The Book Reviews – Website

December 19, 2010

Stoner and Spaz

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Stoner and Spaz by Ron Koertge: Book Cover

Stoner and Spaz

Author: Ron Koertge

Page Length: 169

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Ben Bancroft has become accustomed to having a hidden life. Living with his over protective grandmother and being disabled by cerebral palsy, he’s always shied away from any attention. After all, who wants to be known as a spaz by everyone (just like in the junior assembly when the principal pointed out how different he was to the entire school).

But Ben’s life is due for change even if it’s in the form of Colleen Minou, a druggie who sleeps around. Ben and Colleen forge an unlikely friendship and both their lives begin to change.

REVIEW: Ben’s transformation from being totally self-absorbed and feeling sorry for himself to a young man who sees beyond his disability and begins to connect with others is wonderful. The story makes an excellent point about disabilities and perceptions and conclusions that people all too easily jump to. 

On the other hand, Colleen’s life style is harsh and maybe too graphic. The constant drug references and her using sex as a means of satisfying her addiction and manipulating people to get what she wants – requires that the book reader be mature enough to understand the consequences and effect. I would not read this book with a class.

The good points are well made through Ben’s filming of fellow classmates. He breaks through the social perceptions of misfits and shows the beauty of humanity. The realities of drug abuse and the cost to the user are also detailed making the book a realistic look the horrifying effects of drugs – students could examine the costs to Colleen’s life.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause and effect, author’s purpose, comparing and contrasting (Ben before he looked outside himself and Ben after)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Colleen recounts the night her mom’s boyfriend came into her bedroom and started rubbing her – then she notes after telling her mom who accused her of trying to ruin her (her mother’s) happiness – “I’m fucking ten years old, and I’m on my own”  (70).

Colleen use of drug – smoking a joint. “I snort a little coke” (71).

“She grabs the condom, tears the foil with her teeth, then puts it on with alarming dexterity” (152).

RELATED BOOKS: Fat Kids Rule the World, You Don’t Know Me, The Brimstone Journals, Gingerbread, The Beast, Angel Dust Blues

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/Stoner-Spaz.html

http://www.teenreads.com/features/2002-koertge-ron.asp

http://www.bookrags.com/biography/ron-koertge-aya/

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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Shadow Divers

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Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson: Book Cover

Shadow Divers

Author: Robert Kurson

Page Length: 397

Reading Level: 7.5

Genre: Non-Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Bill Nagle and John Chatterton loved deep sea diving despite its dangers and isolation. The two became friends and made one of the most significant diving discoveries ever. They found a German U boat 230 feet below in the frigid Atlantic waters. This book details their personal struggles, all the dangers of diving (how descending in the water has the same disorientation and processing effects as alcohol), their sacrifices, and their determination to prove (despite denials from the Germans and the American government) what they had found really existed. Everything you ever wanted to know about deep sea / wreck diving is revealed in this book.

REVIEW: The book is 397 pages long (so great motivation before you get started is needed). At times, the descriptions of diving boats, equipment, and conditions that occur during dives is very technical and thorough. I truly see this book as an adult book — and one not the average public would find an easy read. If you’re a deep sea diving fan, a history buff, or just a lover of non-fiction, this books for you. For the rest of us – it would read great as a fiction story – or really written as more of a story and less of a technical account. For most of our students, it’s just too much. However, parts of the book detailing the dangers of diving and their finds, would make good short non-fiction pieces to read and discuss. Teacher can discuss the sacrifices made by divers (3 died during this adventure) and whether or not their find was worth all the risks and losses they incurred.   

AREAS FOR TEACHING: connecting text to self, historical connections, sequence of events, cause and effect, setting, character traits, elements of non-fiction

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: graphic details of diving ailments, death, alcoholism

RELATED BOOKS: Fatal Depth: Deep Sea Diving, Underwater Rodeo: Saga of a Deep Sea Diver, Deep Sea Diving

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Shadow Divers (coming in 2009, directed by Peter Weir)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/deep-sea_diving.aspx

http://www.deep-sea-diving.com/

http://www.bookreporter.com/reviews2/0375508589.asp

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

Seeker of Knowledge: The Man Who Deciphered Egyptian Hieroglyphics

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Seeker of Knowledge by James Rumford: Book Cover

Seeker of Knowledge: The Man Who Deciphered Egyptian Hieroglyphics

Author: James Rumford

Page Length: 32

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Non-Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Rumford tells the story of a young boy named Jean-François Champollion. Jean-François loved hearing the stories of Napoleon who was in Egypt making discoveries. He imagined that one day he would travel with Napoleon to Egypt. He studied ancient Egypt and became determined to one day unlock the secret of Hieroglyphics. This story tells of Jean-François’s journey to fame as the founder of the study of Egyptology.

REVIEW: This book is easy to follow and is a well told story. There is action and drama as Napoleon loses at Waterloo and Jean-François is on the run. Perseverance is an important theme exhibited in the book as despite the odds, Jean-François’s never gives up. This book might go well with the study of mythology and the cultures who believed in the gods. Students could take the information further by attempting to create their own hieroglyphics for the names of other words.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, cause and effect, making predictions, character analysis, author’s purpose, making historical connections

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: none

RELATED BOOKS: Silent Music, The Cloudmakers, Beowulf, Traveling Man, The Egypt Game

RELATED MOVIES: Prince of Egypt, Ancient Egyptians (2003)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.redroom.com/author/james-rumford

http://www.greatscott.com/hiero/

http://www.kidzone.ws/cultures/egypt/hieroglyph.htm

http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Storm Run

Storm Run by Libby Riddles: Book Cover

Storm Run

Author: Libby Riddles

Page Length: 48

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Non-fiction, Adventure, Auto-biography

PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW: A lover of animals and a woman with passion and endurance – Libby Riddles recounts her life as a young girl growing up in the Midwest/Northwest United States to her brave move to Alaska to become the first woman to win the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. Storm Run contains beautiful illustrations, vivid photographs, and informative diagrams and maps that supplement Riddles’ own written account of her life. The combination of all, forces the reader into Riddles’ world of risk-taking and adventure.

Influenced by her friends and mentors, Riddles enters the 1985 Iditarod Sled Dog Race. Financed by the supportive members of her Teller, Alaska community (mostly through bingo money), Riddles is able to acquire all she needs for the long race. Braving below 60 degree weather and harsh blizzards, Riddles clings to her closest friends of all – her dogs – to go on to win the race!

I enjoyed this book, because it is a blend between an illustrated picture book and a compilation of real-life photographs. The pictures, diagrams, maps, and illustrations supplement the descriptive writing of Riddles as her story progresses. It was a neat approach to an auto-biography.

Riddles provides us the race route she traveled in Alaska, the clothes she wore, and the supplies she used. Of course her furry dog friends are featured all throughout. A few interesting notes that stood out to me were – 1 – on the trail she ate Norwegian chocolate and seal oil (considered to be “power food” by Eskimos) and – 2- during a harsh blizzard, it took Riddles several hours to change into dry clothes!

This is a very creative book written by a very brave and talented woman. I recommend it to all. I suggest that this book be used as an introduction to an auto-biography activity.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: simile, setting, vocabulary, reading a map, creating an auto-biography

RELATED BOOKS: The Great Serum Race by Debbie Miller, Balto: Sled Dog of Alaska by LaVere Anderson, Racing Sled Dogs: An Original North American Sport by Michael Cooper, The Call of the Wild by Jack London, White Fang by Jack London

http://www.iditarod.com/teachers/books/books_8.html (list of books)

MOVIE, MEDIA, & ART CONNECTIONS: “Iditarod: A Far Distant Place” (2000)

http://www.workingdogweb.com/Iditarod.htm (comprehensive site about Iditarod)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.iditarod.com

http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/iditarod/index.htm

http://vygotsky.ced.appstate.edu/lib5140/All%20Class%20Student%20Folders%20Spring%202006/April%20Miller/teacher_resources%20Pathfinder.htm

http://www.libbyriddles.com/book_storm1.htm

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

So You Want to be an Inventor?

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So You Want to Be an Inventor? by Judith St. George: Book Cover

So You Want to be an Inventor?

Author: Judith St. George

Page Length: 53

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Non-Fiction

REVIEW: Numerous inventors are highlighted in this easy to read and beautifully illustrated book. Each mention of an inventor and their contribution to society is a mere paragraph long. From Ben Franklin and his invention of the odometer and bifocal glasses to Orville and Wilbur Wright’s invention of the airplane – these short snippets provide students a chance to attach a human face and story to the everyday machines they take for granted.

Other inventions highlighted include: Igor Sikorsky’s helicopter, Clarence Birdseye’s frozen dinners, Georgres de Mestral’s velcro, and Eli Whitney’s cotton gin.

The end of the book provides a listing of biographical notes on several inventors.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: history

RELATED BOOKS: see website below for list of related books

http://www.imcpl.org/kids/guides/techinvention/inventors.html

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aa073000a.htm

http://kids.yahoo.com/directory/Science-and-Nature/Machines/Inventions/Inventors

http://inventionatplay.org/iapfamilyguide.pdf

http://www.livescience.com/inventions/

http://www.factmonster.com/ipka/A0908738.html

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

January 18, 2009

Son of the Mob

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Son of the Mob

Author: Gordon Korman

Page Length: 262

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Vince Luca appears to be a normal teenage guy. His best friend is always trying to outdo him, his brother drives him crazy, and his father wants him to choose a path. And then there’s the famous gandland assassination of Mario Calabrese the cops wanted to pin on his father. Vince’s dad just happens to be the head honcho of the mob. Life is strange in a house that’s bugged and always full of uncles. It doesn’t get any better when Vince falls for Kendra Bightly – whose father just happens to work for the FBI.

REVIEW: I really enjoyed this book! The story line is interesting, humorous, and adds just the right touch of romance. Korman intersperses bits of good advice, the importance of family (no matter how crooked they are), and the idea that love prevails against the odds. Both boys and girls will enjoy this book.

If students have never seen any movies or read anything at all about the mob, then they might not grasp the humor and situations presented in the novel.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  conflict, resolution, author’s purpose, cause and effect, character traits, problem resolution

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: threats of mob violence, talks of missing appendages

RELATED BOOKS: No More Dead Dogs, Swindle, The Search, Kidnapped, Rescue, One False Note, The Juvie Three

MOVIE & TV CONNECTIONS: The Untouchables, The Sopranos

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://gordonkorman.com/toposite.htm

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

http://people.howstuffworks.com/mafia.htm

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

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Silent to the Bone

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Silent to the Bone

Author: E.L. Konigsburg

Page Length: 261

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Bramwell and Connor have been best friends for years. When something tragic happens, Bramwell can no longer speak. Bramwell is being held in a juvenile detention center. The cards seem to be stacking up against him. Connor knows that there is no way his friend could have committed the crime. Connor sets out to prove Bramwell’s innocence; he must find some way to get his friend to communicate with him before it’s too late.

REVIEW: Konigsburg wrote a wonderful story that realistically portrays the heart and soul of a young man. The readers experience Bramwell’s emotions, his betrayal, and even his sense of disappointment with his father. This book deals beautifully with puberty issues, birth of a new sibling issues, and step parents. Told through the perspective of his best friend, the book delves into the psychological trauma the event has caused Bramwell. The reader heals with Bramwell.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: point of view, sequence of events, flashback technique, cause and effect, making predictions

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: injury to a child, mild sexual encounter between a teen boy and an adult woman

RELATED BOOKS: From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, George, All Together, One at a Time, Throwing Shadows, Journey to an 800 Number

RELATED WEBSITES:

 http://eduplace.com/kids/hmr/mtai/konigsburg.html

http://www.alanbrown.com/JustForKids/Previews/Z_Preview204.html

http://bookwizard.scholastic.com/tbw/viewWorkDetail.do?workId=2648

http://www.webenglishteacher.com/konigsburg.html

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

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

Sleepover

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Sleepover

Author: Suzanne Weyn

Page Length: 95

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: It is the last day of eighth grade and Julie is having a slumber party.  Farrah, Hannah, and Yancy come over with a rather uneventful evening planned.  But when Staci, the most popular girl in school, calls to make a challenge for the best cafeteria spot at the high school next year, action begins.  The girls prepare for a Polaroid scavenger hunt in which they must get a picture made with a stranger in a bar, steal Steve’s (Julie’s secret crush) boxer shorts, and obtain a logo off of a security car.  They use Ren, Julie’s brother from college, as their decoy and sneak out of the house for a night of wild adventure.

REVIEW: The book is written in chapters narrated by each of the characters. Middle school and junior high girls would enjoy the sequence of events the girls have during the evening that include adventure, competition and a little romance. 

AREAS OF TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Point of View

RELATED BOOKS: Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, All’s Fair in Love, War, and High School, and Life, Love, and the Pursuit of Free Throws

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Sleepover (2004)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

January 17, 2009

Surviving the Applewhites

Surviving the Applewhites

Author: Stephanie S. Tolan

Page Length: 216

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Jake Semple is a juvenile delinquent whose parents are in jail for growing marijuana.  Jake, known as the “bad kid”, has been kicked out of many schools and is living with his grandfather in North Carolina.  As a last resort, Jake is accepted by the Applewhite’s to attend Creative Academy on their farm, Wit’s End.  Creative Academy is the Applewhite’s home school where all the members of their family have their own projects and contracts for their education.  All of the Applewhite’s are either creative, artistic, or musical except for E. D., a twelve-year-old girl who is more sensible and thinks more logically.

When Jake comes to the farm, Winston, the dog, immediately bonds with him.  Jake tries to offend the Applewhite’s but they either ignore or accept his unruly behavior.  When Randolph (the dad) agrees to direct the town musical, all of the family jump on board to help him.  Jake lands a leading role and E. D. discovers she is an indispensable stage manager. 

REVIEW: This is an excellent book that all ages and genders would enjoy.  It has humor but also a message of acceptance and success for those who are a little different, eccentric, or somewhere outside the norm. For students who are sometimes known as the “bad kid”, the book gives an example of how “bad” can turn into “glad”. 

I think this would be a fun book to read as a class novel.  The story is told in alternating chapters from Jake and E. D.’s point of view.  Both characters learn that they are not so different and each can contribute to society in their own personal ways.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Point of View and Characters

RELATED BOOKS: The Face in the Mirror, Flight of the Raven, Ordinary Miracles, Welcome to the Ark

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The Sound of Music (1965)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.webenglishteacher.com/tolan.html

www.specialconnections.ku.edu/cgi-bin/cgiwrap/specconn/webquest/

www.scu.edu/character/upload/SurvivingtheApplewhites.pdf

www.content.scholastic.com/browse/collateral.jsp?

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Smiler’s Bones

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Smiler’s Bones

Author: Peter Lerangis

Page Length: 143

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The year is 1897 and famed explorer Robert Peary has made an amazing discovery. He has found a tribe of Eskimo’s in Greenland. Intrigued by their “primitive” ways, Peary begins taking artifacts back to the Museum of Natural History in New York. It isn’t long before he decides that a live exhibit at the museum is needed; he recruits six Eskimos to take the journey with him.

Young Minik accompanies his father on the journey. Living his childhood as a museum display is confining. He misses his old way of life. Members of the Eskimo group become ill and some are dying. What will happen to Minik if the others die? Will the Eskimo traditions of death and burial be respected in New York? Will little Minik ever see his homeland and feel at peace within himself again?

REVIEW: The author shares with the reader interesting facts about Greenland and the Inuit people. Although fictional, the story is based on factual evidence about Minik and his experience in America. The books shifts back and forth between the present and the past (this could be an interesting writing technique for students to model).

The story is moving and tragic – this story would be a great supplement to the Native American unit and would provide for a great discussion and greater understanding of humanity in general.  What does it mean to be primitive – and why have others races of humanity felt it necessary to impose their beliefs and practices on another?

The Eskimo language sometimes inhibit the fluency of the story. I would recommend this book as a classroom read.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  reflective and narrative writing styles, cause and effect, sequence of events, adding character details to historical information, character traits

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: death of a parent

RELATED BOOKS: The Polar Bear Son: An Innuit Tale, The Eskimos, The Igloo, The Foxman, Living in the Arctic, Life in the Arctic

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Innuit Art Collections by Jessie Oonark, Disney’s “The Alaskan Eskimo” (1953), “Pocahontas” (1995)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.amnh.org/

http://www.umanitoba.ca/outreach/cm/vol13/no3/smilersbones.html

http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/contributor.jsp?id=1608

http://www.arcticwebsite.com/eskimolist.html

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Stay Strong

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Stay Strong

Author: Terrie Williams

Page Length: 219  

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Non-Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The book is compiled of life lessons for teens.  It contains “real stories” of challenges and victories experienced by teens.  Also, included are quotes by students about various life situations. Tools for being successful and positive are included.  

REVIEW: Terrie Williams, an African-American woman began her career as a social worker.  She then opened a public relations business representing celebrities such as Eddie Murphy, Janet Jackson, Boys II Men, and Sean “Puffy” Combs. With teens holding a top place in her heart, she incorporates life lessons she has used to get to the top of the public relation industry into sayings and advice for them.  The book is written to address young people who want to make an impact in the world.

The book begins with a forward from Queen Latifah, and then, Ms. Williams states that “Life Ain’t Fair, but what you do does matter.”  From there, she encourages teens to make good choices, do the right thing, reach out for help, give back to the community, be honest, show gratitude, and develop relationships.

I think students would enjoy this book.  It could be read aloud by the teacher and then students could break up into groups to have discussions on appropriate actions and behaviors they should use in various social situations.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Theme, Point of View, Reading Varied Sources, Cause/Effect, and Compare/Contrast  

RELATED BOOKS: Chicken Soup for the Kid’s Soul: 101 Stories of Courage, Hope and Laughter, The Young Adult’s Guide to “Making It”: Successful Strategies for Getting and Keeping a Job, Girls Seen and Heard: 52 Lessons for Our Daughters, Stretch Your Wings:  Famous Black Quotations for Teens

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.boedai.com/terrie-williams.html  

www.peacefulsolution.org/curriculum/index.html  

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 10, 2008

Shipwrecked

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Shipwrecked

Author: Rhoda Blumberg

Page Length: 80

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Non-Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: As a young boy, Manjiro became the head of his family after his father’s death at the age of 9.  Manjiro worked on a fishing boat to help support the family and the story begins as he ventures out to sea with four other crewmembers.  When bad weather attacked them for five days, they found themselves shipwrecked three hundred miles from their homeland of Japan. After months of being stranded on a deserted island, Manjior and his crew were rescued by an American whaling boat.  Because the laws of Japan forbid them to return, Manjiro decided to do what no other Japanese had ever done before.  He went to America.  He then receives an education, learns the western way of life, but never stops being home-sick for his family.

REVIEW: Based on the true life of Manjiro Nakahama, the book reads more like an adventure, than a true story.  There are excellent black and white pen photographs, created and described by Manjiro himself.  This would be an excellent book to read as a supplement to the history of Japanese and United States relations in the 19th century.

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

RELATED BOOKS: The Life and Times of John Manjiro, The Man Who Discovered America, Drifting to the Southeast, Americans from Japan, Island of the Blue Dolphins

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Shogun, The Last Sumaurai

RELATED WEBSITES: 

www.ultranet.com/-clongwor/

its.guilford.k12.nc.us/act/grade5/act5.asp?ID=1161,

www.pem.org/visit/asia-pdf/japan-lesson8.pdf,

unger.myplainview.com/reviews/Shipwrecked.htm,

www.embracingthechild.org/Bookshopmainshipwrecked.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

November 3, 2008

Stuffed

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Stuffed

Author: Eric Walters

Page Length: 108

Reading Level: 2.9

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: As Ian ponders what to do for his computer class project; he thinks about the documentary he saw at school that day. The documentary was about “Frankie’s”, the nation-wide fast food chain that served delicious bacon cheeseburgers with super-sized fries. It addressed the huge amounts of cholesterol and fat content people were consuming.  Ian decides to use the Internet to send an e-mail to ask people to boycott Frankie’s for one day to send a message to the restaurant to offer more healthy choices.  The e-mail was a huge success, as the people Ian sent it to, forwarded it, and like a domino effect the word about the boycott spread rapidly across the state, nation, and even into Europe.  Not all was good, though, because the head of Frankie’s also heard about the boycott, and contacted Ian to retract the boycott or he would be sued.  Lucky for Ian, his parents are both lawyers.  An ensuing battle follows in which Ian has to make a moral decision about continuing the boycott. 

REVIEW: This was a great book because it dealt with a concerning issue of the world that Ian and his friends decided to act on to complete a school project.  It shows the power of Internet communication, and that one should be careful about the messages they send.  The book deals with morals and honesty as well as demonstrates the strength of the laws governed by the constitution.

I think this would be a good book to use as a class novel for low-functioning readers.  Several additional class projects could be developed.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Cause/Effect, Theme, Conflict

RELATED BOOKS: The MacDonaldization of Society, Children, Schools and Fast Food

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART COLLECTIONS: Super Size Me (2004)

RELATED WEBSITES:

findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa4063/is_/ai_n17195242

orca.powerwebbook.com/…/TeachersGuides/Orca Soundings/StuffedTG.

www.umanitoba.ca/outreach/cm/vol13/no5/stuffed.html   

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Size_Me                                                                   

www.fastfoodbook.com

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

October 30, 2008

Saving Grace

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Saving Grace

Author: Darlene Ryan

Page Length: 97

Reading Level:

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Evie, a single teenage mom gives her baby up for adoption after being pressured by her father but she changes her mind. The book opens with her kidnapping her own child back from the adoptive parents. She has tricked her boyfriend, the baby’s father, into being her accomplice and he is less than thrilled. Evie’s plan is to go to Canada and raise the baby but tensions flare between Evie and Justin as the baby, who is sick and fussy continues to cry. Justin soon leaves and Evie and her baby try to make it to Canada alone without being spotted by the authorities.

REVIEW: I liked the book even though I just knew from the beginning it wasn’t going to work out for Evie the way she planned. Evie does come to understand that she isn’t able to take the best care of her child and she turns herself in because it is the right thing to do. The book ends before we find out what happened to Evie or the baby after that.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Point of view, character motivation

RELATED BOOKS: Spellbound by Janet McDonald

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Juno”

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.darleneryan.com

www.adoption.com

REVIEWED BY: Sherry Hall

Stuck in Neutral

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Stuck In Neutral

Author: Terry Trueman

Page Length: 114

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

 

PLOT SUMMARY: Shawn McDaniel is fourteen years old. He is the average teenager – interested in girls and sports. He has an amazing mind and can remember details from conversations. The problem is that no one knows how brilliant Shawn is because he can’t tell them. He’s confined to a wheelchair, unable to move or speak, and prone to violent seizures. Everyone thinks he is incapable of thought or feelings, except maybe his dad. Shawn’s father is fixated on his son’s suffering; he cannot stand to watch his body tremor during a seizure and he’s feels guilty about Shawn’s suffering. Shawn fears that his father may be plotting to kill him.

 

REVIEW: This book takes a powerful look at the what if. What if mental and physical impairments aren’t always as comprehensive as they seem?  What if what we have always assumed to be true isn’t true after all?  Trueman paints a vivid picture of what life might be like for Shawn – colorful, rich, and exciting in its own way. As The Horn Book reviewer writes “evoking one of our darkest fears and deepest hopes — that a fully conscious and intelligent being may be hidden within such a broken body, as yet unable to declare his existence.”

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: description, imagery, word choice in writing, mood, tone, author’s purpose

 

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: pages 91-93 – violence as Paul nearly beats to death two boys torturing his brother, seizure descriptions, anger from siblings

 

RELATED BOOKS: Cruise Control, Inside Out, No Right Turn

 

RELATED MOVIES: “Rain Man,” “Gaby,” & “Touched by Love”

 

   

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-stuck-in-neutral/

 

http://www.harperchildrens.com/webcontent/teachers_guides/pdf/0066239613.pdf

 

http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/cerebral_palsy/cerebral_palsy.htm

 

http://www.terrytrueman.com/

 

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

September 21, 2008

Seedfolks

Seedfolks

Author: Paul Fleischman

Page Length: 102

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW: While focusing on a worn-down inner-city Cleveland community, the author does an excellent job blending the perspectives of 13 individuals. Even though all the characters are as different as night and day, they become unified through a vacant lot turned garden paradise.

I truly enjoyed this book because it approached the topic of differences (age, gender, race, and culture) in a unique way. The transformation of the community’s rat infested vacant lot into a garden begins with a little Vietnamese girl, Kim, searching for a way to gain attention from her deceased father. In her search, Kim decides to plant some beans in the hard ground of the lot next to her residence. This act stirs-up curiosity as well as motivation from the others who live near by. Slowly the other 12 characters begin to approach the lot and add their own “seeds” to the ground. Not only does this diverse group of individuals begin planting their own vegetables and flowers, they begin “planting” their own personalities amongst each other’s presence – sharing their stories and personalities to a community that has been scared to walk the streets!

Gradually this community witnesses a social transformation powered by the act of one little girl’s small plot of beans. The community garden is a symbol of change, promise, and hope to this group of strangers turned friends. Many of the characters in this book gained various modes of inspiration – inspiration to walk outside of their apartments, inspiration to reconnect with a past loved one, inspiration to better their financial situation, inspiration to move beyond a life of seclusion, inspiration to clean up their town, etc.

In several communities across the United States, Seedfolks has been chosen as a “citywide read”. The power of collective reading and group change shines through this story. I highly recommend this book!!!

AREAS FOR TEACHING: characterization, point-of-view, cause/effect

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: racial overtones and descriptions are prevalent throughout the book, however the context of them is appropriate, the word “marijuana” is used (page 32), biblical comparisons are stated several times in the story

RELATED BOOKS: Bull Run (similar style of writing with it’s varied use of point of view)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.harperchildrens.com/schoolhouse/TeachersGuides/seedfolks.htm

http://www.harperchildrens.com/hch/parents/teachingguides/fleischman.pdf

http://english.byu.edu/Novelinks/reading%20strategies/Seedfolks%20HTML%20Text%20Files/table.html

http://theliterarylink.com/seedfolks.html

http://www.bgsu.edu/colleges/library/crc/webquest/seedfolks/

http://www.audiobookshelf.com/seedfolk_cc.html

http://www.teachertube.com/view_video.php?viewkey=3bf695a5f1d53bdc9409

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

August 24, 2008

Sweetblood

Sweetblood

Author: Pete Hautman

Page Length: 242

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY: Sweetblood is 16-year old Lucy Szabo’s “chat name” on the vampire related internet site she spends much of her free time using.  Lucy has always been an “A” student, but this year, has fallen behind in her grades and lacks the desire to “catch up.”  A victim of diabetes since the age of 6, Lucy classifies all people into two categories-Living and Undead.  Those who are “undead” have been saved by modern medicine. Lucy is “undead” because she has been able to stay among the living thanks to insulin, blood counts, and various other means that help diabetics survive.

Lucy loves the color black, and although she says she is not Goth, she is associated with the Goth crowd.  At school, Lucy eats alone, and her only friend is from early childhood, Mark.  However, a new student from her French class, Dylan, befriends her.  Dylan has beautiful blue eyes, but Lucy tries her hardest to not be attracted to him.

Lucy writes a disturbing essay on the theory that diabetics from previous years (who did not have treatment) were the original vampires. Then, her parents are called for a conference which results in Lucy losing her computer, phone privileges and earning a referral to a psychiatrist.

Even though she is grounded, Lucy sneaks out of the house one evening to meet Dylan.  They go to a party and Lucy discovers that the host of the party is not only an older man who reads Tarot Cards, but is Draco of her chat room.  Lucy learns that Draco used Dylan to set up the meeting between Lucy and him. 

As Lucy, struggles with school, her identity, and parents her diabetes gets out of control and she is almost lost from the “undead” to the dead.

REVIEW: Pete Hautman develops the characters of the book very well.  Lucy is an angry teen because of the illness she has to deal with in her everyday life.  Like most teens, she doesn’t try to deal with her anger through those who care for her the most, but seeks outside sources that don’t know her.  The supporting characters each have their own unique personalities and relationship with Lucy. 

The book was a bit predictable, but those who enjoy vampire folklore and Goth would enjoy this book. 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Setting, Characters, and Sequence of Events

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Subject matter is of vampires, some teen alcohol and drug use, references to older male having relationships with teen girls but done of the questionable behavior is glamorized.

RELATED BOOKS: Twilight (Series 1-4), The Vampire Chronicles, and Interview with a Vampire, Dracula

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: T. V. – Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Movies- The Lost Boys, Drawing Blood, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Dracula, Interview with a Vampire, Twilight

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.petehautman.com

www.epinions.com/Sweetblood_by_Pete_Hautman/display_~full_specs

www.petehautman.com/sblood.html

www.bookcrossing.com/journal/4076039

www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-106225092.html

www.niceperson.org/uw/courses/lis566_sweetblood.pdf

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vampire

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 12, 2008

Susanna of the Alamo

Susanna of the Alamo

Author: John Jakes

Illustrator: Paul Bacon     

Page Length: 36

Reading Level: 3

Genre: Non-Fiction           

PLOT SUMMARY: This is the story of the battle of the Alamo fought in San Antonio, Texas. The Texas army, made up of famous volunteers such as Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett, fought the huge Mexican army led by Santa Anna for 13 days.  But on the 13th day, Santa Anna gave the order to fight and leave no one alive.   Susanna Dickinson and her infant daughter were the only Anglo survivors.  They were released and traveled to warn General Sam Houston of the Mexican invasion.

REVIEW: This is a true an accurate account of the thirteen day battle of the Alamo.  Susanna Dickinson traveled courageously through Texas to share the story of the many who fought for Texas’ freedom.  It is believed that had she not survived, that the true story of the Alamo may never have been shared or the cry of “Remember the Alamo” familiar to Texans of all ages.

This book is an easy to read book which will help the lower level reader be able to competently comprehend the historical events.

This book could be used in an elementary study of Texas history or for the older student to read and write a report.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Texas History

RELATED BOOKS: Voices of the Alamo

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “The Alamo” (2004)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/j/john-jakes/susanna-of-alamo.htm

www.harcourtbooks.com/bookcatalogs/bookpages/9780152005955.asp

www.tsl.state.tx.us/ld/…/trc/2002/manual/elementary/waybackwhen.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

July 29, 2008

Sorcery and Cecelia

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Sorcery and Cecelia

Author: Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

Page Length: 469

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Historical Fiction / Fantasy

PLOT SUMMARY: Cecelia and Kate are young women coming of age in England during the early 1800’s. Their story begins as Kate travels to London to experience a season there (attend balls and be presented to society as a young woman). Cecelia and Kate exchange letters back and forth about their experiences. They both meet interesting young men and become caught up in a mystery of magical proportions. The chocolate pot is missing. The Duke of Schofield is acting strangely, and black magic forces are at work. Can Cecelia and Kate find the culprits and identify the villain before it is too late?   

REVIEW: This book was interesting to read. I loved the idea of a writing a book as an exchange of letters between two people who together adopt a character each and develop the plot from each other’s ideas. The book provided an excellent look at the language and customs of the early 1800’s. I would not recommend this book to a struggling reader, because of the language, the length of pages, and the amount of focus required to keep up as the characters viewpoints alternate.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: point of view, setting, conflict, idea of writing through letters

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: the idea of sorcery (black magic)

RELATED BOOKS: The Grand Tour (sequel), The Mislaid Magician, Jane Austen books

RELATED MOVIES: Practical Magic, Snow White

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4662966

http://astripedarmchair.wordpress.com/2007/11/16/sorcery-and-cecilia-thoughts/

http://www.tc.umn.edu/~d-lena/SorcCeci.html

http://www.sonderbooks.com/YAFiction/sorceryandcecilia.html

http://www.tc.umn.edu/~d-lena/Stevermer%20page.html

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

July 23, 2008

Stick and Whittle

Stick and Whittle

Author: Sid Hite

Page Length: 202

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Melvin “Stick” Fitchett is a 27 year old Civil War veteran who is considered dead by many. He has been searching for his long-lost love, Evelyn Laroue, for the past 8 years. Melvin “Whittle” Smythe is a 16 year old orphan from Chicago on a mission to do good after starting a fire in Chicago. The two find themselves meeting on the northern plains of Texas. This unlikely pair form a partnership and travel to Kansas.

While on their journey to Kansas, Stick and Whittle meet two Native Americans – “Talking Rock” and “Brings the Rain”. Upon seeing the beautiful Brings the Rain, Whittle becomes infatuated. However, the two part ways almost immediately.

Upon arriving in Wichita Kansas, Stick surprisingly discovers that Evelyn has been taking care of a young girl named Adeline DeJarnette. However, both girls have been captured by a ruthless band of outlaws and have been held hostage for ransom.

Now throughout the book, Stick is confronted with bad nightmares of his experience during the war – specifically during the Battle of Wilderness. These nightmares eventually lead Stick to an idea of how to rescue his love, Evelyn. To help the situation even more, Stick and Whittle are later re-united with Talking Rock and Brings the Rain. All four agree to the rescue plan.

After shots ring out, enemies are wounded, a fire is started, and Talking Rock falls to his death on-top of the evil gang leader – Evelyn and Adeline are successfully rescued.

REVIEW: I felt that this book did not pick up momentum until mid-way through (around Chapter 10). The beginning of the book focused more on descriptions of setting and characters while the later part of the story contained the action and external conflict. From reading the title of the book, I thought there was going to be a lot of random acts of mischief/trouble, however there was nothing random about the sequence of events and plot structure of this story.

Both Stick and Whittle were two very different characters and this was interesting, however I felt the story took too long to engage me as a reader. Students may find it difficult to “be hooked” if what they are searching for is Old Wild West action. Also, I felt the vocabulary level of this book was quite difficult. Though listed as a level 6, I would label the reading level more a 7.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: flashback, setting, historical context, compare/contrasting characters, vocabulary – flummoxed (6), acquiesced (13), lupine (51), alacrity (19), obsequiously (28), pertinacious (90), peripatetic (118)

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “City Slickers” (1991)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.emporia.edu/libsv/wawbookaward/curriculumguides/cg02-03.htm#stick

http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/battle-wilderness.htm (Battle of Wilderness)

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/ngkids/9809/chicago/ (The Great Chicago Fire of 1871)

http://www.thechisholmtrail.com/ (The Chisholm Trail)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

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