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December 19, 2010

The House on Mango Street

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The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros: Audio Book Cover

The House on Mango Street

Author: Sandra Cisneros

Page Length: 110

Reading Level: 6-12

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW: The House on Mango Street is a coming-of-age story told in short segments, vignettes, by the main character – Esperanza. She is a young, Hispanic girl who dreams of emerging from her current life of poverty to a life of independence. Esperanza desires to be set free like a bird in captivity.

Esperanza grows up amongst numerous family members and neighbors. Early in her life she travels from one “living situation” to another. When Esperanza’s family settles into their very own home on Mango Street, Esperanza realizes that this is not the home which their family has wished for. Never-the-less, Esperanza makes a life for herself in this new community. During her stay on Mango Street, Esperanza comes in contact (either directly or indirectly) with examples of racism, sexual harassment in the workplace, theft, education at a Catholic school, and physical abuse.

These experiences only add fuel to Esperanza’s fire to continue her storytelling and prepare for her eventual departure away from Mango Street.

This story seems almost as if it were written by Esperanza when she is older, reflecting back on her life as a child. Some background information on Hispanic culture and vocabulary would be helpful to students. The book is a wonderful read and should not be experienced in one sitting. Each of Cisneros’ short chapters is a gem in and of themselves. The vignettes spark interesting questions and analysis while standing alone on their own merit.

As much as Esperanza does not “love” her home life, I believe she truly does have a fond place in her heart for Mango Street. “Her story” is testament to this. I recommend this book to everyone!

AREAS FOR TEACHING: imagery, metaphor, setting, simile, characterization, poetry, symbolism

RELATED BOOKS: The Color Purple

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Mi Familia” (1995)


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

November 15, 2009


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Author: Walter Dean Myers

Page Length: 281

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Realistic Fiction, Drama

PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW: 16 year old Steve Harmon is on trial for felony murder. He is accused of taking part in a convenience store robbery where the shop owner is shot and killed. Steve Harmon is accused of being the “look out” during the robbery. James King, the accused shooter during the robbery, is also on trial. Both boys are represented by separate lawyers.

Steve decides to write a movie script about his time in jail and his time during the trial. He writes his thoughts and reflections on notebook paper in journal format and records the actual events of the trial in movie scene format. Steve’s love for movie scripts has been nurtured through his high school education so it is only natural for this teenager to express his emotions in such as format. Monster shifts back and forth between Steve’s loneliness in jail and the tension in the courtroom. In jail, Steve is left with his own thoughts about himself. He is left to reflect on how others view him. The prosecutor has labeled him a monster, his father looks at him in a different light, and Steve questions if his lawyer views him as guilty or not.

Many of the witnesses that testify against Steve are jail inmates themselves that have motives for their testimonies. This plays in favor for Steve. Steve’s lawyer tries her best to distance Steve from the other accused (James King, the shooter). Steve’s lawyer feels that if the jury can see a difference between Steve and James, then possibly the jury will see Steve as the good one of the two.

In the end, the jury finds James King guilty and Steve Harmon not guilty. When Steve turns to hug his lawyer in appreciation, his lawyer stiffens and turns away.

Monster is a creative example of the inner-workings of the mind of an accused teenager. Is Steve Harmon truly a monster or a victim of circumstance?

I would recommend that this book be read and studied as a group. The organization (movie script format) may be confusing for some. It is a good story that can generate discussion on a number of current topics.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: imagery, vocabulary (ex. dispensary), reading in different formats: diary, movie script

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: language on pages 80 and 81, imagery of jail-death row, vague descriptions of sexual acts in jail

RELATED BOOKS: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

MEDIA CONNECTIONS: Law and Order – TV series

RELATED WEBSITES: (scroll down to the middle for 9 links) (scroll down to the middle for 6 links),M1  (copy of the book on-line through google)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

August 30, 2009


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Author: Eric Walters

Page Length: 101

Reading Level: 2.9

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Michael “The Moose” is a rising star on his football team. After winning the Division 2 championship game, Michael is ecstatic. However his joy is overshadowed by the fact that his coach, Coach Reeves, has decided to retire. Reeve’s replacement is a hot-shot, smooth-talker named Coach Barnes. Coach Barnes has new plans for his team and high aspirations at success at the Division 1 level.

In a matter of months, the school’s football facilities are totally renovated and the boys are placed under personal fitness guidance from a trainer named Tony. However, Tony not only provides the boys suggestions on how to improve their workouts on the new equipment, he persuades many of them to begin taking steroids.

Michael eventually begins to notice the effects of his steroids use (ie. acne, mood-swings, violence at home). The steroid usage at the school comes to a peak when Coach Reeves suddenly appears to explain that Coach Barnes and Tony have been taken into custody for their role in steroid usage/sales. Coach Reeves re-assumes the role of head coach and begins to repair the physical and emotional damage of his football team. Michael regrets his involvement in the steroid usage, while Coach Reeves expresses his faith that Michael will get beyond this dark chapter in his life.

REVIEW: I enjoyed this book. The comparisons between Coach Reeves and Coach Barnes are quite evident. The subject matter of steroids may be a little much for some, however there are several real world examples of sports players engaging in such illegal activity both at the professional level and amateur level. One such sport, Major League Baseball, has been in the news on countless occasions.  

I have found that many male students enjoy this book simply for the fact that it is about football. The addition of the steroids topic, brings the action and interest to another level. A discussion on the negative effects of steroids might prove beneficial. This book may even supplement a lesson in a health class.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause and effect, characterization, voice, dialogue

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: The topic of steroid usage – especially in a high school setting may be inappropriate for some.

RELATED BOOKS: No Problem by Gaetz

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Any Given Sunday” (1999)


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Dragon Rider

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Dragon Rider

Author: Cornelia Funke

Page Length: 523

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy

PLOT SUMMARY: Boy and dragon meet on a quest to save the existence of the remaining dragons on Earth. Humans have decided to flood the dragon’s current homeland so the dragons must decide where to relocate if they are going to survive. Firedrake (the dragon) befriends Ben (the human runaway boy). Along with several others characters, the group travels across the world in search of the “Rim of Heaven” where the dragons may live out their lives in peace high above the clouds.

However, on their quest they are chased after by an evil-spirited dragon named Nettlebrand who is intent on destroying Firedrake. The story is jam-packed with a homunculus spy, elves, dwarves, a professor, a brownie, and others. Will Firedrake reach the “Rim of Heaven”? Does this place even exist? Will Nettlebrand get his revenge and destroy all the dragons in existence? What happens to the runaway boy?

REVIEW: Even though I am not a fan of fantasy books, I thought the characters developed in this story were great. There is continual action and the dialogue is rich. Fans of the Harry Potter series might enjoy this book.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: voice, dialogue, good vs. evil, theme

RELATED BOOKS: the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, The Thief Lord, Inkspell, and Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: (movies about dragons)

RELATED WEBSITES: (quiz) (lesson plans and website links) (discussion questions)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

November 15, 2008

Bull’s Eye

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Bull’s Eye

Author: Sarah N. Harvey

Page Length: 98

Reading Level: 3.5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: After the death of Emily’s estranged Aunt Donna, a box arrives at Emily’s house. It is at this point that Emily discovers that Donna was actually her mother! In an attempt to struggle with her new emotions, Emily shuns Sandra (the woman who has taken care of her all her life). Sandra never told Emily that she was not her mother.

Emily goes through an identity crisis and run-offs to Vancouver to search for her unknown father. During her journey, Emily discovers that her father, Michael Keene, was a drama teacher at her mother’s (Donna’s) school. Emily also discovers that, while married to another woman, her father impregnated her mother while she was still a high school student. The scandal resulted in the firing of Michael Keene from the school and the birth of Emily. Emily is not able to speak to her father on the trip to Vancouver because, according to his son, Michael Jr., he has passed away.

Upon returning to her home, Emily continues to avoid Sandra. Emily takes out her frustrations in the form of spray-painting her school. This act later gets her into trouble with the police. In order to avoid jail-time, Emily participates in a Diversion program. She must complete volunteer work, attend counseling, and apologize to the student body.

While completing her community service at a children’s after-school program, Emily notices that one of the children, April, has suspicious burns on her body. Emily later reports this observation. Then, after some time, April is allowed to live with Emily and her mom who agree to take the child into foster-care. April asks Emily one day if they are sisters. Emily responds that no matter what happens or where they are, they will always be sisters (104).

REVIEW: I thought the author did a nice job closing the story. The last statement in my plot summary, where April asks Emily if they are sisters (when they really aren’t) and Emily responds that they are indeed sisters, shows that despite the realizations in Emily’s life about her REAL mother – life moves on. The title of “mother” and “sister” and “daughter” are as real as the relationship between people. Biological connections are one thing, but emotional connections are even stronger and more meaningful. Emily realizes this towards the end. The main issue that Emily had with Sandra is the fact that the truth was not revealed to her in the beginning.

Some student may respond to this story as it may relate to their own lives. Families now-a-days are comprised of all sorts of connections. The typical 4-person biological family of the past is not as prevalent as it once was. This book offers a different view-point on traditional standards as well as a little suspense in Emily’s search for her real father.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: simile (page 83), characterization, flashback, sequence of events

RELATED WEBSITES: (family structures, cool graph) (teacher’s guide to the book)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

September 21, 2008

One More Step

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One More Step

Author: Sheree Fitch

Page Length: 85

Reading Level: 2.5

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: 14 year old Julian lives with his older brother Chris and his divorced mother. Julian’s father separated from his mother when he was only 1 year old. As a result, Julian’s relationship with his father is not a close one. Their contact is limited to weekend and holiday visits. On a recent Christmas visit to their father’s home, Julian and Chris spend time with their father’s new wife, children, and their grandfather – Poppie. When Chris and father are sent outside to fix some broken Christmas lights, Chris’ leg is broken breaking the fall of his father. Julian becomes upset at the scene and decides to leave his father and join his mother and her new boyfriend, Jean-Paul, for a visit to Quebec. Jean-Paul intends for Julian’s mother to meet his huge family!

On this trip, Julian discovers that this “new man” in her mother’s life is a supportive and loving one. Jean-Paul and Julian bond and move several steps towards becoming a “family”. The past 14 years of Julian’s life have resulted in his mother dating 3 men – all with their flaws. His mother’s new French boyfriend, Jean-Paul, proves to be promising, despite Julian’s constant cocky and sarcastic attitude.

Towards the end of the Quebec trip, Julian’s mother gets a call that her father, Poppie, has passed away. This is a blow to Julian, who was very close to his grandfather. The story comes to a close with Julian’s mother marrying Jean-Paul, Chris going off to school, and Julian realizing that Jean-Paul is not going to be his replacement father but rather a supportive male presence.   

REVIEW: I enjoyed this book. I thought the internal and external dialogue of Julian was awesome. It kept me engaged. For a book written at a 2nd to 3rd grade level, I was entertained. The topic of divorce, separation, and new family figures is a touchy one, and I felt the author did an excellent job portraying the emotions, change, and acceptance that comes with this frequent situation in society. The book overall had a positive tone yet the youthful sarcastic elements remained. This certified it as authentic. Even though there were numerous curse words, this gave the dialogue true and real meaning.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: voice, internal & external dialogue

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: curse words (pages 47 & 54), references to underage drinking (page 65 & 79-82), references to items such as condoms and hickeys

RELATED BOOKS: Dear Mr. Henshaw, It’s Not the End of the World

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979), “Boys N the Hood” (1991)


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Zee’s Way

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Zee’s Way

Author: Kristin Butcher

Page Length: 104

Reading Level: 3.2

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: John Zeelander, “Zee”, is a teenager looking for something fun to do. In a city where there are few opportunities for social entertainment and community involvement, Zee turns to his friends and abandoned shopping centers for “fun”. Fun for this group of teenagers refers to playing soccer and just “hanging around”. However, “hanging around” is seen by adults in this town as mischief and questionable activity. When Zee and his friends begin hanging around a newly opened shopping center, they are quickly branded as outsiders and refused entrance into some of the shops.

One of the reasons Zee and his friends are discriminated upon is because they look different – they have shaved heads, colored hair, tattoos, piercings, and leather. The adults who own the stores and those that shop at them unfairly discriminate based on age and appearance. Zee’s friends are not into drugs or major crimes. If they are to be charged with a crime it is boredom. Boredom leads Zee, a talented artist, to spray paint graffiti on the side of the local hardware store. He also spray paints this store wall out of frustration for his friends’ and his discrimination.

When Zee is caught spray-painting by the owner of the hard ware store, the owner expects Zee to pay him back for his vandalism by painting an appropriate mural on the side of his building. Zee reluctantly agrees despite the heckling from his peers. While painting the mural, the older patrons of the shopping center begin to change their mind-set about Zee and youth in general. Zee now becomes the central force in bridging the gap between the youth of his neighborhood and the older citizens. This change and unification is reflected in Zee’s finished mural (page 102).

In the end, a compromise is reached, and Zee and his friends are allowed to hang out in a little space (vacated by a previous owner) attached to the shopping center. 

REVIEW: This book was an easy read, however I felt the ending was not explained in detail. The compromise was ok, however it does not truly address the problem of a lack of socialization and community involvement for youth. Giving these young boys a small building to “hang out” just does not seem adequate.

I did like how graffiti and other forms of art were woven throughout the story, however the main issues of community resources just did not seem to be appropriately addressed.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: compare/contrast, characterization, discussion on ageism and discrimination based on appearance

RELATED BOOKS: Journey (mother who leaves the family), Message in a Bottle (loss of wife and art)

ART CONNECTIONS: (trompe l’ oeil) (graffiti)

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Sister Act” (1992) – graffiti scenes

RELATED WEBSITES:’s+way&pg=PP1&ots=nNlWqli62R&sig=haJlDmdu3x6FyL0rvBm0RbEUOkw&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

LeRoy and the Old Man

LeRoy and the Old Man

Author: W. E. Butterworth

Page Length: 168

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: LeRoy Chambers is the sole witness to a murder by a local Chicago gang called the “Wolves”. To escape police questioning as well as the rath of the gang who does not want LeRoy to sqeal on them, LeRoy is sent by his mother to Pass Christian, Mississippi. It is here that LeRoy is to live with his grandfather. Upon arrival in a New Orleans bus station, LeRoy meets his grandfather for the first time. However, this is one of many firsts in LeRoy’s new adventure.

Living with his grandfather, LeRoy learns how to sleep on a boat, how to catch shrimp and crabs, how to saw lumber, how to buy and sell goods, and even how to drive a truck. LeRoy also learns about the Cajun culture of which is a part of his heritage. However, one thing that LeRoy is not able to learn much about is his father. His father ran away from he and his mother many years ago. LeRoy’s grandfather will not talk about LeRoy’s father because of this.

When the Chicago police come looking for LeRoy in Mississippi to testify as a material witness to the murder he saw, LeRoy has serious reservations. LeRoy understands that he is the only person who saw the Wolves murder an old woman in his housing development. However, LeRoy is scared that if the Wolves see him in court, he may not get out of Chicago alive. LeRoy’s grandfather as well as the local Mississipi sheriff agree that LeRoy must go to Chicago. However, LeRoy’s father (who arranges to surprise LeRoy in a New Orleans restaurant) thinks that LeRoy should steal away to New York with him. LeRoy, even though he is angered to see his father after so long, is tempted to accompany his dad. However, in the end, the respect LeRoy has for his grandfather and the new life he has started to build in Pass Christian, Mississippi trumps his father’s wishes as well as the fear he has to testify in court (page 165).

REVIEW: Despite the boring title and the less than appealing book cover, LeRoy and the Old Man was a great story. It was suspenseful, humorous, mysterious and gut wrenching. I loved the character of the grandfather. His dialogue kept me reading on and on. I was intrigued by the southern Cajun setting. The elements of Mississippi / Louisiana culture, food, dialect, and community pride are beautifully interwoven in this story. Also, the stark contrasts between life in Chicago and life in New Orleans is effective.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause/effect, comparison/contrast (grandfather, father, son)

RELATED WEBSITES: (culture referred to in the story) (official site of Pass Christian, Mississippi)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton



Author: Paul Fleischman

Page Length: 102

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW: While focusing on a worn-down inner-city Cleveland community, the author does an excellent job blending the perspectives of 13 individuals. Even though all the characters are as different as night and day, they become unified through a vacant lot turned garden paradise.

I truly enjoyed this book because it approached the topic of differences (age, gender, race, and culture) in a unique way. The transformation of the community’s rat infested vacant lot into a garden begins with a little Vietnamese girl, Kim, searching for a way to gain attention from her deceased father. In her search, Kim decides to plant some beans in the hard ground of the lot next to her residence. This act stirs-up curiosity as well as motivation from the others who live near by. Slowly the other 12 characters begin to approach the lot and add their own “seeds” to the ground. Not only does this diverse group of individuals begin planting their own vegetables and flowers, they begin “planting” their own personalities amongst each other’s presence – sharing their stories and personalities to a community that has been scared to walk the streets!

Gradually this community witnesses a social transformation powered by the act of one little girl’s small plot of beans. The community garden is a symbol of change, promise, and hope to this group of strangers turned friends. Many of the characters in this book gained various modes of inspiration – inspiration to walk outside of their apartments, inspiration to reconnect with a past loved one, inspiration to better their financial situation, inspiration to move beyond a life of seclusion, inspiration to clean up their town, etc.

In several communities across the United States, Seedfolks has been chosen as a “citywide read”. The power of collective reading and group change shines through this story. I highly recommend this book!!!

AREAS FOR TEACHING: characterization, point-of-view, cause/effect

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: racial overtones and descriptions are prevalent throughout the book, however the context of them is appropriate, the word “marijuana” is used (page 32), biblical comparisons are stated several times in the story

RELATED BOOKS: Bull Run (similar style of writing with it’s varied use of point of view)


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

July 7, 2008

The Clay Marble

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The Clay Marble

Author: Minfong Ho

Page Length: 163

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Dara is a 12 year old girl who grows up in a war-torn Cambodia during the 1980’s. Her mother, brother (Sarun), and she are forced to move from their own town to the border of Cambodia and Thailand to settle at a refugee camp. Fighting between several factions in Cambodia, communist rule, and Vietnamese invasions cause many Cambodian citizens to relocate to this safer ground. At the refugee camp, Dara meets a girl around her age – Jantu. The two girls form a close relationship and learn that “playing with dolls” is the best way for them to take their minds off the violence in their country as well as the loss of some members of their families. As Dara and Jantu become closer, they come to view each other as “family members”. The view of family is a major theme in this novel. Many families in Cambodia are displaced during this time, however the bonds of humanity bring together people in the most desperate of times. Around this time in the story, Jantu gives Dara a clay marble for support and encouragement during this stressful period.

Shortly after Dara and Jantu meet each other, fighting begins again near the refugee camp. As a result, their families begin to move further into Thailand territory. When Jantu and Dara recognize a food truck on their trek away from the camp, they become displaced from their families. It is at this point on page 62, that the action in the book becomes heightened. Jantu is transported to a hospital to tend to her baby brother, while Dara goes on her own to search for her mother and Sarun. After several journeys to numerous sites, Dara finds her family. Dara discovers at this point that her brother is training to become a soldier in the war in Cambodia. Disgusted, Dara leaves to find Jantu and take her home from the hospital.

As Dara and Jantu return home, Jantu is mistakenly shot by a group of soldiers, one of which is Dara’s brother! Sarun does not seem too affected by the incident and continues his desire to become an official soldier. However, Dara’s desire is to return everyone home to their original village as the fighting has subsided. However, Sarun seems adamant about staying to live his life as a soldier. Dara, with the help of the other family members, begin preparations to leave for home. On page 150, after the death of Jantu and increased stubbornness from her brother, Dora explains what she has experienced recently and how courage is not just about fighting – it’s about finding peace and establishing order for one’s family. After hearing his sister’s passion, Sarun reluctantly decides to follow his family home.

On the way home, Dara drops her clay marbles onto the ground while realizing that they were just a symbol of something that she has had with her for quite some time – courage and bravery. Over the course of her travels and adventures during the fighting in her country, Dara has gained both traits that will carry her throughout her life.

REVIEW: The preface was very helpful in understanding the context of the story. Many of the elements in the book are fiction, however the basic conflicts that Cambodia has experienced during the 70’s and 80’s are very much true. Struggling readers will find this book difficult to understand due to many of the vocabulary words associated with the culture. The historical events would be hard for struggling readers to understand unless they were given ample information before-hand. As I mentioned, the preface helps, however the reading level of this book is rather high. Never-the-less, tt was very interesting to read a story based on Asian history.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: reading a map, setting, analogy (page 38-39), symbolism (mud ball – simplicity, magic, comfort), simile (page 69), historical context, vocabulary: tamarind (page 3) spate (page 5) gaunt (page 6) sinewy (page 14) deft (page 39) wistful (page 119) & distended (page 122)

RELATED BOOKS: Little Brother


MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “The Killing Fields” (1984)


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

January 24, 2008

Love That Dog

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Love That Dog

Author: Sharon Creech

Page Length: 86

Reading Level: 6th

Genre: Poetry


REVIEW: It is funny how the title is Love That Dog. I really love this book. I don’t know if it is the yellow cover, the blue print, the poetic twist on prose writing, the point-of-view of a young student, or the connections to famous poems. I just really enjoyed reading this book. It was an easy read, however as with all poetry you can sit and think about the words/meanings for hours.


The book first caught my glance as being the only yellow book I have in my classroom. It also brings me back to an interesting observation I had last year in my freshman English class. I had this student who was quite “difficult”. We have all had them. After I disciplined him for inappropriate behavior, he walked away and sat down with his head on the desk. After about 20 minutes, I watched out of the corner of my eye, to see this student pick up Love That Dog and start to silently read it. I could tell he was actually trying to read it, because his lips were moving. Now this is a student that I thought would never, ever, ever, read a book on his own. But he did. I suppose it was the topic or maybe it was the poetry. I do regret however, that I never asked him about the book. Or, perhaps it was best not to ruin this “reading moment”.


I was surprised to find that this book is written all in poetry. It appears that a teacher named Miss Stretchberry has kept some journal writing that a student named Jack has composed. Actually, I am not sure if it is journal writing or simple notes made to the teacher about poetry. At first, Jack does not understand, nor enjoy poetry. However, as the poetic story progresses, we find that Jack indeed not only enjoys the poems themselves, but also some of the poets such as Walter Dean Myers. This book is great because it uses humor (such as when Jack states that Robert Frost has too much time on his hands) and various examples of “plays on words” to illustrate a young boy’s feelings toward the topic of poetry.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: I am going to consider using many of the dated entries from this book as ice-breakers for my class when I introduce poetry. The very first entry on page 1 is the best:


“September 13


I don’t want to


because boys


don’t write poetry


Girls do.”


POETRY CONNECTIONS: Jack’s poem titled “My Yellow Dog” on page 37 is very creative. Also, his letter to Walter Dean Myers that starts on page 55 is touching. The letter asks if Mr. Myers would visit Jack’s school. Jack’s final poem on page 86 is wonderful (especially if you have read all the previous pages). The book is supplemented at the back with excerpts from famous poems by Walter Dean Myers, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, William Blake, Valerie Worth, Arnold Adoff, and S. C. Rigg (who happens to have a great example of a shape-poem). Finally, the book contains 13 Literature Circle Questions and 4 activities that can be used in the classroom.


Sometimes beauty can be found in the smallest of places, and I believe this poetic book of 86 pages is one such example. It is a must read for all teachers and those who love or “might not” love poetry. Enjoy!




REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton


January 23, 2008


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Author: Sharon Creech

Page Length: 180

Reading Level: 5th

Genre: Poetry


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: The cover of this book is very appealing. A clean white background with a shiny yellow/orange apple attracts the attention of the writer. However the title, Heartbeat, does not exactly fit with the front illustration. One would think this book might be about nutrition, health, or dieting. However, that is not the case at all.


The story is written in the format of poetry. It is easy to follow. The main character is Annie. Her greatest joy is running, and she runs everywhere! Annie also loves to draw.


However, Annie has fears too. She has stated ones such as war, being left alone, and dying. She also has unstated fears such as change and growing up. Many things in her life are occurring all at once. Her mother is pregnant, her grandfather who lives with her is forgetting many things, and her best-friend Max has good days and bad ones. In this story, Annie is trying to make sense of it all.


Starting on page 51, the author begins to use the tool of footnotes, for humor and effect. Annie has learned about footnotes in Mr. Welling’s class. On page 59, we are introduced to the apple assignment in Annie’s art class. The students each have a real apple from which to draw. They are to draw one picture of an apple a day for 100 days. The teacher feels that through this assignment, the students will discover the “un-ordinary-ness” of an apple. As weeks progress, Annie’s apple changes in appearance. The apple is a metaphor for change in Annie’s life.


The apple ultimately gets bitten into by Annie’s grandpa. At first, Annie is sad. But then she realizes that she can alter her project by drawing the apple with the bite in it. Each picture from then on would have less and less of the apple exterior drawn. In the end, what will remain will be the tiny seed. The seed is a metaphor for new beginnings, life, and creation.


The author enjoys the use of repetition. For example, “flip, flip, flip” give us a sense that we can see pages turning in Grandpa’s photo album as he attempts to remember his past. Annie is experiencing the pain and confusion her grandfather is going through. It appears that he has a condition similar to Alzheimer’s. Also, “thump-thump, thump-thump”, makes us feel as if we can hear a baby’s heartbeat in the womb of Annie’s mother. Annie is mesmerized by the fact that an “alien baby”, as she calls it, is growing inside her mother.


The quietist moment in the book is when Annie’s new brother, Joey, is born. Here he is lying on a blue sheet in the birthing center and not moving. I was shocked and did not know what would happen next. Fortunately, with a few puffs of oxygen, the baby begins to breathe normal.


In terms of more change, Max (Annie’s running partner) joins a school team. Also, girls begin to feel attracted toward him. Annie is not fazed by this and desires Max to be her running partner for a little while longer. She wants to hold on to her present friendship with him, still knowing that change is inevitable.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: This story is a simple one about adolescent change. I would use this book to talk about theme and poetic devices. On page 106, I was amused by the section titled, “Forbidden Words”. Mr. Welling, posted a list of words on the board that students are not to use: very, like, ya know?, uh, well, stuff, and yeah. I found this funny because I had come up with a similar list myself in my classroom. I believe I would add the words “stuff” and “cuz” to the list. On page 120, a “Treasure of Words” list is shown. Mr. Welling lists words such as thrilling, sensational, and exhilarating. These are to replace the forbidden words in class.




REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton


January 11, 2008

Next Summer

Filed under: N — thebookreviews @ 2:27 am
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Next Summer

Author: Hailey Abbott

Page Length: 230

Reading Level: Unknown

Genre: Realistic Fiction


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: This book is about the Northeast summer adventures of two sisters – Ella Tuttle and Kelsi Tuttle as well as their cousin Beth. The cover of the book suggests that this story may be a little “scandalous”. The top of the cover states, “a Summer Boys novel”, however this is not a book for boys but rather one about girls flirting with boys. Boys are described much more than girls are in this book. This story also contains all the drama that teenage love and romance entails. I would not recommend this book to a male. The book is written in third-person but focuses primarily on the actions of the three Tuttle girls and the boys they come into contact with. This book is one in a series.


The story starts off at the beginning of summer. Beth is a little sad that she is leaving her boyfriend George to go off to Pebble Beach with her cousins. George has chosen to stay behind, work, and save money for the fall. Ella and Kelsi are going to make the trip as well to the beach to stay at the family cottage. The reader finds out early on that something bad happened last summer – Ella cheated with Kelsi’s ex-boyfriend Peter. Ella has chosen to keep this act a secret for a year now. The guilt that Ella feels quickly lessens (for now) as the sight of the beach comes into view.


Jamie Tuttle is another cousin in this book that was unable to make it to the beach. She has chosen to attend Amherst for a summer writing program. However, conversations between her and the other girls happen via e-mail.


To put it simply: Beth is the one with the boyfriend this summer, Kelsi is the new-age girl who is more attractive than she thinks, and Ella is the girl that teases and entices boys all the time. Ella is pretty and she knows it. This has gotten her into trouble often.


Drama quickly begins and continues. All three girls end up getting into “trouble”. Beth ends up cheating on George with a lifeguard named Adam (who is quite a lot like George). However, at first, Beth tries to hook Kelsi up with Adam so as to try to forget her attraction to him. Unfortunately, Kelsi does not feel attracted to Adam very much. Kelsi instead is attracted to Tim, a jock and a type of guy who she would have never thought she would be interested in.


On the other hand, Ella is off flirting with all the out-going boys including one named Inigo who did not speak English. She later comes upon a boy named Jeremy who is quite shy – not the type that Ella would normally be attracted to. They end up forming a lasting and meaningful relationship. Ella learns a lesson that surprises come in all personality types.


There are two peaks in this novel: one occurred when Kelsi finds out that Ella made out with her ex-boyfriend. Another is when George discovers that Beth has been involved with Adam, the lifeguard.


Things settle down pretty quickly toward the end of the book and it seems that the story wraps up quite nicely – Beth and George make-up, Ella finds a meaningful, wholesome boy to date, and Kelsi surprises herself by falling in love with a total opposite.


If my review seems a “mess”, it is because the book is a “mess” which is what I believe the author wanted to convey to the reader. Teenage love is a disordered state. As the author writes on page 229, “this summer had been messy in so many ways”.


TOUCHY AREAS: A few words of caution to the more conservative reader: there are references to the act of intercourse and terms used to describe individuals who are on the promiscuous side. No sexual acts in the book are explicit but they are alluded to.  Also, descriptions of the Tuttle girls drinking alcohol are present in some parts.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: This book would appeal to many students due to its real-life dramas and current themes. If you were to use this story for teaching a lesson, I would highlight the skills of compare/contrast or characterization.




REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton


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