The Book Reviews – Website

January 1, 2011

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: (GLBTQ book discussion guide) (author’s website) (podcast)

REVIEWED BY: K. Stratton

December 19, 2010

Marcelo in the Real World

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork: Book Cover

Marcelo in the Real World


Author: Francisco Stork


Page Length: 312  


Reading Level: 5.3


Genre: Realistic Fiction


Career Connection:  Lawyer, Teacher, Occupational Therapist, Ministry

PLOT SUMMARY:  It isn’t often that a father forces his son to give up a job he has secured on his own, to take one in his own office.  However, that is what happens to Marcelo Sandoval, the summer before his senior year in high school.  Marcelo had planned to take care of the ponies at Paterson, his special school’s therapeutic-riding stables.  Marcelo exhibits qualities of Asperger’s Syndrome and is more comfortable at Paterson than he is in the real world.

His dad, Arturo, is a prominent lawyer.  He has always felt that Marcelo could overcome any obstacles he has, and wants to prove it to Marcelo by having him work in the mail room at his law firm.  He also wants Marcelo to attend the local regular high school, Oak Ridge High, rather than Paterson in the fall. Marcelo agrees to work for his father, if at the end of the summer he can make the choice of the school he will attend in the fall. 

Marcelo finds that working with Jasmine in the mailroom is not as bad as he thought it would be.  Jasmine is patient with him and he becomes comfortable in the working routine they have.  It is when Wendell, one of the partner’s sons, also working at the firm, confronts Marcelo and makes inappropriate remarks about Jasmine that Marcelo becomes upset.  Marcelo does not know how to react to Wendell, his feelings towards Jasmine, or a picture he finds when he is doing some work for Wendell.  The information he gains about the picture will affect a high profile case and the future of the firm. 

Will Marcelo tell what he knows about “the real world” or stay hidden in his Asperger-like comfort zone of Paterson?

REVIEW:  The book is narrarated by Marcelo who frequently talks of himself in third person.  He relates some of his peculiarities (e.g., he has obsessions with God and religion, hears internal music (IM), and sleeps in a tree house). He shares the difficulty he faces as he must learn menial tasks of the mailroom and deal with office politics.  He retains his innocence while considering the possibility of love, ethical dilemmas and other conflicts. 

Teen boys and girls, as well as adults, would enjoy this book that deals with the conflicts exposed for not only a boy with Asperger’s, but professional and social issues they may encounter themselves in the “real world”.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Theme, Characters, Point of View, Conflict, Compare/Contrast, and Cause/Effect

TOUCHY AREAS: Occasional harsh profanity and sexual inferences

RELATED BOOKS: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, Rules, Anything But Typical

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Mozart and the Whale (2005), Adam (2009), Rain Man (1988)

RELATED WEBSITES:…/scholastic-ala-2010-award-winners.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Looking for Alaska

Looking for Alaska by John Green: Book Cover

Looking for Alaska

Author: John Green

Page Length: 221


Reading Level: 6


Genre: Realistic Fiction


Career Connection: Teacher      

PLOT SUMMARY: When only two people attend his going away party, Miles Halter knows he has made a good decision to leave his Florida home and attend Culver Creek Preparatory School in Alabama.  And, as he leaves he uses Francois Rabelais’s last words—“I go to seek a Great Perhaps”.

Upon his arrival at Culver Creek, Miles meets his roommate, Chip “The Colonel” Martin.  Through Chip, he is introduced to Alaska Young – wild and self destructive – but the girl who captures his heart. After Miles is duct-taped and thrown into a lake, an all out prank war ensues between the “Weekday Warriors” and Miles and his new friends,

As the school year progresses, Miles finds himself involved in illegal activities such as smoking and drinking on campus while his affections for Alaska grow.  Although Alaska is quite coy with Miles, she dates a college student and introduces him to Lara, a Romanian girl, who eventually becomes his girlfriend.  Takumi, a Japanese student, is the fifth member of this group of pranksters.

It is during one night after a “pre-prank” against the Warriors, the group plays a drinking game and Alaska reveals to her friends that when she was 8 years old, she watched her mother die from a brain aneurysm.  The guilt she carries seemed to be an explanation of why she lives “on the edge”.

On another night of drinking, Alaska and Colonel become extremely drunk.  Alaska and Miles share an intimate moment before falling asleep.  Later, Alaska receives a phone call and comes back into the room, hysterical, telling the boys they must help her get away.  The events that follow devastate the group in realms beyond their control and imagination.

REVIEW: The chapters of the book are titled in “Before and After” sequences which tell the reader that something monumental occurs halfway through the book. This format is a “hook” to the reader, as well as, the curling smoke on the cover of the book. 

I rate this book as one of the best young adult novels I have read because of the captivating voice of Miles as he leaves his safe world of isolation and plunges into a life of love and loss through new found friends.  He shares humor in his revelations and meaning through his thoughts that cause the reader to connect with each of the well-developed characters. 

Senior high students of both genders would relate well to the events and characters of the book.  At the end of the book, a discussion guide and interview with the author are included.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: cigarette, marijuana, and alcohol use, sexually explicit situations

AREAS OF TEACHING: Conflict, Setting, Characters, Point of View, and Voice, Mood, and Tone

RELATED BOOKS: Speak, Morning is a Long Time Coming, Shattered Glass


MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Famous Last Words (from Looking for Alaska, to be released 2013), Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

The Amazing International Space Station

The Amazing International Space Station by Yes Mag: Book Cover

The Amazing International Space Station

Author: Editors of YES Magazine

Page Length: 48

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Non-Fiction

REVIEW: The editors of YES Magazine have put together an excellent non-fiction book about life aboard the International Space Station. Contained in this 48 page book are colorful photographs of astronauts both at work and play out in space. Breath-taking views of the Earth are also contained in the book’s pictures.

This book covers a wide range of topics from how astronauts eat and shower in space to what they must do to protect themselves while working out in no-gravity conditions. The history of the construction of the space station is highlighted as well as the many countries that have cooperated in this giant venture. The United States and Russia were the first two countries to begin construction on the station that began in 1998. Since then, a total of 16 countries have now joined in. Pages 12 and 13 provide a good layout of the International Space Station as well as a listing of the specific countries involved.

All throughout the book (pages 11, 17, 23, 33, and 43) are activities that students can perform to supplement the information in the book. Students can practice cooking a recipe of food eaten aboard the space station. They can also practice what it would be like to work with tiny objects in space suits that limit one’s mobility and grip. One interesting fact is that any food brought aboard the space station must meet strict safety guidelines. For example, it is acceptable for normal canned food eaten on Earth to have 300,000 bacteria per gram. In space, that number drops to 8 bacteria per gram! Another interesting fact is that a major concern for astronauts on long missions is the loss of bone due to the absence of the sun (source of vitamin D).

Also contained in the book are crew biographies, ships logs, and a section on what it takes to become an astronaut. Out of the many applications that are received every 2 years from NASA, only .5% are accepted!

Towards the end, pages 44-47 provide a good timeline of the history of space from A.D. 160 to present.

I would recommend this book to any student who is interested in astronomy and space flight. The information is informative and easy to follow and the pictures are a great supplement to the world that most of us only see in the movies.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: reading a timeline, reading a map/chart, science connection, reading a journal entry

RELATED BOOKS: Space Our Planet by Eduardo Banquieri, Spacecraft Mean Machines by Tim Furniss,

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Apollo 13” (1995) & “IMAX – Space Station” (2002)


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Storm Run

Storm Run by Libby Riddles: Book Cover

Storm Run

Author: Libby Riddles

Page Length: 48

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Non-fiction, Adventure, Auto-biography

PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW: A lover of animals and a woman with passion and endurance – Libby Riddles recounts her life as a young girl growing up in the Midwest/Northwest United States to her brave move to Alaska to become the first woman to win the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. Storm Run contains beautiful illustrations, vivid photographs, and informative diagrams and maps that supplement Riddles’ own written account of her life. The combination of all, forces the reader into Riddles’ world of risk-taking and adventure.

Influenced by her friends and mentors, Riddles enters the 1985 Iditarod Sled Dog Race. Financed by the supportive members of her Teller, Alaska community (mostly through bingo money), Riddles is able to acquire all she needs for the long race. Braving below 60 degree weather and harsh blizzards, Riddles clings to her closest friends of all – her dogs – to go on to win the race!

I enjoyed this book, because it is a blend between an illustrated picture book and a compilation of real-life photographs. The pictures, diagrams, maps, and illustrations supplement the descriptive writing of Riddles as her story progresses. It was a neat approach to an auto-biography.

Riddles provides us the race route she traveled in Alaska, the clothes she wore, and the supplies she used. Of course her furry dog friends are featured all throughout. A few interesting notes that stood out to me were – 1 – on the trail she ate Norwegian chocolate and seal oil (considered to be “power food” by Eskimos) and – 2- during a harsh blizzard, it took Riddles several hours to change into dry clothes!

This is a very creative book written by a very brave and talented woman. I recommend it to all. I suggest that this book be used as an introduction to an auto-biography activity.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: simile, setting, vocabulary, reading a map, creating an auto-biography

RELATED BOOKS: The Great Serum Race by Debbie Miller, Balto: Sled Dog of Alaska by LaVere Anderson, Racing Sled Dogs: An Original North American Sport by Michael Cooper, The Call of the Wild by Jack London, White Fang by Jack London (list of books)

MOVIE, MEDIA, & ART CONNECTIONS: “Iditarod: A Far Distant Place” (2000) (comprehensive site about Iditarod)


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

On My Honor

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On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer: Book Cover

On My Honor

Author: Marion Dane Bauer

Page Length: 90

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Joel and Tony are deciding how to spend their long summer day when Tony decides that climbing the starved rock bluffs would be fun. Joel’s terrified – people have died on those rocks. Joel would rather do something safe like swimming at the local pool, but Tony insists on an adventure. Joel decides that asking his dad will end the debate because he’s sure that his father will say no. But surprisingly Joel’s dad agrees as long as Joel promises “on his honor” to only go to the park and back. Both boys promise but as their journey gets under way, Tony stops under the bridge where there’s water. Both boys have been warned about the danger of the river. But Joel, too reluctant to stand up to Tony, and Tony, always too desperate to prove how tough he is, decide to plunge in. It’s a fateful decision that will change everything!

REVIEW: This book makes a huge impact in a very small amount of pages. There are numerous teaching moments for students to identify with. Both boys and girls would benefit from this story, but, it would especially appeal to boys who have dealt with peer pressure issues. Students will feel the devastation that occurs because of Joel’s inability to stand up for what is right – even when someone else doesn’t want to. Teachers can discuss what the actions should have been – before swimming and after. This book would lead to an excellent discussion on other mistakes such as potentially deadly peer pressure situations that can or have arisen. This is an excellent book for reaching students!

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, cause and effect, making predictions, author’s purpose, character traits, connecting text to self


RELATED BOOKS: Blue Ghost, Killing Miss Kitty, Questions of Trust, Like Mother, Like Daughter, Red Ghost, Rain of Fire


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

June 5, 2010

Bud, Not Buddy

Bud, Not Buddy

Author: Christopher Paul Curtis

Page Length: 243

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Ever since Bud (not Buddy) lost his mother four years ago, life has been anything but easy. Bud’s been placed in homes only to be mistreated and returned again to the orphanage known as the Home. Despite his hardships, Bud hasn’t given up on himself or on finding his father. His mother left behind flyers of a famous man, Herman E. Callaway, and Bud’s come to realize they were clues – clues he believes that will lead him closer to his father. Despite setbacks and the need to adhere to Bud’s rules of life (lessons he’s learned the hard way), Bud presses on alone, never giving up. Set amidst the Great Depression this book tells a story of courage, love, and perseverance like no other.

REVIEW: Loved it! This is a fantastic story! The characters are well developed and entertaining. The story blends humor, tragedy and triumph beautifully. This book would be a great way of making curriculum connections due to its in-depth look at the Great Depression. The reader senses the hardships of the people living in the Flint shanties as well as the racial equality struggles of the time. Bud never gives up or turns to hatred despite the hardships he’s endured. The lessons the author gives about one door closing and another opening are wonderful – and could be applicable to all of life and opportunity. Truly the best book, I’ve read in awhile and very deserving of the Newberry.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause and effect, author’s purpose, sequence of events, imagery, inferences, predictions, character analysis, historical connections

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: mild racism references, death of a parent

RELATED BOOKS: Watsons Go To Birmingham – 1963, Bucking the Sarge, Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck, The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Seabiscuit (2003), Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken (1991), Annie (1999), The Cinderella Man (2005)

MUSIC CONNECTION: Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


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Author: Stephenie Meyer

Page Length: 498

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Romantic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Bella is a 17 year old girl from Arizona who must now go live with her father, Charlie, in the small town of Forks, Washington. She hates Forks. It is always rainy and cold. Charlie is known as Police Chief Swan to the people of Forks. He is happy that Bella is there and has a room prepared for her so she does not allow her unhappiness of being there known to Charlie. When Bella attends school, to her surprise several boys are interested in her and compete for her attention. In one of her classes she is seated next to Edward Cullen. He doesn’t speak to her or help with the assigned project. He even seems “repulsed” by her. After their initial meeting, he is absent for several days but when he returns he is nicer to her. Their relationship begins when he saves her with his bare hands from being hit by a van in the school parking lot. She was astonished at his speed from getting from one place to another. When she tries to confront him about it, Edward dismisses her saying that she is mistaken about his distance to her. This is the first time Bella notices that something is quite different about Edward. In the school cafeteria, she inquires about Edward. Bella becomes determined to find out how Edward saved her by incessantly asking him questions. She tricks a family friend, Jacob Black, into telling her about local Indian tribe legends of a group of vampires who drink animal blood instead of human blood. Eventually Edward admits to Bella that he is a vampire and that the reason he missed days of school was that the scent of her blood is extremely desirable to him. Over time, Bella and Edward fall in love spending all waking and sleeping time together. Since vampires never sleep, Edward sneaks into Bella’s room to watch her sleep every night.

Later in the book, Bella meets the Cullen family who are all vampires and Edward takes her to the family baseball game. There danger ensues. A coven of rogue vampires threaten to attack Bella. The Cullens in an attempt to save Bella, split up Bella and Edward. Bella is sent hide in a hotel in Phoenix. However, the coven has plans of their own. James, one of the coven members, tricks Bella into thinking that he has captured her mother. Bella surrenders herself to James and he tries to kill her, but she is rescued by Edward and the other Cullens. It is discovered that James has bitten Bella so Edward sucks the venom from her hand so that she will not turn into a vampire. She is then taken to a hospital to recover. Once they return to Forks, Edward and Bella attend the school prom. Bella expresses her desire for Edward to turn her into a vampire so that they can be together for eternity. Edward refuses.      

REVIEW:  This is such a great book! Stephenie Myers weaves teenage romance with mystery and suspense cloaked with the allure of vampires. The romance is innocent showing the strong bond and love that two teenagers can have for one another. However, their love is forbidden since he is a vampire and she is a human. One may interpret the theme to be one of good versus evil but reading a book for enjoyment and suspense is also thrilling. The reader’s attention is captured immediately and Twilight is a definite page-turner. Indian tribal legends are interspersed throughout the book to give the impression that vampires could be “real”.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: main idea and supporting details, theme, setting, characters, point of view, conflict, plot, compare/contrast, cause/effect, sequence of events, inference, conclusions, generalizations, predictions, voice, mood, tone,  5 steps of the writing process.

RELATED BOOKS: The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice, Dracula by Bram Stoker, Marked: House of Night by P.C. Cast, Vampire Academy by Richelle Meade, Frostbite by Richelle Meade, Shadow Kiss by Richelle Meade, Evermore (The Immortals) by Alyson Noel. Books by the same author: New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Twilight (2008), The Kiss (2008), Dracula (1992), Dracula (1931), Nosferatu (1922)

MUSIC CONNECTION: Twilight (soundtrack)


REVIEWED BY: Tammy Leitzel

The Last Book in the Universe

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The Last Book In The Universe

Author: Rodman Philbrick

Page Length: 223

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Science Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY:  A young boy, Spaz, finds himself fending for himself in the Urb, where all the normals live, after being kicked out of his foster home for having epilepsy. Charley, his foster dad, feels that Spaz’ illness will cause harm to his foster sister, Bean. Spaz steals from Billy Bizmo, the latch boss, to get food and protection. Everyone in the Urb mindprobes but Spaz can’t because he has epilepsy and can’t put a needle into his brain. Little did Spaz know that when sent to steal from Ryter, a gummy (or old person) per orders of Billy, Spaz’ life would change forever. On the way to steal from Ryter, Spaz meets a very young boy named Little Face who leads him to Ryter’s stack. Ryter is waiting for Spaz providing all his valuables except a book that he has been writing. Spaz does not understand the importance of the book and passing down stories from the Big Shake but he lets Ryter keep it. Little Face guides Spaz through the stacks on the promise of a choxbar since Spaz has been ordered to steal more items. Spaz befriends Ryter during these robberies. Then a runner comes with bad news of his sister Bean. Spaz must get to Bean as quickly as possible. But this isn’t as easy as it may seem. Spaz must sneak out of the latch, cross two others, and reach his sister hoping to save her. Ryter helps Spaz develop a plan to travel through The Pipes to get through the latches. On their journey, Spaz meets a Proov, a genetically altered person, who is giving away edibles, Ryter saves her life at the end of one of the latches that is on fire. Lanaya, the Proov, decides to help Spaz reach his sister. So Spaz, Ryter, Little Face, and Lanaya set out in search of Bean. Once they locate her they find that she is very ill. Ryter and/or Spaz (depending upon who you ask) decide that the only way to save Bean is to take her to Eden, where the Proovs live. The only problem is that normals aren’t accepted in Eden so Lanaya has to sneak them into Eden passing through The Forbidden Zone which is full of mines. Do they make it? Do they save Bean? If so, how do they save her? What happens to Little Face? Do the Proovs accept the normals? What happens to Spaz and Ryter? What happens to the last book in the universe?  What happens to the writer?   

REVIEW:  From the very first sentences in The Last Book In The Universe “If you’re reading this, it must be a thousand years from now. Because nobody around here reads anymore. Why bother, when you can just probe it?”, the reader’s attention is grabbed immediately. This science fiction book is excellent. Rodman Philbrick creates an alternate futuristic world with invented vocabulary to describe this new world, the people, and the items used in it. From the Urb, to the Proovs, to the Takvees, to the latches, this new world comes alive. The reader finds oneself transformed into this new world. One part of the new world is the burned- out Urb and the other part is the perfection of Eden. Both the strengths and weaknesses of both worlds are noticed. The themes of addiction, abandonment, poverty, environmental concerns, and violence of the 21st century are still prevalent in The Last Book In The Universe’s new world of the future. However, Spaz, Little Face, Ryter and Bean capture the reader’s heart evoking a sense of empathy and possibly sympathy for one if not all of these characters. One realizes that we all have a story to tell. Those stories need to be protected and passed along to future generations so that they may learn from our mistakes.  At the end of the book is a list of “New Words for a New World”.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: main idea and supporting details, theme, setting, characters, point of view, conflict, plot, compare/contrast, cause/effect, sequence of events, inference, conclusions, generalizations, predictions, voice, mood, tone, 5 steps of the writing process.

RELATED BOOKS: The Giver by Lois Lowry, The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer, Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. Books by the same author: Freak the Mighty, Max the Mighty, The Young Man and the Sea

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The Mighty (1998), Back to the Future (1995), The Incredibles (2004), War of the Worlds (1960)


REVIEWED BY: Tammy Leitzel

The Book Thief

The Book Thief

Author: Markus Zusak

Page Length: 550

Reading Level: 9

Genre: Historical Fiction (Holocaust)

PLOT SUMMARY: The Book Thief begins in Nazi Germany in 1939 where Leisel Meminger’s mother is sent to the concentration camp “Dachau” for being a communist. Leisel loses her brother to the winter elements – her first experience with Death. Leisel’s second experience with Death is the demise of her mother. Death narrates this story. Devastation is prevalent throughout Germany. Upon burial of her brother, Leisel steals a book, The Grave Digger’s Manual, despite the fact that she could not read. Leisel is sent to live with foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann on Himmel Street in Molching. Rosa is known for her constant cursing and aloof behavior. Hans is known for his caring, mild mannered attitude, and accordion playing. Leisel takes immediate liking to Hans when he plays the accordion. While fraught with nightmares over the death of Leisel’s mother, Hans sits by Leisel’s side throughout the night. Eventually Hans teaches her to read. This is Leisel’s first realization of the power of words used as a distraction and as a comfort.

Over time, Leisel makes several friends. Rudy is a young man who is around her age and is constantly asking her for a kiss to which she refuses. Max is a Jewish man who is hidden from the Nazis in the Hubermann’s basement. Max writes books for Leisel using the painted-over pages of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. When Max becomes deathly ill, Leisel reads to him – another example of the power of words used to distract or comfort. A third friend is the mayor’s wife who allows Leisel to use her library to read books. Leisel sneaks into the mayor’s wife’s house to steal one book at a time. The war is getting closer and closer to Himmel street, so the Germans are looking for basements with adequate size to use as bomb shelters. Fortunately, the Hubermann’s basement was too small so Max could continue to hide in their basement. Leisel would visit Max everyday in the basement reading to him and describing the weather and daily events to him. Death is everywhere and it makes comments upon all the souls “he” has to carry. During one of the air-raids in which citizens of Himmel Street had to go to the bomb shelter, a neighbor’s basement, Leisel begins to read from her book to calm herself. She finds that by reading aloud, the others are also comforted and distracted from their fears. One day, Hans Hubermann whom Leisel has come to deeply love tries to give a Jewish person a piece of bread during the Nazi’s parade of Jews. Hans is badly beaten and then fears that he will be sent to a concentration camp and that their house will be searched. Max, the Jewish person hiding in their basement, has to leave the home on Himmel Street for fear of capture and punishment of the Hubermanns for helping a Jewish person. Hans was not captured but was forced to join the Nazi military. Leisel’s friend and Rudy’s father, Alex Steiner, was also forced to join the military because he would not allow one of his sons to join the military. Leisel, who is distraught by the absence of her father, loss of her brother, loss of Rudy, and loss of Max, begins to write her life’s story in her basement. Does Leisel survive? Do Max, Hans, Alex Steiner, Rudy and Rosa survive? Does Rudy ever get his kiss? Why were the stolen books so important to the book thief after all? Why is Death afraid of humans?         

REVIEW: The Book Thief is an excellent story which is told from the perspective of Death, the narrator, in war-torn Germany. Markus Zusak transports the reader back to this era with well developed characters and settings in which one can almost empathize with the fears and devastation of the times. Zusak’s writing is so vivid that one can almost feel Leisel’s emotions for the loss of her mother and brother, feel Leisel’s love for Hans, feel what life is like in the basement for Max, feel the suspense when the book thief steals a book, feel the daily experiences on Himmel Street, and feel the fear of the Nazis. This book is definitely a page turner. One realizes that words have the power to uplift, to comfort, to manipulate, and to destroy humankind.  After reading The Book Thief, one can not help but examine one’s own values. What would one do if one was a non- Jewish person in Germany during “Hitler’s Germany”? Would one deny joining the Nazi Party knowing that one would not get work to provide for one’s family? Most importantly, would one hide a Jewish person or Jewish family risking one’s own family’s life? These are powerful questions evoked by reading The Book Thief.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: main idea and supporting details, theme, setting, characters, point of view, conflict, plot, compare/contrast, cause/effect, sequence of events, inference, conclusions, generalizations, predictions, voice, mood, tone,  5 steps of the writing process, narration, irony

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Holocaust and Death. One must consider the sensitivity of the student who is reading the book due to the subject matter.

RELATED BOOKS:  The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Schindler’s List by Thomas Kineally, Anne Frank: A Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, Those Who Save Us by Jeanna Blum, Night by Elie Wiesel, Number the Stars Lois Lowry, The Giver by Lois Lowry, Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi, The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen. Books by the same author: I Am the Messenger, Getting the Girl, Fighting Ruben Wolfe.

MOVIE & MEDIA CONNECTIONS: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2009), Valkyrie (2008), Schindler’s List (2004), The Book Thief (expected release 2010), The Book Thief (book video by Jon Haller 2006), Elie Wiesel Goes Home (1985), Anne Frank- The Whole Story (2001), Holocaust (1978), The Devil’s Arithmetic (1999)


REVIEWED BY: Tammy Leitzel

Romiette and Julio

Romiette and Julio

Author: Sharon M. Draper

Page Length: 320

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Romantic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Romiette and Julio begins with a strange recurring dream about drowning and a male voice that Romiette Cappelle is having. She is terrified of water and cannot swim.  Julio Montague, 17 years old, is forced to move from Corpus Christi, Texas to Cincinnati, Ohio. He hates Ohio. Everything is gray and there is no where to swim. Julio is an excellent swimmer and loves to swim. The only companionship he has is with a girl he has met in the chat room. Come to find out this girl, Romiette, whom he shares a great deal in common, goes to the same Ohio school. On the first day of school Julio meets Ben during a fight. Ben is a quirky, lighthearted character who changes his hair color everyday. Romiette’s best friend is Destiny who is also quirky and thinks she is psychic. As Romi and Julio’s online friendship develops, they decide to meet in person. Julio and Romi immediately feel a strong attraction to one another. Julio brings with him a bottle of hot sauce and a rose to their first meeting. As they start hanging out together more often, the school gang, the Devildogs or “The Family” begin to threaten Romi and Julio just because Romi is African American and Julio is Hispanic. Also, Romi’s parents do not approve of Julio because he is Hispanic and Julio’s parents do not approve of Romi because she is African American. The gang intensifies their threats which force Romi, Julio, Destiny, and Ben to devise a plan to obtain proof that the gang exists and is threatening them. However, the plan goes horribly wrong. The gang has a plan of their own. They capture Romi and Julio leaving them helpless, tied up, and unconscious in a boat floating in London Woods Lake during a severe thunderstorm. What happens to Romi and Julio? Whose voice was in the dream? What happens to Destiny and Ben? Does the police and search party rescue them in time or is their fate sealed as in Romeo and Juliet?        

REVIEW:  Romiette and Julio is a present day Romeo and Juliet without the tragic ending. Reader’s still experience the themes of friendship, romance, suspense, love, prejudice, racism, and familial pressures exemplified within Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. However, in Romiette and Julio, Sharon Draper allows the reader to identify with the themes in a modern day setting even allowing Romiette and Julio to meet in a chat room. A strong affection develops which leads to gang threats due only to the fact that Romiette is African American and Julio is Hispanic; thus, suspense ensues. Romiette and Julio is a definite supplement for the classic, Romeo and Juliet.  Readers can identify with many themes throughout the book whether it is racism, peer pressure, romance, or soul mates.   

AREAS FOR TEACHING: main idea and supporting details, theme, setting, characters, point of view, conflict, plot, compare/contrast, cause/effect, sequence of events, inference, conclusions, generalizations, predictions, voice, mood, tone,  5 steps of the writing process, allusion, protagonist, antagonist, comic relief

RELATED BOOKS:  Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet in Beverly Hills (Readers Theater), The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, The First Part Last by Angela Johnson,  Who Am I Without Him? By Sharon Flake, Books by same author: Tears of a Tiger, Forged be Fire, The Battle of Jericho, Copper Sun, November Blues, Darkness Before Dawn, Double Dutch, Fire by the Rock

MOVIE CONNECTIONS:  Westside Story (1950), Romeo and Juliet (1996), Romeo and Juliet (1968), Gone With the Wind (1939), The Notebook (2004), The Outsiders (1983)

MUSIC CONNECTION: Love Story by Taylor Swift

RELATED WEBSITES:  (secure chat room suggested by the technology department)

REVIEWED BY: Tammy Leitzel



Author: Walter Dean Myers

Page Length: 281

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Drama, Fiction-Crime

PLOT SUMMARY: Is he really a Monster? Did he really have anything to do with the murder of the drugstore owner? These are the questions that young 16 year old Steve Harmon is asking himself. All he knew was that he was to enter a drugstore, see how many people were inside, and see if there were any police. Then he was to exit the drugstore. Actually, did Steve even agree to be a “lookout”? It was planned to be a robbery or so that is what Bobo Evans and James King told him. After Steve leaves the drugstore, the robbery went terribly awry. The drugstore owner, Mr. Nesbitt is murdered. Steve is arrested and put on trial for murder. If convicted he faces 25 years to life in prison or the death penalty. While in the detention center, Steve maintains his sanity by writing in a journal that he will use for a “film” after this nightmare is over. Steve was not even present when the murder occurred, so does this make him a monster? How could a jury convict him? How could people think he was a monster, as the prosecutor described him at the beginning of the trial? His own lawyer doesn’t even believe him. His parents do not even look at him the same way. When Steve views the “film” of himself, who or what does he now see?

REVIEW:  Walter Dean Myers does an excellent job at immediately getting the reader’s attention with his first sentence in Monster: “The best time to cry is at night, when the lights are out and someone is beaten up and screaming for help”. The story is written in the format of journal entries by Steven Harmon as well as dramatic script writing by the same character. The book is written in a young African American teenager’s point of view. The book’s voice is in modern language/slang that young reader’s can understand. However, some of the scenes and events described in the detention center range from cries of despair and beatings to rape. This subject matter is extremely difficult to read but does portray the realities of jail. One gains insights into Steve’s emotions, fears, and self concept from his journal entries. After reading the book, one can not help but re-examine one’s own beliefs and self concept. After reading Monster, hopefully young readers will realize that choices they make now can affect their lives forever as Steve does in the gray writing on pages 220-221 – “What was I thinking?”       

AREAS FOR TEACHING: main idea and supporting details, theme, setting, characters, point of view, conflict, plot, compare/contrast, cause/effect, sequence of events, inference, conclusions, generalizations, predictions, voice, mood, tone, 5 steps of the writing process, dialogue, dialect, journals, diaries, antagonist, peer pressure.

TOUCHY PAGES: 36, 37, 57, 73, 109, 139-140, 143-144

RELATED BOOKS:  Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, The Chocolate War (Readers Circle) by Robert Cormier, The Contender by Robert Lipstyte. Books by the same author: Slam!, Hoops, Scorpions, Glory Field, Fallen Angels, Game, Bad Boy: A Memoir, Somewhere in the Darkness, Motown and Didi , Harlem

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: The Outsiders(1983),  Westside Story (2003),  Once Upon a Time In the Hood (2004), The Price of the American Dream (2004).


REVIEWED BY: Tammy Leitzel

January 18, 2010

The House of Scorpions

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The House of the Scorpion

Author: Nancy Farmer

Page Length: 380

Reading Level: 6.3

Genre:  Science Fiction, Fantasy

PLOT SUMMARY: Matt, who is almost 6 years old, lives in a small cottage with only his foster mother, Celia. He has only the television for company and occasional visits from a doctor. He desires to be able to play with the children he sees outside his windows but he is not allowed to go outside or talk with anyone. One day, some children come close enough to talk to him. He breaks a window to escape the locked house, but injures himself by jumping out onto the broken glass. The children rush Matt to the Big House, where he is kept as a prisoner in a small room and where he is visited and sometimes tormented by the other children. As it turns out, Matt’s full name is Matteo Alacran. Alacran means “scorpion,” from which the title of the book, The House of the Scorpion, is named.

Matt gradually finds out that he is a clone, a genetic copy of El Patron. El Patron is the 142 year old ruler of the country of Opium, a small strip of land between the United States and what was formerly Mexico but is now called Aztlan. When people try to cross the border from Aztlan to the United States, they are caught by the Farm Patrol and put to work on the opium farms. Then chips are implanted into their brains so they will be obedient workers, called eejits. Clones are normally rendered mentally disabled at birth and are used for spare parts by the rich and powerful. But El Patron ignores the law and enjoys watching Matt grow up and seeing himself as a young man in him. Once he finds out about Matt’s presence in his house, he provides the boy with an education, music lessons, and a kind but gruff bodyguard named Tam Lin. Celia and Tam Lin are the two loving people in his life who teach him about caring and self-preservation. Others in the household mostly scorn him, considering clones to be like animals, but Maria, a United States senator’s daughter, offers him friendship though she refuses to acknowledge how cruel the two-faced Tommy is to Matt.

During the wedding of Maria’s older sister, Emilia, when Matt is 14, El Patron suddenly collapses, and Matt finally realizes that the old man needs his heart to stay alive. Matt must make a daring escape to Aztlan, but is captured there and put into a slave labor camp for orphans, where he makes some new friends and enemies.

REVIEWThe House of the Scorpion is a thought-provoking novel, presenting issues like human cloning, the value of human life, the importance of responsibility and friendship. Matt is a confused but sympathetic protagonist who has some of the less likable characteristics of El Patron but who also reflects the values he has learned from Celia and Tam Lin. The unusual setting is brought vividly to life with a wealth of detail based on Farmer’s childhood growing up in Yuma, Arizona, near the Mexican border. At 380 pages, the book may be a challenge for younger readers, but it is also rewarding. The book would appeal to science fiction, fantasy, and adventure fans who may enjoy a good coming-of-age story.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  figurative language, connotation and denotation, main idea and supporting details, theme, setting, characters, point of view, conflict, plot, compare/contrast, cause/effect conclusions, generalizations, predictions, voice, mood, and tone.

RELATED BOOKS:  The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Feed by M.T. Anderson, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. Books by the same author: The Ear, the Eye and the Arm, The Sea of Trolls, The Land of the Silver Apples.

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Jurassic Park (1993), The Boys From Brazil (1978), Multiplicity (1996)




REVIEWED BY:  Tammy Leitzel

The Contender

The Contender

Author: Robert Lipstyte

Page Length: 227

Reading Level: 6.1

Genre: Fiction, Drama

PLOT SUMMARY: The main character, Alfred Brooks, is a young African American man whose daily life exemplifies the struggles of urban life in the 1960s.  He lives with his caring, loving Aunt Pearl in Harlem since the death of his mother when he was 13 and abandonment of his father when he was 10. On the stoops of his neighborhood are alcoholics, drug addicts, and homeless people. The plot intensifies when Alfred’s long-time best friend, James, and others try to get Alfred to rob the store at which he works. Alfred refuses but forgets to tell the others of the silent alarm. One person gets arrested and the other two get away. James turns to drugs and tempts Alfred. Through these struggles, he manages to find the will to survive and be a better person by learning to box. Boxing and his coaches provides him with the self confidence and discipline he so desperately needs to reject the temptations of drugs, robbery, and dropping out of school for good. Alfred then begins to learn that he can be a positive influence upon the community in which he lives. Alfred learns that being a contender does not necessarily apply only to boxing.

REVIEW: The Contender is an excellent book in which most reader’s can identify with the themes; that is, resisting peer pressure, trying to become a better person, and overcoming difficult situations. Robert Lipstyte, the author of The Contender, leaves the reader with a sense of hope at overcoming obstacles and moving forward rather than following the status quo. After reading the book, one believes he or she can arise from his/her surroundings of desperation if only one becomes focused upon something that is positive and maintains discipline to achieve a goal and maintain hope in a better tomorrow.   

AREAS FOR TEACHING: main idea and supporting details, theme, setting, characters, point of view, conflict, plot, compare/contrast, cause/effect, sequence of events, inference, conclusions, generalizations, predictions, voice, mood, tone, peer pressure,  5 steps of the writing process

RELATED BOOKS: Monster by Walter Dean Myers, Rocky Marciano: The Rock of His Times by Russell Sullivan, Muhammad Ali, the People’s Champ  by Elliott J. Gorn,  King of the World by David Remnick, Grammar for Middle School: A… by Don Killgallon, Iron Mike: A Mike Tyson Reader by Daniel O’Connor. Books by the same author: The Brave, The Chief, Warrior Angel, One Fat Summer (Ursula Nordstrom, Raiders Night, The Yellow Flag

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Hope for the Broken Contender (2008), Kid Monk Baroni (1952), Cinderella Man (2005), Rocky Balboa (2006), Rocky (1976)

RELATED WEBSITES:,pageNum-4.html

REVIEWED BY: Tammy Leitzel

The Birchbark House

The Birchbark House

Author: Louise Erdrich

Page Length: 244

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: After relating the rescue of a baby smallpox survivor from Spirit Island, the story jumps seven years and unfolds into a little Native American girl’s, Omakayas’,  point of view.  She introduces all the characters and paints the deep love and respect of their family as they complete the seasonal chores of life such as growing food, hunting for/storing meats, and making clothes and other household articles. 

Mother, Yellow Kettle, her older sister, Angeline, and Grandma, Nokomis, are strong and capable female members of the family.  Mother is shrewd, joyful and beautiful.  Omakayas is jealous of Angeline’s beauty and bead skills, and yet wants to grow up to be just like her.  Nokomis constantly attends to chores, medicines and rituals.  Omakayas learns to build the birchbark house, to listen to the plants, animals and dreams and to tell stories by helping Grandma daily.  Her little brother Pinch is an incessant bother, always naughty and greedy.  Omakayas is embarrassed by the mean thoughts she has about Pinch.  It is ironic that Pinch’s behavior paves the way for the family to laugh again after the horrible illness that invades the family.  Omakayas heals Pinch and Pinch heals the family.  Her little baby brother Neewo is sweet and loving and always delights is Omakayas’ attention.  Her love for Neewo is as great as her grief on his death.  Deydey, her father, is a fur trader and often away, either hunting or trading.  Life was different when Deydey was home “…more exciting, …more difficult,…less predictable,…more secure”. (p.52)  Old Tallow, Omakayas’ surrogate mother, godmother, hero, mentor, savior and friend, looms large as her shadow throughout the story.  She provides strength, justice and life.

REVIEW:  A student who has read and loved such classics as the Little House  (Wilder) series and Indian Captive will enjoy this book. The Birchbark House displays the daily life of American Indians through the adventures of a little girl, Omakayas, and her siblings. Author Louise Erdrich, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwa depicts the story of 1847 Ojibwa life. The book includes a detailed map of the area in which her story takes place and a glossary of terms. This book is a wonderful read to learn about the Native American culture. The reader is left thinking a lot about life, death, and thankfulness.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: characterization, compare/contrast, figurative language, theme, setting, conflict, plot, cause/effect, sequence of events, voice, mood, tone, American Literature, author’s purpose, comic relief, dialect, and protagonist

RELATED BOOKS: Grasshopper Summer by Ann Turner, The Life and Death of Crazy Horse by Russell Freedman, Morning Girl by Michael Dorris, Sweetgrass by Jan Hudson, The Eagle’s Shadow by Nora Martin, The Cry of the Crow by Jean Craighead George. Books by the same author: The Porcupine Year and The Game of Silence, The Antelope Wife, Love Medicine, Tracks

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The Last of the Mohicans (1992), Dancing with Wolves (1993), Broken Arrow (1950, Col.), Geronimo (1993 Col)



REVIEWED BY:  Tammy Leitzel

Rosa Parks

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Rosa Parks 

Author: Camilla Wilson     

Page Length: 74

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Biography

PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW:  This is a biography of Rosa Parks.  The book goes back to when she was born poor in a small town in Alabama.  She feared the Whites from the beginning of her life, but she learned patience and became affluent with the NAACP because of her writing skills learned when she lived in Montgomery.  She married at a young age to Raymond Parks who shared her vision to help the African American people become independent.  Rosa was the person many Blacks could talk to about their problems with beatings or harsh punishments.  

Segregation Laws continued to keep Blacks from having any power.   However, Rosa Parks earned the right to vote and continued sitting in on NAACP meetings, taking notes, passing out flyers, and calling for important speakers.

In the year of 1954 she took her personal stand by not moving to the back of bus when told to do so.   She was arrested, and charged for the incident.  It was the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.  Later on, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took Rosa Park’s start and began his personal Crusade to end segregation – to give all Blacks the same rights that were granted to Whites.  The Civil Rights Movement was a journey that Rosa Parks began by her bold move.  She was the light that kept the Civil Rights Movement burning when some wanted to put it out.   What an awesome and inspiring woman! This was a very good book.


4.9 draw upon experience to for word meanings

4.10 know main idea and details

4.11 connect and compare the various ideas

4.12 analyze characters

RELATED BOOKS:   Quiet Strength:  The Faith, the Hope, and Hero by Gregory J Reed,  If a Bus Could Talk by Ringgold Faith

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech and Freedom March in Washington DC.

RELATED WEBSITES:,jsp?id=790_type=Book_typeId=2640

REVIEWED BY: Linda Schwegler

November 15, 2009

Parvana’s Journey

Parvana’s Journey

Author: Deborah Ellis

Page Length: 199

Reading Level: 6.3

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Sequel to The Breadwinner, Parvana’s Journey captures the reader’s attention from the very beginning. Parvana is alone in war-torn Afghanistan, her father dead, as she sets out disguised as a boy to cross the Afghanistan countryside in search of her mother and sisters. If the Taliban discovers her, thinking she is a boy, they would enlist Parvana into the army. If they find out she is a girl, they would punish her for being without a veil and without a male family member. She must then keep a low profile, not exposing herself to this danger. She sees death and destruction everywhere she walks.

First, she finds a baby boy lying near his dead mother and rescues him, feeding him the best she can with water and rice. When she tries to take shelter in a cave, she comes upon a boy about 9 years old, who has lost a leg to land mines. Asif is rude and angry, but he is good with baby Hassan, cleaning the clothes that serve as diapers and helping to keep him clean and fed. These three set out on the road until they come upon a minefield and a strange little girl who is taking care of her aged grandmother. The children rest here for a while until a bomb destroys their shelter and kills the old woman-then they take to the road again. Just as they are near death from starvation, they stumble on a refugee camp run by international agencies and are taken in, given minimal food and shelter. Their problems are not resolved, however, and more disasters await them.

REVIEW:  This book certainly displays the resilience of children who endure extraordinary circumstances. Ellis has been in Afghanistan collecting oral histories from women in refugee camps and this has been the basis of Parvana’s story. In one sense, it is a straightforwardly realistic narrative, but the circumstances the children face are almost unimaginable, certainly to children in the West. Strengthening the sense of reality is Ellis’s ability to capture the tension between the children–their bickering as their fears and suffering overwhelm them, their fantasies of safety and shelter, and their loneliness and desperate need for adults on which to depend. This is an excellent way for young Americans to understand the plight of the Afghani people.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: theme, setting, point of view, main idea and supporting details, characters, conflict,  plot, compare/contrast, cause/effect, conclusions, generalizations, predictions, audience and purpose, voice, mood, tone, narrative, writer’s motive, World Literature, drama, tragedy, and epic.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Sensitivity of children surviving alone crossing areas with mine fields and starving most of the time.

RELATED BOOKS: Habibi by Naomi Shihah Nye, A Little Piece of Ground by Elizabeth Laird, Shabanu: Daughters of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples, Under the Persimmon Tree by Suzanne Fisher Staples. Books by the same author: Breadwinner, Mud City, and Off to War: Voices of Iraqi Refugees.

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The Kite Runner (2007), Massoud, l’Afghan (1998 documentary), Passing the Rainbow (2008 documentary), Massoud, l’Afghan (1998 documentary).

ART CONNECTIONS: (scroll down there is a short video displaying various pieces of artwork)


REVIEWED BY:  Tammy Leitzel

August 30, 2009

Romiette and Julio

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Romiette and Julio 

Author: Sharon Draper

Page Length: 274

Reading Level: 5

Genre:  Romance fiction

PLOT SUMMARY:  The two main characters, Romiette and Julio are alike in spirit and feelings, but they are culturally different.   Romiette “Romi” Cappelle is sixteen years old, and is an African American teenager who lives in Cincinatti, Ohio.   As the book begins Romi has a nightmare of drowning which remains in her dreams throughout most of the book.   She searches for an understanding of her fear of water, but comes up with nothing.   Sixteen year old Julio Montague is a Mexican teenager who has just moved to Cincinnati.  He hates the cold weather in Ohio and wants to move back home to his grandfather’s ranch.  However, Julio knows it’s impossible since his parents moved from Texas, because of the heavy gang pressure in its schools. When Julio meets Romi online in a teen chat room and they discover that they attend the same high school, they make an instant connection.  Romi can’t believe that Julio is so good looking, charming and sensitive, and Julio has never known another girl like Romi, who is so beautiful, smart and caring. Although neither Romi nor Julio sees their different races as a problem, other people begin to object to their budding romance.   Julio’s father tells him straight out that he will never approve of his son dating a black girl. And then there are the “Devildogs”, an African American gang at school who wear all purple and make it glaringly obvious to Romi and Julio that they don’t like the races mixing.  When Romi and Julio stand up to the gang members and turn the tables on them, the gang members threaten to get even.  The danger escalates when the gang begins stalking the couple and making overt threats with guns.

Julio and Romi are terrified by the threats of violence. When Romi, Julio and their best friends Ben and Destiny forge a plan to break away from the gang’s grip, Romi and Julio find themselves caught up in a deadly situation.   The parents finally become close enough to mend their ill feelings of prejudice and work right along with the police to help their children.   Although the danger is pending throughout the plot’s climax the book’s resolution is breathtakingly awesome.  

REVIEW: It was a great book, and I would recommend it to anyone, young or old.


5.9 draw upon experience to for word meanings

5.10 know main idea and details

5.11 connect and compare the various ideas

5.12 analyze characters

RELATED BOOKS:  Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.   Other books by Sharon Draper: Tears of a Tiger, Forged by Fire, Darkness before Dawn

MOVIE & MUSIC CONNECTIONS:  Romeo and Juliet vs. West Side Story


 REVIEWED BY: Linda Schwegler

The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief

Author: Rick Riordan

Page Length: 375

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Greek Mythology

PLOT SUMMARY: Percy Jackson, a 12 year New Yorker, is labeled as a troubled kid and has been kicked out of 6 schools. He has ADHD and is dyslexic. His father left home before he was born and Percy is at odds with his disgusting step father. Nothing is going right for him at his new school – Yancy Academy. His mother finally sends him away to yet another school where he befriends a boy named Grover. He thinks that his pre-algebra teacher is a monster and tried to kill him so Percy accidentally vaporizes his teacher. Percy is constantly protecting Grover because the others are picking on him. One night Percy is having trouble focusing on studying for final exams and notices that Grover is missing. He begins to search for Grover. In the basement of the school, Percy overhears Grover speaking with one of their teachers. On his way home, Percy finds out that Grover is actually his “protector”. Percy’s mother finally realizes who Percy is and gets him to camp Half-Blood for safety, or so she thought. There he finds out that Grover is also a satyr when he comes to save Percy and his mother from an attack by a minotaur. Percy and Grover narrowly escape but Percy’s mother disappears in a gold shower. Percy, also known as Perseus, learns that camp Half-Blood is a secret camp and training ground for young demigods. Percy also learns that Poseidon is his real father. Poseidon has been accused by Zeus of stealing his lightning bolt. It has now become Percy’s duty to return the lightning bolt or humankind will be destroyed. Thus the adventure begins with Percy’s encounters with characters from Greek mythology. The danger, suspense, and thrills ensue. Does Percy return the lightning bolt? What happens to Poseidon and Percy’s mother? What happens to Grover? Is humankind saved from destruction?

REVIEW:  The Lightning Thief is a great book based upon allusions to characters of Greek Mythology. It is full of suspense, thrills, and dangers. The reader’s attention is captured and maintained throughout the entire book. One is constantly making predictions trying to figure out what is going to happen next. The several examples of foreshadowing elements present in The Lightning Thief add to the excitement of Percy’s adventures.   

AREAS FOR TEACHING: main idea and supporting details, theme, setting, characters, point of view, conflict, plot, compare/contrast, cause/effect, sequence of events, inference, conclusions, generalizations, predictions, voice, mood, tone,  5 steps of the writing process, foreshadowing.

RELATED BOOKS: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis, The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, Fablehaven by Brandon Hull, The Time Paradox (Artemis Fowl, Book 6) by Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer,  Books by the same author: The Titan’s Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth, The Last Olympian, The Sea of Monsters, The Demigod Files, The 39 Clues (The Maze of Bones, Book 1)

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The Lightning Thief (scheduled for release 2010), Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (2005), The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008), The Incredibles (2004), Spider-Man (2002)


RELATED WEBSITES:  (ADHD topic)   (book talk)

REVIEWED BY: Tammy Leitzel

Lord of the Flies

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Lord of the Flies

Author: William Golding

Page Length: 202

Reading Level: 9

Genre: Allegorical Novel, Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: In Lord of the Flies, British school boys are stranded on a deserted island during a nuclear war because their plane crashes. Ralph meets Piggy, a fat-glasses wearing boy, and together they find a conch shell which they use as a trumpet. They use this conch shell to make a loud noise hoping that it will help locate other survivors of the plane crash. In response to the sound, other boys appear. The very small boys are called “lilluns”. The older boys are called “biguns”. Also a group of choir boys led by Jack Merridew arrive. All the boys soon realize that there are no adults present so they try to organize a society with rules based upon the rules from civilization as they know it. In an attempt to organize a society, the boys elect Ralph as the chief. Ralph’s competitor, Jack, is assigned control of the choir (the hunters who locate the food). As in most societies, duties to be performed are delegated to each of the boys by Ralph.  Since Jack and his choir are the “hunters”, Ralph, Piggy, and the twins who are called “Samneric” will carry water and build huts. Ralph and Piggy decide to build a fire using Piggy’s glasses. The boys hope the fire is seen by planes or ships that could rescue them. The hunters are also responsible for keeping this fire burning. One day, the hunters neglect the fire and it goes out. Conflict arises when Ralph and Piggy criticize Jack. In response, Jack breaks Piggy’s glasses and brags about the pig his hunters have killed for food. Soon the boys begin to think that a “beast” is on the island and everyone eventually becomes afraid. This fear causes even more power struggles between Ralph and Jack. With fear, conflict, and chaos, the boys turn to “savages”.  What or who is the “beast”? As the beast becomes a reality, what happens to Ralph and Piggy? Why does the group of “hunters”, led by Ralph, begin to “hunt” him?  Does the group of boys get rescued or are they forced to survive alone on the island forever?  

REVIEW:  Lord of the Flies is an excellent book to teach the reader the need for rules, laws, and order to maintain a civilized society. One learns that without these ideals, we as a society will become “savages”. William Golding presents the need for laws and order to prevent chaos in an adventure story. As simply an adventure story of the experiences of boys stranded on a deserted island to the multi-layered themes and depths of plot, Lord of the Flies can be enjoyed by young adult readers to older adults.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: main idea and supporting details, theme, setting, characters, point of view, conflict, plot, compare/contrast, cause/effect, sequence of events, inference, conclusions, generalizations, predictions, voice, mood, tone, 5 steps of the writing process, symbolism, irony.

RELATED BOOKS: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, The Giver by Lois Lowry, Tunnel in the Sky by Robert Heinlein, MacBeth by William Shakespeare, The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, The Crucible by Shirley Jackson, Animal Farm by George Orwell. Books by the same author: The Inheritors, Pinch Martin, The Brass Butterfly: A Play in Three Acts, Free Fall, The Spire, The Pyramid, The Scorpion God: Three Short Novels, Darkness Visible, The Paper Men, An Egyptian Journal, Close Quarters, Fire Down Below, Close Quarters, Rites of Passage

MOVIE & TV CONNECTIONS: Lord of the Flies (movie – 1963), Lord of the Flies (movie – 1990), Lost (TV series)

MUSIC CONNECTION: Iron Maiden – “Lord of the Flies”, U2 – “Shadows and Tall Tress


REVIEWED BY: Tammy Leitzel

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