The Book Reviews – Website

March 17, 2008

The House on the Gulf

The House on the Gulf

Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix

Page Length: 201

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Realistic Fiction, Suspense

 

PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW: I place this book in my top 5. It had me hooked from beginning until end.

 

The Lassiter’s are a family of three: mom, son, and daughter. Their past is a troubled one with much bad luck. When Ms. Becky Lassiter was young, she eloped with a man which her parents disapproved. As a result, her parents disown her. They even go so far as to set all of her belongings on their front lawn to burn (145). Talk about bad feelings! Ms. Lassiter’s story gets even worse. Her husband leaves her for good with their two young kids, and she loses her job!

 

The current story begins in Gulfstone, Florida. The Lassiter’s have moved down there from Pennsylvania so Ms. Lassiter could go to college and become a doctor. It is also her hope than she can obtain a single parent scholarship offered through Gulfstone University. The idea of Florida is one of new beginnings. However, with the high cost of rent, Ms. Lassiter is unable to enroll in school full-time.

 

Brother Bran, who has assumed a parental role ever since his father left, plans an elaborate scheme for his family to live in a house for the summer rent-free. He befriends an older couple, John & Mary “Marquis” and cuts their grass for them. When Mr. and Mrs. “Marquis” leave to go to their New York home for the summer, Bran moves his family right into the couple’s Florida home (without the couple knowing)!!! Bran’s mother and sister assume they have been given permission to move in, but Bran is hiding his “plan”. Only Bran knows that his family is breaking the law! 

 

It doesn’t take long for Bran’s sister, Britt, to suspect that something is wrong. To Britt, Bran has been a pretty level-headed person. However, once they begin to live in the new house, Bran’s behavior begins to change. He becomes jumpy, hides items, trips on his words, clearly lies to his family, makes excuses for almost everything, and is inconsistent on his “rules for living in the house”. For example, Bran takes down all the “Marquis” pictures in the house (for, as he states, fear that they may break something), however he does not pack away the “Marquis” VCR. Britt picks up on this and many odd behaviors. Britt becomes the skeptic, the sleuth, the investigator, and finds out that Bran is indeed lying about many things.

 

First, the “Marquis” have not allowed the Lassiters to move into their home. Bran was only hired to cut the grass. Second, Britt discovers that Mr. & Mrs. Marquis are really Mr. & Mrs. Marcus. Ms. Lassiters maiden name was Marcus! Bran tells Britt that this old couple is their mother’s parents, their grandparents! Bran goes into detail about how he researched his grandparents whereabouts on the Internet and had been planning this “move-in” for quite some time. Page 121 gives great insight into how Bran feels about his actions and how he views his grandparents. He truly does not see anything wrong with what he has done. 

 

The plot twists when it is discovered that Mr. Marcus has died while in New York and his wife shows up at their Florida home, only to discover the Lassiter family living there. One would think that a “reunion” of sorts would occur between Mrs. Marcus and her daughter and grand children. However it is discovered that the Mrs. Marcus of Gulfstone, Florida is not related to the Lassiter family at all. Bran has made a mistake and found the wrong Marcus family!

 

Are the police called? Do the Lassiters go to jail? Nope! Mrs. Marcus, with the persuasion of a neighbor Mrs. Stuldy, allows them to move out of her home without legal action. Also, Ms. Lassiter does not receive the single parent scholarship, but she does earn an academic one. The story ends with the Lassiters moving into an apartment on campus and Britt writing a letter to the grandparents whom she thought she met in Gulfstone, Florida. She doesn’t know if her real grandparents will write to her, but at least she has reached out to them.

 

Some students may connect with the issue of family separation and “broken homes”. This book is a must-read. You won’t want to put it down.

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://www.lessonplanspage.com/SSFamilyTree512.htm

(charting your family tree)

 

http://content.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3662

 (lesson plan to learn about families)

 

http://www.metlife.com/Applications/Corporate/WPS/CDA/PageGenerator/0,4132,P988,00.html

 (being a single parent)

 

http://www.parentswithoutpartners.org/Support1.htm

 (facts about single parent families)

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burglary

 (breaking and entering facts)

 

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

 

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March 15, 2008

Among the Betrayed

Among the Betrayed

Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix

Page Length: 156

Reading Level: 5/6

Genre: Science Fiction, Mystery, Suspense

 

REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: State Rights! Women Rights! Civil Rights! Well…now there is an idea called Third-Child Rights and only in the world of fiction (for now) in a book titled, Among the Betrayed (book three in a series). In this futuristic story, the government has established a policy in which parents may only have two children due to the shortage of food after recent draughts and famine.

 

Nina Idi, whose real name is Elodie Luria, is an illegal third-child (shadow child) who has been in hiding from the Population Police all her young life. After she falls for a boy named Jason she unknowingly becomes involved in his profitable plan to expose “exnays” – illegal shadow children trying to pass themselves off as legitimate citizens. However, the Population Police discover that Jason is turning in citizens that are legitimate! Subsequently, they arrest Jason and all those involved – including Nina.

 

The book begins its plot twist after the arrest. Working for the Population Police in the prison where Nina is held is a double agent. The double agents mission is to discover whether or not Nina was knowingly involved in Jason’s plan. A trio of street smart children – Percy, Matthias, and Alia are placed in the prison to aid this double agents plan. An action-packed adventure then begins when Nina escapes with the other three children to hide out in the woods. Percy, Matthias, and Alia go through a series of tests to confirm Nina’s loyalty to them (as they are illegal shadow children themselves). 

 

It is at this point in the book, on pages 142-145 that many of the questions in the book are revealed to Nina. Betrayal is a major problem in their world, and this is why secret plans and tests are in place to ensure the safety and protection of many of the illegal shadow children. Among the Betrayed describes a world in which illegal shadow children and their supporters are at odds with the government and the Population Police. Major political figures are in power, secret meetings are held, and public rallies occur in a hopeful effort to establish equality for all.

 

As the book comes to a close, it gives the reader a hint that the story is not over. Jason is working with a faction of the Population Police, in which the Nina’s friends and colleagues do not support. There is a sequel to this book, Among the Barons.

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Students may identify periods in history that contain similar themes of change and equality as reflected in this book. Page 55 gives the reader a great description of prison conditions during this time.

 

MOVIE, BOOK, & HISTORICAL CONNECTIONS: I enjoyed this book. It reminded me of the movie, Gattaca, and the book, The Last Book in the Universe. The idea of population control is really not a new concept – Ancient Greece practiced forms of it while current Chinese policy discourages families from having more than one child. One can only hope that the extreme actions that have occurred in this story, do not happen in our future lives.

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-child_policy

 

http://www.state.lib.la.us/empowerlibrary/DOUBLE%20IDENTITY.pdf

 

http://booktalkingcolorado.ppld.org/scripts/FullRecord.asp?ID=234

 

http://nancykeane.com/booktalks/haddix_betrayed.htm

 

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

 

March 12, 2008

The Witches

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The Witches

Author: Ronald Dahl

Illustrator: Quentin Blake

Page Length: 208

Reading Level: 5

 

REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: Ronald Dahl writes an exciting story about witches, a grandmamma, and her orphaned grandson that kept me enthralled as he did in my previous reading of his book, The Giraffe, and the Pelly and Me.  Once again, by looking and reading the cover, I thought this book would be a bit juvenile for the high school student.  However, barely into the first chapter, my attention was captured by the imaginative descriptions Dahl uses in writing a story about witches.

 

The setting of the story is in Europe, in the countries of Norway and England.  The narrator, a 7-year old boy from England, goes to live with his grandmother who lives in Norway after his parents are killed in a car accident.  Dahl avoids the entire issue of the parent’s dying and quickly establishes the bond that develops between the boy and his story-telling, cigar smoking grandmamma.

 

Grandmamma loves to tell stories, especially about witches.

 

Unlike the stereotype image of a witch in black who flies on a broom, across the shadow of a full moon, grandmamma tells her grandson the characteristics he should know about the witches of Norway. First of all, they have no toes, just square feet. They always wear wigs and gloves because they are bald and have no fingernails.  Grandmamma warned him the nasty women had large nose-holes with amazing smelling powers, especially for clean children.  The pupils of their eyes are not black but change colors from fire to ice.  The final characteristic was that their spit is blue. 

 

The boy had a hard time believing these facts about witches, but he was convinced they had to be true, as his grandmother was the “nicest” person he knew and attended church every Sunday.

 

The old woman and boy move to England to fulfill the wishes of his parent’s will.  However, grandmamma suffers a case of pneumonia which becomes very serious.  She does recover and at the end of the school term, the odd twosome goes on vacation to Hotel Magnificent in Bournemouth.

 

This is where the adventure begins.  Whiled training his two pet mice, the boy accidentally gets caught in a meeting room of lovely women called “The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.”    He became intrigued watching them as they all began scratching their heads as if they had nits.  Then, one lady actually scratched so hard her head of hair moved.  A wig!  It only took him a few minutes of observation to realize they actually weren’t lovely women. When the revelation hit him that he was in a room full of witches, he fainted!

 

As the boy continues to spy on the witches’ meeting, he learns of their plans to destroy all the children of England.  As the meeting comes to a close, one of the sharp-nosed witches smells him.  He is trapped and along with Bruno, another boy staying at the hotel falls prey to the group.

 

The boys are not killed but their identity changes.  They are able to escape the horrific women and make it back to Grandmamma’s room.  Here, the boy and grandmamma devise a plan to sabotage and destroy the witches.  Grandmamma is quite clever and mischievous for an 82 year old woman.  It is her goal to destroy the evil women of England then, all witches of the world.

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: This book is fun and entertaining.  It could easily be made into a movie.  An idea for teaching sequencing would be for students to illustrate the gory events. I also think it would be a good read aloud book or to be read as a class.

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://www.funtrivia.com/playquiz/quiz407574ad5e0.html

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Witches_(book)

 

http://www.roalddahlfans.com/teachers/classstudy.php

 

http://www.newi.ac.uk/englishresources/workunits/ks3/reading/yr7/cdwitches.html

 

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

 

March 11, 2008

Fatality

Fatality

Author: Caroline B. Cooney

Page Length: 198

Reading Level: 5th

Genre: Realistic Fiction, Mystery 

 

REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: Fatality starts off with a bang! (great for a lesson on leads) Chapter 1 takes us from curiosity to action as Rose Lymond steals a police car in an attempt to take back her diary in which the police have confiscated while the reader is left unaware of the journal’s contents. Does the diary contain details of a brutal murder or a hit-and-run? Is there a list of love interests written down? Are there personal family secrets described in the journal? These are questions that the reader will ask oneself as they continue to read this action-packed book. In spite of these questions, what the reader does know in the beginning is that the police have re-opened a murder investigation, and Roses diary may provide some clues into this case. Could Roses diary provide information for this investigation or does her diary contain something entirely un-related?

 

Roses character is not the type to commit a crime such as stealing a police car unless there is a good reason. However, no one understands her thinking at this point in the story. Rose refuses to explain her actions, her diary, or her current state of mind. Her parents, the police, and some of her friends become worried and upset. Rose is concealing something very important! The police are certain that Rose is hiding vital information in regards to the brutal murder of Frannie Bailey that may have been committed by Milton Lofft, the father of Angelica, a school friend of Roses.

 

What the police don’t know is that there is no vital information in Roses journal about the murder of Frannie Bailey. However, her journal does contain information relating to a time when Mr. Lofft ran over an object in the road while Rose and Angelica were in the car. Rose cannot be sure that it was a person that Mr. Lofft ran over, yet she can’t rule it out. Newspapers did report a hit-and-run at about the time of Roses diary entry, yet even this incident is not what is tugging at Roses emotions. What could this event be? It is something even more personal and emotional to Rose than a brutal murder or a hit-and-run.

 

The emotional climax of the story happens around page 170 when the reader realizes what Rose has been hiding from us all. Her mother cheated on her father while he was away on business, and the result was the birth of Rose. Rose’s father is actually her step-father! When Rose found out about this incident, four years ago, she vowed to keep it hidden from everyone, especially her father.

 

The story does not end there. Verne, a former family friend of Roses, assumes that Rose has written about him in her diary – written about the time when he killed Frannie Bailey! This assumption causes Verne to attempt to kill Rose on the road in his SUV early on in the story, and it now drives him to kidnap her and possibly end her life! Verne however is caught by a police road block. It is at this time that Rose confesses everything to her supporters, especially her father. Roses father tells her that he already knew about the marital affair, yet still accepts Rose as his own daughter and always will.

 

This book may prove confusing for some students because it is layered with several plot twists and characters. It is a standard mystery that starts out well and wraps up nicely.

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: This book provides good examples of flashback as well as conflict.

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://www.teenreads.com/authors/au-cooney-caroline.asp

  

http://www.deadlyroads.com/

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diary 

 

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

 

March 10, 2008

Joey Pigza Loses Control

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Joey Pigza Loses Control

Author: Jack Gantos

Page Length: 196

Reading Level: 6

 

PLOT SUMMARY: Joey Pigza is an eleven year old boy with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He reveals to the reader some of his exploits that occur whenever he has that crazy feeling inside. Joey currently lives with his mom and his Chihuahua, Pablo. Joey’s mother understands his problems and has taken Joey to the doctor; his medicine helps keep him in control and deters him for acting impulsively.

 

Mom takes Joey to visit with his father for the summer. Dad has supposedly cleaned up his act and is looking forward to making up for lost time. Joey arrives to dad and grandma. Grandma smokes like crazy in between being hooked up to her oxygen tank and being seized by coughing fits. Dad is well intended but often off track. Joey tells dad that he never gets a chance to talk too. As the story progresses, we see that dad is likely ADHD just like Joey. He self-medicates with cigarettes and alcohol (all things he is not supposed to be doing anymore). Joey and his father bond when Joey becomes the pitcher on his dad’s baseball team. They enjoy each other’s company, but there are many hurdles to overcome in their relationship.

 

One night dad drinks too heavily and determines that neither he nor Joey need their patches anymore. He crumples Joey’s patches and disposes of them. Joey begins to feel himself slipping out of control again; despite the fact that he really would like to be a normal kid, Joey can’t control his responses. Things heat up when Joey tries to protect dad and lies to mom about what’s going on at dad’s house. Joey’s guilt begins to consume him. Dad begins to pressure Joey to stay with him permanently. As everything around him begins to spiral out of control, Joey heads to his safe haven. Who will save Joey? Will dad ever realize that he needs help? Will Joey be forced to choose sides?

 

REVIEW: What was fascinating about this book was that you almost have to be ADHD to appreciate it. On the other hand, it was a fascinating look at what it might really be like to be ADHD. Gantos’s descriptions of the uncontrollable chaos in Joey’s mind and his outrageous actions really create sensitivity within the reader to the fact that Joey can’t help. The reader empathizes with Joey’s desire to be normal, but the same time, the reader realizes that just can’t happen without his medication.

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: This book would definitely appeal more to boys. The episode Joey experiences on pages 140-142 might be a great read aloud and discussion of what it would be like to have ADHD and how it would affect your social and academic life (a great written response activity). Analyzing Joey at the beginning, middle, and end of the story would be a great activity (a bubble flow map). Overall, this book was an easy read. I’d even recommend it for teachers who work with ADHD students. 

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://www.multcolib.org/talk/guides-joeypigzaloses.html

 

http://www.kidsreads.com/reviews/0374399891.asp

 

http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?id=1125&type=book&cn=3

 

http://www.kidsource.com/books/JPigzalosescontrol.html

 

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

 

One-Eyed Cat

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One-Eyed Cat

Author: Paula Fox

Page Length: 216

Reading Level: 6

 

REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: Eleven year old Ned Wallis lives in a rural area in 1935. His father is a preacher of the nearby small community church; his mother suffers from crippling arthritis and is bed ridden or wheelchair bound throughout much of the story. Ned is a generally agreeable young man who does as he’s told and is respectful of those around him. His rich uncle visits one day and gives him an unexpected gift – an air rifle. Ned’s father is outraged claiming Ned to young. He takes the gun away and places it in the attic. Ned can’t resist the temptation; after everyone is in bed, Ned takes the air rifle from the attic and sneaks outside. Something moves in the night and Ned takes aim and fires. Feeling guilty for having shot something and for disobeying his parents, Ned returns the gun to the. His actions are never discovered; yet, the rest of the book is focused on his guilt.

 

Ned visits elderly Mr. Scully daily to help him with chores and to be with him. One day, a one-eyed cat shows up. Mr. Scully notes that something has recently damaged the cat’s eye; Ned is sure it was him. He becomes caught up in the cat’s survival. He and Mr. Scully become engrossed with the daily activities of the cat. Mr. Scully finds that the cat assuages his loneliness; Ned finds that the cat’s survival assuages his guilt.

 

Mr. Scully is growing weaker and winter is setting in. Will Mr. Scully and the cat be able to survive the harsh conditions? Will Ned’s mother’s condition improve? Will Ned everyone divulge his horrible secret to anyone?  Will the guilt and the lies consume his life?

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: The way Paula Fox presents the issues of the elderly in this book is moving. I think understanding the loneliness and the inability to do for one’s self anymore would be a great lesson for all students. We really must impress upon our students how their grandparents and others around them are the same as they always were (in thoughts and feelings); however, they are limited by their present ability levels. This book is also a fabulous tool for gaining an understanding of the treacherous web telling just one lie or committing one dishonest act leads to. Overall, I think that this book would appeal more to the boys. I found it slow at times and difficult to stay engaged in. Yet, if the reader hangs on until the end, the book is a moving story with an excellent message.

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://www.kidsreads.com/reviews/0689839707.asp

 

http://www.literatureplace.com/bookfolios/bookfolio.asp?BookfolioID=17

 

http://www.indiana.edu/~reading/ieo/bibs/fox.html

 

http://www.bookrags.com/Paula_Fox

 

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

 

Just Ask Iris

Filed under: J — thebookreviews @ 10:34 pm
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Just Ask Iris

Author: Lucy Frank

 

Page Length: 214

 

Reading Level: 5

 

REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: This story is about twelve year old Iris Pinkowitz. Iris, her brother, and her mother live in an apartment building with colorful neighbors and many of the afflictions of struggling inner-city Americans. Iris’s mother works longs hours and has strict rules for Iris. She is not to leave the apartment; her summer is to be spent perfecting her typing skills because she is going to computer school in the fall. Iris grows lonely and bored with her 1950’s typing book. She befriends a cat who appears on the fire escape outside her window one day. Iris sets out on a quest to find the cat. Her quest takes her up the fire escape past the man with tattoos and his ferocious dog. Past the apartment of a wheelchair bound young man named Will, who lives with his angry and withdraw father.

 

Iris ends up doing odd jobs for all of her neighbors. Her boring summer turns adventurous as she befriends her neighbors and becomes engrossed in their lives. Iris continues to slip out after her mother leaves for work and return before she arrives back home. She earns money which she is anxious to spend to buy a bra. Her concern over her development leads her to safety pin one of her mother’s bras on each morning; although, her mother refuses to acknowledge her plea for a bra, Iris realizes (with the help of a female neighbor) how desperately she needs one. Iris’s struggle with the boys beginning to pay attention to that feature of her body is also discusses in the book. Iris gains self confidence and becomes the hero of her building when she faces off against the landlord’s people. The cat woman is in danger of being evicted, the building elevator isn’t operational, and all everyone needed was a reason to join together. Iris strengthens her community, herself, her relationship with her family, and the determination of almost everyone she meets.

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: I would recommend this book for girls really. Although, boys might be interested in the development aspects, it’s really more of a growing strong girls story. This would be a great discussion piece for looking at the importance of self-confidence, perseverance, and the power of taking action for change.

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://www.lucyfrank.com/Just%20Ask%20Iris.html

 

http://www.kidsreads.com/reviews/0689844069.asp

 

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0PBX/is_3_37/ai_111305361

 

http://www.aliciapatterson.org/APF0801/Cohn/Cohn.html 

 (great article about what living in a building like Iris’s is like)

 

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

 

March 8, 2008

Bluish

Bluish

Author: Virginia Hamilton

Page Length: 127

Reading Level: 2

Genre: Realistic Fiction

 

REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: Bluish is one of those books that spark memories from teachers who have read it to their classes in the past. It is a wonderful little book about a girl named Dreenie and her perceptions of another student in her 5th grade class, Natalie. Natalie is diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Dreenie, like many of the kids in class, doesn’t know how to comfortably act around Natalie. To explain her odd skin color due to chemotherapy, Natalie’s classmates have nicknamed her “Bluish”. In the beginning, Natalie’s classmates view her as weak, frail, and sickly. She drops things, vomits, is confined to a wheel-chair, and speaks with such a quiet voice. Students in her class have different reactions to her. Some are understanding, a few are cruel, and others are just confused. Dreenie is drawn to Natalie and as the story progresses, Dreenie learns more about Natalie, thus becoming closer to her. The teacher does her best to inform the class as a whole of what Natalie is going through – even conducting a mini lesson on the board about leukemia, marrow, blood transfusions, and medicine. It is learned here that Natalie has an 85-90% chance of being cured.

 

A vivid description of Natalie by Dreenie is on page 39. Upon hearing the description, Dreenie’s mother states that Natalie may have childhood leukemia.

 

A profound question comes from Drennie on page 46 when she asks, “Daddy? Do…do kids get sick…and die, I mean, real easily?” Dreenie’s innocence shines through here. She is truly concerned for her classmate, Natalie.

 

On a side note, it can be inferred that Natalie is Jewish and African-American, and on page 70 there is a moment in which her mom states that “Bluish” is a derogatory nickname. Natalie tells her mother that the students in her class don’t call her “Bluish” because of those reasons but because of her pale skin color. This moment is a good example of the differences in perceptions of adults and children.

 

The setting of the story is New York City, with various references to Broadway. Themes that run throughout this story are change, growth, innocence, and learning. Bluish is told from the view-point of an omniscient narrator who is not a character in the story and then shifts to journal entries from the main character – Dreenie. Initially, I found the shifting back and forth from narration to journaling a little awkward, but as I continued to read the book became easier to follow. 

 

The character of Tuli, Dreenie’s closest friend, reminded me of a character in the recent movie “Step Up 2”, which students may recognize. Tuli is fun, energetic, and loves to use a mixture of English and Spanish in her conversations with people. A lesson on the use of dialogue would be great, and page 23 provides some good examples. Despite the relationship between Dreenie and Tuli, Dreenie wishes to have a close friend in which she could converse with and do special things. Dreenie recognizes strengths in Natalie that draw her to this frail girl.

 

TEACHING AREAS: A mini lesson on the holidays of Christmas, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, and Hanukkah could be approached using this book. Natalie enjoys herself one day in school as she teaches the class how to play the game of Dreidel.

 

I felt that this story approached the issue of children coping with peer differences and sickness in a dignified manner. This is an easy read that has many opportunities for “teach-able moments”.

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://www.secondaryenglish.com/bluish.htm

 

http://www.virginiahamilton.com/pages/bluish.htm

 

http://www.cancercare.org/get_help/special_progs/cc_for_kids.php

 

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/acute-lymphocytic-leukemia/DS00558

 

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

 

When Dad Killed Mom

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When Dad Killed Mom

Author: Julious Lester

Page Length: 199

Reading Level:

 

REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: The title says it all.  Jeremy and Jenna’s mom was shot by their dad. Mom is dead, dad is in jail and two kids are left to try and make some sort of life for themselves in the aftermath. This is a disturbing book as you would imagine. It is well written, but I didn’t enjoy it, much as I didn’t enjoy watching Schindler’s List. That is not to say there is not value and it wasn’t compelling, there is and it was, it is just not the kind of book you read for fun.

 

The newspaper headline reads “College Shrink Kills Wife.” The story is told from both Jeremy and Jenna’s point of view. They take turns narrating. The mom, who has already been killed when the book starts, tells her story through a diary the son finds. This is obviously a family in trouble but the actions of the father come as a shock to the children. Throughout the book several deep dark family secrets are revealed that shake-up the characters and the reader. We find out that Jenna and her dad don’t have an entirely wholesome father daughter relationship just for an example.

 

I had to read this book in short segments and follow-up with something lighter. I would have a hard time recommending it to just anyone although, given the title, I think the reader is fairly well prepared for some of the content and tone.

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

www.eduplace.com/kids/tnc/mtail/lester.html

 

http://falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/lester.htm

 

REVIEWED BY: Sherry Hall

 

Sweet-Blood

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Sweet-Blood

Author: Pete Hautman

Page Length: 242

Reading Level: 4

 

REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: Lucy Szabo is a 16 year old diabetic who enjoys dressing in black and visiting the Transylvania Internet chat room. One reason for her interest in vampires is that she thinks she may be one, at least in a sense. Lucy is a bright, underachiever in school with a theory that vampire legend evolved when people didn’t know or understand what was happening to undiagnosed diabetics before diabetes was recognized and treated.

 

I love Lucy. She has a classic ‘bad attitude.’ When the one other diabetic student at her high school wants to compare notes on their conditions, Lucy is completely uninterested. Her choice of make-up and dress distress her mother. But it is when Lucy writes an essay for her creative writing class called, “The Truth About Bloodsucking Demons” that her teacher calls in the parents. The thing is, her essay is excellent with a well thought out and developed argument but all anyone seems to be concerned about is her attitude.

 

All of the reactions from the adults in her life cause Lucy to retreat even more into her Internet chat life. She meets Draco, a self-proclaimed real vampire, starts cutting school and ignoring class work. Worse, she almost does some real damage to her health by not being conscientious about her diabetes.

 

As frightening as that was for me to read, the scarier part was how Draco, a much older man hanging out in the chat room, is able to track Lucy down and discover her real name even though she thinks she never divulges anything personal. Lucy wakes up and makes some good decisions before we have to find out if, as I suspect, Draco is something maybe even more sinister than a vampire, like the kind of guy you see on Dateline; To Catch a Predator.

 

I thought I would hate this book and I liked it. The Halloween party where the Goth kids have to dress ‘normal’ because they look like they are in Halloween costumes all the rest of the year is just an example of how the book shows the humor and intelligence in kids that we sometimes think of as different. Like those kids, I am glad I didn’t just judge this book by the cover.

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

www.petehautman.com/sblood

 

www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/h/pete-hautman/

 

REVIEWED BY: Sherry Hall

 

March 3, 2008

Blue Moon

Blue Moon

Author: Marilyn Halvorson

Page Length: 109

Reading Level: 3.4

Genre: Realistic Fiction

 

REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: Prior knowledge comes in the most unusual of places. On the surface, Blue Moon is about the sport of barrel racing. Long before reading this book, I had absolutely no idea what barrel racing was. However, having previously read Marilyn Halvorson’s book, Bull Rider, I figured it had something to do with livestock or some other animal. In addition, the show “American Idol” gave me some insight into this sport. A female contestant on this show stated that she used to barrel race in Oregon and was hoping to gain her horse back. The show went on to further highlight some of the moves the horse displays in this sport. It was very interesting.

 

Apart from the sport itself, Blue Moon is a story about a “diamond in the rough”. The story opens with Bobbie Jo paying $690 for a “sour, beat-up, old mare” when what she really wanted to purchase was a colt, a yearling, or a young quarter horse in which she could train to be a great barrel racer. Bobbie Jo doesn’t see much hope in this new horse of hers, and neither does a boy named Cole. Cole admires Bobbie Jo, yet teases her every chance he gets. Irony occurs after Cole gets fired for bugging Bobbie Jo and then gets hired as a worker on Bobbie Jo’s farm.

 

In Chapter 8, we discover why Bobbie Jo has named her horse Blue Moon and we also see a good description of barrel racing practice. Chapter 10 has a nice description of a barrel racing competition in which Bobbie Jo wins.

 

Bobbie Jo’s new horse turns out to be a real winner. However, it bears a brand marking on it that seems to have been tampered with. Because of the altered brand, Cole’s father realizes that Bobbie Jo’s horse is stolen property.  It appears as if the prior owner of Bobbie Jo’s horse stole it from its original owner (a friend of Cole’s father) and sold it for profit. The original owner appears at the end of the story, glad to see his horse again. However, everyone realizes how attached Bobbie Jo has become to Blue Moon. After some conversation and long thinking, the original owner decides that Bobbie Jo may keep the horse so long as Blue Moon can breed with Cole’s black horse. Everyone finds this to be a great idea and the novel ends with a bit of humor.

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: I enjoyed this book, especially when the element of mystery was added. Not many students may have background information on horses and barrel racing, therefore an activity on prior experience relating to this book, may prove insightful. Certain vocabulary may prove difficult for some, but again this could be used as an educational experience.  

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://orca.powerwebbook.com/client/PDFs/TeachersGuides/Orca%20Soundings/BlueMoonGuide.pdf

  

http://www.nbha.com/

 (National Barrel Horse Association)

 

http://www.equusite.com/articles/basics/basicsTerminology.shtml 

  

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

 

Immigrant Kids

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Immigrant Kids

Author: Russell Freedman

Page Length: 72 (including index)

Reading Level: 8

Genre: Non-fiction

 

REVIEW: In Immigrant Kids Freedman examines what it was like to be an immigrant to America in the early 1900s. The book begins with a brief overview of how the science of photography has developed and what was utilized in the early 1900s. The book is filled with stunning black and white photos of the ships, inside a tenement apartment, in the streets, and many others. Freedman explains how the voyages to America were an “ordeal” because of the cramped below deck living quarters and the nature of life at sea. Once the immigrants arrived in America, they were inspected by doctors for physical and mental disorders. Less than healthy immigrants might have the shoulder of their garment marked with their “defect.” Sadly, Freedman tells us that some of them could have made the journey to America only to be returned to their home country. 

 

Once in the U.S. the American dream wasn’t as easy to realize as it might have seemed. The pay for many of the jobs the immigrants did was substandard. Entire families had to go to work and children even spent their hours after school sewing garments, making cigars, delivering newspapers, and other odd jobs just to make ends meet. Making ends meet often meant an entire family living in a small two room apartment. On page 18, Freedman displays the photo of a small apartment where the children slept in the sleeping/kitchen area and the parents had a tiny room of the side. Bathroom facilities were often shared in the building. Some of the tenement apartments turned into sweatshops where entire families and additional workers slaved away.

 

Freedman also discusses the rules of the sexes at the time.  He tells us how boys played only with boys and girls with girls. Girls had little use for dolls but usually had a baby around in the house to help care for. On page 35, he tells us about how boys went into traditional boy career fields while the girls had choices like dressmaking, cooking, and typewriting.

 

We learn how the children became Americanized while their parents often did not –“often this caused painful conflicts in immigrant families” (39). Illegal labor practices also flourished during this time. Young girls were sent to work the cash registers at stores. One story even details how the owner of a shop always knew when the inspector would be coming. The children would be hidden away in a crate and covered with scraps during the inspection. We learn about the Children’s Aid Society where the homeless and orphans could stay for six cents a night.

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: With students, I would recommend this book as a teacher read aloud and discussion tool. It’s a fascinating look at an important era in American history. The photos are fabulous and could even be used as journal starters for the day before discussing what they portray. Students could compare and contrast the roles of boys versus girls or life today versus life then.  

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://content.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3774

 

http://www.daily-tangents.com/BOB/BookLink/L/L_immig.shtml

 

http://www.eduplace.com/kids/hmr/mtai/freedman.html

 

http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/snpim1.htm

 

http://memory.loc.gov/learn/features/timeline/progress/cities/nycphoto.html

(photos) 

 

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

 

March 1, 2008

Dead-End Job

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Dead-End Job

Author: Vicki Grant

Page Length: 104

Reading Level: 3.6

Genre: Realistic Fiction, Mystery

 

REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: Frances works at a local convenience store. When the traffic becomes slow, she turns to a sheet of paper and draws. She loves the art of drawing. One day, a stranger, named Devin, walks into the store and notices Frances drawing. He uses this to his advantage. After taking a look at Frances’ drawing, Devin makes up a long drawn out story that he is related to Tom Orser, a rich artist in the town. Devin goes on to say that he has made a lot of money by recently signing a recording contract and wants to impress his father. Frances has a hard time believing that Tom Orser is Devin’s father at first. However Frances finds the new boy charming. Even though Frances has a boy-friend, Devin appears to be a “breath of fresh air” to her. They begin to talk at times in the store, the library, and other places that Devin happens to show up. 

 

Now there are moments that make Frances think twice about this boy, especially when he calls her by her first name, when Frances never told him who she was initially. Frances finds this strange, yet shakes it off. Later on Devin begins to shower Frances with gifts, including a pastel set. Frances hides many of the events that happen between herself and Devin from her boyfriend Leo. They are harmless acts but Frances knows that Leo is quite a jealous person. Later on, Frances comes up with a plan to set her best friend up with Devin in part to steer Devin’s interest away from her. Frances thinks it will work out great until she realizes that Devin does not want to date Frances’ best-friend or any other friend – Devin wants to date Frances!

 

On page 45, Frances begins to realize that Devin is stalking her. In an argument between the two of them, Devin mentions the name of a movie Leo and Frances rented together recently and talks about how he is so different than Leo. Furthermore, a picture of Frances from Devin on her locker with “XOXO Devin” furthers Frances’ suspicions that Devin is infatuated with her.

 

While Frances is working, Tom Orser walks in. As he comes up to pay, Frances questions him about Devin. Tom Orser says he does not know anything about a boy named Devin. Tom Orser does not have a son. This sends up a major red flag to Frances that Devin is up to something. Questions race through Frances’ mind: how does Devin know my street address, how does he know my e-mail address, how does he get pictures taken of me at all these different places?

 

One night while Frances is working, Devin manages to sneak in the back of the store and set up a dinner scene with a candle, chicken, a carving knife, and wine. Frances asks that he leave. A violent altercation occurs and the climax of the story occurs on page 96 with Devin about to kill Frances for her lack of commitment to him. When Devin says to Frances, that “I need to have you”, this illustrates the pinnacle of Devin’s obsession with Frances. As Frances is about to be murdered, she comes up with an idea that she could draw a portrait of Devin for the police to see as a remembrance so this would not just be another murder. Devin agrees to this. And as he is sitting still as she draws, Frances takes the pencil and rams it up his right nostril. As Frances runs away, Leo is seen pulling up to the convenience store. The Epilogue notes that Devin was indeed lying about many of the things he claimed to be true. He goes to court for stalking, kidnapping, and attempted murder with the idea that he and Frances will be together again soon.

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: I thought that the ending was very eerie, yet satisfying. The story had great internal and external dialogue. Teachers could have a discussion on why authors choose certain titles for books Also, teachers could use this book to address the skill of voice, making predictions, and use of narration. I highly recommend this book!

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://orca.powerwebbook.com/client/PDFs/TeachersGuides/Orca%20Soundings/DeadendJobTG.pdf

 

http://www.safehorizon.org/page.php?page=whatdoifstalked

 

http://www.crisiscounseling.com/Articles/Stalking.htm

 

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

 

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