The Book Reviews – Website

January 1, 2011

What Athletes Are Made Of

What Athletes Are Made Of

Author and Illustrator: Hanoch Piven and Sarah Thompson

Page Length: 34

Reading Level: 5.1

Genre: Biography

Career Connection: Professional Athletes

SUMMARY & REVIEW: This book is for the sports lover written by a sports lover.

We learn that Muhammad Ali had a “big mouth”, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar coached high school on an Apache reservation, Babe Ruth had a huge appetite, Jesse Owens proved Hitler wrong, Tiger Woods considers himself a “Cablinasian”, David Beckham once wore pink nail polish to match his girlfriends, and Pele played with a soccer ball made of a sock stuffed with newspapers. These are just a few facts that packed into this creative book filled with 23 mini-biographies of athletes. Each biography is 5-10 sentences long.

The first page provides the reader an introduction to why athletes and sports games are enjoyable to watch and respected. The author begins each mini biography with the following line:

“Athletes are made of…”

At the end of each biography, the author provides the reader with a “Did You Know” fact relating to either the athlete or his/her sport.

At the end of the book, a “Post-Game Recap” with statistics and career highlights of all the athletes is featured.  

The following athletes are highlighted in this book: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Andre Agassi, Muhammad Ali, Lance Armstrong, David Beckham, Joe DiMaggio, Jeff Gordon, Wayne Gretzky, Mia Hamm, Michael Jordan, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Diego Maradona, Joe Namath, Martina Navratilova, Jesse Owens, Pele, Babe Ruth, Michael Schumacher, Annika Sorenstam, Jim Thorpe, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, and Tiger Woods.

The sports represented in this book include basketball, tennis, boxing, cycling, soccer, baseball, racing, track and field, football, golf, pentathlon, and decathlon.

This is a very creative book. It not only provides the reader a clear and concise biography of each athlete, each individual is illustrated using traditional drawings as well as objects. For example, Tiger Woods’ eye brows are illustrated using “nails”. Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s legs are illustrated using “rulers”. Lance Armstrong’s mouth is illustrated using a “rubber band”.

The only criticism I have with this book is that the majority of the athletes students may not recognize. This book may not be engaging for students if left to read on their own. However, providing insight into unfamiliar athletes provides the teacher and student an opportunity for new learning. The addition of mini-biographies will help students engage with the book as compared to other lengthier biographies. Students will most likely recognize Lance Armstrong, Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, and Tiger Woods.

Students with a passion for art will enjoy this book. This would be a great book to share with art teachers.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: art, biography, compare/contrast


RELATED BOOKS: What Presidents Are Made Of by Hanoch Piven, Xtreme Sports Fast Track by Joe Layden, Amazing But True Sports Stories by Hollander

ART CONNECTIONS: (art work website of the author)


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

December 12, 2008

Haunting at Home Plate

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Haunting at Home Plate

Author: David Patneaude

Page Length: 181

Reading Level: 4.5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Nelson lives for baseball. The team seems play-off bound when their coach is suspended and no one is available to coach the remaining players. Nelson convinces his cousin Mike to take on the team. As the team begins to come together, they realize strengths they never knew they had. The boys learn how to really hit and become contenders for the championship. Yet as they practice, strange things begin to happen. Messages are left in the home plate dirt with the initials A.K. Mike tells the team the stories of Andy Kirk –a kid who died when he fell from the tree behind home plate. Who is really leaving these mysterious messages? Is the ghost of Andy Kirk haunting the field?

REVIEW: Baseball fans will love this book. The pacing is excellent – the added “ghost” story angle is entertaining. History is intertwined with the entry from 1946 and the talk of boys having been off fighting in the war. The author addresses how much Nelson longs for his father’s interaction and attention; the author makes a point of dad getting a job at home so that he can be there for his family. This book would be good read for sons and fathers and even girls who have played or enjoy the game of baseball. There is another story within the book of Gannon and his verbally abusive (trying to live his dreams through his son) father. The reader feels Gannon’s humiliation and pain at his father’s public displays and his struggles to please someone who will never consider his efforts enough.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, cause and effect, internal conflict, external conflict, foreshadowing, elements of plot, author’s purpose

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Gannon’s excessive verbally abusive, angry father

RELATED BOOKS: Thin Wood Walls, Colder Than Ice, Deadly Drive, Framed in Fire, The Last Man’s Reward, A Piece of the Sky


RELATED MOVIES: “Angels in the Outfield,” “The Sandlot,” “A League of Their Own”



REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

December 7, 2008

Wrestling Sturbridge

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Wrestling Sturbridge

Author: Rich Wallace

Page Length: 133

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Have you ever wanted something so bad you can almost taste it? Victory seems so close but it’s just out of reach? Benny is a member of the championship Sturbridge wrestling team. He wants to so badly to win state. The problem is that his friend Al is number one and no matter how hard he tries he just can’t seem to beat him. But Benny never gives up. Every challenge match he has, he tries to outdo Al. He can feel the drive and he’s determined to win. Can he out match Al? Will the coach even see his true talent before it’s too late?

REVIEW: For wrestling fans, this book is a must. For the rest of us, it’s still an interesting read because there is more depth to the story than just a wrestling match. Victory in wrestling symbolizes Benny’s victories over his life and insecurities. The book also details a mild romance between Kim and Benny and deals lightly with the fact that they are from two different races. I was a little confused by the dad’s habit of stealing things — it’s just almost seemed out of place and totally unnecessary for the book. Overall, the book is compact and the action of preparing for the next big match keeps the reader turning the page. The short descriptive facts between chapters also help the reader get to know Benny better (it develops a kinship with the reader almost as if he is revealing secrets about himself that no one else knows).

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence, author’s purpose, character motivations, point of view (Grandma about Kim), cause and effect

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: some mild race issues, under-age drinking, mild sexual references

RELATED BOOKS: Playing Without the Ball, The Roar of the Crowd, Losing Is Not an Option, Perpetual Check, One Good Punch, Emergency Quarterback 



REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

December 5, 2008

Learning the Game

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Learning the Game

Author: Kevin Waltman

Page Length: 217

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Nate isn’t the typical teenager. His parents are loaded but never notice him, he has a popular girlfriend who is all about appearances, and his brother is one of the town druggies. Nate wants to fit in with all the guys on the basketball court. One summer day, he is tested. Will he choose the team or what he knows is right? Will he stand by his friend or be bullied by Branson? Nate’s worked super hard on his game all summer, but the terrible truth of his actions just may cost him everything. A surprise call from his brother, a guilty conscience, and a chance that his team could suffer may be too much for Nate. Will he save himself, his team, his girlfriend, or his brother?

REVIEW: This book was fast paced and contained many important elements for teen readers: relationships, sexual tension, bullying and popularity, sports, and family. The moral to the story: telling the truth is the right thing to do – no matter what the consequences – could spark an interesting debate in the classroom – as the book is being read – what are his options? What could he (Nate) do instead? Should he tell or not?

The lessons about true friendships and relationships were important ones. I think that this book would be good for classroom study or for a small group instruction. Boys would generally be more drawn to it than girls and basketball lovers would especially understand Nate’s drive to be the best, make the Varsity starting line, and his descriptions of basketball action.

A secondary story is the disintegration of Nate’s family due to a previous event. When he was younger, he and his brother were at a friend’s house. His brother describes how they were looking at the gun, putting it away, and how it accidentally went off. His friend was dead and his life was forever changed.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence, author’s purpose, character motivations, point of view, cause and effect, flow chart of decisions

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: accidental shooting, drugs (mild reference), drinking

RELATED BOOKS: Nowhere Fast, Push, Slam, Game, Hoops, Coach Carter, Summer in the City, Taking Sides

RELATED MOVIES: “Coach Carter,” “Believe in Me,” “Glory Road,” “Finding Forrester”            



REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

May 1, 2008

Danger Zone

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Danger Zone

Author: David Klass

Page Length: 232

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Jimmy Doyle is a small town all star basketball player in Minnesota. One night, scouts visit the game and invite Jimmy to play on the Teen Dream Team for the USA. He will spend the summer traveling in Europe and playing with the top teen athletes in the world. Jimmy is worried about his family but he reluctantly accepts.

When Jimmy arrives he is met with resistance. Not everyone thinks him worthy of being on the team. Jimmy must work hard to overcome his own fears and feelings of inadequacy. He was chosen for a reason; when he finds his zone, there is no stopping him.

The Dream Team encounters hatred and racism in a game against the Germans. Soon there are threats of violence and everyone is on alert for a terrorist act. Some of the team members return to the states. Will Jimmy stay and face his biggest fears yet? Can the Dream Team stay focused and unify to defeat the other teams and clinch the World Championship? Will they even make it back home alive?

REVIEW: This is a great book. Students who love action and sports will enjoy reading this book. As a teaching tool, it also addresses stereotypes, racism, cultural diversity, perseverance, and strength of character. This book would be good for a classroom novel read aloud with discussion.

Klass’s main character, Jimmy, is a strong role model. He remains dedicated to his sport. He places the interest of his family over those of himself. Despite his fame, he remains true to his girlfriend and his own belief system. His courage and desire to overcome prejudice make him a notable character and a great example.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: summarization, compare and contrast, cause and effect, sequence of events, predictions, inferences

TOUCHY AREAS: terroristic threats, ethnic and racial tension

RELATED BOOKS: Wrestling with Honor, California Blue, Home of the Braves, You Don’t Know Me

RELATED MOVIES: Mighty Ducks, Remember the Titans, Hoosiers


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

No More Dead Dogs

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No More Dead Dogs

Author: Gordon Korman

Page Length: 180

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY #1: Wallace is a popular eighth grader with only one fault: he only tells the truth. Unfortunately, some people just aren’t ready to hear the truth. Wallace’s bad luck begins when he writes a review of his English teacher’s favorite book. Wallace hates the book and Mr. Fogelman hates his review. He sentences Wallace to detention until he turns in an acceptable review. Detention is held in the auditorium where drama practice is taking place. The drama club happens to be performing the play of the book (Old Shep, My Pal) Wallace had to review. Wallace begins to make suggestions for the performance and before long everyone is listening to him instead of Mr. Fogelman.

Strange things have begun to happen during rehearsals It seems as if someone is trying to sabotage the play. All eyes are on Wallace, but Wallace suspects his football teammates who are anxiously awaiting his glorious return to practice. After all, Wallace is the hero of the football team whose brilliant play clinched a title game (what everyone forgets is that Wallace sits the bench 80% of the time – he knows he is no football great, but no one else seems to realize it).

Rumors circulate because Parker Schmidt only ever gets part of the facts before he embellishes the story he prints in the paper. The play begins to develop and Wallace finds that he is in no hurry to return to football practice. Trudi, an actress in the play, falls for Wallace and can’t wait to be his girlfriend. Her best friend, Rachel, can’t wait for Wallace’s sabotage of the play to be discovered. He disgusts her and she can’t wait to see him go. The big night is drawing near; the show is sold out, and the play and its cast may be in danger. Can Wallace discover the truth and save the show? Will everyone else learn to see Wallace for who he really is?

REVIEW #1: This book was cute and entertaining. I enjoyed how the chapters switched view points between the characters. Rachel’s letters to Julia Roberts were also a great technique for introducing her feelings about Wallace (the reader figures how she feels before she does). The fact that Wallace Wallace can not tell a lie leads the reader to question truths and lies – what they mean and where the line is drawn. Friendships are restored and Wallace perseveres through being abandoned by his teammates and being a suspect among the drama club. The ending is good and Wallace is an admirable character.

REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY #2: Wallace Wallace (last name same as the first), hero of his school football team, is a chronic truth teller. He is unable to tell a lie which sometimes makes life a little uncomfortable. When his eighth-grade English teacher assigns a book review on Old Shep, My Pal, Wallace follows the assignment to the letter giving his absolute honest opinion; he hated it. Unfortunately for Wallace, Old Shep, My Pal is his teacher’s all time favorite book and Mr. Fogelman can’t understand how anyone could dislike such a classic. Wallace however is sick and tired of reading books where the dog dies in the end and he refuses to change his report to the point of earning detention, which also gets him suspended from the football team.


The book makes the point that sometimes there is a valid reason to rebel. Wallace stands behind his conviction and makes a reasonable argument to his teacher saying he knew the dog was going to die before he even read the book because, “…the dog always dies. Go to the library and pick out a book with an award sticker and a dog on the cover. Trust me, that dog is going down.” He then lists several examples as his classmates begin to chime in, much to the teacher’s distress.


Wallace’s teacher is also directing the school play which is, no surprise, Old Shep, My Pal, and Wallace has to serve his detention by sitting in on play rehearsals.  Wallace never changes his mind as Mr. Fogelman hopes, but he does get involved with the play and ends up making changes to it that include rollerblades, a moped and a rock-and-roll band called The Dead Mangoes. 


What appealed to me about this book, aside from the humor, is that Wallace is never mean or disrespectful. He doesn’t try to change the play out of spite. Rather, he honestly thinks it could be better and the cast members agree with him. He even finally wins over Mr. Fogelman while staying true to himself. He is willing to accept whatever consequence he receives because he believes in himself. I think kids will get the point as well as enjoying the story.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: point of view, organization of text, voice, mood, character traits, plot

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: mild language – Wallace Wallace is referred to as “dumbass, dumbass”

RELATED BOOKS: Swindle, Schooled, Kidnapped, The Climb


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor & Sherry Hall

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