Monday, April 2, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Over the weekend, I finished The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander. A friend had recommended it as an engaging book for middle grade boys and I would agree with this recommendation. The main character, Mac, and his best friend, Vince, run a lucrative business out of an unused bathroom in the school. The student body knows that these two boys are generally able to provide relatively benign favors--gaining access to an R-rated movie, obtaining a homework pass. However, the pressure and stress level skyrocket when a fourth grader asks for protection against a known hustler who has been swindling students and physically threatening them.

The plot is fast moving and highly engaging with (spoiler alert) a few violent scenes that graphically describe characters being beaten up. There is much more to the book, though.  The Fourth Stall provides opportunities to discuss stereotyping, loyalty, ethical decision-making and the convolution of perceptions and realities. Because there is also an element of crime solving, I found myself constantly predicting and second-guessing my judgments and the characters' assumptions. I also found myself wondering about the plausibility of some of the situations. Working in a suburban elementary school probably shields me from some of the realities in todays public schools. Would adults on recess duty really not notice a gang beating up a younger student on the outskirts of the playground? Would parents really not question a pair of black eyes as the result of a biking tumble? Would a custodian really facilitate students using a defunct bathroom as an office?

We are always looking for great read alouds and I do think that The Fourth Stall is a high impact book for upper elementary students. Empathy is a critical 21st century skill and this book forces characters, and therefore readers, to examine perspectives and motivation. Another important skill that children must learn is how to apologize and right a wrong. This is a great book for discussing and teaching retribution. 


  1. Yay! I love The Fourth Stall. I agree that it would be a great read aloud, especially now that book two is out. If you read book one aloud, kids will be super excited to read the squeal. HAPPY READING!

  2. I enjoyed Fourth Stall but I wasn't expecting it to get as serious as it did. I thought it could have been a little more light-hearted and funny but it got pretty intense! I might have to read it again knowing now how it all works out because I loved the idea of a kid working out of a bathroom and doings things for other kids, but it caught me off guard when it went so intense.

    1. I had the heads up that it gets intense so I wasn't caught off guard but it definitely left me with a lot of questions about the issues that students face. You're right in that it seems as if it will be a relatively light and funny read as it begins! The increasing intensity is why I'd recommend it as a read aloud and not as a book to have on the shelf for independent reading. What do you think?

  3. I've seen alot about Fourth Stall, but haven't read it yet. Sounds like it addresses some pretty serious issues, interesting that it revolves around a fourth grader. Do you think it would bee too much for some readers of that age, or is there enough levity to balance it out?

  4. There is definitely levity in this book--the scene where we find out about how the bathroom became toilet-less had me laughing out loud. However, I would not give my own fourth grade daughter this book to read independently. There are far too many issues and complexities that I'd want her to process with an adult. While one of the characters is in fourth grade, the main characters are in seventh grade and their issues are with high school students so really, the plot revolves around older children. My disclaimer about my own personal feelings is that I wrote another post about The Hunger Games because I don't think it belongs in elementary school...does that help?