scriptorians think that sacrificing Joseph will stop the asteroid.

Zita sets out with her new friends to find Joseph and save him. Will they be successful? Who will try to stop them? Will the planet survive? Read Zita and the Spacegirl to see how one strong, adventurous girl can team up with friends and make things happen.

Don’t miss the next two books in this trilogy, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl and Return of Zita the Spacegirl. Look for Ben Hatke’s new book, Little Robot, to be released on September 1, 2015.

Big Nate, by Lincoln Peirce

Published June 30, 2015 by Dagmar

The Big Nate series shares three things in common with Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries: it flies off the library shelf, it appeals to all Big nate 4types of readers and is written with text and pictures.

Nate Wright is a sixth grader.  He’s not the best student.  In fact, he’s trying to avoid having to go to summer school. He has two best friends and a crush on a girl.  Sounds like he’s 12, right?  Wait until you hear Nate talk about his teachers!  Mrs. Godfrey, his social studies teacher, is the worst. “When a teacher snaps and starts screaming, it’s called a Full Godfrey. (When Mrs. Godfrey does it, it’s called Monday.)”

The day Nate gets a fortune cookie that says he “will surpass all others”, turns out to be the worst day ever.  He tries lots of different things to “surpass all others.” Whether it’s getting caught trying to set the world record in speed-eating green beans (from the school cafeteria – ick!) or wearing Coach John’s shorts stuffed with paper towels (long story), everything seems to earn Nate detention – everything.

Big Nate hits home with so many of my students.  My son read six Big Nate books on one trip.  I think it’s because Lincoln Peirce captures a 12 year old’s snarky voice so well.  It’s sure to be a hit.

If your students like Big Nate, they’ll also love Lincoln Pierce’s Big Nate comic books.

Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper

Published December 21, 2014 by Dagmar

Of all the books my students read in our 4th and 5th grade book club this fall, Out of My Mind was their favorite.  Sharon Draper, who has a disabled daughter herself, tells a story of a disabled girl who is constantly underestimated and misunderstood but who is extraordinarily smart and determined.

outofmymindMelody is 10 years old and has cerebral palsy.  Her disability affects her in many ways. Melody is unable to walk and cannot balance when she sits up.  She sits, strapped into a wheel chair. She can’t feed herself, cloth herself or go the bathroom by herself.  Sometimes, she can’t control her body movements.  Far more frustrating for Melody, though, is the fact that she can’t talk.  But, don’t feel sorry for Melody.  Melody is brilliant.  In fact, she has a photographic memory.  If people knew how smart she was, they might not underestimate her so much.

Imagine knowing what’s happening around you and wanting to speak, but being unable to speak.  No one around her, not even her parents, fully understand how much Melody knows or what she thinks about.  It might make you go out of your mind, like a fish in a tiny fish bowl who just can’t stand those glass walls anymore.

At school, Melody is placed in a room for children with disabilities.  Unfortunately, there, having disabilities means that people also think you’re stupid and try to teach you the alphabet in third grade.

Luckily, Melody has champions who fight for her.  Her parents are constantly trying to explain that Melody is an intelligent child who needs people to teach her.  Ms. V., Melody’s neighbor who has taken care of her since she was a baby, while Melody’s parents work, needs no convincing about Melody’s intelligence.  She works with Melody, developing word cards so that Melody can communicate.  Catherine, Melody’s aide at school, works with Melody to find a machine that can help her speak.

When Melody gets her machine, she finds her voice.  It is an amazing gift.  Everyone learns just how incredibly bright Melody is.  Melody has opportunities that she couldn’t have dreamed of the year before, including joining mainstream classrooms.

This book does such a wonderful job of explaining Melody’s condition and limitations in away that doesn’t let you feel sorry for Melody.  Draper’s writing gives Melody an authentic voice that really speaks to students.  Melody’s disappointments and frustrations are easy to imagine.  Her victories make you feel great.

With great characters and plot twists right until the end, this book will really draw you in.  Don’t miss it!  For more information, please check out this interview with Sharon Draper about this book on her web-site. http://sharondraper.com/bookdetail.asp?id=35

The Land of Stories, by Chris Colfer

Published December 14, 2014 by Dagmar

My niece is a big reader.  One of my favorite things to do is to talk about books with her.  The Land of Stories might be the most enthusiastic recommendation she’s ever made to me.  She went on Land of Storiesabout how much she loved the book, and she was so excited that there were sequels to the story.  A few weeks later I was in a hotel in San Francisco, when I overheard a girl, about the same age as Emma, telling her grandmother about a great book she was reading.  She was so enthusiastic that I couldn’t help interrupting and asking her what book she was talking about.  You’ve got it. It was The Land of Stories.

I ordered the book for my kindle the next night and began reading the book.  I see what they saw in the book.  The Land of Stories falls in the fairy tale fantasy genre for middle readers.  There have been a lot of these books published lately.  Luckily, they are not cookie cutter.  Each is clever and has its own merits.  My particular favorites are this book, A Tale Dark and Grimm, A Hero’s Guide to Saving the Kingdom and Rump.  I’m terribly behind on reading the Sisters Grimm (incredibly behind, really, given that the series now has 9 books) but plan to read that book as well.  After reading it, I put it on my 4th and 5th Grade Fiction Book Club list.  My students raved about this book as well.

The Land of Stories is terrific.  Two great characters go on a quest – but not just any quest. This quest combines humor, mystery, adventure and lots of familiar fairy tale characters who are probably quite a bit different than you might remember.

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell pulls you right in.  It  begins as Queen Snow White enters a dark dungeon to speak with her step-mother, the Evil Queen.  Snow White begs the former queen to tell her why she never loved Snow White.  The Evil Queen tells Snow White that “a villain is just a victim whose story hasn’t been told.”

The book then turns to two characters, Alex and Conner Bailey, 12 year old twins who live with their mother.  They live in a small house, having had to sell their old house after their father passes away in a car accident.  Life is difficult for the twins.  Their mother, trying to pay the bills, has to work double shifts as a nurse.  They rarely see their mother, and Conner is struggling in school.  Their grandmother is a light in their life.  When she arrives for the twins’ birthday, she leaves them with her most prized possession, an old story book called, The Land of Stories.

The old story book turns out to be more than just a book of stories.  It vibrates and hums.  It keeps Alex, normally a top student, up at night.  While not many people would think to try to drop a book into the pages of a humming storybook, Alex is just the kind of kid that does.  She drops in several books and a pencil and then, a little predictably, is sucked into the book herself.  Her twin, Conner, horrified as he watches her disappear, jumps right in after his sister.  What do you do when you fall into a book?  You meet a magical creature – not a faun, as might happen if you’ve fallen through the back of a wardrobe – but a big frog who offers you tea with flies (if you like).  The only way to leave the enchanted land?  Fulfill the requirements of the Wishing Spell.

I don’t want to give away too much, because this book is truly worth your time.  You’ll learn the truth about Goldilocks (a villain on the run), Little Red Riding Hood, Jack in the Beanstalk and that Evil Queen and whether she actually is a victim. You’ll also learn whether Alex and Conner ever find their way home.

Honestly, it would not surprise me if this book won an award.  Please don’t miss this wonderful book.  I’m launching a fantasy book club, and my students have already asked me to put book two of this series on the list.  Hmmm.  They might have to just borrow that book from my library shelves – so many more great fantasy books and series to explore!

4th and 5th grade fiction book club

Published December 12, 2014 by Dagmar

We just wrapped our 4th and 5th grade fiction book club last week.  Last school year, I hosted a California Young Readers’ Medal book club.  I loved seeing our best readers bond as a group.  When I say these students are our best clients, I’m serious.  These kids really read.

outofmymindI chose five books for my students.  I started with these books: Al Capone Does My Shirts,  by Gennifer Choldenko; The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell, by Chris Colfer; The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman; Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper; and What We Found Al Capone Doesin the Sofa and How it Saved the World, by Henry Clark.  I chose The Land of Stories, because my niece, a fifth grader, told me the Land of Stories was one of the best books she’d read.  I loved it, myself.

Not only did most of my students finish all five of the books I chose, they added books to my list and managed to finish most of those books, too – all while checking out library books to read each week.  Wow.

HLand of Storiesere’s what my students added to our reading list: A Stone in My Hand, by Cathryn Clinton; Elijah of Buxton, by Christopher Paul Curtis; Island of Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell; Almost Home, by Joan Bauer.  Great choices.  I loved every one of these books myself.

At our party, I polled all my students on their favorite books.  Out of My Mind won by a mile.  My niece Face Timed me last week to tell me that she’d just read another great book…Out of My Mind. 🙂  I wish she could join my book club!

Look for reviews of these books soon.

The Unwanteds, by Lisa McCann

Published May 10, 2014 by Dagmar

theunwantedsMy students really loved The Unwanteds.  In fact, 28 students of mine from 3rd-5th grade read this and two other books for the 2014 California Young Readers’ Medal, a Medal awarded to the book that receives the most votes in a category from students throughout the state.  The Unwanteds was the winner at our school and in the state.

When children in Quill turn 13, they wait to hear their judgement.  Will they be Wanted, Necessary or Unwanted?  Wanteds are the strongest in society and train to defend Quill from those outside.  Necessarys provide the services needed by Wanteds.  And the Unwanteds?  Each year, the Unwanteds of Quill disappeear forever.

Expecting to be put to death, the Unwanteds actually enter a magical world very different from the decrepit and bleak world of Quill.  Artime is a beautiful world full of color, where creativity is revered.  Magical spells and creatures keep Artime safe from those in Quill who would destroy it, but those magic spells are wearing thin.  Now, the residents of Artime must learn to use their talents to prepare for battle to save their world.

Will Artime survive?  Read and find out.  This series has captivated my students who are now reading the other two books in the series.  I couldn’t put the book down myself.

 

The Name of this Book is Secret, by Pseudonymous Bosch

Published January 14, 2014 by Dagmar

the name of this bookHere’s a mystery that has never failed to please my students.  It’s not only a good mystery, it’s funny, quirky, a little dark, has an adventurous main character with a loyal and helpful friend.  Best of all, it leaves readers wanting more.  (Luckily, there are five books in this series.)

This book begins with the words, “WARNING: DO NOT READ BEYOND THIS PAGE!’  Even the only slightly curious would want to turn the page.  And, being more than slightly curious, I did turn the page, only to read the words, “Good.  Now I know I can trust you.  You’re curious.  You’re brave.  And you’re not afraid to lead a life of crime.”  🙂  The first chapter consists of all “x’s”.  Yes, there are no words; because, of course, the first chapter would have revealed the names of the characters, the place where the story takes place and the dates.  All those things are, well, secret.

I can tell you this: The main character’s name is Cassandra, and she is a survivalist.  She goes no where without her backpack of survival gear.  She lives alone with her mother and often visits her mom’s friends, Grandpa Larry and Grandpa Wayne.  Cass discovers a box called the “Symphony of Secrets”, learns that it came from the house of a dead magician.  She and her new friend, a boy named Max-Ernest, believe that the magician is actually alive and crying out for help.  This, coupled with the disappearance of a strange boy from school lead them on a chase to save the magician and the missing boy.

I read this book to my son years ago, and we absolutely loved it.  Since then, I’ve recommended it to countless students who never fail to come back to get book number two, If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late.  Don’t miss this great book!