The Book Reviews – Website

January 1, 2011


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Author: Brian Jacques


Page Length: 373


Reading Level: 6.9


Genre: Fiction, Adventure


Career Connections: None           

PLOT SUMMARY: Badgers, mice, weasels, squirrels, and a bird, take on human characteristics and battle the wildcat, Tsarmina to get possession of Mossflower.  Tsarmina becomes the Queen of a Thousand Eyes after poisoning her father and imprisoning her brother.  She forces the Woodlanders to work for her as slaves.

When Martin the Warrior meets Gonff (both mice) in the dungeon of Kotir, the two plan an escape.   With the help of other creatures of the forest, they go on a quest to locate Boar the Fighter.  As they cross the country, they develop friendships that support each other, despite their differences.  They exhibit respect for the older animals for their knowledge and cherish their history. 

Tsarmina’s soldiers and Martin and his Woodlanders eventually engage in a fierce battle while Gonff, the Mousethief, sings a song for every event. As the story concludes, good rules over evil.REVIEW: This is an animal fantasy that is full of action.  There are heroes, villains, adventure and romance with all of the characters, created quite descriptively with many human qualities.  The book is a prequel to Redwall, the first of the multiple book series.

The book would be an excellent class novel to read when studying cultural differences, as it shows how the animals, with varied differences, demonstrate the ability to get along in a diverse community.  Gonff’s poetry could be used to help students write short poems.  The food the animals eat sounds simply delicious and students could create recipes.

The writing is descriptive with lots of action and adventure.  I think boys would enjoy this book more than girls.


AREAS OF TEACHING: Simile/Metaphor, Characters, Setting, Descriptive Writing, Poetry, Cultural Diversity, and Personification

RELATED BOOKS: The Redwall Chronicles (20 books), Redwall Picture Books (2 books), and The Tribes of Redwall Series (3 books)



MOVIE & TV CONNECTIONS: Redwall: The Movie (TV-2000), Redwall: The Movie (to be released 2011)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Maximum Ride The Angel Experiment

Maximum Ride The Angel Experiment

Author: James Patterson

Page Length: 440

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction, Adventure

PLOT SUMMARY: Maximum Ride got to name herself because she is a fourteen-year-old girl who is the result of genetic experimentation conducted in a lab.  She has wings as a result of avian genes injected into human embryos. She is 98% human and 2 % bird.

Maximum lives with five other kids who have her same genetic make-up.  They are called “bird children” and call themselves, “the flock”.  Fang is a boy, four months younger than Max.  The other members are: Iggy, another boy blinded by an experiment at the lab, Nudge, a girl who talks in excess, Gasman, an eight-year-old boy with stomach problems, and Angel, his six year old sister.

The group was raised at the lab in cages and subjected to many experiments.  Then, Jeb Batchelder, one of the lab scientists, took them to his home in the mountains and educated and nurtured them as a father would his own children.  When he suddenly disappeared, two years ago, Max, being the oldest, was put in charge of “the flock”. 

One day, Erasers (other experimental beings who can become wolf-like creatures) appear at the mountain home and kidnap Angel. Led by Max, “the flock” begins the journey to find Angel, discover their real parents’ identity, and get revenge on an unlikely traitor.

REVIEW: Full of adventure, mystery, and suspense this would be a good book to use as a class novel.  The characters, along with the action, provide good descriptive reading.  I believe young adults would identify with the loyalty the children exhibit for each other and enjoy the fantasy of what genetic experimentation may provide in the future.

This is an excellent book for boys, girls and adults to read.


AREAS OF TEACHING: Figurative Language, Simile and Metaphors, Compare/Contrast, Theme, Character, Sequence of Events, and Cause/Effect

RELATED BOOKS: Maximum Ride: School’s Out Forever, Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports


MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Maximum Ride (set to release in 2013)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 19, 2010

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 (list of books)

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


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton


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Eldest (Inheritance Cycle #2) by Christopher Paolini: Book Cover


Author: Christopher Paolini


Page Length: 668  


Reading Level: 8


Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Eldest begins where the first book of the Inheritance trilogy, Eragon, ends. The land of Alagesia is threatened by Galbatorix and his Empire.  Eragon and his dragon Saphira, last of the Riders, are the only hope for survival of the inhabitants of the kingdom.

They travel to the elven city of Ellesmera, where both Eragon and Saphira are taught magic, fighting skills, and the ancient language. While Eragon and Saphira are undergoing training, Roran, Eragon’s cousin is the target of an attack by Ra’zac and it is his responsibility to lead the villagers out of danger.

Both Eragon and Roran engage in many obstacles while they unknowingly move in the same direction.  When their forces meet up, they must engage in a battle with the forces of Galbatorix.  Eragon learns a shocking secret about his parents, is put off by a romantic desire, and commits to saving his people.

REVIEW: This is the sequel to Eragon, the first of the trilogy, Inheritance.  Paolini was only 15 when he began his writings about Eragon, also a young teen. The adventure involves many characters with distinct gifts of magic, intellectual, and athletic abilities.  The setting covers a vast area of mountains, “The Swine”, oceans and rivers.  The battles are described in detail and emotions are drawn as the reader becomes involved.

I would recommend this book to higher level readers who enjoy extensive reading and vocabulary.  Those who enjoyed The Harry Potter series and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy would especially like this book.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Vocabulary, Character, Conflict, Compare/Contrast, Cause/Effect, Setting, Theme, and Sequence of Events


RELATED BOOKS: Eragon and Brisingr


RELATED WEBSITES:…/Novel-Ideas-ChristopherPaolini-s-Eldest

 REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Catching Fire

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Catching Fire (Hunger Games Series #2) by Suzanne Collins: Book Cover

Catching Fire

Author: Suzanne Collins


Page Length: 391


Reading Level: 5.4


Genre: Fiction


Career Connection: Coal miner, political leader


PLOT SUMMARY: In this sequel to The Hunger Games, Katniss is at home but not able to enjoy her life in Victory Village because of the rumors of uprisings against the Capitol. She lives under the pretense that she loves Peeta, but she longs for her days in the meadow with Gale. Gale is working in the coal mines now, so she spends her days alone, hunting for food for Gale’s family. Her heroic moves at the end of The Hunger Games have made her the target for the president to help stop the rebellious behavior of the people in the neighboring districts.


When it is time to pick the tributes for the annual hunger games, the citizens learn that the rules for the “Quell” have been changed. The tributes can be picked only from previous participants. So, Peeta and Katniss are back in the arena. They face bigger challenges and Katniss discovers her conscious plays a bigger part in survival.


REVIEW: This is a good sequel to the first in the series, but is not as fast paced. More of the action takes place outside of the arena where Katniss must make decisions of personal issues. The book would be enjoyable for both boys and girls as the plot unveils violent and heroic events.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: Characters, Theme, Cause/Effect, Setting


TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: None that aren’t age and content appropriate


RELATED BOOKS: The Hunger Games


MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The Hunger Games (to be released 2011)




REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


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Canyons by Gary Paulsen: Book Cover


Author: Gary Paulsen


Page Length: 184


Reading Level: 6


Genre: Historical Fiction   

PLOT SUMMARY: This story is about two different boys who lived in different eras, but have a similar spiritual connection.  Coyote Runs was a teen-age apache who died as he was coming of age on his first horse raid.  Breenan Cole is a teen-age boy who lives with his divorced mother and loves to run in the city of El Paso.

While on a camping trip with his mom and her new boyfriend, Brennan discovers a human skull.  He hides the skull and takes it home.  There, he becomes obsessed with it and determined to find out what happened to the person who died from a bullet shot to the head.  The spiritual connection is formed when Brennan begins to have dreams about an Apache boy who seems to be sending a message to him.

Coyote Runs was the young apache boy who was shot and killed by U. S. army soldiers during a night raid the tribe had made to steal horses from Mexico almost 100 years earlier.

Brennan confides his secret to his biology teacher who contacts a friend that has a link to obtaining historical documents.  When Brennan discovers what happened to Coyote Runs, he leaves home to find the slain Indian’s body in the desert outside of El Paso.

REVIEW: The beginning of the book is written from the point of view of both boys in alternating chapters.  After Coyote Runs dies, the rest of the book is written from Brennan’s point of view. The book would be a good read as a class novel because it would hold the interest of both boys and girls. It could easily be used with a social studies unit on a study of American Indians of the Southwest.  The sill of compare/contrast as it relates to the two boys and their cultures could be studied, as well as the skills of setting and theme.

This is one of Paulsen’s better books and would appeal to most young adults.


AREAS OF TEACHING: Compare/Contrast, Sequence of Events, Setting, Point of View, Theme

RELATED BOOKS: The Birchbark House, Cloudwalker: Contemporary Native American Stories


MUSIC CONNECTIONS: Warrior Spirit (1994), The Fast Runner (2007), Spirit Rider (1993)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Going Solo

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Cover Illustration

Going Solo


Author: Roald Dahl


Page Length: 210


Reading Level: 6


Genre: Autobiography

PLOT SUMMARY: It’s the late 1930s and Roald is a young man out on his first great adventure. A job for Shell Oil has sent him from his home in England to Africa. Roald relates tales of his adventures learning a new language and battling the fierce green mamba. As war approaches, Roald decides to become a pilot. The reader learns of the character’s piloting trials as well as his close encounters and harrowing escapes from Nazi warplanes. 

REVIEW: This book is a light (but with great depth), slightly humorous, and interesting read. Readers interested in World War II will find Roald’s descriptions of conditions, training, and battle enthralling. The book progresses nicely with many emotional ups and downs. There are tales of bravery and tales of sadness and loss. Chapters of this book could also be used on their own as interesting stories and scenes for discussion. Prior to reading, students would benefit from having a frame of reference about World War II and an understanding of the presence of wealthy big oil companies in third world countries.

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

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: “men jumping into a burning sea to be roasted and boiled alive” p.165, general topic / depictions of death during war

RELATED BOOKS BY THE SAME AUTHOR: Boy, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, Collected Short Stories, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

WAR RELATED BOOKS: Stepping on the Cracks, After the War, Kensuke’s Kingdom, Four Perfect Pebbles, Postcards from No Man’s Land

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Diary of Anne Frank (1959)


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

The Lightning Thief

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The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series #1) by Rick Riordan: Book Cover

The Lightning Thief

Author: Rick Riordan

Page Length: 375

Reading Level: 4th-6th

Genre: Fiction, Mythology

PLOT SUMMARY: Percy Jackson is a troubled kid with ADHD who has been bounced from one boarding school to another. He is the son of a mother who has been trapped in an abusive relationship for quite some time. In the beginning, the whereabouts of Percy’s real father are unknown.

When characters from Percy’s mythology textbook begin to literally leap out in front of him, Percy begins to question who he is. When he gets kicked out of his latest school, monsters chase after Percy in an attempt to kill him. Soon enough, Percy ends up at Camp Half-Blood where he learns that he himself is a “Half-Blood” (his mother is human and his father is the Greek god Poseidon). Percy also finds out that the lightning bolt of Zeus has been stolen and that he is the main suspect! At Camp Half-Blood, Percy trains for the eventual quest of finding Zeus’ missing lightning bolt and stopping an impending war between the Greek gods.

During his quest, Percy ventures to the Underworld to find out if Hades has stolen Zeus’ lightning bolt. After meeting with Hades, it is discovered that not only does Hades not have Zeus’ prized possession, Hades’ is missing his helm. Hades demands that Percy hand over the lightning bolt at once. When Percy opens his backpack to show Hades he does not have it, the lightning bolt magically appears in the bag! Immediately Percy escapes the enraged Hades committed to find the god’s helm and deliver both the helm and the lightning bolt to their rightful owners.

After Percy finds Hades’ helm, the god Ares turns up. Both begin to battle. It is discovered here that Ares, under the spell of Kronos, has plotted to start a war between the gods and has used Percy as the catalyst for the war. Ares, defeated by Percy for now, vanishes. Afterwards, Percy ensures the delivery of both the helm to Hades and the lightning bolt to Zeus.

In the end, Percy discovers that he has been betrayed by one of his friends at Camp Half-Blood, Luke, who has teamed up with Kronos to reek havoc on the gods. This realization is the catalyst for the next story in the Percy Jackson series.

REVIEW: After a few chapters I really got hooked on this story. I enjoyed how the author creatively blended elements of Greek mythology with a basic story line of a boy on an adventure to prove his father right. However, if one is not familiar with mythology, it would be beneficial to brush up on some of the basic points (ie. the names of the gods and their basic characteristics). This will help with the understanding of the story as a whole.

Some may find the topic of mythology boring, however this fictional story is a great way to “spice up” the study of the Greek gods. I found it interesting that non-mythological elements were infused in the story-line (e.g., Empire State Building, Santa Monica Pier, Shakespeare, George Washington, ADHD, etc.).

AREAS FOR TEACHING: mythology, humor, foreshadowing, setting

RELATED BOOKS: Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series (#1-5)

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief” (pre-production – 2010)


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

November 26, 2010

Chasing Vermeer

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Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett: Book Cover

Chasing Vermeer

Author: Blue Balliett

Page Length: 254

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Calder and Petra have one thing in common. They have the greatest sixth grade teacher ever – Ms. Hussey. After Ms. Hussey gives her class the challenging assignment of proving that written letters are not dead by finding someone whose life has been altered by a letter, Calder and Petra decide to work together. What starts as a simple assignment soon morphs into something more. A great mystery is afoot. A painting has been stolen, and Calder and Petra are hot on the trail of a thief.

REVIEW: This was an interesting and mysterious story. The clues are revealed to the reader as the story evolves. Readers learn a great deal about the famous artist Jan Vermeer and the uses of pentominoes. Readers reflect about what makes great artwork, and they learn about actions taken toward a cause. The book provides great discussion material of the causes and effects of each character’s action or inaction. This is a story that is very interesting and engaging.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, character traits, cause and effect, context clues, foreshadowing, great book to pair with pentominoes from math class


RELATED BOOKS:  The Calder Game, The Wright 3

RELATED MOVIES: Chasing Vermeer (due out in 2011)


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

June 5, 2010

The Last Book in the Universe

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The Last Book In The Universe

Author: Rodman Philbrick

Page Length: 223

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Science Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY:  A young boy, Spaz, finds himself fending for himself in the Urb, where all the normals live, after being kicked out of his foster home for having epilepsy. Charley, his foster dad, feels that Spaz’ illness will cause harm to his foster sister, Bean. Spaz steals from Billy Bizmo, the latch boss, to get food and protection. Everyone in the Urb mindprobes but Spaz can’t because he has epilepsy and can’t put a needle into his brain. Little did Spaz know that when sent to steal from Ryter, a gummy (or old person) per orders of Billy, Spaz’ life would change forever. On the way to steal from Ryter, Spaz meets a very young boy named Little Face who leads him to Ryter’s stack. Ryter is waiting for Spaz providing all his valuables except a book that he has been writing. Spaz does not understand the importance of the book and passing down stories from the Big Shake but he lets Ryter keep it. Little Face guides Spaz through the stacks on the promise of a choxbar since Spaz has been ordered to steal more items. Spaz befriends Ryter during these robberies. Then a runner comes with bad news of his sister Bean. Spaz must get to Bean as quickly as possible. But this isn’t as easy as it may seem. Spaz must sneak out of the latch, cross two others, and reach his sister hoping to save her. Ryter helps Spaz develop a plan to travel through The Pipes to get through the latches. On their journey, Spaz meets a Proov, a genetically altered person, who is giving away edibles, Ryter saves her life at the end of one of the latches that is on fire. Lanaya, the Proov, decides to help Spaz reach his sister. So Spaz, Ryter, Little Face, and Lanaya set out in search of Bean. Once they locate her they find that she is very ill. Ryter and/or Spaz (depending upon who you ask) decide that the only way to save Bean is to take her to Eden, where the Proovs live. The only problem is that normals aren’t accepted in Eden so Lanaya has to sneak them into Eden passing through The Forbidden Zone which is full of mines. Do they make it? Do they save Bean? If so, how do they save her? What happens to Little Face? Do the Proovs accept the normals? What happens to Spaz and Ryter? What happens to the last book in the universe?  What happens to the writer?   

REVIEW:  From the very first sentences in The Last Book In The Universe “If you’re reading this, it must be a thousand years from now. Because nobody around here reads anymore. Why bother, when you can just probe it?”, the reader’s attention is grabbed immediately. This science fiction book is excellent. Rodman Philbrick creates an alternate futuristic world with invented vocabulary to describe this new world, the people, and the items used in it. From the Urb, to the Proovs, to the Takvees, to the latches, this new world comes alive. The reader finds oneself transformed into this new world. One part of the new world is the burned- out Urb and the other part is the perfection of Eden. Both the strengths and weaknesses of both worlds are noticed. The themes of addiction, abandonment, poverty, environmental concerns, and violence of the 21st century are still prevalent in The Last Book In The Universe’s new world of the future. However, Spaz, Little Face, Ryter and Bean capture the reader’s heart evoking a sense of empathy and possibly sympathy for one if not all of these characters. One realizes that we all have a story to tell. Those stories need to be protected and passed along to future generations so that they may learn from our mistakes.  At the end of the book is a list of “New Words for a New World”.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: main idea and supporting details, theme, setting, characters, point of view, conflict, plot, compare/contrast, cause/effect, sequence of events, inference, conclusions, generalizations, predictions, voice, mood, tone, 5 steps of the writing process.

RELATED BOOKS: The Giver by Lois Lowry, The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer, Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. Books by the same author: Freak the Mighty, Max the Mighty, The Young Man and the Sea

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The Mighty (1998), Back to the Future (1995), The Incredibles (2004), War of the Worlds (1960)


REVIEWED BY: Tammy Leitzel

August 30, 2009

Lion Boy

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Lion Boy

Author: Zizou Corder

Page Length: 275

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton



Author: Kenneth Oppel

Page Length: 501

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Adventure, Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: After saving the life of a man stranded in a lone balloon, Matt Cruse returns to his duties as a poor but faithful cabin boy aboard the magnificent passenger airship, Aurora. The rescued man later dies but leaves his notebook of various sketchings and notes. Months later, Matt comes in contact with the granddaughter of the man he saved, the rich Kate DeVries. Kate has come aboard the Aurora for the sole purpose of finding out what her grandfather saw in the air on his last balloon adventure. According to her grandfather’s sketchings and notes, he came in contact with a glorious, unrecognizable, bird-like creature.

Well into the Aurora’s trip over the seas, pirates take hold of the airship, steal a number of valuables, and render the ship useless. Unbeknownst to the pirates who have fled, the Aurora crash lands on a remote island. The ship’s crew begins to repair the vessel in hopes of saving themselves. Kate takes this time to explore the flora and fauna of the island. During this time, she comes across the bones of the great winged animal her father came in contact with. This wets Kate’s appetite even more to capture additional evidence of the undiscovered creature. Since, during this time period, females were not regarded as being true explorers and scientists, Kate sets out to prove society wrong. It is also her mission to prove that her grandfather was correct in what he saw before he died.

On another venture into the island woods, Matt, Kate, and Bruce come in contact with one of the living bird creatures. Matt and Kate call the creature “cloud cat” based on its appearance and temperament. When the “cloud cat” attacks the three, they run away. Bruce is injured in the escape while Matt and Kate take off in a different direction. Then Matt and Kate come upon the same pirates that attacked the Aurora several days ago. After being captured by the pirates and sentenced to their death, Matt and Kate escape and hook back up with Bruce at the Aurora. It is here that they discover that the pirates have taken the ship hostage again. Matt, Kate, and Bruce set out to take back control of the ship and dispel the pirates. In successfully doing so, Bruce is killed.

The story then flashes forward six months. Kate is seen at a museum with the bones of her “cloud cat” on display. She hopes to settle at a university possibly in Paris. Matt has entered the flight Academy in Paris in hopes to one day return to the Aurora – his home.

REVIEW: I enjoyed this book a lot. Several chapters into reading, I felt as if it were a blend of Lord of the Flies and “Titanic”. The story was action-packed and the setting of both the giant ship, Aurora, and the island were vividly painted.

The themes of rich vs. poor, air vs. land, good vs. evil run throughout the book.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: characterization, comparison and contrast, pair this book with a reading of Lord of the Flies and a viewing of the “Titanic”.

RELATED BOOKS: Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel – sequel to Airborn

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Titanic” (1997), “Cast Away” (2000)

RELATED WEBSITES: (animated informational website about the book and author) (123 page literature unit packet of activities)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

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

January 17, 2009

Around the World in 80 Days

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Around the World in Eighty Days

Author: Jules Verne

Page Length: 237  

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Phileas Fogg is a wealthy man who lives in London and belongs to the elite Reform Club.  One evening at the club, Mr. Fogg makes a wager with several of the members that he can travel around the world in eighty days.  He begins his trip, almost immediately with his employee, Passepartout.

Fogg plans to complete the trip by train and ship.  The two men travel to Suez, Bombay, miss a train and buy an elephant to get through India.  While in India, they rescue a Parsee woman from human sacrifice.  Along the way, Passepartout becomes acquainted with Mr. Fix, a detective from London who suspects that Mr. Fogg has robbed a bank.  Eventually, Mr. Fix joins the trio and completes the trip with them through Hong Kong, Shanhai, the United States and across the Atlantic. 

The trip has many bumps in the road, but Mr. Fogg thinks he will arrive within the time frame to collect his wagers.  However, in the end, he realizes he arrives forty-five minutes late… or does he?

REVIEW:  Because the book was written in 1874, I would recommend it for reading as a class novel rather than independent reading for the teenager of the 21st century.  The teacher would be able to incorporate instruction of vocabulary, descriptive writing, character development, and world geography in the reading. 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Cause/Effect, Characters, Vocabulary, Descriptive Writing, World Geography, Sequence of Events, Setting

RELATED BOOKS: Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

MOVIE & TV CONNECTIONS: Around the World in Eighty Days (1956, 2004), Around the World in Eighty Days-TV Mini-Series (1989)



REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Ice Drift

Ice Drift

Author: Theodore Taylor

Page Length: 224

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Realistic Fiction     

PLOT SUMMARY: Alika and Sulu are brothers who are out seal fishing in the Arctic when they feel the floe they are standing on breakaway from the land.  Alika, the older of the two, quickly frees all of his dog sled team, so that they can swim back to the mainland and hopefully get back to the village.  Alika and Sulu are part of the Inuit population that inhabits Greenland.  The boys are stranded on the floating piece of ice.  Aware that they may not be rescued for weeks or months, Alika uses his knowledge of survival skills that he has learned from his dad.  The boys build an igloo and make provisions with the supplies that were on the sled. 

When the dogs of the sled team return to the village, the boy’s parents realize what has happened.  They make futile rescue attempts and because the father’s leg is broken, their mom attempts to travel in a kayak to find the boys down the river.  She is again unsuccessful, but the two young men continue to fight for survival on the broken iceberg.

REVIEW: This story is about life in the Arctic Circle and is full of information about the native animals and the harsh seasons of days with no light and wind blowing blizzards.  Each of the characters learns about themselves and their ability to survive and what is essentially important in life.  This is a great book of adventure and suspense for boys who enjoy realistic fiction.

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

RELATED BOOKS: The Sign of the Beaver, Iceberg Hermit, and The Night of the Twisters

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Arctic Tale (2007)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 10, 2008


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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


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

The Boys of San Joaquin

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The Boys of San Joaquin

Author: D. James Smith

Page Length: 231

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: The setting of the story is in l951, in Orange Grove City, California.  Paolo is the twelve-year-old brother to ten siblings, cousin of Billy, who is deaf, and owner of Rufus, the dog. The story begins with Rufus appearing with a torn twenty-dollar bill hanging from his mouth.  Paolo figures there is probably more money where that came from and employs Billy (the deaf cousin) and Georgie (his younger brother) to help him locate the rest of the treasure. Billy is eager to find the money because he needs the wheel on his bike repaired.  Georgie just enjoys being included with the other boys.  The search ends up in the priest’s garden behind the Cathedral of San Joaguin. However, the boy’s quest involves much more suspense and adventure before the mystery is solved.  

REVIEW: Paolo narrates the story and is quite descriptive of each of the characters and events.  He gives an excellent description of a dog (p.8) and of tools (p. 44) that could be used in teaching descriptive writing.  The story is full of adventure and family situations that arise in Paolo’s life.  Although the book’s setting is in 1951, it has the same type of humor, description, and adventure that I found in reading Mark Twain’s Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Descriptive Writing (p. 8 and 44), Characters, Setting, Theme, and Conflict

RELATED BOOKS: Probably the World’s Best Story about a Dog and the Girl Who Loved Me, Fast Company, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Outsiders


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 8, 2008

The Wave of the Sea Wolf

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The Wave of the Sea Wolf

Author: David Wisniewski

Page Length: 28

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The Tlingit people were Native Americans who lived upon the land. The young Tlingit princess, Kchokeen, who was admired for her beauty and intelligence, went out seeking fresh berries. Her mother warned to stay away from the mouth of the bay where Gonakadet, the Sea-Wolf, has drowned many before. Kchokeen does not take the canoe to mouth of the bay, but she ends up there looking for berries. An unfortunate accident happens and Kchokeen meets the Sea-Wolf. Will he spare her life or will she be his next victim?

REVIEW: This book has wonderful illustrations and an excellent story line. It seems typical of the average Native American tale. It’s a short read and a good look at Native American beliefs – reliance upon the land – and understanding of the cycle when Kchokeen’s father says “I refused, for animals cannot be hunted without mercy and reverence.” The book also shows the conflicts between Native Americans and explorers/ traders. Good story – great ending – probably geared more towards an elementary audience, but a great short introduction to Native American literature.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, cause and effect, plot, author’s purpose, dialogue, origins of legends, connecting text to self, connecting text to text (history)

RELATED BOOKS: Golem, Rain Player, The Warrior and the Wise Man, The Secret Knowledge of Grown Ups, Tough Cookie, Sumo Mouse

RELATED MOVIES: “Pocahontas”


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Zach’s Lie

Filed under: Z — thebookreviews @ 10:47 pm
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Zach’s Lie

Author: Roland Smith

Page Length: 211

Reading Level:

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Jack has no idea why mask men break into his house, threaten his mom, sister and him and then totally ransack the place.  In just hours, he learns that his dad has been arrested for drug trafficking and the mask men were working for his dad’s drug czar boss.  The Witness Security Program force Jack, his sister, and mom to move to Nevada and assume new names and identities.  There, Jack, now Zach, meets the school custodian.  He gets in a fight the first day of school and meets a girl of interest, Catalin.  Zach is finally getting into his new life, but finds he has been discovered by the drug boss and not only his life, but all of those connected to him are in danger, again.

REVIEW: This book is action packed from the beginning.  The characters are well developed and the plot has several subplots that keep the reader’s interest.  This is a good suspense novel that boys would especially enjoy.  It would also be a good class novel to read. 

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

RELATED BOOKS: Jack’s Run, The Alex Rider Series: Scorpia, Eagle Strike, Point Blank, Skeleton Key, Stormbreaker


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 5, 2008

Dear Austin

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Dear Austin

Author: Elvira Woodruff

Page Length: 137

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Dear Austin is a story written in letters from one brother to another. 11 year old Levi is in Pennsylvania under the watchful eye of Miss Amelia until his healthy enough and old enough to travel. Levi’s adventures with his friends, taking those awful dance lessons, and witnessing the prejudice in his town are detailed. One day, Jupiter’s sister disappears. Everyone fears that she has been taken by slave traders. Jupiter and Levi embark upon a journey to save her before it’s too late. Undeterred by the dangers that lie ahead, they are determined to bring her back. Will they be able to find her or will they become victims themselves?

REVIEW: This book was an excellent look at what life might have been like for a young boy during the 1850’s. The language and habits of the townspeople are what one would expect from a rural setting. The author handles the topic of slavery well. The reader experiences first hand the prejudice and racist feelings of a lady in town; Woodruff also introduces the reader to what it would have been like standing on the auction block. The story is moving and the ending realistic. This book is a great tool for teaching about slavery and the Underground Railroad in general without examining the depth of the atrocities that took place.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, cause and effect, internal conflict, external conflict, foreshadowing, elements of plot, author’s purpose, connecting text to historical text, context clues

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: slave auction, racist remarks and treatment

RELATED BOOKS: Dear Levi, The Orphan of Ellis Island, The Mummy Maker, Children of the Longhouse, Night John

RELATED MOVIES: “Night John,” “Spartacus,” “North and South: The Collection”


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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