Starting today, we at the AceReader blog are going to be introducing a new feature – Book Reviews. The list of titles will come from area library systems and educational institutions and will represent a wide range of grade-appropriate fiction and non-fiction material. Sometimes, like today, we will be reviewing a book that we have read ourselves. More often, though, we will post a couple of titles and ask you, our readers, to chime in with your views on the quality of the writing, the books’ appropriateness for the age level for which they were chosen, and what is special or unique about the books (stories and/or authors) that make them a “must read” for students in those grades.
Up today is a title recommended for fourth-grade students by the Montgomery County (MD) Public Library System. It comes from three-time Newbery Award-Winning writer Jennifer L. Holm, and it’s called “Full of Beans.” Though MCPL does not use Lexile scores to determine a book’s appropriateness for a given age or grade, for those who are interested, this book has a Lexile score of 490.
The story takes place in Key West, Florida during the Great Depression of the early 1930s. The main character, a nine or ten-year-old Beans Curry, tells you right from the start that grown-ups are “lying liars,” from the petty hoods he meets on the streets of the dilapidated town to President Roosevelt himself, who has been “saying on the radio that the economy was improving, when anyone with two eyes could see the only thing getting better was my mother’s ability to patch holes in pants.” Beans is smart, though, and he’s a budding businessman; he finds ways to scrape up enough money to go to the movies or get medicine for his little brother or surprise his mother when she’s in a hole and his dad can’t find work. And when the “New Dealers” come to town to spruce it up for the tourist trade, he rides their coattails to build his own kid-friendly business empire. In the process, though, he learns some valuable lessons about the power of truth, the truth about lies, and the nature of human beings, children and grown-ups alike.
Fourth graders are at the beginning of the process of reading to learn. Holm recognizes this and keeps her words simple and her chapters short. She also understands, though, that kids of this age are beginning to test their limitations and gain a measure of independence, as well as trying to get a sense of how the world really works. They can relate to Beans, if not for his situation then for his age. His trials, including taking care of younger siblings and learning about the consequences of actions, are their trials. And by placing the story in the middle of the Great Depression, Holm teaches something about history and prompts the reader to ask questions of their own.
All told, we found this book to be enjoyable, informative, and a great choice for fourth and even fifth graders.
Have you read this book? Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share with other readers? Please leave comments in the section below.