The Book Reviews – Website

December 19, 2010

Chains

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson: Book Cover

Chains

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Page Length: 316

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Historical Fiction

Career Connection: Military service, undercover work

PLOT SUMMARY: The setting is the New England colonies, 1776; the characters are Isabel (13) and her younger sister, Ruth.  They are African American slaves whose mistress has just died.  They should be freed upon the declaration of her death, but their relatives choose to sell them to the Lockton’s who live in New York City and support the British Redcoats during the Revolutionary War.

Isabel is protective of Ruth, whom Madam Lockton uses as her “pet” to impress society friends from Britain.  Ruth suffers from epilepsy which Madam Lockton cannot understand.  The book covers an eight month time span where Isabel is separated from Ruth, beaten and branded, cooks and serves the soldiers of King George’s army, and spies for George Washington’s imprisoned patriots.

Her hope in life is built on the influence of Curzon, a young fellow slave, who is injured in the war and is housed at the local hospital; and, Lady Seymour, sister in law of the dreaded Madam Lockton.

Contrary to most African American slaves of the time period, Isabel can read. After reading Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, and being discovered as a spy, Isabel realizes that she must find freedom or die at the will of Madam Lockton.  She bids the severely ill Lady Seymour good-bye; then, returns to the hospital prison to rescue Curzon, in the hope that they can cross the water from New York City to the shore of New Jersey and travel to Atlanta to find Ruth.

REVIEW: I found this book interesting in its historical recalling of slavery in the northern New England colonies at the time of the Revolutionary War.  Written from Isabel’s point of view, I developed a sense of empathy for her as she related her feelings of loneliness and helplessness in the world of aristocratic hierarchy.  Unlike most slaves I have read about, the protagonist can read and is quite intellectual and informed for a 13 year old.

The author uses similes and metaphors frequently throughout the book. At the end of the book, an informative Appendix and a Reader’s Guide are included.  This would be an interesting class novel to read as a study of the Revolutionary War, slavery in the United States, or African American history.  The book would be appealing to girls who enjoy American history.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Recalling Details, Historical Context

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: None

RELATED BOOKS: Octavian Nothing, Forge

RELATEDWEBSITES:

www.webenglishteacher.com/lhanderson.hml

www.charlotteaward.wordpress.com/young-adult

www.branson.k12.mo.us/elementary/emints/lessonplans/chambersinterdisciplinarylesson.pdf

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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Catching Fire

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Catching Fire (Hunger Games Series #2) by Suzanne Collins: Book Cover

Catching Fire

Author: Suzanne Collins

 

Page Length: 391

 

Reading Level: 5.4

 

Genre: Fiction

 

Career Connection: Coal miner, political leader

 

PLOT SUMMARY: In this sequel to The Hunger Games, Katniss is at home but not able to enjoy her life in Victory Village because of the rumors of uprisings against the Capitol. She lives under the pretense that she loves Peeta, but she longs for her days in the meadow with Gale. Gale is working in the coal mines now, so she spends her days alone, hunting for food for Gale’s family. Her heroic moves at the end of The Hunger Games have made her the target for the president to help stop the rebellious behavior of the people in the neighboring districts.

 

When it is time to pick the tributes for the annual hunger games, the citizens learn that the rules for the “Quell” have been changed. The tributes can be picked only from previous participants. So, Peeta and Katniss are back in the arena. They face bigger challenges and Katniss discovers her conscious plays a bigger part in survival.

 

REVIEW: This is a good sequel to the first in the series, but is not as fast paced. More of the action takes place outside of the arena where Katniss must make decisions of personal issues. The book would be enjoyable for both boys and girls as the plot unveils violent and heroic events.

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Characters, Theme, Cause/Effect, Setting

 

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: None that aren’t age and content appropriate

 

RELATED BOOKS: The Hunger Games

 

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The Hunger Games (to be released 2011)

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

www.brighthub.com/education/k-12/articles/56284.asp

 

www.suzannecollinsbooks.com/catching_fire_88086.htm

 

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Canyons

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Canyons by Gary Paulsen: Book Cover

Canyons

Author: Gary Paulsen

 

Page Length: 184

 

Reading Level: 6

 

Genre: Historical Fiction   

PLOT SUMMARY: This story is about two different boys who lived in different eras, but have a similar spiritual connection.  Coyote Runs was a teen-age apache who died as he was coming of age on his first horse raid.  Breenan Cole is a teen-age boy who lives with his divorced mother and loves to run in the city of El Paso.

While on a camping trip with his mom and her new boyfriend, Brennan discovers a human skull.  He hides the skull and takes it home.  There, he becomes obsessed with it and determined to find out what happened to the person who died from a bullet shot to the head.  The spiritual connection is formed when Brennan begins to have dreams about an Apache boy who seems to be sending a message to him.

Coyote Runs was the young apache boy who was shot and killed by U. S. army soldiers during a night raid the tribe had made to steal horses from Mexico almost 100 years earlier.

Brennan confides his secret to his biology teacher who contacts a friend that has a link to obtaining historical documents.  When Brennan discovers what happened to Coyote Runs, he leaves home to find the slain Indian’s body in the desert outside of El Paso.

REVIEW: The beginning of the book is written from the point of view of both boys in alternating chapters.  After Coyote Runs dies, the rest of the book is written from Brennan’s point of view. The book would be a good read as a class novel because it would hold the interest of both boys and girls. It could easily be used with a social studies unit on a study of American Indians of the Southwest.  The sill of compare/contrast as it relates to the two boys and their cultures could be studied, as well as the skills of setting and theme.

This is one of Paulsen’s better books and would appeal to most young adults.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: None

AREAS OF TEACHING: Compare/Contrast, Sequence of Events, Setting, Point of View, Theme

RELATED BOOKS: The Birchbark House, Cloudwalker: Contemporary Native American Stories

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.webenglishteacher.com/paulsen.html

www.walch.com/product/707

www.sdcoe.k12.ca.us/score/cy68.html

MUSIC CONNECTIONS: Warrior Spirit (1994), The Fast Runner (2007), Spirit Rider (1993)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

November 26, 2010

Chasing Vermeer

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Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett: Book Cover

Chasing Vermeer

Author: Blue Balliett

Page Length: 254

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Calder and Petra have one thing in common. They have the greatest sixth grade teacher ever – Ms. Hussey. After Ms. Hussey gives her class the challenging assignment of proving that written letters are not dead by finding someone whose life has been altered by a letter, Calder and Petra decide to work together. What starts as a simple assignment soon morphs into something more. A great mystery is afoot. A painting has been stolen, and Calder and Petra are hot on the trail of a thief.

REVIEW: This was an interesting and mysterious story. The clues are revealed to the reader as the story evolves. Readers learn a great deal about the famous artist Jan Vermeer and the uses of pentominoes. Readers reflect about what makes great artwork, and they learn about actions taken toward a cause. The book provides great discussion material of the causes and effects of each character’s action or inaction. This is a story that is very interesting and engaging.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, character traits, cause and effect, context clues, foreshadowing, great book to pair with pentominoes from math class

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: none

RELATED BOOKS:  The Calder Game, The Wright 3

RELATED MOVIES: Chasing Vermeer (due out in 2011)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.scholastic.com/blueballiett/blueballiett_bio.htm

http://www.usd376.com/hs/staff/brownleea/vermeer/index.htm

http://teacher.scholastic.com/authorsandbooks/events/balliett/teachers_guide.htm

http://www.mystudios.com/vermeer/index.html

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

June 5, 2010

Cuba 15

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Cuba 15

Author: Nancy Osa

Page Length: 277

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Violet Paz is turning 15. Her Cuban grandmother insists that she must have a quinceañera to celebrate her passage to womanhood. At first, Violet resists adhering to the old traditions, especially Cuban ones she can’t identify with at all. Through a project at school, Violet begins to learn more about Cuba and her roots. She begins to learn to love her heritage; and, when Violet finds a way to add her own flair and style to her quinceañera she begins to be excited about the prospect.

REVIEW: The book is a first person narrative from the viewpoint of a 15 year old. She has humorous insight into the antics of her friends and relatives. Violet and her father are even found reading Quinceañera for Dummies in preparation for the big event. When Violet discovers the theatrical aspects she can blend into her celebration everything seems to come together. The novel is insightful look into the blending of cultures and all the challenges of growing up.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: historical applications, author’s purpose, conflict, mood, tone, sequence of events

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: smoking

RELATED BOOKS:  Once Upon a Quinceañera, Esperanza Rising, Becoming Naomi Leon

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.nancyosa.com/

http://www.teenreads.com/reviews/0385730217.asp

http://www.quinceanera-boutique.com/quinceaneratradition.htm

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

November 15, 2009

Crazy Loco

Crazy Loco

Author: David Rice

Page Length: 135

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: This is a series of short stories in the setting of the Texas Rio Grande Valley.  All of the stories are about the daily lives of Mexican-American teens.  One story deals with two boys who live in a lower socio-economic small town who have their “uppity” cousins from California visit.  Another story is about an 85 year-old mid-wife and the relationship she shares with her niece.  One of the stories focuses on a young boy who is forced to move-in with his grandfather after his parent’s divorce.  There is a dog who loves firecrackers and a big learning experience for an altar boy.

REVIEW: The stories appear authentic because the author includes many Spanish words and phrases and depicts the characters with realistic personalities and viewpoints.   Also, the primary religion, Catholicism is used as a reference in the narratives that contain drama and some humor.

I would suggest this book for Hispanic males.  It could also be used in a study of Hispanic Heritage or in a cultural diversity unit.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Point of View, Character, and Setting

RELATED BOOKS: Becoming Naomi Leon, House on Mango Street, Finding Our Way, and Crossing the Wire

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.learningthroughlistening.org/…/463/lessonId__383

www.readwritethink.org/calendar/calendar_day.asp?id=293

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 30, 2009

City of the Beasts

City of the Beasts

Author: Isabel Allende

Page Length: 406

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Realistic Fiction     

PLOT SUMMARY: Alexander Cold is 15 years old when he finds himself being sent to New York City to go on an International Geographic expedition with his eccentric grandmother, Kate.  Although Alex dreads the trip, he must follow his parent’s wishes because his dad has to care for his mother as she undergoes treatment for cancer. Shortly after arriving in the depths of the Amazon territory, Alex becomes an active part of the expedition.

There are several colorful characters that belong to the group including a professor, a doctor, an entrepreneur, a missionary, a photographer, a writer (his grandmother), several soldiers and a guide.  The guide’s daughter, Nadia, is a young girl and she and Alex quickly become friends.

The goal of the expedition is to track down the Beast. He is believed to be over nine feet tall, very strong, and carries a very strong pungent odor. As the group moves through the heavy forest, an Indian tribe called the People of the Mist kidnaps Alex and Nadia. While with these invisible people, the two young people encounter some amazing adventures and experience some supernatural spiritual events.

Not only does a bond build between the two young people but also a bond is formed with the Indian tribe that allows Alex and Nadia to learn about their culture and values and the point of view of the primitive people towards the outside world.  When they are reunited with the other members of their party, they find that not all of the group can be trusted to befriend the People of the Mist.

REVIEW: When I began this book I did not think I was going to enjoy it.  The grandmother’s character is quite harsh and the setting of the Amazon did not entice my interest.  However, after just a few chapters, the characters of the book are developed and the adventure of being in the deep, unchartered land of primitive Indians began to captivate by interest.  As Alex and Nadia begin to spend time with the People of the Mist, they begin to experience supernatural powers, which seem unlikely but made believable by the author.  The search for the Beast, becomes an encounter with a prehistoric being that is similar to man but unchanged through evolution.

I think this would be an excellent class novel for both genders and any middle school to high school age student to read.   The mixture of fantasy and reality are captivating.  Student’s who like Harry Potter would enjoy this book.  I can invision this book being made into a movie.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Native Indians do not wear clothing, but there are only references to this as being a part of the culture. There is some graphic violence in the deaths of some of the characters (p. 354-356) but this also fits into the context of the story without being offensive.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Characters, Sequence of Events, Point of View, Fantasy vs. Reality

RELATED BOOKS: Kingdom of the Golden Dragon

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.webenglishteacher.com/lit-a.html

www.emints.org/ethemes/resources/S00001608.shtml

www.litplans.com/titles

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Chill Wind

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Chill Wind

Author: Janet McDonald

Page Length: 134  

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The story begins with Aisha, a 19 year-old single mother of two, receiving her notice that her welfare income is about to be discontinued after five years.  Aisha lives with her alcoholic mother in the projects and is determined that she will not work for the city to supplement her income.

The book flashes back to Aisha’s former years when she dropped out of school and dated, Kevin, the father of her children. The book chronicles Aisha’s daily life of eating junk food, spending time with her “homies”, and thinking of ways to avoid having her welfare taken away.  She thinks she can plead insanity or convince Kevin to marry her. When neither of these ideas works, Aisha does get a job with the “workfare” in the subways. Coincidentally, she is befriended by a former model that gets her a successful job in advertising. 

REVIEW: This is a compelling book that humorously depicts Aisha’s life of desperation as she lives in the projects with no substantial skills to earn income. Written in third person narrative form, Aisha is an example of a young woman who continually makes bad choices.  She finds ways to overcome these choices, however, by caring for her children in the best way that she can.  At the end of the book, she finds her “pot of gold” by appearing in a television commercial.  I felt that this “happy ending” was quite unrealistic and therefore, did not send a good message to teens who may read the book.  However, the book is funny and I think African American teens would enjoy Aisha’s antics.

The book is written with the majority of the dialogue in Ebonics.   

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Character, Compare/Contrast, and Cause/Effect

TOUCHY AREAS: The main character is a teen mother and high school dropout.

RELATED BOOKS: Spellbound, Hanging on to Max, The First Part Last

RELATED WEBSITES:  

www.un.org/works/Lesson_Plans/WGO/WGO_LP_PA.

www.teachling.wwu.edu/files/Linguistics%20Lesson%20Plan.doc

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Catherine, Called Birdy

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Catherine, Called Birdy

Author: Karen Cushman

Page Length: 212

Reading Level: 8

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW: Catherine (Birdy) is the stubborn daughter of Sir Rollo and Lady Aislinn who live in England in the year 1290.  The story is a journal of daily entries of Birdy’s 14th year of life. 

Birdy is being groomed to be a wife and mother by performing the skills that most girls learn at her age.  Birdy, however, does not want to be married off so that her father can collect money for her.  She does practice the skill of medicine well as making several concoctions that remedy many ailments. 

Birdy tells of her day to day life and introduces us to many characters who share her life in the village, castle and manor.  Her father drinks “ale” often and she notes how he often hits or kicks her under the influence.  She refers to her father as a beast and does not understand how her mother could love him.

Birdy spends the year attending weddings, feasts, a monastery and funerals.  All the time, Birdy tries to avoid the thought of being married off by her father and is successful at warding off most of those who call on her.  However, she is promised to an old, man whom she calls Shaggy Beast and spends most of the book worrying about how to avoid marrying him.

REVIEW:  Birdy could be one of the first feminists as she strives to be independent and not forced into marriage. She strives to avoid the common life of women of medieval times.  In the author’s note at the end of the book, Cushman, states that although the characters and events are all fictional, the setting, customs and practices depicted by Birdy follow authentic medieval practices.  

This book would be an interesting novel to read to coincide with a study of the Canterbury tales.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Setting, Theme, Sequence of Events, Point of View

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: references to alcohol and physical abuse

RELATED BOOKS: The Canterbury Tales, Innocent Wayfaring, The Door in the Wall, Adam of the Road, A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Crusades (1935), Elizabeth-The Golden Age (2007), The Sword in the Stone (2001)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.castlesontheweb.com/

http://www.learner.org/exhibits/middleages

www.carolhurst.com/titles/catherinecalledbirdy.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Catalyst

Catalyst

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Page Length: 233

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Kate Malone is nervously awaiting her acceptance letter to MIT, the only college she applied to as a senior honor student.  Her deceased mother went to MIT and that is the only school she has ever wanted to attend.  As Kate watches her friends being accepted to not only their first choice schools, but their second and third choices, she begins to be unable to sleep. An avid runner, she chooses to run at night to avoid the inevitable nightmare that will occur if she does not get the positive letter from MIT.

In Kate’s everyday life, she is an honor student and a track star. She handles all of the domestic duties at her home over her sickly brother, Toby,  and her  father who is a minister.  Her neighbor, Terri Litch, who has always been an enemy, continues to send bad vibes to Kate in the school cafeteria.

When the Litch’s house catches on fire, and Ms. Litch is unable to care for Terri and her brother, Mr. Malone has them move in with Kate, Toby, and him.  Now, Kate, has new responsibilities—Terri and Mikey. 

As Kate moves through the everyday motions of school, a romantic relationship, and church volunteer obligations, with no sleep, she finds she has a growing attachment for Mikey and a concern building for Terri, the arch enemy. A series of events follow that impact not only the Litch’s and Malone’s, but the entire community.  Relationships and personal values and morals are exposed and questioned as the town deals with tragedy.

REVIEW: This is an excellent book for the mature, advanced high school student to read.  I think girls would especially like it, as it is dramatic in content.  The events of the story, while tragic, are common in our society today.  Ms. Anderson does an excellent job of developing the characters through Kate’s eyes and the world through her point of view. It is one of the best young adult books I have read.   

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

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: reference to masturbation (p. 14), incest, occasional profanity

RELATED BOOKS: Speak, The Center of Everything, Prom

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.webenglishteacher.com/lhanderson.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Candy

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Candy

Author: Kevin Brooks

Page Length: 364  

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Joe is an ordinary teen age boy living outside London with his father and sister.  His parent’s are divorced although they continue to see each other.  Joe plays bass in a local rock band.  One day, on the way to a doctor’s appointment, Joe encounters Candy, the most beautiful girl he has ever seen.  His conversation with her in Mc Donald’s is brief because a large black man comes in to the restaurant and forces her to leave with him.

Although the encounter was brief, Joe did get Candy’s number. He calls her and they meet at the London Zoo.  While in the Moonlight World tunnel, Candy begins to kiss Joe and a heavy make-out scene follows.  Joe is aware that Candy is taking some type of drugs but he is not sure what.  He becomes obsessed with her and writes a song about her. 

When Candy goes to see Joe at the club where his band is playing, she hears the song about her.  As the crowd applauds the performance, a fight breaks out between the black man who appears to possess Candy, and Mike, Joe’s future brother-in-law.  Joe discovers Candy is living a life of heroin drug addiction and prostitution. Determined to help her, he risks his relationship with his father and his friends and eventually his own life. 

REVIEW: The book is a narrative written from Joe’s point of view.  The characters are developed in a realistic manner in which the reader can embrace their feelings and emotions.

I would recommend the book for mature teens.  The content is heavy, but gripping, as the characters experience the tragedies of drug addiction.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Cause/Effect, Conflict, Theme, and Character

TOUCHY AREAS: Teachers should be aware that the theme of the book is about drug addiction.  Mild profanity is used throughout the book (p. 22, 30, 102, 118, 285, through the end of the book) and a heavy make-out scene is described on page 97.  There is drug use on pages: 116, 142, and 195.  Chapter 19 describes Candy’s withdrawal from heroin.  There is also physical violence included.       

RELATED BOOKS: Crank, The Beast, Slam, Charmed, Rats Saw God, No Problem, The Glory Field

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Miles from Home (2006),

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.pbskids.org/itsmylife/parents/lesson_plans/dangers_of_drug_abuse.html 

 REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Climb or Die A Test of Survival

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Climb or Die: A Test of Survival

Author: Edward Myers

Page Length: 180

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Danielle and Jake have just moved with their family to Colorado. Danielle, the star athlete in the family, has just finished survival training. Jake, her younger brother, always feels like the disappointment in the family. On a family trip to their cabin, a deadly snowstorm occurs. Their car is swept off the road, and their parents are injured. With little fuel, only a small amount of food left, and parents in desperate need of medical attention, Danielle and Jake are the only hope. Do they have what it takes to survive in this weather? Will they be able to seek help in time?

REVIEW: The story was entertaining and the conflicts and emotions between the siblings was an interesting addition to the story line and will be an connection point for teens who struggle in their relationships with their own siblings. The story is suspenseful as the reader turns page after page to discover whether or not the kids can really save the day. On that note – their ability to survive a blizzard with little training and to climb a mountain with crude tools seems a little far-fetched. The story was interesting and suspenseful – just a little hard to believe.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, compare and contrast, character traits, timeline

RELATED BOOKS: Duck and Cover, Survival of the Fittest, Hostage, Secrets of the Rain Forest, Danger in the Desert, Adrift

MUSIC CONNECTIONS: Destiny’s Child – Survivor, Christina Aguilera – Fighter

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.edwardmyers.com/

http://www.wisegeek.com/what-should-i-do-to-survive-a-blizzard.htm

http://www.ehow.com/how_2043888_survive-blizzard.html

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

Car Trouble

Car Trouble

Author: Jeanne DuPrau

Page Length: 274

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction, Epic

PLOT SUMMARY:  A recent high school graduate and computer genius, 17 year old Duff Pringle, foregoes college for a job in Silicon Valley against the advice of his parents. Duff purchases a car and decides to drive from Virginia to California. After 100 miles his car breaks down and is stuck without transportation. Since he does not want his parents to know of the car trouble, Duff must use his ingenuity to find an alternative method to get to California. To his dismay, Duff comes up with a plan and meets a hitchhiker named Stu with whom to travel. Stu is an easy-going and light hearted character but is somewhat of a thief to which Duff is unaware. Duff and Stu meet a girl named Bonnie who is a musician and her mother is a con-artist. Bonnie joins Duff and Stu on their journey and soon all three meet up with two crooks after some stolen money. Duff begins to like Bonnie while Bonnie’s affection seems to be for Stu. Duff tries to impress Bonnie with his interest in alternative fuel sources while Stu shares Bonnie’s interest in music and dancing. Who will Bonnie end up liking? Will each character get to their respective destinations? Will Duff get the dream job? Will Duff change his view of his parents?          

REVIEW:  Car Trouble by Jeanne DuPrau is a good coming of age story. From setting out on his own and experiencing difficulties to solving the problems that occur, Duff transforms from a teen to a young man. Duff realizes that he needs to be himself and realizes that people should like him for who he is. Duff also realizes that he can be independent and yet respect the opinions of his parents. He also realizes that his parents are not as dumb as he thought they were. These are all lessons in which the   reader can identify.    

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 Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Inkdeath (Inkheart) by Cornelia Funke, The Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw by Jeff Kinney,  Max (Maximum Ride, Book 5) by James Patterson. Books by the same author: The Diamond of Darkhold, The People of Sparks (the Books of Ember), The Prophet of Yonwood, The City of Ember

MOVIE CONNECTIONS:  Coming of age movies: 13 Going on 30 (2004), 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), American Graffiti (1973), Dead Poets Society (1989)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.bookbrowse.com/biographies/index.cfm?author_number=1188

http://books.google.com/books?id=XsTBbywE34QC&pg=PT38&lpg=PT38&dq=coming+of+age+actiivities&source=bl&ots=jZO8noKzA9&sig=t2eoqxv2pxLYOjH8PD8CPX_8sq0&hl=en&ei=DeoxSu26HOmwtgepk62lCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2

http://sciencespot.net/Pages/kdztech.html

http://www.beyondfossilfuel.com/alternative_fuels.html

REVIEWED BY: Tammy Leitzel

January 18, 2009

Coming to America

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Coming to America

Author: Bernard Wolf

Page Length: 45    

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Biography   

PLOT SUMMARY: Hassan Mahmond comes to America and works for eight years before he is able to have his family join him from Egypt.  After they arrive, the children (Amr, Dina, and Rowan) begin attending American schools.  As they learn the new cultures of America, they continue to practice their Islamic customs and beliefs in their home.  They attend the mosque and eat the traditional foods of their homelands. However, the family adapts to America and its land of opportunities by working hard, learning the English language, and adapting to the traditional celebrations of graduation and birthdays.

REVIEW: This is a short, easy to read book with lots of facts about a Muslim family and the challenges they face as they immigrate to America. The author gives a good background to the American reader about the culture and customs of the Islamic religion while describing the hardships the family must endure to live in a free America.  The photographs are colorful and capture the life of the Mahmond family.  Students who like to read non-fiction would enjoy this book.  It could be used as a supplement for a social studies lesson or learning about customs in different countries.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Increase Vocabulary Skills (baklava, halal, mosque, ka’bah, Qur’an), Compare/Contrast, Setting, Sequence of Events

RELATED BOOKS: The Kite Runner, Escape from Saigon, I Learned Geography, The Wall, New Kids in Town, Goodbye, Vietnam, Refuge Cove

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The Kite Runner (2007)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.webenglishteacher.com/childlit-w.html

www.ailf.org/teach/resourceguide2005.pdf

www.childrenslit.com/childrenslit/th_middleeast.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

January 17, 2009

Call Waiting

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Call Waiting

Author: R. L. Stine

Page Length: 167

Reading Level: 3

Genre: Fiction-Horror         

PLOT SUMMARY: As the book begins, Karen is stalking her boyfriend, Ethan, because he broke a date with her and told her he had to work.  Karen is suspicious that Ethan is hanging out with Wendy, another girl in their class.   Throughout the book, Karen is obsessed with Wendy’s relationship with Ethan.  When Wendy has an accident and falls down a flight of stairs, some of Karen’s classmates blame her.  Karen even begins to question herself.

Ethan, however, gives Karen his attention after Micah, Karen’s best friend, calls her mother and says Karen may need some psychological help.  Karen questions her actions, too, when her older brother plays practical jokes on her and when she begins getting mysterious phone calls.  In a strange turn of events, Karen learns that friends are not always what they seem to be.

REVIEW: R. L. Stine has written a fast reading mystery, filled with enough suspicious actions to keep the reader enthralled.  I read the book in one tense sitting.  For students who like romance, mystery, and suspense this is a good book to read.  Because of the drama between the characters, I believe this book would be enjoyed more by girls than boys.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Conflict, Character, Conclusions, Generalizations, and Predictions

RELATED BOOKS: The Boyfriend, The Beach House, Hit and Run

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: I Saw What You Did (1965)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.buildingrainbows.com/bookreview/reviewid/30134

www.content.scholastic.com/browse/search?query=stine

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Crash

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Crash

Author: Jerry Spinelli

Page Length: 162

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Seventh grader, John Coogan, known, as “Crash” is a great athlete, gifted with all the name-brand clothes, videos, and sports paraphernalia that a middle-age boy could want.  He has a very high self-image, but hates the fact that his parents always seem too tired from their work to give him the attention he desires. 

Crash has an annoying neighbor, Penn, who is a Quaker and an extreme dork. Most of the kids at school treat Penn like a dork, and he has multiple pranks pulled on him all the time. Crash is a part of this bullying until he notices that the most gorgeous girl in school is a friend to Penn.  Also, after Crash’s grandfather, Scooter, has a major stroke, Crash begins to see that life is more than being a stud and bullying the underdog.

REVIEW: Crash is an entertaining book that indirectly teaches several morals for young teens to learn.  Crash is a very materialistic, egotistical young man who bullies not only the underdogs, but must always win over his closest peers.  However, he evolves into a young man who grows to appreciate his parents, his grandfather, his sister, and the “dork” down the street.  The book would be enjoyable to all young teens.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Character, Conflict, Comparison/ Contrast, Conclusions, Generalizations and Predictions

RELATED BOOKS: Tangerine, Freak the Mighty, Max the Mighty, Maniac McGee

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) and Simon Birch (1998)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.jerryspinelli.com/newbery_001.htm

www.webenglishteacher.com/spinelli.html

www.litplans.com/authors/Jerry_Spinelli.html

www.emints.org/ethemes/resources/S00001252.shtml

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 10, 2008

Chestnut Hill The New Class

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Chestnut Hill: The New Class

Author: Lauren Brooke

Page Length: 212

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Dylan Walsh, a 7th grader, has finally convinced her parents to let her go to boarding school.  Upon her arrival at Chestnut Hill, she meets several new friends. One of the girls is Lynsey, a spoiled rotten brat.  Another is Malory, who appears to be too good for the rest of the group.  Dylan meets more girls, however, the best thing about Chestnut Hill is the horses.  Dylan has her heart set on making the horseback riding team.  Before that happens, she must experience several events, which can determine her future as a student at the school and her future of making good decisions.

REVIEW: This is the first in a series of eight novels about the girls at Chestnut Hill.  Girls who especially love horses would enjoy this series. I believe it would be best used as a book for leisure reading.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Supporting Details, Sequence of Events, Conflict, Cause and Effect, and Comparison and Contrast

RELATED BOOKS: Making Strides, Heart of Gold, Playing for Keeps, The Scheme Team, All or Nothing

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: The Horse Whisperer (1998), Sea Biscuit (2003)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lauren_Brooke

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 7, 2008

Cousins

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Cousins

Author: Virginia Hamilton

Page Length: 193

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Realistic FIction

PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW: Cammy is jealous of her cousin Patty Ann who always appears perfect. However, Cammy knows the truth behind Patty Ann’s proper exterior – Patty Ann is bulimic.

Cammy loves her mother and brother. She is especially fond of her grandmother, Gram Tut. However, Cammy can’t seem to grow close to two of her family members: Patty Ann and her mother, Cammy’ aunt. One day on a wilderness outing, one of Cammy’s friends falls in the water. Patty Ann rescues the girl, however drowns herself while doing so. Cammy witnesses this act and subsequently feels guilt over Patty Ann’s “death”. It is through the strength of Cammy’s grandmother, that Cammy resolves her tormented feelings and is able to let Patty Ann and herself rest at peace.

Cousins is a tale of family and the secrets and “false fronts” they display. It is also one of tragedy and how family support can bridge the gap between happiness and sorrow. I thought this story was rather simplistic. I am not a huge fan of the author, and I did not find this story effective or enjoyable. However, for those struggling with the issue of family and death, it may prove an worthwhile read.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: hidden details, symbolism, issue of guilt, death, and family

RELATED BOOKS & BOOK WEBSITES: Second Cousins by Virginia Hamilton

http://www.cincinnatichildrens.org/visit/stay/books/death-grief.htm

http://www.grpl.org/wiki/index.php/Books_about_Death_and_Dying_for_Teens

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Stand by Me” (1986), “My Girl” (1991)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://tech.psdr3.org/projects/HERO/html/Moore/html/lesson_plan_0.html

http://www.virginiahamilton.com/pages/cousins.htm

http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/collateral.jsp?id=823_type=Book_typeId=2701

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

December 5, 2008

Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen

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Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen

Author: Dyan Sheldon

Page Length: 272

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Mary Cep (aka- Lola Elspeth Cep) has just moved from New York City to the suburbs of New Jersey.  As she tries to make a statement at her new school, she becomes friends with Ella Gerard.  Ella, like Lola, has a love for the rock band Sidhartha.  When they hear the band is breaking up, Lola tries everything to get permission to attend the concert in NYC with Ella, even a hunger strike, which her mother does not fall for.

At school, Lola tries out for the leading role in the school play.  She doesn’t realize that Carla Santini, the most popular girl in school, is trying to sabotage her and her efforts in winning the starring role.  Carla not only runs the school, but her dad is a wealthy lawyer and he gets her tickets not only to the Sidhartha concert, but also to the party following.

Lola refuses to be outdone by Carla, and announces she also has tickets to the concert and party.  A night of antics, mishaps, lies and deception follow as Lola and Ella make their way to NYC.

REVIEW: This is an entertaining book that develops its characters well.  I would suggest it for leisure reading for teen-age girls rather than using in the classroom for instruction.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Profanity and alcohol use (p. 206-208)

AREAS OF TEACHING: Compare/Contrast, Figurative Language, (similes and metaphors p. 152, 166, 169, 172, 204), and Character

RELATED BOOKS: Life, Love, and the Pursuit of Free Throws, All’s Fair in Love, War, and High School

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.litplans.com/titles

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

November 3, 2008

Crush

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Crush

Author: Carrie Mac

Page Length: 106

Reading Level: 3.4

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Hope is disappointed when she learns her parents are going to Thailand to build a school and she is being sent to New York to stay a month with her sister, Joy and her loser boyfriend, Bruce.  While there, Hope incurs a huge veterinarian bill and must find a job.  She becomes a nanny for Maira, who introduces her to Larissa, her gay partner. Although Hope has lived in a commune with her hippie parents her entire life, this is her first introduction to “gay living”.  Hope meets Nat, who runs a bike shop, and is attracted to her.  The only problem is that Nat is a girl, too.  Now, she finds herself apart of the gay community as she strives to determine what her sexuality preference really is. 

REVIEW: This book was well written as it deals with a teen girl’s struggle to identify her sexual preference.  The writing is so descriptive that the reader can feel the emotions Hope deals with as she tries to decide what is real and what is imagined.  Although the parents are presented very liberal, I thought their immediate acceptance to Hope and Nat’s relationship, was unrealistic.  Although gay relationship is evidenced openly in our society today, I would question having this book on the shelves in my schoolroom.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: The entire book is about a gay relationship as well as drug use and premarital sex.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Conflict, Compare and Contrast, Imagery (p. 7, 13, 26, 68, 75), Irony, and Character

RELATED BOOKS: Born Confused, Orphea Proud

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.tower.com/crushcarriemac-hardcover/wapi/100068174

www.carriemac.com/crush.html

www.readerviewskids.com/ReviewMacCrush.html

orca.powerwebbook.com/…/TeachersGuides/Orca Soundings/CrushTG.pdf,

www.umanitoba.ca/outreach/cm/vol12/no21/crush.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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