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May 28, 2008

Anne of Green Gables

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Anne of Green Gables

Author: L. M. Montgomery

Page Length: 373  

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY:  The story begins in Avonlea, Canada with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, siblings, contemplating the adoption of a young boy from an orphan asylum.  The couple is aging and feels it would be nice to have a young lad to assist them on their farm, Green Gables.  They decide to adopt; and, Matthew takes the horse and buggy into town to pick up their “new son.”

He is surprised to find a young eleven year old girl who talks incessantly all the way to Green Gables.  Although Matthew wanted a boy, he is pleasantly taken with Anne Shirley and her bubbly personality.  Marilla is hesitant, but decides she will keep Anne and help her with schooling and her social skills.

Marilla has a stern personality. She is quite challenged to teach Marilla appropriate social skills, beginning with the appropriate way to pray.  The story covers Marilla’s adventures throughout the community and school.

 Marilla meets a friend down the road who she adores.  The two girls are quite close until Marilla invites Diana to “tea” and unknowingly gets her drunk.  This is just the first of many of Anne’s adventures.

REVIEW:  As the story began, like Marilla, I found Anne’s never-ending dialogue irritating.  However, as the story progresses, I became attached and entertained by Anne’s antics. 

Montgomery goes into great detail and description throughout the book.  If not reading the entire book, it could be used for teaching examples of descriptive writing. (p. 9, 137, 227, 236-237, 273)

Girls would enjoy the book more than boys, but it could easily be used as a class novel.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Setting, Cause and Effect, Compare and Contrast, Character, Predictions, Conclusions and Generalizations, Figurative Language, Descriptions in Writing

RELATED BOOKS: Sequels to the book which cover Anne’s life to an older woman are:  Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Anne of Windy Poplar, Anne’s House of Dreams, Anne of Ingleside, Anne of Rainbow Valley, Rilla of Ingleside

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS:  Anne of Green Gables (1985, mini-series), Anne of Green Gables: The Continued Story (1987), Anne of Green Gables (The Animated Series, 2000)



REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


Sojourner Truth Ain’t I a Woman?

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Sojourner Truth Ain’t I a Woman?

Author: Patrick C. McKissack & Frederick McKissack

Page Length: 182  

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Biography

PLOT SUMMARY: Sojourner Truth was actually born and named Isabella Van Wagner.  She was born in 1797 and lived as a slave for the first 28 years of her life.  Isabella had a large physique and worked hard for her masters. However, she hated slavery and became an abolitionist, activist, feminist, and preacher.  The book chronicles her life as a slave, then, tells of her first experience with the law, as she helps her son be freed. The story not only tells of Isabella’s life and why she changes her name to Sojourner Truth, but gives a history of slavery, and profiles leading figures in the abolitionist movement.

REVIEW: Although this book was full of great information and historical pictures, I thought it was rather boring.  I think the authors try to write in a different style, by giving the history of slavery and other people, but it seemed to take away the focus of Sojourner’s efforts.  There is a quote from a powerful speech she made at a religious conference on page 113-115.  It was given the name “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech; and, opened the issues of racism and sexism in the early 1800”s. 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Compare/Contrast, Sequence of Events, Historical Context

RELATED BOOKS: Frederick Douglas Fights for Freedom, Wanted: Dead or Alive, The Story of Harriet Tubman


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

What My Mother Doesn’t Know

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What My Mother Doesn’t Know

Author:  Sonya Sones

Page Length: 259  

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Poetry

PLOT SUMMARY: The book is written as a series of poems narrated by Sophie, a fourteen year old girl at the beginning of the school year. Sophie shares the events in her life by describing her feelings through her everyday experiences. 

Sophie shares her relationship with her boyfriend, Dylan.  The reader learns of her life-long friends, Rachel and Grace.  Sophie includes the dysfunctional elements of her family life.  After a break-up with Dylan, a rather mystical relationship occurs with a most surprising person.  

REVIEW: The entire book is written in poetry form.  It is a very fast read as Sonya Sones connects the reader very quickly with Sophie’s inner being. I liked the way each poem went in chronological order of the happenings in Sophie’s life. 

Some of the poems I especially enjoyed were: “Close to Midnight” (p. 55), “Long Weekend” (p. 62), “When Dylan Wakes Up” (p. 68), “Cyber Soul Mate” (p.87), “Litterbox ICG” (p. 102), “What I Want” (p. 139), “I’d Pictured It Before” (p. 142-144), “He Took Me There This Afternoon” (p. 190), “Heading Home” (p. 206), and “I Tell Him How Much I Love His Wall” (p. 223).  All of these poems except “I’d Pictured It Before” are of a romantic nature—sensitive, with feelings.

I think junior high through high school girls would especially enjoy this book. It is a good book to introduce the young adult to poetry, because it is not poetry set in rhyme or rhythmic verse.


TOUCHY AREAS: Female puberty (p. 47 & 49)

RELATED BOOKS: What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know, One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies, Stop Pretending


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

May 21, 2008



Author: Norah McClintock

Page Length: 100

Reading Level: 2.1

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Josh is a troubled teen with a violent hand and experience in theft. Josh has a hard time getting along with others – especially if they are bullies. Travis is just such a guy. Josh once had an altercation with Travis after witnessing him picking on another kid. As a result, Josh punched Travis.

On another “purse snatching” venture, Josh’s best friend, Scott, surprisingly snitches on him. As a result, Josh is sent to anger management classes (dog training classes). When Josh walks into his first day of anger management class, he realizes that he will have to work in the same environment as Travis and Scott! Josh will have to manage not only humans, but dogs with serious behavior problems. Patience and kindness will be required in order for the dogs to respond well to Josh’s training.

As Josh struggles to train his dogs and ignore Travis and Scott, he attempts to stay out of the way of his brother’s nagging wife with whom he lives. Later on in the story, Josh is questioned about a recent attack on Scott that has left the boy unconscious. The police suspect Josh because the weapon in which was used to hit Scott is Josh’s.

It is later discovered that Travis is the culprit in the attack. Josh successfully completes his anger management classes and reconciles with his best friend Scott.

REVIEW: This book was very easy to read and follow. It gave a simple message about reconciling with old friends and realizing the need to control one’s anger. I did not realize that dog training classes were an alternative to traditional anger management courses. I would recommend this book to struggling readers.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: similes (page 31), foreshadowing (page 18), predictions (page 32)

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Anger Management (movie – 2003)


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Xtreme Sports Fast Track

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Xtreme Sports Fast Track

Author: Joe Layden

Page Length: 96

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Non-fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The lives of eight race car drivers are highlighted in this book including well known Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, and Richard Petty. The history of racing and NASCAR’s birth are also included. This book is jam-packed with facts: some race car drivers are millionaires (similar to NBA and NFL players), racing prizes can be as much as $600,000, the creation of NASCAR streamlined 35 different racing organizations, and the popularity of stock/traditional racing in the south increased after World War II.

REVIEW: This book has a great cover! I enjoyed reading this book as it gave brief descriptions of famous race car drivers. The stories about them not only included life on the race track, but histories of their personal lives. The table of contents gave a snapshot of who was going to be discussed. One item that may cause some confusion is the fact that personal quotes of the drivers are inserted within the middle of sentences. Students may become side tracked due to the awkward placement of these quotes.

I did wish that the photographs in the book were in color. This book is one in a series of “Xtreme Sports” stories packed with statistics, quotes, charts, and tables.

Some great quotes are found on pages 9, 17, & 33.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: leads/descriptive introductions (page 4), technical vocabulary (page 14, trading paint), compare/contrast (page 44-53, Matt Kenseth vs. Dale Earnhardt Jr. – many of the drivers’ lives are similar)

RELATED BOOKS: NASCAR by Rachel Eagen, Portraits of NASCAR by Anita Rich

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Days of Thunder (movie – 1990), Talladega Nights (movie – 2006), race car driving TV coverage on Sundays


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Xtreme Sports Cutting Edge

Xtreme Sports Cutting Edge  

Author: E. J. Maxwell

Page Length: 96

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Non-fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Cutting Edge is another book in the “Xtreme Sports” series. This book is interesting in that it covers lesser-known sports such as BMX racing, snow boarding, and rock climbing – all which are gaining popularity. Many things are described in the book – from Apolo Ohno’s 35mph skating speed to Dave Mirra’s successful surf of a 55 ft wave. Tori Allen shifted from ballerina to rock climber (bouldering – climbing without ropes). This book covers a wide range of sports and individuals from 14 to 30 years old. All have one thing in common – the need to be the best they can at their sport.

REVIEW: Just like the other “Xtreme Sports” books, I wished that the photographs on the inside were in color. I also wished that the name of the sport the individual participates in would be listed next to their name in the table of contents. The stories of each sports player are short enough to keep the attention of any reader. One negative aspect of this book is that students may not recognize any of the individuals highlighted. I only recognized Apolo Anton Ohno.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: comparison/contrast

RELATED BOOKS: The X Games by Jeff Savage,

MOVIE & TV CONNECTIONS: “Dancing with the Stars” TV show with Apolo Ohno, Olympics, X-Games, Gravity Games, video games


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton


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Author: Carrie Mac

Page Length: 107

Reading Level: 3.8

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Izzy is a teenage girl growing up in a broken-home. Her mother has a live-in boyfriend whom Izzy does not get along with. While Izzy’s mother is away for several months, trouble begins – Izzy gets kicked out of her own house for stealing from her mother’s boyfriend.

Izzy is infatuated with a high school drop-out named Cody Dillon. Cody has a reputation for hanging around hookers and drug dealers. Izzy at first is unaware of this. Her mind is only on Cody’s looks and personality. At first, Cody showers Izzy with gifts and attention and Izzy begins to feel quite comfortable “leeching” off of Cody. She does not ask where the money comes from for all she is being provided.

Just as Izzy feels that her relationship to Cody is growing more serious, Cody reveals to Izzy that he owes his “dealers” $5,000. It is then that Izzy realizes that she is going to be pimped out to collect the debt. Izzy’s entrance into a “prostitution ring” has begun. Excessive drug use, drinking, and sexual/physical abuse ensue as Izzy feels trapped in a world that is all too real and all too horrifying.

As time passes, Izzy finds out that Cody’s “sweet actions” toward her in the beginning were all an act. Cody has treated other girls/prostitutes in the same manner. This realization is the last straw for Izzy. With the help of another prostitute, Izzy escapes “the ring” and returns home.

The story ends with Izzy and her mother moving to a new town, without the mother’s boyfriend, to begin anew.

REVIEW: I felt the basic story line was interesting, yet I believe the author over-used some curse words to the point where the story line felt less authentic. I wish the author had used some more description in her writing in dealing with the setting and emotional states of the main characters. Simply jotting down the names of drugs and curse words did not do it for me. I was looking for more! I believe that a struggling reader’s attention would be maintained with this book, yet I caution anyone from assigning it as to the mature content it contains.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: predictions & foreshadowing (pages 40-41), use of capital letters for emotional effect (early chapters), conflict (page 80)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: CAUTION!!! – Every 3-4 pages contain references and words that relate to prostitution, sex, violence, drugs, abuse, body parts, diseases, and/or drinking. The references are too numerous to list all the page numbers, yet some pages you can refer to for a brief over-view are – 8, 22, 25, 36, 38, 51, and especially page 66! The book’s cover is even a little risqué.

This is the first book that I have previewed in which I have thought about not keeping out for all students to access. Please preview this book before letting others read it!

RELATED BOOKS: Sold by Patricia McCormick (prostitution from another cultural perspective), Go Ask Alice


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Xtreme Sports Summer

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Xtreme Sports Summer

Author: Joe Layden

Page Length: 96

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Non-fiction

REVIEW: This book features some less familiar sports such as wakeboarding, in-line skating, and free-style motocross. Of the 9 individuals featured (2 are brothers), I only recognized Carey Hart (boyfriend of the singer Pink). This book follows the same format as others in the “Xtreme Sports” series. As with the others, I feel that color photos would have added a nice touch to the attractiveness of the books – especially since many of the sports mentioned are best experienced in person or via video. This book contains great actions and descriptions of the sports themselves and the lives of the great athletes that take part in them.

One statement that stood out as I read, was that team sports have changed over the years. They certainly have! The number of sports in America has grown from your standard football and baseball to sports such as surfing and wakeboarding. These extreme sports are very popular among young people.

Both female and male athletes are highlighted in this book. Lisa Anderson’s parents did not want her to surf because they thought it might turn her daughter into a beach-bum and drug addict. Lisa turned out to be neither of these, becoming the first female surfer superstar. 50 year old surfer Ken Bradshaw shows that even at his age, one can do great things athletically. Andy Macdonald, skateboarder, refuses endorsements from alcohol and tobacco companies. Macdonald even fights for better health insurance for athletes like him. Bon Burnquist practices skateboarding in empty pools. These are just a few of the men and women highlighted in this book.

I recommend this book for any student interested in the sports mentioned.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: compare/contrast (page 88, Yasutoko brothers vs. Williams sisters)

RELATED BOOKS: Xtreme Sports Fast Track, Xtreme Sports Cutting Edge

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: “Miracle Boy and Nyquist” – documentary, “Ultimate X” – IMAX film about the X Games

RELATED WEBSITES: (Outside magazine link) (International Surfing Museum) (American Bicycle Association) (vert ramp pix)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Shark Lady

Shark Lady

Author: Ann McGovern

Page Length: 91

Reading Level: 3

Genre: Biography

REVIEW: In this narrative biography Eugenie Clark is depicted as an energetic and intelligent woman. Clark’s fascination with sea life, in part, grew out of her visits to aquariums. Clark found observations of aquariums and reading research about sea life great topics of interest. In these pursuits, continual education was key. When Clark set out to accomplish a goal, she gave it her all. In her early years, Clark studied sharks in captivity. Intent on becoming an ichthyologist, Clark storied dead monkeys in her fridge and even boiled rats!

In keeping with her quest for knowledge, Clark opened a Florida lab – the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory (a child friendly educational facility). Continued learning was paramount for Clark. As a result of her research and education, Clark assisted in the development of a shark repellent (page 87).

The end of the book contains a great letter from Eugenie Clark to all boys and girls about dreams and education. This would be a great letter to use with students.

I thought this book was very interesting. I enjoyed the fact that this was a biography of a person still alive. However, I wished there were photographs instead of drawings/illustrations within the book. Students interested in sea life should definitely pick this biography up!

AREAS FOR TEACHING: similes (page 83), letter writing themes (page 93)

RELATED BOOKS: The Lady and the Sharks by Eugenie Clark, Lady With a Spear by Eugenie Clark, Eugenie Clark: Marine Biologist by Ronald Reis

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: The Sharks (movie – 1982), Search for the Great Sharks (movie – 1995)

RELATED WEBSITES: (interview with Dr. Clark)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Lost Star

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Lost Star

Author: Patricia Lauber

Page Length: 106

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Biography

REVIEW: I have always been fascinated about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, and this short biography gave me some new insight. However, this book is not only about her adult life, but her childhood too.

Amelia Earhart (Meely or AE, for short) was a tomboy growing up who actively sought adventure and thrills. She was a lover of books and a strong feminist. Earhart believed that men and women should be equal. As a youth, she moved around a lot, yet was surrounded by very understanding parents. Earhart was a very independent person, evidenced by her drive to be the best at anything she did on her own. However, before becoming a pilot, Earhart was a social worker. This did not last long as the thrill of flying and setting records called to her.

In her short life, Earhart set many flying records. She even surpassed some of the records set by the men of her time. Females will find this book very inspirational. The males might find the issue of her disappearance intriguing (pages 85-97). I enjoyed this book. The photographs and maps included were very helpful and added a nice touch.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: predictions (page 80), transition words, reading maps (pages 92-93)

RELATED BOOKS: Fun of It by Amelia Earhart, 20 Hours, 40 Minutes by Amelia Earhart, “Further Reading” in Lost Star on page 102

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Amelia (movie – 2009)

RELATED WEBSITES: (official website of Amelia Earhart) (video link) (National Geographic – 3 Theories) (Lesson Plan)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Pictures of Hollis Woods

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Pictures of Hollis Woods

Author: Patricia Reilly Giff

Page Length: 166

Reading Level: 4th

Genre: Fiction


PLOT SUMMARY: Twelve year old Hollis Woods has spent her life flitting from one foster home to the next.  Her one ambition is to find “the perfect family”: people who will love her for who she is and never let her go.                         


Hollis seems to find just that, in the Regans.  The father, whom she calls Old Man, has a soft spot for Hollis, the mother is nurturing and kind, and Steven is both a brother and best friend.  Yet all of Hollis’s dreams are shattered when Steven is injured in a car accident, an accident in which Hollis shoulders the blame.  In her desperation, Hollis runs away from the Regans and moves in with a new foster mother.                                                                                                       


Beatrice is an elderly artist who is starting to show signs of dementia.  She provides Hollis with the emotional safe haven she needs.  Beatrice is patient, nonjudgmental, and fun-loving despite her age, yet it soon becomes obvious to Hollis that she must assume the role of care giver.  Beatrice forgets things easily and can hardly take care of herself.                                                                                           


Hollis realizes it is only a matter of time until the social worker removes her from Beatrice’s home, so she hatches a plan to run away with Beatrice and live out the winter in the Regan’s summer cabin.  After several days, Hollis realizes how ill-equipped she is to take care of Beatrice and eventually takes her back home.                                                                                                                                                


With this step toward maturity, Hollis finally stops running.  She realizes that she must face her problems in order to grow, that it is the only way she will ever obtain the family she so desires.                                                                                          

In the end, Hollis is welcomed back into the Regan’s arms.  Throughout the novel she has collected memories, like snapshots in her mind, of her worst and greatest moments.  Hollis ends the book with a final picture, one in which she is finally part of an authentic family.                                         


REVIEW: I love this book!  The characters are rich, and the story is beautifully woven.  I think the integration of Hollis’s “photographs” is creative.  It provides a strong visual connection to each stage of her life.  I also enjoy the way the story dances between the past and the present. This allows the reader to slowly discover and compare who Hollis was with who she has become.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: imagery, metaphors, & similes.  Also, suspense drives this story, which makes it a good book to use when teaching predictions.


RELATED BOOKS: This reminded me of the book White Oleander, by Janet Fitch






REVIEWED BY: Jennifer John


Snow Treasure

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Snow Treasure

Author: Marie McSwigan

Page Length: 156  

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY:  This is the story of a community effort in Norway during World War ll.  As the story begins, Germany has just gained occupation of Poland and Hitler’s army has moved into Norway.  Although Norway has not been involved in any conflict, the people of the community want to protect the gold that is in the bank from possible Nazi takeover. 

Peter Lundstrom, a 13 year old boy, and son of a banker, is picked by his father and Uncle Victor to be the captain of a group of boys and girls who will save over $9 million worth of gold.  The plan is devised for the children to carry the gold on their sleds to Uncle Victor’s hidden fishing boat, the “Cleng Peerson”.  When all of the gold has been delivered, Uncle Victor will take the cargo to America.

The plan progresses by giving a group of 12 children instructions for carrying and burying the gold on each trip down the mountain.  Peter has all the children take an oath that they will not divulge any information to any of the Nazi soldiers if they are ever stopped, questioned or captured.

Peter encounters one soldier on his original trip down the hill.  This soldier was friendly and told Peter he would like to be sledding himself.  The commander of the army troops, however, did not think it was such a good idea for the children to be idly wasting their time and questioned why they were not in school.

Needless to say, the children run into obstacles from the Nazi’s in completing their mission.  Orders to return to school, a measles epidemic, a curfew, and the weather are just a few of the problems that occur.

REVIEW:  It is not certain if this story is true or not.  For many years it was believed to be true, but there is no proof that it ever really happened.  It is an entertaining book that gives a happier and more adventurous story about World War ll.  I think it would be a good class novel to read as a follow-up to The Diary of Anne Frank.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Main Idea & Supporting Details, Setting, Sequence of Events, Historical Context

RELATED BOOKS: The Diary of Anne Frank, The Book Thief, The Upstairs Room

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The Diary of Anne Frank, Schlinder’s List


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

May 16, 2008

The Story of George Washington Carver

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The Story of George Washington Carver

Author: Eva Moore           

Page Length: 96

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Biography 

PLOT SUMMARY: This is the story of George Washington Carver.  George was the son of a slave, but no one really knows when he was born. George thought he was born in the year 1864.  When George was just a baby, slave thieves stole him and his mother.  Moses Carver, George’s owner, recovered George, but his mother was not found. 

George had a brother, Jim, and they lived with the Carver’s until George was 10.  At a very young age, George became interested in plants and was known as, “The Plant Doctor.”  As George grew, he had an extreme desire to go to school.  When he was 10, he left the Carver’s to go to a town where blacks could attend school.

George was lucky, in that, as he traveled through the country seeking higher education, he found people who helped him with food and shelter. He had a love for music, art and science.  He performed many jobs such as cooking and laundry services. 

He was intent on learning as much as he could.  Through this drive to learn, he did receive a college degree. He gave back to his people and country by teaching and speaking throughout the United States.

REVIEW:  This is a concise, easy to read biography.  I would suggest it for the student who struggles with reading.  It is interesting and short enough for the struggling reader to feel a sense of accomplishment and gain knowledge.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Historical Context

RELATED BOOKS: George Washington Carver: The Peanut Wizard, A Weed is a Flower: The Life of George Washington Carver

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center in Austin, Texas, The Carver Arts and Crafts Festival in Tuskegee, Alabama


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner



Author: Edward Bloor     

Page Length: 312

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY: Paul Fisher and his family have just moved from Houston to Florida where his dad will work for the city and work intently on helping Eric obtain a football scholarship at one of Florida’s Division 1 universities. Eric is Paul’s older brother, a place kicker and  bully to Paul and his friends. Paul’s mother is a concerned parent who shuttles Paul to his activities.

Paul is 13, legally blind, and wears bottle-thick glasses to enable him to see. His family told him his eyes were injured because he stared at the solar eclipse for an hour and a half the summer he turned 5.  Paul does not remember this event, but knows by looking at family pictures, that he did not wear glasses prior to that summer.

Paul played soccer at his old school and looks forward to trying out for the team at his new school.  However, on page 27, the school asks for an IEP because of his visual impairment.  After practicing with the team, Paul is sure that he will make starting goalkeeper, but when his coach learns that he has an IEP, he informs Paul that he cannot play on the team, because of school insurance issues.  Although this is quite upsetting and unfair, after talking with the coach, Paul’s dad accepts the fact that Paul can only be the team manager.

Through a series of events, Paul transfers to the nearby school in Tangerine, where he is allowed to play soccer because his mother did not report to the school that he had an IEP.  Paul makes friends quickly with the Latino, lower socio-economic soccer players.  The team is co-ed and although Paul isn’t a starter, he gets to play in most games.  On page 170, Paul describes how wonderful the feeling is to be a member of the team.

While Paul’s life at Tangerine is going good, life in Lake Windsor (the community Paul lives in) is not so good.  The school has fallen into a sinkhole, termites are invading houses, a boy is struck by lightening, and homes are being robbed.  The football team is winning, but Eric is not getting all the recognition he wants.

REVIEW: The plot is clearly about Paul and his family but Bloor does a great job of including several subplots that keep the reader intrigued.  The book covers not only family and peer relationships but community and civic affairs also. 

Throughout the book, Paul has reminders of events that may have been related to his visual loss.  Through his accomplishments at his new school, Paul gains confidence and courage to make his family face up to the secrets they have kept from him.

I think all students would enjoy this book because of the various subplots and characters in the book.  The book shows how a student with disabilities can excel and overcome obstacles.

I would consider using this as a class novel.  It is well written and very enjoyable. There is a reader chat section at the end of the book.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Summarization, Theme, Characters, Cause/Effect, Compare/Contrast, Conclusions, Generalizations, Predictions

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: The book contains violence, crime, and death but it is presented in good context.

RELATED BOOKS: Letters from the Inside, Blue Willow, The Moves Make the Man


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Passage to Freedom The Sugihara Story

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Passage to Freedom The Sugihara Story

Author: Ken Mochizuki

Page Length: 30

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Narrative Non-Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Passage to Freedom is an intriguing story about a Japanese diplomat and his family living in Lithuania in 1940.   World War ll has just begun and refugees are trying to persuade Mr. Sugihara, the diplomat, to help them get Visas to escape the Nazi’s.

Mr. Sugihara lives with his wife, sons and their aunt.  The entire family agrees that it is their duty to help as many of the refugees as they can to get out of Europe, even if it endangers their lives.  The Sugihara’s continue to help the refugees even after the Japanese government has ordered him to stop.

REVIEW:  Although this is a short book, it reveals a story of truth that is not known widely in the United States.  It is a narrative told by Hiroki Sugihara, the son of the diplomat.  I enjoyed it, because I was not aware of the works of this family who came to the aid of over 300 refugees. 

This would be a good book to read for the low level reader if they needed to do a report related to World War ll or the Holocaust.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Main Idea and Supporting Details, Sequence of Events

RELATED BOOKS: The Snow Treasure, Diary of Anne Frank, Hanged At Auschwitz: An Extraordinary Memoire of Survival by Sim Kessel, Stephan’s Journey – A Sojourn into Freedom by Lillian Belinfante Herzberg, Kindness of Strangers by Lillian Belinfante Herzberg

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Schindler’s List, Diary of Anne Frank


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Wanted Dead or Alive The True Story of Harriet Tubman

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Wanted Dead or Alive The True Story of Harriet Tubman

Author: Ann McGovern

Page Length: 60

Reading Level: 4.5

Genre: Biography


PLOT SUMMARY: The story of Harriet Tubman began in 1820 when she was born on a plantation in Maryland to the Negro slaves, known as Ben and Old Rit.  At only the age of 7, Harriet was sold to another slave owner to take care of a baby.  When the baby cried, Harriet’s mistress beat her with a rawhide whip.  When Harriet found the opportunity, she ran away.  However, being so young and fragile, she soon returned to her owner who took her back to her original master. 


Although she was young, she knew she did not want to live as a captive slave all of her life. When she heard others talk of the Underground Railroad and freedom in the northern states and Canada, she knew she would one day be free herself. 


Harriet grew and became stronger.  She worked in the fields on the plantation.  She met a free man, John Tubman and they were married.  However, Harriet had the desire to be free and John was not willing to move north with her, so she left him after four years of marriage.


Harriet did make it to the north, but was not satisfied with just being free herself.  She longed to help her family and other black slaves find their freedom.  For the remainder of her life, Harriet helped black people get their freedom.


REVIEW: This book would be good to use as an introduction to slaveryand the conditions of the south prior to the Civil War.  It is a quick read and would be a good book for a lower level reading student who is required to read a book dealing with slavery, the Civil War, or Civil Rights.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: Sequence of Events


RELATED BOOKS: The Story of George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglas




REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


The Riddle of the Rosetta Stone

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The Riddle of the Rosetta Stone

Author: James Cross Giblin

Page Length: 85

Reading Level: 6th

Genre: History


PLOT SUMMARY: The Riddle of the Rosetta Stone is the true story of how ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics were decoded.  For over 1400 years ancient Egyptian writing had been a mystery, as hieroglyphics had been replaced by another language, Coptic, and then Arabic.  As years passed, fewer and fewer people retained the old language until it was completed forgotten.                       


During the 1600’s many historians attempted to unravel the meaning of hieroglyphics.  In fact a few even stumbled upon correct information, yet this was primarily due to chance, not science.  Most of what was published was purely nonsense, which only led to more confusion.                                                       


The true turning point in the mystery of the hieroglyphics took place after the invasion of Egypt, by Napoleon Bonaparte.  Because of his interest in the ancient writing, Napoleon brought with him 167 scholars and scientists.  These individuals proved quite useful after the unearthing of a large black stone in the town of Rosetta.                                                                                                          

The Rosetta Stone, as it was named, held the key to ancient Egyptian writing.  It contained a message copied in three different languages: hieroglyphics, demotic, and Greek.  Scientists and historians knew they only had to compare the Greek characters with the hieroglyphics to unlock the mystery.                   


Though it may sound simple enough, the task would not be completed by one man alone.  The book takes its reader through the paths of several scholars, men who obsessed over the writing, and dedicated their lives to its meaning.  Over the next thirty years Sylvestre de Stacy, Johan Akerblad, Dr. Thomas Young, and finally Jean-Francois Champollion decoded the ancient writing on the Rosetta Stone.


By solving the mystery of the Rosetta Stone scholars were able to decode similar writings of ancient Egypt.  Historians can now accurately describe religious beliefs, the political systems, and the day-to-day life of ancient Egyptians.  The discovery of one rock truly changed the face of history.                         


REVIEW: I thought The Riddle of the Rosetta Stone was to the point and easy to follow.  I would particularly recommend the book to students who enjoy nonfiction or History.  It’s a thin book and has lots of pictures, so it can be read in a short amount of time, which makes it less intimidating to struggling readers.  As a person who really prefers fiction, I still enjoyed the book and learned quite a bit about the Egyptian culture.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: This book has a table of contents, an index, and a bibliography.  One could use The Riddle of the Rosetta Stone to teach how to use these features and how to write a bibliography.  This is also a great book to teach main idea and sequence.


RELATED BOOKS: Seeker of Knowledge: The Man Who Deciphered Egyptian Hieroglyphs by James Rumford




REVIEWED BY: Jennifer John

Sticks and Stones

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Sticks and Stones

Author: Beth Goobie

Page Length: 77

Reading Level: 2.6

Genre: Teen Fiction


PLOT SUMMARY: What starts out as an innocent date with Brent Floyd, turns into a nightmare for Jujube’s reputation.  After kissing a few times in Brent’s car during a school dance, Brent embellishes the story until his friends believe that he and Jujube have had sex.                                                                               


This is devastating for fifteen year old Jujube.  Not only are people talking behind her back, but boys have even written graffiti on the bathroom walls.  When her mother gets wind of Jujube’s problem, her attempts to remedy the situation backfire.  Due to a lack of funds, the Principal refuses to paint over the graffiti in a timely manner.


Jujube learns that her close friend Sophie has suffered a similar experience.  This knowledge gives Jujube an idea; she decides to form “The Slut Club” with other teen victims at school.  The club allows the girls to unite against the unfairness of gossip.  And the experience is empowering and healing for all involved.


In the end, Jujube uses the graffiti for an English project about the impact of words.  She and her friend Carlos take a risk by displaying pictures of graffiti about herself and other girls. In effect, Jujube shows her school that gossip is no laughing matter, and the Principal is compelled to paint over the ugly slander.


REVIEW: I really enjoyed Sticks and Stones.  Gossip and rumors are things everyone has dealt with at one time or another, and teens are well aware of the hurt rumors can bring.  This makes Sticks and Stones extremely relevant to high school students.  I also felt that the characters were more well-rounded than in previous books by Beth Goobie. 


AREAS FOR TEACHING: This is a great book to discuss problem solving.  Jujube fights her own battle with maturity and finesse.  You could have students write about a time they have affectively dealt with a sticky situation, or have them problem solve a matter they are already engaged in.


TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: The cover of Sticks and Stones looks much more controversial than the book ever is.  Other than the use of the word “slut” this story is told in a very appropriate, and mild fashion. 


RELATED BOOKS: This is the companion book to Something Girl, also by Beth Goobie


MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: This book reminds me of the play  “They Dance Real Slow in Jackson”, which is also about a girl’s reputation that is unjustly tarnished.




REVIEWED BY: Jennifer John

May 2, 2008

When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

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When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

Author: Kimberly Holt

Page Length: 227

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Cal and Toby are two junior boys growing up in the small town of Antler, Texas. Cal’s older brother, Wayne, is away fighting in Vietnam. It seems like an ordinary summer. Nothing much exciting ever happens in Antler until the day the small trailer decorated with Christmas lights comes to town. The trailer contains a side show act– a 643 pound boy (claimed to be the fattest kid in the world) named Zachary Beaver. The town folk of Antler line up to gawk at Zachary who quickly becomes the talk of the town.

Cal and Toby feel sorry for Zachary when his manager leaves town for two weeks. They begin to leave food on his doorstep. Cal and Toby eventually befriend Zachary and even take him to a movie one night.

Meanwhile, Toby’s mother is gone away to Nashville to pursue her dream of becoming a country singer. Cal never answers his letters from Wayne in Vietnam, and no matter how hard Toby tries; Scarlett only has eyes for Juan. The sheriff is threatening to notify the authorities about Zachary’s abandonment. Cal is devastated by the news his family receives. Toby is angry and can’t seem to face the truth. Is there hope for Zachary? Can Toby pull himself together in time to save his friendship and his family?

REVIEW: The lessons in this book are excellent: overcoming your fears, seeing the person behind their appearance, realizing that you can’t make someone love/like you, and the importance of family.

However, the topic was strange (are there still traveling side shows??). I found the book mediocre; I would like to have seen Zachary’s life changed more dramatically.

This book is a National Book Award winner and it certainly does take compositional risk – so in that sense it might be good for teaching students to break outside the ordinary when they write.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: theme, setting, characterization, plot, sequence of events, audience, author’s purpose, tone

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: a baptism takes place, Vietnam – loss of a loved one, the issue of weight and appearance, Alzheimer’s

RELATED BOOKS: My Louisiana Sky, Mister and Me, Part of Me, Keeper of the Night

RELATED MOVIES: When Zachary Beaver Came to Town (2003), What’s Eating Gilbert Grape


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Harry Houdini Master of Magic

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Harry Houdini Master of Magic

Author: Robert Kraske

Page Length: 72

Reading Level: 3

Genre: Biography

PLOT SUMMARY: This brief biography details the birth, childhood, and career of Harry Houdini a famous magician and escape artist. The details of his rise to stardom as well as his years spent struggling to achieve it are given. Brilliant photographs depict many of Harry’s (born Erich Weiss) most infamous tricks. The story concludes with Harry Houdini’s unexpected death.

REVIEW: This book is a short easy read. If students were completing research projects on a famous person, this book would be an excellent source to compliment additional research. The book is a brief overview and is broken down nicely into small manageable chapters.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence, conflict, cause and effect, theme

RELATED BOOKS: Who Was Harry Houdini?, Harry Houdini A Photographic Story of Life, The Great Houdini World Famous Magician and Escape Artist, Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini

RELATED MOVIES: Houdini the Movie Star, Houdini The Man from Beyond


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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