The Book Reviews – Website

November 14, 2009

Neighborhood Odes

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Neighborhood Odes

Author: Gary Soto

Page Length: 68

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Poetry

PLOT SUMMARY: Soto’s Odes take us back to childhood where we get to experience weddings, snow cones, Sundays in the park, piñatas at birthday parties and so much more. Throughout each poem Spanish vocabulary words are interwoven adding to the authenticity of the Mexican-American heritage expressed.

REVIEW: Soto’s poems are interesting and entertaining. As students read about these Mexican-American childhood experiences, they will relate to their own experiences of having a dog, eating their favorite foods, going to and having birthday parties, taking family photos, etc.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  poetic elements, imagery, adjectives

Teachers could consider reading a poem and then having students write about a memory the poem sparked.

RELATED BOOKS: Taking Sides, My Little Car, Nickel and Dime, Too Many Tamales

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


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


June 7, 2009

New Moon

New Moon (Book 2 in the Twilight Series)

Author: Stephenie Meyer

Page Length: 563

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Bella Swan continues her romance with her vampire soul mate, Edward Cullen. Things are going well for the couple despite Edward’s suppressed feelings to attack and consume Bella. The story begins with a birthday celebration for Bella at the Cullen residence. When Bella falls prey to another clumsy accident, she cuts herself on glass which reveals her blood for the vampire family to salivate over. Jasper Cullen, who has difficult suppressing his appetite for human blood, lunges at Bella. Luckily he is held back by his family members and escorted away from Bella. This incident is the last straw for Edward who has tried his best to create a safe and controlled atmosphere for himself and his girlfriend.

After some odd behavior, Edward tells Bella that he is moving away, leaving her alone. Edward immediately exits the town of Forks and Bella’s life. Before leaving, Edward makes Bella promise not to do anything that would put herself in danger. Knowing the kind of person Bella is, this promise is sure to be one that will be broken.

Over the course of the next several months, Bella wanders around in a pseudo catatonic state. She is depressed and does not know how to live her life without her one true love. Luckily, a motorcycle and an old friend resurrect Bella from her dejected condition. Jacob Black, an old childhood friend from the local Native American reservation, helps Bella in her quest to learn how to ride a motorcycle. Little does Jacob know that the reason Bella desires to ride is to engage in dangerous activity which Edward asked that she not do. Bella has realized that while engaging in high risk activities, she is able to “hear” the voice of her vampire lover. This “voice” becomes an addiction to Bella, thus her quest for thrill-seeking adventures continues for much of the novel.

On the bright side, Bella grows closer to her friend, Jacob. She becomes happier, more productive, and almost “back to normal”. Jacob has strong feelings for his friend in return but is not forward enough to initiate much action initially. Just when Bella feels that she and Jacob are reaching a point where their relationship could move in a whole new direction (in a positive manner), Jacob disappears for several weeks. Bella attempts to make contact over time only to be ignored and shut out. Bella suspects that Jacob may be involved in some gang activity on his reservation but she is not quite sure. She later finds out that it is something much more secretive and unusual. Jacob is a member of a group – a pack of werewolves!!!

Jacob is fearful to reveal all that he is to Bella, however Bella expresses to Jacob that she is not turned off by the fact that Jacob is a werewolf. She even goes so far as to divulge many of the secrets that she and Edward shared. Of course Jacob was sure that Edward was a vampire, but to hear it from Bella’s mouth only reinforced his thoughts. Bella goes on to say that an evil vampire, Victoria, is after her. Jacob states that his pack of werewolves is on the hunt for this vampire and that Bella need not worry.

When Bella goes on a cliff diving venture she suffers a minor concussion in the water. Jacob saves her, but her action creates trouble for many. Alice Cullen has a vision of Bella cliff diving (appearing to commit suicide) and relays this to her family except for Edward. Rosalie Cullen, however, takes this information and shares it with Edward. Edward in turn sets out on a quest to visit the Volturi, an ancient vampire family in Italy, to stir up trouble in hopes of death. Edward would rather die than live on this Earth without his true love.

Alice and Bella track down Edward and save him, however Bella is revealed to the Volturi to be a special and intriguing human. The Volturi release Bella, Alice, and Edward on the condition that Bella will be turned into a vampire at some point. The Volturi further stated that they would check up on the Cullen family to view the new state of Bella.

When the Cullens and Bella arrive back to Forks, they have a discussion about turning Bella into a vampire. Carlisle Cullen agrees to turn Bella into one of them upon graduation from high school. Later it is revealed that Jacob Black is aware of this plan and is not happy. He tells Edward that if the Cullens turn Bella into a vampire, the treaty that the werewolves and the vampires have held in the town of Forks will be broken.

At the conclusion of book 2, Bella is in quite a predicament: if she is not turned into a vampire soon, the Volturi will kill her. If she does become a vampire, the vampire / werewolf treaty will have been broken, and the werewolves (including Jacob) would kill Bella and the Cullen family.

REVIEW: Book 2 in the Twilight series is much more action packed yet still retains much of the emotion from book 1. The comparisons and contrasts between Jacob and Edward is striking. Both Jacob and Edward love Bella. Both Jacob and Edward are non-human creatures of violence. Jacob and Edward are true enemies connected by their affection for a human. New Moon is a roller coaster of emotions. Many references to the Shakespeare characters of Romeo, Juliet, Rosaline, and Paris are mentioned. Bella compares herself to Juliet, Edward to Romeo, and Jacob to Paris. I enjoyed how Bella is caught in the middle not only emotionally but sometimes physically between Edward and Jacob. The twist at the end involving the vampire / werewolf treaty was a nice touch in connection to Bella’s continued desire to become a vampire. Just when Bella feels she is close to becoming more like Edward, she realizes that the very thing that she wants the most, might lead to her ultimate death at the hands of another that she loves.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: characterization, cause and effect, setting, comparison / contrast

RELATED BOOKS: Twilight, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “New Moon” (movie set to release in late 2009)

RELATED WEBSITES: (official website of the author)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

December 12, 2008

Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo

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Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo

Author: Greg Leitich Smith

Page Length: 188

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Elias, Shohei, and Honoria are best friends attending Peshtigo Middle School. Elias is from a family of very smart and successful parents and siblings.  Shohei is the adopted Japanese son of two Irish parents. Honoria is the girl caught in between the two.

It is time for the annual school Science Fair.  Elias decides to copy one of his older brother’s past experiments and Shohei decides to join him in working on the project. Honoria wants to teach piranhas to become vegetarians.

The plot thickens when Elias’ experiment does not match the findings of his brother; Shohei faces his parent’s daily issues to acquaint him with his Japanese culture; and, Elias has a crush on Honoria who confides in him that she has a crush on Shohei.   

REVIEW: This is an entertaining book in that the character’s each tell a portion of the story.  Each of their personalities is developed through their actions and thoughts.  The trio face conflict with their parents, teachers and each other. There is a Reading Group Guide at the end of the book which would assist if the book was used as a class novel. I think both boys and girls would enjoy the book for leisure reading.

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

RELATED BOOKS: Holes, Tofu and T. Rex


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


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Author: Nigel Saunders and Steven Chapman

Page Length: 48

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Non-Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Nuclear is a book about nuclear energy and how it is used in all parts of our life and in the world and universe.  It begins with describing nuclear energy components and make-up, and the origination of the atom.  It then goes on to explain how radiation affects living things.  The book describes how nuclear power is used on earth, at sea, and in space. 

 REVIEW: This is a very informative book about nuclear energy and power.  The pictures are beautiful and quite vivid.  At the bottom of each page, is a “word store” which has definitions of some of the terms used in the book. Besides giving information, the additional window pictures and news briefs give examples of where actual relating events have occurred.

This would be a great book to use in the supplemental study of energy in a science class or for a science project.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Main Idea and Supporting Details

RELATED BOOKS: Science Topics: Energy, Energy for Life: Nuclear Energy


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

October 17, 2008


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Author: Gary Paulsen

Page Length: 98

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Nightjohn tells the story of slavery in the deep south. Sarny is a young girl being raised by old Delie who raises all the young slaves. Sarny’s birth mother was sold off as a breeder when she was young. Sarny knows of all sorts of human atrocities. She has seen and knows of people being whipped, beaten, hung, and even raped. Delie keeps sticks to tell how she old is (about 12) and worries about the trouble coming to her. One day, a new slave named Nightjohn arrives. Sarny can tell that he is different than all the rest. She soon learns out why. Nightjohn can read (something slaves are forbidden to do). Nightjohn begins to teach Sarny and the troubles begin. Sarny loves making letters and is caught drawing them in the dirt. What lengths will Waller go to in order to keep what he considers his slaves from learning to read? Will they be willing to pay the price for knowledge anyway?

REVIEW: What a great lesson this book is about the value of education. Students can begin to explore why the slave owners wanted their slaves to be illiterate. This story is graphic but historically sound. The characters and the events in the story are well developed and moving.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: historical context, creating a timeline, predictions, causes and effects, summarization, question the text, comprehending impact on point of view, sequence of events, setting

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: pg. 44 “every time there was somebody to be on the wall … and be whipped or other punishments we all had to watch”

Graphic descriptions of whippings and salt being put in wounds while the wounded was left tied up for the flies to infect the wounds

Graphic descriptions of a beating and toes being chopped off

Language “god damn you — don’t you lie to me” pg. 63

RELATED BOOKS: The Crossing, Brian’s Winter, Hatchet, Good-bye and Keep Cold, Fallen Angels, The Island, The Foxman, Tracker, Dogsong, The Foxman, The River Between Us

RELATED MOVIES: “Nightjohn” produced by The Disney Channel



REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

August 12, 2008

Night of the Twisters

Night of the Twisters

Author: Ivy Ruckman       

Page Length: 151

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Realistic Fiction   

PLOT SUMMARY: Night of the Twisters is a narrative told by Dan Hatch, the oldest of two children, and resident of Grand Island, Nebraska.  It is based on the actual tornadoes that struck Grand Island and the surrounding areas on June 4, 1980.

As the story begins, Dan has just won a bike after entering the Dairy Queen Bike Race because his best friend, Arthur, dared him to race.

Dan and Arthur spend most of their free time together.  Dan prefers being at Arthur’s house, to get to eye Stacey, Arthur’s 14-year-old sister.  Arthur likes to be at Dan’s house, so that he can escape his six sisters.  They both appease the wishes of Dan’s, Aunt Goldie, by participating in her craft projects and self-improvement classes. Dan is a bit jealous of his baby brother, Ryan, who requires most of his mother’s time and attention.

The book is written in chapters from hour to hour on the afternoon of June 3rd.  At 5:00, Arthur and Dan are leaving the beach as clouds begin to build.  At 6:00, Arthur has dinner with Dan and his family and then, Dan’s dad leaves to go to his grandpa’s house that lives in the country. After doing the dishes and folding some diapers, about 7:00, the boys went for a bike ride.  They visited Mrs. Smiley and went by Arthur’s house to see if he could spend the night at Dan’s.  Everything and everybody were very calm-before the storm hit.

By 8:00, warnings are being given on the radio that tornadoes have been cited.  Dan’s mother gets worried, that Mrs. Smiley, who lives down the street, may not know to take cover.  She decides to drive down the street to help Mrs. Smiley get into her basement.  However, before her return, the sirens sound.  Dan and Arthur hurry to get Ryan, Dan’s baby brothers, Minerva, the cat and themselves down into the basement.  They make it to the basement as they heard the roaring of a freight train.

The boys survive the storm, but do not realize what comes after a severe tornado demolishes a town. They must make adult decisions about how to survive and help others survive.

REVIEW:  Ivy Ruckman does a great job of getting the reader involved with the characters at the beginning of the book.  The way in which he writes the events, hour by hour, create suspense as to what will happen next.  He develops the character of Dan, and shows how he changes and matures in just a twelve hour period. 

I think this book would be a good read aloud for a class.  It has good character development, description, and an order of events that the class could discuss and develop as writing projects.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Cause and Effect, Characters, Setting, and Conclusions, Predictions, and Generalizations

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Twister” (1996)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 10, 2008

No More Pranks

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No More Pranks

Author: Monique Polak    

Page Length: 100

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY: The book is a narrative, by Pete, a high school student in Montreal who loves to pull pranks on people.  His latest, however, got him expelled from school and sent to his Uncle Jean’s and Aunt Daisy’s to for the summer.  They have a kayak business and run trips down the St. Lawrence River to see whales. 

Pete makes friends with Rosalie, who questions why Pete pulls pranks.  On one of the trips, Pete, can’t resist putting a frog in one of the tourist’s life jackets.  He thinks he gets away with the prank, but when Uncle Jean takes him for a ride in one of the kayaks, Pete is put in a situation where he thinks Uncle Jean may tip the kayak into the freezing river.  Pete is tempted, but doesn’t pull any more pranks for a while.

On this trip, Pete and Uncle Jean spot one of the beautiful humpback whales, Petit Fou.  Later, Pete and Rosalie take a group on a kayaking trip by themselves.  On this trip, they find Petit Fou, bleeding.  They learn she has been injured by one of the powerboats that take tourists on sight seeing trips. 

The incident leads to events that eventually transform Pete and Rosalie into “hometown heroes” and pushes Pete to resolve to pull “No More Pranks.”

REVIEW:  This is the second of two books I have read by Monique Polak and I enjoyed this Home Invasion book much more.  The story is interesting as Polak combines the main idea of Pete learning that he should not pull pranks on people with informative information about kayaking on the St. Lawrence River with humpback whales. 

I think any student from sixth to twelfth grade would enjoy this book.  It is especially good for the older readers with low reading levels.

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

RELATED BOOKS: No Problem, Kicked Out, Overdrive


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 6, 2008

Now You See It

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Now You See It

Author: Vivian Vande Velde

Page Length: 278

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Wendy returns home for her latest eye doctor appointment with blurred vision thanks to the eye drops he put in her eyes. She discovers a pair of sunglasses on her front lawn and slips them on. Her vision becomes clear and happy. Wendy can suddenly see great with these new sunglasses on. The next day, Wendy wears them to school and suddenly everything has changed. On the way to school, the bus driver witnesses an accident and Wendy sees a ghost. In class, she puts on the glasses and can’t believe her eyes when she sees beautiful, popular Tiffanie as a wrinkled old crone. Soon it seems that Julian and Tiffanie have discovered her secret. Hot on her trail, Wendy hides out at her grandmother’s nursing home until Julian shows up. Wendy runs outside and finds herself taken to another dimension where there are villains, elves, and dragons. Wendy must befriend the creatures and the crone so that she can rescue the prince before it’s too late.

REVIEW: This was an interesting book. It was entertaining and humorous despite the seemingly far-fetched plot. Although who doesn’t wonder and wish that time travel were possible (and what a great journal writing exercise that would make after reading this book)? The author includes just enough teenage feelings and emotions as well as science fiction element to keep the reader engaged and interested in turning the page to discover what will happen next. Students who enjoy books like Inkheart and the Artemis Fowl series would also enjoy this one.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: symbols, characters, plot, conflict, theme, setting, author’s purpose

RELATED BOOKS: The Changeling Prince, A Coming Evil, Being Dead, Witch Dreams, Never Trust a Dead Man


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

July 7, 2008

Number the Stars

Number the Stars

Author: Lois Lowry

Page Length: 137

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Annemarie Johansen is a young Danish girl who, along with her Jewish friend Ellen Rosen, attempts to live a normal life in the midst of Nazi occupation. In their town of Copenhagen, both girls participate in rationing. They live with little – unable to even spread butter on their bread! What is plentiful is the love of family and friends. That is what keeps these citizens together. When the Nazi’s begin to “relocate” the Jews (to ultimate death), Denmark’s sense of security and freedom diminishes.

In response to the Jewish discrimination, “The Resistance” (a group of individuals with a mission to fight the occupation of the Nazis) begins to smuggle the Jews out of Denmark and over to Sweden.  Some of Annemarie’s family and friends take part in this mission in order that Ellen Rosen and her family may escape the Nazis. Annemarie is sad to see her friend leave, but she understands that it is necessary in order for the Rosen’s to have a chance at survival.

Annemarie displays great courage and strength when she aids the Rosen family in their escape. She doesn’t plan her courageous acts, rather she takes it upon herself to assist when her mother injures herself.

The story ends with the Rosen family escaping, the war ending, and Annemarie hopeful that she will see her friend again.

The author provides a nice “Afterword” at the end of the book which explains which portions of the story were fictional and which were based on fact.

REVIEW: This book was an easy read and kept my attention. The scenes that included the Nazi guards were very suspenseful. This book would be a great supplement to a unit on the Holocaust both in English class as well as World History.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: mood, tone, simile (page 5), symbolism (page 25, 87, & 94), historical context, vocabulary (swastika & kroner), reading varied sources – letters (page 137)

RELATED BOOKS: Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl (Jewish hiding, female perspective), Stepping on the Cracks (two girls’ relationship during war time), The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark, Night, The Book Thief

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: “Anne Frank Remembered” (1995), “The Diary of Anne Frank” (1959)

RELATED WEBSITES: (covers TEKS such as character, point of view, foreshadowing, imagery, writing activities, projects, etc)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

July 1, 2008

No Shame, No Fear

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No Shame, No Fear

Author: Ann Turnbull

Page Length: 293

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The story begins in Shropshire, England in the 1662. Susanna, a young Quaker girl, works alongside her mother to care and provide for her family after her father is taken away to a debtor’s prison. Suffering is commonplace to her family, and Susanna learns that Quakers maintain dignity and hold steadfast to their beliefs despite the circumstances around them. One day, her path crosses that of a dashing young man, William. William becomes quite taken with Susanna who as chance would have has come to reside in his town as a servant to a printer. Their different social standings and religious backgrounds only seem to complicate their budding relationship. When their friends and parents disagree with their alliance, their new love is put to the test. Can their love survive the circumstances, prejudices, and persecution of their time?

REVIEW: What really made this book interesting was that each chapter alternated the viewpoints of Susanna and William. This would be a great teaching tool for point of view and for catching the interest of both male and female audiences. As a historical novel, it was very enlightening to learn about the Quaker viewpoint and to realize how steadfastly they clung to their beliefs despite imprisonment and in many cases at the risk of losing everything. This novel is very eye opening to the dangers of religious persecution and of the prejudices that are all too often to easily imagined and believed just because someone is different. This novel yields to a good lesson on tolerance and understanding of others. Over all, this book is an informative, interesting read.

For reluctant readers, beginning with an understanding of the times, cultural habits, and beliefs of the Quakers in the late 1600’s would help to improve engagement in the story. This might sound great on audio if it was recorded by both and male and female reader.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: tolerance, diversity, conflict, symbols, compare and contrast, plot, sequence, cause and effect

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: prison, public flogging, prejudice

RELATED BOOKS: American Religious Experience: The Quakers, The Quaker Colonies: A Chronicle of the Proprietors of the Delaware, Forged in the Fire (sequel to No Shame, No Fear), Josie Under Fire, Gunner’s Boy


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

May 1, 2008

No More Dead Dogs

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No More Dead Dogs

Author: Gordon Korman

Page Length: 180

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY #1: Wallace is a popular eighth grader with only one fault: he only tells the truth. Unfortunately, some people just aren’t ready to hear the truth. Wallace’s bad luck begins when he writes a review of his English teacher’s favorite book. Wallace hates the book and Mr. Fogelman hates his review. He sentences Wallace to detention until he turns in an acceptable review. Detention is held in the auditorium where drama practice is taking place. The drama club happens to be performing the play of the book (Old Shep, My Pal) Wallace had to review. Wallace begins to make suggestions for the performance and before long everyone is listening to him instead of Mr. Fogelman.

Strange things have begun to happen during rehearsals It seems as if someone is trying to sabotage the play. All eyes are on Wallace, but Wallace suspects his football teammates who are anxiously awaiting his glorious return to practice. After all, Wallace is the hero of the football team whose brilliant play clinched a title game (what everyone forgets is that Wallace sits the bench 80% of the time – he knows he is no football great, but no one else seems to realize it).

Rumors circulate because Parker Schmidt only ever gets part of the facts before he embellishes the story he prints in the paper. The play begins to develop and Wallace finds that he is in no hurry to return to football practice. Trudi, an actress in the play, falls for Wallace and can’t wait to be his girlfriend. Her best friend, Rachel, can’t wait for Wallace’s sabotage of the play to be discovered. He disgusts her and she can’t wait to see him go. The big night is drawing near; the show is sold out, and the play and its cast may be in danger. Can Wallace discover the truth and save the show? Will everyone else learn to see Wallace for who he really is?

REVIEW #1: This book was cute and entertaining. I enjoyed how the chapters switched view points between the characters. Rachel’s letters to Julia Roberts were also a great technique for introducing her feelings about Wallace (the reader figures how she feels before she does). The fact that Wallace Wallace can not tell a lie leads the reader to question truths and lies – what they mean and where the line is drawn. Friendships are restored and Wallace perseveres through being abandoned by his teammates and being a suspect among the drama club. The ending is good and Wallace is an admirable character.

REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY #2: Wallace Wallace (last name same as the first), hero of his school football team, is a chronic truth teller. He is unable to tell a lie which sometimes makes life a little uncomfortable. When his eighth-grade English teacher assigns a book review on Old Shep, My Pal, Wallace follows the assignment to the letter giving his absolute honest opinion; he hated it. Unfortunately for Wallace, Old Shep, My Pal is his teacher’s all time favorite book and Mr. Fogelman can’t understand how anyone could dislike such a classic. Wallace however is sick and tired of reading books where the dog dies in the end and he refuses to change his report to the point of earning detention, which also gets him suspended from the football team.


The book makes the point that sometimes there is a valid reason to rebel. Wallace stands behind his conviction and makes a reasonable argument to his teacher saying he knew the dog was going to die before he even read the book because, “…the dog always dies. Go to the library and pick out a book with an award sticker and a dog on the cover. Trust me, that dog is going down.” He then lists several examples as his classmates begin to chime in, much to the teacher’s distress.


Wallace’s teacher is also directing the school play which is, no surprise, Old Shep, My Pal, and Wallace has to serve his detention by sitting in on play rehearsals.  Wallace never changes his mind as Mr. Fogelman hopes, but he does get involved with the play and ends up making changes to it that include rollerblades, a moped and a rock-and-roll band called The Dead Mangoes. 


What appealed to me about this book, aside from the humor, is that Wallace is never mean or disrespectful. He doesn’t try to change the play out of spite. Rather, he honestly thinks it could be better and the cast members agree with him. He even finally wins over Mr. Fogelman while staying true to himself. He is willing to accept whatever consequence he receives because he believes in himself. I think kids will get the point as well as enjoying the story.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: point of view, organization of text, voice, mood, character traits, plot

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: mild language – Wallace Wallace is referred to as “dumbass, dumbass”

RELATED BOOKS: Swindle, Schooled, Kidnapped, The Climb


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor & Sherry Hall

April 26, 2008

NFL Behind the Scenes

NFL Behind the Scenes

Author: Joe Layden

Page Length: 32

Reading Level: unknown

Genre: Non-fiction

REVIEW: This 32 page book about football is more like a magazine. From the colorful photographs to the informative captions, this piece of reading will grab the attention of most athletic students – especially boys. Also, it is short enough to entice even the most reluctant reader. NFL Behind the Scenes covers almost every aspect of the game – from the very first football game played in 1869 (without helmets) to the 2003 Super Bowl game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Oakland Raiders. 

There are even several black and white photographs from the early years of football in America. Page 28 shows a picture of a team of guys warming themselves from the cold on the field with straw. Now the author does an excellent job of covering topics such as training camp, the trainers, media staff, crazy fans, equipment, and coaches. Some of the photographs provided have numbers on them to direct the reader to the appropriate captions. This is helpful.

After reading this text, I learned that Walter Camp is one of the main individuals responsible for bringing football to the forefront of American life. Also, early football players actually played a game that was a combination of football, rugby, and soccer. Some team members during that time even sewed their own uniforms! The author stresses that football is not only a game, but a business. In addition, passion is a key to playing the game well.

I would like to have seen larger captions. Also, the concern with allowing students to read this style of book, is that they might focus only on the photographs and not read any of the words on the page.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: text features, sequence of events (pages 4-9)

RELATED BOOKS: Joe Layden has written many other books just like NFL Behind the Scenes, Amazing But True Sports Stories by Hollander

RELATED WEBSITES: (virtual tour – new Dallas Cowboys stadium) (National Football League official website) (football game with math skills) (Football 101)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

February 28, 2008

No Problem

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No Problem

Author: Dayle Campbell Gaetz

Page Length: 87

Reading Level: 2.2

Genre: Realistic Fiction


PLOT SUMMARY: Curt is a high school student facing the pressures of academics, work, girls, friendship, and his parents. Curt is a talented baseball pitcher; his father dreams of Curt making it to the big leagues. Having almost made it to the major leagues himself, Curt’s dad puts pressure on him to achieve perfection and dedicate himself completely to the sport. Curt tires of the constant criticism and pressure. His coach notices him tending his arm and offers a bottle of muscle relaxers to take only when he really needs them. Curt’s world begins a downward spiral. Under extreme pressure, he begins to take the pills to sleep or relax. While working his part-time job, he meets and becomes enamored with Leah, a girl who is herself struggling with an issue (an alcoholic father). He falls for Leah but finds himself pursued relentlessly by Rachel, an older, flirtatious girl. Rachel offers Curt a ride home and before he knows it, he has taken his first hit of cocaine. As Curt’s addiction grows, his world falls apart. Coach takes him out the game and he storms off the field. He alienates his parents and his friends. Leah finds about his time with Rachel and his drug habit. Mom and dad are suspicious. A confrontation is coming. A choice has to be made. Will Curt come clean about his drug habits and seek help or will his life spin further out of control?


REVIEW: This story follows the traditional ORCA book format. The sentences are simple, the chapters short, and the subject level is high interest. As a reader, I dislike how briefly such important and vast subjects are touched upon and dismissed.  Even though some students are lower level readers, they can appreciate the depth and emotional dimensions of the issues presented in these books. I wish that they delved a little deeper and really examined the causes and effects of such issues.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: These books would work well for independent reading. In addition, teachers could have students analyze the causes and effects of Curt’s drug use and addiction. Students will likely be able to relate to many of the issues addressed in these novels. 




REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


February 11, 2008

Navajo Long Walk

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Navajo Long Walk

Author: Nancy M. Armstrong

Illustrator: Paulette Livers Lambert

Page Length: 119

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Historical Fiction


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: A book about Native Americans makes me think back to history class in middle school. At first I was not enthused about the subject, however when I read the introduction on page one I realized this was not just an adventure story or boring history lesson, but a tale about how the United States government forced 8,000 Navajo Indians from their homeland in eastern Arizona in 1864. The Navajos were made to trek over 300 hundred miles on foot and wagon to a fort in eastern New Mexico. There they were held captive for four years. The trek they made to New Mexico is known as the “Long Walk”.


This book is specifically about a boy named Kee, his sister Hasba, his mother Gentle Woman, his father Strong Man, and his grandmother Wise One. There are also several other animal characters that belong to the Native American family: a donkey named Small Burro and a dog named Gray Dog. As you can tell, all of these names are from Native American tradition and culture.


This is a coming-of-age story for the main character, Kee. His father is lost in the trek to Fort Sumner, and Kee must take on many attributes of a grown man. He is now the “man of the family”. Many changes take place in this story from the scenery of the South-west to the feelings this particular Native American family has towards the soldiers known as the “white man”. The family grows to realize that not all American soldiers are cruel. Even Kee, the character who at first resents the soldiers the most, befriends the son of the leader at Fort Sumner – Captain Harris.


Towards the end of the story, the Navajo, after a treaty with the U.S. Government, are allowed to return home to Arizona. After this point in the story, I found the ending a bit predictable. The father is described as waiting at home for his family’s return. He has spent time preparing food and shelter to welcome them home.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: This easy to read book does a great job describing the conditions in which the Navajo live in their home land as well as in their new surroundings. Weather, food, and shelter are all portrayed with vivid descriptions and examples. On page 87, one quote stood out in this respect – “meals often came from the tough stringy meat of an animal that had starved to death”. Now I liked the fact that there was a map at the very beginning of the story where I could refer to. Names that are not generally used today (ie. Eagle Feather, Long Earrings, Kee), may prove difficult for some students. It might be hard for students to keep track of the characters at the very beginning. A lesson about tradition and names could easily supplement this struggle.




REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton


February 2, 2008

New Kids in Town: Oral Histories of Immigrant Teens

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News Kids in Town: Oral Histories of Immigrant Teens

Author: Janet Bode

Reading Level: 4.5

Page Length: 126

Genre: Non-fiction, Autobiography


REVIEW: New Kids In Town is a compilation of oral histories of immigrant teens.  The author, Janet Bode, a resident of New York City, visited schools and noticed as she looked around that 1/3 of the student’s head of household’s  were from other countries than  the United States.  In the 1800’s nearly all immigrants were from northern and western Europe.  Now, only 5% come from that part of the world.


Bode conducted a study and found where the majority of immigrants come from today.  She then located students from each of these countries:  Afghanistan, El Salvador, India, Cuba, Philippines, Dominican Republic, China, Mexico, South Korea, Greece and Vietnam.  The words she wrote were originally spoken in the immigrant teen’s own voices.


In each chapter, Bord gives an introduction of each country’s origin.  Then, there is a story by each immigrant.  They each share a story about their life in their old country, then a review of their life in America.


Most of the teens’ families experienced fear in the countries they exported from and are victims of discrimination in the U. S.  However, all of the teens appear to feel they are better off in America.


I especially liked the last paragraph on page 84. It begins, “they came here to American and he didn’t know how to speak a word of English.  Now, six years later he is a pharmacist . . . he introduced me to his staff. . .they all understood his English”.  I said, “This is a miracle!”  He answered, “Sook, America is where miracles come true”.


The last chapter about Von, from Vietnam, was the most detailed and touching to me. I think that may be because of my age ( 18 ) during the Vietnam War.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: This book would be good to use in the study of the cycle of immigration over the past 30 years.  It is a good non-fiction read that will influence teens to appreciate the U. S. and its’ opportunities.




REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


January 11, 2008

Next Summer

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Next Summer

Author: Hailey Abbott

Page Length: 230

Reading Level: Unknown

Genre: Realistic Fiction


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: This book is about the Northeast summer adventures of two sisters – Ella Tuttle and Kelsi Tuttle as well as their cousin Beth. The cover of the book suggests that this story may be a little “scandalous”. The top of the cover states, “a Summer Boys novel”, however this is not a book for boys but rather one about girls flirting with boys. Boys are described much more than girls are in this book. This story also contains all the drama that teenage love and romance entails. I would not recommend this book to a male. The book is written in third-person but focuses primarily on the actions of the three Tuttle girls and the boys they come into contact with. This book is one in a series.


The story starts off at the beginning of summer. Beth is a little sad that she is leaving her boyfriend George to go off to Pebble Beach with her cousins. George has chosen to stay behind, work, and save money for the fall. Ella and Kelsi are going to make the trip as well to the beach to stay at the family cottage. The reader finds out early on that something bad happened last summer – Ella cheated with Kelsi’s ex-boyfriend Peter. Ella has chosen to keep this act a secret for a year now. The guilt that Ella feels quickly lessens (for now) as the sight of the beach comes into view.


Jamie Tuttle is another cousin in this book that was unable to make it to the beach. She has chosen to attend Amherst for a summer writing program. However, conversations between her and the other girls happen via e-mail.


To put it simply: Beth is the one with the boyfriend this summer, Kelsi is the new-age girl who is more attractive than she thinks, and Ella is the girl that teases and entices boys all the time. Ella is pretty and she knows it. This has gotten her into trouble often.


Drama quickly begins and continues. All three girls end up getting into “trouble”. Beth ends up cheating on George with a lifeguard named Adam (who is quite a lot like George). However, at first, Beth tries to hook Kelsi up with Adam so as to try to forget her attraction to him. Unfortunately, Kelsi does not feel attracted to Adam very much. Kelsi instead is attracted to Tim, a jock and a type of guy who she would have never thought she would be interested in.


On the other hand, Ella is off flirting with all the out-going boys including one named Inigo who did not speak English. She later comes upon a boy named Jeremy who is quite shy – not the type that Ella would normally be attracted to. They end up forming a lasting and meaningful relationship. Ella learns a lesson that surprises come in all personality types.


There are two peaks in this novel: one occurred when Kelsi finds out that Ella made out with her ex-boyfriend. Another is when George discovers that Beth has been involved with Adam, the lifeguard.


Things settle down pretty quickly toward the end of the book and it seems that the story wraps up quite nicely – Beth and George make-up, Ella finds a meaningful, wholesome boy to date, and Kelsi surprises herself by falling in love with a total opposite.


If my review seems a “mess”, it is because the book is a “mess” which is what I believe the author wanted to convey to the reader. Teenage love is a disordered state. As the author writes on page 229, “this summer had been messy in so many ways”.


TOUCHY AREAS: A few words of caution to the more conservative reader: there are references to the act of intercourse and terms used to describe individuals who are on the promiscuous side. No sexual acts in the book are explicit but they are alluded to.  Also, descriptions of the Tuttle girls drinking alcohol are present in some parts.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: This book would appeal to many students due to its real-life dramas and current themes. If you were to use this story for teaching a lesson, I would highlight the skills of compare/contrast or characterization.




REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton


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