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

The Haunted House

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The Haunted House by Peggy Parish: Book Cover

The Haunted House

Author: Peggy Parish

Page Length: 151

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Bill, Liza, and Ted have just found out that they are moving. All three of them are sad because they know how much they will miss their friends next door. Not only are they moving, but they are moving into the old Blake place which everyone says is haunted! After they arrive at their new home, strange things begin to happen. Mysterious messages are left. The kids must face their fears and discover who or what is behind the mysterious events.

REVIEW: The book appears more interesting (cover art and cover teaser) than it actually is. Although there is great potential for an enthralling story, the book was obviously written for a younger audience and was written to be mysterious but not in any way frightening. I think this book would be great for 2nd or 3rd graders but would completely bore an older student. This book is a cute story for the little ones.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, character traits, cause and effect


RELATED BOOKS:  Amelia Bedelia books, Clues in the Woods, The Ghosts of Cougar Islands, Key to the Treasure


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Gathering Blue

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Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry: Book Cover 

Gathering Blue

Author: Lois Lowry

Page Length: 215


Reading Level: 6


Genre: Fiction


Career Connections: none         

PLOT SUMMARY: Kira should never have been allowed to live in the village ruled by the Council of Guardians.  She had a twisted leg and disabled children were cast out and left to die.  However, her father had been a great warrior and her grandfather a leader of the village, so she was allowed to live with her mother and learn the skills of a weaver. 

When her mother became ill and died, Kira was brought before the Council and accused of being a nuisance to the community.  She was defended by Jamison, one of the Council members and allowed not only to remain alive, but was moved into the Council’s quarters to become the official weaver of the village with lavish surroundings and food, unlike the impoverished people of the community.

Here, she met Thomas, who had a special talent of carving.  The two of them discovered, Jo, another child being trained to be the future singer of the village.  When Annabella, Kira’s dying teacher, suddenly passes away, Kira begins to question the deaths of the three young apprentices’ parents. She realizes that the children had been predestined with a role in the village’s future.

REVIEW: This is a dystopian novel which finds a village of very poor, undernourished people ruled by a Council of Guardians.  Students who enjoy reading about the future would like this book.


AREAS OF TEACHING: Setting, Conflict, Cause/Effect, and Character

RELATED BOOKS: Giver, Messenger, The Silent Boy, The Hunger Games


MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The Final Cut (2004), Fortress (1993)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

September 28, 2009

Haunted Schools

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Haunted Schools

Author: Allan Zullo

Page Length: 128  

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Non-Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: This is a collection of nine stories of ghosts and spirits who are haunting schools.  The first begins with two teen-age boys, Troy and Cody, coming in contact with a former teacher of a school.  Next, a new girl on the playground turns out to be a former classmate of the current teacher.  When a boy dies from a heart condition, his football team goes undefeated with a little help from the twelfth man. After two girls break a school rule by bringing an Ouigi board into their room, students start getting mysterious kisses.  An unknown drama student and graduate appear in two of the stories and in almost every story there is an eeriness that the reader cannot fully comprehend.

REVIEW: It is hard to believe that all of these stories are true. The plots of each of the stories would make a good horror movie, because the events are unbelievable. This book could be used as a unit study during October.  Then, on Halloween the students could dress as their favorite “ghost”. I thought the stories were entertaining and would appeal to the reluctant reader because they are short and easy to read.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Theme, Character, Setting, Compare/Contrast, and Cause/Effect

RELATED BOOKS: The Haunted Kid Series: The Haunted Graveyard, The Haunted Shortstop, Haunted Kids, More Haunted Kids, Haunted Teachers, Haunted Animal, Haunted Campus, Totally Haunted Kids

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: The Haunted School (2007- Chinese)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

November 3, 2008

The Golden Compass

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The Golden Compass

Author: Philip Pullman

Page Length: 351

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy     

PLOT SUMMARY: The story begins when Lyra Belacquat, a 12 –year-old girl, living at Jordan College, in Oxford secretly enters and hides in the “Retiring Room” and discovers the master is trying to poison Lord Asriel.  Lyra, and all the residents of Oxford, each have their own daemon, an animal-formed, manifestation of their soul.  Lyra’s daemon, Pantalaimon, advised her not to enter the room. Lyra warns Lord Asriel about the attempted poisoning and Lord Asriel leaves and travels to the North Arctic. As children begin disappearing from the town, Lyra vows to find out where they are being taken.  When the master learns of this, he gives Lyra a sacred object, an alethiometer.  He also agrees for Mrs. Coulter, head of the General Oblation Board, to take Lyra to live with her.  Lyra learns that Mrs. Coulter and the GOB are the ones responsible for the kidnapping of the children. Lyra runs away from Mrs. Coulter and joins a group of nomads. They  help her engage an armoured bear, Iorek Byrnison, who aids her in  the  search for the children and to eventually find Lord Asriel in the North.

 REVIEW: This book of Lyra’s journey to discover why the “grown-ups” in the story are kidnapping children is an adventure filled with fantasy and imagination.  The armoured bear, Iorek Byrnison, has a well-developed character, as does, Lyra’s daemon, Pantalaimon.  Those who enjoyed the Hobbit trilogy and the Harry Potter series would also like The Golden Compass, the first in Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy.  The movie website is interesting. You can take a test and have your own daemon assigned to you.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Vocabulary- daemon, naphtha (p. 39), malodorous (p. 39), brantwign (p. 42), basilisk (p. 43), zeppelin, alethiometer (p.65), macaw (p.78), lorgnette, Theme, Character

RELATED BOOKS: The Subtle Knife, Book ll, The Amber Spyglass, Book III

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: The Golden Compass (2007)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

April 12, 2008

Stepping on the Cracks

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Stepping on the Cracks

Author: Mary Downing Hahn

Page Length: 216

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Historical-Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Stepping on the Cracks is about the childhood adventures of two girls – Margaret & Elizabeth. They live in the small town of College Hill during the 1940’s. At this time, World War II is in full force. While the girls are attending grade school, their brothers are overseas fighting the German and Japanese forces. While the war sets the mood for much of the story, the girls try to maintain their childhood laughter and sense of fun.

Margaret and Elizabeth, as noted on the back of the book, are fighting their own personal war with Gordy – the town’s bully. Little do they know that under Gordy’s thick skin lie several secrets. Gordy’s father is physically abusive to his family and Gordy’s brother (Stuart) has run away from his military duties and is hiding out in the nearby woods.

When Magaret and Elizabeth discover Gordy’s brother, they at first use this knowledge as leverage against Gordy. However, the girls later decide to do something useful and help Gordy’s brother who is sick with pneumonia. The children keep Stuart a secret for as long as they can until Stuart’s sickness becomes too severe to manage on their own. As time elapses, members of the town become aware of Stuart’s presence. Later on, Stuart confronts his abusive father who in turn almost beats Stuart to death.

The story wraps up with Gordy and his family moving away from their abusive father and Stuart marrying one of the town’s widows, Barbara.

REVIEW: The story gets it’s title from a simple childhood game of “step on a crack, and break your mother’s back”. In this book, it’s “step on a crack, break Hitler’s back”. This highlights one way in which the war has infiltrated the world of children.

On page 113, there is a poem that hits at the heart of much of this story. Enemies are all around the world from far distant countries to local small towns, and given the right circumstances, enemies can turn into friends. 

I enjoyed this book as it was an easy read. It cast a different perspective on the sometimes over done and dry topic of war. The link between “war at home” and “war abroad” is a strong one. 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: One could use this story to teach the TEKS of conflict, historical context, compare/contrast (between Margaret & Elizabeth), characterization (of Gordy), and theme (of enemies & war at home & abroad).

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Even though the reader can infer that physical abuse occurs in this story, there are no graphic scenes to mention.

RELATED BOOKS: Summer of My German Soldier

RELATED WEBSITES: (bullies in Children’s Literature) (powerpoint)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

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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