Books for Grade 4 Lightning Literature

by Elizabeth Kamath

I’ve been gratified by the enthusiastic response to Lightning Literature Grades 1 - 3. I apologize for the delay in writing Grade 4, but each year takes progressively more work, as do my growing boys.

Choosing books for a course is such a challenge. I have tried hard to balance many things – realistic and fantasy fiction, historical and modern-day settings, gender of the main character, cultural diversity – all while finding books with a high quality of writing. There are no tokens here.

What is here are three pieces of historical fiction (including one fictionalized biography) and one other realistic story; one nonfiction book; four works of pure fantasy; stories that give glimpses into Chinese, Native American, Chilean, and Malawian culture; seven boys, five girls, and a gorilla who share their worlds with us; two books written entirely in verse; and 11 exciting and moving tales.

The Earth Dragon Awakes by Laurence Yep

This is a brief historical novel that follows two families, one white and the other Chinese, through the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. The story is exciting, and Yep gives fascinating details about the earthquake and the city of that time.

Morning Girl by Michael Dorris

Winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for historical fiction, this book takes us back even further in time to a Taino family’s island life right before Columbus’s arrival. The chapters alternate between Morning Girl’s perspective and that of her brother, Star Boy.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

This recent Newbery winner tells a touching story from the point of view of a gorilla trapped in a tiny shopping mall circus.

Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse by Tamera Will Wissinger

This short book tells a story using various types of poetry (free verse, acrostic, ballad, haiku, etc.). I use this book for the first two weeks of poetry.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Young Minli goes on a quest to save her family from the poverty that she sees crushing her parents’ spirits. One of the most elegantly structured stories for children I’ve read, this fairy tale-esque book contains many other Chinese folk tales within it. But rather than seeming shoved in or stuck on, the tales serve to further the plot, character development, and tone of the book.

The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson

A Christmas tale of a homeless man who meets a struggling family on the streets of Paris, this book is a lovely blend of humor, warmth, and wisdom.

Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr

A girl has a nearly perfect life on an island with her father, until he is lost at sea in a storm, and she must use her wits (and the help of a new penpal) to survive until he returns.

The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan

This is fictionalized account of poet Pablo Neruda’s boyhood in Chile. Students don’t need to know anything about Neruda or his poetry to understand his struggles with growing up.

Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

What happens when you’re a boy in English class forced to study and even write poetry? What Jack does, after initial protests, is write surprisingly touching and revealing poetry (after being inspired by such poets as William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, and William Blake). I use this book for the last two weeks of poetry.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (Young Readers’ Edition) by William Kamkwamba

Teenager William Kamkwamba overcame amazing odds to build a windmill for his family’s home in Malawi. This true story tells how he educated himself, helped his family through a terrible famine, withstood the antagonism of neighbors, and scrounged all the parts needed for the windmill.

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

This is a beautifully-written, classic story that speculates on the question, “What if you could live forever?” This can often seem terribly attractive to children, and even adults, but Babbitt shows us that the answer isn’t as simple as we might think.

The Borrowers by Mary Norton

A classic tale of the tiny people that live in houses and borrow things from the giant owners (us). But amidst this fantastical setting is a girl ready to explore the world, a boy who can see more than most, and family love.


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