The Book Reviews – Website

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

January 18, 2009

Margaux with an X

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Margaux with an X

Author: Ron Koertge

Page Length: 165

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: On the outside, Margaux’s life seems to resemble perfection. She’s gorgeous, every guy wants her, every girl wants to be within her circle of friends, and she’s smart. In reality, Margaux’s harboring a terrible secret. She’s tired of playing Sara’s popularity games with groping boys, seeing her mother engrossed in the shopping channel day after day, and hearing about her father’s latest gambling activities. Then she meets Danny who is a scrawny, anything but fashionable guy who dedicates his life to rescuing animals. Could it be love at first sight? Will Margaux reveal her terrible secret?

REVIEW: This book took an interesting look at a number of important topics. One issue addressed in the book is the price Margaux has paid for her father’s addiction to gambling. Also, Koertge teaches the reader that being beautiful isn’t as glamorous or as easy at it seems. Yet another topic presented in the book is that self-discovery can be painful but gratifying. Both Danny and Margaux have endured hardships and are discovering who they are and how their past has shaped them. Overall, the book is interesting, the plot is well developed, and the final parting message is good – the path of least resistance isn’t necessarily the best.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  character traits, cause and effect, author’s purpose, sequence of events, sarcasm, vocabulary development

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Dad offering Margaux a joint (p.22), “he tries to feel my boobs… just a semi-slut instead of a full-on hoochie” (p.87), destroying a car out of anger (p.142), “you’d drive me over to Tony’s house and let him take pictures of me in my underpants” (p.150)

RELATED BOOKS: Where the Kissing Never Stops, Stoner & Spaz, The Brimstone Journals, Shakespeare Bats Clean Up, The Arizona Kid


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

October 30, 2008


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Author: Diane Tullson

Page Length: 103

Reading Level: 2.9

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: An emotionally unstable student is pushed over the edge by thoughtless classmates and brings a gun to school causing a real lockdown. Panic and chaos ensue as the students realize this is not just another drill. One student who feels he can help takes a risk, but the ending is still not a happy one.

REVIEW:  This book broke my heart. Josh, the student who brings the gun, cares and knows all about the hamsters in his science class. Some of the other kids want to see the new babies and disrupt the nest and touch the babies causing the mother hamster to reject them and eat them. It is just too much for Josh who is a bit naïve and socially out of things but truly cares about the animals. He loses it, brings the gun, taunts his classmates, but ultimately ends up shooting and killing himself. Like I said, it broke my heart.

 AREAS FOR TEACHING: Point of view, cause and effect

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: pages 13-15 in the science class, and the rest of the book during the lockdown – especially the final pages.


REVIEWED BY: Sherry Hall

April 15, 2008

Old Yeller

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Old Yeller

Author: Fred Gipson

Page Length: 117

Reading Level: 6th

Genre: Fiction


PLOT SUMMARY: When Papa leaves his Texas homestead to provide for his family, 14 year-old Travis becomes the man of the house.  He must help with the crops, hunt for food, tag the wild hogs, and try to keep his younger brother, Arliss, out of trouble. 


As a boy who has already lost a beloved pet, Travis is first resistant to the yellow dog that shows up on their land.  But when Arliss bonds with the mongrel and names him Old Yeller, Travis is forced to put up with the creature.  At first Old Yeller seems useless; they even suspect him of stealing some of their meat.  But he soon earns his keep, and eventually Travis’s love, as he protects the family from the dangers of frontier life, such as bears, bulls, Hydrophobia (Rabies), and hogs.


One day, while Travis is marking the wild hogs, he is attacked.  His leg becomes badly hurt, yet his wounds are nothing compared to those Old Yeller suffers while defending Travis.  Travis, Arliss, and Mama trek across their land to bring Old Yeller back, unsure of what they’ll find.  Fortunately, he survives his injuries.


Yet, it is to no avail.  Soon after, Old Yeller is infected with Hydrophobia while saving Mama’s life from a sick bull.  And Travis is forced to shoot his beloved dog when old Yeller begins showing signs of the illness.


The book’s ending is bittersweet.  Though Travis is certain that no one can replace his dog, he is given one of Old Yeller’s offspring.  Finally, Papa returns to find that his oldest boy has truly become a man.


REVIEW: I was really impressed with this read.  Since it was written over fifty years ago and the setting was the 1860’s, I thought I would have a hard time connecting with the book.  Instead, the story really came to life for me.  The characters were authentic, the language that the author used was natural, and the story’s action created suspense and intrigue.  As is usually the case, the book was even better than the movie.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: Predictions, Inference, and Characterization, since most students have probably seen the movie. You could have students compare/contrast Travis’s characteristics at the beginning of the book with those he has acquired by the end.  We definitely see a transformation in Travis throughout Old Yeller.  You could also have students write about a coming-of-age experience in their own lives, or a time when they had to take charge of a situation which was frightening.


TOUCHY AREAS: The only touchy area in this book was the death of Old Yeller. 




REVIEWED BY: Jennifer John

April 8, 2008

The Talking Earth

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The Talking Earth

Author: George, Jean Craighead

Page Length: 151

Reading Level: 6th

Genre: Fiction


PLOT SUMMARY: Have you ever wondered what it would be like to survive all alone in the wilderness?  How might you escape the clutches of a forest fire, or avoid being eaten by wild animals? The Talking Earth forces its reader to do just that, as it chronicles a young girl’s twelve-week adventure through the Florida Everglades. 


When Billie Wind doubts the teachings of her Seminole people, she is sent into the wilderness to revive her faith.  What begins as a weekend lesson turns into a months long ordeal when a forest fire breaks out and Billie is trapped in the swamps.  She finds refuge in a cave, which is not only stocked with fresh fish, but is also the habitat of a playful young otter that she names Petang.  During her stay in the cave, Billie discovers that her shelter was once home for Calusa Indians.  Finding several ancient artifacts is exciting to her, as the Calusa people have been extinct for many years.


As the ground begins to cool Billie and Petang begin their journey out of the Everglades.  During their trip they encounter many obstacles such as alligators, panthers, finding food, and building their own houseboat.  But they also make a few new friends along the way: a panther cub named Cootchobee, and a turtle named Burden, and finally an American Indian boy on his own quest for meaning.


Billie’s adventure climaxes with the arrival of a hurricane.  By climbing onto high ground and digging a shelter, she and her friends ride out the terrifying storm and finally find their way home.


In the end, Billie’s ordeal has confirmed three vital Seminole beliefs: animal god’s talk, a great serpent lives in the Everglades and punishes bad Seminoles, and there are little people who live underground and play tricks on people.  With her spiritual transformation, Billie is welcomed back into the tribe with open arms.


REVIEW: This book is ideal for students who strongly identify with an American Indian heritage.  It’s also a good book for students who enjoy wilderness adventure stories. Though, like many of Jean Craighead George’s novels, the plot in this book is at times extremely naïve and unrealistic.  For example, Billie Wind becomes instant friends with each of the wild animals that she encounters.  She also shows no concern for the alligators that patrol her homemade raft and daily kill the wildlife around her.  That aside, The Talking Earth is built on an interesting concept, and the character Billie is a strong role model for girls as she is independent, determined, and true to herself. 


RELATED BOOKS: Hatchet & My Side of the Mountain




REVIEWED BY: Jennifer John

March 10, 2008

Just Ask Iris

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Just Ask Iris

Author: Lucy Frank


Page Length: 214


Reading Level: 5


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: This story is about twelve year old Iris Pinkowitz. Iris, her brother, and her mother live in an apartment building with colorful neighbors and many of the afflictions of struggling inner-city Americans. Iris’s mother works longs hours and has strict rules for Iris. She is not to leave the apartment; her summer is to be spent perfecting her typing skills because she is going to computer school in the fall. Iris grows lonely and bored with her 1950’s typing book. She befriends a cat who appears on the fire escape outside her window one day. Iris sets out on a quest to find the cat. Her quest takes her up the fire escape past the man with tattoos and his ferocious dog. Past the apartment of a wheelchair bound young man named Will, who lives with his angry and withdraw father.


Iris ends up doing odd jobs for all of her neighbors. Her boring summer turns adventurous as she befriends her neighbors and becomes engrossed in their lives. Iris continues to slip out after her mother leaves for work and return before she arrives back home. She earns money which she is anxious to spend to buy a bra. Her concern over her development leads her to safety pin one of her mother’s bras on each morning; although, her mother refuses to acknowledge her plea for a bra, Iris realizes (with the help of a female neighbor) how desperately she needs one. Iris’s struggle with the boys beginning to pay attention to that feature of her body is also discusses in the book. Iris gains self confidence and becomes the hero of her building when she faces off against the landlord’s people. The cat woman is in danger of being evicted, the building elevator isn’t operational, and all everyone needed was a reason to join together. Iris strengthens her community, herself, her relationship with her family, and the determination of almost everyone she meets.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: I would recommend this book for girls really. Although, boys might be interested in the development aspects, it’s really more of a growing strong girls story. This would be a great discussion piece for looking at the importance of self-confidence, perseverance, and the power of taking action for change.



 (great article about what living in a building like Iris’s is like)


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


January 10, 2008

The Giraffe, and the Pelly and Me

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The Giraffe, and the Pelly and Me

Author: Ronald Dahl

Illustrator: Quentin Blake

Page Length: 89

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction / Poetry


PLOT SUMMARY: This book is a delightful story of a starving trio of animals; a giraffe, a pelican and a monkey who befriend, Billy, a young boy.  The trio of animals buy an old house which Billy had dreamed of buying and opening as a “Sweet Shop”.  The animals start a window cleaning business and include Billy as their manager.  They are hired by a wealthy Duke who they aide in several adventures.


SKILL / AUTHOR CONNECTIONS: The characters speak in rhyme and limericks which make one think of Dr. Seuss.  Quentin Blake depicts them as positive and happy in his drawings. 


REVIEW: This is my first book that I have read by Ronald Dahl, but I am anxious to read more of his work.  When I first picked up the book to read, I thought it would be too easy and juvenile for the high school population.  However, I think all would enjoy the story.




REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


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