The Book Reviews – Website

January 1, 2011

What They Always Tell Us

What They Always Tell Us

Author: Martin Wilson

Page Length: 288

Reading Level: 4.8

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Career Connection: None

PLOT SUMMARY: James and Alex have grown up together as close siblings. People often considered them twins because they were similar in many ways. James and Alex are one grade level apart. The book takes the reader through an entire year of high school – James’ senior year and Alex’s junior year.

The school year begins with a big party at which time Alex chugs down a bottle of Pine Sol. He is rushed to the hospital where he fortunately recovers. However no one, not even his once close brother, knows why Alex attempted suicide.

Alex’s beginning junior year is filled with studying, visits to his therapist, and avoidance from former friends such as Tyler. Alex becomes an isolated homebody, a recluse.

James’ beginning senior year is filled with questions about his brother’s suicide attempt and daily “weird” behavior.

When James’ friend, Nathen, befriends Alex, Nathen encourages Alex to try out for the cross-country team. To prepare, Nathen and Alex begin a training workout together and develop a close friendship. At first, James is glad that his brother is out of the house and doing something “normal”. However, little does he know that the side activities that Nathen and Alex engage in are more intimate than mere cross-country teammates.

REVIEW: This is a beautifully written coming-of-age story for both Alex and James – two brothers that were once close and have now grown apart due to lack of communication. The reader will discover the character of Alex as one who is caught in the confusing maturation process during high school – cut off from his friends because he is “not acting like them” – not dating, not chasing girls. Alex’s cry for attention during his suicide attempt backfires for him as he experiences increased bullying from former friends. However, once James realizes his brother’s “true feelings”, the two grow closer together once more.

This is a great story of brotherly bonding. The story works because this is the central theme of the story – not the supplemental gay themes. However, both are intertwined. The gay relationship and intimate scenes between Nathen and Alex are maturely written in context of the plot.

Any male who has a brother struggling with a part of themselves as they mature will understand this story. This story contains characters with fresh voices. It is a book that is calmly written and one that will take many readers with siblings on a trip down memory lane.  

There is also an intriguing subplot in this story that deals with a young boy named Henry in search of his real father.

This book is written in third-person point-of-view. Odd-numbered chapters focus on Alex while even-numbered chapters focus on James.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: characterization, text to world, compare/contrast, prediction

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: there are several pages that list words such as “gay, faggot, queer”, a few scenes depict intimate scenes between two teenage males, and page 120 depicts one of those scenes

RELATED BOOKS: Crush by Carrie Mac, Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan, Big Guy by Robin Stevenson, Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher, Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde, Rage: A Love Story by Julie Anne Peters

RELATED WEBSITES: (GLBTQ book discussion guide) (author’s website) (podcast)

REVIEWED BY: K. Stratton


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

August 30, 2009

Postcards from No Man’s Land

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Postcards from No Man’s Land

Author: Aidean Chambers

Page Length: 312

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Jacob’s grandmother is ill, and Jacob must take a trip to Amsterdam in her place. The purpose of Jacob’s journey to Amsterdam is to see his grandfather’s (a World War II veteran) burial site. Jacob meets the elderly ailing woman who nursed his grandfather during the war and learns much more than he was expecting about his family’s past. Along the journey, Jacob discovers new friends and new feelings he never knew he had. Geertrui shares with Jacob the secrets of his grandfather’s past as she weaves the tales of their adventures during World War II. 

REVIEW: Chambers wrote a masterful story that was outside the realm of the “normal” historical fiction novel. The author does a wonderful job of blending past and present events as the chapters shift from Geertrui in the past to Jacob in the present. In the end, it is revealed that Geertrui has recorded the story for Jacob in her journal – her last act before her assisted suicide is scheduled to take place. Be warned that the book addresses Jacob’s developing awareness of his sexuality and his attraction to both men and women. Bisexuality becomes a topic among more than one of the characters. The story of the war and Geertrui’s love for Jacob’s grandfather is wonderfully told. The reader gets a realistic sense of the urgency and danger present during the war.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, historical connections, character traits, methods of writing, compare and contrast

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: topic of bisexuality, pages 199-200 sex between Geertrui and a married soldier

RELATED BOOKS: Breaktime, Dance on My Grave, Now I Know, The Tollbridge, The Diary of Anne Frank, Four Perfect Pebbles

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The Diary of Anne Frank

ART CONNECTIONS: Amsterdam – Dutch Resistance Museum online

MUSIC CONNECTIONS: Hit Songs from World War 2


REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

July 29, 2008

The Grand Tour

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The Grand Tour

Author: Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

Page Length: 469

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Historical Fiction / Fantasy

PLOT SUMMARY: Cecelia and Kate are back in the sequel to Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot. Cecelia has just married James. Kate has just married the Duke of Schofield, Thomas. Both Thomas and James were already partners and friends. Together they plan a grand tour of Europe for their honeymoon. The party of five includes, Thomas’s mother, Lady Schofield. As they arrive in Paris a mysterious item is delivered to Lady Schofield. Suddenly, they are thrust into a new mystery. It seems that again black magic forces are at work. Someone may be trying to restore Napolean to power. Magic rituals have been held at many of the historical sites on Kate’s list. A robbery has taken place and the group is hot on the trail of thieves. Their grand honeymoon has instead turned into a grand mystery. They must unravel the clues and discover who is behind the disappearance of the artifacts and the gathering of magic before it is too late.

REVIEW: This book was interesting to read. The first novel in this series was written as Cecy and Kate exchanged letters. This time they are traveling together and instead recording their individual accounts of what has happened in their journals. This book continues to provide an excellent look at the language and customs of the early 1800’s. Historical sites and facts are detailed as well as travel throughout Europe. I would not recommend this book to a struggling reader, because of the language, the length of pages, and the amount of focus required to keep up as the characters entries alternate. However, for anyone interested in English literature set in the early 1800’s woven together with magic and romance, these books are an interesting read. This book also provides the teacher with an excellent example of how journal writing can be used to develop a character or even create an entire story.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: point of view, setting, conflict, idea of writing through journal entries, connecting to history

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: the idea of sorcery (black magic)

RELATED BOOKS: Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot (prequel), The Mislaid Magician, Jane Austen books

RELATED MOVIES: Practical Magic, Snow White


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Sorcery and Cecelia

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Sorcery and Cecelia

Author: Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

Page Length: 469

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Historical Fiction / Fantasy

PLOT SUMMARY: Cecelia and Kate are young women coming of age in England during the early 1800’s. Their story begins as Kate travels to London to experience a season there (attend balls and be presented to society as a young woman). Cecelia and Kate exchange letters back and forth about their experiences. They both meet interesting young men and become caught up in a mystery of magical proportions. The chocolate pot is missing. The Duke of Schofield is acting strangely, and black magic forces are at work. Can Cecelia and Kate find the culprits and identify the villain before it is too late?   

REVIEW: This book was interesting to read. I loved the idea of a writing a book as an exchange of letters between two people who together adopt a character each and develop the plot from each other’s ideas. The book provided an excellent look at the language and customs of the early 1800’s. I would not recommend this book to a struggling reader, because of the language, the length of pages, and the amount of focus required to keep up as the characters viewpoints alternate.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: point of view, setting, conflict, idea of writing through letters

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: the idea of sorcery (black magic)

RELATED BOOKS: The Grand Tour (sequel), The Mislaid Magician, Jane Austen books

RELATED MOVIES: Practical Magic, Snow White


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

July 7, 2008

A Boy at War

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A Boy at War

Author: Harry Mazer

Page Length: 104

Reading Level: 8

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: This is the story of Adam who is the “military son” of a proud American family. Adam’s father, Navy Lt. Pelko, has been assigned to the USS Arizona that has been stationed in Pearl Harbor on the shores of Hawaii. Adam is not a stranger to moving from city to city, however he finds it difficult to fit-in to this Asian and Hawaiian culture. Adam does manage to befriend Davi, a Japanese boy in his school. After Adam’s father discovers this friendship, he tells his son that associating with the Japanese at this time is not wise. Lt. Pelko goes on to tell Adam that whatever his son does reflects back on the family. Family image, respect, and honor are important within the Pelko household. However, Adam disobeys his father and continues to socialize with Davi. As Adam and Davi are enjoying a morning of fishing in Pearl Harbor, the area is attacked by Japanese fighter planes. Chapter 9 begins the high intensity action of the bombing.

Class issues and racial tension are evident in this book as were they during the time period of the 30’s and 40’s. War creates paranoid feelings that cause humans to over-generalize feelings toward broad groups. At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, many Americans viewed Japanese-Americans as if they were “the enemy”. Once Adam experiences the attack on Pearl Harbor and his father’s ship, he starts to view his friend Davi as the enemy and pushes him into the water. A fight is not allowed to ensue as bullets begin to fly everywhere and an officer spots the boys and takes them away.

Adam is then thrown into the role of a soldier and assists the military in fighting the Japanese. However, Adam maintains that his mission is to return home to his family. When he does, Adam realizes that his father is away (most likely on the Arizona). After several days the family becomes worried that Lt. Pelko has been killed or missing in action. A letter does finally arrive stating that Adam’s father has been labeled missing in action. Adam’s family then is instructed to leave Hawaii to move onto a new phase of their lives. However, before Adam leaves he is able to reconcile his feelings toward Davi.

REVIEW: I felt that the resolution to this story was rather short. However, I enjoyed this action-packed book that would be a great supplement to a study of conflict, war, or cultural tension. The story is short enough to maintain the attention of struggling readers, however there are several words that may be above the reading level of some students. There is a map at the beginning of the book so the reader can visualize the locations of the events. There is also a short “author’s note” at the end of the book that adds some historical information that was highlighted in this fictional story.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: vocabulary (coxswain 55, emplacement 49, sampans 21, issei, Nisei, and various Hawaiian terms), historical context, foreshadowing (pages 15 & 19), metaphor (page 16 house/ship), simile (pages 36, 48, & 51), and reading a map

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: offensive racial/cultural references such as “Jap” (pages 19, 23, 63), “gook” (page 85), and “haole”, youth shooting a gun in the context of war

RELATED BOOKS: Pearl Harbor: The Verdict of History, Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8, Day of Deceit

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Pearl Harbor” (2001), Remember Pearl Harbor (1942)

RELATED WEBSITES: (awesome link to several sites with a movie, quiz, interactive map, survivor stories, and lesson plans) (project ideas)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

July 1, 2008

Somewhere in the Darkness

Somewhere in the Darkness

Author: Walter Dean Myers

Page Length: 168

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction, Adventure

PLOT SUMMARY: Jimmy Little is a 14 year old living in Harlem. Mama Jean and Jimmy live together in a small but cozy apartment. Mama Jean leaves for work before Jimmy leaves for school. Even though Jimmy knows he should be in school, daydreams fill his mind and he often ends up wandering around. Jimmy’s unlocking the apartment door one afternoon, when a stranger approaches. That stranger is Jimmy’s father, and he’s just been released from prison.

Crab, Jimmy’s father, wants to take Jimmy with him to start a new life. Jimmy is afraid and part of him wants desperately to stay with Mama Jean and the life he knows. Yet, the other part of him wants to discover more about who he is, and he figures that his father just might have some insight. They set off on a strange and unpredictable journey from one place to another. Jimmy discovers parts of his past and the life his mother and father shared. Jimmy’s adventures along the way teach him to have strength and courage. As his father’s illness worsens, Jimmy is faced with a difficult decision. Does he stay by Crab’s side or return to Mama Jean? Can he connect with Crab and discover the truth about the father he has always longed for?

REVIEW: Myers writes a moving story about the struggles of a young boy and his father. The reader gets a sense of Jimmy’s depression and a potential learning disability. The narrator tells us that Jimmy scored high on the tests and the school officials can’t figure out why someone as smart as he is doesn’t do better in school. Jimmy’s daydreams are portrayed and explain why he can’t always concentrate.

Once Jimmy’s father arrives, the reader understands why Jimmy fears the unknown but also longs for a relationship. Crab’s disoriented behavior and his terminal illness only compound matters. Their erratic journey across America to find the truth isn’t always logical. This is an unusual story filled with strange twists and turns. I did not finish it with a sense of completeness – only a sense that Jimmy had learned more about his father and become strengthened by his trials. The one truly beautiful moment from the book is when Jimmy talks about one day when he becomes a father; he plans to share something with his child every day and to really know his child. Jimmy realizes that moments together are fleeting and he plans to make the most of them. On the end note alone, the novel is worth teaching students about.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: context clues, tone, author’s purpose, conclusions, generalizations, and predictions, mood, characters, setting, conflict and resolution

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: drinking, criminal behavior, stealing

RELATED BOOKS: Slam!, Fallen Angels, Monster, The Beast


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

May 1, 2008

Across Five Aprils

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Across Five Aprils

Author: Irene Hunt

Page Length: 227

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Jethro Creighton is nine year old boy growing up on a farm in Southern Illinois during the time of the Civil War. His sister Jenny is in love with the young school teacher, Shadrach Yale. Jethro’s older brothers and cousin have gone away to fight – all but one of them for the North. Jethro’s family knows loss well – four children have already died. What will happen to three off fighting in the War?

When Jethro’s father becomes ill, Jethro must assume the duties of manhood before his time. Plowing the fields and caring for the animals falls on his shoulders. He and young Jenny must help their mother manage affairs. Attacks on the family begin in retaliation for his brother’s involvement on the “wrong side” of the war. One of the boys deserts and Jethro decides that President Lincoln is the only one he can turn to for help. Will the war tear his family and his country apart?

REVIEW: If you are a history buff, you will love this book. Commanders and battles are described in detail. Teachers could trace the battles recounted in the book and create a map of happenings as they occur during the Civil War and in sequence throughout the novel. Jethro is a strong role model who weathers the storm, accepts responsibility, and battles moral decisions. He takes action and is able to empathize with both sides of an issue and to see that often there is no clear black and white to any issue.

Personally, I found the book laborious to read. I would like to have been spared the minute details of battles and commander inadequacies and given an overall perspective. I would not recommend this book for struggling readers below a sixth grade level.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: theme, setting, cause and effect, sequence, bias, inferences, summarization

RELATED BOOKS: Killer Angels, Gone with the Wind, The Red Badge of Courage, Girl in Blue, Cold Mountain

from Reluctant Witnesses: Children’s Voices from the Civil War—nonfiction by Emmy E. Werner

“Come Up from the Fields Father” and “An Army Corps on the March”—poems by Walt Whitman

“Tenting on the Old Camp Ground”—song lyrics by Walter Kittredge

from When Heaven and Earth Changed Places—memoir by Le Ly Hayslip

“Lament of Ben Hai River“—poem by Nhat Hanh (translated by the author and Helen Coutant)

RELATED MOVIES: Gone with the Wind, The North and the South, The Red Badge of Courage


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

April 26, 2008

Saving Francesca

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Saving Francesca

Author: Melina Marchetta

Page Length: 243

Reading Level: 5


REVIEW: Francesca is one of 30 girl students at the newly co-ed St. Sebastian’s School. St. Sebastian’s has 750 male students. The school is obviously a high school though it is set in Australia and so the terminology used is a little different. The interplay between the students is unmistakable and crosses all cultural barriers though.


Francesca does not enjoy St. Sebastian’s and likes it even less when she quite accidentally becomes the spokesperson for making things fair for the girls. Francesca’s personal life is strained and difficult too, making her school problems even harder to handle. Francesca’s mother has become clinically depressed and her condition is misunderstood and approached incorrectly by almost everyone in Francesca’s extended family. Her father is at the end of his rope and Francesca is terribly worried about her mother and her younger brother Luca.


TOUCHY AREAS: I enjoyed the book very much, but there is a very liberal sprinkling of curse words and topics some may be a little uncomfortable with. Make sure this is right for your class and if it is be ready for an enjoyable read.




REVIEWED BY: Sherry Hall

April 2, 2008

10 Things To Do Before I Die

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10 Things To Do Before I Die

Author: Daniel Ehrenhaft

Pages: 219

Reading Level: 6


PLOT SUMMARY: Mark, Ted, and Nikki are beginning their Spring Break in the diner where they often hang out. Ted Burger, the main character, is a quiet non-confrontational kind of guy with a love of music, a talent for guitar playing, and huge fan of the band, Shakes the Clown. Nikki and Mark are his some eclectic friends with the perfect relationship. Ted’s girlfriend, Rachel, works tirelessly for causes like Amnesty International and is the kind of girl who demands Ted ask permission before he kisses her. Ted’s parents are always engrossed in their advertising agency work and pay more attention to flashy commercials than they do their own son.


Mark decides that Ted needs an exciting spring break and comes up with a list of the 10 things he must do before he dies – a list which he can start on over spring break. Suddenly, a former employee of the diner enters with a long trench coat on. He pulls out a weapon and Mark springs into action. He disarms him if his water gun and all is well again. Or so it seems. Ted isn’t feeling well and barely manages to stumble outside before throwing up all over the sidewalk. He stumbles home after a brief stop at the hospital where the idea of some “examination procedures” freaks him out. He takes off and runs into Rachel not far from home. They fight and the downward spiral of events continues. Ted stumbles in his house and researched his symptoms. Ted matches 2 of the 4 and diagnoses himself with Meniere’s disease. Before long, Ted and Nikki arrive; they urgently tell Ted that the disgruntled employee returned and was arrested all the while saying that he had poisoned the fried. Whoever consumed them only had 24 hours to live. The list of things to do before I die takes on urgent status. Ted, Nikki, and Mark embark adventures that include: a rock band, a prostitute, alcohol, airports, limos, revenge, a hospital and more. Will Ted survive the poisoning and will he really complete the list of things to do before his 24 hours are up?


REVIEW: I believe that this book would appeal more boys than girls; however, it does have an element of universal appeal – death certainly doesn’t discriminate by sex. Kids into bands and guitars would likely connect with the book. The message that discovering who is we are is a process and learning to be ourselves is critical to our well being is an important one. This book also teaches the reader that coping mechanisms and learning to express our feelings rather than repressing this is also important.


TOUCHY AREAS: The cautions are that the when Ted doesn’t want to go to the hospital Mark decides they will all get drunk. They break into Ted’s parents’ liquor cabinet and consume copious amounts of alcohol – after which Ted goes running around in public. When he returns, Mark has a prostitute waiting to help Ted reach his goal to lose his virginity (the good news is that Ted has values and want his first time to be with someone he cares about not a prostitute).  Having sex with Rachel when she is ready is also discussed. The book concludes with some details of a panic attack.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: A great extension for this book might be to have student create their own 10 things to do before I die list and in doing so consider what defines who they are and what they want most out of life.




REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


February 11, 2008

Navajo Long Walk

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Navajo Long Walk

Author: Nancy M. Armstrong

Illustrator: Paulette Livers Lambert

Page Length: 119

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Historical Fiction


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: A book about Native Americans makes me think back to history class in middle school. At first I was not enthused about the subject, however when I read the introduction on page one I realized this was not just an adventure story or boring history lesson, but a tale about how the United States government forced 8,000 Navajo Indians from their homeland in eastern Arizona in 1864. The Navajos were made to trek over 300 hundred miles on foot and wagon to a fort in eastern New Mexico. There they were held captive for four years. The trek they made to New Mexico is known as the “Long Walk”.


This book is specifically about a boy named Kee, his sister Hasba, his mother Gentle Woman, his father Strong Man, and his grandmother Wise One. There are also several other animal characters that belong to the Native American family: a donkey named Small Burro and a dog named Gray Dog. As you can tell, all of these names are from Native American tradition and culture.


This is a coming-of-age story for the main character, Kee. His father is lost in the trek to Fort Sumner, and Kee must take on many attributes of a grown man. He is now the “man of the family”. Many changes take place in this story from the scenery of the South-west to the feelings this particular Native American family has towards the soldiers known as the “white man”. The family grows to realize that not all American soldiers are cruel. Even Kee, the character who at first resents the soldiers the most, befriends the son of the leader at Fort Sumner – Captain Harris.


Towards the end of the story, the Navajo, after a treaty with the U.S. Government, are allowed to return home to Arizona. After this point in the story, I found the ending a bit predictable. The father is described as waiting at home for his family’s return. He has spent time preparing food and shelter to welcome them home.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: This easy to read book does a great job describing the conditions in which the Navajo live in their home land as well as in their new surroundings. Weather, food, and shelter are all portrayed with vivid descriptions and examples. On page 87, one quote stood out in this respect – “meals often came from the tough stringy meat of an animal that had starved to death”. Now I liked the fact that there was a map at the very beginning of the story where I could refer to. Names that are not generally used today (ie. Eagle Feather, Long Earrings, Kee), may prove difficult for some students. It might be hard for students to keep track of the characters at the very beginning. A lesson about tradition and names could easily supplement this struggle.




REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton


January 14, 2008

Probably Still Nick Swansen

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Probably Still Nick Swansen

Author: Virginia Euwer Wolff

Page Length: 151

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Realistic Fiction


REVIEW: Nick spends his school days in Room 19 with the rest of the special ed. kids, except for his good friend Shana who just had her “going up” party for graduating to regular classes.


Nick is a character I fell in love with right from the beginning. He knows some things that being in special ed. means. He knows he can’t drive even though he is sixteen and he knows some kids won’t talk to you much even if you do know everything about amphibians. What Nick isn’t sure about is if he should go to the prom but he asks Shana and she says yes.


When Shana doesn’t show though you get a glimpse at how complicated Nick is. His sister’s death several years earlier and an accident that hurts his dog along with the disappointment about the prom lead to some difficult times for Nick. He wants to hide from the world, but realizes he has to face all of these issues in order to find peace. Nick gains a sense of self-awareness and we are left with a happy ending.




REVIEWED BY: Sherry Hall


January 5, 2008

Julie of the Wolves

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Julie of the Wolves

Author:  Jean Craighead George

Page Length: 170

Reading Level: 6th


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: The book Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George, is the story of a thirteen year-old girl’s journey to preserve the traditions and culture of her Eskimo people.  The story begins with Miyax, or Julie, as she is called by the “white people”, lost on the Alaskan tundra.  She is running out of food and, in her desperation, turns to a pack of wolves for help.  After some time, the wolves begin to see her as one of their own.  Through their assistance she is able to survive for several months before finding her way to the village Kangik.


The second part of the book focuses on Miyax’s childhood.  Her mother died when she was young which caused her father, Kapugen, to lose his mind.  In his grief, her father leaves their village behind, and he and Miyax move to a seal camp.  It is during these five years that Miyax learns the ways of her Eskimo people and embraces her heritage.  But this way of life comes to an end when her Aunt Martha shows up, and insists that Miyax return to the village and receive a proper education.   Kapugen relents, but tells Miyax there is a way to escape her aunt’s wishes: when she is thirteen, Miyax may choose to marry an Eskimo boy named Daniel, for his family follows the old traditions.  Soon after leaving with her aunt, Miyax is told that her father never returned from a hunt, and he is assumed dead.


During the years that Miyax lives with her Aunt Martha, she corresponds with a pen pal named Amy who lives in San Francisco.  Through Amy’s letters she learns about movies, sports cars, carpet, and blue jeans. She begins to flirt with the idea of a non-Eskimo life, yet decides at thirteen that the old ways are best: she will marry Daniel.


Miyax travels far to her new home, but is surprised to discover that Daniel is severely mentally challenged.  She lacks the experience and confidence to escape the marriage, and so she accepts her fate.  Things seem tolerable at first.  Her new mother teaches her how to sew, and Daniel’s father seems fun loving.  Daniel keeps to himself, and they live like brother and sister.  Yet it isn’t long before Miyax learns that Daniel’s father is an abusive alcoholic.  And, after being made fun of, Daniel decides to truly “make Miyax his wife”.  She escapes him and runs away with a few essential supplies, but gets lost on the tundra.


The last part of the book is about Miyax surviving the Alaskan winter as a true Eskimo.  She successfully feeds and clothes herself with the skins of animals, and she enjoys the company of her wolf pack, and pet bird.  She even builds her own cozy igloo.  When Eskimo hunters discover her hideout, she learns that her father, Kapugen, is alive and well in a nearby village. 


On her journey to find Kapugen, she experiences the destructive nature of progress first hand.  Miyax encounters excessive pollution, and watches her beloved “wolf father” killed for sport by American hunters. 


In the end Miyax finds her father.  He had not died in a hunting accident.  It turns out that years before he chose to start a new life for himself, and had recently journeyed to her aunt’s village to find Miyax.  At first she is thrilled.  She envisions their new life together as one lived in the old traditions.  Yet her dreams are stopped short when she meets her new step-mother, a woman who is not Eskimo, and sees that her father has embraced aspects of the “white man’s world”.  He has a TV, electric stove, radio, etc.  Initially, Miyax plans to run away to her igloo and live an Eskimo life in isolation. Yet she comes to the realization that the time of the Eskimos has ended.  With her new understanding, that change is inevitable, she heads back to her father’s village.




REVIEWED BY: Jennifer John

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