The Book Reviews – Website

October 30, 2008

The Darwin Expedition

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The Darwin Expedition

Author: Diane Tullson

Page Length: 100

Reading Level: 2.5

Genre: Fiction, Action Adventure

PLOT SUMMARY: Tej and Liam are heading for a snowboarding holiday when an accident on the highway causes them to take a remote logging road as a detour. The road is not passable and the truck Tej is driving flips. The boys, now lost in the wilderness are not alone. They are being followed by a bear. They must use all their limited resources and their wits to stay alive.

REVIEW: I liked this book more than I expected to not really being an outdoors kind of girl myself. The boys face hunger, cold, dangerous terrain and of course the bear but are rescued in the end. They learn about themselves and each other in the process.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Cause and effect, character change over time, prediction

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: The tone of the book is tense with not much comic relief and the bear is scary.

RELATED BOOKS: Hatchet and other Gary Paulson books about survival

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.dianetullson.com

REVIEWED BY: Sherry Hall

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Exit Point

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Exit Point

Author: Laura Langston

Page Length: 110

Reading Level:

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Logan has already died in a car crash when this book begins, but he doesn’t realize he is dead yet. As the book progresses we find out he died before he was supposed to, taking exit point 2 out of his life instead of waiting until 5, the last exit point for all people. He struggles to accept what has happened and then to protect his younger sister from a pedophile from where he is now.

REVIEW: The book was a little odd and took me a few pages to get into. It reminded me of an old story we used to tell when I was in high school about a teenager who was killed after driving drunk. Logan sees and feels his parent’s grief at his funeral. He realizes the sick plans an uncle has for his younger sister and he feel frustrated about trying to help when no one can hear or see him. The tension builds pretty well until Logan is able to help his sister and accept his death and move on, but I didn’t find this to be a particularly enjoyable book.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Use of Characterization, characters change over time

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Many pages, page 110 – read carefully!!!

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.madd.org

www.drugfreeactionalliance.org

www.lauralangston.com

REVIEWED BY: Sherry Hall

Cruise Control

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Cruise Control

Author: Terry Trueman

Page Length: 149

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

 

PLOT SUMMARY: Paul McDaniel is a star athlete in high school. His life seems perfect, but it isn’t. Paul keeps bottling up his rage over his family situation; unfortunately, when he lets his rage out he is in danger of completely losing control. On the one hand, Paul loves his brother and longs for a typical relationship; on the other hand, he hates the conditions having his special needs brother in his life has created for his family. Paul’s dad left the family and now he’s the man of the house – unwanted responsibilities that are affecting his future. Will Paul ever break free and can he ever forgive his father?

 

REVIEW: This book takes a real look at what life might be like for a family with a severely handicapped child. Through Paul’s emotions we experience his anger at not having a normal life, his disappointment in his father’s inability to be the man of the house and handle the situation, and his anger with himself over not being a better brother and ever even thinking about wishing that his brother didn’t exist. Powerful and raw — this book is moving and very real.

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: description, imagery, word choice in writing, mood, tone, author’s purpose, sequence of events, cause and effect, internal conflict, external conflict

 

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Foul language interspersed throughout the story

 

RELATED BOOKS: Stuck in Neutral, Inside Out, No Right Turn

 

RELATED MOVIES: “Rain Man,” “Gaby,” “Touched by Love,” “Door to Door”

 

   

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

www.harperchildrens.com/webcontent/teachers_guides/pdf/0066239613.pdf

 

http://unjobs.org/authors/terry-trueman

 

http://www.terrytrueman.com/books_cruise.htm

 

http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/cerebral_palsy/cerebral_palsy.htm

 

http://www.terrytrueman.com/

 

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Lockdown

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Lockdown

Author: Diane Tullson

Page Length: 103

Reading Level: 2.9

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: An emotionally unstable student is pushed over the edge by thoughtless classmates and brings a gun to school causing a real lockdown. Panic and chaos ensue as the students realize this is not just another drill. One student who feels he can help takes a risk, but the ending is still not a happy one.

REVIEW:  This book broke my heart. Josh, the student who brings the gun, cares and knows all about the hamsters in his science class. Some of the other kids want to see the new babies and disrupt the nest and touch the babies causing the mother hamster to reject them and eat them. It is just too much for Josh who is a bit naïve and socially out of things but truly cares about the animals. He loses it, brings the gun, taunts his classmates, but ultimately ends up shooting and killing himself. Like I said, it broke my heart.

 AREAS FOR TEACHING: Point of view, cause and effect

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: pages 13-15 in the science class, and the rest of the book during the lockdown – especially the final pages.

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.dianetullson.com

REVIEWED BY: Sherry Hall

Saving Grace

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Saving Grace

Author: Darlene Ryan

Page Length: 97

Reading Level:

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Evie, a single teenage mom gives her baby up for adoption after being pressured by her father but she changes her mind. The book opens with her kidnapping her own child back from the adoptive parents. She has tricked her boyfriend, the baby’s father, into being her accomplice and he is less than thrilled. Evie’s plan is to go to Canada and raise the baby but tensions flare between Evie and Justin as the baby, who is sick and fussy continues to cry. Justin soon leaves and Evie and her baby try to make it to Canada alone without being spotted by the authorities.

REVIEW: I liked the book even though I just knew from the beginning it wasn’t going to work out for Evie the way she planned. Evie does come to understand that she isn’t able to take the best care of her child and she turns herself in because it is the right thing to do. The book ends before we find out what happened to Evie or the baby after that.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Point of view, character motivation

RELATED BOOKS: Spellbound by Janet McDonald

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Juno”

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.darleneryan.com

www.adoption.com

REVIEWED BY: Sherry Hall

Stuck in Neutral

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Stuck In Neutral

Author: Terry Trueman

Page Length: 114

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

 

PLOT SUMMARY: Shawn McDaniel is fourteen years old. He is the average teenager – interested in girls and sports. He has an amazing mind and can remember details from conversations. The problem is that no one knows how brilliant Shawn is because he can’t tell them. He’s confined to a wheelchair, unable to move or speak, and prone to violent seizures. Everyone thinks he is incapable of thought or feelings, except maybe his dad. Shawn’s father is fixated on his son’s suffering; he cannot stand to watch his body tremor during a seizure and he’s feels guilty about Shawn’s suffering. Shawn fears that his father may be plotting to kill him.

 

REVIEW: This book takes a powerful look at the what if. What if mental and physical impairments aren’t always as comprehensive as they seem?  What if what we have always assumed to be true isn’t true after all?  Trueman paints a vivid picture of what life might be like for Shawn – colorful, rich, and exciting in its own way. As The Horn Book reviewer writes “evoking one of our darkest fears and deepest hopes — that a fully conscious and intelligent being may be hidden within such a broken body, as yet unable to declare his existence.”

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: description, imagery, word choice in writing, mood, tone, author’s purpose

 

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: pages 91-93 – violence as Paul nearly beats to death two boys torturing his brother, seizure descriptions, anger from siblings

 

RELATED BOOKS: Cruise Control, Inside Out, No Right Turn

 

RELATED MOVIES: “Rain Man,” “Gaby,” & “Touched by Love”

 

   

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-stuck-in-neutral/

 

http://www.harperchildrens.com/webcontent/teachers_guides/pdf/0066239613.pdf

 

http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/cerebral_palsy/cerebral_palsy.htm

 

http://www.terrytrueman.com/

 

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Inside Out

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Inside Out

Author: Terry Trueman

Page Length: 117

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

 

PLOT SUMMARY: Zach isn’t your average high school guy. He suffers from Schizophrenia and is haunted by the voices inside his head. One day as he’s waiting for his mom to pick him up at a local store, a robbery takes place. The voices are beginning to talk inside Zach’s head, he’s past due for his medicine, and he’s in no shape to be a hostage. Will Zach get help before it’s too late or will the voices yelling “Die!” win out?

 

REVIEW: As if Schizophrenia by itself wasn’t bad enough, Zach running out of medication and being under the stress of a robbery only compounds the situation. The reader gets to feel what it’s like to be Zach. We can hear the voices, sense the tension, and feel how hard Zach has to fight for understanding and control. In that sense, the book is a beautiful tool for teaching others how it might feel to be in someone else’s shoes. On another note, the reason behind the robbery prompts much discussion in and of itself. Two teenage boys led to desperation by the need for money to care for their ailing mother end up in a horrible situation. Together they all learn from each other.

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: description, imagery, word choice in writing, mood, tone, author’s purpose, sequence of events, cause and effect, internal conflict, external conflict

 

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: quote – “he cocks the weapon and lifts it up, taking the muzzle into his mouth,” issue of suicide

 

RELATED BOOKS: Stuck in Neutral, Cruise Control, No Right Turn

 

RELATED MOVIES: “A Beautiful Mind” and “What About Bob”

 

   

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://www.terrytrueman.com/books_inside.htm

 

http://www.purplepens.com/inreview/review_insideout.htm

 

http://www.schizophrenia.com/

 

http://unjobs.org/authors/terry-trueman

 

http://www.terrytrueman.com/

 

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

House Party

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House Party

Author: Eric Walters

Page Length: 102

Reading Level:

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: When Casey’s parents go out of town they think she is staying at Jen’s house overnight, but Jen has other ideas. She talks Casey into having just a ‘small get-together’ with a ‘few friends.’ The party gets wildly out of control ending with property damage, police and ambulances.

REVIEW: This book was ok and I think fairly realistic. As a high school student who did have a house party while my parents were out of town (yes I got caught) I could relate to many aspects of what happened in the book, although thankfully not to such a large degree. A lot of the unknown, uninvited kids who show up at this party read about it on somebody’s webpage. That is a scary thought considering just how out of control things can get without everyone on the World Wide Web being invited. Before the party Casey is worried someone might spill something on the carpet or throw up. Those worries come to pass, but they are only the beginning. Lamps and windows are broken, the crowd grows to over 200 people and fights break out. The book ends with Casey getting ready to face her parents and take responsibility for her actions.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Cause and effect, prediction

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Lots of underage drinking on the party pages and a couple is interrupted in the parent’s bedroom during the party.

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.ericwalters.net

REVIEWED BY: Sherry Hall

 

October 17, 2008

Mary on Horseback

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Mary on Horseback

Author: Rosemary Wells

Page Length: 53

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Biography

PLOT SUMMARY: The year is 1923. People in the hills of Kentucky are dying from lack of medical care. Mary Breckinridge is a nurse destined to change the lives of the people she cares for. John’s pa is a logger who has been injured by a giant log falling on his leg. A child is ill with diphtheria. Twins are born and the mother is failing. What would the people do without Mary? Can she save them all? When will medical supplies and help arrive?

REVIEW: This story is a true account of the help that Mary Breckinridge brought to the people of Kentucky. She worked tirelessly with limited supplies to bring relief and hope. Mary creates her on frontier nursing service. This story is good for examining the life of someone who refused to give up when times were tough. Students will learn from her “will do whatever it takes to get it done attitude.” Three brief stories make this book ideal for classroom use. Students can stay engaged and entertained.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: historical context, character traits, visualizing, understanding author’s purpose, cause and effect

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: dealing with death

RELATED BOOKS: The Fog Comes on Little Pig Feet, Leave Well Enough Alone, When No One Was Looking, Through the Hidden Door, Wide Neighborhoods: A Story of the Frontier Nursing Service (written by Mary Breckinridge)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://biography.jrank.org/pages/1112/Wells-Rosemary-1943.html

http://www.nursingadvocacy.org/press/pioneers/breckinridge.html

http://www.frontiernursing.org/History/MaryBreckinridge.shtm

http://www.greatwomen.org/women.php?action=viewone&id=27

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Mr. Blue Jeans A Story About Levi Strauss

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Mr. Blue Jeans: A Story About Levi Strauss

Author: Maryann N. Weidt

Page Length: 61

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Biography

PLOT SUMMARY: Lob Strauss is a teenage boy strolling the streets of his small Bavarian village peddling his wares. His father died two years ago and he and his brothers must do all that they can to care for their mother and his sisters. His step brothers have gone to America and write home of gold and good fortune. Desperate for a better life, his mother, his sisters, and he decide to go to America. Lob arrives in America and finds his name changed to Levi. His adventures and struggles begin. Levi travels the countryside with this peddler’s sack. Eventually, he ends up joining his brothers in California and designing the ever famous Levi blue jeans.

REVIEW: This book read as well as most biographies (which to me is a little dry and boring). However, it was informative and historically entertaining. It was very interesting to read of Levi’s passage to America and his adventures as he sought his own fame and fortune. This book would be a good companion to the immigration unit in social studies.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: historical context, character traits, visualizing, understanding author’s purpose, cause and effect, sequence of events, connecting text to self

RELATED BOOKS: Levi Strauss: The Man Behind the Blue Jeans, Rosa Parks, Oh the Places He Went, Daddy Played Music for the Cows

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.maryannweidt.com/

www.levistrauss.com

www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/people/s_z/strauss.htm

http://web.mit.edu/invent/iow/strauss.html

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

The Crossing

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The Crossing

Author: Gary Paulsen

Page Length: 114

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Manny is a fourteen year old orphan surviving on the streets of Juarez, Mexico. Manny’s nights are spent in a cardboard box and his days planning how to outwit the older, meaner gang members so that he can grab coins being thrown off the bridge by tourists. Manny dreams of leaving Juarez for the United States. One fateful night Manny decides to try his luck against the border patrol. He runs into the sergeant, a career military man who is haunted by his past. Manny and the sergeant develop an unlikely friendship that is put to the test one fateful night. Will Manny ever make it to the United States, or will he fail like so many others before him?

REVIEW: The book was stark and realistic. The sergeant is depicted in all his military perfection and glory, but also shown realistically as a man haunted by the demons of war. He spends his evenings numbing his mind with alcohol. Manny is ever hopeful despite his sparse lifestyle. He’s a great character to study for strength and perseverance. He never stops trying to better his conditions no matter how hopeless it may seem. This book is very real and in it’s own way violent, dark, and graphic; however, it would likely capture and keep the attention of male students.

Reading this book and also reading an editorial on the need for border patrol might make for a very interesting classroom discussion.

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

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: alcohol, violence, bull fight (with the goring of the bull), post traumatic stress flashbacks, illegal activity

RELATED BOOKS: The Rifle, Brian’s Winter, Hatchet, Good-bye and Keep Cold, Fallen Angels, The Island

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://martsubhub.lib.wv.us:8000/kcweb/kcContent?isbn=9780531057094&type=review&controlnumber=+++87007738&referedby=titlelist

http://www.bookrags.com/The_Crossing_(Paulsen)

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

http://www.pbs.org/pov/utils/highimpact/delvedeeper/ddborder.pdf

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/26/books/26paul.html?pagewanted=2

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

The Great Gilly Hopkins

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The Great Gilly Hopkins

Author: Katherine Paterson

Page Length: 148

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Galadriel Hopkins, or Gilly, is on the move again to yet another foster home. Gilly could really care less. She’s in control and she can get rid of this one too. Who wants to live in a house with some small dumb boy and old ratchet woman anyway? 

Gilly can’t believe the new place she’s been sent to by her social worker. Even worse than her foster home is the fact that she has a “colored” neighbor and a “colored” teacher. Gilly dreams about her beautiful mother and just knows that one day she will sweep in and rescue her. Gilly begins to learn that things are not always as they seem or even as she might hope they would be. But, with every cloud there is a silver lining even for Galadriel Hopkins.

REVIEW: I enjoyed reading this story. The reader empathizes with Gilly’s situation and even sees right through her tough girl act. Paterson does a brilliant job will all of the characters. The reader develops relationships with the characters as Gilly does. We even share Gilly’s disappointment in her mother. This book is a very touching and seemingly authentic account of what life might be like for a foster child. Recommended read!

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause and effect, anticipation reaction guide, sequence, compare and contrast text to self

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: emotions of being a foster child

RELATED BOOKS: Jacob Have I Loved, Jip: His Story, The King’s Equal, Bridge to Terabithia

 

RELATED MOVIES: “Annie,” “The Little Princess,” “Angels in the Outfield”

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.bookrags.com/The_Great_Gilly_Hopkins

http://www.quia.com/jg/66642.html

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

http://www.enotes.com/great-gilly-lesson/

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Bridge to Terabithia

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Bridge to Terabithia

Author: Katherine Paterson

Page Length: 163

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Jess is a fifth grader. His greatest ambitions in life so far have been to be the fastest runner in 5th grade (something he practices by running around the pasture in the morning) and to figure how to please his father (something that seems impossible). It looks to be another typical year until a new neighbor moves in. Leslie Burke isn’t the typical neighbor. She’s a girl, and her parents have moved to a rural error to get away.

Jess and Leslie become great friends. They play together and Leslie’s vast imagination takes them into the world of Terabithia. In this world they are the king and queen and rule of spirits and other beings. Their imagination takes them away each day to a magical place. One day something tragic happens. Terabithia and Jess may never be the same again.

REVIEW: I saw the movie before I read this book (and I found the movie disappointing because it was all supposed to be imagined and it did not seem well connected). Reading the book is of course better than watching the movie. The book is entertaining – especially for readers who enjoy fantasy.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: description, imagery, word choice in writing, use of a thesaurus, plot development, author’s purpose

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: accident resulting in the death of child

RELATED BOOKS: Jacob Have I Loved, Jip: His Story, The King’s Equal, The Great Gilly Hopkins

 

RELATED MOVIES: “Bridge to Terabithia”

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.terabithia.com/

http://www.apple.com/trailers/disney/bridgetoterabithia/

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

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/60951/bridge_to_terabithia_sequenced_lesson.html?cat=4

http://www.nt.net/~torino/bridge.html

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

The Rifle

Filed under: T — thebookreviews @ 7:50 pm
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The Rifle

Author: Gary Paulsen

Page Length: 105

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The story begins west of Philadelphia in 1768. Cornish McManus has opened a new gunsmithing business. His business struggles but good fortune prevails. McManus crafts a rifle so perfect and accurate it is a masterpiece like no other. He loves the gun, but desperate to provide for his family, he sells it. John Byam gains the rifle and uses it as a sharp shooter in the American Revolution. He becomes legendary for his sure shot from far away; indeed, the rifle is a formidable weapon. The rifle changes hands again and again to owners who simply possess or admire it for awhile and are forced to sell or exchange it later. Through the years, the rifle travels. No one has ever checked to see if the rifle was loaded and the consequences may be disastrous.

REVIEW: The first part of this story does contain excessive details about rifle crafting and at time readers may lose engagement; however, the story picks up nicely and progresses well.

Lessons abound in this story. One – think carefully about what you design and create (we could even tell students about their actions in general), because you never know what may one day become of it. Two – weapons are always weapons and should be respected accordingly (a quick web search would reveal a number of teens and children who have died in accidental shootings). As one review site points out – Paulsen reminds the reader that weapons don’t kill – people (their mistakes and actions) do. It’s a powerful story with a tragic and memorable ending.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: historical context, creating a timeline, predictions,  causes and effects, summarization, question the text, comprehending impact on point of view

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: use of weapon to kill others (war), shooting

RELATED BOOKS: The Crossing, Brian’s Winter, Hatchet, Good-bye and Keep Cold, Fallen Angels, The Island, The Foxman, Tracker

RELATED MOVIES: “The Crossing,” “Johnny Tremain”, “The Patriot”

RELATED ART: http://americanrevolution.org/artmain.html

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/Rifle.html

http://www.chenowith.k12.or.us/whs/students/conlit/the_rifle/

http://inkweaver-review.blogspot.com/2008/04/rifle-by-gary-paulson.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/26/books/26paul.html?pagewanted=2

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Nightjohn

Filed under: N — thebookreviews @ 7:45 pm
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Nightjohn

Author: Gary Paulsen

Page Length: 98

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Nightjohn tells the story of slavery in the deep south. Sarny is a young girl being raised by old Delie who raises all the young slaves. Sarny’s birth mother was sold off as a breeder when she was young. Sarny knows of all sorts of human atrocities. She has seen and knows of people being whipped, beaten, hung, and even raped. Delie keeps sticks to tell how she old is (about 12) and worries about the trouble coming to her. One day, a new slave named Nightjohn arrives. Sarny can tell that he is different than all the rest. She soon learns out why. Nightjohn can read (something slaves are forbidden to do). Nightjohn begins to teach Sarny and the troubles begin. Sarny loves making letters and is caught drawing them in the dirt. What lengths will Waller go to in order to keep what he considers his slaves from learning to read? Will they be willing to pay the price for knowledge anyway?

REVIEW: What a great lesson this book is about the value of education. Students can begin to explore why the slave owners wanted their slaves to be illiterate. This story is graphic but historically sound. The characters and the events in the story are well developed and moving.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: historical context, creating a timeline, predictions, causes and effects, summarization, question the text, comprehending impact on point of view, sequence of events, setting

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: pg. 44 “every time there was somebody to be on the wall … and be whipped or other punishments we all had to watch”

Graphic descriptions of whippings and salt being put in wounds while the wounded was left tied up for the flies to infect the wounds

Graphic descriptions of a beating and toes being chopped off

Language “god damn you — don’t you lie to me” pg. 63

RELATED BOOKS: The Crossing, Brian’s Winter, Hatchet, Good-bye and Keep Cold, Fallen Angels, The Island, The Foxman, Tracker, Dogsong, The Foxman, The River Between Us

RELATED MOVIES: “Nightjohn” produced by The Disney Channel

RELATED ART: http://www.superstock.com/stock-photography/Slavery/art

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.bookrags.com/shortguide-nightjohn/

http://faculty.salisbury.edu/~elbond/night2.htm

http://school.discoveryeducation.com/schooladventures/slavery/

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/26/books/26paul.html?pagewanted=2

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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