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January 1, 2011

The Rag and Bone Shop

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The Rag and Bone Shop

Author: Robert Cormier

Page Length: 154   

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: In Part 1, Detective Trent of Vermont, has just been successful in obtaining two confessions for two separate murder cases.  However, he has lost his wife in a fatal car accident and must return home alone.  Since his wife died, he has experienced bouts of loneliness and depression.

As Part 2 begins, Jason Dorrant is enjoying the luxury of sleeping late on the first day of summer.  He decides to go over to Brad’s house for a swim or maybe just to help Brad’s younger sister, Alicia put a jigsaw puzzle together.  He actually likes Alicia better than Brad and has helped her with puzzles before, although she is the master at assembling the puzzles.

Tragedy hits as Jason learns the following day that Alicia was found not only dead, but murdered and left in the woods.  Jason is believed to be the last one to see Alicia alive and is questioned by the police about what he remembers.  Under pressure from a U. S. senator, whose granddaughter knew Alicia, Lieutenant Braxton seeks the services of Trent from Vermont to help solve the case.  With no substantial evidence, Jason appears to be the prime suspect.

As Trent sets up his interrogation, he reviews the scenario and deposition Jason has already submitted.  It doesn’t seem likely that Jason is the killer, but Trent is a specialist at getting confessions and he feels confident as he enters the small room which has been set up to make Jason feel intimidated by his size, position and voice.  Jason believes he is being interviewed only for additional help to the police’s investigation.   As the interrogation proceeds, Jason begins to feel inadequate in his answers, then threatened by Trent’s questions.  Both Trent and Jason believe they know the truth, but as both feel pressure, neither seems to know what the real truth is.

REVIEW: This is a fast-paced suspenseful book which creates tension within the reader from the first pages of the book.  As the plot develops, the reader will try to determine the outcome.  The characters of both Jason and Trent are well-developed and the chemistry and tension between them in their interview is realistic.

At the end of the book, a reader’s guide is included as well as an interview with the author.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Characters, Conflict, Theme, Conclusions, Predictions and Outcomes, Voice, Mood, Tone

RELATED BOOKS: Frenchtown Summer, Heroes

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.litplans.com/authors/Robert_Cormier.htm

www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Rag-and-BoneShop-by-Robert-Cormier-2-week-unit-plan

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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The People of Sparks

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The People of Sparks

Author: Jeanne DuPrau

Page Length: 154

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: In this sequel to The City of Ember, Lina and Doon lead the residents of the underground into the village of Sparks.  They are a surprise to the people of Sparks but are housed, fed and taught to live off the land.  Conflicts between the two communities begin to occur because of lack of supplies.  The people of Ember are used to a life with electricity and comforts of the world before the Disaster.  The people of Sparks are accustomed to providing for themselves.

As the book progresses, Doon is intrigued by the one of the leaders of the underground people, Tick.  He is aggressive and wants to overtake the people of Sparks.  Doon finds it hard to follow Tick’s military style of leadership.

Lina leaves with the brother of the family she is staying with to explore the unknown area of the disaster.  The journey is more than she had thought she would encounter and she eventually makes her way back to the village. 

She finds Doon and together, they again try to save their people.

REVIEW: The characters are well-developed as well as the theme of this futuristic fiction novel. Young teens who enjoyed The Hunger Games and The Giver would like this book, too.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: None

AREAS OF TEACHING: Theme, Conflict, Character, Sequence of Events

RELATED BOOKS: Book of Ember, The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, The Giver, and Gathering Blue

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.randomhouse.com/teachers/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780375828249&view=tg

www.suzyred.com/2006cityofember.html

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The City of Ember (2008)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

The Moves Make the Man

The Moves Make the Man

 

Author: Bruce Brooks

 

Page Length: 252  

 

Reading Level: 8

 

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Jerome Foxworthy, an intelligent African American, spots Bix Rivers playing baseball one year prior to the composing of the story of Bix.  Bix catches his attention because Jerome has never seen anyone who has mastered the skill and art of baseball like Bix.

Jerome is the only black student attending the junior high school in his neighborhood.  Jerome’s first love is basketball and he goes to try-outs for the school team, but is not allowed to play because of his color. After Jerome’s mother is in an accident, Jerome decides to enroll in a home economics class so that he can cook for his brothers while his mother heals.  He discovers he is not the only male member of the class, Bix Rivers; the talented baseball player also belongs to the class.  The boys immediately bond and Jerome teaches Bix to play basketball in the evenings. 

As the boy’s relationship grows, Jerome learns that Bix cannot tolerate any form of lying, or “his definition” for lying. This intolerance for non-truths has caused significant repercussions in Bix’s life which Jerome tries to understand.

REVIEW: This is a well-written book that has great character development and descriptive writing.  The description of the game of basketball (p. 59), the reference of “white man’s disease” (p. 95), and Bix’s view of friendship (p.159) are examples of Brook’s excellent writing skills.  The bond of friendship between Bix and Jerome is one that young men can relate to, in that; males accept each other just as they are.  The boy’s both have family issues that are also common to the young teen-age male.  In addition, racial issues are a sub-plot that Jerome must deal with throughout the story. 

I think both boys and girls would enjoy this book because of the drama and conflict the characters encounter as they move through their first year of junior high   

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Character, Conflict, Setting, Theme and Point of View

RELATED BOOKS: Slam, Learning the Game, The Boy Who Saved Baseball, Hardball

RELATED WEBSITES:

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

www.webenglishteacher.com/brooks.html

www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1992/4/92.04.04.x.html

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

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Mossflower

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Mossflower

Author: Brian Jacques

 

Page Length: 373

 

Reading Level: 6.9

 

Genre: Fiction, Adventure

 

Career Connections: None           

PLOT SUMMARY: Badgers, mice, weasels, squirrels, and a bird, take on human characteristics and battle the wildcat, Tsarmina to get possession of Mossflower.  Tsarmina becomes the Queen of a Thousand Eyes after poisoning her father and imprisoning her brother.  She forces the Woodlanders to work for her as slaves.

When Martin the Warrior meets Gonff (both mice) in the dungeon of Kotir, the two plan an escape.   With the help of other creatures of the forest, they go on a quest to locate Boar the Fighter.  As they cross the country, they develop friendships that support each other, despite their differences.  They exhibit respect for the older animals for their knowledge and cherish their history. 

Tsarmina’s soldiers and Martin and his Woodlanders eventually engage in a fierce battle while Gonff, the Mousethief, sings a song for every event. As the story concludes, good rules over evil.REVIEW: This is an animal fantasy that is full of action.  There are heroes, villains, adventure and romance with all of the characters, created quite descriptively with many human qualities.  The book is a prequel to Redwall, the first of the multiple book series.

The book would be an excellent class novel to read when studying cultural differences, as it shows how the animals, with varied differences, demonstrate the ability to get along in a diverse community.  Gonff’s poetry could be used to help students write short poems.  The food the animals eat sounds simply delicious and students could create recipes.

The writing is descriptive with lots of action and adventure.  I think boys would enjoy this book more than girls.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: None

AREAS OF TEACHING: Simile/Metaphor, Characters, Setting, Descriptive Writing, Poetry, Cultural Diversity, and Personification

RELATED BOOKS: The Redwall Chronicles (20 books), Redwall Picture Books (2 books), and The Tribes of Redwall Series (3 books)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.teachervision.fen.com/curriculum-planning/teaching-methods/3803.html  

www.redwall.org 

 

MOVIE & TV CONNECTIONS: Redwall: The Movie (TV-2000), Redwall: The Movie (to be released 2011)

 

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

The Road of the Dead

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The Road of the Dead

Author: Kevin Brooks

Page Length: 339

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Ruben has always been different. He can sense what others are thinking or feeling even when they’re not near him. One night he senses that his sister Rachel is in pain and is gripped by fear. The next day, his family finds out that Rachel was murdered. He and his older brother Cole set out on to avenge her death and find out who killed her. Before long, they are themselves victims of violence. Trapped in a web of deceit and surrounded by people who want to silence them permanently, Cole and Ruben must fight their way out. Their only goal is to take Rachel’s body home for a proper burial... if they can make it back alive.

REVIEW: Typical Kevin Brooks book – edgy, violent, dark, foul mouthed, violent… To some teens though – this might be interesting. I found the book to be a little shallow and unrealistic – 2 boys taking on an entire town – what are the chances? The fact that the girl has been raped and murdered is a little dark (not something the teenage mind always needs more of). The review on the back of the book mentions “brutal, vivid violence” – I totally concur. I would not read this book as a class. On a historical note, the road of the dead was a passageway, funeral processions walked along to arrive to the final resting place of the body many years ago.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: imagery, author’s purpose, sequence of events, cause and effect

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: many – violence, shooting, torture, rape, dead bodies, etc.

RELATED BOOKS: Lucas, Candy, Being

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.teenreads.com/reviews/0439786231.asp

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/apr/29/featuresreviews.guardianreview35

http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/contributor.jsp?id=2614

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

What Athletes Are Made Of

What Athletes Are Made Of

Author and Illustrator: Hanoch Piven and Sarah Thompson

Page Length: 34

Reading Level: 5.1

Genre: Biography

Career Connection: Professional Athletes

SUMMARY & REVIEW: This book is for the sports lover written by a sports lover.

We learn that Muhammad Ali had a “big mouth”, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar coached high school on an Apache reservation, Babe Ruth had a huge appetite, Jesse Owens proved Hitler wrong, Tiger Woods considers himself a “Cablinasian”, David Beckham once wore pink nail polish to match his girlfriends, and Pele played with a soccer ball made of a sock stuffed with newspapers. These are just a few facts that packed into this creative book filled with 23 mini-biographies of athletes. Each biography is 5-10 sentences long.

The first page provides the reader an introduction to why athletes and sports games are enjoyable to watch and respected. The author begins each mini biography with the following line:

“Athletes are made of…”

At the end of each biography, the author provides the reader with a “Did You Know” fact relating to either the athlete or his/her sport.

At the end of the book, a “Post-Game Recap” with statistics and career highlights of all the athletes is featured.  

The following athletes are highlighted in this book: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Andre Agassi, Muhammad Ali, Lance Armstrong, David Beckham, Joe DiMaggio, Jeff Gordon, Wayne Gretzky, Mia Hamm, Michael Jordan, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Diego Maradona, Joe Namath, Martina Navratilova, Jesse Owens, Pele, Babe Ruth, Michael Schumacher, Annika Sorenstam, Jim Thorpe, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, and Tiger Woods.

The sports represented in this book include basketball, tennis, boxing, cycling, soccer, baseball, racing, track and field, football, golf, pentathlon, and decathlon.

This is a very creative book. It not only provides the reader a clear and concise biography of each athlete, each individual is illustrated using traditional drawings as well as objects. For example, Tiger Woods’ eye brows are illustrated using “nails”. Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s legs are illustrated using “rulers”. Lance Armstrong’s mouth is illustrated using a “rubber band”.

The only criticism I have with this book is that the majority of the athletes students may not recognize. This book may not be engaging for students if left to read on their own. However, providing insight into unfamiliar athletes provides the teacher and student an opportunity for new learning. The addition of mini-biographies will help students engage with the book as compared to other lengthier biographies. Students will most likely recognize Lance Armstrong, Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, and Tiger Woods.

Students with a passion for art will enjoy this book. This would be a great book to share with art teachers.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: art, biography, compare/contrast

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: none

RELATED BOOKS: What Presidents Are Made Of by Hanoch Piven, Xtreme Sports Fast Track by Joe Layden, Amazing But True Sports Stories by Hollander

ART CONNECTIONS:

http://www.pivenworld.com (art work website of the author)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/2010/2/10.02.03.x.html

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_7729/is_200703/ai_n32211245/

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

The Realm of Possibility

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The Realm of Possibility

Author: David Levithan

Page Length: 210

Reading Level:

Genre: Poetry

PLOT SUMMARY: This book is a collection of poems that shares the thoughts, emotions, and stories of different characters. The characters are high school age. Relationships of all types are detailed – boys together, girls together, and boy / girl. The poems cover the gamut of love from reeling elated at the possibility of a new relationship, to feeling low after not finding love, to finding harmony with each other. Some of the characters also endure hardships and discover more about whom they are and why they act as they have.

REVIEW: I did not enjoy reading this book. I find constantly assessing and deciphering the language of poetry tiresome in an entire book form. There were moments of the poems that I enjoyed; however, overall, the book was tedious.

If you love poetry, you will likely love this book and find many examples of well written poems and forms of expression that you could share with your students.

The one poem I found particularly interesting was one where a character starts writing words on the desk to express whatever comes to mind. These words have impact on the students who see them. The result of the expression – a girl who writes all over her body all of the words that define her – to others who react after reading the words – would provide for an interesting discussion of who we really are and why. See “Comeuppance” 153-163. It might even be interesting to provide students with a silhouette of a body shape and have them fill in the words that describe them before or after reading the poem.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: adjectives, description, poetic forms

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: poems about sex and love between both heterosexual and homosexual couples, a poem about visiting a sex shop (172-179)

RELATED BOOKS: Boy Meets Boy, All That Glitters, Are We There Yet?, Crush, Kissing Kate, I’ve Known Since I was Eight, Thinking Straight, Hero

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.alexsanchez.com/gay_teen_books.htm

http://www.amazon.com/Top-5-Gay-Teen-Life-Novels/lm/1BSXC4W729GZ3

http://www.davidlevithan.com/

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

The Parallel Universe of Liars

The Parallel Universe of Liars

Author: Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson

Page Length: 218

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Robin is 15 and has the good fortune of living next door to (Frankie) the hottest guy on the planet. Despite her good fortune, life seems to be the pits right now. Her best friend has just moved away, and no matter who she’s around sex seems to be something that everyone has in common. She’s seen the next door neighbor and his girlfriend, her mother and Dick, and even the next door neighbor and her stepmother. Unfortunately, Robin isn’t immune either. As Frankie begins to make advances toward Robin, she has a decision to make. Will she too join the parallel universe of liars? Can she resist him? What about the new relationship developing with Tri?

REVIEW: My first reaction to this book – is that there is no way I would want to use it as a classroom discussion piece. The book is frankly all about sex. Robin knows what her mother calls out during sex. She knows that Frankie and China watch pornography while having sex. She knows what Janice and Frankie do during sex. She is also propositioned by Frankie and does not effectively resist. Even her best friend, who has moved away, writes to her about being kissed by another girl. Sexuality is everywhere in this book.

The book of course does deal with the topic realistically. It might be a good book for a parent and teen to read (15 and up) to discuss how people can be used for sex, why a teen should consider their partners, how dangerous having a relationship with someone older and more experienced can be, etc.

There is also a useful discussion provided for talking about the detriments of finding worth only in one’s appearance. However, the author does fail to address the severity of the inappropriate relationship between a 22 and a 15 year old.

Exercise caution in recommending the book – parental issues could occur.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause and effect, analogies, elements of plot, author’s purpose 

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES:

 “Her naked breasts make me shivery and nervous. Frankie works them with his mouth..” (41)

“Under my hand …it begins to get bigger, then hard, and incredibly smooth” (114)

“he’s gasping and shuddering and my hand is a gushy mess” (124)

“my nipples turn into hard buttons under his tongue …his shifts to run his penis against my privates…convulsing and sending gush all over my tummy” (139)

RELATED BOOKS: Gone, Dumb Love, A Fast and Brutal Wing, Target

RELATED WEBSITES:

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

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa4063/is_200301/ai_n9183385REVIEW

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

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Monsoon Summer

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Monsoon Summer

Author: Mitali Perkins

Page Length: 257

 

Reading Level: 5

 

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Jazz Gardner has to tell her business partner, Steve Morales, (best friend and secret love of her life) that she will be traveling to India with her family for the summer.  Her mother has received a grant for the orphanage in which she was adopted from several years earlier.  Having no choice, Jazz tells Steve good-bye, with sadness that he will find a girlfriend while she is gone. 

Upon arriving in India, Jazz decides to attend the local school rather than work at the orphanage.  However, her brother gets involved with the orphans by coaching them soccer, and her dad, a loner, becomes obsessed with teaching the nuns who run the orphanage computer skills.  Meanwhile, her mother is fulfilling her dream of making the orphanage a safe-haven for pregnant women of India to come and receive medical services.

Steve writes her letters, but Jazz cannot find the words to respond to him.  She pens many letters, but hides them away.  When Danita, one of the girls at the orphanage, starts to cook and clean for the Gardner’s, Jazz opens up to her and tells her how she feels about Steve. 

Jazz meets girls at the school who try to get her involved by attending dances after school.  Jazz has only danced once (with Steve at the eighth grade dance) and she was a complete klutz.  Jazz feels she is too large and clumsy to be attractive, not petite like her mom.  She eventually starts to take ceremonial dance from Danita for a performance they will give at the opening of the orphanage.

As Jazz observes her family at the orphanage, learns of Danita’s destiny of being an orphan, and raffles through her relationship with Steve, she realizes that there is a gift in giving and opens her heart to touch others. 

REVIEW: This is an excellent coming of age book for junior high and high school girls to read.  Jazz lacks confidence, specifically because her mother exemplifies a super-woman.  She is cautious in giving of herself after being taken advantage of by a druggie, earlier in the year. As Jazz observes the poverty in India, she realizes she has much to be grateful for and understands her mother’s mission to help the people of her home country. Through her relationships with Danita and her girlfriends she makes at the school, Jazz gains the confidence she needs to tell Steve her feelings and make good mature decisions about her life.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Setting, Characters, Compare/Contrast, and Point of View

RELATED BOOKS: The Kite Runner, Born Confused

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.mitaliperkins.com/monsoon_summer.html

www.emerson.k12.nj.us/staff/LTHOMAS/LNK0002320.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Millicent Min Girl Genius

Millicent Min Girl Genius

Author: Lisa Yee

Page Length: 248

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Millicent Min is eleven years old and is enrolling in her first college class.  She is a genius and has appeared on TV talk shows, made the Dean’s Honor Roll, and is about to begin her senior year in high school.  Millicent is very intelligent, but has no idea of how to make friends or even have a normal conversation.

Her mother forces her to join a volleyball team and through her grandmother’s friend, she is forced to begin peer tutoring for Sanford Wong, the dumbest athlete in school.  Millicent is close to her grandmother, Maddie, who is about to leave on an extended trip to Europe. With a hatred for sports, ignorant boys, and the departure of her grandmother, Millicent is dreading the summer.  She only looks forward to the poetry class she has enrolled in at the local college.

Millicent actually has no friends, but at volleyball practice, a new girl, Emily befriends her.  Excited that Emily likes her, Millicent hides the fact that she is a genius from Emily.  She is afraid that Emily will not like her if she is aware of how smart she is and her placement in high school. As the story continues, Emily meets Stanford, the incorrigible jock that Millicent tutors.  When Stanford and Emily are attracted to each other, the plot thickens as Stanford tries to hide his lack of intelligence and Millicent becomes the “third party” in the triangular friendship.

REVIEW: The book is a narrative told from Millicent’s point of view.  The character development is excellent and the relationships between the families and friends are very realistic.  Lisa Yee includes humor and sarcasm, in how Millicent views the people who are apart of her life. I enjoyed this book immensely and would suggest it especially for junior high and high school girls to read.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Point of View, Compare/Contrast, Theme, and Characters

RELATED BOOKS: Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time, Totally Emily Ebers

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.webenglishteacher.com/childlit-y.html

www.scasl.net/bookawards/JBA_Activity_Guides_06_07.doc

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Maximum Ride The Angel Experiment

Maximum Ride The Angel Experiment

Author: James Patterson

Page Length: 440

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction, Adventure

PLOT SUMMARY: Maximum Ride got to name herself because she is a fourteen-year-old girl who is the result of genetic experimentation conducted in a lab.  She has wings as a result of avian genes injected into human embryos. She is 98% human and 2 % bird.

Maximum lives with five other kids who have her same genetic make-up.  They are called “bird children” and call themselves, “the flock”.  Fang is a boy, four months younger than Max.  The other members are: Iggy, another boy blinded by an experiment at the lab, Nudge, a girl who talks in excess, Gasman, an eight-year-old boy with stomach problems, and Angel, his six year old sister.

The group was raised at the lab in cages and subjected to many experiments.  Then, Jeb Batchelder, one of the lab scientists, took them to his home in the mountains and educated and nurtured them as a father would his own children.  When he suddenly disappeared, two years ago, Max, being the oldest, was put in charge of “the flock”. 

One day, Erasers (other experimental beings who can become wolf-like creatures) appear at the mountain home and kidnap Angel. Led by Max, “the flock” begins the journey to find Angel, discover their real parents’ identity, and get revenge on an unlikely traitor.

REVIEW: Full of adventure, mystery, and suspense this would be a good book to use as a class novel.  The characters, along with the action, provide good descriptive reading.  I believe young adults would identify with the loyalty the children exhibit for each other and enjoy the fantasy of what genetic experimentation may provide in the future.

This is an excellent book for boys, girls and adults to read.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: None

AREAS OF TEACHING: Figurative Language, Simile and Metaphors, Compare/Contrast, Theme, Character, Sequence of Events, and Cause/Effect

RELATED BOOKS: Maximum Ride: School’s Out Forever, Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.maximumride.com

www.jamespattterson.com

www.nytimes.com/learning/teachers/NIE/cguides.html

http://readkiddoread.com/home#

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Maximum Ride (set to release in 2013)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Here Today

 

Here Today

Author: Ann M. Martin

Page Length: 308

Reading Level: 5

 

Genre: Fiction

 

Career Connections: Teacher, Model, Construction  

PLOT SUMMARY: Living on Witch Street in 1963 with a mother who dreams of being an actress is not the ideal life Ellie Dingman would ask for, but she appears to deal with her circumstances in a very mature manner for a sixth grader. While her mother Doris participates in community plays and takes dance lessons, Ellie makes sure her little brother and sister, Albert and Marie are fed and nurtured.  It is after the assassination of JFK, that Ellie sees her family unit beginning to dissolve.

The inhabitants of Witch Street are ridiculed by the home townspeople.  The children are of Jewish descent and are raised by an unwed mother. Ellie’s mother is an eccentric model/actress.  There are also two unrelated women who live together who are accused of being “lesbians”.  The children are hazed daily on their bus ride to school and frequent malicious incidents happen in the neighborhood.

Unaware of these events, Doris Day Dingman, searches for her identity while abandoning her husband and children.  Desperate to see her mother, Ellie uses her savings to travel to New York City to find out where her mother is living and working.  Ellie discovers that her mother has taken a job at a department store and lives in a small one room apartment.

Upon her return home, Ellie begins to stand up for not only herself but for her family and neighborhood.

REVIEW: Set in 1963, the book was interesting for me to read as I could relate to the exact time of JFK’s assassination and the feelings of the country that are reflected.  The story is tragic in that it characterizes a mother who seeks her own wants and needs rather than those of her family. Also, the ridicule and humiliation the children endure at school is cruel.  However, Ellie’s character rises above all the hurt to help her family and friends overcome obstacles.

There is an interesting Afterward in the back of the book.  I believe teen girls would enjoy this book, as well as, any women who remember the year of 1963.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: None

AREAS OF TEACHING: Historical Context, Setting, Character, Cause/Effect, Compare/Contrast, and Conflict

RELATED BOOKS: So B. It, Becoming Naomi Leon, The Center of Everything

RELATED WEBSITES:

 www.pecentral.org/lessonideas/health/familysocialhealthunitplan_smiller.pdf

http://www.edu.warhol.org/pdf/ulp_hcc_hm_s2.pdf 

www.firstladies.org/biographies/firstladies.aspx?biography=36

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Soft Fruit (1999), This Boy’s Life (1993), JFK (1991)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

The House of Dies Drear

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The House of Dies Drear

 

Author: Virginia Hamilton

 

Page Length: 279

 

Reading Level: 6

 

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: At first Thomas isn’t too thrilled about moving away again. He likes being near his grandmother; but, when his dad begins dropping hints about the mysterious new house he has in mind, Thomas’s interest is piqued. Soon he learns of the legend of Dies Drear. Drear was a landowner known for helping slaves along the route to freedom through the Underground Railroad. Drear and two of the three slaves he had been hiding were found murdered. Thomas learns of the great past of the house, its secret tunnels, and its mysterious secretive caretaker. Thomas’s new home is thought to be haunted. Strange things begin to happen. Vandalism occurs. And, Thomas is caught up in a plot to find the culprits and preserve the legend of Dies Drear and the great history the house represents before it falls into the hands of the wrong people.

REVIEW: This book is an excellent look at slavery issues, the Underground Railroad, and prejudice and hatred among the uneducated. Historically, the author does a great job of giving young adults an understanding of the abolitionist era. The story is action packed and full of mysterious events that will keep the reader guessing and turning the page to find out the resolution to the story.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  sequence of events, cause and effect, character traits, making predictions, analogies, historical context, context clues

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: issues of prejudice, vandalism, bigotry

RELATED BOOKS: M.C. Higgins, the Great, Second Cousins, Bluish, Zeely, The Planet of Junior Brown

SLAVERY RELATED BOOKS: 47, Dear Austin, The Land, Nightjohn, Kip: His Story, Bull Run, To Be A Slave, Harriet Tubman Conductor of the Underground Railroad

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Gone With the Wind (1939)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://score.rims.k12.ca.us/activity/diesdrear/

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

http://www.leasttern.com/DiesDrear/diesdrear.htm

http://gorman.region14.net/webs/tkeith/the_house_of_dies_drear_unit.htm

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

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

The Hoopster

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The Hoopster

 

Author: Alan Lawrence Sitomer

 

Page Length: 218

 

Reading Level: 6

 

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Andre seems to have everything – an uncanny ability to shoot baskets, a great job at a magazine, and an awesome girlfriend. Andre is assigned the job of writing an article on racism. He begins to notice it everywhere he goes, even in his cousin Cedric’s skits. One night, Andre’s article gets written and he becomes a local celebrity; but, fame comes with a price. Race tensions are high in Andre’s town and his article is getting as much hate mail as fan mail. Andre’s own life is threatened. Will he ever reach his dreams of becoming a famous writer in the midst of so much hatred? What will reaching for his dreams cost him in the end?

REVIEW: This book has a decent story line and was actually able to include basketball without being totally focused on just the sport. As the matter of fact, this athlete has dreams of being a writer. He dates a Hispanic girl, his best friend is white, and he learns that his own father once changed his fate because of racist hatred. Faced with this knowledge and facing his own hate crime, Andre must decide if he too will enter into the cycle of violence or if he can follow a different path. Andre suffers tremendously because his views are outside the norm. The actions of the supremacist group leaves Andre emotionally and physically battered; yet, through it all, Andre prevails and continues to believe in himself and believe that he can change the racist views of the world.

This book had a basic plot and an easy story line to follow. This book would work well as a classroom read for students with a lower reading level.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  character traits, cause and effect, author’s purpose, sequence of events, imagery, elements of plot, stereotypes

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: racist remarks, hate crime –  Andre is physically assaulted with the intent to permanently maim him, his father tells of a white man relieving himself on his boots and of being hit over the head with a bottle

RELATED BOOKS: Hip-Hop High School, Paulsen’s Nightjohn, Draper’s The Battle of Jericho, To Kill a Mockingbird, Richard Peck’s The River Between Us

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Dead Poets Society (1989), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.thebookjam.com/main/content/resources

http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/contributor.jsp?id=3791

http://www.corndancer.com/tunes/tunes_main.html

http://www.thehoopsterbook.com/sections/aboutthebook.htm

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm

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The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm

 

Author: Nancy Farmer

 

Page Length: 311

 

Reading Level: 6

 

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Tendai, Rita, and Kuda have lived a sheltered life. They are the children of a very powerful general in Zimbabwe. Their life has been sheltered from the outside world where danger and evil lurk in the year 2194. Yet, one day, the Mellower convinces mother and father to agree to a trip into the city. The children have left before mother and father realize what has happened. Danger strikes quickly and the children are whisked to labor in a world they never even knew existed. From one harrowing escape to another, the children never give up hope of going home. With the lands most unusual detectives on their case, they just might make it if the dreaded masks don’t get to them first.

REVIEW: This book is definitely an out of the norm read. The characters have depth and are very interesting. Analyzing the motivation and traits of each would make an excellent class project. It was a little hard to follow in areas, and I think it would be difficult for some students to relate to the types of settings many parts of the story take place in. Some of the language and names would make the story very difficult for struggling readers. I would only recommend this book to more advanced readers. In order to teach this book effectively, much discussion and explanation should follow.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  sequence of events, cause and effect, character traits, making predictions

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: kidnapping, gangsters, crime, forced labor

RELATED BOOKS: A Girl Named Disaster, The House of the Scorpion, The Sea of Trolls, The Islands of the Blessed, City of Ember

MOVIE CONNECTIONS:

City of Ember (2008 – related futuristic societal fears and challenges)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.nancyfarmerwebsite.com/

http://www.masconomet.org/teachers/trevenen/eareye.html

http://english.byu.edu/Novelinks/Novel%20Pages/Ear,%20the%20Eye%20and%20the%20Arm.htm

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

What They Always Tell Us

What They Always Tell Us

Author: Martin Wilson

Page Length: 288

Reading Level: 4.8

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Career Connection: None

PLOT SUMMARY: James and Alex have grown up together as close siblings. People often considered them twins because they were similar in many ways. James and Alex are one grade level apart. The book takes the reader through an entire year of high school – James’ senior year and Alex’s junior year.

The school year begins with a big party at which time Alex chugs down a bottle of Pine Sol. He is rushed to the hospital where he fortunately recovers. However no one, not even his once close brother, knows why Alex attempted suicide.

Alex’s beginning junior year is filled with studying, visits to his therapist, and avoidance from former friends such as Tyler. Alex becomes an isolated homebody, a recluse.

James’ beginning senior year is filled with questions about his brother’s suicide attempt and daily “weird” behavior.

When James’ friend, Nathen, befriends Alex, Nathen encourages Alex to try out for the cross-country team. To prepare, Nathen and Alex begin a training workout together and develop a close friendship. At first, James is glad that his brother is out of the house and doing something “normal”. However, little does he know that the side activities that Nathen and Alex engage in are more intimate than mere cross-country teammates.

REVIEW: This is a beautifully written coming-of-age story for both Alex and James – two brothers that were once close and have now grown apart due to lack of communication. The reader will discover the character of Alex as one who is caught in the confusing maturation process during high school – cut off from his friends because he is “not acting like them” – not dating, not chasing girls. Alex’s cry for attention during his suicide attempt backfires for him as he experiences increased bullying from former friends. However, once James realizes his brother’s “true feelings”, the two grow closer together once more.

This is a great story of brotherly bonding. The story works because this is the central theme of the story – not the supplemental gay themes. However, both are intertwined. The gay relationship and intimate scenes between Nathen and Alex are maturely written in context of the plot.

Any male who has a brother struggling with a part of themselves as they mature will understand this story. This story contains characters with fresh voices. It is a book that is calmly written and one that will take many readers with siblings on a trip down memory lane.  

There is also an intriguing subplot in this story that deals with a young boy named Henry in search of his real father.

This book is written in third-person point-of-view. Odd-numbered chapters focus on Alex while even-numbered chapters focus on James.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: characterization, text to world, compare/contrast, prediction

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: there are several pages that list words such as “gay, faggot, queer”, a few scenes depict intimate scenes between two teenage males, and page 120 depicts one of those scenes

RELATED BOOKS: Crush by Carrie Mac, Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan, Big Guy by Robin Stevenson, Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher, Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde, Rage: A Love Story by Julie Anne Peters

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.randomhouse.biz/booksellers/childrens/files/2010/08/GLBTQ_DiscGd_BIZ.pdf (GLBTQ book discussion guide)

http://martinwilsonwrites.com/ (author’s website)

http://www.readwritethink.org/parent-afterschool-resources/podcast-episodes/lesbian-characters-young-adult-30329.html (podcast)

REVIEWED BY: K. Stratton

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