The Book Reviews – Website

December 19, 2010

First Time

First Time by Meg Tilly: Book Cover

First Time

Author: Meg Tilly

Page Length: 108


Reading Level: 3.1


Genre: Fiction


Career Connection: None


PLOT SUMMARY: Haley cannot get her mother or her best friend, Lynn, to see that the men in their lives are not there for the right reasons. How can she get them to recognize the fault of Larry and Chad without losing a mother’s trust and Lynn’ friendship?


When Lynn arrives in her new car, Haley can feel that her world is changing. At the Dairy Queen, Chad, a graduate from last year, begins to give Lynn attention. Haley believes it is because Lynn drives a shiny new car and has physically developed. She thinks Chad is a player and tries to get Lynn to believe her.


Meanwhile, Larry, her mom’s new, rich boyfriend is playing her mother while exposing himself to Haley. He then fills her mother’s head with ideas that Lynn is using marijuana and is sexually active, while trying to seduce Lynn when her mother is at the store.


When Mike, a friend of Chad’s tries to put moves on Haley while they are watching T. V., she cannot bear the pressure. Haley breaks down crying.  Mike is a good guy, however, and comforts her which helps her open up to her mom about Larry.


REVIEW: Meg Tilly was abused as a child and uses this short low level reading book to relate the feelings and dilemmas victims of child molestation might experience. This book would be good for teen girls who are reluctant about reading and expressing themselves.


TEACHING AREAS: Plot, Conflict, Theme, and Character


TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: mild profanity through out the book, sexual exposure (pg. 18-19) and sexual molestation (pg. 47-50)


RELATED BOOKS: Singing Songs, Something Girl




REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


September 28, 2009

Funny Little Monkey

Filed under: F — thebookreviews @ 1:15 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Funny Little Monkey

Author: Andrew Auseon

Page Length: 298

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Arty Moore is a fourteen-year-old boy with a growth hormone deficiency which has stifled his growth to a mere 4’ 2”. Arty has a twin brother, Kurt, who has seemed to get all of the growth hormones of the two and towers more than 6’ tall. 

Kurt has tormented Arty most of their adolescent life, and when Arty hears of an “underground misfit group” in his school, he employs them to sabotage his brother.  When the school mascot is stolen, Kurt becomes a prime target of accusation. 

While the underground organization mounts evidence against Kurt, Arty becomes infatuated with Leslie Dermott, the new, rich girl in town.   Arty doesn’t really know why, but Leslie seems to enjoy his company, also. A series of events follow that make Arty question his feelings about his brother, mother, Leslie, and the underground misfits.

REVIEW: Young teen boys would enjoy this book as it deals with many of the feelings they experience in the years of puberty and early maturity. The book had several subplots that kept the story line interesting. However, the book focuses on many negative behaviors and feelings and the author does not end it with any strong socially redeeming conclusion.

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

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Mild profanity, some underage tobacco, alcohol, and drug use


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 30, 2009

Flags of Our Fathers

Flags of Our Fathers

Author: James Bradley

Page Length: 211  

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Realistic Fiction     

PLOT SUMMARY: James Bradley is the son of John Bradley, one of the six soldiers photographed raising the American flag on Mt. Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima during World War ll.  As the story begins, James and his family are placing a memorial plaque atop the mountain in 1998, in memory of their father and husband.

The book proceeds with a description of each of the “boys” who joined the armed services in the early 1940’s to serve their country, not knowing that a photograph would be taken which would made them national heroes. Details of their family backgrounds, training, and personalities before they are a part of a major military convergence on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima are written. The violent battle which lasted for over a month and had over 27,000 combined casualties is then described in detail.

The history of the famous photograph, the building of its monument, and the celebrity lives that followed the surviving soldiers and families of those who died is chronicled.   

REVIEW: John Bradley did not share the experience of his military career with his family, although they knew he was one of the six soldiers pictured in the infamous picture of the soldiers raising the flag atop Mt. Suribachi. It was after his death, that his son, James, began research on each of the other soldiers and the part they each played in the month long battle between the United States and Japan at Iwo Jima. 

Most Americans are familiar with the picture and monument, but are probably not aware of the enormous amount of lives lost in just one month’s time.  Bradley writes the book in various time spans, including points of view from the soldiers, their families and their peers. 

I found the book to be quite interesting and informative.  It could be used in both Social Studies and English classes.  At the beginning of the book, there is a disclaimer that it is fiction.  However, I believe it is as close of an actual account of these six American heroes that we will have.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Historical Context, Character, Theme, Conflict, and Setting

RELATED BOOKS: Storm Landings: Epic Amphibious Battles in the Central Pacific, Iwo Jima: Amphibious Epic, a Marine Corps Monograph

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Flags of Our Fathers (2006), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006, Japanese)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Finding Fish

Finding Fish

Author: Antwone Quentin Fisher

Page Length: 340

Reading Level: 10

Genre: Autobiography       

PLOT SUMMARY: Antwone Fisher was born in a prison and immediately placed in foster care where he was constantly verbally abused, often physically abused, and on occasion, sexually abused.  He lived in the home of the Pickett’s with his two foster siblings for 13 years.  During that time, he expressed himself through artwork, but mostly led a rather silent life, feeling unworthy.  On page 72, Fisher writes how his dreams were abandoned and he lived only to survive the day-to-day routine of school and verbal abuse at home.

When Antwone entered a new school in fourth grade, he met an angel, his teacher, Miss Profitt.  She was fair and treated him as if he were special. Although the Child Protective Services monitored Antwone’s foster parents and they suspected the Pickett’s were not providing the appropriate domestic environment, there never seemed to be a better placement for Antwone. 

At the age of 16, Antwone was placed in a reform school, where he felt more comfortable and safe than in his foster home. Antwone knew he had nowhere else to go.  After a time at the reform school, Antwone left and found himself homeless.  He eventually joined the Navy and it was there that he found confidence in himself and learned that he was worthy of a good life.  He began to write poetry and demonstrated excellent written and oral command with leadership qualities (p. 291). Through his experience in the Navy, Antwone found family, friendship, belonging, education, and purpose.

He eventually reconnected with his foster siblings, his biological mother, and then, married and had a daughter, Indigo. 

REVIEW: Because of the tragic experiences Antwone Fisher experienced in his childhood, this book reads more like fiction than reality.  The harsh treatment he received by his foster parents is difficult to read.  However, the story gives hope to those who do experience abuse, poverty, and loneliness as Antwone tells how through a few positive contacts in his life he did strive to be the best he could be. 

Although the writing is very descriptive, the teacher should be aware that it is quite graphic.  I would suggest the book for mature students.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: descriptive murder (p. 21), sexual abuse (p. 43-44, 241, and 245), harsh language and profanity (p. 138, 155, 195, 199-200, 231, 246, 274, 281)

AREAS OF TEACHING: Setting, Character, Sequence of Events, Cause/Effect, Point of View

RELATED BOOKS: The Antwone Fisher Story (screenplay), Who Will Cry for the Little Boy? (Poems), A Child Called It

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Antwone Fisher (2002)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Freaky Green Eyes

Filed under: *AWESOME BOOKS!!!,F — thebookreviews @ 7:29 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Freaky Green Eyes

Author: Joyce Carol Oates

Page Length: 341

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Franky (Francesca) Pierson struggles to determine what she really believes about life and her parents. What she knows is this: her mother has distanced herself, her father has a nasty temper, her father believes in perfect appearances, and life doesn’t always have a happy ending. Freaky, a new nickname Franky earns in a treacherous situation that she narrowly escapes, has to learn to open her eyes and really see for herself what is going on instead of letting others tell her how to think and feel. When Franky’s mother disappears, Freaky realizes just how dark and twisted her world has become.

REVIEW: I think that every young woman (and even young man) should read this book. It teaches all about domestic abuse and controlling behaviors. It would lend to an excellent discussion of what is and is not love. The book also makes an excellent point about how we must learn to see the world for ourselves and to evaluate the actions of those around us rather than just accepting their words or false fronts. Franky has to learn to act courageously despite the circumstances. In the beginning of the book, Freaky also narrowly escapes being raped because she ends up at a party and in a situation she should not be in. Great book  – a must read for young girls who need to understand the dangers of certain situations, the need for choosing relationships wisely, and what love does and does not look like.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: comparing text to self, compare and contrast, sequence of events, setting, conflict, resolution

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: “he’s unzipped his pant, he’s fumbling and panting” (page 16), “grabbed a hold of my arm and shook, shook, shook me so hard my teeth rattled in my head” (page 125)

RELATED BOOKS: Rape: A Love Story, Big Mouth, Ugly Girl, Sexy, Mother, Missing, Flew Away, The Gravedigger’s Daughter


REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

Flour Babies

Filed under: F — thebookreviews @ 7:10 pm
Tags: , , ,

Flour Babies

Author: Anne Fine

Page Length: 178

Reading Level:  6.2

Genre:  fiction

PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW: This book is about a young boy and his class that begin a scientific experiment on Flour Babies, a Child Development Project, for the school’s Science Fair.   The classroom, known as #8, is given a challenge to keep and care for flour sacks (babies) for three weeks while daily writing a journal about it.  Some of the students in this class are tired of the project by day eleven, except for Simon Martin.  He relates to the flour baby and reflects back upon his own father who deserted him when he was quite tiny.  He finds taking care of the flour baby quite fascinating up until the near end of the twenty one days.   Generically, each of the boys either caves in to all of the responsibility or holds tight with his inner desire for parental caring for the Flour Baby.  

While reading this book anyone will laugh and chuckle as the nineteen students try carefully to keep the sacks clean, free of hair, mud less and smudge proof.   The real heroes of the story may end up being Simon Martin’s mother because he figures she must have Angelic Wings for putting up with him his whole life.  Even their teacher, Mr. Cassidy, gets a bit tired of the project as it ends, but personally he gets in a few teaching lessons as they are deemed appropriate. 

Mayhem takes place at the end of the three weeks as Simon lets many of the flour babies explode within the gym and school hall ways.  This is a comical end to a humorous book. Anyone would love this book. I really liked reading the book because it was funny as well as realistic.


6.9 draw on experience for word meanings

6.10 know the main idea and the details

6.11 make connections with comparison and ideas

6.12 analyze characters.

RELATED BOOKS:   other books by Anne Fine are Goggle Eyes, The Granny ProjectUpon on Cloud 9 and Bad


REVIEWED BY:   Linda Schwegler

Four Perfect Pebbles A Holocaust Story

Filed under: *AWESOME BOOKS!!!,F — thebookreviews @ 6:56 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Four Perfect Pebbles: A Holocaust Story

Author: Marion Blumenthal Lazan and Lila Perl

Page Length: 128

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Autobiographical

PLOT SUMMARY: The Nazi’s are taking over everywhere from Germany, to Poland, and even Holland. Marion and her family happen to be Jewish and become caught in the web of hatred precipitated by Hitler. Every time a ray of hope shines, darkness returns to cover it. Despite the hardships of the many camps Marion spends her childhood in, she never gives up hoping that her family will one day be reunited and find freedom. Marion believes that if she can find four perfect (identical) pebbles – they will symbolize that her family can stay together no matter how trying the times.

REVIEW: This book is a riveting read. It provides a heart wrenching recollection of just how terrifying and uncertain life as a Jew in 1930s and 1940s was for many people. The survival of the Blumenthal family is miraculous yet still not untouched by tragedy. The accounts of living conditions in the camps are vividly detailed. This book would be a good accompaniment to any study of Nazi Germany, the Holocaust and World War II. This book is a must read – because every student needs to know how dark the human soul can be and why they must learn to stand for the rights of others no matter how unpopular that may seem at the time. This book could be tied into the others about bullying – Hitler was the perfect example of a bully at full power.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: historical connections, connecting text to self, connecting text to text, cause and effect, geography, plot, character traits, timeline  (full lesson plans)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: it’s all about Nazi Germany – the atrocities of concentration camps and the diseases that resulted from unsanitary living conditions – the author tells of the stacks of body in wagon that she mistook for firewood

RELATED BOOKS: The Diary of Anne Frank, The Book Thief,  Night, The Girl in the Red Coat, In My Hands


(1) Woody Guthrie’s 1948 “Ilsa Koch” about the horrors of the Buchenwald concentration camp: “The prisoners walk the grounds / The hounds have killed a girl / The guards have shot a man / Some more have starved to death / Here comes the prisoners’ car / They dump them in the pen / They load them down the chute / The trooper cracks their skulls.” The first English-language folk song about the Holocaust?

(2) Bob Dylan’s “With God on Our Side” from his 1964 album The Times They Are A-Changin’ made reference to the Holocaust and the Cold War: “When the Second World War / Came to an end / We forgave the Germans / And we were friends / Though they murdered six million / In the ovens they fried / The Germans now too / Have God on their side.”

(3) Captain Beefheart’s 1969 “Dachau Blues” is growling, atonal, and sharp: “Dachau blues, those poor Jews / Dachau blues, those poor Jews … One madman, six million lose.”

(4) Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys’ 1973 “Ride ‘Em Jewboy” is a haunting country-and-western tribute to Holocaust victims: “Dead limbs play with ringless fingers / A melody which burns you deep inside / Oh, how the song becomes the singers / May peace be ever with you as you ride.”

(5) Rush’s “Red Sector A” is probably the best-known Holocaust rock song. It appeared on the band’s 1984 smash album Grace Under Pressure. The seeds for this harrowing rocker were planted by the liberation of lead-singer Geddy Lee’s mother from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp: “I hear the sound of gunfire at the prison gate / Are the liberators here? / Do I hope or do I fear? / For my father and my brother, it’s too late / But I must help my mother stand up straight.”

(6) The Indigo Girls’ 1994 “This Train Revised” careens like a hell-bound express: “It’s a fish white belly / A lump in the throat / Razor on the wire / Skin and bone / Piss and blood in a railroad car / 100 people / Gypsies, queers, and David’s star / This train is bound for glory / This train is bound for glory …”

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Anne Frank, Fateless, Schindler’s List


REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

November 3, 2008

Fastback Beach

Filed under: F — thebookreviews @ 12:16 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Fastback Beach

Author: Shirlee Smith Matheson

Page Length: 97

Reading Level: 2.9

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Miles has recently been in trouble with the law. On a recent trip to Fastback Beach, he gets into a major accident in a stolen car. His “friends”, Larry and Spider, are also in the same car, however they flee the scene before the police arrive leaving Miles unconscious. As a result of Miles’ actions, he is placed on probation and must perform 100 hours of community service. It is important to note that Miles does not tell the police that Larry and Spider were involved in the car theft.

Miles is to perform his service at a local community association. However, his assignment proves to be a treat. Mr. Barnier, the association’s president, has a love for race cars (as does Miles). Mr. Barnier has a 1937 Ford coupe in his garage that he would like to restore. Miles is excited at the chance to work on such a vehicle.

Excited about his work with Mr. Barnier, Miles tells his friend Larry about the experience. Larry becomes “very interested” in the car. One day, Mr. Barnier’s car turns up stolen and the authorities point to Miles as a likely suspect of the theft – given his past. Miles, determined to do good and make amends for his past, seeks out his “friends” and finds the stolen vehicle. In the end, Miles “rats out” his friends Larry and Spider who are brought to justice.

REVIEW: As with many of the “Orca” books, they were fast-paced, easy-to-read, and enjoyable. Students with high interest in cars would love this book as much of the terminology is geared towards automobile enthusiasts. The theme of friendship and ultimately doing the right thing is presented here in this short story. What makes this story more interesting than most Orca books is that beyond the basic plot line, lies a mixture of sub-plots and flashbacks. Miles’ childhood and past are delved into regarding the relationship between his race car driving father and himself. With Fastback Beach, we see a more complicated character than just a boy who likes to steal cars.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: predictions (page 76), characterization


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

August 12, 2008

Fossil Fuel

Filed under: F — thebookreviews @ 5:08 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Fossil Fuel

Author: Nigel Saunders and Steven Chapman         

Page Length: 48

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Non-Fiction           

PLOT SUMMARY: Fossil Fuel begins with a description of fuels and the three different types: coal, oil, and natural gas.  It describes how each of the fuels originate, how they are extracted from the earth, and their multiple uses.  Next, the problems of fossil fuels are discussed and then the alternatives that are available for energy usage.

REVIEW: This is an educational and informative book that is written and presented in a format that is eye-catching and interesting.  The text is written on the center portion of the pages, but on the borders there are many supportive facts and illustrations that give additional information.  The pictures are colorful and authentic. In addition, there is a “Word Store” with definitions at the bottom of each page.  At the end of the book, the authors included sources to find more information about fossil fuels and a complete glossary.

This is a great book for boys who prefer non-fiction to fiction. 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Main Idea and Supporting Details, Informative Texts

RELATED BOOKS: Science Topics: Energy, Energy Files: Water, Solar, Wind, Energy for Life: Fossil Fuels, Energy Essentials: Renewable Energy


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 11, 2008

Freak the Mighty

Freak the Mighty

Author: Rodman Philbrick          

Page Length: 169

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY: Max is a learning disabled student with no friends who has just finished seventh grade and is very large for his age. Max becomes friends with his new neighbor, Kevin, a boy the same age who has a health impairment, which has stopped his growth at about the height of three feet.  Kevin is very intelligent and quotes large words and their meanings to Max on a routine basis. Kevin lives with his mother, The Fair Gwen, next door to Max and his grandparents. Although the two boys are extreme opposites they bond and become know as “Freak the Mighty.”

During the summer, they spend hours together as Kevin shares his knowledge and imagination with Max.  They have several encounters with some adverse people who help build their reputation as “Freak the Mighty.”  The first boy they encounter is Tony D., the local gang leader. Then Kevin and Max come in contact with Loretta Lee and Iggy, who live in the “testaments”.  Next, they must work with Ms. Donelli, the English teacher; and last but not least, they meet Killer Kane, Max’s dad who has been in jail and just released on parole.

Kevin or Freak, as Max calls him, helps Max see that he is not as “dumb” as he thinks he is.  They convince the school principal that Kevin needs Max in his classes in the fall and the two become inseparable.  Together, they experience friendship accompanied by heartache, hurtful truths and a little bit of magic.

REVIEW:  This is a wonderful story of two quite different boys.  Although, they both have experienced a lot of heartache, together they find a life filled with magic and adventure.  It is a story of the underdog overcoming extreme odds or two underdogs who become one mighty force.

At the end of the book, the author gives tips to young writers on how to get started in writing.  Also, listed is an interview with the author and a list of Kevin’s dictionary.

This book is different from most books written for young adults in that it covers several issues that most of the public has trouble accepting.  And, he author does it in a humorous way. I think anyone above the age of twelve would enjoy this book. It would be especially good for anyone who is mentally or physically challenged.

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

RELATED BOOKS: Max the Mighty, Tangerine, The Outsiders

MOVIE CONNECTIONS:The Mighty” (1998)

RELATED WEBSITES:…/ftm/activities/

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

July 29, 2008

Far North

Far North

Author: Will Hobbs

Page Length: 216

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Gabe, a teenager from Texas, has moved to Canada’s Northwest Territories to attend boarding school and to be closer to his father. His roommate is a teenager named Raymond, a native “Dene” to the Northwest Territories – Nahanni Country. Even though both boys share the same birth date, Gabe and Raymond are very different. Raymond finds it difficult to transition into his new school. He eventually quits and takes a plane ride back home. However, unbeknownst to him, Gabe is on the same Cessna plane yet for a different reason. Gabe is along for a scenic tour. Also along for the ride are Clint, the pilot, and Johnny Raven, Raymond’s great-uncle. Johnny Raven is riding back from a hospital stay.

Things quickly turn bad. Upon a water-landing, the engine fails to start again. Everyone but the pilot is able to escape. The plane and Clint, tumble to their demise. The boys and Johnny Raven spend the next several months surviving on their own. Many survival skills the boys learn from Johnny Raven who is accustomed to living off the land. Johnny, Raymond, and Gabe erect structures to sleep in, start fires from crude materials, hunt rabbits, beavers, and moose and avoid winter bears. Temperatures out in the Northwest Territories during the winter months drop as low as – 60 degrees Celsius. Johnny, Gabe, and Raymond feel this cold chill their bones. The only things that matter now are food, water, and movement. Raymond and Gabe convince Johnny that instead of waiting the winter out, they should trek towards Nahanni Butte (village of Johnny).

Johnny Raven eventually passes away in the wilderness and Gabe and Raymond ceremoniously cremate him. The boys trek on towards the Nahanni Butte. After several near-death experiences (escaping bears, falling through freezing water, avoiding wolverines) Raymond and Gabe reach civilization.

The story ends with a ceremony commemorating Johnny Raven’s life with the families of Raymond and Gabe in attendance.

REVIEW: I enjoyed this book very much. As one who has mountain climbed in freezing temperatures and has camped out with only the bear necessities, I understand what these characters have gone through to some extent. The realistic depictions of survival in sub zero conditions, is vivid and awesome. The theme of life and death is apparent all throughout the book.

The interactions between Raymond and Gabe seem a little childish, but not overdone. The book, at 216 pages in length, is representative of the many months that the boys were out on their own in the harsh conditions of the Northwest Territories. The author, in his note at the end, states that some of the elements of the story are based on real life experiences and history.

Even focusing on just one chapter of this book, one can feel the rush of emotion and conflict the boys encounter. This is a story that truly depicts what it means to survive.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: reading a map (map located at front of book), foreshadowing (Chapter 1), setting, writing good endings to chapters, simile (pages 55, 68, 77, 97, 113, & 177), sequence of events (Chapter 10), Native American stories (Chapter 12), letter writing containing theme of dying on the inside vs. outside (Chapter 14)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: animal clubbing (page 116), death of a human (page 119), ceremonial act of human cremation (Chapter 13)

RELATED BOOKS: Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, Dangerous River: Adventures on the Nahanni, Downriver, Julie of the Wolves, & The Talking Earth


RELATED WEBSITES: (awesome site about Dene culture, Northwest Territories, survival techniques, student activities, and teacher tips)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Fat Kid Rules the World

Filed under: F — thebookreviews @ 8:12 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Fat Kid Rules the World

Author: K. L. Going           

Page Length: 185

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY: Troy is a 17 year old, 300 pound miserable young man who is about to take his life by stepping off a subway platform, when he is stopped by Curt MacCrae, a homeless, dropout guitar expert. The two begin to exchange conversation, and the next morning Troy awakes in his room with Curt in his house. 

Curt is a punk guitarist and invites Troy, the fat kid, to be the drummer in his band.  The only experience Troy has as a drummer is from when he was in band in junior high.  Since Troy has no friends, and Curt has potential to be famous, Troy decides to be the drummer.  Curt convinces him to miss school for practice, but often does not show for their scheduled meetings. He also gets money from Troy for needed food.

All is not detrimental, however, because Curt helps Troy realize that everyone does not stare at him all the time, just because he is fat.  Troy gets to experience attention from females for the first time, because he is a friend of the admired guitarist.  Curt arranges for Troy to have drum lessons from the drummer of “Smack Metal Puppets”, Troy’s favorite band.

The bond continues to build between Curt and Troy, while Troy must convince his father and brother that he really wants to pursue his drumming abilities.

REVIEW: K. L. Going writes a book, which pairs an unlikely twosome together.  Troy, the obese narrator, and Curt, the homeless, druggie, guitar genius, form a bond which helps both of them overcome their own self-esteem problems. 

Troy’s father is an essential character in the book, which says little, but when he does, everyone listens.  He earns the respect of Curt, who shows no respect to anything in the rest of the world. He understands Troy’s needs, and although it is hard, he lets him experience the growing pains of becoming independent.

The book is a mix of life in the punk rock world and the feelings of a suicidal obese teen.  It is funny; yet heart wrenching to read of Troy’s self-esteem issues.

Although the language is rough, I don’t think it is anything the high school teen hasn’t heard.  It is appropriate as it is used in the “punk life” in the setting of the story.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Character, Compare and Contrast

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: drug use, strong language

RELATED BOOKS: Fat Boy Swim, Jake Reinvented, The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

July 7, 2008

Fair Weather

Filed under: F — thebookreviews @ 2:52 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Fair Weather

Author: Richard Peck

Page Length: 139

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Rosie (a 14 year old girl), Lottie (her older sister), and Buster Beckett (her mischievous little brother) have never been away from the family farm. Plucking chickens and tending the garden is an average day for these three until a letter from Aunt Euterpe arrives. This isn’t just any letter – it contains tickets for the train and a promise to attend the World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago World’s Fair).

Buster, Lottie, and Rosie finds themselves in a whole new world. They can experience sights and sounds they have never seen nor heard of before. Lottie has fallen in love, and Rosie knows that she will never be the same. Will they all find their places in Chicago society? Can the Beckett children find a way to fit in and make Aunt Euterpe happy or will their country ways be too much for her? Will Lottie forget all about her true love once she’s seen what Chicago has to offer? Will anyone ever be the same after meeting Wild Bill Cody and seeing what the world has to offer?

REVIEW: Peck delivers again in Fair Weather. His characters are excellently developed. The reader experiences emotions with the characters and truly feels their wonder and excitement at the greatness of the Chicago World’s Fair. Readers learn about the travel, customs, manner of speech, and fashions of the time. Readers also learn about the many events and historical contexts behind the attractions at the fair.

The story has both humorous and heart-warming attributes. The characters remain true and are attuned to the need of family. I liked his other two books about Grandma Dowdel better, but this one was still an interesting read.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: informative text, textual support, historical context, audience and purpose, sequence of events

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: poverty, mourning- none of any consequence

RELATED BOOKS: A Long Way from Chicago, Strays Like Us, A Year Down Yonder, The River Between Us, The Teacher’s Funeral, Stories My Grandmother Would Love: Featuring Eleven “Miss Lillie” Stories About Life on the Farm in the 1930s

RELATED MOVIES: Classic Chicago World’s Fair Films, Historic Chicago’s World Fair 1933-1934


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

June 2, 2008

Fallen Angels

Filed under: F — thebookreviews @ 8:40 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Fallen Angels

Author: Walter Dean Myers

Page Length: 309  

Reading Level: 5   

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The story begins with Richard Perry, 17, a resident of Harlem, on his way to Vietnam.  On his flight, he meets a nurse, Judy, also going to serve in the Army.  Upon arrival, Perry joins his unit made up of Lobel, Johnson, Brunner and Pewee.  Although strangers in a strange land, the men quickly bond as they begin their service time in Vietnam. 

The soldiers first must get used to the harsh living conditions of the hot, humid, conditions of the country. Then, they learned to deal with the unknowing agenda that awaited them each day.  Many days, they didn’t do anything but sit around the camp playing games.  Other days, they were sent into villages to meet the women, children and older citizens of Vietnam.  At other times, they were sent to battle to protect or defend other units. 

After their first experience with combat, Perry realizes he doesn’t know a prayer to recite.  As a group, they learn to pray together.  They welcome the priest and chaplain’s visits.  Throughout the book, rumors are constant that the peace talks are making progress and the war will end soon.  However, the days go into weeks, the weeks into months and the battles continue. 

Perry writes to his family, but doesn’t tell them what the war is really like.  The war becomes more real as soldiers get wounded and die.  By the middle of the book, the small unit is in the middle of the war.  They believe in defending their country, but they question how it is being done.  They see each other get wounded both physically and emotionally and they share a dream—to get home alive.

REVIEW: This book was very descriptive and realistic in its presentation of action in the Vietnam War.  It is a narrative told from the point of view of a 17 year old African American from Harlem and his experience in the war.  Myers vividly describes the difficulty in getting a good night’s rest on page 61. A simile on page 63 is a good example of Myers excellent writing ability.  The descriptions of battle made me feel as if I were a part of the unit as they fought to return home.

I enjoyed the book, especially because I have a high interest in this war, as it occurred when I was in high school.  Boys would especially like this book, but I think girls could easily read it with great interest.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Supporting details, Setting, Characters, Compare/Contrast, Sequence of Events, Conclusions, Generalizations, and Predictions

TOUCHY AREAS: Strong language

RELATED BOOKS: Vietnam Nurse, In Country

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Platoon, Green Berets, Dear America: Letters from Vietnam


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

April 23, 2008

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Filed under: F — thebookreviews @ 9:31 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Author: E.L. Konigsburg

Page Length: 182

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Realistic Fiction / Mystery

PLOT SUMMARY: Claudia, a sixth grader and the oldest and only female child in her house, decides that in order to be appreciated, she must run away. Claudia is a careful planner and realizes that she isn’t just going to run away randomly to run to somewhere specific instead. She plans her escape to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Convincing her younger, spend thrift brother Jaime to accompany her, they fail to get off the bus to school and the adventure begins. The book details the exploits of the children as they hide inside the museum; the reader learns how they outwit the guards, where they stay the night, and even how they eat and clean their clothes. While in the museum, the children become engrossed in solving the mystery of the angel statue. Their search for clues involves library research, newspaper articles, and even a secret letter written to the director of the museum. Finally, the children decide to visit the former owner of the statue, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Mrs. Frankweiler a meticulous historian has records on just about everything. As she befriends the children and the mystery begins to unravel, the children don’t realize how close to the truth and home they really are.

REVIEW: I enjoyed reading this book. I loved that the children ran away simply to be appreciated and that Claudia wanted to be running to something. Konigsburg does an excellent job of making the mystery educational and thought provoking. This book makes the reader want to visit the Met just to examine how Claudia and Jaime survived – and to ask themselves could it be done today? Having an understanding and a love for art and art museums also helps one appreciate the story line and the quest to discover the truth. The book will probably appeal more to 3rd through 6th graders.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Sequence of events, conclusions, generalizations, and predictions, and reading varied sources, Compare and contrast (Claudia and Jaime)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: The subject of running away and the fact that the children do not ever think about how their parents and siblings might be feeling without them.

RELATED BOOKS: The Phantom Tollbooth, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, The View from Saturday, Michelangelo by Mike Venezia

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: 1995 Movie – of the same name- starring Lauren Bacall

Works of Michelangelo


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

April 2, 2008

Flight #116 Is Down

Flight #116 is Down

Author: Caroline B. Cooney

Page Length: 201

Reading Level: 5th

Genre: Realistic Fiction

REVIEW: This story is one of those that you should not read while on a plane or prior to boarding one. It is, however, a book I would recommend you pick up! In Flight #116 is Down, a tragic airplane crash (of which we never find out the cause) brings a small town together for the rescue.  

PLOT SUMMARY: This book is also about the lives of many of the passengers who board this doomed aircraft. Some die and some live. However, this is not where the interest lies. It is the background of these people and their loved ones that the heart of this story is revealed. There is major action (especially when the crash occurs on page 44), yet there are human elements of courage, selfishness, anger, sadness, and fear. Each character has a story to tell. Daniel and Tucker are dealing with their father’s impending marriage to a new wife. Teddie is a small child on her way home to mom and dad. Carly is a twin who is traveling to re-unite with her family after falling into a life of drugs and parties. Darienne is self-centered and refuses to help out the survivors of the crash. She is my favorite character for her colorful personality. Her sarcasm is a horrible character trait, but she is an interesting individual. Darienne is more worried about her looks, getting a connecting flight, and suing the airline than the safety and welfare of those dying around her. Pages 19-22 and page 87 provide some great insight and examples of Darienne’s character.  

Apart from the passengers on the plane, the two main characters are Heidi Landseth and Patrick Farquhar. These two teenagers live in the small community of Nearing River where all emergencies are handled by volunteers. It is in this town, in the backyard of Heidi’s estate, in which the crash occurs. Patrick naturally rises to the occasion, as an EMT, helping out the victims of the crash. Heidi on the other hand, grows from a girl who does not stand out in a crowd, to one that takes some great initiative. She surprises herself by orchestrating many of the rescue maneuvers.  

Besides the revelation that many of the passengers on the plane die, this book ends with Patrick and Heidi growing close (in the heat of emergency) and Tucker reconciling his ill feelings toward his father’s impending marriage.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: This book would be a great tool to expose students to the skills of characterization, internal dialogue, setting, and visualization. Some pages you should check out are 98-99, 147, and 166-167.  

MOVIE/RELATED BOOK CONNECTION: Students may make real-life connections to this book with the events of 9-11 in New York City, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C. and the movies the various movies that followed. Another movie/book connection would be Lord of the Flies  

RELATED WEBSITES: (short quiz) (awesome powerpoint) 

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

March 11, 2008



Author: Caroline B. Cooney

Page Length: 198

Reading Level: 5th

Genre: Realistic Fiction, Mystery 


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: Fatality starts off with a bang! (great for a lesson on leads) Chapter 1 takes us from curiosity to action as Rose Lymond steals a police car in an attempt to take back her diary in which the police have confiscated while the reader is left unaware of the journal’s contents. Does the diary contain details of a brutal murder or a hit-and-run? Is there a list of love interests written down? Are there personal family secrets described in the journal? These are questions that the reader will ask oneself as they continue to read this action-packed book. In spite of these questions, what the reader does know in the beginning is that the police have re-opened a murder investigation, and Roses diary may provide some clues into this case. Could Roses diary provide information for this investigation or does her diary contain something entirely un-related?


Roses character is not the type to commit a crime such as stealing a police car unless there is a good reason. However, no one understands her thinking at this point in the story. Rose refuses to explain her actions, her diary, or her current state of mind. Her parents, the police, and some of her friends become worried and upset. Rose is concealing something very important! The police are certain that Rose is hiding vital information in regards to the brutal murder of Frannie Bailey that may have been committed by Milton Lofft, the father of Angelica, a school friend of Roses.


What the police don’t know is that there is no vital information in Roses journal about the murder of Frannie Bailey. However, her journal does contain information relating to a time when Mr. Lofft ran over an object in the road while Rose and Angelica were in the car. Rose cannot be sure that it was a person that Mr. Lofft ran over, yet she can’t rule it out. Newspapers did report a hit-and-run at about the time of Roses diary entry, yet even this incident is not what is tugging at Roses emotions. What could this event be? It is something even more personal and emotional to Rose than a brutal murder or a hit-and-run.


The emotional climax of the story happens around page 170 when the reader realizes what Rose has been hiding from us all. Her mother cheated on her father while he was away on business, and the result was the birth of Rose. Rose’s father is actually her step-father! When Rose found out about this incident, four years ago, she vowed to keep it hidden from everyone, especially her father.


The story does not end there. Verne, a former family friend of Roses, assumes that Rose has written about him in her diary – written about the time when he killed Frannie Bailey! This assumption causes Verne to attempt to kill Rose on the road in his SUV early on in the story, and it now drives him to kidnap her and possibly end her life! Verne however is caught by a police road block. It is at this time that Rose confesses everything to her supporters, especially her father. Roses father tells her that he already knew about the marital affair, yet still accepts Rose as his own daughter and always will.


This book may prove confusing for some students because it is layered with several plot twists and characters. It is a standard mystery that starts out well and wraps up nicely.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: This book provides good examples of flashback as well as conflict.




REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton


February 27, 2008

Frederick Douglass Fights for Freedom

Filed under: F — thebookreviews @ 9:13 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Frederick Douglass Fights for Freedom

Author: Margaret Davidson

Page Length: 80

Reading Level: 3

Genre: Non-fiction


REVIEW: I have read several of Margaret Davidson’s biographies and find Frederick Douglass Fights for Freedom as the best written.  The story of Frederick Douglass is graphic in the descriptions of the treatment of black slaves in the early 1800’s.


Frederick Douglass was born a slave in Maryland in 1817.  He lived his first few years with his grandmother but he knew it was a matter of time until he moved to Old Master’s house to begin his life as a slave.  Frederick was fortunate, in that he was sent to Baltimore as a young man to work as a slave in the city.  There, he served as a companion to one of Old Master’s brother-in-laws, Hugh Auld.  Not only did this give him the opportunity to be well-fed and live in comfortable accommodations but the lady of the house, Sophie, taught him to read.  She did not know it was against the law to teach slaves to read.


Frederick was smart and continued to teach himself to read.  He knew he did not want to spend his life as a slave.  It took two attempts but Frederick did escape and moved to the North where there was no slavery.  He became a spokesman for the abolitionists and a friend of Abraham Lincoln.  He wrote books and helped fight slavery for 25 years. 


He was the inspiration for those who fought for laws that would protect blacks, for schools for the blacks, and for better jobs for the blacks until his death on February 20, 1895.  Over 25,000 people attended his funeral in The Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington D. C.


This book was informative of the real life slaves led and the fight for equality that did not come until the end of the Civil War.  It tells of the fight Frederick Douglas continued to lead for African Americans after the war.


Frederick Douglas was the inspiration for Martin Luther King Jr. who continued the fight for freedom over 100 years after Douglass began.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: Students who enjoy history would like this book.  It would be a good book as a supplement to the study of the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement.




REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


February 14, 2008

Frightful’s Mountain

Filed under: F — thebookreviews @ 10:07 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Frightful’s Mountain

Author: George, Jean Craighead

Page Length: 258

Reading Level: 4th 


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: Frightful’s Mountain is the third book in the Sam Gribley series.  It begins where On the Far Side of the Mountain ends, with Sam’s Peregrine Falcon, Frightful, in the clutches of two poachers.  Throughout the story we watch Frightful evolve from a tame bird, to one finally in touch with her natural instincts. 


After escaping from the poachers, Frightful is forced to survive on her own.  It becomes clear that her life with Sam has left her unprepared for the realities of a falcon’s life.  She doesn’t know how to hunt, she doesn’t understand how to be a mother, and she isn’t even familiar with how and when to migrate. 


As Frightful searches for her home in Sam’s tree house, she encounters another falcon, Chup, who has lost his mate.  She bonds with him and he leads her to his aerie where three chicks await them.  Because Frightful was taken from her nest at such a young age, she is unfamiliar with her maternal responsibilities.  Luckily Chup takes up the slack, and Frightful walks away from the experience a little wiser.


When Frightful fails to migrate with her mate and chicks in the fall, she struggles to deal with the harshness of a New York winter.  Eventually, she is electrocuted by a telephone wire, and is rescued by a loving falconer and his wife.  They help speed Frightful’s recovery, then use her to educate local schools about the dangers of telephone poles to birds of prey.  This sparks a local campaign to save the endangered falcons.


Throughout the book Frightful finds Sam.  He misses his bird, but knows that he cannot keep her, as he is not a licensed falconer.  He worries that she may be so imprinted upon him that she will not be able to survive on her own.


The next spring Frightful mates with a new falcon and makes her own aerie on a local bridge.  It seems last spring’s adoption has taught her just enough about motherhood.  Unfortunately, the state begins repairs on the bridge where she is nesting.  The children of the community, including Sam Gribley, try to halt the work in an attempt to save the baby falcons, or eyases.  Their efforts prove fruitless.


Ultimately, the same poachers who kidnapped Frightful steal two of the eyases.  Sam discovers the theft and moves Frightful and her remaining eyas to a perch near his tree house.  The poachers are eventually caught; the eyases are raised by falconers, and eventually set free.


In the end, a community is brought together by its love for falcons, Frightful finally migrates with the rest of her kind, and Sam is relieved by the knowledge that his bird is able to survive on her own.


In my opinion, this was the best of the Sam Gribley books.  I feel Jean Craighead George did a great job of portraying Frightful’s thoughts and actions in a realistic way.   Though many of the human characters are one-dimensional, the story moves along rather quickly.  Each chapter poses a new problem and solution for Frightful.  This is a great book for animal and nature lovers.  I found that my male students last year really related to the idea of living on their own in the wilderness. 


AREAS FOR TEACHING: Frightful’s Mountain relays a great deal of facts about falcon’s, (how and what they eat, where they migrate, how they’re trained, how many exist in the wild, etc.) so this is also a great book for students who enjoy stockpiling trivial data.




REVIEWED BY: Jennifer John

January 29, 2008

Forest Furnace – Wildfires

Filed under: F — thebookreviews @ 10:02 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Forest Furnace – Wildfires

Author: Mary Colson

Page Length: 48

Reading Level: 5th

Genre: Non-fiction


REVIEW & AREAS FOR TEACHING: Forest Furnace – Wildfires is another in a line of disaster books authored by Mary Colson. This book comes alive with vibrant action photos of wildfires in progress and the devastation they have caused. The book begins by exploring the conditions under which a forest fire can occur. A reference is even made to the Native American and Greek explanations for the origin of fire. An anticipatory set of questions are offered for students to ponder: How fast can a forest fire move? Are all forest fires started by accident? How can forest fires be stopped?


Types of fires are described. A world map details regions most prone to fire hazards. Fire speeds and dangers facing firefighters are also detailed. Fire focus facts pop out on the sides of pages showing statistics and information about fires that have occurred and their devastating effects. Wild Words (new vocabulary) is detailed at the bottom of each page. How fires are started, what chemical components cause them to burn, and what continues to feed a fire is covered in depth. Methods for fighting fires including water bombers, hotshots, smokejumpers, and backfires are also explained. This book offers great connections to careers connected with firefighting; after reading the story, numerous research topics could be generated


What happens after the fire is put out? The book examines the effects of smoke and ashes, the potential for landslides, and the effects of deforestation. Students are provided tips for surviving and preventing fires. The text naturally lends to connections with other cultures who, like American culture, are affected by fires and who share in the misery and devastation.  The last pages of the book offer additional titles for reading, World Wide Web search tips, and key organizations from which to seek information.


Overall the book is highly informative. So much information is packed into each section or page that the text should be addressed with a guide for students; or, reading the text for different purposes on several occasions might also prove useful.


Another great resource for teaching: cause and effect, vocabulary development, setting up an anticipation and reaction set, analysis of events and preventative measures, analysis of the effects of human actions on the world, sequence of events, map reading, part to whole, and classifying.


RELATED WEBSITES:  (great video resource)


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at