The Book Reviews – Website

January 1, 2011

The Rag and Bone Shop

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The Rag and Bone Shop

Author: Robert Cormier

Page Length: 154   

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: In Part 1, Detective Trent of Vermont, has just been successful in obtaining two confessions for two separate murder cases.  However, he has lost his wife in a fatal car accident and must return home alone.  Since his wife died, he has experienced bouts of loneliness and depression.

As Part 2 begins, Jason Dorrant is enjoying the luxury of sleeping late on the first day of summer.  He decides to go over to Brad’s house for a swim or maybe just to help Brad’s younger sister, Alicia put a jigsaw puzzle together.  He actually likes Alicia better than Brad and has helped her with puzzles before, although she is the master at assembling the puzzles.

Tragedy hits as Jason learns the following day that Alicia was found not only dead, but murdered and left in the woods.  Jason is believed to be the last one to see Alicia alive and is questioned by the police about what he remembers.  Under pressure from a U. S. senator, whose granddaughter knew Alicia, Lieutenant Braxton seeks the services of Trent from Vermont to help solve the case.  With no substantial evidence, Jason appears to be the prime suspect.

As Trent sets up his interrogation, he reviews the scenario and deposition Jason has already submitted.  It doesn’t seem likely that Jason is the killer, but Trent is a specialist at getting confessions and he feels confident as he enters the small room which has been set up to make Jason feel intimidated by his size, position and voice.  Jason believes he is being interviewed only for additional help to the police’s investigation.   As the interrogation proceeds, Jason begins to feel inadequate in his answers, then threatened by Trent’s questions.  Both Trent and Jason believe they know the truth, but as both feel pressure, neither seems to know what the real truth is.

REVIEW: This is a fast-paced suspenseful book which creates tension within the reader from the first pages of the book.  As the plot develops, the reader will try to determine the outcome.  The characters of both Jason and Trent are well-developed and the chemistry and tension between them in their interview is realistic.

At the end of the book, a reader’s guide is included as well as an interview with the author.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Characters, Conflict, Theme, Conclusions, Predictions and Outcomes, Voice, Mood, Tone

RELATED BOOKS: Frenchtown Summer, Heroes

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.litplans.com/authors/Robert_Cormier.htm

www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Rag-and-BoneShop-by-Robert-Cormier-2-week-unit-plan

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

The People of Sparks

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The People of Sparks

Author: Jeanne DuPrau

Page Length: 154

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: In this sequel to The City of Ember, Lina and Doon lead the residents of the underground into the village of Sparks.  They are a surprise to the people of Sparks but are housed, fed and taught to live off the land.  Conflicts between the two communities begin to occur because of lack of supplies.  The people of Ember are used to a life with electricity and comforts of the world before the Disaster.  The people of Sparks are accustomed to providing for themselves.

As the book progresses, Doon is intrigued by the one of the leaders of the underground people, Tick.  He is aggressive and wants to overtake the people of Sparks.  Doon finds it hard to follow Tick’s military style of leadership.

Lina leaves with the brother of the family she is staying with to explore the unknown area of the disaster.  The journey is more than she had thought she would encounter and she eventually makes her way back to the village. 

She finds Doon and together, they again try to save their people.

REVIEW: The characters are well-developed as well as the theme of this futuristic fiction novel. Young teens who enjoyed The Hunger Games and The Giver would like this book, too.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: None

AREAS OF TEACHING: Theme, Conflict, Character, Sequence of Events

RELATED BOOKS: Book of Ember, The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, The Giver, and Gathering Blue

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.randomhouse.com/teachers/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780375828249&view=tg

www.suzyred.com/2006cityofember.html

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The City of Ember (2008)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

The Moves Make the Man

The Moves Make the Man

 

Author: Bruce Brooks

 

Page Length: 252  

 

Reading Level: 8

 

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Jerome Foxworthy, an intelligent African American, spots Bix Rivers playing baseball one year prior to the composing of the story of Bix.  Bix catches his attention because Jerome has never seen anyone who has mastered the skill and art of baseball like Bix.

Jerome is the only black student attending the junior high school in his neighborhood.  Jerome’s first love is basketball and he goes to try-outs for the school team, but is not allowed to play because of his color. After Jerome’s mother is in an accident, Jerome decides to enroll in a home economics class so that he can cook for his brothers while his mother heals.  He discovers he is not the only male member of the class, Bix Rivers; the talented baseball player also belongs to the class.  The boys immediately bond and Jerome teaches Bix to play basketball in the evenings. 

As the boy’s relationship grows, Jerome learns that Bix cannot tolerate any form of lying, or “his definition” for lying. This intolerance for non-truths has caused significant repercussions in Bix’s life which Jerome tries to understand.

REVIEW: This is a well-written book that has great character development and descriptive writing.  The description of the game of basketball (p. 59), the reference of “white man’s disease” (p. 95), and Bix’s view of friendship (p.159) are examples of Brook’s excellent writing skills.  The bond of friendship between Bix and Jerome is one that young men can relate to, in that; males accept each other just as they are.  The boy’s both have family issues that are also common to the young teen-age male.  In addition, racial issues are a sub-plot that Jerome must deal with throughout the story. 

I think both boys and girls would enjoy this book because of the drama and conflict the characters encounter as they move through their first year of junior high   

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Character, Conflict, Setting, Theme and Point of View

RELATED BOOKS: Slam, Learning the Game, The Boy Who Saved Baseball, Hardball

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.literatureplace.com/bookfolios/bookfolio.asp?BookfolioID

www.webenglishteacher.com/brooks.html

www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1992/4/92.04.04.x.html

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

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

The Road of the Dead

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The Road of the Dead

Author: Kevin Brooks

Page Length: 339

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Ruben has always been different. He can sense what others are thinking or feeling even when they’re not near him. One night he senses that his sister Rachel is in pain and is gripped by fear. The next day, his family finds out that Rachel was murdered. He and his older brother Cole set out on to avenge her death and find out who killed her. Before long, they are themselves victims of violence. Trapped in a web of deceit and surrounded by people who want to silence them permanently, Cole and Ruben must fight their way out. Their only goal is to take Rachel’s body home for a proper burial... if they can make it back alive.

REVIEW: Typical Kevin Brooks book – edgy, violent, dark, foul mouthed, violent… To some teens though – this might be interesting. I found the book to be a little shallow and unrealistic – 2 boys taking on an entire town – what are the chances? The fact that the girl has been raped and murdered is a little dark (not something the teenage mind always needs more of). The review on the back of the book mentions “brutal, vivid violence” – I totally concur. I would not read this book as a class. On a historical note, the road of the dead was a passageway, funeral processions walked along to arrive to the final resting place of the body many years ago.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: imagery, author’s purpose, sequence of events, cause and effect

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: many – violence, shooting, torture, rape, dead bodies, etc.

RELATED BOOKS: Lucas, Candy, Being

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.teenreads.com/reviews/0439786231.asp

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/apr/29/featuresreviews.guardianreview35

http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/contributor.jsp?id=2614

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

The Realm of Possibility

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The Realm of Possibility

Author: David Levithan

Page Length: 210

Reading Level:

Genre: Poetry

PLOT SUMMARY: This book is a collection of poems that shares the thoughts, emotions, and stories of different characters. The characters are high school age. Relationships of all types are detailed – boys together, girls together, and boy / girl. The poems cover the gamut of love from reeling elated at the possibility of a new relationship, to feeling low after not finding love, to finding harmony with each other. Some of the characters also endure hardships and discover more about whom they are and why they act as they have.

REVIEW: I did not enjoy reading this book. I find constantly assessing and deciphering the language of poetry tiresome in an entire book form. There were moments of the poems that I enjoyed; however, overall, the book was tedious.

If you love poetry, you will likely love this book and find many examples of well written poems and forms of expression that you could share with your students.

The one poem I found particularly interesting was one where a character starts writing words on the desk to express whatever comes to mind. These words have impact on the students who see them. The result of the expression – a girl who writes all over her body all of the words that define her – to others who react after reading the words – would provide for an interesting discussion of who we really are and why. See “Comeuppance” 153-163. It might even be interesting to provide students with a silhouette of a body shape and have them fill in the words that describe them before or after reading the poem.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: adjectives, description, poetic forms

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: poems about sex and love between both heterosexual and homosexual couples, a poem about visiting a sex shop (172-179)

RELATED BOOKS: Boy Meets Boy, All That Glitters, Are We There Yet?, Crush, Kissing Kate, I’ve Known Since I was Eight, Thinking Straight, Hero

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.alexsanchez.com/gay_teen_books.htm

http://www.amazon.com/Top-5-Gay-Teen-Life-Novels/lm/1BSXC4W729GZ3

http://www.davidlevithan.com/

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

The Parallel Universe of Liars

The Parallel Universe of Liars

Author: Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson

Page Length: 218

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Robin is 15 and has the good fortune of living next door to (Frankie) the hottest guy on the planet. Despite her good fortune, life seems to be the pits right now. Her best friend has just moved away, and no matter who she’s around sex seems to be something that everyone has in common. She’s seen the next door neighbor and his girlfriend, her mother and Dick, and even the next door neighbor and her stepmother. Unfortunately, Robin isn’t immune either. As Frankie begins to make advances toward Robin, she has a decision to make. Will she too join the parallel universe of liars? Can she resist him? What about the new relationship developing with Tri?

REVIEW: My first reaction to this book – is that there is no way I would want to use it as a classroom discussion piece. The book is frankly all about sex. Robin knows what her mother calls out during sex. She knows that Frankie and China watch pornography while having sex. She knows what Janice and Frankie do during sex. She is also propositioned by Frankie and does not effectively resist. Even her best friend, who has moved away, writes to her about being kissed by another girl. Sexuality is everywhere in this book.

The book of course does deal with the topic realistically. It might be a good book for a parent and teen to read (15 and up) to discuss how people can be used for sex, why a teen should consider their partners, how dangerous having a relationship with someone older and more experienced can be, etc.

There is also a useful discussion provided for talking about the detriments of finding worth only in one’s appearance. However, the author does fail to address the severity of the inappropriate relationship between a 22 and a 15 year old.

Exercise caution in recommending the book – parental issues could occur.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause and effect, analogies, elements of plot, author’s purpose 

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES:

 “Her naked breasts make me shivery and nervous. Frankie works them with his mouth..” (41)

“Under my hand …it begins to get bigger, then hard, and incredibly smooth” (114)

“he’s gasping and shuddering and my hand is a gushy mess” (124)

“my nipples turn into hard buttons under his tongue …his shifts to run his penis against my privates…convulsing and sending gush all over my tummy” (139)

RELATED BOOKS: Gone, Dumb Love, A Fast and Brutal Wing, Target

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.kathleenjeffriejohnson.com/books.html

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa4063/is_200301/ai_n9183385REVIEW

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

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

The House of Dies Drear

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The House of Dies Drear

 

Author: Virginia Hamilton

 

Page Length: 279

 

Reading Level: 6

 

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: At first Thomas isn’t too thrilled about moving away again. He likes being near his grandmother; but, when his dad begins dropping hints about the mysterious new house he has in mind, Thomas’s interest is piqued. Soon he learns of the legend of Dies Drear. Drear was a landowner known for helping slaves along the route to freedom through the Underground Railroad. Drear and two of the three slaves he had been hiding were found murdered. Thomas learns of the great past of the house, its secret tunnels, and its mysterious secretive caretaker. Thomas’s new home is thought to be haunted. Strange things begin to happen. Vandalism occurs. And, Thomas is caught up in a plot to find the culprits and preserve the legend of Dies Drear and the great history the house represents before it falls into the hands of the wrong people.

REVIEW: This book is an excellent look at slavery issues, the Underground Railroad, and prejudice and hatred among the uneducated. Historically, the author does a great job of giving young adults an understanding of the abolitionist era. The story is action packed and full of mysterious events that will keep the reader guessing and turning the page to find out the resolution to the story.

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

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: issues of prejudice, vandalism, bigotry

RELATED BOOKS: M.C. Higgins, the Great, Second Cousins, Bluish, Zeely, The Planet of Junior Brown

SLAVERY RELATED BOOKS: 47, Dear Austin, The Land, Nightjohn, Kip: His Story, Bull Run, To Be A Slave, Harriet Tubman Conductor of the Underground Railroad

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Gone With the Wind (1939)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://score.rims.k12.ca.us/activity/diesdrear/

http://www.glencoe.com/sec/literature/litlibrary/pdf/house_of_dies_drear.pdf

http://www.leasttern.com/DiesDrear/diesdrear.htm

http://gorman.region14.net/webs/tkeith/the_house_of_dies_drear_unit.htm

http://www.multcolib.org/talk/guides-house.html

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

The Hoopster

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The Hoopster

 

Author: Alan Lawrence Sitomer

 

Page Length: 218

 

Reading Level: 6

 

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Andre seems to have everything – an uncanny ability to shoot baskets, a great job at a magazine, and an awesome girlfriend. Andre is assigned the job of writing an article on racism. He begins to notice it everywhere he goes, even in his cousin Cedric’s skits. One night, Andre’s article gets written and he becomes a local celebrity; but, fame comes with a price. Race tensions are high in Andre’s town and his article is getting as much hate mail as fan mail. Andre’s own life is threatened. Will he ever reach his dreams of becoming a famous writer in the midst of so much hatred? What will reaching for his dreams cost him in the end?

REVIEW: This book has a decent story line and was actually able to include basketball without being totally focused on just the sport. As the matter of fact, this athlete has dreams of being a writer. He dates a Hispanic girl, his best friend is white, and he learns that his own father once changed his fate because of racist hatred. Faced with this knowledge and facing his own hate crime, Andre must decide if he too will enter into the cycle of violence or if he can follow a different path. Andre suffers tremendously because his views are outside the norm. The actions of the supremacist group leaves Andre emotionally and physically battered; yet, through it all, Andre prevails and continues to believe in himself and believe that he can change the racist views of the world.

This book had a basic plot and an easy story line to follow. This book would work well as a classroom read for students with a lower reading level.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  character traits, cause and effect, author’s purpose, sequence of events, imagery, elements of plot, stereotypes

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: racist remarks, hate crime –  Andre is physically assaulted with the intent to permanently maim him, his father tells of a white man relieving himself on his boots and of being hit over the head with a bottle

RELATED BOOKS: Hip-Hop High School, Paulsen’s Nightjohn, Draper’s The Battle of Jericho, To Kill a Mockingbird, Richard Peck’s The River Between Us

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Dead Poets Society (1989), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.thebookjam.com/main/content/resources

http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/contributor.jsp?id=3791

http://www.corndancer.com/tunes/tunes_main.html

http://www.thehoopsterbook.com/sections/aboutthebook.htm

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm

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The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm

 

Author: Nancy Farmer

 

Page Length: 311

 

Reading Level: 6

 

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Tendai, Rita, and Kuda have lived a sheltered life. They are the children of a very powerful general in Zimbabwe. Their life has been sheltered from the outside world where danger and evil lurk in the year 2194. Yet, one day, the Mellower convinces mother and father to agree to a trip into the city. The children have left before mother and father realize what has happened. Danger strikes quickly and the children are whisked to labor in a world they never even knew existed. From one harrowing escape to another, the children never give up hope of going home. With the lands most unusual detectives on their case, they just might make it if the dreaded masks don’t get to them first.

REVIEW: This book is definitely an out of the norm read. The characters have depth and are very interesting. Analyzing the motivation and traits of each would make an excellent class project. It was a little hard to follow in areas, and I think it would be difficult for some students to relate to the types of settings many parts of the story take place in. Some of the language and names would make the story very difficult for struggling readers. I would only recommend this book to more advanced readers. In order to teach this book effectively, much discussion and explanation should follow.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  sequence of events, cause and effect, character traits, making predictions

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: kidnapping, gangsters, crime, forced labor

RELATED BOOKS: A Girl Named Disaster, The House of the Scorpion, The Sea of Trolls, The Islands of the Blessed, City of Ember

MOVIE CONNECTIONS:

City of Ember (2008 – related futuristic societal fears and challenges)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.nancyfarmerwebsite.com/

http://www.masconomet.org/teachers/trevenen/eareye.html

http://english.byu.edu/Novelinks/Novel%20Pages/Ear,%20the%20Eye%20and%20the%20Arm.htm

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

December 19, 2010

The Haunted House

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The Haunted House by Peggy Parish: Book Cover

The Haunted House

Author: Peggy Parish

Page Length: 151

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Bill, Liza, and Ted have just found out that they are moving. All three of them are sad because they know how much they will miss their friends next door. Not only are they moving, but they are moving into the old Blake place which everyone says is haunted! After they arrive at their new home, strange things begin to happen. Mysterious messages are left. The kids must face their fears and discover who or what is behind the mysterious events.

REVIEW: The book appears more interesting (cover art and cover teaser) than it actually is. Although there is great potential for an enthralling story, the book was obviously written for a younger audience and was written to be mysterious but not in any way frightening. I think this book would be great for 2nd or 3rd graders but would completely bore an older student. This book is a cute story for the little ones.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, character traits, cause and effect

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: none

RELATED BOOKS:  Amelia Bedelia books, Clues in the Woods, The Ghosts of Cougar Islands, Key to the Treasure

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.kidsreads.com/series/series-amelia-author.asp

http://www.biblio.com/author_biographies/2001902/Peggy_Parish.html

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

The First Woman Doctor

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First Woman Doctor by Baker: Book Cover

The First Woman Doctor

 

Author: Rachel Baker

 

Page Length: 210

 

Reading Level: 6

 

Genre: Biography

PLOT SUMMARY: It’s the early 1800s and Elizabeth Blackwell is a fortunate young woman. She’s been born to a progressive father who believes staunchly in equal rights. He believes in educating both his sons and his daughters broadly rather than confining the girls to studies of the home. He is the greatest champion for his daughters’ future success. Elizabeth will take the courage and determination she inherited and persevere despite hardships. She will often be told no – but she will not take no for an answer. Elizabeth wants to be a doctor, a surgeon, and even start her own medical school. Nothing can succeed in the face of such determination.

REVIEW: This is an excellent book. I love what it teaches everyone about courage and perseverance – where there’s a will there’s a way. Historically this book is also a great look at women’s rights, slavery, and even the treatment of the social classes. This book is an engaging and intriguing look into what early medicine was like (including the use of leeches).

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

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: issues of prejudice

RELATED BOOKS: Mary on Horseback, After the Dancing Days, The Story of George Washington Carver

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The Blackwell Story (1957)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.socialstudiesforkids.com/articles/ushistory/elizabethblackwell.htm

http://www.findingdulcinea.com/features/profiles/b/elizabeth-blackwell.html

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/blackwell/

http://www.readwritethink.org/classroom-resources/calendar-activities/elizabeth-blackwell-became-first-20402.html

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

The Egypt Game

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The Egypt Game

The Egypt Game

 

Author: Zilpha Keatley Snyder

 

Page Length: 215

 

Reading Level: 6.6

 

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: April Hall has just moved in with her grandmother. At first, Melanie isn’t sure the two of them will have anything in common, but April is the only other girl her age in the building. It isn’t long before they both discover that they love anything that has to do with Ancient Egypt. They simply can’t learn enough about the ancient gods, goddesses, and ceremonies. Soon, April and Melanie discover an empty storage shed behind the antique shop and the Egypt game begins. The girls begin to plan elaborate rituals and create fancy costumes. The game is in full swing when tragedy strikes the neighborhood. Allowed to play only indoors, the girls begin to wonder if their created ancient Egypt is gone forever. Yet, it isn’t long until the game is going strong and they are joined by more ancient Egyptians. Everything is great until one dark night when two of them find themselves all alone, with danger lurking in the darkness, and no other Egyptians around … it may just be the end of the Egypt game forever.

REVIEW: This book is a Newberry Honor Book. The characters are well developed and the story is pretty engaging. For a student who loves Ancient Egyptian history and stories, this book would be highly recommended. Woven within the story are also some significant issues. April’s been sent to her grandmother as her mother marries and worries about her acting career (putting her own needs over her daughters). The professor who owns the antique shop is being persecuted as strange and suspect based on his anti-social behaviors. A disturbed man is on the loose and is killing children. There are plenty of plot twists and turns to entertain the reader – though most occur in the latter half of the story.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: making predictions, cause and effect, inferences, character analysis and motivations, connecting text to historical events, connecting text to other text, sequence of events, author’s purpose

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: April’s feelings of loss because her mother sent her away, the theme of loss and depression, murder

RELATED BOOKS: The Headless Cupid, The Witches of Worm, The Trespassers, Cat Running, The Gypsy Game, Soapy and the Pharaoh’s Curse, The Pyramid Builder

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Night at the Museum – Smithsonian, “The Ramses Collection”

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.zksnyder.com/

http://www.historyforkids.org/learn/egypt/index.htm

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

http://www.touregypt.net/KIDS/

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

The Legend of the Bluebonnet

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The Legend of the Bluebonnet by Tomie dePaola: Book Cover

The Legend of the Bluebonnet

Author: Tomie DePaola

Page Length: 30

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Folktale

PLOT SUMMARY: When the tribe’s shaman returns from speaking with the Great Spirit about the drought, the shaman tells his people that the Great Spirit is asking for an offering of the most precious possession of the group. She-Who-Is-Alone, a Comanche orphan girl, decides to offer up her most precious item – a doll. Many memories of her late mother, father, and grandparents are attached to this doll and this young girl offers up the highest sacrifice she can make to help her people.

After burning her doll and spreading it’s ashes, the dry soil begins to sprout blue flowers – a sign that the drought has ended. She-Who-Is-Alone is now referred to as One-Who-Dearly-Loved-Her-People.

REVIEW: This folktale attempts to explain the origins of the Texas bluebonnet utilizing Comanche folktales. It is a short book that would make a good beginner’s example when teaching this genre.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: genre, folktale

RELATED BOOKS: The Legend of the Pointsettia by Tomie DePaola, Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets by Ellen Leventhal

HISTORICAL CONNECTIONS:

http://www.bigorrin.org/comanche_kids.htm (Comanches)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.atozkidsstuff.com/blueb.html

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

http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/learning/resources/activities/regions/hill_country_4poem_teacher.phtml

http://www.freereading.net/index.php?title=Introduce_Vocabulary:_The_Legend_of_the_Bluebonnet_%28DePaola%29

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

The Dark Side of Nowhere

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The Dark Side of Nowhere by Neal Shusterman: Audio Book Cover

The Dark Side of Nowhere

 

Author: Neal Shusterman

 

Page Length: 185

 

Reading Level: 7

 

Genre: Fiction / Fantasy

PLOT SUMMARY: Jason’s anxious to shake the small town dust off his feet. Having everyone know everything about him just gets to be too much sometimes. Lately, everyone’s begun to act strangely — a weird encounter with the school janitor and now there’s a secret to protect. What’s going on in Jason’s town? Who’s involved in the cover up and what exactly are they hiding? Will Jason be able to save Paula in time?

REVIEW: This was an interesting book for teaching compositional risk (a great way to achieve a 4 on the TAKS writing). The story seems to be along the usual plot lines until Jason discovers the unthinkable — that everything isn’t what he thought it was; and, that even he isn’t who he thought he was. Once their true selves are revealed no one will ever be the same again. Paula, Jason’s crush, is in grave danger. Jason believes that change is possible, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish it. The story is entertaining from a science fiction perspective. Great student responses of their own “what if” stories could occur after reading this novel. This book is good for whole or small group discussion.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: plot, sequence, journal response, character traits, making predictions, generalizations and conclusions

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: aliens

RELATED BOOKS: Everlost, Unwind, The Shadow Club, The Eyes of Kid Midas, Dread Locks, Red Rider’s Hood, Full Tilt, Scorpion Shards, Thief of Souls, Shattered Sky

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: War of the Worlds (2005), Men in Black (1997), Race to the Witch Mountain (2009), Return to Witch Mountain (1978)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.storyman.com/books/

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

http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Side-Nowhere-Neal-Shusterman/product-reviews/076534243X

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

The Brimstone Journals

Filed under: T — thebookreviews @ 11:15 pm
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The Brimstone Journals by Ron Koertge: Book Cover

The Brimstone Journals

Author: Ron Koertge

Page Length: 113

Reading Level: 6.6

Genre: Poetry

PLOT SUMMARY: Meredith, Jennifer, Joseph, Lester, Tran, Sheila, Allison, Kelli, Damon, Rob, Carter, Neesha, David, Boyd, and Kitty are all students at Branston High School. That’s where from many of them their similarities end. One of them is branded as the school slut, another has unwanted advances being made by her stepfather, and yet another is worried about her weight. One of the boys is super athlete who controls his girlfriend, another is new kid in school whose father only wants him to follow the family line and be a doctor, and yet another – perhaps the most dangerous of all – is stockpiling weapons. His plan is to get rid of the people on his “list” and he’s not going to let anything get in his way.

REVIEW: Finally there is a story that can still be a story, maintain a smooth pace, and keep the reader entertained and engaged while being written as a series of journal type entries in the form of poems. Koertge did an excellent job of coming up with a character that almost every high school student can identify with. Boyd’s list of people he plans to execute is an interesting study in pathological behavior – sometimes people end up on the list just for being smart, etc.

This book takes an excellent stand on school violence because the others kids, even those who were going to be involved, take a stance, seek help, and do everything that they can to prevent the tragedy from occurring. I liked this book; it’s a short read that is full of discussion potential. I would recommend this as a classroom / small group assigned reading activity.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause and effect, character’s motivation, elements of plot, poetic forms, tree map of the characters and their personality traits

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Rob has sex with Jennifer because he’s earning points in his sex game – her reaction “it was kind of gross him lying on me like that, plus it hurt” (77)

Talk of pipe bombs, guns, and other explosive materials

References to drinking and a girl with a crush on another girl

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.teenreads.com/reviews/0763617423.asp

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0PBX/is_5_38/ai_n6207023

http://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/Brimstone-Journals.html

http://www.lessonplanspage.com/SSODoSomethingAboutSchoolViolenceUnitDay2WhatsLifeLikeInMyShoes912.htm

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

The Boxer

Filed under: T — thebookreviews @ 11:13 pm
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The Boxer by Kathleen Karr: Book Cover

The Boxer

Author: Kathleen Karr

Page Length: 169

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: It’s the late 1800s and times are hard for John and his family. His father has run off, his mother barely makes enough money to get by, and he’s left trying to support his brothers and sisters. Tired of struggling, John decides to try to win the prize money in a fight – there’s only one catch – fighting is illegal. John winds up in the slammer for six months, but it’s in jail that he truly learns what it means to be a champion. Never giving up his love for boxing and determined to provide well for his family, John Woods overcomes the odds to become a famous boxer.

REVIEW: This was interesting read. John’s warm heart and love for his family above himself is an excellent lesson to promote to teenagers. The theme of perseverance and survival in the book is wonderfully and vividly presented. Readers get a feel for the economic circumstances of the time, the limitations imposed by one’s class, and the determination it takes to prevail during hard times. John never gives up on his dreams, his family, or his ethics. This book is a good read and would likely appeal to boys – with its boxing sequences and blow by blow descriptions.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: historical connections, connecting text to self, connecting text to text, cause and effect, sequence of events, compare and contrast

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: boxing, incarceration, betting

RELATED BOOKS: Fortune’s Fool, Born For Adventure, World’s Apart, Mama Went to Jail for the Vote, The 7th Knot, Gilbert and Sullivan Set Me Free

MOVIE & ART CONNECTIONS:

“Rocky” movies

Boxing paintings – http://www.edgarbrown.com/the-loss-boxing.php

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.buildingrainbows.com/bookreview/reviewid/18518

http://www.childrensbookguild.org/kathleenkarr.html

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

http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/159.html

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick: Book Cover

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Author: Brian Selznick

Page Length: 525

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Hugo Cabret is a 12 year old orphan who is an accomplished thief and one who is skilled at fixing clocks and other machines. Hugo lives and “works” in a train station during the 1930’s in Paris, France. Before this, a museum fire killed Hugo’s father and Hugo’s subsequent guardian deserts him. As a result, Hugo becomes a recluse and manages to lead a quiet life. However, the discovery of an automated machine and a notebook fascinate Hugo as they may provide clues about his father.

This fascination leads Hugo into a world of trouble as he must open up about his secret life and risk being taken into custody by officials. Little does Hugo know that much of what he has been hiding will provide insight into not only his life but the past life of a local toy maker.

REVIEW: This was a very creative story to read. Half of the book’s tale is told using black and white illustrations. The pictures do not just accompany the text, they actually add detail to the written story.

Upon encountering each picture, readers are encouraged to spend time with each illustration. The author goes beyond just a tale of an orphan trying to find out the secrets behind an old machine, by delving into the topic of the early silent picture/movie industry.

The author, after much research, has taken the known facts about the real-life filmmaker of Georges Melies (as represented in the character of the toy maker) and imagined his personality.

The art of early cinema and the adventure of secret discoveries come together in this great book that will appeal to many readers. It is a nice blend of graphic novel, art work, and film slides.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: imagery, setting, historical influence

RELATED BOOKS: Before Hollywood: From Shadow Play to the Silver Screen by Paul Clee

ART CONNECTIONS: There are 284 pages of original drawings by the author, Brian Selznick, in The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

The book also contains drawings/sketches by Georges Melies (pages 284-297) as well as other works by Brian Selznick that were inspired by the works of Georges Melies.

For a complete listing of all film still and illustration credits, refer to page 531 of The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: For a complete listing of films mentioned in the book as well as films that were influential in the creation of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, refer to page 532 of the book.

Sources report that a film studio is looking into adapting the book into a movie for a 2011 release.

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.theinventionofhugocabret.com/index.htm (official website for the book)

www.missinglinkclassichorror.co.uk/index.htm (type “Melies” into the search engine for links to Georges Meiles’ life story)

http://www.highsmith.com/pdf/librarysparks/2008/lsp_nov08_LL_hugo_cabret.pdf (lessons and activities that relate to the book)

http://eduscapes.com/library/i/invention_of_hugo_cabret.htm

http://edhelper.com/books/The_Invention_of_Hugo_Cabret.htm

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

The Book Thief

Filed under: T — thebookreviews @ 10:29 pm
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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: Book Cover

The Book Thief

Author: Markus Zusak

Page Length: 550

Reading Level: 4.0

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Liesel Meminger hasn’t had an easy childhood. Her mother, faced with nothing to feed her children, had to send them away to foster parents in Germany. Liesel has lived in the shadows of talk about her father being a communist and she watches her sweet, dear baby brother die right in front of her. Her foster mother is harsh and calls her names; yet, there is love on Himmel Street. Her foster father nurtures her and teaches her to read. She becomes great friends with Rudy and embarks on many adventures with him. Liesel loves books and finds great comfort in them. But Liesel is a German, a member of Hitler Youth, and a great war is raging. Even her little corner of Himmel Street cannot escape the results of Hitler’s actions, and death is always watching and waiting.

REVIEW: One excellent teaching point from this book is “voice” in the form of the unusual narrator of the story and the perspective that death brings to it (a great example of that compositional risk aspect of writing needed to achieve a 4 on the TAKS test). Another great teaching point is the humanity of the people and even the “enemy” during war in the book. The power of love and friendship are notable points too.

I did not find the beginning of the book very engaging, but by the second half the story seemed more interesting and easier to follow. Even the small words in another language make fluency more difficult. I would not use this book as a classroom read and would not recommend it to struggling readers. I read in one of the reviews that in his home country this is considered an adult book.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: comparing text to self, compare and contrast, sequence of events, historical context, compositional risk – narrator

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: treatment of Jews, bullying, death in bombing, death of a sibling, separation from a parent

RELATED BOOKS: Four Perfect Pebbles, The Diary of Anne Frank, books by Zusak: Fighting Ruben Wolf, Getting the Girl, The Underdog, I Am the Messenger

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: The Diary of Anne Frank, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2009), Schindler’s List

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://germanyinworldwar2.com/

http://www.randomhouse.com/features/markuszusak/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95s8GlKY40o (awesome video intro to the book)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7ijapqTaF0 (Zusak interview)

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

The Afterlife

Filed under: T — thebookreviews @ 10:27 pm
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The Afterlife by Gary Soto: Book Cover

The Afterlife

Author: Gary Soto

Page Length: 161

Reading Level: 6.1

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Chuy’s just a normal seventeen year old. He likes to hang out with his friends and he’s hoping to snag a girlfriend soon. But fate has another plan. At a club his mother warned him about, Chuy is stabbed multiple times and left for dead on the bathroom floor. Why Chuy? Why now?

REVIEW: This book has a lot of potential. I think it would be an excellent read for many students. One of the great teachable moments of this book occurs when both Chuy and Crystal reflect on their choices and the course of their young lives. Students learn that Crystal killed herself out of fear and the Chuy’s killer lives by and in fear of those around him. The tragic deaths are explored in terms of their effects on the families, friends, and even strangers around them. Students can reflect how we all matter to more people than we may think and how far reaching one’s influence really is on others. Being a book about death – it’s message is all about what it means to live and about how life should be about taking chances and facing our fears.

The book begins with Chuy alive and in a club where he is suddenly stabbed to death in the bathroom. The rest of the book is about Chuy’s acceptance and exploration of his death as he travels about his neighborhood as a ghost. Chuy makes friends and discoveries, and he learns even more about his life as he witnesses the effect his death has on others.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: comparing text to self, compare and contrast, sequence of events, writing styles – reflective

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: stabbing (pages 2-3), death, suicide, fighting

RELATED BOOKS: Buried Onions, Baseball in April, A Summer Life, Accidental Love, The Lovely Bones (A Sebold)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.garysoto.com/

http://www.sfsite.com/01a/ar167.htm

http://vodpod.com/watch/1609785-book-trailer-gary-sotos-novel-the-afterlife-on-vimeo  (awesome book trailer)

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

The House on Mango Street

Filed under: T — thebookreviews @ 10:24 pm
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The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros: Audio Book Cover

The House on Mango Street

Author: Sandra Cisneros

Page Length: 110

Reading Level: 6-12

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW: The House on Mango Street is a coming-of-age story told in short segments, vignettes, by the main character – Esperanza. She is a young, Hispanic girl who dreams of emerging from her current life of poverty to a life of independence. Esperanza desires to be set free like a bird in captivity.

Esperanza grows up amongst numerous family members and neighbors. Early in her life she travels from one “living situation” to another. When Esperanza’s family settles into their very own home on Mango Street, Esperanza realizes that this is not the home which their family has wished for. Never-the-less, Esperanza makes a life for herself in this new community. During her stay on Mango Street, Esperanza comes in contact (either directly or indirectly) with examples of racism, sexual harassment in the workplace, theft, education at a Catholic school, and physical abuse.

These experiences only add fuel to Esperanza’s fire to continue her storytelling and prepare for her eventual departure away from Mango Street.

This story seems almost as if it were written by Esperanza when she is older, reflecting back on her life as a child. Some background information on Hispanic culture and vocabulary would be helpful to students. The book is a wonderful read and should not be experienced in one sitting. Each of Cisneros’ short chapters is a gem in and of themselves. The vignettes spark interesting questions and analysis while standing alone on their own merit.

As much as Esperanza does not “love” her home life, I believe she truly does have a fond place in her heart for Mango Street. “Her story” is testament to this. I recommend this book to everyone!

AREAS FOR TEACHING: imagery, metaphor, setting, simile, characterization, poetry, symbolism

RELATED BOOKS: The Color Purple

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Mi Familia” (1995)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://urbandreams.ousd.k12.ca.us/lessonplans/mango_street/index.htm

http://www.edhelper.com/books/The_House_on_Mango_Street.htm

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

http://english.byu.edu/novelinks/Novel%20pages/The%20House%20on%20Mango%20Street.htm

http://www.masconomet.org/teachers/trevenen/mango.html

http://www.sandracisneros.com/

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

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