JUSTIN FISHER DECLARES WAR was my last read of the summer. I am a huge James Preller fan but this may be my favorite from his list. Most of my teaching life has been in grades 3, 4, and 5. I feel very at home in 4th and 5th grade classrooms. I love the age and James Preller must also love this age. He really understands them and the struggles they deal with. Over the years, I have learned what a huge transition this age is for kids. They go from being little kids, to being big kids and it is sometimes a little confusing.
In this book, we learn that since 3rd grade, Justin Fisher has been the class clown. He is always up to something. He has good friends but in 5th grade, that seems to be changing. His friends and classmates have had enough and are starting to keep their distance. For me, this book is about figuring things out. Things that are cute and funny when you are 8, are no longer cute and funny when you are 11. This is a hard lesson for kids and finding their place in the world gets trickier. But Justin finds his way, thanks to an amazing young teacher (one that clearly deserves a spot on 100 Cool Teachers in Children's Lit!).
If I were in the classroom this year, this would probably be my first read aloud. The first read aloud has always been key and the choice is always a hard one but there are so many reasons that JUSTIN FISHER DECLARES WAR would make a great first read aloud. First of all, it will appeal to both boys and girls. Justin is a character that you cheer for and also one that does some crazy things that make you laugh. For me, laughter is always important in that first read aloud. It helps the community grow and helps everyone feel comfortable. The message "we will laugh here" is one I want kids to know right away. Secondly, the conversation that would happen around a book like this would be powerful. And this book will only provide the beginning of these conversations. James Preller understands this age level and kids will see themselves and their classmates in this book. Finally, the book's length would give lots of time for discussion--135 pages makes it short enough to set the stage for great books and great conversation. I am so hoping someone reads this book aloud early in the year and blogs about the conversations!