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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Two good books for fourth, fifth, and sixth grade boys especially

Paulsen, Gary (1989)  The Winter Room. New York:  Dell Yearling

Opening lines:  "In the spring, everything is soft.  Wayne is my older brother by two years and so he thinks he knows more than I can ever know.  He said Miss Halverson, who teaches eighth grade, told him spring was a time of awakening, but I think she's wrong.  And Wayne is wrong too."

Everyone knows Paulsen's book Hatchet.  It is amazing, though, how many of Paulsen's other books remain on the shelves, unread.  This is a rambling set of four big interwoven stories, and within each of them, countless other stories. Here you will find the story of two boys trying to imitate their favorite western television programs by jumping from the hayloft of a barn down onto a horse and what happens next.  here you will find the story of a practical-joker elderly Norwegian farmer who, when he knew he was going to die in the deep winter, opened all the doors of his house and went into the smallest room, then lay down ont he floor with his arms and legs spread wide, knowing that his friend would find him and would have to figure out how to get his body out of the house.  And here is the larger overarching story of two boys who idolize their uncle, lose faith in his amazing powers, and then find that faith rekindled.

At 102 pages, this would make a good quick read-aloud or a good book to give to students who don't have the stamina to read a longer work yet.  Students without senses of humor, or those opposed to stories that take place in rural places should probably take a pass on this one.

Gantos, Jack (1994)  Heads or Tails:  Stories from the Sixth Grade.  New York:  Farrar Straus Giroux.

"I crept up on my diary.  Carefully I undid the lock with the small key I kept on a string around my neck, then slowly opened it.  "Ughhhh," I moaned.  The pages were filled with squished spiders."

Jack is a sixth grader with an odd life.  His dad says he has a new job and they are going to move out of the lower class neighborhood they live in with weird neighbors and alligators in the canal.  Jack keeps getting his brother into trouble.  Jack never means to, but each time it happens, his parents seem to get more frustrated with him.  Jack joins the safety patrol so he can talk to Donna, a girl he likes, but then she quits the safety patrol and he has to deal with a crabby lady whose house is next to where he walks kids across the street.  And there is a hurricane on the way.  Fortunately, Jack seems to be able to find joy or at least humor in all of his difficult circumstances..  The book is kind of dark at moments (but then, so is life as a sixth grader) but overall, seems to have a positive upswing.

Like The Winter Room, this book has an overarching story, but at the same time seems to be a collection of shorter episodes.  This might be frustrating for more experienced readers looking for a single large plot to drive the action, but for less experienced readers, the episodic stories might help them be able to take smaller bites and digest their reading as they go.

There is some mild swearing in this book (I believe the word "hell" comes up once, but nothing here that would likely cause the book to be challenged. It is a good book.

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