The Book Reviews – Website

December 19, 2010

Luna

Luna by Julie Anne Peters: Book Cover

Luna

 

Author: Julie Anne Peters

 

Page Length: 248

 

Reading Level: 6

 

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Regan awakens to the sounds of Luna, her sister/brother, carousing through her room—applying make-up and trying on clothes.  Liam, Regan’s older brother by day, is a transsexual (a girl in a boy’s body).  However, this is a secret between the two siblings.  By day, Liam, a handsome, academic genius, is one of the most sought after boys at school.  By night, he addresses himself and has Regan also refer to him as “Luna”, as he steps into his female role.

As Regan struggles to cover for Liam’s/Luna’s strange behaviors and lack of desire to compete on the school’s baseball team, she also struggles through her classes at school that Liam often causes her to miss.  Besides having a girl for a brother, Regan’s parents are also dysfunctional.  Her dad lost his manager’s job at Sears and has had to take a menial job at Home Depot.  Her mother is a wedding planner, who pops pills throughout the day.

Regan tries to have a normal life at school, and becomes interested in Chris, who is her chemistry partner.  However, when Liam decides he is going to “come out” and have a sex change, Regan can concentrate only on Liam’s actions, and how his parent’s and his long-time friend, Aly, will react to Liam’s decision.

Throughout the book, Regan has flashbacks trying to figure out exactly when she knew Liam was a girl in a boy’s body.  She finally realizes that she knew a long time before he actually admitted it to her.  When Liam finally appears in make-up and girl’s clothing to his parent’s, Regan realizes that her mother has always known about Liam and did not do anything to help him. Regan also learns that Chris knows about Liam, and has no problem with accepting Liam as he is. 

After years of fighting Liam in his decision to “come out” and have a sex change, Regan learns that he will be happier and, better still, so will she as Liam lives his life as “Luna”. 

REVIEW: The subject of transsexuals in a high school book is a bit edgy and controversial.  However, this book was written from Regan’s point of view and is realistically presented in how a sibling may deal with this situation. 

This book could be used in a study of diversity and tolerance. Julie Anne Peter’s approaches controversial subjects in the way that young adults perceive them, which makes her books appropriate to read.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: transsexuality is the theme of the book, there is also some mild profanity

AREAS OF TEACHING: Character, Compare/Contrast, Point of View and Theme

RELATED BOOKS: Define “Normal”, Keeping You a Secret, Far from Xanadu, and Between Mom and Jo

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The Bond (2007, documentary), Just Call Me Kade (2001, documentary)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.frameline.org/youthinmotion/guides/gender_curriculum_guide.pdf

www.julieannepeter.com/files/index.htm

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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Looking for Alibrandi

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Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta: Book Cover

Looking for Alibrandi

Author: Melina Marchetta

Page Length: 313

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Josephine Alibrandi is 17 years old and attends St. Martha’s Catholic School for Girls. She is a senior and plans to study law after graduation.  Josephine has four best friends who all have different backgrounds and personalities but somehow seem to “click”.

Josephine lives with her Italian grandmother and mother.  She has never had any type of relationship with her father.  Josephine is aware that she is illegitimate, but knows that her mother has done the best job she can as far as raising her as a single parent.  Her mother has a lot of wisdom and lives a rather no-nonsense life.  Her grandmother is very attune to Old Italian customs and is protective of Josephine. Eventually Josephine meets her dad and begins a relationship with him – first as friends, then as a father/daughter relationship. 

Josephine is aware that two boys from adjoining community schools have interest in her.  She feels that John Barton has all the characteristics a good husband should have, but she is more attracted to Jacob Coote, who is not so well-polished.  A relationship develops with Jacob; however, she continues to share interests and a friendship with John.

As the plot develops, Josephine begins to talk with her grandmother about her immigration to Australia.  Josephine learns secrets about her family that explain the types of relationships they have.  She discovers that John is not the perfect guy. She also learns that Jacob is more sensitive than he appears, that nuns are not without sin, and that her friends’ morals and values are questionable.  In this entire discovery, Josephine begins to become a young woman with her own dreams.

REVIEW: This book has several subplots that influence Josephine’s life and future.  The relationships with her family, girlfriends, boyfriends, and the nuns at her school are all well-developed and relevant to her coming of age.  Because of the harsh language, I would recommend it to more mature female teens.  It is an excellent book with a lot of drama which most girls enjoy.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Character, Point of View, Conflict, Cause/Effect, and Comparison/Contrast

TOUCHYAREAS: harsh profanity (p. 55,126, 159, 160, 172, 183, 193, 226, 247, 253, 264, and 274)

RELATED BOOKS: Saving Francesca, Becoming Naomi Leon, Jellicoe Road

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Looking for Alibrandi (Australian film, 2000)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.atozteacherstuff.com/Themes/Australia

www.uen.org/Lessonplan/preview.cgi?LPid=5001

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Looking for Alaska

Looking for Alaska by John Green: Book Cover

Looking for Alaska

Author: John Green

Page Length: 221

 

Reading Level: 6

 

Genre: Realistic Fiction

 

Career Connection: Teacher      

PLOT SUMMARY: When only two people attend his going away party, Miles Halter knows he has made a good decision to leave his Florida home and attend Culver Creek Preparatory School in Alabama.  And, as he leaves he uses Francois Rabelais’s last words—“I go to seek a Great Perhaps”.

Upon his arrival at Culver Creek, Miles meets his roommate, Chip “The Colonel” Martin.  Through Chip, he is introduced to Alaska Young – wild and self destructive – but the girl who captures his heart. After Miles is duct-taped and thrown into a lake, an all out prank war ensues between the “Weekday Warriors” and Miles and his new friends,

As the school year progresses, Miles finds himself involved in illegal activities such as smoking and drinking on campus while his affections for Alaska grow.  Although Alaska is quite coy with Miles, she dates a college student and introduces him to Lara, a Romanian girl, who eventually becomes his girlfriend.  Takumi, a Japanese student, is the fifth member of this group of pranksters.

It is during one night after a “pre-prank” against the Warriors, the group plays a drinking game and Alaska reveals to her friends that when she was 8 years old, she watched her mother die from a brain aneurysm.  The guilt she carries seemed to be an explanation of why she lives “on the edge”.

On another night of drinking, Alaska and Colonel become extremely drunk.  Alaska and Miles share an intimate moment before falling asleep.  Later, Alaska receives a phone call and comes back into the room, hysterical, telling the boys they must help her get away.  The events that follow devastate the group in realms beyond their control and imagination.

REVIEW: The chapters of the book are titled in “Before and After” sequences which tell the reader that something monumental occurs halfway through the book. This format is a “hook” to the reader, as well as, the curling smoke on the cover of the book. 

I rate this book as one of the best young adult novels I have read because of the captivating voice of Miles as he leaves his safe world of isolation and plunges into a life of love and loss through new found friends.  He shares humor in his revelations and meaning through his thoughts that cause the reader to connect with each of the well-developed characters. 

Senior high students of both genders would relate well to the events and characters of the book.  At the end of the book, a discussion guide and interview with the author are included.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: cigarette, marijuana, and alcohol use, sexually explicit situations

AREAS OF TEACHING: Conflict, Setting, Characters, Point of View, and Voice, Mood, and Tone

RELATED BOOKS: Speak, Morning is a Long Time Coming, Shattered Glass

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.webenglishteacher.com/ya-g.html

www.pbs.org/inthemix/educators/lessons/index.html

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Famous Last Words (from Looking for Alaska, to be released 2013), Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt: Book Cover

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

  

Author: Gary D. Schmidt

 

Page Length: 219

 

Reading Level: 5.5

 

Genre: Realistic Fiction     

PLOT SUMMARY: The story is set in 1912 in Phippsburg, Maine. Turner Buckminster and his parents have recently moved to the small coastal town from Boston, Massachusetts.  Turner’s father is the new town minister.  Turner is not accepted well by the townspeople, primarily for the way he plays baseball.  While out throwing rocks, Turner meets Lizzie Bright, an African American girl who lives on an island just across the bay.

While Turner befriends Lizzie, the townspeople decide that the residents of Malaga Island (Lizzie’s home) should be taken off the island so that the island can be transformed into a resort.  Meanwhile, the deacons of the church and Mrs. Cobb keep the minister informed of his son’s wrongdoings. Subsequently, Turner is forbidden to go to Malaga Island and sentenced to read and play the organ for Mrs. Cobb in the afternoons. This punishment turns into a chance for Mrs. Cobb and Turner to bond. Lizzie also joins the two as she comes to listen to Turner.

When Mrs. Cobb dies, she leaves her home to Turner. When Turner decides to move Lizzie and other residents of the island into the vacated home, Turner’s father supports his son (however much of the congregation turn on the minister).  An accident ensues and the minister is ousted from the church. As a result, Turner and his mother are forced to move into Mrs. Cobb’s vacant home. 

After the minister’s death, the town falls into terrible debt, and all too late the people of Phippsburg find that their racial prejudice and greediness left them with virtually nothing.

REVIEW: This book is based on actual events that occurred in Maine in the early 20th century.  The writing is very descriptive and many similes are used.  It would be an excellent novel to read in connection with the social issues of the time

The relationship that Turner experiences with the whales on pages 79-80 and 214-216 are chilling. 

AREAS OF TEACHING: Similes, Descriptive Writing, Character, Theme, Setting, and Historical Context

RELATED BOOKS: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Leon’s Story, Mississippi Morning

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: A Time to Kill (1996), Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1978), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

RELATED WEBSITES:

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

www.doinggoodtogether.org/books.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Learning to Fly

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Learning to Fly by Paul Yee: Book Cover

Learning to Fly

Author: Paul Yee

Page Length: 107

 

Reading Level: 3.34

 

Genre: Fiction

 

Career Connections: none         

PLOT SUMMARY: Jason is the only Chinese student at the high school in the small town where his mother has opened a deli.  Students make fun of him at school and when he is working at the deli.  He and his mother moved to the United States from China two years after his father had immigrated.  Little did his mother know that his father was having an affair and would leave them as soon as they arrived in the United States.  Jason hates the U. S. but cannot return to China because his mother would have no one to help her.

After witnessing a police chase in the mall, Jason becomes friends with Chief, a Native American student who attends his high school.  Because Chief and his friends smoke marijuana, Jason decides to join them. Jason takes money from his mother to buy pot for him and his new friends. When their supplier gets busted, Jason gets a call to buy a large quantity of pot for the group.  That night, he realizes he was “set up” and is busted by the police. 

Jason feels all alone, but when Chief’s sister dies from an overdose, he realizes that he is not alone in feeling like an outsider and reaches out as a friend to the only other non-white boy in town, Chief.

REVIEW: Many of our low level reading students are those who are immigrants from other countries. I believe this would be a good book for students to read who feel discriminated against.  The events of the book show what students will participate in (many activities legal or illegal) just to be accepted by someone or some group.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: profanity (pp. 83), marijuana and drug use

AREAS OF TEACHING: Characterization, Setting, Compare/Contrast

RELATED BOOKS: To Kill a Mockingbird, Romiette and Julio, and The Hoopster

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.orcabook.com

www.learningtogive.org/lessons/unit92/lesson1.html 

www.learningtogive.org/lessons/unit137/lesson2.html

MUSIC, MOVIE, AND ART CONNECTIONS: Remember the Titans (2002), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Gran Torino (2008)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

June 5, 2010

Lord of the Flies

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Lord of the Flies

Author: William Golding

Page Length: 248

Reading Level: 7-12

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Tragedy strikes and a group of school boys, a fortunate few, survive only to find themselves alone on an uninhabited island. There’s talk of rescue. How could it happen, when, surely the adults in their lives will come looking? Then there’s the chaos. There must be some sense of order so that the boys can find food, shelter, and a plan for their rescue. Who should be in charge – the smart one, the athletic one, the popular one? What will happen when they disagree, when they bully each other, when the little ones are scared? Can they remain civilized among the savagery of basic survival or will they be their own undoing?

REVIEW: I’ve read several reviews on the Internet from people who loved this book; but, personally I found reading it grueling. The characters were sometimes hard to follow, the details were incessantly boring, and I couldn’t wait for the story to end so that I didn’t have to read it anymore. On another note, it is always beneficial to contemplate the forces of society and the vile baseness to which we can all so easily return in rote survival mode. The book therefore leads to useful discussion about what the boys might have done differently, why the outcome was what it was, how the outcome is reflected in our own world, and how complex and multi-faceted the creation of civilized society and social norms really is.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  character traits, cause and effect, author’s purpose, sequence of events, imagery, realism, allegory, metaphor

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: many — bullying, killing of an animal, intentional injury and killing of other boys

RELATED BOOKS: Dies the Fire by Stirling, 1632 by Flint, Islands In the Sea of Time by Stirling, War of the Worlds, Life of Pi, Hatchet by Paulsen, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Lord of the Flies (1990), Island of the Blue Dolphins (1964), War of the Worlds

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.sff.net/people/lucy-snyder/brain/2005/10/book-review-lord-of-flies.html

http://webenglishteacher.com/golding.html

http://school.discoveryeducation.com/lessonplans/programs/flies/

http://www.aresearchguide.com/lord.html#lesson

http://www.lessonplanet.com/search?keywords=lord+of+the+flies&rating=3

http://www.videodetective.com/default.aspx?PublishedID=3246

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

August 30, 2009

Lion Boy

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Lion Boy

Author: Zizou Corder

Page Length: 275

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Charlie, son to parents of scientists, has a unique skill. He is able to communicate with cats! Due to a mixing of blood between himself and a young cub when Charlie was an infant, Charlie gained the ability to communicate with feline animals. This ability is kept secret from almost everyone.

One day, Charlie discovers that his parents have disappeared. Subsequently, a boy named Rafi forces Charlie to remain with him. Eventually, Charlie escapes from Rafi’s watch and sets out to find his lost parents. With the help of several cats, Charlie is able to gather updates about his parent’s situation. The helpful cats are even able to run notes back and forth between Charlie and his mother & father. On his trip to search for his parents, Charlie joins the circus on a boat bound for Paris. At the circus, Charlie encounters several lions in which he promises to set free and help them return to Africa. The lions, in return, assist Charlie in continuing his search for his family.

Their escape from the circus and subsequent arrival on the Orient Express is a success despite Rafi’s attempts to capture Charlie. While on the Orient Express, Charlie meets the king of Bulgaria who allows Charlie and his lions to remain with him in his lavish train car. As the train speeds towards Venice, the king of Bulgaria agrees to assist Charlie in his quest. The king’s assistant, Edward, reveals to Charlie that his parents have been captured by a drug company because of their knowledge about an asthma cure. Charlie can’t imagine why anyone would want to capture someone who is trying to help humanity. However, his thoughts quickly shift to his main mission – finding his parents and bringing them safely home.

REVIEW: The story ends without a resolution because Lion Boy is a trilogy. The story started out a little slow for me, but about a quarter of the way into the reading, the action began to pick up. Even though the book is fiction, I did find it a little unbelievable that so many cats could communicate effectively enough to allow many of the actions to occur “without a hitch”. There did not seem to be enough road blocks in this story to make it believable. However, I am interested in what the second and third book will reveal. The end of this book reveals the real world element to the story – a possible cure for asthma and the drug company’s attempts to take control of it to prevent it from being distributed.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: creative writing, motivation, cause and effect

RELATED BOOKS: Whittington by Alan Armstrong, Lion Boy: The Chase, Lion Boy: The Truth

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.zizoucorder.co.uk/

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

http://www.kidsreads.com/authors/au-corder-zizou.asp

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

http://www.webmd.com/asthma/

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Lord of the Flies

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Lord of the Flies

Author: William Golding

Page Length: 202

Reading Level: 9

Genre: Allegorical Novel, Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: In Lord of the Flies, British school boys are stranded on a deserted island during a nuclear war because their plane crashes. Ralph meets Piggy, a fat-glasses wearing boy, and together they find a conch shell which they use as a trumpet. They use this conch shell to make a loud noise hoping that it will help locate other survivors of the plane crash. In response to the sound, other boys appear. The very small boys are called “lilluns”. The older boys are called “biguns”. Also a group of choir boys led by Jack Merridew arrive. All the boys soon realize that there are no adults present so they try to organize a society with rules based upon the rules from civilization as they know it. In an attempt to organize a society, the boys elect Ralph as the chief. Ralph’s competitor, Jack, is assigned control of the choir (the hunters who locate the food). As in most societies, duties to be performed are delegated to each of the boys by Ralph.  Since Jack and his choir are the “hunters”, Ralph, Piggy, and the twins who are called “Samneric” will carry water and build huts. Ralph and Piggy decide to build a fire using Piggy’s glasses. The boys hope the fire is seen by planes or ships that could rescue them. The hunters are also responsible for keeping this fire burning. One day, the hunters neglect the fire and it goes out. Conflict arises when Ralph and Piggy criticize Jack. In response, Jack breaks Piggy’s glasses and brags about the pig his hunters have killed for food. Soon the boys begin to think that a “beast” is on the island and everyone eventually becomes afraid. This fear causes even more power struggles between Ralph and Jack. With fear, conflict, and chaos, the boys turn to “savages”.  What or who is the “beast”? As the beast becomes a reality, what happens to Ralph and Piggy? Why does the group of “hunters”, led by Ralph, begin to “hunt” him?  Does the group of boys get rescued or are they forced to survive alone on the island forever?  

REVIEW:  Lord of the Flies is an excellent book to teach the reader the need for rules, laws, and order to maintain a civilized society. One learns that without these ideals, we as a society will become “savages”. William Golding presents the need for laws and order to prevent chaos in an adventure story. As simply an adventure story of the experiences of boys stranded on a deserted island to the multi-layered themes and depths of plot, Lord of the Flies can be enjoyed by young adult readers to older adults.  

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, symbolism, irony.

RELATED BOOKS: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, The Giver by Lois Lowry, Tunnel in the Sky by Robert Heinlein, MacBeth by William Shakespeare, The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, The Crucible by Shirley Jackson, Animal Farm by George Orwell. Books by the same author: The Inheritors, Pinch Martin, The Brass Butterfly: A Play in Three Acts, Free Fall, The Spire, The Pyramid, The Scorpion God: Three Short Novels, Darkness Visible, The Paper Men, An Egyptian Journal, Close Quarters, Fire Down Below, Close Quarters, Rites of Passage

MOVIE & TV CONNECTIONS: Lord of the Flies (movie – 1963), Lord of the Flies (movie – 1990), Lost (TV series)

MUSIC CONNECTION: Iron Maiden – “Lord of the Flies”, U2 – “Shadows and Tall Tress

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.bookwolf.com/Free_Booknotes/Lord_of_the_Flies/lord_of_the_flies.html

http://www.pinkmonkey.com/booknotes/barrons/lordfly02.asp

http://www.novelguide.com/lordoftheflies/novelsummary.html

http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/flies/

http://www.cliffsnotes.com/WileyCDA/LitNote/id-64.html

http://nobelprize.org/educational_games/literature/golding/index.html

http://www.cummingsstudyguides.net/Guides2/Golding.html#Lord

REVIEWED BY: Tammy Leitzel

Leonardo da Vinci

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Leonardo da Vinci  

Author: Diane Stanley

Page Length: 48

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Biography

PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW: From paintings of Jesus to sculptures of horses, Leonardo da Vinci was a master artist. In addition, he was a genius inventor. Da Vinci brainstormed numerous ideas for inventions such as a home cooling system, submarine, pliers, self-closing toilet lid, and contact lenses. Although many of his ideas were never perfected until later centuries, Leonardo da Vinci’s creative mind is evidenced by the numerous comments and drawings in his notebooks. Many of his notes were written in backwards format so as to keep them secret from prying eyes.

Leonardo da Vinci was an artistic man who kept to himself. He was married to his art and inventions. Born out of wedlock, da Vinci grew up in a non-traditional setting. Never-the-less, he managed to find his place in the world and live his life doing what he loved the most.

Diane Stanley’s biography of Leonardo da Vinci presents a brief glimpse of this genius’ complex world. At first, the book was hard to follow, but it became easier to comprehend as I read. Stanley pairs her text with colorful illustrations as well as examples of Leonardo da Vinci’s own drawings (ie. The Last Supper, flying machine, human anatomy). At the beginning of the book, there is a pronunciation guide and at the tail end of the biography is a list of recommended readings.   

AREAS FOR TEACHING: biography format and writing, history

RELATED BOOKS: Leonardo da Vinci by Norman Marshall, Leonardo da Vinci by Richard McLanathan, The Renaissance by Michel Pierre, A Weekend with Leonardo da Vinci by Rosabianca Skira-Venturi

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “The Da Vinci Code” (2006)

ART CONNECTIONS:

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/leon/hd_leon.htm

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.msichicago.org/scrapbook/scrapbook_exhibits/leonardo/index.html

http://school.discoveryeducation.com/lessonplans/programs/invention-leonardoslegacy/

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Last Shot

Last Shot

Author: John Feinstein

Page Length: 251

Reading Level: 5.2

Genre: Mystery, Fiction, Drama

PLOT SUMMARY: In the Last Shot by John Feinstein, 8th graders Steven Thomas and Susan Carol Anderson win the USBWA writing contest. The reward is attending the Final Four College Basketball Championship as reporters with full press passes and press access. Their assignment is to write a story a day covering the events surrounding the championship games. Little did they know they would accidentally over hear a coach blackmailing one of the star MSU players, Chip Graber. Thus the mystery arises. Who is the coach and why is he demanding Chip to intentionally lose the championship game? What does the coach have over Chip to make Chip consider losing the game? These questions spark Stevie and Susan’s interest and they begin their quest as amateur sleuths.  No one will answer their questions or take them seriously since they are just “kids”. So they undertake solving the mystery on their own only to find that the blackmail involves very powerful people.   

REVIEW: Any basketball enthusiast will love this book feeling as though you have a courtside seat at the championships. Even those of us who aren’t interested in basketball will enjoy Last Shot. The main character, 8th grader-Steven Thomas, is immediately likeable. Winning the USBWA , a writing contest, is a dream come true for Stevie where he will attend the Final Four basketball championship as a reporter with full press passes and press access. The reader’s attention is immediately captured as Stevie and his co-winner, Susan Carol Anderson embark on solving a mystery of a life-time involving the basketball star, Chip Graber. John Feinstein, a sports reporter himself, impresses upon the importance of the media in solving mysteries with his book Last Shot. The book is fast-paced and keeps the reader wondering what is going to happen next.

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, media.

RELATED BOOKS: Summer Ball by Mike Lupica,  Miracle on 49th Street by Mike Lupica, Heat by Mike Lupica, The Big Field by Mike Lupica, Football Genius by Mike Green,  Books by the same author: Are You Kidding Me?: The Story of Rocco Mediate’s Extraordinary Battle with Tiger Woods at the US Open, Cover-up: Mystery at the Super Bowl, Season on the Brink, Next Man Up: A Year Behind the Lines in Today’s NFL, Running Mates

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Above the Rim (2004), Glory Road (2006), The Basketball Fix (1951), Harvard Man (2001)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.usbwa.com

http://www.randomhouse.com/teachers/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780375831683

http://www.readwritethink.org/lesson_images/lesson997/booklist.pdf

http://www.readwritethink.org/calendar/calendar_day_printer.asp?id=432

http://www.readwritethink.org/lessons/lesson_view.asp?id=865

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

REVIEWED BY: Tammy Leitzel

January 17, 2009

Leon’s Story

Leon’s Story

Author: Leon Tillage

Page Length: 107

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Autobiography       

PLOT SUMMARY: This is Leon Tillage’s story of his life, as he remembers it from 1936 in North Carolina.  Leon’s family lived on a farm where his dad was a sharecropper.  This was a time when African American children began school at the age of six, but the school was not integrated and the supplies and facilities were not near as nice as what was provided for the white children of the community. 

This lifestyle of being discriminated against is the life that Leon remembers.  His parent’s didn’t question the way they were treated.  Jim Crow laws were in effect and if the black family did not abide by them the KKK would visit them.

After some drunken teenagers killed Leon’s dad and Martin Luther King Jr. visited Leon’s school, Leon became a part of the Civil Rights Movement against his mother’s wishes.  Leon could no longer accept the treatment and injustices that were being dealt to the members of the black community in the southern United States.  

REVIEW: This was a touching book as it was written in the dialogue in which Leon Tillage told it.  Leon is a custodian in an elementary school today.  This autobiography was written because of the story Leon shared with some third grade elementary students of that school.  The book exposes the cruelty of racism after the Civil War and prior to the Civil Rights Movement.  It shows the strength and courage that African Americans of the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s endured to survive.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Setting, Character, Point of View, Compare/Contrast, and Historical Context

RELATED BOOKS: Roll of Thunder; Hear My Cry, Rosa Parks, Mississippi Morning

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.edhelper.com/books/Leons_Story.htm

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

www.saclibrary.org/MyOneBook/images/obhistory4_6.pdf

www.aft.org/teachers/brown-history.htm

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 5, 2008

Learning the Game

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Learning the Game

Author: Kevin Waltman

Page Length: 217

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Nate isn’t the typical teenager. His parents are loaded but never notice him, he has a popular girlfriend who is all about appearances, and his brother is one of the town druggies. Nate wants to fit in with all the guys on the basketball court. One summer day, he is tested. Will he choose the team or what he knows is right? Will he stand by his friend or be bullied by Branson? Nate’s worked super hard on his game all summer, but the terrible truth of his actions just may cost him everything. A surprise call from his brother, a guilty conscience, and a chance that his team could suffer may be too much for Nate. Will he save himself, his team, his girlfriend, or his brother?

REVIEW: This book was fast paced and contained many important elements for teen readers: relationships, sexual tension, bullying and popularity, sports, and family. The moral to the story: telling the truth is the right thing to do – no matter what the consequences – could spark an interesting debate in the classroom – as the book is being read – what are his options? What could he (Nate) do instead? Should he tell or not?

The lessons about true friendships and relationships were important ones. I think that this book would be good for classroom study or for a small group instruction. Boys would generally be more drawn to it than girls and basketball lovers would especially understand Nate’s drive to be the best, make the Varsity starting line, and his descriptions of basketball action.

A secondary story is the disintegration of Nate’s family due to a previous event. When he was younger, he and his brother were at a friend’s house. His brother describes how they were looking at the gun, putting it away, and how it accidentally went off. His friend was dead and his life was forever changed.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence, author’s purpose, character motivations, point of view, cause and effect, flow chart of decisions

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: accidental shooting, drugs (mild reference), drinking

RELATED BOOKS: Nowhere Fast, Push, Slam, Game, Hoops, Coach Carter, Summer in the City, Taking Sides

RELATED MOVIES: “Coach Carter,” “Believe in Me,” “Glory Road,” “Finding Forrester”            

   

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://content.scholastic.com/browse/contributor.jsp?id=2960

http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/book.jsp?id=4162

http://www.kidsandguns.org/study/inthenews.asp?ID=465

http://spplteensread.blogspot.com/2008/07/learning-game-by-kevin-waltman.html

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

October 30, 2008

Lockdown

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Lockdown

Author: Diane Tullson

Page Length: 103

Reading Level: 2.9

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: An emotionally unstable student is pushed over the edge by thoughtless classmates and brings a gun to school causing a real lockdown. Panic and chaos ensue as the students realize this is not just another drill. One student who feels he can help takes a risk, but the ending is still not a happy one.

REVIEW:  This book broke my heart. Josh, the student who brings the gun, cares and knows all about the hamsters in his science class. Some of the other kids want to see the new babies and disrupt the nest and touch the babies causing the mother hamster to reject them and eat them. It is just too much for Josh who is a bit naïve and socially out of things but truly cares about the animals. He loses it, brings the gun, taunts his classmates, but ultimately ends up shooting and killing himself. Like I said, it broke my heart.

 AREAS FOR TEACHING: Point of view, cause and effect

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: pages 13-15 in the science class, and the rest of the book during the lockdown – especially the final pages.

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.dianetullson.com

REVIEWED BY: Sherry Hall

September 21, 2008

LeRoy and the Old Man

LeRoy and the Old Man

Author: W. E. Butterworth

Page Length: 168

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: LeRoy Chambers is the sole witness to a murder by a local Chicago gang called the “Wolves”. To escape police questioning as well as the rath of the gang who does not want LeRoy to sqeal on them, LeRoy is sent by his mother to Pass Christian, Mississippi. It is here that LeRoy is to live with his grandfather. Upon arrival in a New Orleans bus station, LeRoy meets his grandfather for the first time. However, this is one of many firsts in LeRoy’s new adventure.

Living with his grandfather, LeRoy learns how to sleep on a boat, how to catch shrimp and crabs, how to saw lumber, how to buy and sell goods, and even how to drive a truck. LeRoy also learns about the Cajun culture of which is a part of his heritage. However, one thing that LeRoy is not able to learn much about is his father. His father ran away from he and his mother many years ago. LeRoy’s grandfather will not talk about LeRoy’s father because of this.

When the Chicago police come looking for LeRoy in Mississippi to testify as a material witness to the murder he saw, LeRoy has serious reservations. LeRoy understands that he is the only person who saw the Wolves murder an old woman in his housing development. However, LeRoy is scared that if the Wolves see him in court, he may not get out of Chicago alive. LeRoy’s grandfather as well as the local Mississipi sheriff agree that LeRoy must go to Chicago. However, LeRoy’s father (who arranges to surprise LeRoy in a New Orleans restaurant) thinks that LeRoy should steal away to New York with him. LeRoy, even though he is angered to see his father after so long, is tempted to accompany his dad. However, in the end, the respect LeRoy has for his grandfather and the new life he has started to build in Pass Christian, Mississippi trumps his father’s wishes as well as the fear he has to testify in court (page 165).

REVIEW: Despite the boring title and the less than appealing book cover, LeRoy and the Old Man was a great story. It was suspenseful, humorous, mysterious and gut wrenching. I loved the character of the grandfather. His dialogue kept me reading on and on. I was intrigued by the southern Cajun setting. The elements of Mississippi / Louisiana culture, food, dialect, and community pride are beautifully interwoven in this story. Also, the stark contrasts between life in Chicago and life in New Orleans is effective.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause/effect, comparison/contrast (grandfather, father, son)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.gumbopages.com/acadiana/ (culture referred to in the story)

http://www.ci.pass-christian.ms.us/ (official site of Pass Christian, Mississippi)

http://dd-b.net/dd-b/Ouroboros/booknotes/data/butterworthwe-leroyandtheoldman.html

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

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Losing is Not an Option

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Losing is Not An Option

Author: Rich Wallace

Page Length: 127

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Ron is an athlete who longs for the next running competition and can’t stop dreaming about coming in first. After each defeat, he intensely trains for the next meet. In between meets, Ron is the average high school guy who hangs out with his friends and longs for a girlfriend. He excels as a teenage poet and works hard on the basketball court tool. This book chronicles his crushes, friendships, hardships, and training in nine short stories.

REVIEW: Honestly, the first half of this book I wasn’t making the connection between the same character and the all the short stories. However, in the last half of the book the author seemed to do a better job of tying the stories together. The language in the book ranges from the f word to other frequently used curse words. The main character and his friend are propositioned at a carnival; the girls offer sex for money.  Underage drinking is present, drug use, and sexual innuendos. I would be careful in recommending this book; on the other hand, the Ron does a good job of remaining true to himself and his sport.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: main idea, author’s purpose, making predictions, chronological ordering, textual support

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: page 60 – “closet masturbator”, page 86 – “Ziploc bag of pot”, page 79 – “asshole”

RELATED BOOKS: Curveball, Wrestling Sturbridge, Shots on Goal, One Good Punch

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.answers.com/topic/rich-wallace

http://www.loveland.k12.oh.us/district/technology/ITech/LES/Reading/L.htm

http://www.authors4teens.com/introduction.jsp?authorid=rwallace

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Locked Inside

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Locked Inside

Author: Nancy Werlin

Page Length: 259

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Marnie is the teenage daughter of an American celebrity. Her mother was a famous self-help author and a singer-songwriter. Marnie’s mother died and she’s under the care of her guardian and trust fund controller, Max. Marnie is away at a boarding school where she would rather spend her time online playing against the The Elf in a magical world. Marnie’s grades are slipping and her friendships deteriorating; being Skye’s daughter isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Marnie is forced to go to lunch with her teacher. The next time she awakens she has a horrible headache, a swollen face, and she’s locked in a basement type room. Who has taken Marnie? What do they want? Will anyone care enough to save Marnie after her wretched behavior? Can they even save her before it’s too late?

REVIEW: This book was interesting in a strange way. It begins with the typical teenage issues. Marnie loves playing on the computer, isn’t motivated academically, and is having trouble wanting or making friends. Yet, the book takes an odd turn when the kidnapper turns out to have psychological issues and delusions related to her poor sense of self worth. Overall, there are important lessons learned by Marnie and her friends. Marnie begins to discover who she is and to leave the pain of the past behind her. This book would be a good read for computer savvy teens who like a psychological thriller with a little romance and teen issues mixed in.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: main idea, author’s purpose, predictions, cause and effect, chronological ordering, compare and contrast

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: suicide, kidnapping, parent who died, psychological duress

RELATED BOOKS: The Killer’s Cousin, Are You Along on Purpose?, Double Helix, Black Mirror, ImpossibIe, The Rules of Survival

Other teen books on the topic of kidnapping: The Face on the Milk Carton

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.nancywerlin.com/

http://litplans.com/authors/Nancy_Werlin.html

http://www.yabookscentral.com/cfusion/index.cfm?fuseAction=authors.viewAuthor&author_id=144

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

August 24, 2008

Life, Love, and the Pursuit of Free Throws

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Life, Love, and the Pursuit of Free Throws

Author: Janette Rallison

Page Length: 185

Reading Level: not listed

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY: Josie and Cami are best friends in ninth grade and both are on the basketball team.  Josie is a natural athlete and basketball comes very easy for her.  Cami loves the sport, but must work hard for everything she accomplishes.  Josie has asked Cami to help her get Ethan’s attention.  Ethan, one of the cutest boys in ninth grade, has recently broken up with Ashley who is the captain of the basketball team.

The book is written in narrative form with Josie penning one chapter, then Cami the next.  The reader gets opinions, thoughts, feelings and ideas from both Cami and Josie.  As the book progresses, Cami realizes she also has a crush on Ethan.  Josie begins to enjoy the idea that she could actually be the MVP of the basketball team because she is always the highest point shooter.

The two girls discover that each of them has not been totally honest with the other and a fight develops.  This quarrel carries over to the basketball team and the other players, which causes the team to suffer several losses.  On a road trip to an important basketball game, Josie and Cami discover that friendship is more important than the issues they have put between themselves.

 REVIEW: This is definitely a “chick” book and I think girls of middle school and junior high would enjoy it more than older girls.  The characters and their behaviors are very stereotype of middle class Anglo-Saxon females.

The book was a fast read, but not one that I would highly recommend.

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

RELATED BOOKS: All’s Fair in Love, War, and High School, It’s a Mall World After All, The Revenge of the Cheerleaders, Playing the Field

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Grease” (1978)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.teensreadtoo.com/PursuitOfFreeThrows.html

www.walkeryoungreaders.com/books/catalog.php?key=461

www.janetterallison.com/questions_life_love.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

May 21, 2008

Lost Star

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Lost Star

Author: Patricia Lauber

Page Length: 106

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Biography

REVIEW: I have always been fascinated about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, and this short biography gave me some new insight. However, this book is not only about her adult life, but her childhood too.

Amelia Earhart (Meely or AE, for short) was a tomboy growing up who actively sought adventure and thrills. She was a lover of books and a strong feminist. Earhart believed that men and women should be equal. As a youth, she moved around a lot, yet was surrounded by very understanding parents. Earhart was a very independent person, evidenced by her drive to be the best at anything she did on her own. However, before becoming a pilot, Earhart was a social worker. This did not last long as the thrill of flying and setting records called to her.

In her short life, Earhart set many flying records. She even surpassed some of the records set by the men of her time. Females will find this book very inspirational. The males might find the issue of her disappearance intriguing (pages 85-97). I enjoyed this book. The photographs and maps included were very helpful and added a nice touch.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: predictions (page 80), transition words, reading maps (pages 92-93)

RELATED BOOKS: Fun of It by Amelia Earhart, 20 Hours, 40 Minutes by Amelia Earhart, “Further Reading” in Lost Star on page 102

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Amelia (movie – 2009)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.ameliaearhart.com/ (official website of Amelia Earhart)

http://www.tighar.org/Projects/Earhart/ameliavideo.html (video link)

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/12/1215_031215_ameliaearhart.html (National Geographic – 3 Theories)

http://teacherlink.ed.usu.edu/tlresources/units/Byrnes-famous/Earhart.html (Lesson Plan)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

May 1, 2008

Losing Joe’s Place

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Losing Joe’s Place

Author: Gordon Korman

Page Length: 233

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Sixteen year olds, Jason, Ferguson, and Don, are about to experience the most exciting summer ever. Jason’s brother, Joe, is headed overseas for the summer and has agreed to lease his uptown Toronto apartment to the three guys. The only instructions Joe left behind are not to lose the lease. The three are a little dismayed to find themselves in the poor side of town with a rather colorful collection of neighbors. However, the boys dig in to big city life and are determined not to admit defeat to their parents. All the boys find employment in Don’s uncle’s factory; but, before long Ferguson is a member of the technology team and is streamlining the processes in the factory. Jason and Don end up laid off and the adventures begin. From chasing after the same girl, to seeking jobs, and running the apartment, the antics of the three boys is entertaining. A surprise guest arrives by the name of Rootbeer and a stay at the police station follows. Will the boys be able to pay the rent and survive the summer, or will they have to call home for help?  Can they keep Plotnick, their eccentric half-crazed landlord, happy and avoid being evicted; or will their own good intentions be their undoing?

REVIEW: This was a humorous, well developed story full or plot twists and turns. Boys in general would probably find it more entertaining. The first person account seems right on with how a 16 year old would approach the situations presented in the book. The boys learn how to appreciate and tolerate each other despite their differences. Joe’s inattention to leaving good directions for the boys reinforces the importance of communication. It’s a cute, light, heart-warming read. Good values are reinforced, and Jason is a likable, good intentioned main character.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: dialogue, causes and effects of decisions, flow map of events, setting, point of view, conflict, plot

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Rootbeer performs stunts for money (i.e. betting someone they can not hit him in the stomach with a two by four), Jason goes to jail (mistakenly) for theft,

RELATED BOOKS: Swindle, No More Dead Dogs, Schooled, Kidnapped, The Climb

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://gordonkorman.com/toposite.htm

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

http://www.saidsimple.com/content/How-to-Write-a-Review (good site to use to teach students how to review a book)

http://biography.jrank.org/pages/2076/Korman-Gordon-1963.html

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

April 22, 2008

Lily B. on the brink of cool

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Lily B. on the brink of cool

Author: Elizabeth Cody Kimmel

Page Length: 245

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Lily Blennerhasset is a fourteen year old who is utterly bored with her unexciting, creativity stifling, run of the mill life. Of course her parents are to blame. Summer has begun. For the first time ever, Lily’s best friend has gone to a new camp without her. Lily is completely and utterly bored and all she has to look forward to is her summer assignment: writing in her journal. Things change when she meets her worldly, fashionable, completely cool relatives at Delia’s wedding. Lily finds a side of herself she never knew existed. She longed to be just like the LeBlancs who are vegetarians and totally in to saving the planet and defying all the customary rules. Lily becomes so consumed by her desire to be like and spend time with the LeBlancs that she sneaks around to see them and unbeknownst to her parents loans them the use of the summer house. Everything begins to fall apart when Lily realized that they aren’t who they seemed. Was Lily taken for a ride? Will the LeBlancs win in court? Will her parents ever forgive her? Lily ends the summer learning more about how “cool” she and her family really are.

REVIEW: This book had a wonderful message about discovering who we are and realizing how much we are loved by our family and friends (and how unconditional that love is). Lily learns a great lesson about true friendship and about looking for answers within not through seeking to be like someone else. The book is written as journal entries– which are a fabulous reinforcement for showing students how to journal daily and even how to take an alternative approach to an essay topic. The book was engaging and the lessons learned worth the read. Girls would likely enjoy the book more than boys would. Of particular interest is the point of view of the story – the main character “talks” directly to the reader throughout the book.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause and effects (Lily’s actions and decisions), compare and contrast (Karma and Lily), making predictions and generalizations, sequence

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: None really – she defies her parents and charges up the credit card without permission — but the repercussions follow and a lesson is learned

RELATED BOOKS: Lily B. on the Brink of Love, Lily B. on the Brink of Paris

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Thirteen Going on 30 (similar lesson – wishing for what you don’t have only to discover what you did have was what you really wanted in the first place), Song by Cinderella: Don’t Know What You’ve Got (Till It’s Gone)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.kidsreads.com/reviews/0060005866.asp

http://www.codykimmel.com/LilyB.html

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

http://biography.jrank.org/pages/2291/Kimmel-Elizabeth-Cody.html

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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