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September 21, 2008

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

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REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

April 10, 2008

A Fate Totally Worse Than Death

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A Fate Totally Worse Than Death

Author: Paul Fleishman

Page Length: 124

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Danielle, Brooke and Tiffany enjoy their status as beautiful people at Cliffside High. When the desirable male students take an interest in Helga, the new exchange student from Norway, the girls are not pleased. The girls plot to get rid of Helga. We learn they caused the death of another female student last year and we learn that they are mean spirited. When the girls are performing community service at a local nursing home, they speak hatefully of the old people there right in front of them, making fun of the fact that they can’t speak, or stop the girls from eating the chocolates brought by a family member and various other types of insulting behavior. Gradually, through a series of misunderstandings, and the fact that Danielle, Brook and Tiffany suddenly and mysteriously begin ageing rapidly, the girls come to believe that Helga is the ghost of the girl who died last year come back to get her revenge by making them old, deaf, gray, etc. We find out in the end that Helga is not a ghost and one of the recovered ‘old’ people from the nursing home has taken her own revenge on the girls by poisoning them with a drug that causes people to age.

REVIEW: Think Mean Girls with a horror twist. Love Paul Fleishman, didn’t care for this book. The girls are vain and hateful with no redeeming qualities. The older lady who gets revenge on them is mean too. No lesson is learned that can be used in life. The girls remain old and infirm. I also did not like the message that growing old is worse than anything, even death. The book is written as a parody and does have funny moments, but I just didn’t really enjoy the humor and I can usually find something to laugh about in almost any situation. It is a quick read and may be hilarious to some.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: People not to emulate

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Flip discussion of student’s death, condoms, Playboy magazine, lots of talk about body parts ageing.

RELATED BOOKS: Les Liasons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liasons)

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Mean Girls & Cruel Intentions


REVIEWED BY: Sherry Hall

March 8, 2008


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Author: Pete Hautman

Page Length: 242

Reading Level: 4


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: Lucy Szabo is a 16 year old diabetic who enjoys dressing in black and visiting the Transylvania Internet chat room. One reason for her interest in vampires is that she thinks she may be one, at least in a sense. Lucy is a bright, underachiever in school with a theory that vampire legend evolved when people didn’t know or understand what was happening to undiagnosed diabetics before diabetes was recognized and treated.


I love Lucy. She has a classic ‘bad attitude.’ When the one other diabetic student at her high school wants to compare notes on their conditions, Lucy is completely uninterested. Her choice of make-up and dress distress her mother. But it is when Lucy writes an essay for her creative writing class called, “The Truth About Bloodsucking Demons” that her teacher calls in the parents. The thing is, her essay is excellent with a well thought out and developed argument but all anyone seems to be concerned about is her attitude.


All of the reactions from the adults in her life cause Lucy to retreat even more into her Internet chat life. She meets Draco, a self-proclaimed real vampire, starts cutting school and ignoring class work. Worse, she almost does some real damage to her health by not being conscientious about her diabetes.


As frightening as that was for me to read, the scarier part was how Draco, a much older man hanging out in the chat room, is able to track Lucy down and discover her real name even though she thinks she never divulges anything personal. Lucy wakes up and makes some good decisions before we have to find out if, as I suspect, Draco is something maybe even more sinister than a vampire, like the kind of guy you see on Dateline; To Catch a Predator.


I thought I would hate this book and I liked it. The Halloween party where the Goth kids have to dress ‘normal’ because they look like they are in Halloween costumes all the rest of the year is just an example of how the book shows the humor and intelligence in kids that we sometimes think of as different. Like those kids, I am glad I didn’t just judge this book by the cover.




REVIEWED BY: Sherry Hall


January 31, 2008

My Land Sings: Stories from the Rio Grande

My Land Sings: Stories from the Rio Grande

Author: Rudolfo Anaya

Page Length: 176

Reading Level: 5th

Genre: Short Story, Folklore, Fables


REVIEW, PLOT SUMMARY, & AREAS FOR TEACHING: Every English teacher must read the Preface of this book on pages 7-16! In these lines, the author portrays a genuine opinion about the richness of reading and story telling. The Preface is also important in that it highlights the 10 short stories that follow. Some of the tales in this book are from the Hispanic and Native-American folklore tradition, while others are original stories created by the author himself. Each story teaches a lesson and draws upon the culture of those that lived near the Rio Grande Valley. The lessons in this compilation of stories include parental obedience, death’s role in life, consequence of keeping secrets, saving for a rainy day, respect for elders, explanations of natural events, and the search for eternal youth.


Students will likely recognize the first story titled “Lupe and la Lorona”. I believe there is a version of this story in the World Literature text. This tale is about a woman (Lorona) who is threatened that her baby will be taken from her. She then runs near the river where she and the baby “fall into the water”. Some believe Lorona intentionally threw the baby into the water. The child is lost and the woman is left to walk along the river mourning for the loss of her baby. Lorona’s mourning takes the form of crying. The lesson is that children should not disobey their parents and travel near the river without permission for fear that Lorona will appear. The main character in this first story, Lupe, learns this lesson and several others.


“Dulcinea” is about a girl of the same name who wants to break free from the chains of her present life. She decides to disobey her parents’ orders and go to a dance with a charming man. The man turns out to be an evil spirit with hands of goat hooves. As punishment, Dulcinea is psychologically unable to move on in life. They say if you listen to the wind closely, you can hear Dulcinea’s crying pain.


“The Three Brothers” contains religious themes linked to the issue of greed. The family has three sons, two of which took the road of selfishness which led them to hell – depicted as a city. The third brother went down the honorable path and was led to a mansion – referred to as heaven. The third brother is rewarded with a full and prosperous life.


“Dona Sebastiana” is about a poor man, Baltazar, who steals a chicken then refuses to share it with the “Lord” and the “Virgin Mary”. Out of fear, the man does end up sharing his meal with “Death” – referred to as Dona Sebastiana. For the kindness to Death, Dona Sebastiana grants Baltazar the power to heal people. However, the man must not try to heal a person when Death is at the “head of the bed”. Due to his new power, Baltazar became very wealthy. Then a man named Don Mateo came to the healer because his daughter was sick. Even though Death was at the head of the bed, Baltazar healed the young woman. Death later took the life of Baltazar saying one can never cheat death. In the end you always lose.


“The Shepherd Who Knew the Language of Animals” is about a boy who, upon helping a serpent, is granted the power to hear the communication of animals. There was one catch: he could never tell anyone about his power or else he would die. With this power, the boy found out that a treasure was buried near a tree that he was at. People questioned where the poor boy got the money. An arrest was never made though. Then the boy met a girl who wanted to find out what secret her lover had been keeping from her. The boy was about to tell her until a dream came to the girl. Upon experiencing the dream, the girl came to the conclusion that secrets belong to the people that own them. She was content on not knowing her lover’s secret about the animals.


“The Fountain of Youth” is about adventurers who were willing to sell their soul to evil in exchange for eternal youth. However, evil did not deliver on its deal. Instead, evil trapped these adventurers forever in its prison. The moral: never make a deal with the devil.


“The Lost Camel” is about identifying people who are honest. The Virgin Mary is present in this story. An apple cut in two is used as the means to identify honesty in individuals. This story was rather simple.


“The Miller’s Good Luck” is about the role of luck versus careful planning in making a man rich. Two men in this story set out to prove each other wrong by giving some money to a man named Pedro Bernal. Pedro ends up losing some of the fortune the men give him. In the end, by luck, he discovers a diamond in a fish and becomes wealthy. Afterwards, the lost money from the beginning returns. The two men from the initial lines, still do not resolve their conflict.


“Sipa’s Choice” is about a boy who disobeys his father and his god’s wishes to take care of the fish. This request was the only one the god made in return for the boy’s healed leg. The boy grew too proud and viewed the teachings of his father as meaningless. In return, the god turned the boy and his people into fish.


“Coyote and Raven” is a creative tale about how man and woman came to live on the Earth’s surface with animals. It also told the story of how the raven got its black feathers and how the coyote lost its long tail. Furthermore, this story illustrated the reasons why humans fight amongst each other. I found this story to be the most entertaining of all of the tales in this book.


I like that there is a glossary in the back with Hispanic terms that were used throughout the book. This book would be great for students who tire easily with long chapters and lengthy books. The short tales can be easily read in 5-10 minutes.




REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

January 15, 2008

Big Mouth and Ugly Girl

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Big Mouth and Ugly Girl

Author: Joyce Carol Oates

Page Length: 151

Reading Level: unknown


PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW: Matt Donaghy is a popular student at Rocky River High until he is falsely accused of threatening to blow up the school. The problem is that Matt did say some things he shouldn’t have as a joke to his friends and was overheard by others with their own agenda. The authorities are not at all amused and Matt learns all too well that there are some things off limits for humor. It seems that there is no way out of the trouble his “big mouth” had landed him in.


Ursula Riggs heard and knows the truth about Matt and comes forward in his defense despite warnings not to get involved. Her character and self-assurance are a good role-model. Ursula has found her power in thinking of herself as Ugly Girl, a strong, straight talking unflappable part of her personality.


The book makes a good argument for when to take a stand and when to let things go. Ursula speaks up for Matt because it is the right thing to do. They are not even friends. After Matt is found to be innocent, his family decides to sue the school district, which brings more bad feelings their way. One upsetting part of the story is when school bullies kidnap Matt’s dog in order to make him suffer.


Matt and Ursula finally become friends and learn about themselves in the process. The book also illustrates how rumors can get started and grow out of control.


TOUCHY AREAS: There are a few curse words and references to sex so as always read it for yourself first.




REVIEWED BY: Sherry Hall


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