Upper Elementary

All posts in the Upper Elementary category

Maniac Magee, by Jerry Spinelli

Published October 20, 2014 by Dagmar

ManiacMagee1This book may be my favorite book of the year.  Written by the author of one of my recent favorites for middle and high school, Stargirl, was recommended to me by the students in one of my third grade classes.  They’d been read the book by their teacher.  I’d been given all sorts of recommendations, Captain Underpants, among them.  This one stuck in my mind, because I knew it had won the 1991 Newbery Medal and because I’d always meant to read it.

Jeffrey Magee was orphaned at the age of three when his parents’ trolley went off the tracks of the P & W Trestle into the Schuylkill River.  Jeffrey moved in with his aunt and uncle who always fought. One day, he ran away, literally.  He ran all the way to a town called Two Mills.  Two Mills was split by Hector Street.  The West End of town was reserved for whites.  The East End of town was for blacks.  The two populations didn’t mix at all.  In fact, no one who was white dared come into East End.  Likewise, no one who was black purposely went into the West End of town.  Until Maniac Magee, unaware of the rules, showed up in the East End of town.  He met a girl named Amanda Beale, a great lover of books.  He managed, unbelievably, to borrow a book from her, a girl who did not, as a rule, lend her books.  He promised to return it and ended up living in Amanda Beale’s house.  There, he had two little brothers, a sister and a mother and father – a home.  Maniac Magee was fearless.  He could do extraordinary things.  He hit home runs off a star pitcher, ran touch downs on the football field, untangled complicated knots, ran on a single rail of a railroad line and actually sat on the Finsterwald’s front steps to read a book. He never went to school but loved to read.  He was a maniac.  He was legend.  All was going well until one day someone pointed out that he was white.  Maniac, didn’t even realize it himself.  Things changed after that day.  People didn’t like that the Beale’s were sheltering him.  So, Maniac ran.  He ran and found a home at the local zoo, in the buffalo pen.  There, he met a true friend, Grayson, who would make him another home in the park.  Soon, Maniac had to run again, this time, to the West End and a house where two small boys needed someone who would keep them safe.  He was fine there, taking care of those two boys who needed him and for whom he would do anything.  Until the day they asked him to do something he absolutely could not do, and he ran again.

Like my students, I became completely absorbed in Maniac Magee’s story.  I hope you will too.

 

 

Lesson idea: The Girl Who Spun Gold and Rumplestiltskin

Published October 18, 2013 by Dagmar

Here’s a lesson idea, contrasting two different retellings of a fairy tale, that worked really well with my fourth graders.  I love the book The Girl Who Spun Gold, by Virginia Hamilton and wanted to pair it with the traditional telling of Rumplestiltskin.  I used a very old copy of Rumplestiltskin thegirlwhospungoldthat we had in our library.  I wasn’t thrilled with this older book and ordered Paul Zelinsky’s version of the book after this lesson (winner of the 1987 Caldecott Honor).  The illlustrations are full of vibrant color that are sure to attract students and compare nicely with Leo and rumplestiltskinDiane’s illustrations in The Girl Who Spun Gold.

I took two class times to read Virginia Hamilton’s book, about 20 minutes, in all.  I then read the traditional telling of the story.  My students were jumping up to offer me similarities and differences between the two retellings of the story.  It was a lot of fun to see them so excited.

Next week, I’ll do a book talk and read the first couple of chapters of Rump: The True Story of Rumplestiltskin, a new book by Liesl Shurtliff, a fractured fairytale.

Review: Secrets of Shakespeare’s Grave, by Deron R. Hicks

Published August 13, 2013 by Dagmar

Here’s a book I really enjoyed from my summer reading list: Secrets of Shakespeare’s Grave, by Deron R. Hicks.  This is the first book in the Letterford mysteries.

Secrets of Shakespeare's graveBeginning in the year 1616 on Mont Saint Michel on the coast of France, the reader is immediately engaged as a man breaks into a church in order to remove an item that he has been asked to protect.  Flash forward to 1623 when a man is asked to built a mysterious device in a small room.  Flash forward again to the present day as newspaper articles tell of the misfortunes of one famous publishing house, Letterford Publishing.  Chapter 2 takes the reader to Manchester, Georgia where we meet Colophon Letterford, the 12 year old daughter of Mull Letterford, the beleaguered owner of Letterford Publishing.  As the family sits down to Thanksgiving dinner, a mysterious and unkempt Cousin Julian arrives.  Colophon learns that Cousin Julian is trying to find a treasure, supposedly hidden by Colophon’s ancester, Miles Letterford.  Together, Colophon, her older brother Case and Cousin Julian set off to solve the Letterford mystery and hopefully save Letterford Publishing.

This is a fast-paced, intelligent mystery perfect for upper elementary readers.  I can’t wait to recommend it to my students.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin

Published August 9, 2013 by Dagmar

This is a beautiful and magical book.  I haven’t read an elementary fiction novel that has captivated me like this one did in a long time.  I knew exactly which student I would ask to read it, one of my favorite third grade readers, now a fourth grader.  She loved the book as I suspected she would.  I wasn’t writing my blog when I first read this book, otherwise it would have been one of my first posts.  I loved “having” to reread this book in order to write this recommendation.

Where the Mountain Meets the MoonWhere the Mountain Meets the Moon is the story of a girl named Minli who lives in the shadow of Fruitless Mountain.  Her village, the mountain and everything around are grey and poor.  Minli and her parents work all day to plant rice and grow barely enough to feed themselves.  Minli’s mother constantly frowns and complains about how hard their life is. The only brightness in their existence comes from Minli’s father’s stories.  Ba tells stories of the Fruitless Mountain, The Story of the Old Man of the Moon and others.

One day, Minli buys a goldfish from a peddler who tells her that it will bring her family good fortune.  She spends all her money on the goldfish.  When her mother gets angry that Minli has spent all her money on a goldfish that will have to eat some of the little rice they have, Minli realizes that she must let the goldfish go.  So begins her adventure to find the Never-Ending Mountain and the Man of the Moon to bring her family good fortune.

I loved the way this book wove Minli’s story with the stories that formed the legend of The Man of the Moon.  I also loved Minli’s quick mind and determination.  This is a great book for elementary school readers.  I think this book would make a fantastic read aloud for third or fourth grade classrooms as well.  Highly recommended.

This book was a Newbery honor book and a Junior Library Guild selection.  I’m looking forward to reading Grace Lin’s next book, Starry River of the Sky, published in 2012.