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June 5, 2010

Kissing the Rain

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Kissing the Rain

Author: Kevin Brooks

Page Length: 320

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Michael Rupert, known as “Moo”, is a loner. He is made fun of because of his obesity—he tops out on the scales at 240.  However, he finds most happiness when he escapes into his eating habits of huge meals prepared by his mom, candy bars, and fast food fests!

He finds his escape from “the Rain” (teasing, shoving, name-calling jeers) by going to a bridge and listening to the passing of the automobiles. However, one night, he witnesses a wreck between a racing BMW and a Range Rover.  After the collision, four people emerge from the BMW and one from the Rover.  A fight takes place, a victim goes down, and the police arrive. As Moo observes the action from atop the bridge, the police spot him.  The police question Moo and tell him they will come to his house the next day to get a statement.

The next afternoon, two detectives arrive and talk to him. They write down all the facts and statements they can get from Moo.  Moo realizes that one of the detectives is the father of one of the major boys at school who causes his “Rain”.  As the days go forward, the defense attorney for Vine, a known criminal who is the accused killer in the accident, also comes to talk with Moo.  Both the defense and prosecution want Moo’s support in the case.

Moo realizes that he has decisions to make when he must testify in court.  He knows no one in the case will truly win, and his decision will hurt someone in the end.

REVIEW: The book is written in a very realistic first person narrative form.  It is easy for the reader to understand Moo’s feelings and the conflicts he experiences as he must make decisions concerning not only the accident he witnessed, but decisions that will affect his family and friends.

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

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Mild profanity occasionally used

RELATED BOOKS: City of Bones, Frostbite, and The Awakening

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


Filed under: K — thebookreviews @ 7:37 pm
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Author: Mal Peet

Page Length: 225

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Paul Faustino begins his interview with the World Cup soccer goalkeeper, El Gato, hoping to learn the secrets of his techniques and skills he used in helping his team capture the championship. What he got, however, is the life story of El Gato that began in the rainforest where his father worked as a logger. 

As a child, El Gato was tall and clumsy and the other children made fun of him when he played soccer in the town square.  He sought refuge deep in the jungle, and came upon a cleared meadow with a soccer goal in it.  There, over the next two years, he visited the meadow regularly and took instruction from a ghostly creature he called “the keeper.” 

At the age of 15, El Gato had to quit school and join his father working in the logging camp.  At the close of the first week, he learned many of the men hung around for a “not so friendly” game of soccer.  When the goal for the Camp team was empty, El Gato took his place as the starting keeper. It was there that El Gato was discovered.  His skills and knowledge of goalkeeping were put to use, and he made a name for himself around the camp.

When a scout from a professional team came to watch, El Gato was offered a contract to play professionally.  So, at the age of 15 he left home and began training and playing soccer as a profession.  He played for several years, and missed winning the World Cup at the age of 26.  He came back four years later, and single handedly led his team to be the World Cup Champions.

Faustino questions El Gato’s sanity as he describes the mythical mentor who lives in the forest.  At the conclusion, Faustino is convinced that El Gato acquired his skills from the man described by the famous athlete whose spirit he reveres.

REVIEW: This book reminded me of the baseball story, Field of Dreams, in that ghostly players from the past speak to the main characters.  The story has a lot of descriptions of fast action soccer play as well as fantasy in the events that are in the forest.  Because the soccer play is such a major part of the book, I would suggest it for reading by those who know the game.

Both of my daughters played the position of goalkeeper when they played soccer, so I enjoyed reading the “Keeper’s” techniques of instruction, in addition to the play-by-play descriptions of the games.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Theme, Character, Sequence of Events, and Cause/Effect

RELATED BOOKS: Tangerine, Shots on Goal, Soccer Shots

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Field of Dreams (1989), Bend it Like Beckham (2002)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 30, 2009

Kensuke’s Kingdom

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Kensuke’s Kingdom

Author: Michael Morpurgo

Page Length: 164

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: When Michael’s parents receive the news that they are both being laid off, his family decides to sell everything they own, buy a boat, and sail around the world. Michael and his dog, Stella Artois, set out on a grand sailing adventure. Only sailing has its downside too. Tossed overboard, no one hears Michael’s cries for help. Will he make it to land? Will he be able to survive on his own? Will he ever see his family again?

REVIEW: This story was entertaining and perhaps most teachable because of the humanization of the characters within it. The reader is able to learn and grow with Michael while also learning to see another side of the typical historical perspective of war. Kensuke is a native of Nagasaki who ended up on this island during the war and has survived there alone for many years. He fears returning to the world he knew just as he has feared for many years that his family was destroyed in the bombing of Nagasaki. This book would work well in conjunction with the World War II part of US History class. The reader also experiences the fear of change and the unknown with both characters – which makes for a great discussion topic. The story is entertaining and lends itself well to the historical connections and many other excellent and thought provoking discussion points – I would recommend this novel as a classroom read for juniors (US History students).

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

RELATED BOOKS: Alone on a Wide, Wide Sea, Dolphin Boy, Why the Whales Came, Private Peaceful, My Friend Walter


Lifting the Fog: The Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1992)

Sailing artwork –

Castaway (2000 movie starring Tom Hanks)


REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

August 24, 2008

Keeper of the Night

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Keeper of the Night

Author: Kimberly Willis Holt

Page Length: 308

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY: Isabel Moreno lives on the island of Guam.  Her mother has just committed suicide and Isabel does not know why.  Isabel’s father is grieving so much that he doesn’t talk to the family and has built a shrine to her mother in his room.  He goes fishing daily, comes home to eat dinner, and then sleeps on the floor beside his dead wife’s bed.

Isabel takes care of her sister, Olivia, who has nightmares and wets the bed.  Frank, Isabel’s brother, has quit talking to anyone and Isabel discovers he is carving on his wall “I Hate You” over and over and over again.  However, she doesn’t know how to talk with him about this, so she just doesn’t say anything.

Her Auntie Bernadette provides food for the family, and tries to help Isabel go on with her life.  She wants her to be a candidate for the town’s fiesta queen, but Isabel cannot move on without answers to why her mother is dead and why her family cannot talk about their grieving.

As Isabel deals with her everyday life, friendships and responsibilities, she discovers she has a natural talent for diving.  She tries out for the diving team, in an effort to find some type of life for herself.  After a rather close call with her brother’s life, the family begins to come together and rebuild their life together.

REVIEW: The author wrote in short passages rather than chapters with Isabel being the narrative voice.  The writing, therefore, came off as Isabel’s direct thoughts of what was happening at the direct moment.  I liked this style because the book seemed to move quicker from one moment to the next without a lot of background.

The book covered both serious issues such as suicide and family relationships but also gave a vivid picture of life in Guam and several of the customs practiced there.

At the back of the book, there is a list of questions for discussion.  Also, included is an interview with the author.  I think the book was good and especially would appeal to females.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Cause/Effect, Conflict, Setting, Characters, and customs of the Chamorro of Guam

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: The story revolves around the suicidal death of Isabel’s mother.  Her brother, Frank, is also self abusive and a cutter. 

RELATED BOOKS: The Lightkeeper’s Daughter, Lord of the Deep, Deep

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Island of the Blue Dolphins” (1964)


 REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

July 29, 2008

Kissing Doorknobs

Kissing Doorknobs

Author: Terry Spencer Hesser  

Page Length: 149

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Realistic Fiction   

PLOT SUMMARY: At the age of eleven, Tara, becomes obsessed and haunted by the childhood saying, “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back”.  In a narrative form, Tara shares her story, she notes that she was very happy as a young child and loved spending time with her mother.  However, from the age of 11 to 14 she experiences out of control obsessions of praying, counting, terrible thoughts and arranging her food at meals.

Tara is a likeable girl, with three best friends.  Keesha is a proud African American, Anna is an athlete, and Kristen is a beautiful girl who desires to be a model. Tara has been a friend with them since pre-school, but as her obsessions become her priority, she loses her closeness to her peers.

Tara’s mother takes her to several counselors but she is misdiagnosed with disorders such as ADD, low self-esteem, immaturity, anger, and anorexia.  Her behavior becomes so obsessive that her parents begin to argue and her mother is almost abusive to Tara.

Then, one evening Mr. Jacobson, an old friend of her father’s visits their home.  He witnesses Tara, as she is unable to open the door before she counts the doorknob up to almost 89 times.  As Tara and her father breakdown crying, Mr. Jacobson is able to share some good news that will help Tara.

REVIEW:  This is a book that will help the reader understand Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  The reader will share empathy for Tara, as she knows it is not normal to have her obsessions, but she cannot stop them.

The book is fairly short; an interesting read for junior high and high school girls.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Character, Conclusions, Generalizations and Predictions 

RELATED BOOKS: Speak, Cut, Passing for Normal: A Memoir of Compulsion


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

April 15, 2008

Kicked Out

Filed under: K — thebookreviews @ 9:05 pm
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Kicked Out

Author: Beth Goobie

Page Length: 92

Reading Level: 3rd

Genre: Fiction


PLOT SUMMARY: Kicked Out is the story of a girl’s journey from self-loathing to self-acceptance. When Dime, a troubled teen, fails to connect with her parents she is kicked out of the house and sent to live with her older brother, Darren.  Because Darren is a paraplegic, Dime is supposed to help him with day to day tasks, yet the reader soon learns that it is Dime who is truly in need of support.  She is dating Gabe, an insecure teen with a wicked temper, and she carries guilt about her brother’s condition.  Dime feels that she is the one who should have been paralyzed because she is so prone to making mistakes.


As Dime becomes closer to her brother she learns that she deserves to be treated with respect.  She also realizes that she doesn’t have to be perfect to be loved. In the end, Dime reaches out to her parents, and the reader is left with hope that they can all move forward.


REVIEW: Kicked Out is one of the Orca Sounding books, and so it’s great for teens reading at the elementary level.  It’s also a good book for students who enjoy realistic fiction.  Though some of the slang is out of date, the situations are true to life.  I think many teens will relate to Dime’s fears and struggles.  If you have a student hooked on the Orca Sounding’s series I highly recommend this book!


TOUCHY AREAS: This book touches upon teen rebellion and dysfunctional relationships.  Though the topics may be heavy, they are presented in a very appropriate fashion.




REVIEWED BY: Jennifer John


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