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December 19, 2010

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Back by Norah McClintock: Book Cover

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Author: Norah McClintock

 

Page Length: 93

 

Reading Level: 3

 

Genre: Fiction

 

Career Connections: Policemen, Doctor

PLOT SUMMARY: How would you feel if a neighbor who had been jailed for beating your brother so badly that he was in a coma was released from prison and back living with his mother?  This is the situation Ardell Withrow is facing as Jojo Benn returns to the neighborhood. 

The story is told by a young boy who has a broken ankle and is doomed to wear a cast for the summer.  So, he has a good view from his front porch of the neighborhood activities. 

He first explains why Jojo was in jail.  It began when his girlfriend, Shana, became pregnant with his child.  Jojo had an attitude with people and when Shana wanted more attention than Jojo was willing to give, he got an “attitude” with her.  Eden, Ardell’s brother, witnessed this and came to her rescue.  This infuriated Jojo so much that he got a crowbar and beat Eden so badly that he went into a coma.  He has been in a hospital since the horrifying event.

When Jojo is released, the people of the neighborhood are leery of what his behavior will be.  The neighborhood stores refuse to sell him groceries.  He stays at home most of the time, except on the days when he and his mother leave in a taxi.  Shana comes to visit him and shows him their baby.  All of this is observed by the people in the neighborhood, including Ardell and his family.

Ardell and his mother go to visit Eden, but Ardell’s father refuses to visit him. One day his dad comes to the house and tells Ardell’s mother that the hospital has determined that Eden is brain-dead.  Eden is taken off of life support and dies. 

Many of the neighbors attend the funeral, but Shana doesn’t.  The tension increases with each of Shana’s visits to Jojo’s home.  Ardell confronts her and asks how she can forgive Jojo when it is his fault that Eden is dead. When Shana tells him that she didn’t ask for Eden’s help, this is more than Ardell can take.

REVIEW: This is a high interest level book written for the reluctant teen reader.  The story is told from an observer’s point of view, I think a student who has few friends or shy may be able to relate to the narrator. I would suggest the book to boys who are just beginning to do independent reading.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Drawing Conclusions, Making Predictions, Character, Conflict, Cause/Effect, and Compare/Contrast

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: None

RELATED BOOKS: Snitch, Tell, Bang, Down, Marked, and Watch Me

RELATED WEBSITES:

https://www.etrafficpress.com/?q=orca-soundings-resource-guide  

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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November 26, 2010

Between Earth and Sky: Legends of Native American Sacred Places

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Between Earth and Sky: Legends of Native American Sacred Places

Author: Joseph Bruchac and Thomas Locker

Page Length: 30 

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Poetry, Legends

PLOT SUMMARY: The legends of many Native American tribes tell of the sacred places they hold dear. Native Americans believed in seven directions: north, south, east, west, above, below, and the place within. These legends in this book focus on maintaining balance and respecting the earth.

REVIEW: For junior level English teachers who need Native American stories on a level that kids can understand, this book would be a good starting point. The illustrations are wonderful and could be used as descriptive writing prompts. Each brief poetic legend could also be an excellent journal starter. Discussing the meanings of the legends and finding proof of such in other modern day stories or events would also provide for excellent discussion material.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: legends, poetic form, synthesis and analysis, cause and effect

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: none

RELATED BOOKS: Roots of Survival, Skeleton Man, Seeing the Circle, Fox Song, Pushing Up the Sky: Seven Native American Plays for Children, Children of the Longhouse, Lasting Echoes, Sacajawea

RELATED MOVIES: Geronimo, Sitting Bull (1954) 

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.josephbruchac.com/

http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/Legends-AB.html  

http://www.ocbtracker.com/ladypixel/legend.html

http://www.ewebtribe.com/NACulture/stories.htm

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

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/depression/depression.htm

http://www.nps.gov/archive/elro/glossary/great-depression.htm

http://history1900s.about.com/od/photographs/tp/greatdepressionpictures.htm

http://www.randomhouse.com/features/christopherpaulcurtis/

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Bucking the Sarge

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Bucking the Sarge

Author: Christopher Paul Curtis

Page Length: 259

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Luther T. Farrell has something most boys don’t – a mother who’s a calculating businesswoman adept at amassing riches. Unlike other boys, Luther spends countless hours each day running his mother’s business. He’s responsible for caring completely for the residents of the adult home she runs. Luther’s life is anything but fun and games and his least favorite activity is getting called to clean up a rental after his mother and Darnell, the enforcer, have kicked somebody out. Luther’s days at school are his only duty free times. There he’s consumed with winning the Science Fair for a third year in a row.  Luther’s seems lost until Mr. X reveals to him what he’s always known is true – he deserves a better life than growing up heartless like his mother, the Sarge. With his mother’s schemes exposed, Luther’s finding out how to stand strong and be his own man. His future waits. Will he find the courage he needs to make it a good one?

REVIEW: Christopher Paul Curtis is a fabulous writer. Every book he’s written that I’ve read has been wonderful. His characters are masterful, and his message is unforgettable. Hope prevails despite circumstance. Doing what is right, despite how easy it might be not to, is a powerful message that most kids need to hear. The issues of disabilities and human nature are also addressed. Great story teller!

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence, compare and contrast, voice, narrative, author’s purpose, point of view

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: slums, poverty, condoms, heartless mother, violence (beating people)

RELATED BOOKS:  Bud Not Buddy, The Watson’s Go to Birmingham 1963, Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.randomhouse.com/features/christopherpaulcurtis/buckingthesarge.htm

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

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

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

September 28, 2009

Big Guy

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Big Guy

Author: Robin Stevenson

Page Length: 106

Reading Level: 2.9

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Derek is trying to get through high school and work. His favorite pastime is hanging out online. He meets someone special there and they talk everyday. When the guy asks for a photo, Derek sends him one. The problem is that photo was taken when he was pounds lighter. As their anticipated meeting date draws near, Derek can’t decide what to do. He’s trapped within the web of his own deceit.

REVIEW: The book details a gay online relationship as well as Derek’s father’s negative reaction to having a gay son. Mixed among the homosexual issues is a great story line about believing in yourself and being strong. Derek works with disabled and elderly clients where he meets a woman who avoids living a full life because she is disabled. Derek and the woman become friends and find strength through their friendship with each other.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, internal conflict, external conflict, character traits, dialogue, cause and effect, point of view

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: gay relationship, absent mother, alcoholism

RELATED BOOKS: Out of Order, Dead in the Water, Impossible Things

RELATED MOVIES: “Freedom Machines”, “The Christopher Reeve Story”, “Rain Man”, “Radio”, “Forrest Gump”

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://readingjunky.blogspot.com/2008/08/big-guy-by-robin-stevenson.html

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1442563.Robin_Stevenson

http://www.orcabook.com/client/PDFs/TeachersGuides/Orca%20Soundings/BigGuyTG.pdf

http://www.patriciaebauer.com/2008/09/12/divers-disabilities/

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

August 30, 2009

Begging for Change

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Begging for Change

Author: Sharon G. Flake

Page Length: 248         

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Raspberry lives with her mom who has been beaten up by Shiketa, a teen-age girl in their neighborhood.  While her mom is in the hospital, Raspberry’s father visits which is an unpleasant experience for her because he will steal and lie to anyone to get money for drugs.  Raspberry is anxious to leave the hospital with Zora, her friend, and Zora’s dad, Dr. Mitchell, who her mom dates. 

While eating dinner that evening, Zora and Dr. Mitchell both leave the table.  Raspberry feels compelled to look into Zora’s purse and instinctively takes the cash from her wallet.  Raspberry doesn’t know why she took Zora’s money, but doesn’t know how to give it back.

When her mom returns home from the hospital, there is tension between Shiketa’s friends and Raspberry and her mother.  Raspberry spends the summer days working and hanging out with other teens in the neighborhood.  Zora becomes stand offish but does not confront Raspberry about the stolen money and doesn’t tell her dad. 

As each day passes, Raspberry feels tension about her theft, but when the opportunity arises to steal from a neighbor lady, she takes more money.  When Raspberry’s father comes to her apartment and steals her own money, Raspberry knows how Zora must feel towards her. When Zora insists that Raspberry tell Dr. Mitchell about stealing the money, Raspberry makes up a lie to tell the doctor and her mom.  Raspberry begins to wonder if she is like her dad—a thief and a liar.

The summer passes with Zora and Raspberry not speaking, her friend, Mai, having bi-racial issues, a romance developing with Sato, another theft by her father, and a move to a nicer part of town. Raspberry has a good support system from her mom, Dr. Mitchell, and her friends but she has a love for money. It is only after she sees her dad, finally drug free, that she can admit her guilt.  She realizes she was “begging for change” not only through monetary means, but in her own life style.

REVIEW: This is the sequel to Money Hungry, whose main character, Raspberry Hill, continues to display a love for money. The book started out a little slow, but as the characters and plot developed, I became more interested.  Middle school and junior high African American girls would probably enjoy this book the most.  The relationship between the girlfriends is very realistic to the feelings 12-14 year-olds experience.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: References to drug use

AREAS OF TEACHING: Characters, Theme, Conflict, and Point of View

RELATED BOOKS: Chill Wind, Spellbound, and Money Hungry

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Daddy’s Little Girls (2006)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.lindaslinkstoliterature.com/lll/booktitles2.htm

www.sharongflake.com

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Ball Don’t Lie

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Ball Don’t Lie

Author: Matt de la Pena

Page Length: 280  

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Sticky is a skinny 17-year-old high school junior living in Venice, California.  This is his fourth foster home, after living with his drug addicted, prostitute mother who committed suicide when Sticky was only a young child.  Sticky has an obsessive compulsive disorder, but can usually get control of it after a few minutes.

Although Sticky is white and has been passed from family to family, he has developed an amazing talent for basketball.  He considers his real home the neighborhood recreational gym where old NBA basketball players as well as the homeless hang out.  His passion for basketball is unstoppable.

Surprising even to Sticky, Anh-thu, an Asian girl from school is attracted to him. She loves to watch him play basketball and wants to help him reach his goals and aspirations of making something of the predictable future of a poor white kid living on the street.

Sticky has great plans for Anh-thu’s birthday but they are halted after Sticky is approached for sex at the rec center, makes a bad decision after being taunted by one of the players and finds himself in a dire situation.

REVIEW: I would recommend this book for mature teens.  It is well written in third person voice.  The author is able to create emotion, passion, and suspense in his writing, while covering several intimate scenarios that Sticky experiences in his young life.  Sticky is exposed to difficult situations as a young child, and life doesn’t get easier for him with age. 

The reader is able to see Sticky grow and mature as he progresses through his junior year with the boys at the gym, with his foster family, his girlfriend, and his schoolmates. This is an excellent book for boys interested in basketball.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Character, Setting, Supporting Details, Sequence of Events, Conflict, Compare/Contrast, and Cause/Effect

TOUCHY AREAS: harsh profanity (p. 53, 128, 171, 175, 230), physical abuse (p. 65), sexual activity (p. 88, 164), sexual abuse (125), drug use (p. 226)

RELATED BOOKS: Slam, Painting the Black, The Crazy Horse Electric Game, Athletic Shorts

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Ball Don’t Lie (not yet released), Hoop Dreams (1994, Documentary), Hoosiers (1986), Heaven is a Playground (1991), Above the Rim (1994), On Hallowed Ground: Streetball Champions of Rucker Park (2001 Documentary)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.adlit.org/second_chances

www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&se=gglsc&d=76938392

 REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Buddha Boy

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Buddha Boy

Author: Kathe Koja

Page Length: 117

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Michael, also known as Jinsen, is the new kid in school. Only this new kid couldn’t stand out more in a rich school full of super jocks. Jinsen wears a big baggy peeling dragon shirt, shaves his head, and walks from table to table begging at lunch like a monk. Before long, he’s given the name Buddha Boy. He’s constantly picked on and ridiculed – hanging out with him is like committing social suicide. But Justin’s drawn to Jinsen’s outlook on life and his extreme talent an artist. The two become friends and Justin begins to discover Jinsen’s secret past. Bullies are constant looming, seeking to destroy Jinsen’s work and disrupt his indifference to their torture. Can Jinsen and Justin break the cycle of bullying before it is too late?

REVIEW: This is a wonderful book. The story relates some Buddhist principles about how everyone is like a God inside. Jinsen reveals his violent past and discusses why now he turns the other cheek – and how he too was once violent because he liked the way it made him feel.

I would highly recommend this book as a classroom read. It’s a wonderful opportunity to discuss bullying and the necessity for tolerating and understanding differences. It’s short – could be covered in a week or two in class – and carries an awesome message. The reader feels the pain and humiliation of Jinsen; we also share Justin’s rage and internal conflict at what he should do to aid his friend is also well expressed – the reader can feel the conflict within themselves and sense the gravity of the situation.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause and effect, author’s purpose, comparing and contrasting, character traits, conflict, and resolution

Full cast audio version is available

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: bullying and threat

RELATED BOOKS: Straydog, Exposure, Hit Squad, Crash, The Battle of Jericho

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS:

http://www.buddhanet.net/gallery.htm

Metropolitan Museum of Art

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0PBX/is_6_38/ai_n7179988

http://www.largeprintreviews.com/koja.html

http://www.nonamecallingweek.org/binary-data/NoNameCalling_ATTACHMENTS/file/17-1.pdf

http://www.drthrockmorton.com/respectandthefacts/documents/bullyingprevention.pdf

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Brian’s Song

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Brian’s Song

Author: William Blinn

Page Length: 119

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Teleplay

PLOT SUMMARY: Brian Piccolo and Gayle Sayers were unlikely friends. After all, they came from very different backgrounds. For one of them being the best was easy; for the other, being second best was normal. One of them was outgoing while the other was reserved. One of them was black, and one of them was white. Despite their differences, they had one thing in common -they both wanted to be first string for the same position on the Chicago Bears pro football team. They challenged each other, they never gave up, and through it all – they never stopped giving life their best effort. 

REVIEW: I love this format. I used this before with my seventh grade classes, they really enjoyed reading it aloud. The movie caps the entire teleplay off beautifully (I think the newer version is better than the 1971 version). The story is moving in many ways and provides excellent discussion material about – courage, perseverance, strength, the true meaning of friendship, and how critical attitude is to success.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: connecting text to self, sequence of events, cause and effect, making predictions, elements of plot, varied writing formats (using the teleplay as a classroom writing activity)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: reality of battling racism and cancer

RELATED BOOKS: Gayle Sayer’s I Am Third, Brian Piccolo: A Short Season, Story Sense, The Screenwriter’s Bible  

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Brian’s Song, Remember the Titans

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.bearshistory.com/lore/brianpiccolo.aspx

http://espn.go.com/classic/biography/s/Piccolo_Brian.html

http://www.christianitytoday.com/moi/2000/003/may/16.16.html

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

Breakout

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Breakout

Author: Paul Fleischman

Page Length: 137

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW: Breakout, on the surface, is a story about a young girl stuck in a major traffic jam on the freeway of Los Angeles. The traffic jam is symbolic of Del’s search for identity and purpose. As a 17 year old girl, Del has faked her death and has run away from her latest foster home. Stuck on the highway, she meets a number of individuals whom she has conversations with. Over the course of several hours, Del changes her name, her voice, her background, and the facts about her life as she speaks with the others stranded on the freeway. Del has no clear sense of identity, hence the motivation for her to strike out on her own path.

Flash forward 8 years to Del’s one woman stage show about a traffic jam. Del is now Elena Franco performing a host of monologues about a traffic jam. Both “traffic jam stories” are slightly similar, yet reveal that as Del has aged 8 years, her recollections of the Los Angeles traffic jam are more positive and accepting. With her success on the stage as Elena Franco, Del has found her identity and place in the world.

Those who enjoy theater and monologues will find this story a great resource. There are some precious nuggets in these pages. As far as a basic story for pleasure reading, this book would not appeal to the masses. It may be too confusing for a struggling reader to understand and follow.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: monologue, drama, script, setting, flash-back, flash-forward, humor, voice

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://books.simonandschuster.com/Breakout/Paul-Fleischman/9780689871894/reading_group_guide

http://www.adlit.org/adlit_guided_disc/28146

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Bluish

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Bluish

Author: Virginia Hamilton

Page Length: 127

Reading Level: 2

Genre: fiction

PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW:  This book was written with some journal entries by Dreenie, and the rest of the book was not in journal style but was all about three girls becoming new friends.  The girls are all in the same 5th grade class and get to know each other by extending their simple curiosity and pure enjoyment of shared time, activities, and personal time together.   However, one of the girls, Natalie – nicknamed “Bluish”, is quite different, because the chemotherapy she is given causes her veins to stick out giving her skin a “bluish” tint.  The two other girls, Dreenie and Tuli (Tulithia), have similar skin color.    Dreenie is chocolate brown, and Tuli is more medium golden.  Despite their skin differences and the fear of Bluish’s illness all three girls slowly become very good friends.

The book goes into several things that draw the students together.   There is their need to help and share; a small Puppy called Lucky; and the round skull caps that Bluish and her mother have made for the entire class.    Dreenie who is also fairly new in school enjoys becoming a good friend to Bluish and loves petting her puppy.   Tulithia, who only has a Grandmother at home, enjoys sharing things and playing with Bluish.   Then, there is Christmas time fun, gift “skull” hats for the entire class, and new class games for the Christmas and Jewish New Year’s seasons.   By the end of the story the reader, as am I, is convinced that the girls’ friendships have bonded and will continue to grow with each new experience. 

My opinion is that the book is excellent. It is a great book to use for a lesson on disabilities.

AREAS FOR TEACHING (TEKS): 

2.9 draw on experience for word meanings

2.10 learn the main ideas and details supporting it

2.11 connect compare the various ideas

2.12 analyze the characters

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES:  the only area that some children may not understand is on page 71.   It is a description of another meaning for the name Bluish.  It also means Black and Jewish when combined.  

RELATED BOOKS:   books also by Virginia Hamilton, Second Cousins, The House of Dies Drear, The People could Fly,   Zeely, Cousins, and McHiggins the Great.

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.virginiahamilton.com/pages/bluish.thm    

www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/Bluish.html

www.carolhurst.com/authors/vhamilton.html

www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/hy/virginia-hamilton/bluish.html 

www.litplans.com/titles/Bluish_Virginia_Hamilton.htmel  

REVIEWED BY: Linda Schwegler

Boy Proof

Boy Proof

Author: Cecil Castelluci

Page Length: 203

Reading Level: 3

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Victoria, known to all her friends as Egg, is a senior at a Hollywood High School. She is a cineophile who loves movies; her knickname, Egg, comes from her favorite movie – Terminal Earth. Egg’s become an expert at keeping people at bay – her friends, her mother, and even the new guy. Egg soon discovers that pushing everyone away may not be what she wants after all. Egg thought she was boyproof, but she’s jealous of Nelly and the attention she gets from Max. Egg begins to discover that she can’t do everything all by herself. She really does need love and friendship from both her family and friends. How can she undo the damage she’s already done?

REVIEW: Teen readers will be able to relate to Victoria’s (Egg’s) self conscious attitudes and her feelings that she must keep everyone at bay. Readers will also identify with her need to belong and her deep desire to want to be beautiful and feel comfortable with herself. Egg discovers that she does need people. That she’s talented and must learn to believe in herself. It’s interesting that her choice after being in the running for Valedictorian at school is to not go to college right away and instead work as an apprentice in costuming with her father. Some cautions – typical teen behaviors in one sense but point of discussion about acceptable behavior toward parents and friends – Egg pretty much walks all over her mother and comes and goes whenever she wants. Overall, the message is the book sends is a good one—Victoria had to find herself, throw off her cloak, and become comfortable with who she was before she could find love and happiness.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: connecting text to self, sequence of events, cause and effect, making predictions

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: references to sexuality, language (2-3 times)

RELATED BOOKS: Plain Janes, Janes in Love, Beige, The Queen of Cool

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: The Breakfast Club, Can’t Buy Me Love

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.misscecil.com/

http://www.readingmatters.co.uk/book.php?id=269

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Make-up_artist

http://videos.howstuffworks.com/hsw/13188-skills-for-healthy-living-learning-to-like-yourself-video.htm

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

Born Blue

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Born Blue

Author: Han Nolan

Page Length: 277

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Until you’ve been a foster child whose own mother will trade you for drugs, you don’t know what a hard life is. Janie does. Janie’s life has been nothing but hard times, trials, and tribulations – but, she’s blessed with an amazing gift. She has the voice of an angel – of course a career as a singer isn’t easy to come by and is all too often filled with the same elements that have made her life miserable in the first place. Will Janie have the strength to nurture her talent or will she succumb to a life of bad decisions and end up just like her mother?

REVIEW: Born Blue looks at the struggles of young Janie. Her first big memory is of drowning followed by placement with a foster family. Her friendship with a young boy got her through until her mother kidnapped her and traded her for a fix. Janie’s growing up now and learning that a life with no friends and no family is empty. She becomes bitter and disillusioned and takes to the streets. It’s all too easy for Janie to become involved with the wrong crowd. Singing like the great ladies – so famous for the blues – seems to be Janie’s only saving grace.

The book is good tool for teaching students the dangers of drug abuse and how life is a series of choices and the consequences that follow each of those choices. Janie wants to be a superstar and has a dream of recording with the greats – so many students can relate to her reaching desperately for the stars and her desire to be famous. However, Janie, because she’s been hurt along the way, hurts others too. She ends up handing her baby over to a young man as if he is the father even though he is not. He’s never told that the baby is not his (I am wary of the message this sends – even though Janie does what is best for the child in the end). Janie’s showing promise by the end of the book, but the reader has been taken through her lying, cheating, stealing, drug abuse, random sexual encounters, etc.  I would not read this as a class novel although there are many compelling issues for discussion.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: comparing text to self, compare and contrast, sequence of events, plot, cause and effect, use of dialect and its effects

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: “I left his room but I left my panties behind” (147)

“I wanted what he give me, every bit of it” (140)

Death from an overdose, sexual incidents, drug use

RELATED BOOKS: The Facts Speak for Themselves, Dancing on the Edge, Sending Me Down a Miracle, When We Were Saints, A Summer of Kings

RELATED WEBSITES:                            

http://www.hannolan.com/

http://www.bookrags.com/biography/han-nolan-aya/

http://www.teenreads.com/reviews/0152019162.asp

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

January 18, 2009

Boy Meets Boy

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Boys Meets Boy

Author: David Levithan

Page Length: 185

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Paul is in his sophomore year of high school. He has an angry and bitter ex named Kyle. One of Paul’s friends is Infinite Darlene (formerly known as Daryl) who is both the homecoming queen and the star quarterback on the football team. Joni, his best friend, has always been there for him until recently. Tony, Paul’s other best friend, has super religious parents who won’t let Tony hang around him because he’s gay. Everything seems to be going terribly wrong until Paul meets Noah. As their relationship begins to develop, the world around Paul seems to unravel. It isn’t long before everything he holds dear is in jeopardy. Will Paul find what he’s looking for before it’s too late?

REVIEW: This book is like every other David Levithan book I have read – a little on the strange side (out there in an alternate reality perhaps). However, the book is an interesting read filled with the common teenage angst and the need everyone has to discover who they are and what they want from life. The story is interesting and dramatic enough to keep students turning the page to find out: if Joni will ever come to her senses, if Kyle will forgive Noah, and if Tony’s parents will ever understand and accept who he is.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  sequence of events, character traits, elements of plot, author’s purpose, use of dialogue

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: gay relationships – girls and boys

RELATED BOOKS: The Realm of Possibility, Are We There Yet?, Marly’s Ghost, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Wide Awake, Naomi & Ely’s No Kiss List

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.davidlevithan.com/bmb_landing.html

http://www.teenreads.com/reviews/0375832998.asp

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

http://www.randomhouse.com/features/davidlevithan/fromdl.html

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Belle Prater’s Boy

Belle Prater’s Boy

Author: Ruth White

Page Length: 196

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Belle Prater, Woodrow’s mother and Gypsy’s aunt, disappears one night without any explanation.  Woodrow, a rather backward boy, moves in with his grandparents who live next door to Gypsy’s more socially adapt family.  Gypsy is the town beauty but she feels invisible and hates her long beautiful hair. Although the townspeople try to find out what happened to Belle, Woodrow seems content and knows why his mother disappeared. He is a great storyteller and entertains his schoolmates and the family with his stories.  Gypsy and Woodrow become instant best friends. Gypsy wonders how Woodrow deals with the loss of his mother while she tries to come to grips with the death of her own father. 

REVIEW: This story is set in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky.  The author writes with local colloquial sayings that make the reader become familiar with the characters and their personalities.  It has mystery with touches of humor that also make it a very humanistic tale. The character development of Gypsy and Woodrow are excellent. The book is based on the friendship that develops between the two sixth graders and how the family deals with death and sorrow.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Gypsy’s father commits suicide and she discovers him as she looks through the living room window.  However, it is not too graphic for the junior high reader or the older reader to handle.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Theme, Conclusions, Generalizations, Predictions, Cause/Effect, Character, and Conflict

RELATED BOOKS: Journey, Comfort Creek, The Pinball’s, Holes

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Cold Mountain (2003)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.theliterarylink.com/belle_lessons.html

www.centerforlearning.org/ViewProductDetails-627-571-42.html

www.rif.org/educators/books/book.mspx?View=110

www.pages.drexel.edu/~eg72/EDUC525/site3/socialiss.htm

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

January 17, 2009

Beach House

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Beach House

Author: R. L. Stine

Page Length: 210

Reading Level: 3

Genre: Fiction-Horror         

PLOT SUMMARY: Maria, Stuart, Amy, Ronnie, and Buddy are all at the beach in the summer of 1956.  When Stuart and Ronnie de-pant Buddy and leave him nude in the ocean, the girls get a good laugh at Buddy with the boys.  However, the four-some do not realize that Buddy was embarrassed by the incident.  He is so embarrassed that he wants revenge.

In Part 2 of the book, the setting is on the same beach with another group of teens, but the time is 50 years later.  Ross, Ashley, Kip and Lucy are spending time together at the ocean when they meet Brad, a very wealthy, good-looking but serious guy. One night, Kip and Lucy fail to return home.  Their disappearance is a mystery. Ashley becomes interested in Brad, and decides to break-up with Ross when his jealousy causes a scene at Brad’s mansion on Ocean Drive.  Lucky for Ashley, Ross follows her after the break-up to watch her activities.

In both parts of the book, there is a mysterious “Beach House” that no one has ever lived in.  The house contains a secret that is not revealed until late in the story.

REVIEW: The book is written in six parts with flashbacks from the 1950’s to the present.  It is suspenseful with serial killers in each era. For those who like suspense and mystery, and do not scare easily, this is a great book to read. 

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: The book’s theme is of several violent murders. However, if the reader starts the book, knowing that its genre is “Horror”, I feel the book is age appropriate for the high school reader.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Setting, Theme, Conflict, Character

RELATED BOOKS: The Boyfriend, The Girlfriend, Call Waiting, and Hit and Run

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), Scream (1996), and Prom Night (1980)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.smartgirl.org/reviews/books/7278256.html

www.readwritethink.org/lessons/lesson_view.asp?id=407

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Baseball in April and Other Stories

        

Baseball in April and Other Stories

Author: Gary Soto

Page Length: 111

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Gary Soto wrote a collection of eleven short stories told by young teen-age Latino kids living in California.  The stories reflect everyday happenings of young people and their feelings about friendship, love, success and failure.

REVIEW: Although the stories are about everyday happenings, they remind the reader to reflect on his own dreams and desires of both the past and the future.  The book was similar to the style written in The House on Mango Street but the stories were more appealing to both genders and more current to the lives of teens today.  The book would be excellent to use as a source for teaching writing.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Descriptive Writing, Narrative Writing, Compare/Contrast, Theme, and Setting

RELATED BOOKS: The House on Mango Street

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Crazy/Beautiful (2001) and Save the Last Dance (2001)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.sdcoe.k12.ca.us/score/soto/sototg.html

www.falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/soto.htm

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Breathless

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Breathless

Author: Pam Withers

Page Length: 101

Genre: Fiction

 

SUMMARY: Beverly lives in Winapeg, Canada, but is visiting her uncle who lives in Hawaii.  Her uncle runs a dive shop and she is eager to go scuba diving again.  Beverly has two goals to accomplish during her stay.  Feeling a little chubby, she vows to lose ten pounds.  She also wants to find a boyfriend.

 

Quite a few boys pass through the dive shop, but the one who catches Beverly’s eye is Garth, the dive master.  He is cute, confident and a bit flirtatious.  Beverly likes him too.  Being a little bit older, he seems to be pushing the affection part a little more than Beverly is comfortable with.

 

Beverly is actually hiding the fact that she is trying to lose weight and is almost starving herself.  When she goes on the dives with her uncle and Garth she realizes that she has not consumed enough calories to provide the energy she needs to swim comfortably.  A series of events spur a lot of action and suspense as the story develops.

REVIEW:  This was a good fast read that I think teen-age girls would enjoy. The setting in Hawaii and the romance of Beverly and Garth will keep the reader intrigued with trying to determine what will happen next.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Cause and Effect, and Making Predictions

RELATED BOOKS: Camp Wild, Raging River, Peak Survival, Adrenalin Ride

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Coral Reef Adventure (2003)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.lindaslinkstoliterature.com/lll/booktitles2.htm   

www.navmetoccom.navy.mil/educate/neptune/lesson/language/books.htm  

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 10, 2008

Blue Jasmine

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Blue Jasmine

Author: Kashmira Sheth

Page Length: 186

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Realistic Fiction     

PLOT SUMMARY: It is very hard for Seema to leave her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins for America but the twelve-year-old girl moves with her family from India to Iowa City. Upon arriving in the United States, Seema learns that very little is the same in her new home and environment.  The streets, buildings and grocery stores are much larger but she finds fewer people with whom she can communicate.  As she enters school, she compares her life to “chutes and ladders”.  Some days everything goes great, others are pure disasters.  Seema does make friends and adjusts to her new home.  When her grandmother in India becomes ill, she returns to her old home and finds that things are not the same and she has trouble fitting in to both worlds.

REVIEW: This book is filled with great descriptions of India and its beautiful flowers and aromas of food flavors.  Sheth uses metaphors, similes, and idioms to write a great book for teaching examples of figurative language.  The characters are developed with vivid personalities and the setting of both India and Iowa City are well described. 

I think young girls would especially enjoy reading this book that not only describes two different cultures but also confronts the issues middle school girls must go through to “fit in”.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Figurative Language, Setting, Character, and Comparison/Contrast

RELATED BOOKS: The Kite Runner, Born Confused, The Conch Bearer, New Kids in Town

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: The Kite Runner (2007)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.webenglishteacher.com/childlit-s.html

www.ailf.org/teach/resourceguide2005.pdf

www.tracievaughnzimmer.com/blue jasmine.htm

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 8, 2008

Bone The Dragonslayer #4

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Bone The Dragonslayer #4

Author: Jeff Smith

Page Length: 168

Reading Level: 3

Genre: Fiction-Graphic Novel        

PLOT SUMMARY: In book 4 of the Bone saga, Fone Bone runs into several dangerous situations.  With Gran’ma Ben and Thorn, he has a scary encounter with Kingdok, the ruler of the rat creatures.  Kingdok is trying to get his army into a full-scale attack on the village.  Thorn is having frightening dreams and then Gran’ma disappears.  While Fone is dealing with these crises in the forest, Phoney Bone has convinced the townspeople that he is a dragonslayer.  The people do not know that the dragon is actually their friend and it is the rat creatures they should fear.

REVIEW: This is the fourth of the Bone series and it takes a turn towards violence rather than the humor and adventure of the first two novels.  Readers will definitely be hooked into reading the saga, which is colorful and well illustrated.

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

RELATED BOOKS: Bone-Out From Boneville, The Great Cow Race, Eye of the Storm, Rock Jaw: Master of the Eastern Shore, Old Man’s Cave, Ghost Circles, Treasure Hunters, and Crown of Thorns

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Harry Potter (movie series), The Lord of the Rings (movie series)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.bookreporter.com/authors/au-smithjeff.asp

www2.scholastic.com/browse/collateral.jsp?id=1399

www.graphicclassroom.blogspot.com/2008_01_01_archive.html

www.teachwrite.wordpress.com

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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