Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin

Dear Mr. W,

I just finished Bomb by Steve Sheinkin. It is about the development of the atomic bomb during World War II. There are four parts to the story. Part 1: Three-Way Race, Part 2: Chain Reactions, Part 3: How to Build an Atomic Bomb, and Part 4: Final Assembly.

The Three-Way Race introduced in Part 1 is about who would be able to build the first atomic bomb. The United States, working with the British, were fighting against the Nazis from Germany. The USSR was fighting against the Germans too, but even though the Soviets and the Americans were both fighting the Germans, the two countries weren't friends. That’s who was involved in the three-way race: the United States (with the British), the Germans, and the Soviets.

The United States hired the best scientists in the country to develop the bomb. The Germans were doing the same thing with their country’s best scientists. The Soviets wanted to develop a bomb, but most of their resources were spent fighting the Germans. Instead of trying to create their own bomb, the Soviets tried to steal information from the Americans.

While the Americans were working to develop their own bomb, the British were helping by trying to stop the Germans. The British had spies in countries that Germany occupied. They discovered that a major factory working on materials for the bomb was in Norway. Working with Norwegian underground fighters, they successfully destroyed the factory by sneaking in at night. They pulled off the mission, and none of the Norwegians were ever caught. The factory was soon put back into operation. Later, many of the same people successfully sank a boat transporting materials for the Germans. Even though the first attack was temporary, in the end the British and Norwegians basically stopped the Germans from creating their own bomb.

The Soviets were the Americans’ allies in the war, but they also were spying on the Americans. Soviet scientists were eventually able to build a bomb of their own but only by using information stolen by spies in the United States. They had spies who talked to American scientists and sometimes convinced them to help the Soviets. The Soviets were communists, which is another form of government, and they convinced some Americans that even if they were able to develop their own bomb, it would be important for another country, the USSR, to have the bomb too, to keep the Americans from becoming too powerful. Even loyal Americans sometimes agreed with the Soviets’ ideas about communism, which encouraged them to share American secrets.

Sincerely,
Brian Sixth Grader

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Fourth Stall Part III by Chris Rylander

This sample journal entry is actually three entries in one. After the introduction paragraph, the following paragraphs were written to meet different expectations. Sixth grade is to explain how the author shows a character's perspective. Fifth grade explains how a character's perspective affects how story events are told. Finally, fourth grade is to tell how a story would change if it is told from a different character's perspective. Rather than post three sample journal entries on the library wall, which is getting quite full, this one entry includes all three, and each seems to naturally lead into the next.

Dear Mr. W,

I just finished The Fourth Stall Part III by Chris Rylander. It is the final book in the series. The main character is Mac. He and his partner Vince are now seventh graders. The problem-solving business they started in kindergarten is now closed, and life is simple. Mac talks about how awesome the word simple is. He loves it.

6th - The author helps readers understand a character’s perspective by showing the character’s words and actions. The Fourth Stall Part I is all about Mac trying to shut down a business like his own, run by an older kid named Staples. Mac and Staples have disagreements and arguments, threats are made, and some violence even occurs. In the end Mac thinks he won’t have to deal with Staples again. In the prologue of Part III, Mac explains how happy he is to not be running his business. He says, “School was a piece of cake when that was all that was on your plate and you didn't also run a huge business operation with multiple employees and a healthy cash flow.” But then Staples returns and wants to hire Mac, and Mac is not happy. First, he doesn't ever want to get involved with Staples again for any reason. Second, if Staples hires him, that means he’s back in the business. Staples wanting to hire Mac makes the two things he doesn't want - dealing with Staples and the business - to come back.

5th - Since we know how Mac feels, it’s easy to see how it influences how events are told. He is and always has been scared of Staples, and he describes Staples’ shadow as cold and enormous and says it engulfs him. He says that Staples “was so legendary that someone would have seen him lurking about and said something. Right? Right?!” That shows Mac’s panic at seeing Staples again. When Staples smiles, it’s a “smirk” and it’s “evil.” Staples’ eyes are dark, but Mac says they are “so black that even nighttime was afraid of them.” Mac even says that Staples eyebrows are mean. Finally, Mac gives a hint of what is to come. He says, “If I’d seen the warning lights right then, maybe I could have avoided some of the insanity that followed. Stuff like swimming pools full of blood, guts, and body parts, crazy third-grade Japanese assassins with precise, near-deadly hit man skills. . . Maybe I would have stolen a car, swung by Vince’s place, and gotten us both the heck out of town.” It’s easy to see that Mac is freaked out by the visit from Staples, and his feelings for Staples show up in Mac’s telling of the story.

4th - If Staples was telling this story, he would probably mention how he doesn’t want Mac to be scared of him. If Mac is scared of him, then Mac probably won’t help him. Staples thinks he needs to be nice and get on Mac’s good side so he’ll help him. In the scene where Staples puts his hand on his forehead, Mac thinks how scared he is of getting punched. Staples, on the other hand, is likely thinking, “Must stay under control! Don’t punch this punk! If I hurt him he won’t help me! I need Mac to see that I have changed.” If Staples narrated this scene, readers would see how much he cares for his sister and wants to help her, even though his past actions might not look like a helpful person. Staples said that he learned his lesson about behavior. He knows that punching Mac will land him in jail where he can’t do anything for his sister.

Sincerely,
Brian 4/5/6 Grader

Monday, March 18, 2013

Melvin Beederman: The Curse of the Bologna Sandwich by Greg Trine

Dear Mr. W,

Melvin Beederman is a superhero. The first book in the Melvin Beederman series is The Curse of the Bologna Sandwich. Melvin graduated from the Superhero Academy at the top of his class. He beat out Superhero Carl who is stronger than him because Melvin uses his brain. “Your brain is your greatest weapon,” Headmaster Spinner tells him. That’s also in the Superhero’s Code.

The world in the Melvin Beederman book is the same as ours. Superhero Carl goes to the Fiji Islands while Melvin goes to Los Angeles. But even though the author doesn’t say so, I can infer that in the book superheroes are considered normal. People just accept that there is such a thing.

First, there is a superhero academy that recruits children who then are allowed to attend. When Melvin has to fly 3,000 miles to Los Angeles, he flies next to a jet window and asks the pilot if he can catch a ride. Instead of being like, “Ah! There’s a little dude flying outside the plane!” he calmly asks, “Are you the new superhero?” and then says, “Have a seat on the wing. We’ll be there in a jiffy.” Flying superheroes must be something normal to him.

When Melvin stops his first crime by picking up a car and shaking the bad guys and the stolen money out of the window, people celebrate what he’s done. They don’t freak out. Melvin says he is the new superhero. New means that there must have been an old one sometime. Then a man asks, “Los Angeles has a superhero?” and another says, “We haven’t had a superhero since . . .” That shows that people know about and accept superheroes as normal.

Finally, word spreads quickly in the media. Melvin was on TV and in the newspapers. Headlines say “There’s a superhero in town. Welcome!” They don’t say, “Tiny kid picks up huge car! That’s impossible!” Everyone is glad that he’s in town and they aren’t amazed at what he does. They must know what superheroes do and aren’t surprised to see it happen. They’re happy to see it.

Sincerely,
Brian Fourth Grader

The Melvin Beederman series currently has eight books. Other titles in the series include The Revenge of the McNasty Brothers, The Grateful Fred, and Terror in Tights. The books will serve as a great introduction to superheros for early chapter book readers. Melvin can fly, has super strength, and x-ray vision. (Although the x-ray vision makes him rather uncomfortable. He sees too much underwear.) Melvin also has a weakness. His kryptonite is bologna. Put the Melvin Beederman books in your young readers' hands. Let them exercise their own superpower: reading.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Brooklyn Nine by Alan Gratz and Holes by Louis Sachar

Dear Mr. W,

The main difference between first person point-of-view and third person point-of-view is who is telling the story. In first person point-of-view the narrator is a character in the story while in third person point-of-view the narrator is someone not in the story. The third person point-of-view narrator knows everything. The narrator can travel through time, see people’s thoughts, and travel to different locations to tell what is happening in two places at once. A first person point-of-view narrator can only tell what he/she sees, hears, and thinks.

The Brooklyn Nine by Alan Gratz is a good example of how a book would change if the point-of-view changed. Basically, the story as it is would be impossible. The book starts in the 1840's in Brooklyn, New York. There are nine chapters, called innings, just like a baseball game has nine innings. The first chapter is a full story about a boy named Felix who loves baseball and plays on the streets. Then he is injured in a fire. The second chapter is all about his son, Louis, a Union soldier. The third chapter is all about Felix’s son, Arnold. This pattern continues from parent to child all the way through history to the present time in chapter nine. In order to travel through 170 years of history, the book must be told in third person point-of-view.

Actually, I guess it could be first person point-of-view, but there would need to be nine different narrators, a new one for each chapter. I really liked the last chapter, the ninth inning. Bits and pieces of the eight previous stories all come together. The third person narrator tells all about previous events so readers can see how they fit together. Now that I think of it, I guess if each chapter was told in first person point-of-view, then readers would still know that stuff. But to me it makes more sense to have a third person narrator who has traveled through time and “seen” all of the events.

Holes by Louis Sachar is also told in third person point-of-view. The narrator not only tells us what happens to Stanley, but readers also learn about his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather, Madame Zeroni, Miss Katherine, Sam the onion man, Trout Walker, and other characters in the past. If Holes was told in first person point-of-view and Stanley was the narrator, readers wouldn't know anything about those other characters or events. At the end, I’m not even sure Stanley knows how or why everything worked out with the curse - the mountain, the water, the song, etc. But readers do. When Zero tells Stanley his last name, it doesn't mean much to Stanley, but it is a huge “Ah-ha!” moment for readers because we know about Madame Zeroni. If it was first person, readers would only know what Stanley knows as he figures it out.

Sincerely,
Brian Fourth Grader

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick Journal Entry

Dear Mr. W,

I just started reading The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg and already I have been able to make some inferences. I know plenty about two characters, Stink and Smelt, from their words and actions, things the author hasn't told readers.

They are criminals. They have a man tied up by the wrists and ankles and have a sack over his head. They kicked him when he made noise. Smelt says, “You stay quiet as a mouse, maybe you’ll live to see the sun come up. Which is any minute now.” These are not the actions of a law-abiding citizen. They also are stealing Homer’s horse, which he stole. (Even though it is rightfully his.)

I think they must be wanted by the law because when they first find Homer, they ask if he was sent by the judge. Why else would a judge want two guys who are hiding in the woods who happen to have a man tied up? Criminals.

You could call them gamblers because they take risks. Releasing Homer is a risk because he’s a liar and might not go along with Stink and Smelt's plan. Forging official documents is against the law, but they will try it anyway. Money is more important to them than people, safety, the truth, and the law.

Today I read about when Homer met Mr. Brewster. Mr. Brewster tells Homer all about Stink and Smelt. He knows their full names and all about their evil deeds. He also knows that they are in the woods, that they have kidnapped Samuel Reed, and are right now watching him and Homer walk in the mine. This tells me that Stink and Smelt aren’t very good at what they do. They might have successfully caught and sold runaway slaves, but their inability to keep it secret will probably get them caught sooner than later. Stink and Smelt can’t be very sneaky if Mr. Brewster already knows all this information about them.

Sincerely,
Brian Fifth Grader

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Hold Fast by Blue Balliett

After reading an ARC of Hold Fast, I immediately changed my read aloud schedule, moving the book to the top of the list for sixth grade. As I post this, we are about three-quarters finished, and it has been a powerful experience for both students and teacher. This is a sample journal entry we wrote together about how words, phrases, and smaller pieces of text add meaning to the whole

Dear Mr. W,

I just started reading Hold Fast by Blue Balliett. It is opening my eyes to the issue of homelessness, something I did not know much about before reading. I can’t imagine being put into a situation like the Pearl family, with my father disappearing and then losing my home and almost everything I own. I wouldn’t know what to do.

The author has a unique way of organizing chapters or sections of the book. (I’m reading an advanced readers copy on a Kindle, so I’m not sure exactly how this will appear in the final book.) Each section is titled with one word. Most, but not all, of them begin with C. The first time the word appears it has a definition and origin. Then each word is repeated at section breaks. It’s almost like there are 5 or 6 chapters in a row with the same one word title.

It seems like the C words give clues as to what is in that section. Like Cling and Clutch refer to how the family is trying to stay together and how they hold on to their hopes. Crash is where the bad guys came and trashed their apartment after the crash when the dad, Dash, disappeared. Looking back at what has been read, you can see why words were chosen. Today I started Chase. As I read it feels like Early has decided to do something, to chase down a solution, to find her father. I hope the next part, Catch, means she finds answers.

When I started the section for the word Crimp, I guessed that something unwanted would come into the story or that some new addition to the story would make the conflict larger. That totally happened. Early went to her new school but things didn’t go well. She was treated badly because she was a “shelter kid.” Even more important, and an even bigger crimp for the Pearl family, is that the police issued a warrant for Dash’s arrest. They think he’s connected to an eight-year-old diamond heist! What? No way! Not Dash!

Finally, there are many mentions of homes. The Pearl family has an apartment at the beginning and a dream of one day owning their own home. Then they lost the apartment and live in a homeless shelter. Early notices homes that are empty and homes come up in a school writing assignment. It’s sad that a family that dreams of moving on to a better home actually moves farther away from that dream and into a homeless shelter.

Sincerely, 
Brian Sixth Grader

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