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December 19, 2010

Guys Write for Guys Read

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Guys Write for Guys Read by Jon Scieszka: Book Cover

Guys Write for Guys Read

Author: Jon Scieszka

Page Length: 272

Reading Level: 6.5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: This is a collection of short stories of over 80 authors’ who write for young teens.  The stories deal with memories from childhood and family experiences, as well as, incidents of events that occurred during puberty.  Many of the stories or of the failures the author’s had while participating in sports.  Several serve as an inspiration as to the value of importance of reading.

REVIEW: Each of the stories is rather short but they have good messages, especially for the reluctant reader.  Many of the authors are widely known in the writing field today for young adult readers.  I especially enjoyed the stories by Gary Paulsen, Richard Peck, Chris Crutcher, Matt Groening, and Jerry Spinelli.  However, that could be because I have enjoyed the books I have read by them.

At the end of each selection, a short bio of the author about where he lived, where he lives now, one peculiar thing about him and a list of some of his writings are listed.

Scieszka compiled these stories especially to inspire boys to read.  The websites listed below are geared towards activities to engage boys in reading. Teachers could use the stories independently for teaching a variety of reading and writing TEKS skills.


AREAS OF TEACHING: Point of View, Writer’s Motive

RELATED BOOKS: Crazy Loco, Haunted Schools, Destination Unexpected, Athletic Shorts, Baseball in April and other Stories, Amazing But True Sports Stories, Visions-19 Short Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults, True Sea Stories


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


Gathering Blue

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Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry: Book Cover 

Gathering Blue

Author: Lois Lowry

Page Length: 215


Reading Level: 6


Genre: Fiction


Career Connections: none         

PLOT SUMMARY: Kira should never have been allowed to live in the village ruled by the Council of Guardians.  She had a twisted leg and disabled children were cast out and left to die.  However, her father had been a great warrior and her grandfather a leader of the village, so she was allowed to live with her mother and learn the skills of a weaver. 

When her mother became ill and died, Kira was brought before the Council and accused of being a nuisance to the community.  She was defended by Jamison, one of the Council members and allowed not only to remain alive, but was moved into the Council’s quarters to become the official weaver of the village with lavish surroundings and food, unlike the impoverished people of the community.

Here, she met Thomas, who had a special talent of carving.  The two of them discovered, Jo, another child being trained to be the future singer of the village.  When Annabella, Kira’s dying teacher, suddenly passes away, Kira begins to question the deaths of the three young apprentices’ parents. She realizes that the children had been predestined with a role in the village’s future.

REVIEW: This is a dystopian novel which finds a village of very poor, undernourished people ruled by a Council of Guardians.  Students who enjoy reading about the future would like this book.


AREAS OF TEACHING: Setting, Conflict, Cause/Effect, and Character

RELATED BOOKS: Giver, Messenger, The Silent Boy, The Hunger Games


MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The Final Cut (2004), Fortress (1993)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Going Solo

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Cover Illustration

Going Solo


Author: Roald Dahl


Page Length: 210


Reading Level: 6


Genre: Autobiography

PLOT SUMMARY: It’s the late 1930s and Roald is a young man out on his first great adventure. A job for Shell Oil has sent him from his home in England to Africa. Roald relates tales of his adventures learning a new language and battling the fierce green mamba. As war approaches, Roald decides to become a pilot. The reader learns of the character’s piloting trials as well as his close encounters and harrowing escapes from Nazi warplanes. 

REVIEW: This book is a light (but with great depth), slightly humorous, and interesting read. Readers interested in World War II will find Roald’s descriptions of conditions, training, and battle enthralling. The book progresses nicely with many emotional ups and downs. There are tales of bravery and tales of sadness and loss. Chapters of this book could also be used on their own as interesting stories and scenes for discussion. Prior to reading, students would benefit from having a frame of reference about World War II and an understanding of the presence of wealthy big oil companies in third world countries.

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

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: “men jumping into a burning sea to be roasted and boiled alive” p.165, general topic / depictions of death during war

RELATED BOOKS BY THE SAME AUTHOR: Boy, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, Collected Short Stories, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

WAR RELATED BOOKS: Stepping on the Cracks, After the War, Kensuke’s Kingdom, Four Perfect Pebbles, Postcards from No Man’s Land

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Diary of Anne Frank (1959)


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

November 15, 2009

George Washington The Man Who Would Not Be King

George Washington: The Man Who Would Not Be King

Author: Stephen Krensky

Page Length: 111

Genre: Biography

PLOT SUMMARY: The biography begins with George Washington as a young boy attending school and living in the country in Virginia.  He practiced penmanship daily, learned to read and fell in love with math.  As a young man, George became a surveyor and used his math skills in measuring land for the plantation farmers.  He acquired land of his own and slaves to help take care of it. He married Martha Custis, not because he was romantically attracted to her, but because he knew she would be a suitable wife.

As a young man, George had an early interest in serving in the British militia.  As the colonies began to feel threatened by England and the king, George joined forces with the Continental Army and quickly became a general.  After the revolution, George was asked to be King, but he refused because he stood behind the belief of the Constitution that America was to be a land of freedom.

REVIEW: This is an easy to read book that depicts George Washington not only as a military and political figure, but a man who worked hard, provided for his family and friends and believed in justice.

It would be a good book for the reluctant young boy to read who is interested in American history.  It could be used in conjunction with a study on President’s Day.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Historical Context, Sequence of Events, Character

RELATED BOOKS: Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution, The American Revolution, George Washington’s First Victory

MOVIE & TV CONNECTIONS: George Washington (2001), The Life of George Washington (1984, mini-series)

RELATED WEBSITES:…/463/lessonId__357

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 30, 2009

God Went to Beauty School

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God Went to Beauty School

Author: Cynthia Rylant

Page Length: 56

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction/Poetry         

PLOT SUMMARY: This is a collection of 26 short poems in which God is the main character. God lives out day-to-day life encounters as a teen living on earth would experience.  The poems are written from the author’s perspective of how God would react to beauty school, a dog, cable T.V., relatives, girls, and even fudge.

REVIEW: This is a short book and it is easy to read.  It would be a good book for the lower level reluctant reader to begin independent reading.  The poems enlighten the reader with a more realistic view of God’s perceptions.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Writing poetry, Point of View, Symbols, Word Choice, Voice, Mood and Tone

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: God as a character in a fictional book

RELATED BOOKS: Every Living Thing, For the Graduate: God’s Guide for the Road Ahead

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Oh, God (1977), Bruce Almighty (2003)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Girl 15 Charming but Insane

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Girl 15 Charming but Insane

Author: Sue Limb

Page Length: 214  

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Jess Jordan is 15 years old, lacks in physical development of her upper body and thinks her lower portion is way too big!  Not only is she disappointed with her lack of beauty, but has to live with the knowledge that Flora, her best friend, is a goddess!

Jess lives with her mother and grandmother, and corresponds with her dad through e-mail.  Her dad sends her daily horoscopes that do not predict the future as anything but bad days!  Jess has a crush on Ben, who does not know that she is alive.  After Flora joins a band with Ben and his best friend, Jess does begin spending time with her secret love.  Ben is nice to her, but does not pursue a romantic relationship.

Jess moves through the spring by being humiliated at a party where she has used minestrone soup to enhance her breasts.  When she learns that she has been videoed in the restroom at the party, she panics that the entire school will witness her trauma with the soup enhancements.  She learns her secret is saved by Fred, her neighbor.  In a series of events and her own imagination, Jess jeopardizes her friendship with both Fred and Flora. 

REVIEW: This is a hilarious book that girls would enjoy.  Jess humorously describes the feelings a typical teen would experience in the early years of high school.  Her insecurities, as well as jealousy, are common feelings teens have today.  The relationships she has with her mother, grandmother, and estranged father are also realistic.  This is a good book for leisure reading.

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

RELATED BOOKS: Girl, Nearly 16: Absolute Torture, Girl, Going on 17: Pants on Fire

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Pretty in Pink (1986)


 REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


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Author: Eric Walters

Page Length: 100

Reading Level: 2.2

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: After discovering that skateboarding and the Internet can equal “dollar signs”, Phillip and Wally collaborate with a computer geek and an ex-girlfriend to show off their skills and tricks.

Once their newly created website generates the interest of skateboard enthusiasts around the world, Phillip, Wally, Nevin, and Lisa continue to add video content of their skateboarding activities. In an attempt to add even more extreme and crowd pleasing footage to their site, Wally severely injures himself. In the end, he “retires” from skateboarding and urges Phillip to get back with his ex-girlfriend.

REVIEW: The book started off great with good use of humor and authentic dialogue. Even though my knowledge of skateboarding is limited, the author writes in such a way that the reader is engaged. The ending of the story, however proved to lack substance. It ended too abruptly. It left me wanting a sequel.

Teens who enjoy skateboarding may be attracted to this story. It is a popular sport among many.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: humor, voice, dialogue

RELATED BOOKS: “Xtreme Sports Summer” by Joe Layden

MOVIE & MEDIA CONNECTIONS: “X-Games”, “Gravity Games”, Tony Hawk


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Gone Away Lake

Gone Away Lake

Author: Elizabeth Enright

Page Length: 256

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction (Odyssey, Fantasy)

PLOT SUMMARY: Portia and Foster go to visit their Aunt Hilda, Uncle Jake, and cousin Julian in the country to spend the summer. Portia and Julian enjoy spending their days exploring the wildlife in the area. Their first mysterious discovery is a large rock with a cryptic message. Little did they know that they would encounter a “ghost town” with two inhabitants: the elderly siblings Minnehaha and Pindar. This town is located in a swamp that used to be a lake now called Gone-Away Lake. The kids befriend the eccentric Minnehaha and charming Pindar who expose them to new adventures. They even help Portia and Julian build a clubhouse using items from other abandoned houses in the swamp. Portia and Julian sneak away everyday to visit Gone-Away Lake. They are keeping their new find a secret. There are many questions the kids have.  Why are Minnie and Pindar living in a swamp? What does the writing on the rock mean?  Is there anything hiding in the lake? Where did all the people go? Why did they leave their houses?

REVIEW:  This book is a great magical adventure story. The characters, countryside, and adventures are described in vivid detail. From the very beginning, the reader immediately can visualize the scenes. There is always an adventure to maintain the reader’s attention. The reader finds herself/himself questioning what is going to happen next. In Gone-Away Lake, two generations come together to pleasantly find they enjoy one another’s company.  This story is a wonderfully written innocent tale of summer adventures and friendship. 

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  theme, setting, character analysis, compare/contrast, sequence of events, voice mood and tone, 5 steps of the writing process, adjectives

RELATED BOOKS: All-of-a-kind Family by Sydney Taylor, Miracles of Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen, Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink, and From the Mixed-Up Files of  Mrs. Basil E. Frank by E.L. Konigsburg, Eleven Kids, One Summer by Ann M. Martin, The Perilous Road by William O’Steele, The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters by Jeanne Birdsall. Books by the same author: Return to Gone-Away Lake, The Saturdays (The Melendy Quarter), Thimble Summer, The Four Mistake (The Melendy Quarter), Then There Were Five (The Melendy Quarter), Spider Web for Two: A Melendy Maze

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: A Plumm Summer (2008), Hotel for Dogs (2009), Bedtime Stories (2008)

RELATED WEBSITES: (scroll down to Art or English section)

REVIEWED BY:  Tammy Leitzel

January 17, 2009

Girls Who Rocked the World

Girls Who Rocked the World

Author: Amelie Welden

Page Length: 116

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Non-Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Girls Who Rocked the World is a book about 33 heroines ranging from Cleopatra (69-30 B.C.) to current tennis champion, Martina Hingis from Czechoslovakia.  To earn a place in the book, the women must meet two specific qualifications.  The first, achieve something extra ordinary while under the age of twenty.  The second, there had to be recorded information about the girl and her life. 

Some of the familiar names to the reader are: Joan of Arc, Sacagawea, Helen Keller, Anne Frank, Nadia Comaneci, and Sheryl Swoopes. However, most of the women have great accomplishments that are not recognized as a part of popular history.  The reader will read about poets, composers, rulers, entertainers, athletes, and scientists who achieved significant milestones as teens.

REVIEW: The selection of women the author included is excellent because she recognized women who lived over a long range of time, from many different countries, with diverse occupations.  At the end of each chapter, she included quotes from young girls of today who tell how they want to “rock the world”.  There is an excellent bibliography and list of additional recommended reading at the end of the book.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Character, Compare/Contrast, Historical Context, and Supporting Details

RELATED BOOKS: Herstory: Women Who Changed the World, Portraits of American Women, Rosa Parks, The Secret Soldier, Sojourner Truth, Remember the Ladies, Susana of the Alamo


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

November 3, 2008

Goodbye, Vietnam

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Goodbye, Vietnam

Author: Gloria Whelan

Page Length: 135

Reading Level: 4.7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Mai and her family live in Vietnam, where the government has been arresting people caught in illegal acts. Mai’s father was even taken away and detained for an entire year. The government is now threatening to take her father away again and her grandmother too. Mai’s family decides that they have no choice but to flee the only life they have ever known. With only a small pack of belongings each, they steal away under the cover of night. They must avoid being captured or detained. Their only hope is a small boat with a failing engine and their dreams of reaching the shores of Hong Kong. Can they make to the boat undetected? Will the boat be able to make the journey? Is there any hope left for Mai and her family?

REVIEW: This is a very powerful story about life as a refugee. I would recommend this one for use as a whole class instruction book. This story would compliment any discussions in history class of refugees, displacement, tyrannical rule, and even immigration in general. Whelan is masterful at keeping the read on the edge of their seat gripped by the emotion of Mai and her family. Their hope seems simple – freedom, but the reality of accomplishing those dreams is much more difficult than any of them have imagined. Great book!

Another interesting teaching point from this book centers on the role of women in the Vietnamese culture.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: description, imagery, mood, tone, author’s purpose, sequence of events, cause and effect, external conflict, character traits, historical connections

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Death, substandard conditions

RELATED BOOKS: Summer of the War, Listening for Lions, Friend on Freedom River, Chu Ju’s House, Once on this Island, Farewell to the Island




RELATED MOVIES: “Kim’s Story: The Road from Vietnam,” “Rising Above: Women of Vietnam”




REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

August 6, 2008

Girl Coming in for a Landing

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Girl Coming in for a Landing

Author: April Halprin Wayland

Page Length: 129

Reading Level: 6.5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: This is a book written entirely in poems. From the first day of school through the end of the year, the main character, a teenage girl, details her life at school and at home in poems. From the classroom to dating and parties she shares everything – her emotions, her thoughts, her hopes, and dreams. She offers authentic teenage emotions and insight – you will finish the book wishing for more.

REVIEW: This was an interesting book. It reads quickly because of the brief poems on each page (although many of the poems are worth more than one read). I think that this book would be a wonderful teaching tool for poetry. Students can see how poems can (and do) tell a story and the many forms they can take. Teachers could discussion the emotion and insight the author can convey with few but powerful words within a poem.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: poetic forms, voice

RELATED BOOKS: Braces, Bras, and Bellyrings, Lines in the Sand, The Night Horse


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

July 29, 2008


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Author: Pete Hautman     

Page Length: 198

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY:  As Jason Bock looks up at the sky after being hit by Henry Stagg’s, he focuses on the tall water tower above him and has the revelation that the town water tower is his god. 

Jason is the son of a slightly neurotic mother who obsesses over Jason having some disease. His dad is a devout Catholic who insists Jason attends the weekly Teen Power Outreach (TPO) meetings at the church. Jason has doubts about the validity of his faith and therefore, reasons that he can invent his own religion, which is the worship of the Ten-legged God, the town water tower.

He quickly recruits his friends, Shin, Magda, and Dan to be in the TLG faith with him and gives each of them specific titles of leadership.  As he ponders how the group can climb the tower for a weekly mass, he runs into his bitter enemy, Henry Stagg’s who is atop the tower.  When Henry shares the secret of climbing the tower, Jason allows him to be a member of the TLG and names him “High Priest”.

As the story unfolds, Shin starts writing and drawing works, which reflect the teachings of the TLG. Henry, Magda, Dan, and Jason all climb the tower and go for a swim in the top of the water tank.  As they attempt to descend the steps of the tower, there is an accident. They are caught by the police and punished by their parents.  Shin, however, is at home “hearing the voice of the TLG. 

REVIEW: Probably, most teens at some time, question their faith as their parents have taught them.  This book is a narrative by such a teen as he not only questions his parent’s beliefs, but also decides it is perfectly fine to invent his own religion. 

The story is believable that a group of teens would join a “cult”, but mostly for the fun and adventure of the group doing adventures together.  As Shin, becomes obsessed with the religion, the story gets eerie that one could take the fantasy too far.

The book is an easy and fast read.  Students who enjoy fantasy or science fiction would enjoy. At the back of the book there is a summary and questions for discussion.  Also, there are some activities if it was read as a class novel.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Compare/Contrast, Cause/Effect, Character, Point of View


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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