The Book Reviews – Website

July 29, 2008

Far North

Far North

Author: Will Hobbs

Page Length: 216

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Gabe, a teenager from Texas, has moved to Canada’s Northwest Territories to attend boarding school and to be closer to his father. His roommate is a teenager named Raymond, a native “Dene” to the Northwest Territories – Nahanni Country. Even though both boys share the same birth date, Gabe and Raymond are very different. Raymond finds it difficult to transition into his new school. He eventually quits and takes a plane ride back home. However, unbeknownst to him, Gabe is on the same Cessna plane yet for a different reason. Gabe is along for a scenic tour. Also along for the ride are Clint, the pilot, and Johnny Raven, Raymond’s great-uncle. Johnny Raven is riding back from a hospital stay.

Things quickly turn bad. Upon a water-landing, the engine fails to start again. Everyone but the pilot is able to escape. The plane and Clint, tumble to their demise. The boys and Johnny Raven spend the next several months surviving on their own. Many survival skills the boys learn from Johnny Raven who is accustomed to living off the land. Johnny, Raymond, and Gabe erect structures to sleep in, start fires from crude materials, hunt rabbits, beavers, and moose and avoid winter bears. Temperatures out in the Northwest Territories during the winter months drop as low as – 60 degrees Celsius. Johnny, Gabe, and Raymond feel this cold chill their bones. The only things that matter now are food, water, and movement. Raymond and Gabe convince Johnny that instead of waiting the winter out, they should trek towards Nahanni Butte (village of Johnny).

Johnny Raven eventually passes away in the wilderness and Gabe and Raymond ceremoniously cremate him. The boys trek on towards the Nahanni Butte. After several near-death experiences (escaping bears, falling through freezing water, avoiding wolverines) Raymond and Gabe reach civilization.

The story ends with a ceremony commemorating Johnny Raven’s life with the families of Raymond and Gabe in attendance.

REVIEW: I enjoyed this book very much. As one who has mountain climbed in freezing temperatures and has camped out with only the bear necessities, I understand what these characters have gone through to some extent. The realistic depictions of survival in sub zero conditions, is vivid and awesome. The theme of life and death is apparent all throughout the book.

The interactions between Raymond and Gabe seem a little childish, but not overdone. The book, at 216 pages in length, is representative of the many months that the boys were out on their own in the harsh conditions of the Northwest Territories. The author, in his note at the end, states that some of the elements of the story are based on real life experiences and history.

Even focusing on just one chapter of this book, one can feel the rush of emotion and conflict the boys encounter. This is a story that truly depicts what it means to survive.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: reading a map (map located at front of book), foreshadowing (Chapter 1), setting, writing good endings to chapters, simile (pages 55, 68, 77, 97, 113, & 177), sequence of events (Chapter 10), Native American stories (Chapter 12), letter writing containing theme of dying on the inside vs. outside (Chapter 14)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: animal clubbing (page 116), death of a human (page 119), ceremonial act of human cremation (Chapter 13)

RELATED BOOKS: Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, Dangerous River: Adventures on the Nahanni, Downriver, Julie of the Wolves, & The Talking Earth

MOVIE CONNECTIONS:Alive” (1993)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://sam.dev.uen.org/utahlink/tours/tourViewSite.cgi?tour_id=15615 (awesome site about Dene culture, Northwest Territories, survival techniques, student activities, and teacher tips)

http://www.carolhurst.com/titles/farnorth.html

http://www.willhobbsauthor.com/teachers.html#farnorth

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

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Probably Still Nick Swansen

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Probably Still Nick Swansen

Author: Virginia Euwer Wolff

Page Length: 152

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Nick is sixteen and in high school. The problem is that he is in Room 19 (a special education class), doesn’t get to drive a car yet, and can’t decide whether or not he should ask Shana to the prom. Shana was in room 19, but she had her going up celebration and went to regular ed. Nick can remember things in science others can’t even say right, but all the other facts in life seem to get jumbled up in his head. He misses Dianne terribly and keeps flashbacking to memories of their childhood. He knows that if Dianne were still there she would know just what to tell him to do. A series of unfortunate events, push Nick too far and he sinks into a deep depression. One day, Nick decides to run around the track after school. He finds Shana there and he discovers that everything isn’t always as it seems.  

REVIEW: I really didn’t enjoy reading this book because of the jumbled together nature of Nick’s thoughts. However, since the book is depicting a student with presumably a learning disability, the constant changing thought process seems in line with what one would expect with a learning disability. In that regard, it sheds a whole new light on thinking about students with learning disabilities as sometimes needing a way to organize and help maintain consistency with information (maybe a the need for an even bigger tie to prior learning). Of course this is a fictional story, examining Nick’s struggles and learning that things aren’t always as they might seem is a valuable lesson for any teenager.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: theme, characters, cause and effect, purpose, word choice, sequence of events

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: drowning described

RELATED BOOKS: True Believer, The Mozart Season, Make Lemonade

RELATED WEBSITES:

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

http://content.scholastic.com/browse/collateral.jsp?id=317_type=Contributor_typeId=1943

http://www.childrensliteraturenetwork.org/birthbios/brthpage/08aug/8-25wolff.html

http://content.scholastic.com/browse/contributor.jsp?id=1943

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Orphea Proud

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Orphea Proud

Author: Sharon Dennis Wyeth

Page Length: 190

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The story of Orphea begins in a club where Orphea shares her material with the crowd. Orphea begins to tell us her story. She begins with a flashback to when her mother, Nadine, was a beautiful singer, wed to a controlling preacher. Orphea tells us how they met and what unfolded in her childhood. Orphea and her best friend fall in love with one another. Orphea’s brother doesn’t approve; he creates a tumultuous home life for Orphea. After being sent to live with her aunts, Orphea befriends Ray, and through their friendship Orphea’s broken heart begins to heal. She begins to write again and finds her way back to living again.

REVIEW: This is not your average book. In fact, Orphea falls in love with her best friend, Lissa (they are both females). The book deals with the romance and rather briefly addresses the physical nature of their relationship. Prejudice is revealed through the brother who reacts toward the relationship with violence. The book does create an understanding for Orphea as a person and would be useful in teaching students to understand instead of judging others. However, I would not want to have to defend this book to a parent. I would avoid this book on the classroom level all together.

On the other hand, times are changing and some students may need the support this novel could offer about sexuality and same-sex relationships. Read it your self before your students do and you’ll be prepared instead of surprised.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: conflict, cause and effect, countering prejudice,

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: lesbian relationship (detailed on pages 22-23), physical abuse (pgs. 23-24)

RELATED BOOKS:

Female same-sex relationship books: The Rules for Hearts, Good Girls Don’t, I’ve Known Since I was Eight, Keeping You a Secret

Wyeth books: A Piece of Heaven, Something Beautiful, Corey’s Underground Railroad Diary

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0PBX/is_6_38/ai_n7179968

http://www.clt.astate.edu/sparks/Volume%204/Issue%203/Y%20Adult/Orphea%20Proud.htm

http://www.sharondenniswyeth.com/

http://www.sharondenniswyeth.com/young_adults.html

http://www.randomhouse.com/teachers/authors/results.pperl?authorid=33850

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Malcolm X By Any Means Necessary

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Malcolm X By Any Means Necessary

Author: Walter Dean Myers        

Page Length: 210

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Biography 

PLOT SUMMARY: Malcolm X was born the son of Louise and Earl Little on May 19,1925 in Omaha, Nebraska.  Both parents were active in trying to make life better for African Americans, and Earl spoke publicly endorsing Marcus Garvey.  In 1931, Earl was found dead by some railroad tracks and Louise believed whites that opposed his political views killed him.

 Malcolm was a good and popular student, but always felt a threat to Black Americans.  As Malcolm ended junior high, one of his teachers ask him what he wanted to do when he got older.  Malcolm answered by saying that he would like to be a lawyer.  In a quote on page 37 the teacher tells Malcolm that he could not be a lawyer.  This was a turning point in Malcolm’s life.

From this point in Malcolm’s life, the book follows his years as a teen-ager in Harlem where he is known as “Detroit Red”, then, he joins the Nation of Islam, and changes his name again, to Malcolm X.  Malcolm is in the public eye as a Black Muslim leader for the rest of his life.

REVIEW:  After reading other books by Walter Dean Myers, such as Slam, Fallen Angels, and Monster I found I did not like Myers non-fiction writing as well as his fiction.  It could be because I didn’t like the personality of Malcolm X and the way he tried to get equality for African Americans.  He was extremely prejudiced towards the white Americans and in a violent manner.  His actions seemed to undermine the works of other civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall, Frederick Douglas, and Jackie Robinson. 

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

RELATED BOOKS: The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X Speaks: Speeches and Statements, Malcolm X A Fire Burning Brightly

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.cmgww.com/historic/malcolm/store/books.htm

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malcolm_X

bookwizard.scholastic.com/tbw/viewWorkDetail.do?workId=2749

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Kissing Doorknobs

Kissing Doorknobs

Author: Terry Spencer Hesser  

Page Length: 149

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Realistic Fiction   

PLOT SUMMARY: At the age of eleven, Tara, becomes obsessed and haunted by the childhood saying, “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back”.  In a narrative form, Tara shares her story, she notes that she was very happy as a young child and loved spending time with her mother.  However, from the age of 11 to 14 she experiences out of control obsessions of praying, counting, terrible thoughts and arranging her food at meals.

Tara is a likeable girl, with three best friends.  Keesha is a proud African American, Anna is an athlete, and Kristen is a beautiful girl who desires to be a model. Tara has been a friend with them since pre-school, but as her obsessions become her priority, she loses her closeness to her peers.

Tara’s mother takes her to several counselors but she is misdiagnosed with disorders such as ADD, low self-esteem, immaturity, anger, and anorexia.  Her behavior becomes so obsessive that her parents begin to argue and her mother is almost abusive to Tara.

Then, one evening Mr. Jacobson, an old friend of her father’s visits their home.  He witnesses Tara, as she is unable to open the door before she counts the doorknob up to almost 89 times.  As Tara and her father breakdown crying, Mr. Jacobson is able to share some good news that will help Tara.

REVIEW:  This is a book that will help the reader understand Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  The reader will share empathy for Tara, as she knows it is not normal to have her obsessions, but she cannot stop them.

The book is fairly short; an interesting read for junior high and high school girls.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Character, Conclusions, Generalizations and Predictions 

RELATED BOOKS: Speak, Cut, Passing for Normal: A Memoir of Compulsion

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://epinions.com/Kissing_Doorknobs_by_Terry_Spencer_Hesser/

www.goldschp.net/blog/2005/06/kissingdoorknobsbyterryspencer.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Godless

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Godless

Author: Pete Hautman     

Page Length: 198

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY:  As Jason Bock looks up at the sky after being hit by Henry Stagg’s, he focuses on the tall water tower above him and has the revelation that the town water tower is his god. 

Jason is the son of a slightly neurotic mother who obsesses over Jason having some disease. His dad is a devout Catholic who insists Jason attends the weekly Teen Power Outreach (TPO) meetings at the church. Jason has doubts about the validity of his faith and therefore, reasons that he can invent his own religion, which is the worship of the Ten-legged God, the town water tower.

He quickly recruits his friends, Shin, Magda, and Dan to be in the TLG faith with him and gives each of them specific titles of leadership.  As he ponders how the group can climb the tower for a weekly mass, he runs into his bitter enemy, Henry Stagg’s who is atop the tower.  When Henry shares the secret of climbing the tower, Jason allows him to be a member of the TLG and names him “High Priest”.

As the story unfolds, Shin starts writing and drawing works, which reflect the teachings of the TLG. Henry, Magda, Dan, and Jason all climb the tower and go for a swim in the top of the water tank.  As they attempt to descend the steps of the tower, there is an accident. They are caught by the police and punished by their parents.  Shin, however, is at home “hearing the voice of the TLG. 

REVIEW: Probably, most teens at some time, question their faith as their parents have taught them.  This book is a narrative by such a teen as he not only questions his parent’s beliefs, but also decides it is perfectly fine to invent his own religion. 

The story is believable that a group of teens would join a “cult”, but mostly for the fun and adventure of the group doing adventures together.  As Shin, becomes obsessed with the religion, the story gets eerie that one could take the fantasy too far.

The book is an easy and fast read.  Students who enjoy fantasy or science fiction would enjoy. At the back of the book there is a summary and questions for discussion.  Also, there are some activities if it was read as a class novel.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Compare/Contrast, Cause/Effect, Character, Point of View

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.petehautman.com/godless.html

www.powells.com/biblio/61-0689862784-0

www.romantictimes.com/books_review.php?book=22600

http://web.mac.com/stannes1/iWeb/Book Review/Other/

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Fat Kid Rules the World

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Fat Kid Rules the World

Author: K. L. Going           

Page Length: 185

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY: Troy is a 17 year old, 300 pound miserable young man who is about to take his life by stepping off a subway platform, when he is stopped by Curt MacCrae, a homeless, dropout guitar expert. The two begin to exchange conversation, and the next morning Troy awakes in his room with Curt in his house. 

Curt is a punk guitarist and invites Troy, the fat kid, to be the drummer in his band.  The only experience Troy has as a drummer is from when he was in band in junior high.  Since Troy has no friends, and Curt has potential to be famous, Troy decides to be the drummer.  Curt convinces him to miss school for practice, but often does not show for their scheduled meetings. He also gets money from Troy for needed food.

All is not detrimental, however, because Curt helps Troy realize that everyone does not stare at him all the time, just because he is fat.  Troy gets to experience attention from females for the first time, because he is a friend of the admired guitarist.  Curt arranges for Troy to have drum lessons from the drummer of “Smack Metal Puppets”, Troy’s favorite band.

The bond continues to build between Curt and Troy, while Troy must convince his father and brother that he really wants to pursue his drumming abilities.

REVIEW: K. L. Going writes a book, which pairs an unlikely twosome together.  Troy, the obese narrator, and Curt, the homeless, druggie, guitar genius, form a bond which helps both of them overcome their own self-esteem problems. 

Troy’s father is an essential character in the book, which says little, but when he does, everyone listens.  He earns the respect of Curt, who shows no respect to anything in the rest of the world. He understands Troy’s needs, and although it is hard, he lets him experience the growing pains of becoming independent.

The book is a mix of life in the punk rock world and the feelings of a suicidal obese teen.  It is funny; yet heart wrenching to read of Troy’s self-esteem issues.

Although the language is rough, I don’t think it is anything the high school teen hasn’t heard.  It is appropriate as it is used in the “punk life” in the setting of the story.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Character, Compare and Contrast

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: drug use, strong language

RELATED BOOKS: Fat Boy Swim, Jake Reinvented, The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.multcolib.org/talk/guides-fatkid.html

www.klgoing.com/fatkidresource.htm

www.powells.com/biblio/1-9780142402085-1

www.teensreadtoo.com/FatKidRules.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

After the Dancing Days

After the Dancing Days

Author: Margaret I. Rostkowski

Page Length: 217

Reading Level: 4-6

Genre: Realistic Fiction   

PLOT SUMMARY:  Annie has just finished her eighth grade year of school as her father returns home from serving in the Army as a doctor in New York during World War I.  Annie is quite shocked to see the veterans as they unload the train in Kansas City.  The first soldiers run off the train to meet their families, but then the injured soldiers exit the train with the aid of crutches, wheelchairs, wrapped in bandages, with lost arms and legs.  She was not prepared for the pain she would feel for the returning men.

As they return to their home, her grandparents and aunt and uncle join in the family celebration of her father’s return.  Annie does not get the attention she wants from her dad, however, and she feels that he is distant.  She is correct in her feelings, as he shares his desire with her that he wants to resign his position at the county hospital and go to St. John’s Catholic hospital where the returning soldiers will be sent.  He wants to continue his work to help them recover from their war injuries.  Annie’s mother lost her brother, Uncle Paul, in the war and is ready to forget about the pain the war has brought home.

Annie’s grandfather visits St. John’s to read to one of the soldiers, Timothy, who has lost his sight.  Annie decides to visit with him one day and meets Andrew, a soldier who was burned by gases while he was in France.  His burns are so severe, that Annie runs away the first time she sees Andrew.

However, she returns to the hospital and befriends Andrew.  Although Andrew is bitter about his injuries, he does open up to Annie.  The two bond and Annie realizes she has matured and has an understanding of the suffering the returning soldiers are experiencing.  She chooses to spend her summer at the hospital visiting Andrew and other patients, rather than going to Bible School and being with her friends.

Not only her mother, but also many people in the community feel that the injured veterans should stay at the hospital and have a life among them.  Annie feels differently and takes her own actions to support the veterans.

REVIEW:  I found this book interesting because I did not realize that people of the early 1900’s had similar feelings and treatment towards the returning injured veterans of World War I as people did when the veterans of the Vietnam War returned. 

In the summer before Annie enters high school she realizes she has her own views and opinions about the veterans and is not afraid to express them.  She not only quits seeing her friends who choose not to acknowledge the veterans but also disobeys her mother by continuing to visit the hospital while her mother is in Colorado.

On her visits, she builds a friendship with Andrew, and they help each other accept the effects the war is having on each of their lives.

This would be an excellent book to read as a supplement to World War I.  It concludes with the first celebration of Veteran’s Day.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Historical context, Character, Cause and Effect, Conclusions, Predictions, and Generalizations

RELATED BOOKS: Tree by Leaf, by Cynthia Voigt

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.ncsu.edu/midlink/bkfair/bf99/afterdd 

www.bookrags.com/studyguide-afterthedancingdays

www.harpercollins.com/book/index.aspx?isbn=9780064402484

www.literatureplace.com/bookfolios/bookfolio.asp?BookfolioID=13

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Across America on an Emigrant Train

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Across America on an Emigrant Train

Author: Jim Murphy         

Page Length: 150

Reading Level: 8

Genre: Non-Fiction           

PLOT SUMMARY:  This is the story of writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, an emigrant from Scotland who travels across the United States in the late 1800’s by train.  He is in route to see his lover, who has fallen sick in San Francisco.  Stevenson made a hasty departure from Scotland to meet Fanny Van deGrift Osbourne.  Four years earlier, they had a rather scandalous affair in Paris.  Fanny was married and ten years older than Stevenson.  This did not sit well with the straight-laced society of Stevenson’s time. However, Stevenson was deeply in love and left his home country to be with Fanny.

The journey begins on a train out of New York and follows Stephenson’s travel across the Midwest with many “borderland” town stops. On the trains, Stevenson met other travelers, most emigrants looking for new homes in the west.  Many times they were crowded in the train cars with little or nothing to eat.  Stevenson was consumed with making the trip and getting to Fanny as quickly as possible.  He kept a log of his travels and one of the people he met was Davy Crockett.

As the author writes of Stevenson’s thoughts and experiences he also gives historical background of the building of the transcontinental railroad, the slaughter of the American bison, and the treatment of the American Indian as the west develops.

REVIEW:  This book did not appeal to me when I began reading it.  However, Jim Murphy developed an interesting and informative story of the history of the development of the west.  By chronicling Stevenson’s journey, there became a romantic interest.  He used many of Stevenson’s entries from his journal, which are descriptive and eloquently written (see pages 20, 35, 40, 43, 75, 95, 107,120 and 133).  Also, included are pictures from various museums and historical societies.  Murphy has an extensive bibliography that authenticates the story.  Through Stevenson and Murphy, the reader becomes interestingly educated on the history of the trans-continental railroad and the time it was built.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Historical Context, Setting, Sequence of Events, Informative Texts

RELATED BOOKS: Robert Louis Stevenson by Frank Swinnerton (1915); Robert Louis Stevenson and the Fiction of Adventure by Robert Kiely (1964); Robert Louis Stevenson and Romantic Tradition by Edwin M. Eigner (1966); Robert Louis Stevenson: A Life Study by Jenni Calder (1980); Definitive Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Companion by H.M. Geduld (1983); Robert Louis Stevenson by Frank McLynn (1993); Dreams of Exile: Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography by Ian Bell (1993); Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography by Frank McLynn (1993); Robert Louis Stevenson: Life, Literature and the Silver Screen by Scott Allen Nollen (1994); Robert Louis Stevenson and the Appearance of Modernism: A Future Feeling by Alan Sandison (1996)

ART CONNECTIONS: Robert Louis Stevenson’s childhood home, 17 Heriot Row, Edinburgh (a museum)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.jimmurphybooks.com/train.

www.bookrags.com/shortguide-acrossamerica

www.enotes.com/acrossamerica

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

The Grand Tour

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The Grand Tour

Author: Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

Page Length: 469

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Historical Fiction / Fantasy

PLOT SUMMARY: Cecelia and Kate are back in the sequel to Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot. Cecelia has just married James. Kate has just married the Duke of Schofield, Thomas. Both Thomas and James were already partners and friends. Together they plan a grand tour of Europe for their honeymoon. The party of five includes, Thomas’s mother, Lady Schofield. As they arrive in Paris a mysterious item is delivered to Lady Schofield. Suddenly, they are thrust into a new mystery. It seems that again black magic forces are at work. Someone may be trying to restore Napolean to power. Magic rituals have been held at many of the historical sites on Kate’s list. A robbery has taken place and the group is hot on the trail of thieves. Their grand honeymoon has instead turned into a grand mystery. They must unravel the clues and discover who is behind the disappearance of the artifacts and the gathering of magic before it is too late.

REVIEW: This book was interesting to read. The first novel in this series was written as Cecy and Kate exchanged letters. This time they are traveling together and instead recording their individual accounts of what has happened in their journals. This book continues to provide an excellent look at the language and customs of the early 1800’s. Historical sites and facts are detailed as well as travel throughout Europe. I would not recommend this book to a struggling reader, because of the language, the length of pages, and the amount of focus required to keep up as the characters entries alternate. However, for anyone interested in English literature set in the early 1800’s woven together with magic and romance, these books are an interesting read. This book also provides the teacher with an excellent example of how journal writing can be used to develop a character or even create an entire story.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: point of view, setting, conflict, idea of writing through journal entries, connecting to history

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: the idea of sorcery (black magic)

RELATED BOOKS: Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot (prequel), The Mislaid Magician, Jane Austen books

RELATED MOVIES: Practical Magic, Snow White

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.sfsite.com/03a/gt195.htm

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0PBX/is_4_40/ai_n16547507

http://bookwizard.scholastic.com/tbw/viewWorkDetail.do?workId=1154795

http://thecelebritycafe.com/books/full_review/900.html

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Sorcery and Cecelia

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Sorcery and Cecelia

Author: Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

Page Length: 469

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Historical Fiction / Fantasy

PLOT SUMMARY: Cecelia and Kate are young women coming of age in England during the early 1800’s. Their story begins as Kate travels to London to experience a season there (attend balls and be presented to society as a young woman). Cecelia and Kate exchange letters back and forth about their experiences. They both meet interesting young men and become caught up in a mystery of magical proportions. The chocolate pot is missing. The Duke of Schofield is acting strangely, and black magic forces are at work. Can Cecelia and Kate find the culprits and identify the villain before it is too late?   

REVIEW: This book was interesting to read. I loved the idea of a writing a book as an exchange of letters between two people who together adopt a character each and develop the plot from each other’s ideas. The book provided an excellent look at the language and customs of the early 1800’s. I would not recommend this book to a struggling reader, because of the language, the length of pages, and the amount of focus required to keep up as the characters viewpoints alternate.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: point of view, setting, conflict, idea of writing through letters

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: the idea of sorcery (black magic)

RELATED BOOKS: The Grand Tour (sequel), The Mislaid Magician, Jane Austen books

RELATED MOVIES: Practical Magic, Snow White

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4662966

http://astripedarmchair.wordpress.com/2007/11/16/sorcery-and-cecilia-thoughts/

http://www.tc.umn.edu/~d-lena/SorcCeci.html

http://www.sonderbooks.com/YAFiction/sorceryandcecilia.html

http://www.tc.umn.edu/~d-lena/Stevermer%20page.html

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

July 23, 2008

Stick and Whittle

Stick and Whittle

Author: Sid Hite

Page Length: 202

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Melvin “Stick” Fitchett is a 27 year old Civil War veteran who is considered dead by many. He has been searching for his long-lost love, Evelyn Laroue, for the past 8 years. Melvin “Whittle” Smythe is a 16 year old orphan from Chicago on a mission to do good after starting a fire in Chicago. The two find themselves meeting on the northern plains of Texas. This unlikely pair form a partnership and travel to Kansas.

While on their journey to Kansas, Stick and Whittle meet two Native Americans – “Talking Rock” and “Brings the Rain”. Upon seeing the beautiful Brings the Rain, Whittle becomes infatuated. However, the two part ways almost immediately.

Upon arriving in Wichita Kansas, Stick surprisingly discovers that Evelyn has been taking care of a young girl named Adeline DeJarnette. However, both girls have been captured by a ruthless band of outlaws and have been held hostage for ransom.

Now throughout the book, Stick is confronted with bad nightmares of his experience during the war – specifically during the Battle of Wilderness. These nightmares eventually lead Stick to an idea of how to rescue his love, Evelyn. To help the situation even more, Stick and Whittle are later re-united with Talking Rock and Brings the Rain. All four agree to the rescue plan.

After shots ring out, enemies are wounded, a fire is started, and Talking Rock falls to his death on-top of the evil gang leader – Evelyn and Adeline are successfully rescued.

REVIEW: I felt that this book did not pick up momentum until mid-way through (around Chapter 10). The beginning of the book focused more on descriptions of setting and characters while the later part of the story contained the action and external conflict. From reading the title of the book, I thought there was going to be a lot of random acts of mischief/trouble, however there was nothing random about the sequence of events and plot structure of this story.

Both Stick and Whittle were two very different characters and this was interesting, however I felt the story took too long to engage me as a reader. Students may find it difficult to “be hooked” if what they are searching for is Old Wild West action. Also, I felt the vocabulary level of this book was quite difficult. Though listed as a level 6, I would label the reading level more a 7.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: flashback, setting, historical context, compare/contrasting characters, vocabulary – flummoxed (6), acquiesced (13), lupine (51), alacrity (19), obsequiously (28), pertinacious (90), peripatetic (118)

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “City Slickers” (1991)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.emporia.edu/libsv/wawbookaward/curriculumguides/cg02-03.htm#stick

http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/battle-wilderness.htm (Battle of Wilderness)

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/ngkids/9809/chicago/ (The Great Chicago Fire of 1871)

http://www.thechisholmtrail.com/ (The Chisholm Trail)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

July 21, 2008

Missing Since Monday

Missing Since Monday

Author: Ann M. Martin

Page Length: 167

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Mystery, Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Maggie Ellis and her brother Matt have been given the responsibility of taking care of their step-sister Courtenay while their parents travel on their long-awaited honeymoon. Leigh, their step-mother, is not too comfortable with giving up her parental responsibilities for a week, but she finally agrees.

Maggie feels that Leigh does not view her as a responsible young adult. Even though their relationship has been amicable ever since Leigh became Maggie and Matt’s “new mom”, Maggie feels that there has always been a lack of trust.

On Monday morning, a few days after her parents depart, Maggie puts Courtenay on the bus for school. However, Courtenay does not make it into the school building! Someone abducts her! Maggie does not realize this until she calls the school in the afternoon because Courtenay obviously does not show up back home.

Neighbors, police, the media, and other agencies all become involved in the search for this missing child. Maggie’s parents quickly return home once they are notified. Leigh is even colder and more disapproving than before while Maggie feels guilty.

In the midst of the emotional trauma, a massive search party of the town is organized as well as several fundraising projects. Thousands of posters are also created and distributed in an attempt to publicize the situation.

A few people are labeled suspects – Leigh’s ex-husband and Maggie’s mother, Jessica Ellis. Leigh’s ex-husband is found to have a strong alibi, therefore the focus shifts to Maggie’s mother. No one has physically seen Jessica Ellis for years, and Jessica Ellis only communicates with her children through postcards. Unfortunately Maggie’s father finally reveals the truth to his kids. When they were young, Jessica was charged with emotional abuse and therefore lost all custody rights to Maggie and Matt. Maggie has a hard time believing this and sets out to prove that her long-lost mother is innocent of any wrong-doing.

Towards the end of the book, Jessica Ellis contacts Maggie and asks to meet her and Matt. Upon arrival to a shady diner, Maggie and Matt discover their mother “found Courtenay” and is going to return her to their family. However, this is not the truth. The police discover that Jessica Ellis abducted Courtenay as a means of revenge against her ex-husband and was planning on returning Courtenay to Maggie and Matt as a gift for all the she has not given her children in the past. Jessica Ellis is subsequently transferred to a psychiatric hospital. 

REVIEW: I enjoyed this book. It was fast-paced and emotionally charged! I didn’t want to put it down. The dialogue and characterization added to the excitement of the story line. Child abduction is a very real issue that continues to be a problem in our society. This book highlights the emotions attached to such an incident. My only criticism of this book is that I felt the ending was rushed. However, the suspense building throughout the story was great. Whenever the “green station wagon” entered the scene, my attention was totally focused. Students should have no trouble reading this book as the readability level is easy.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: foreshadowing, predictions, characterization, compare/contrast (Maggie vs. Leigh)

TOUCHY AREAS: The subject matter is about the abduction of a child.

RELATED BOOKS: Journey (both mothers have an issue with parental responsibility and are nomadic), The Ransom of Red Chief

MOVIE CONNECTIONS:Scream” (1996) & “Kindergarten Cop” (1990)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.missingkids.com/ (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)

http://www.amberalert.gov/

http://www.prairieghosts.com/bierce.html (highlights disappearance of two famous men, mentioned in the book)

http://www.safechild.org/strangers.htm (rules to teach children about strangers)

http://books.google.com/books?id=p0DcjAQatMIC&dq=missing+since+monday&pg=PP1&ots=wfWxiZGHGj&sig=urFDTxKfCVvqxTlEfh0TEbwAoyc&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result (online copy of the book)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

July 7, 2008

The River Between Us

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The River Between Us

Author: Richard Peck

Page Length: 164

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Tilly, Cass, and Noah live with Mama in Illinois. It’s the year 1861 and the Civil War is brewing. Much of the town is divided between supporting President Lincoln and those who sympathize with the Southerners. Tilly and Noah are twins who have always been close. Cass is different; she often sits up high gazing down the river crying for the lives lost on it.

One night a steamboat comes ashore and brings on it two young ladies, Delphine and Calinda. Delphine is a beautiful young southern belle who turns all the boys’ heads including Noah’s. Calinda is her silent, dark complected traveling partner. The two have come mysteriously from New Orleans. As the war draws near, Noah enlists. Delphine’s presence raises suspicions among the townspeople. A fateful trip to find Noah leads to unexpected discoveries about Delphine and Calinda. Delphine and Tilly find themselves nursing wounded soldiers back to health; and, the dreadful effects of the war and loss devastate and forever change the lives of the entire family. Years later in the family line, revelations are made and the young descendants of the family come to shocking but comforting conclusions about their ancestry and the strength and love that have sustained their family line.

REVIEW: This book was a National Book Award Finalist. I found in interesting to experience the war from the women’s point of view. Reading about the custom of placage (‘white men fathering families with their mistresses who were free women of color”) was new history for me. The customs of the time and of the southern woman, so adeptly portrayed in Delphine’s character, are well presented. The reader really gets a since of the time and the struggles. The pain of Noah’s mother and her depression over her son being in the war is also masterfully moving. A good read for historical perspective and a good look at the inner strength of the women of the Civil War era.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: mood, tone, setting, conflict, compare and contrast (Delphine and Tilly), conclusions, predictions (Why hasn’t their father returned home in 2 years?)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: suicide, death in War, reading the cards, prejudice

RELATED BOOKS: A Year Down Yonder, Strays Like Us, Fair Weather, A Long Way from Chicago, The Teacher’s Funeral, Gone with the Wind, The Red Badge of Courage, Girl in Blue, Cold Mountain, Across Five Aprils, Red Moon at Sharpsburg

RELATED MOVIES: The Red Badge of Courage, The North and the South, Shenandoah, Gone With the Wind, Gettysburg, Glory      

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://teacher.scholastic.com/clubs/pdfs/riverbetweenus_t.pdf

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

http://www.fairrosa.info/archive/ne2004/river.html

http://www.civil-war.net/

http://www.civilwar.com/

http://www.historyplace.com/civilwar/index.html

http://www.richardepeck.com/

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

The Clay Marble

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The Clay Marble

Author: Minfong Ho

Page Length: 163

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Dara is a 12 year old girl who grows up in a war-torn Cambodia during the 1980’s. Her mother, brother (Sarun), and she are forced to move from their own town to the border of Cambodia and Thailand to settle at a refugee camp. Fighting between several factions in Cambodia, communist rule, and Vietnamese invasions cause many Cambodian citizens to relocate to this safer ground. At the refugee camp, Dara meets a girl around her age – Jantu. The two girls form a close relationship and learn that “playing with dolls” is the best way for them to take their minds off the violence in their country as well as the loss of some members of their families. As Dara and Jantu become closer, they come to view each other as “family members”. The view of family is a major theme in this novel. Many families in Cambodia are displaced during this time, however the bonds of humanity bring together people in the most desperate of times. Around this time in the story, Jantu gives Dara a clay marble for support and encouragement during this stressful period.

Shortly after Dara and Jantu meet each other, fighting begins again near the refugee camp. As a result, their families begin to move further into Thailand territory. When Jantu and Dara recognize a food truck on their trek away from the camp, they become displaced from their families. It is at this point on page 62, that the action in the book becomes heightened. Jantu is transported to a hospital to tend to her baby brother, while Dara goes on her own to search for her mother and Sarun. After several journeys to numerous sites, Dara finds her family. Dara discovers at this point that her brother is training to become a soldier in the war in Cambodia. Disgusted, Dara leaves to find Jantu and take her home from the hospital.

As Dara and Jantu return home, Jantu is mistakenly shot by a group of soldiers, one of which is Dara’s brother! Sarun does not seem too affected by the incident and continues his desire to become an official soldier. However, Dara’s desire is to return everyone home to their original village as the fighting has subsided. However, Sarun seems adamant about staying to live his life as a soldier. Dara, with the help of the other family members, begin preparations to leave for home. On page 150, after the death of Jantu and increased stubbornness from her brother, Dora explains what she has experienced recently and how courage is not just about fighting – it’s about finding peace and establishing order for one’s family. After hearing his sister’s passion, Sarun reluctantly decides to follow his family home.

On the way home, Dara drops her clay marbles onto the ground while realizing that they were just a symbol of something that she has had with her for quite some time – courage and bravery. Over the course of her travels and adventures during the fighting in her country, Dara has gained both traits that will carry her throughout her life.

REVIEW: The preface was very helpful in understanding the context of the story. Many of the elements in the book are fiction, however the basic conflicts that Cambodia has experienced during the 70’s and 80’s are very much true. Struggling readers will find this book difficult to understand due to many of the vocabulary words associated with the culture. The historical events would be hard for struggling readers to understand unless they were given ample information before-hand. As I mentioned, the preface helps, however the reading level of this book is rather high. Never-the-less, tt was very interesting to read a story based on Asian history.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: reading a map, setting, analogy (page 38-39), symbolism (mud ball – simplicity, magic, comfort), simile (page 69), historical context, vocabulary: tamarind (page 3) spate (page 5) gaunt (page 6) sinewy (page 14) deft (page 39) wistful (page 119) & distended (page 122)

RELATED BOOKS: Little Brother

RELATED ART: http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/cambodia/camrmenter-0.htm

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “The Killing Fields” (1984)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://webmail.ops.org/socialstudies_web/Novel_Guide/Novel_Guide_Lesson_Plan_Grade_7/Acrobat%20Reader%20Pdf/ClayMarble.pdf

www.cambodia-web.net/

http://edweb.gsn.org/sideshow/

http://litplans.com/titles/Clay_Marble_Minfong_Ho.html

http://www.glencoe.com/sec/literature/litlibrary/pdf/clay_marble.pdf

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Amazing But True Sports Stories

Amazing But True Sports Stories

Author: Phyllis and Zander Hollander

Page Length: 140

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Nonfiction

REVIEW: 87 true stories about the accomplishments and lives of athletes are contained in this book. Some of the stories are unbelievable, yet very real. The majority of the stories are about baseball players and managers (about 20%), however sports such as football, basketball, and hockey are also highlighted. Each story is a ½ page to 2 pages in length that makes this book enticing to those with a short attention span. Black and white photographs accompany some of the stories. Some of the passages cover teams that have played in Texas.

Here are some highlights: the longest baseball game in history lasted 33 innings over the course of 8 ½ hours (pages 14-16). A baseball game was once called off due to grasshoppers (page 28). The highest scoring baseball game racked up 45 runs (page 45). Tom Dempsey was a successful NFL player given that he only has half of a right foot and a stub for his right hand (page 57). An inspirational football coach in Kansas coached from the confines of his wheelchair (page 65). Wilt Chamberlain, famous basketball player, once scored 100 points in a single game (page 91). 

Other stories in the book include a batboy that was ejected from a game, a baseball player with only one arm, a referee with only one eye, and a golfer who made 3 holes in one in less than 30 minutes!

Many of the stories are about one-time accomplishments or “miracles”, while other stories describe extraordinary individuals who overcome diverse odds. I would recommend this book to any sport lover.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: adjective usage, technical vocabulary (related to sports)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: mention of an “adult magazine” (page 124)

RELATED BOOKS: And Nobody Got Hurt 2!, Baseball in April and Other Stories, National Football League: Behind the Scenes

MOVIE CONNECTIONS:Miracle on Ice” (1981), “The Stratton Story” (1949), “Hoosiers” (1986)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.sptimes.com/sports100/index.shtml

http://www.miracleonice.us/

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Number the Stars

Number the Stars

Author: Lois Lowry

Page Length: 137

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Annemarie Johansen is a young Danish girl who, along with her Jewish friend Ellen Rosen, attempts to live a normal life in the midst of Nazi occupation. In their town of Copenhagen, both girls participate in rationing. They live with little – unable to even spread butter on their bread! What is plentiful is the love of family and friends. That is what keeps these citizens together. When the Nazi’s begin to “relocate” the Jews (to ultimate death), Denmark’s sense of security and freedom diminishes.

In response to the Jewish discrimination, “The Resistance” (a group of individuals with a mission to fight the occupation of the Nazis) begins to smuggle the Jews out of Denmark and over to Sweden.  Some of Annemarie’s family and friends take part in this mission in order that Ellen Rosen and her family may escape the Nazis. Annemarie is sad to see her friend leave, but she understands that it is necessary in order for the Rosen’s to have a chance at survival.

Annemarie displays great courage and strength when she aids the Rosen family in their escape. She doesn’t plan her courageous acts, rather she takes it upon herself to assist when her mother injures herself.

The story ends with the Rosen family escaping, the war ending, and Annemarie hopeful that she will see her friend again.

The author provides a nice “Afterword” at the end of the book which explains which portions of the story were fictional and which were based on fact.

REVIEW: This book was an easy read and kept my attention. The scenes that included the Nazi guards were very suspenseful. This book would be a great supplement to a unit on the Holocaust both in English class as well as World History.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: mood, tone, simile (page 5), symbolism (page 25, 87, & 94), historical context, vocabulary (swastika & kroner), reading varied sources – letters (page 137)

RELATED BOOKS: Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl (Jewish hiding, female perspective), Stepping on the Cracks (two girls’ relationship during war time), The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark, Night, The Book Thief

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: “Anne Frank Remembered” (1995), “The Diary of Anne Frank” (1959)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.cdli.ca/CITE/number_the_stars.htm (covers TEKS such as character, point of view, foreshadowing, imagery, writing activities, projects, etc)

http://www.mce.k12tn.net/reading23/number_the_stars.htm

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

A Boy at War

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A Boy at War

Author: Harry Mazer

Page Length: 104

Reading Level: 8

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: This is the story of Adam who is the “military son” of a proud American family. Adam’s father, Navy Lt. Pelko, has been assigned to the USS Arizona that has been stationed in Pearl Harbor on the shores of Hawaii. Adam is not a stranger to moving from city to city, however he finds it difficult to fit-in to this Asian and Hawaiian culture. Adam does manage to befriend Davi, a Japanese boy in his school. After Adam’s father discovers this friendship, he tells his son that associating with the Japanese at this time is not wise. Lt. Pelko goes on to tell Adam that whatever his son does reflects back on the family. Family image, respect, and honor are important within the Pelko household. However, Adam disobeys his father and continues to socialize with Davi. As Adam and Davi are enjoying a morning of fishing in Pearl Harbor, the area is attacked by Japanese fighter planes. Chapter 9 begins the high intensity action of the bombing.

Class issues and racial tension are evident in this book as were they during the time period of the 30’s and 40’s. War creates paranoid feelings that cause humans to over-generalize feelings toward broad groups. At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, many Americans viewed Japanese-Americans as if they were “the enemy”. Once Adam experiences the attack on Pearl Harbor and his father’s ship, he starts to view his friend Davi as the enemy and pushes him into the water. A fight is not allowed to ensue as bullets begin to fly everywhere and an officer spots the boys and takes them away.

Adam is then thrown into the role of a soldier and assists the military in fighting the Japanese. However, Adam maintains that his mission is to return home to his family. When he does, Adam realizes that his father is away (most likely on the Arizona). After several days the family becomes worried that Lt. Pelko has been killed or missing in action. A letter does finally arrive stating that Adam’s father has been labeled missing in action. Adam’s family then is instructed to leave Hawaii to move onto a new phase of their lives. However, before Adam leaves he is able to reconcile his feelings toward Davi.

REVIEW: I felt that the resolution to this story was rather short. However, I enjoyed this action-packed book that would be a great supplement to a study of conflict, war, or cultural tension. The story is short enough to maintain the attention of struggling readers, however there are several words that may be above the reading level of some students. There is a map at the beginning of the book so the reader can visualize the locations of the events. There is also a short “author’s note” at the end of the book that adds some historical information that was highlighted in this fictional story.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: vocabulary (coxswain 55, emplacement 49, sampans 21, issei, Nisei, and various Hawaiian terms), historical context, foreshadowing (pages 15 & 19), metaphor (page 16 house/ship), simile (pages 36, 48, & 51), and reading a map

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: offensive racial/cultural references such as “Jap” (pages 19, 23, 63), “gook” (page 85), and “haole”, youth shooting a gun in the context of war

RELATED BOOKS: Pearl Harbor: The Verdict of History, Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8, Day of Deceit

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Pearl Harbor” (2001), Remember Pearl Harbor (1942)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://nene.k12.hi.us/winners/2007/BoyAtWar.html (awesome link to several sites with a movie, quiz, interactive map, survivor stories, and lesson plans)

http://education.eastwestcenter.org/asiapacificed/ph2006/projects.htm (project ideas)

http://www.emints.org/ethemes/resources/S00001581.shtml

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

A Year Down Yonder

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A Year Down Yonder

Author: Richard Peck

Page Length: 130

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The story of Grandma Dowdel continues (from A Long Way from Chicago) when Mary Alice goes to live with Grandma for a year. It’s the Great Depression. Times are tough and Mary Alice’s parents can not afford to support her in Chicago. Joey has gone off to work and Mary Alice must face Grandma Dowdel alone for the first time. A country school with all the grades combined and a whole year with Grandma may just do Mary Alice in.

On the other hand, maybe there is more of Grandma in Mary Alice than she realized. Mary Alice begins to adjust to country life, make new friends, and meet an interesting young man. All the while she begins to realize that Chicago might not have been so great after all.

REVIEW: I loved this book and how it brought small town life in the 1930s to life. Grandma Dowdel is a woman to be admired and studied for her “take life by the horns approach.” I loved the adventures and the cunning Grandma displays when she outwits and out performs everyone around her. Perhaps Grandma Dowdel’s greatest lesson is to be true to yourself. This book is humorous and heart-warming.

Teaching this novel might be a great starting point for having students re-connect with their elders (perhaps write a collection of stories they’ve heard through the generations). It would go great as a read during the study of this time period in history class too. Students could write about how an experience with their grandparent influenced or changed them. Peck did a masterful job of enveloping the reader in small town life and in the realities of the depression era. Great book! Satisfying ending!

AREAS FOR TEACHING: character traits, context clues, plot, setting, word choice, mood and tone, causes and effect (sending Mary Alice to live with Grandma), connotative and denotative, conclusions, generalizations, and predictions

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: shooting – Grandma doesn’t mind wielding her shotgun when she has to, bullying, class systems

RELATED BOOKS: A Long Way from Chicago, Strays Like Us, Fair Weather, The River Between Us, The Teacher’s Funeral, Stories My Grandmother Would Love: Featuring Eleven “Miss Lillie” Stories About Life on the Farm in the 1930s

MOVIES: Kitt Kitteredge, Cinderella Man, All the Kings Men, Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://eduscapes.com/newbery/99b.htm

http://kclibrary.lonestar.edu/decade30.html

http://www.kidsnewsroom.org/elmer/infoCentral/frameset/decade/1930.htm

http://eduscapes.com/newbery/01a.htm

http://www.emints.org/ethemes/resources/S00001392.shtml

http://www.teachervision.fen.com/fiction/reading/6690.html

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

A Long Way From Chicago

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A Long Way from Chicago

Author: Richard Peck

Page Length: 148

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: It’s 1929, the Great Depression is looming, and Joey and Mary Alice Dowdel are forced to spend a week their “tougher than old boot” Grandma Dowdel. Grandma is an amazing woman who can get just about anyone and any living creature to do what she wants them to (she has her ways). Privies (outhouses) are being knocked over; there are blue ribbons to be won, and neighbors to outwit. Join Joey and Mary Alice as they travel through the 1930’s discovering each summer just how crafty their “old” Grandma can be and how much they have to learn from her.

REVIEW: I loved this book and how it brought small town life in the 1930s to life. Grandma Dowdel is a woman to be admired and studied for her “take life by the horns approach.” I loved the adventures and the cunning Grandma displays when she outwits and out performs everyone around her. Perhaps Grandma Dowdel’s greatest lesson is to be true to yourself. This book is humorous and heart-warming.

Teaching this novel might be a great starting point for having students re-connect with their elders (perhaps write a collection of stories they’ve heard through the generations). It would go great as a read during the study of this time period in history class too. Recommended read!

AREAS FOR TEACHING: character traits, context clues, plot, setting, word choice, mood and tone

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: shooting – Grandma doesn’t mind wielding her shotgun when she has to

RELATED BOOKS: A Year Down Yonder, Strays Like Us, Fair Weather, The River Between Us, The Teacher’s Funeral, Stories My Grandmother Would Love: Featuring Eleven “Miss Lillie” Stories About Life on the Farm in the 1930s

MOVIES: Kitt Kitteredge, Cinderella Man, All the Kings Men, Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://eduscapes.com/newbery/99b.htm

http://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-a-long-way-from-chicago/

http://edhelper.com/books/A_Long_Way_from_Chicago.htm

http://kclibrary.lonestar.edu/decade30.html

http://www.kidsnewsroom.org/elmer/infoCentral/frameset/decade/1930.htm

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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