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January 1, 2011

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


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 


 “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


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

August 30, 2009



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

January 18, 2009

Boy Meets Boy

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Boys Meets Boy

Author: David Levithan

Page Length: 185

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Paul is in his sophomore year of high school. He has an angry and bitter ex named Kyle. One of Paul’s friends is Infinite Darlene (formerly known as Daryl) who is both the homecoming queen and the star quarterback on the football team. Joni, his best friend, has always been there for him until recently. Tony, Paul’s other best friend, has super religious parents who won’t let Tony hang around him because he’s gay. Everything seems to be going terribly wrong until Paul meets Noah. As their relationship begins to develop, the world around Paul seems to unravel. It isn’t long before everything he holds dear is in jeopardy. Will Paul find what he’s looking for before it’s too late?

REVIEW: This book is like every other David Levithan book I have read – a little on the strange side (out there in an alternate reality perhaps). However, the book is an interesting read filled with the common teenage angst and the need everyone has to discover who they are and what they want from life. The story is interesting and dramatic enough to keep students turning the page to find out: if Joni will ever come to her senses, if Kyle will forgive Noah, and if Tony’s parents will ever understand and accept who he is.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  sequence of events, character traits, elements of plot, author’s purpose, use of dialogue

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: gay relationships – girls and boys

RELATED BOOKS: The Realm of Possibility, Are We There Yet?, Marly’s Ghost, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Wide Awake, Naomi & Ely’s No Kiss List


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

December 1, 2008


Twilight (Book 1 in the Twilight Series)

Author: Stephenie Meyer

Page Length: 498

Reading Level: 5.6

Genre: Fiction, Suspense, Romance

PLOT SUMMARY: After Bella Swan moves away from her mother in Phoenix to live with her father in the gloomy city of Forks, she befriends a mysterious teenage boy named Edward Cullen. However, “befriends” is not exactly the most appropriate way to describe the evolution of Bella and Edward’s relationship. The two teenagers fall madly in love with each other! Bella is most attracted to how beautiful, odd, and different Edward is to all the other boys in Forks. Edward is attracted to the way Bella “smells” and her very “human” qualities.

Edward is different in that he is a vampire. Bella is different in that she is attracted to one. Many of the citizens of Forks view Edward and his family as different, however very few speak the word “vampire”. Edward explains to Bella that he and his “family” are vampires; the kind that abstain from feeding on human flesh. Edward goes on to say that he is greatly attracted to Bella in the primal sense and gives everything not to devour her in the literal sense. Oddly this does not seem to affect Bella who understands that even though Edward has a major craving to kill her, he also has an undying desire to love her. Edward is different in that he is battling two very opposing emotions.

Edward is a nearly 100 year old vampire in a teenage body that has discovered his first true love. Bella is a true teenager and has also discovered her first true love.

When outsider vampires arrive to Forks, they sniff out Bella as well as Edward’s attraction towards her. These new vampires begin their “hunt” for Bella. Edward’s family (good vampires) do all they can to protect Bella and evade these evil vampires. In the end, the evil vampires lose and Bella is saved. However, Bella has been bitten!!! Edward makes the decision to suck the venom out of Bella, thus saving her from becoming a vampire.

The novel ends with Edward taking Bella to their high school prom. At this event, Bella expresses her desire to become a vampire. Even though she knows why Edward sucked the blood from her, she wishes he hadn’t. Bella desires to become a vampire so she and Edward can live together for eternity in love. Edward does all he can to keep himself from giving in to her request. He kisses her ever so slightly on the neck as the first novel in the Twilight series closes.

REVIEW: I absolutely loved this book. I am not much for romance novels but setting a romance story within the backdrop of a gloomy town with vampires in it was brilliant. The nearly 500 pages went by quickly as I was consumed. Now, the first few chapters start out a little rough with over-usage of “big words” but this decreases as the story progresses. It did appear that Edward and Bella became attracted to each other rather quickly, but I believe the author was trying to portray an accurate depiction of true love. Much of the novel contains dialogue between Bella and Edward – Edward stating that he loves Bella deeply, but knows he could very easily kill her & Bella stating that she doesn’t care because she wants to be with him forever. This type of conservation occurs frequently – though a little repetitive (however I believe this is authentic dialogue when one considers that the characters are two teenagers in love).

The novel has created much buzz in the young adult literary world and has spawned the 2008 movie by the same name which, in it’s first weekend, made over $70 million. On the radio, web, and conversations with teachers, I have heard such things as, “my male students want to be Edward Cullen”, “I know someone who broke up with her boyfriend because of the book”, and “I have read this book 3 times in one week”. All three statements are pretty extreme, yet very real.

Books can have an amazing impact on readers, and Twilight is one (in a series) that I believe falls into such a category.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: good vs. evil, foreshadowing, characterization, & setting. Before you read: make sure you read the Genesis quote at the beginning as well as the Preface. After reading, go back and read both again. Both of these sections can create some good discussion topics.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Nothing of major concern is contained in this novel. Some may find that the topics of teenage love and vampires unfavorable, however there are no sexual acts contained in the book. Even though this book is more a romance novel than one about vampires, only mild kissing is present.

RELATED BOOKS: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, The Twilight Companion: The Unauthorized Guide to the Series by Lois Gresh, Twilight Saga: The Official Guide by Stephenie Meyer, other books in the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer: New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn, & Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

MOVIE CONNETIONS: “Twilight” (2008)


RELATED WEBSITES: (awesome lesson plans, rubrics, and activities for the classroom related to the novel) (Twilight Quiz – which character are you?) (official website of the author) (official movie website)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

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