The Book Reviews – Website

September 30, 2008

The World’s Dumbest Criminals

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The World’s Dumbest Criminals

Author: Daniel Butler and Alan Ray

Page Length: 183

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Non-Fiction           

PLOT SUMMARY: This book is 76 crime stories compiled by Daniel Butler and Alan Ray that have occurred around the world.  They are based on true stories from law enforcement officers, but the real names of the criminals and victims are not used.  

REVIEW: Although the cover of this book indicates the crime reports might be humorous, I did not find anything about them funny.  Not only were they not funny, they were not interesting or all that bizarre. The stories I found a little bit humorous or rare were The Stooges Go North, Eh? (p. 21), The World’s Fastest Cop (p. 51), The Great Train Robbery (p. 52), Grind This, Pal (p. 61), That’s a Spiceeeeey “Meatball”! (p. 79), and Right is Right (p. 52).

While reading this book, I found myself annoyed that I was wasting my time and trying to decide who would enjoy this type of writing.  I feel like the authors worked hard in their descriptions of the localities where the crimes took place but wasted their time in the attempt to create interest at the cost of others stupidity.

I would not recommend this book for anyone, but some “redneck” males may enjoy it.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Main Idea, Supporting Details

RELATED BOOKS: America’s Dumbest Criminals, Wanted! Dumb or Alive

TELEVISION CONNECTIONS: Syndicated Show-America’s Dumbest Criminals

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.epinions.com/content_343866576516?linkin_id=8003929

www.joketribe.com/95/November/DumbCrooks.php

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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Turtle Rescue

Turtle Rescue

Author: Pamela Hickman

Page Length: 64

Reading Level: 8

Genre: Non-Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Turtle Rescue is a story full of true facts about the turtle, one of the endangered wildlife in the world today.  The turtle evolved over 200 million years ago and exists almost unchanged today.  Turtles are living across the globe, except for the Arctic and Antarctic regions in fresh water, salt water and on land. 

The story tells of the growing awareness of the turtle population’s decline and speaks of several environmental crusaders who are trying to save the turtle from extinction.  Also discussed are the turtles living and birthing habits and the endangerments they encounter not only from human consumption but also from their own natural environments and lifestyles.

REVIEW: This is an informative book with great photography.  At the back of the book are a list of “fast facts”, websites, and an author’s note.  Students who enjoy non-fiction and have a passion for endangered wildlife would enjoy this book.  It could also be used as a good source for a science project.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Current Events, Cause/Effect, and Informative Texts

RELATED BOOKS: Birds of Prey, Animals Hibernating, Animals and Their Mates

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.carcnet.ca

www.cccturtlelorg

www.nytts.org

www.spaceforspecies.ca

www.writers.ns.ca/Writers/phickman.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Running Out of Time

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Running Out of Time

Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix

Page Length: 184

Reading Level: 7   

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY: It is 1840 and Jesse lives with her family in the frontier village of Clifton, Indiana.  One of Jesse’s biggest thrills is to go on late night medical calls with her mom, who acts as a mid-wife, but lately has started treating families for other illnesses.  One night, Jesse’s mother makes an unbelievable revelation to Jesse and sends her on a dangerous mission.

The remainder of the book Jesse learns about the world outside Clifton, the people who are in charge of Clifton, and how she is relevant in saving the lives of the children of Clifton.

REVIEW: This book begins in the 1840’s in what seems to be a traditional colonial setting.  However, on page 21, at the close of chapter 3, Margaret Haddix puts in a shocking detail!  The book then progresses with lots of action as Jesse, the main character, is on a mission to save the children of her community.  The adventures she experiences are described quite vividly, which make the book a fast read.

This is a good action-adventure book that girls will love. However, I was somewhat disappointed in the ending.  I felt it was anti-climatic after all the action in the body of the book.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Supporting Details, Character, Setting, Compare/Contrast and Sequence of Events

RELATED BOOKS: The City of Ember, The Shadow Children Series

HISTORICAL CONNECTIONS: Plimoth Plantation, Plymouth, Mass.

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://fantasticfiction.co.uk/h/…/runningoutoftime.htm

http://library.thinkquest.org/J0110073/Author.html

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

http://epinions.com/review/Running_Out_of_Time_by_Margaret_Haddix_and_by_M

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Esperanza Rising

Esperanza Rising

Author: Pam Munoz Ryan

Page Length: 262

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Realistic Fiction   

PLOT SUMMARY: As the story begins, Esperanza is living with her parents on their large ranch in Mexico.  Esperanza is six years old and loves spending time with her father who teaches her how to “feel” the land.  The story quickly moves to six years later with Esperanza waiting for her father to return from the day’s work on the ranch.  Esperanza is anticipating his arrival because it is the end of harvest and the next day is her birthday.  There will be a grand party celebrating both.

However, her father does not return and Alfonso, the boss of the field workers, brings the news to Esperanza, her mother, and grandmother that her father has been ambushed and killed.  Many people come to mourn his death and give the family their sympathy.  Esperanza’s two uncles come every day to “sort” through her father’s paperwork.  They bring the news to Esperanza’s mother that the ranch belongs to them and that she can remain on the ranch only if she agrees to marry one of them.  Also, they plan to send Esperanza away to boarding school.

The only solution the mother and daughter have is to move to California with Alfonso, Hortensia, and Miguel to join others who have migrated to the United States to find work and a better life.  They plan to work in the fields helping with the various crops that are grown in California.  This offers a better life to Alfonso’s family, but not to Esperanza and her mother.  They are leaving a life of prominence, luxury and wealth to live with their former employees in dirt floor cabins.

Esperanza has a very hard time dealing with the loss of her father, separation from her grandmother and living in poverty.  All the people of the community know her story and she is ridiculed by some of the other girls.  After her mother becomes ill, Esperanza realizes it is her responsibility to work and make money for the family.  She becomes one of the better field workers and saves her money so that she will be able to bring her grandmother from Mexico to California to join the family.

REVIEW: I enjoyed this book very much.  It is a story of “riches to rags” and how Esperanza overcomes the obstacles of living in a new country with a very different lifestyle.  The book is written in English, but several Spanish words are used, which would be good to use in vocabulary development. On pages 246-247, the writing is an excellent example of descriptive and summative writing.   I think this would be an excellent book to read as a class novel.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Setting, Characters, Spanish/English Vocabulary, Sequence of Events, Historical Context

RELATED BOOKS: Becoming Naomi Leon, The House on Mango Street, A Year Down Yonder, A Long Way from Chicago, Hitch

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Of Mice and Men” & “The Grapes of Wrath”

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.home.jps.net/~gailhd/crossing/esperanza/student.htm

www.bookrags.com/Esperanza_Rising

www.lib.store.yahoo.net/lib/monkeynote/pmEsperanzaRisingSample.pdf

www.nancykeane.com/booktalks/ryan_esperanza.htm

www.emints.org/ethemes/resources/S00001403.shtml

www.edsitement.neh.gov/view_lesson_plan.asp?id=739

www.bcps.org/offices/lis/models/esperanzaeng6/index.htm

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

September 23, 2008

Alex Rider Scorpia

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Alex Rider Scorpia

Author: Anthony Horowitz          

Page Length: 388

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY: In the fifth book of the Alex Rider series, Alex is on vacation with his friend, Tom, in Italy.  Alex is trying to find out what “Scorpia” is and what it has to do with his life, as Yassen Gregorovich mentioned to him in his dying words.

Alex learns that his father was a member of Scorpia, the world’s leading terrorist organization, and was a hired assassin as Yassen was.  Mrs. Rothman, the head of Scorpia, invites Alex to become a part of the terrorist organization.  She has proof that Mrs. Jones of M16 shot and killed Alex’s father.  Alex joins the group and has his own personal vendetta to kill Mrs. Jones. 

As Alex attempts to kill Mrs. Jones, he is captured by M16 and learns the truth about Scorpia, his father, Yassen, and Mrs. Rothman.  He is then lured by M16 to help stop Mrs. Rothman’s latest project, Invisible Sword, which is a plan to kill all the middle school students of England, including Alex Rider.

REVIEW: I enjoyed this the most of the Alex Rider books I have read.  It has lots of action with many twists and turns.  It is hard to predict what the outcome will be for not only Scorpia, England, but Alex, too.  The characters are vividly developed and it is easy to form opinions about them and their personalities.

I thought this was the final book of the series, but discovered there are two more that have been published—Ark Angel and Snakehead. 

SUGGESTED TEACHING AREAS:  Leisure reading, Sequence of Events, Drawing Conclusions, Predicting Outcomes, and Making Generalizations, Descriptive Writing and Character

RELATED BOOKS: Point Blank, Stormbreaker, Skeleton Key, Scorpia, Ark Angel, and Snakehead

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: “Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker” (2006), “Mission Impossible l, ll, and lll”, “The Bourne Identity” (2002), “The Bourne Supremacy” (2003), “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007)

RELATED WEBSITES:

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

www.powells.com/cgi-bin/biblio?inkey=1-9780142405789-0

http://turnpaige.com/2008/02/13/scorpiabyanthonyhorowitz

www.kidsreads.com/series/series-alex_rider-titles.asp

www.teenreads.com/authors/au-horowitz-anthony.asp

www.funtrivia.com/playquiz.cfm?qid=207325

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Alex Rider Eagle Strike

Alex Rider Eagle Strike

Author: Anthony Horowitz

Page Length: 322

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY: In the fourth of the Alex Rider series, Alex begins another spy experience in the South of France where he is vacationing with Sabina Pleasure’s family.  Alex met Sabina in the last book, Skeleton Key, while working undercover at the Wimbledon Tennis Championship.

While relaxing on the beach, he sees Yassen Gregorovich, a hired assassin, who killed his uncle.  After a bomb goes off in the Pleasure’s dwelling, and injures Sabina’s father, Alex believes Yassen is clearly involved, and that he may be the intended target of the bombing.

Thus follows a series of action packed events including:  Alex in the arena fighting a bull, a discovery that Damian Cray, England’s most celebrated entertainer is involved, help denied by M16, nuclear missiles, a life-size video game, and the hijacking of Air Force One.   Alex is determined to stop Damian Cray and Yassen Gregorovich but comes close to losing his and Sabina’s lives.  As the book ends, Yassen Gregorovich is killed but in his last words tells Alex to go to Scorpia and find his destiny. . . 

REVIEW: As in the previous three books of the series, Anthony Horowitz pits Alex Rider in the middle of high-action, life threatening situations.  I like that Sabina has become a part of the series, and Alex is able to have a typical teen romance while in the throws of harm’s way. 

The book is filled with non-stop action.  I especially liked the detail written when Alex is going through the life size version of the video game.  Although there is a lot of background in the previous books, a reader could read and enjoy Eagle Strike without having read the others.

SUGGESTED TEACHING AREAS:  Leisure reading, Sequence of Events, Drawing Conclusions, Predicting Outcomes, and Making Generalizations, and Descriptive Writing

RELATED BOOKS: Point Blank, Stormbreaker, Skeleton Key, Scorpia

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: “Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker” (2006), “Mission Impossible l, ll, and lll”, “The Bourne Identity” (2002), “The Bourne Supremacy” (2003), “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.anthonyhorowitz.com/alexrider/books/eaglestrike.html

www.kidsreads.com/reviews/0399239790-excerpt.asp

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

http://turnpaige.com/2008/02/07/eaglestrikebyanthonyhorowitz

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Alex Rider Skeleton Key

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Alex Rider Skeleton Key

Author: Anthony Horowitz

Page Length: 327

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY: As the story opens, Sarov, a former General in the Russian army, has obtained a kilogram of weapons-grade uranium.  He intends to destroy the world with it and regain Russian power.   In the United States, 14-year-old Alex Rider is playing ball when Mr. Crawley, an employee of M16, a branch of the investigative department of England, approaches him.

It has just been a month since Alex Rider completed his second piece of spy work for the M16, and he is reluctant to talk with Crawley.  He says he does not want to be a spy, but a schoolboy.  Crawley assures him that he just wants Alex to help him find the reason the Wimbledon Tennis Courts have recently been burglarized.  Crawley believes Alex can do that, while he acts as a ball boy at the world famous Wimbledon Tennis Championship.  Hesitantly, Alex agrees to help. 

Alex does find there are advantages to working the tourney.  One, seeing the famous tennis players of the world compete, and the other, meeting Sabina Pleasure, another teen helping at the tourney.  Alex is surprised when two of the top ten players suffer losses to a not-so-well known Chinese player.  He becomes suspicious of a guard who he overhears talking on a cell phone. 

In his own investigative style, Alex discovers how the victories of the little known player are being made, but not without incident, where he is almost charged with attempted homicide. Once again, Mrs. Jones and Mr. Blunt of M16 rescue Alex from harm, but only to “loan” him out to the American CIA to do undercover work for them.  Although Alex feels he has been railroaded into another dangerous adventure, he agrees to be part of an undercover mission where he plays the role as son, to a couple vacationing in Cuba.

When the couple does not return from a scuba diving trip, Alex begins another adventurous, action packed investigation where he meets General Sarov and learns of his plan to destroy the world.

REVIEW: I found the third book of the Alex Rider series as intriguing as the first two.  Anthony Horowitz does a great job of creating suspense in his writing.  He also writes with vivid descriptions, which the reader can realistically imagine.  I think anyone who enjoys mystery, suspense, adventure and action would like this series of books.

SUGGESTED TEACHING AREAS:  Leisure reading, Sequence of Events, Drawing Conclusions, Predicting Outcomes, and Making Generalizations, and Descriptive Writing

RELATED BOOKS: Point Blank, Stormbreaker, Eagle Strike, Scorpia

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: “Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker” (2006), “Mission Impossible l, ll, and lll”, “The Bourne Identity” (2002), “The Bourne Supremacy” (2003), “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.bookmooch.com/detail/0142401021

www.anthonyhorowitz.com/alexrider/books/skeletonkey.html

http://mplteens.blogspot.com/2008/04/skeletonkeybyanthonyhorowitz.html

http://turnpaige.com/2008/01/29/skeletonkeybyanthonyhorowitz

http://bookcrossing.com/journal/4313686

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Alex Rider Stormbreaker

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Alex Rider Stormbreaker

Author: Anthony Horowitz

Page Length: 234

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction, Adventure           

PLOT SUMMARY: Alex Rider is a fourteen-year-old orphan who lives with his uncle, Ian Rider, a bank manager (or so Alex thinks).  Alex receives news at 3 o’clock in the morning that his uncle has been killed in a car accident.  The police reported he wasn’t wearing his seat belt.  Alex finds this hard to believe, because the one thing his uncle always insisted on was that Alex always wear his seat belt.

Alex became even more suspicious when five lawyers appeared at his house to go through his uncle’s study. Then, he saw a gun on one of the driver’s of a limo at the funeral, and upon his return from the funeral, all of his uncle’s papers and belongings had been removed from the study.

 Alex decided to do a little investigating on his own. He found the junkyard where his uncle’s car had been taken, but was discovered by employees just before he was almost crushed by the Lefort Shear, a metal smasher.  

From this point, Alex is taken to the “bank” to talk with the men who had appeared as lawyers for his uncle.  Alex learns that his uncle was never a banker but a spy for M16 (the English government’s equivalent to the CIA).  His uncle was killed by a Russian who works for a man developing a super computer to be given to all the students of schools in England.  The computer’s name is the “Stormbreaker”.

Alex next learns that the M16 people want him to follow in his uncles’ tracks and become a teen-age spy.

REVIEW: This is the first in a series of five action, spy novels about Alex Rider.  I found it comparable to adult spy novels I have read by Robert Ludlum as far as action and suspense are concerned.  It is an easy read and I think the most appealing book I have read for teen males, especially those who don’t think they want or like to read.   I would suggest it not for a teaching tool, but exclusively for leisure reading.  Because there are five books in the series, if a non-reader enjoyed the first, he would be set on a trail to read the next four as quickly as possible.  After getting through the series, we would now have a lifelong reader.

SUGGESTED TEACHING AREAS:  Leisure reading, Sequence of Events, Drawing Conclusions, Predicting Outcomes, and Making Generalizations

RELATED BOOKS: Point Blank, Skeleton Key, Eagle Strike, Scorpia

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: “Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker” (2006), “Mission Impossible l, ll, and lll”, “The Bourne Identity” (2002), “The Bourne Supremacy” (2003), “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.stormbreaker.com

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stormbreaker  (novel)

www.anthonyhorowitz.com/alexrider/books/stormbreaker.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Alex Rider Point Blank

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Alex Rider Point Blank

Author: Anthony Horowitz

Page Length: 274

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction, Action/Adventure         

PLOT SUMMARY: As Alex Rider returns to school he feels like an outsider.  He longs for another adventure as he just experienced with the M16 of England’s government.  He soon discovers that things are different at school, and attributes that to Skoda, a former student at his school, who is now dealing drugs to his friends.

Alex takes it upon himself to sabotage Skoda’s drug ring, by lifting a barge with a crane and placing it next to the police station.  His plan goes foul, when the crane breaks and the barge lands in the center of the city conference center.  Although Alex does manage to break up the drug ring, he finds himself in jail.

It is Mr. Blunt and Ms. Jones from the M16 who rescue Alex, but only so that he can help them investigate two recent deaths of wealthy Englishmen.  Alex is sent as a spy (he is only 14 years-old) to a very exclusive boarding school for boys who have been in trouble, either with the law, school, or drugs.  The basic thing all of the boys have in common is that their parents are very, very wealthy. 

In recent weeks, two of the former student’s fathers have died.  The M16 want Alex to learn what, if anything, the boarding school might have to do with the deaths.

 REVIEW: This is the second book of the Alex Rider Series and I am “hooked”.  In this book, Alex, demonstrates even more daring spy moves with little defense or aid.  Because of the high action and adventure, it is hard to put the book down. 

It is an easy fast read which will keep the reader turning one page after another.  I would use this series to help those who think they do not like to read develop leisure reading skills.  If students like spy movies such as the Mission Impossible, Jason Bourne, or James Bond series, I think they would like this book.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Compare/Contrast, Cause/Effect/, Conflict

RELATED BOOKS: Stormbreaker, Skeleton Key, Eagle Strike, Scorpia

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: “Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker” (2006), “Mission Impossible l, ll, and lll”, “The Bourne Identity” (2002), “The Bourne Supremacy” (2003), “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.anthonyhorowitz.com/alexrider/index.html

www.goodreads.com/book/show/224500.Point_Blank

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

www.alexrideradventures.com/books.html

www.kidsreads.com/series/series-alex_rider-titles.asp

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

September 21, 2008

One More Step

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One More Step

Author: Sheree Fitch

Page Length: 85

Reading Level: 2.5

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: 14 year old Julian lives with his older brother Chris and his divorced mother. Julian’s father separated from his mother when he was only 1 year old. As a result, Julian’s relationship with his father is not a close one. Their contact is limited to weekend and holiday visits. On a recent Christmas visit to their father’s home, Julian and Chris spend time with their father’s new wife, children, and their grandfather – Poppie. When Chris and father are sent outside to fix some broken Christmas lights, Chris’ leg is broken breaking the fall of his father. Julian becomes upset at the scene and decides to leave his father and join his mother and her new boyfriend, Jean-Paul, for a visit to Quebec. Jean-Paul intends for Julian’s mother to meet his huge family!

On this trip, Julian discovers that this “new man” in her mother’s life is a supportive and loving one. Jean-Paul and Julian bond and move several steps towards becoming a “family”. The past 14 years of Julian’s life have resulted in his mother dating 3 men – all with their flaws. His mother’s new French boyfriend, Jean-Paul, proves to be promising, despite Julian’s constant cocky and sarcastic attitude.

Towards the end of the Quebec trip, Julian’s mother gets a call that her father, Poppie, has passed away. This is a blow to Julian, who was very close to his grandfather. The story comes to a close with Julian’s mother marrying Jean-Paul, Chris going off to school, and Julian realizing that Jean-Paul is not going to be his replacement father but rather a supportive male presence.   

REVIEW: I enjoyed this book. I thought the internal and external dialogue of Julian was awesome. It kept me engaged. For a book written at a 2nd to 3rd grade level, I was entertained. The topic of divorce, separation, and new family figures is a touchy one, and I felt the author did an excellent job portraying the emotions, change, and acceptance that comes with this frequent situation in society. The book overall had a positive tone yet the youthful sarcastic elements remained. This certified it as authentic. Even though there were numerous curse words, this gave the dialogue true and real meaning.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: voice, internal & external dialogue

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: curse words (pages 47 & 54), references to underage drinking (page 65 & 79-82), references to items such as condoms and hickeys

RELATED BOOKS: Dear Mr. Henshaw, It’s Not the End of the World

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979), “Boys N the Hood” (1991)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://books.google.com/books?id=wbHEYSa0uCYC&dq=one+more+step+sheree+fitch&pg=PP1&ots=fcz-rGMEhP&sig=1MBRfal4ufjNWhdKJvqPCl1K5O4&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result

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

http://www.shereefitch.com/books/oneMoreStep.php

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Zee’s Way

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Zee’s Way

Author: Kristin Butcher

Page Length: 104

Reading Level: 3.2

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: John Zeelander, “Zee”, is a teenager looking for something fun to do. In a city where there are few opportunities for social entertainment and community involvement, Zee turns to his friends and abandoned shopping centers for “fun”. Fun for this group of teenagers refers to playing soccer and just “hanging around”. However, “hanging around” is seen by adults in this town as mischief and questionable activity. When Zee and his friends begin hanging around a newly opened shopping center, they are quickly branded as outsiders and refused entrance into some of the shops.

One of the reasons Zee and his friends are discriminated upon is because they look different – they have shaved heads, colored hair, tattoos, piercings, and leather. The adults who own the stores and those that shop at them unfairly discriminate based on age and appearance. Zee’s friends are not into drugs or major crimes. If they are to be charged with a crime it is boredom. Boredom leads Zee, a talented artist, to spray paint graffiti on the side of the local hardware store. He also spray paints this store wall out of frustration for his friends’ and his discrimination.

When Zee is caught spray-painting by the owner of the hard ware store, the owner expects Zee to pay him back for his vandalism by painting an appropriate mural on the side of his building. Zee reluctantly agrees despite the heckling from his peers. While painting the mural, the older patrons of the shopping center begin to change their mind-set about Zee and youth in general. Zee now becomes the central force in bridging the gap between the youth of his neighborhood and the older citizens. This change and unification is reflected in Zee’s finished mural (page 102).

In the end, a compromise is reached, and Zee and his friends are allowed to hang out in a little space (vacated by a previous owner) attached to the shopping center. 

REVIEW: This book was an easy read, however I felt the ending was not explained in detail. The compromise was ok, however it does not truly address the problem of a lack of socialization and community involvement for youth. Giving these young boys a small building to “hang out” just does not seem adequate.

I did like how graffiti and other forms of art were woven throughout the story, however the main issues of community resources just did not seem to be appropriately addressed.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: compare/contrast, characterization, discussion on ageism and discrimination based on appearance

RELATED BOOKS: Journey (mother who leaves the family), Message in a Bottle (loss of wife and art)

ART CONNECTIONS:

http://www.trompe-l-oeil-art.com/fauxfinishes.html (trompe l’ oeil)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graffiti (graffiti)

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Sister Act” (1992) – graffiti scenes

RELATED WEBSITES:

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

http://books.google.com/books?id=s9Sd6EqVFt8C&dq=zee’s+way&pg=PP1&ots=nNlWqli62R&sig=haJlDmdu3x6FyL0rvBm0RbEUOkw&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Thunderbowl

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Thunderbowl

Author: Lesley Choyce

Page Length: 102

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Jeremy is a sixteen year old boy who has a love for guitars and rock and roll. Ever since his father gave him a guitar as a gift, playing music has been his passion. Jeremy is part of a band with two others guys – Alistair and Steve. All three enter a Battle of the Bands competition at a local bar – “The Dungeon”, in hopes that they may secure a place as a regular musical act there. “Thunderbowl” is their name and rock and roll is their game!

There is one major catch – Jeremy is underage in this bar that he is to play in and no one but his band mates know this. Also, Jeremy’s parents do not know that he is spending his time at “The Dungeon”. Jeremy ultimately lies to get in and his band mates and he play their hearts out. They win the competition and are awarded the opportunity to play at the bar several nights a week. This means Jeremy will be out late – past 1:00am.

Once his parents discover that he is out so late, his homework is not being completed, his front tooth gets knocked out, and he is failing in school, they demand that Jeremy quit the band. Jeremy disobeys them and even considers dropping out of school for love of music. Even his teacher, Mr. Langford, tries his best to talk Jeremy into staying in school, but Jeremy has eyes only for the guitar.

One night while playing at “The Dungeon”, Jeremy spots his teacher in the crowd. Again, Mr. Langford tries to convince Jeremy to focus more on his studies. Jeremy seems continually oblivious to the teacher’s advice and encouragement. At around this time, Jeremy gives up with his parents nagging and leaves his home to live with his band mates.

Jeremy eventually misses the comforts of his family and home and grows tired of the violence that occurs at the club between his band and another local group. After several incidents, Jeremy comes up with a compromise between the two bands that allows both to play without any feelings of jealously. It is at this time that Jeremy realizes the idea of moderation. He understands that he immersed himself too much into his music at the start and did not try to achieve a balance between work (school) and play (music). Eventually Jeremy finds this balance and is well on his way to success – his band mates and he are soon to cut a demo track in a studio.

REVIEW: I enjoyed reading this book. It was easy to follow and was an enjoyable story. Most high school students have “big dreams” such as football players, rap artists, and rock stars. However few realize that it does take a sense of balance and direction in order to achieve greatness. A discussion on the effects of school on one’s life would be appropriate.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: foreshadowing & predictions (page 9), internal conflict

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: There are several references to “booze”, “beer”, “cigarettes”, and a “bar”. Also, one of the teachers in this book is placed at a bar with liquor in the presence of one of his students.

RELATED BOOKS: Fat Kid Rules the World (great to use as a comparison contrast reading)

MOVIE & MEDIA CONNECTIONS: “Rockstar” (2001), Video Games – Rockband & Guitar Hero

RELATED WEBSITES:

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

http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/16721140/rock_band_vs_guitar_hero (Article about Rockband vs. Guitar Hero)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

LeRoy and the Old Man

LeRoy and the Old Man

Author: W. E. Butterworth

Page Length: 168

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: LeRoy Chambers is the sole witness to a murder by a local Chicago gang called the “Wolves”. To escape police questioning as well as the rath of the gang who does not want LeRoy to sqeal on them, LeRoy is sent by his mother to Pass Christian, Mississippi. It is here that LeRoy is to live with his grandfather. Upon arrival in a New Orleans bus station, LeRoy meets his grandfather for the first time. However, this is one of many firsts in LeRoy’s new adventure.

Living with his grandfather, LeRoy learns how to sleep on a boat, how to catch shrimp and crabs, how to saw lumber, how to buy and sell goods, and even how to drive a truck. LeRoy also learns about the Cajun culture of which is a part of his heritage. However, one thing that LeRoy is not able to learn much about is his father. His father ran away from he and his mother many years ago. LeRoy’s grandfather will not talk about LeRoy’s father because of this.

When the Chicago police come looking for LeRoy in Mississippi to testify as a material witness to the murder he saw, LeRoy has serious reservations. LeRoy understands that he is the only person who saw the Wolves murder an old woman in his housing development. However, LeRoy is scared that if the Wolves see him in court, he may not get out of Chicago alive. LeRoy’s grandfather as well as the local Mississipi sheriff agree that LeRoy must go to Chicago. However, LeRoy’s father (who arranges to surprise LeRoy in a New Orleans restaurant) thinks that LeRoy should steal away to New York with him. LeRoy, even though he is angered to see his father after so long, is tempted to accompany his dad. However, in the end, the respect LeRoy has for his grandfather and the new life he has started to build in Pass Christian, Mississippi trumps his father’s wishes as well as the fear he has to testify in court (page 165).

REVIEW: Despite the boring title and the less than appealing book cover, LeRoy and the Old Man was a great story. It was suspenseful, humorous, mysterious and gut wrenching. I loved the character of the grandfather. His dialogue kept me reading on and on. I was intrigued by the southern Cajun setting. The elements of Mississippi / Louisiana culture, food, dialect, and community pride are beautifully interwoven in this story. Also, the stark contrasts between life in Chicago and life in New Orleans is effective.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause/effect, comparison/contrast (grandfather, father, son)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.gumbopages.com/acadiana/ (culture referred to in the story)

http://www.ci.pass-christian.ms.us/ (official site of Pass Christian, Mississippi)

http://dd-b.net/dd-b/Ouroboros/booknotes/data/butterworthwe-leroyandtheoldman.html

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

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Seedfolks

Seedfolks

Author: Paul Fleischman

Page Length: 102

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW: While focusing on a worn-down inner-city Cleveland community, the author does an excellent job blending the perspectives of 13 individuals. Even though all the characters are as different as night and day, they become unified through a vacant lot turned garden paradise.

I truly enjoyed this book because it approached the topic of differences (age, gender, race, and culture) in a unique way. The transformation of the community’s rat infested vacant lot into a garden begins with a little Vietnamese girl, Kim, searching for a way to gain attention from her deceased father. In her search, Kim decides to plant some beans in the hard ground of the lot next to her residence. This act stirs-up curiosity as well as motivation from the others who live near by. Slowly the other 12 characters begin to approach the lot and add their own “seeds” to the ground. Not only does this diverse group of individuals begin planting their own vegetables and flowers, they begin “planting” their own personalities amongst each other’s presence – sharing their stories and personalities to a community that has been scared to walk the streets!

Gradually this community witnesses a social transformation powered by the act of one little girl’s small plot of beans. The community garden is a symbol of change, promise, and hope to this group of strangers turned friends. Many of the characters in this book gained various modes of inspiration – inspiration to walk outside of their apartments, inspiration to reconnect with a past loved one, inspiration to better their financial situation, inspiration to move beyond a life of seclusion, inspiration to clean up their town, etc.

In several communities across the United States, Seedfolks has been chosen as a “citywide read”. The power of collective reading and group change shines through this story. I highly recommend this book!!!

AREAS FOR TEACHING: characterization, point-of-view, cause/effect

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: racial overtones and descriptions are prevalent throughout the book, however the context of them is appropriate, the word “marijuana” is used (page 32), biblical comparisons are stated several times in the story

RELATED BOOKS: Bull Run (similar style of writing with it’s varied use of point of view)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.harperchildrens.com/schoolhouse/TeachersGuides/seedfolks.htm

http://www.harperchildrens.com/hch/parents/teachingguides/fleischman.pdf

http://english.byu.edu/Novelinks/reading%20strategies/Seedfolks%20HTML%20Text%20Files/table.html

http://theliterarylink.com/seedfolks.html

http://www.bgsu.edu/colleges/library/crc/webquest/seedfolks/

http://www.audiobookshelf.com/seedfolk_cc.html

http://www.teachertube.com/view_video.php?viewkey=3bf695a5f1d53bdc9409

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Bull Run

Bull Run

Author: Paul Fleischman

Page Length: 104

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Historical Fiction, Drama

REVIEW: The first battle of the Civil War was “Bull Run”. And the author, whose book bears the same name, takes a different spin on the event. Instead of a usual chapter by chapter account of fighting, Fleischman inserts 16 characters each with their own perspective on the war during the same time period. These 16 characters enter periodically throughout the book. The format makes for a great example of Reader’s Theater where each student in the class could take the part of one of the characters in the book.

The characters in Bull Run are varied. Half are individuals from the northern states and half are from the south. Some are white while others are African-American slaves. Males and females characters as well as young and old ones are included. The characters’ locations range from Minnesota and Arkansas to Massachusetts and Virginia. The characters’ occupations are that of ditch diggers, cooks, infantry fighters, photographers, musicians, etc. Page 104 provides a good outline as to where the characters’ parts are included in the book.

All the characters themselves are fictional, except for that of General Irwin McDowell. The events and details however are factual. 

I felt the purpose of the book was not to explain the details of the battle so much as to convey the emotions and “little things” that went on behind the scenes. For students with little interest in military and war books, Bull Run proves to be a great alternative. Many discussions can arise from reading this book such as the effect the battle had on families to the role slaves played in the war. The Civil War affected everyone, not just those that saw the blood and gore first-hand. However, there were many who did not hold a gun that saw the gruesome effects of bullets and fighting. I would highly recommend this book as it is a great way to approach the topic of conflict both from a literary standpoint as well as a historical one.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: reading map, compare/contrast, characterization, simile (pages 9, 35, & 45), Reader’s Theater – teacher can assign character parts to 16 different students and have the students read out-loud. Students could even go beyond the text with projects such as (writing a biography of the person, dressing up as the character, etc)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: There are no major areas of concern contained in this book, unless the subject of war, death, killing, and blood is too much for certain individuals.   

RELATED BOOKS: The Red Badge of Courage, Across Five Aprils, Escape from Slavery: The Boyhood of Frederick Douglass in His Own Words

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Glory” (1989), “Gettysburg” (1993), “Gone With the Wind” (1939), “North and South” (TV – 2004/1985), “The Red Badge of Courage” (1951)

MUSIC CONNECTIONS: “Dixie”, “Yankee Doodle”, “The Star Spangled Banner”, “Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys”, “The Girl I Left Behind Me”

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.smplanet.com/civilwar/civilwar.html

http://www.sdcoe.k12.ca.us/score/bull/bulltg.html

http://www.audiobookshelf.com/bullrun_cc.html

http://www.sdcoe.k12.ca.us/score/civwnov/civilwar6.htm

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

The Teacher’s Funeral

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The Teacher’s Funeral

Author: Richard Peck

Page Length: 190

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Summer is winding down in August of 1904 and 15 year old Russell, his brother, Lloyd, and his friend, Charlie are enjoying their annual camp out by the river when news reaches them that Myrt Arbuckle has died. The boys are ecstatic – after all she is the only teacher in these parts and surely that means there will be no school this year. Russell feels sure that now he will be able to fulfill his dream of working with the harvesters on the all new threshing machines. A new teacher is found who can only be worse than the last. Russell and Lloyd just know that this will be the worst year ever. Before long, the privy’s on fire and there’s a snake in the teacher’s desk. Will the new teacher survive the year? Will Russell ever get out of town to live the life he has longed for?

REVIEW: Peck does a fabulous job of finding humor in many situations. The book rings true to what one would expect to find people saying and doing in rural America in 1904. The characters are adventurous and colorful. Peck’s books make you long to hear your grandparent’s stories (maybe teens never realized they could be this good). This book is a very entertaining read!

AREAS FOR TEACHING: historical context, narrative effect, predictions, inferences, summarization, point of view

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: none (funeral – but a humorous one)

RELATED BOOKS: Fair Weather, A Year Down Yonder, Here Lies the Librarian, On the Wings of Heroes

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.webenglishteacher.com/peck.html

http://nancykeane.com/booktalks/peck_teacher’s.htm

http://www.teachertube.com/view_video.php?viewkey=c7097e218b4fd6b767f4

http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9781400091041

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Project Mulberry

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Project Mulberry

Author: Linda Sue Park

Page Length: 217

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Julia and her best friend Patrick are in The Wiggle Club after school. The Wiggle Club teaches them about farming and animal care. Since, Patrick and Julia are hoping to win first prize at the state fair, they have to come up with a great project idea. The two decide to raise silkworms even though they both have secret reasons for not wanting to – neither one tells the other. They discover that raising silkworms is more challenging than it seemed. Through the adventure, they make new friends, overcome prejudices, and learn more about themselves and each other along the way. Can they pull the project together in time to win at the fair?

REVIEW: This story was entertaining and informative about agricultural pursuits and appreciation for the struggles of the American farmer. In addition, the story is eye-opening about prejudice everywhere – the elderly African-American gentlemen assumes the girl is white and then we he meets her, mistakes Korean for Chinese. The mother is portrayed as being prejudiced against black people. The kids overcome all of the barriers and simply see people for who they are.

The story might be more interesting to junior high and 6th grade students as it lacks typical teen appeal.

An interesting aspect of this book is that in between the chapters the author dialogues with the main character. These chats teach the reader about the writing process and how Park developed her characters and allowed the story to evolve along the way.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: main idea, author’s purpose, making predictions, cause and effect, chronological ordering, theme, plot, setting, characters

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: racial tensions and prejudice

RELATED BOOKS: A Single Shard, The Archer’s Quest, Keeping Score, The Kite Fighters, Click, Seesaw Girl

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.lspark.com/books.html

http://www.kidsreads.com/reviews/0618477861.asp

http://suzyred.com/2006projectmulberry.html

http://www.familyreads.com/2008/02/project-mulberr.html

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Losing is Not an Option

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Losing is Not An Option

Author: Rich Wallace

Page Length: 127

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Ron is an athlete who longs for the next running competition and can’t stop dreaming about coming in first. After each defeat, he intensely trains for the next meet. In between meets, Ron is the average high school guy who hangs out with his friends and longs for a girlfriend. He excels as a teenage poet and works hard on the basketball court tool. This book chronicles his crushes, friendships, hardships, and training in nine short stories.

REVIEW: Honestly, the first half of this book I wasn’t making the connection between the same character and the all the short stories. However, in the last half of the book the author seemed to do a better job of tying the stories together. The language in the book ranges from the f word to other frequently used curse words. The main character and his friend are propositioned at a carnival; the girls offer sex for money.  Underage drinking is present, drug use, and sexual innuendos. I would be careful in recommending this book; on the other hand, the Ron does a good job of remaining true to himself and his sport.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: main idea, author’s purpose, making predictions, chronological ordering, textual support

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: page 60 – “closet masturbator”, page 86 – “Ziploc bag of pot”, page 79 – “asshole”

RELATED BOOKS: Curveball, Wrestling Sturbridge, Shots on Goal, One Good Punch

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.answers.com/topic/rich-wallace

http://www.loveland.k12.oh.us/district/technology/ITech/LES/Reading/L.htm

http://www.authors4teens.com/introduction.jsp?authorid=rwallace

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Jacob Have I Loved

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Jacob Have I Loved

Author: Katherine Patterson

Page Length: 244

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The story opens in Chesapeake Bay in the 1940s. Sarah Louise and Caroline are twin sisters; yet, they couldn’t be more unlike each other. Sarah Louise is strong and independent while Caroline is small, frail, and beautiful. Caroline commands everyone’s attention and Louise has begun to feel anger at her fate. She longs for recognition and is tired of constantly sacrificing for Caroline. To make matters worse, her elderly grandmother lives with them. She knows how Louise feels and does nothing but taunts her with cruel and inappropriate remarks. Louise longs to break free from the hold Rass Island has on her; yet, it is Caroline who gets a scholarship to Juliard while Louise stays behind to run the family business. Will  Louise ever be able to find peace and her own happiness or will she be forever bound to the family she longs desperately to have freedom from?

REVIEW: The historical and rural aspects of the novel are well presented. The reader gets a feel for what it was like to grow up  with a “perfect” twin and bound by the societal norms of the 1940s. Readers can understand Louise’s need to break free and find her own way. This book is a Newberry Medal Winner and a good book for teaching perseverance, self-reliance, and for leading students to recognize their own strengths and gifts rather than lamenting that they do not have the talents of another. The book would likely appeal more to females – especially those who have a sister.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: historical context, narrative effect, predictions, inferences, compare and contrast, figurative language, author’s purpose

RELATED BOOKS: The King’s Equal, The Great Gilly Hopkins, Jip: His Story, Bridge to Terabithia

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.terabithia.com/books/jacob.html

http://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-jacob-have-i-loved/

http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/spring94/Liddie.html

http://www.allreaders.com/topics/info_29609.asp

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Locked Inside

Filed under: L — thebookreviews @ 4:43 pm
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Locked Inside

Author: Nancy Werlin

Page Length: 259

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Marnie is the teenage daughter of an American celebrity. Her mother was a famous self-help author and a singer-songwriter. Marnie’s mother died and she’s under the care of her guardian and trust fund controller, Max. Marnie is away at a boarding school where she would rather spend her time online playing against the The Elf in a magical world. Marnie’s grades are slipping and her friendships deteriorating; being Skye’s daughter isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Marnie is forced to go to lunch with her teacher. The next time she awakens she has a horrible headache, a swollen face, and she’s locked in a basement type room. Who has taken Marnie? What do they want? Will anyone care enough to save Marnie after her wretched behavior? Can they even save her before it’s too late?

REVIEW: This book was interesting in a strange way. It begins with the typical teenage issues. Marnie loves playing on the computer, isn’t motivated academically, and is having trouble wanting or making friends. Yet, the book takes an odd turn when the kidnapper turns out to have psychological issues and delusions related to her poor sense of self worth. Overall, there are important lessons learned by Marnie and her friends. Marnie begins to discover who she is and to leave the pain of the past behind her. This book would be a good read for computer savvy teens who like a psychological thriller with a little romance and teen issues mixed in.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: main idea, author’s purpose, predictions, cause and effect, chronological ordering, compare and contrast

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: suicide, kidnapping, parent who died, psychological duress

RELATED BOOKS: The Killer’s Cousin, Are You Along on Purpose?, Double Helix, Black Mirror, ImpossibIe, The Rules of Survival

Other teen books on the topic of kidnapping: The Face on the Milk Carton

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.nancywerlin.com/

http://litplans.com/authors/Nancy_Werlin.html

http://www.yabookscentral.com/cfusion/index.cfm?fuseAction=authors.viewAuthor&author_id=144

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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