The Book Reviews – Website

January 1, 2011

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


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

RELATED WEBSITES:,%20the%20Eye%20and%20the%20Arm.htm

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

December 19, 2010

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

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

Journey to Jo’Burg A South African Story

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Journey to Jo’Burg: A South African Story

Author: Beverley Naidoo

Page Length: 80

Reading Level: 5.5

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Thirteen year old Naledi and her younger brother Tiro live in a village in South Africa. Times are hard in their village and their mother must live and work at home in order to provide for the family. When their baby sister takes ill with a terrible fever, they know that they must act fast. Too many young children have been dying in their village. Desperate to save their little sister, Naledi and Tiro set off on the journey to Johannesburg to find their mother and bring her home to care for their sister. Will they be able to make the journey in time?

REVIEW: This book is small in size and rather plainly written – making it great for higher elementary and secondary classrooms. The book deals with the issues of slavery, discrimination, and starvation. The reader learns of the hardships the mother must endure as she works away from her own children and is “enslaved” to the white people she works for. They begin to see how much their own people need decent food and living conditions and how desperately in need of change their world is. I would definitely use this book in the classroom. The story moves quickly and the issues are very worthy of discussion and response from students.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause and effect, historical connections, connecting text to self

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: the issue of servitude and substandard living conditions

RELATED BOOKS: The Other Side of Truth, No Turning Back, Out of Bounds

MUSIC CONNECTIONS: John Lennon – Imagine, Tracy Chapman – Across the Lines

RELATED WEBSITES:’burg&rating=3&search_type=related

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

February 15, 2008

The Slave Dancer

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The Slave Dancer

Author: Paula Fox

Page Length:  138 (including a brief Italian glossary)

Reading Level: 6


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: The Slave Dancer is an emotional and revealing book about the slave trading practices in the South. Set before the Civil War, the book is a graphic depiction of the atrocities of slavery. Jessie, a thirteen year old boy, is growing up in New Orleans with his mother, a seamstress, and a younger sister. During the daytime, Jessie roams about playing his fife. Although he’s been warned by his mother to stay away from the slave market, his fascination often draws him near. Sent out for candles so that his mother can do her work to support the family, Jessie ventures out to his aunt’s house to borrow some. On his way his home is kidnapped and taken aboard a ship. With no hope for escape and no way to get word to his mother, Jessie is doomed to make the fateful voyage with the crew.


The crew (reminiscent of Treasure Island) consists of a hardened group of men. There Jessie learns the harsh realities of sea life. He witnesses violence, whippings, fear, and intimidation. Jessie learns that his ship is to carry slaves and that he has been taken to become “the slave dancer.” Jessie will play his fife to dance the slaves and keep them fit. Horrors continue to unfold as the slaves are secreted to the ship, shackled, and packed in tightly among the holds. The inhumane treatment of the slaves, Jessie’s own sickness at having to witness their suffering and pain, and the crews’ views of superiority are carefully blended by Fox to reveal how bad human behavior can really be. The reader feels for the slaves and wishes they too could free them from their fate. The captain forges in on despite all for he has money in his sights and the people in his way are disposable. The story ends with the pursuit of the slave ship by American ships, lives hanging in the balance, and a storm raging upon the ship. Who will live and who will die? What will become of the slaves still captive on the boat? Will Jessie ever return home? Fox answers all of these questions and more.


 I would recommend this book for use with students who are mature and able to handle the content. The book is very graphic; one feels sickened and sad when reading it. After I finished reading it, I was even more discouraged at how dark and twisted human nature can be. With an insightful and mature audience, the possibilities with this book would be endless.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: After reading, one could compare the other atrocities committed against people throughout history. Higher level thinking skills could lead to the analysis of: why this happens, why people become commodities who are so easily sacrificed, and how we can prevent this pattern from repeating in the future? 






REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


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