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June 5, 2010

Kissing the Rain

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Kissing the Rain

Author: Kevin Brooks

Page Length: 320

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Michael Rupert, known as “Moo”, is a loner. He is made fun of because of his obesity—he tops out on the scales at 240.  However, he finds most happiness when he escapes into his eating habits of huge meals prepared by his mom, candy bars, and fast food fests!

He finds his escape from “the Rain” (teasing, shoving, name-calling jeers) by going to a bridge and listening to the passing of the automobiles. However, one night, he witnesses a wreck between a racing BMW and a Range Rover.  After the collision, four people emerge from the BMW and one from the Rover.  A fight takes place, a victim goes down, and the police arrive. As Moo observes the action from atop the bridge, the police spot him.  The police question Moo and tell him they will come to his house the next day to get a statement.

The next afternoon, two detectives arrive and talk to him. They write down all the facts and statements they can get from Moo.  Moo realizes that one of the detectives is the father of one of the major boys at school who causes his “Rain”.  As the days go forward, the defense attorney for Vine, a known criminal who is the accused killer in the accident, also comes to talk with Moo.  Both the defense and prosecution want Moo’s support in the case.

Moo realizes that he has decisions to make when he must testify in court.  He knows no one in the case will truly win, and his decision will hurt someone in the end.

REVIEW: The book is written in a very realistic first person narrative form.  It is easy for the reader to understand Moo’s feelings and the conflicts he experiences as he must make decisions concerning not only the accident he witnessed, but decisions that will affect his family and friends.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Point of View, Character, Conflict, Symbols

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Mild profanity occasionally used

RELATED BOOKS: City of Bones, Frostbite, and The Awakening

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


September 28, 2009


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Author: Vickie Grant

Page Length: 101

Reading Level: 2.8

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Chris is tired of his life of growing up on the bad side of town. One day, he finds a wallet lying in the street. Chris matches the physical description of the guy and assumes his identity. The money and credit cards inside the wallet help finance Chris’s new life as Andrew Kirk Ashbury. Although, Chris means to stop by and give the wallet back, events keep occurring that distract him. Will Chris really be able to become Andrew or will his true identity be revealed?

REVIEW: This is the typical Orca book. The sentences are short. The lesson taught in this book is that there is no real right or wrong here. The character’s only remorse is that he almost got away with it. The story lacks depth and never really explores the consequences that Chris will face. The story ends with Chris being arrested as Andrew for a long list of crimes. Perhaps the only good lesson to teach from this story are the philosophical statements about the “grass being greener” and things not always being as they seem.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, internal conflict, external conflict, character traits, dialogue

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: subject of theft, smoking, drinking, language

RELATED BOOKS: Dead-End Job, Pigboy, Quid Pro Quo

RELATED MOVIES: “Identity Theft: The Michelle Brown Story”


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

August 30, 2009

Finding Fish

Finding Fish

Author: Antwone Quentin Fisher

Page Length: 340

Reading Level: 10

Genre: Autobiography       

PLOT SUMMARY: Antwone Fisher was born in a prison and immediately placed in foster care where he was constantly verbally abused, often physically abused, and on occasion, sexually abused.  He lived in the home of the Pickett’s with his two foster siblings for 13 years.  During that time, he expressed himself through artwork, but mostly led a rather silent life, feeling unworthy.  On page 72, Fisher writes how his dreams were abandoned and he lived only to survive the day-to-day routine of school and verbal abuse at home.

When Antwone entered a new school in fourth grade, he met an angel, his teacher, Miss Profitt.  She was fair and treated him as if he were special. Although the Child Protective Services monitored Antwone’s foster parents and they suspected the Pickett’s were not providing the appropriate domestic environment, there never seemed to be a better placement for Antwone. 

At the age of 16, Antwone was placed in a reform school, where he felt more comfortable and safe than in his foster home. Antwone knew he had nowhere else to go.  After a time at the reform school, Antwone left and found himself homeless.  He eventually joined the Navy and it was there that he found confidence in himself and learned that he was worthy of a good life.  He began to write poetry and demonstrated excellent written and oral command with leadership qualities (p. 291). Through his experience in the Navy, Antwone found family, friendship, belonging, education, and purpose.

He eventually reconnected with his foster siblings, his biological mother, and then, married and had a daughter, Indigo. 

REVIEW: Because of the tragic experiences Antwone Fisher experienced in his childhood, this book reads more like fiction than reality.  The harsh treatment he received by his foster parents is difficult to read.  However, the story gives hope to those who do experience abuse, poverty, and loneliness as Antwone tells how through a few positive contacts in his life he did strive to be the best he could be. 

Although the writing is very descriptive, the teacher should be aware that it is quite graphic.  I would suggest the book for mature students.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: descriptive murder (p. 21), sexual abuse (p. 43-44, 241, and 245), harsh language and profanity (p. 138, 155, 195, 199-200, 231, 246, 274, 281)

AREAS OF TEACHING: Setting, Character, Sequence of Events, Cause/Effect, Point of View

RELATED BOOKS: The Antwone Fisher Story (screenplay), Who Will Cry for the Little Boy? (Poems), A Child Called It

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Antwone Fisher (2002)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

January 18, 2009

Son of the Mob

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Son of the Mob

Author: Gordon Korman

Page Length: 262

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Vince Luca appears to be a normal teenage guy. His best friend is always trying to outdo him, his brother drives him crazy, and his father wants him to choose a path. And then there’s the famous gandland assassination of Mario Calabrese the cops wanted to pin on his father. Vince’s dad just happens to be the head honcho of the mob. Life is strange in a house that’s bugged and always full of uncles. It doesn’t get any better when Vince falls for Kendra Bightly – whose father just happens to work for the FBI.

REVIEW: I really enjoyed this book! The story line is interesting, humorous, and adds just the right touch of romance. Korman intersperses bits of good advice, the importance of family (no matter how crooked they are), and the idea that love prevails against the odds. Both boys and girls will enjoy this book.

If students have never seen any movies or read anything at all about the mob, then they might not grasp the humor and situations presented in the novel.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  conflict, resolution, author’s purpose, cause and effect, character traits, problem resolution

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: threats of mob violence, talks of missing appendages

RELATED BOOKS: No More Dead Dogs, Swindle, The Search, Kidnapped, Rescue, One False Note, The Juvie Three

MOVIE & TV CONNECTIONS: The Untouchables, The Sopranos


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Silent to the Bone

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Silent to the Bone

Author: E.L. Konigsburg

Page Length: 261

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Bramwell and Connor have been best friends for years. When something tragic happens, Bramwell can no longer speak. Bramwell is being held in a juvenile detention center. The cards seem to be stacking up against him. Connor knows that there is no way his friend could have committed the crime. Connor sets out to prove Bramwell’s innocence; he must find some way to get his friend to communicate with him before it’s too late.

REVIEW: Konigsburg wrote a wonderful story that realistically portrays the heart and soul of a young man. The readers experience Bramwell’s emotions, his betrayal, and even his sense of disappointment with his father. This book deals beautifully with puberty issues, birth of a new sibling issues, and step parents. Told through the perspective of his best friend, the book delves into the psychological trauma the event has caused Bramwell. The reader heals with Bramwell.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: point of view, sequence of events, flashback technique, cause and effect, making predictions

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: injury to a child, mild sexual encounter between a teen boy and an adult woman

RELATED BOOKS: From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, George, All Together, One at a Time, Throwing Shadows, Journey to an 800 Number


REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

December 1, 2008

Hit Squad

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Hit Squad

Author: James Heneghan

Page Length: 106  

Reading Level: 3.8

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Grandview High School has been known in the past as an upscale high school with few gangs or inner high school rivalry.  When students get a choice to transfer across previous school boundaries, some bullying and hazing begin to occur.  Birgit is trapped in a closet with three strange girls spitting chocolate on her, Mickey’s lunch is stolen and Joey is beaten up so badly he is admitted into the local hospital.  Birgit feels that the principal and teachers cannot control the violence, so she forms a “Hit Squad” made up of Mickey, two other football players and herself to teach the bullies a lesson.

REVIEW:  This was a captivating book because of the violent action occurring on a high school campus. To me, it was almost too violent in the retaliation steps that the “Hit Squad” takes to teach the bullies a lesson.  When Candy, Mickey’s foster sister questions him about the ‘squads’ methods and motives, Mickey appears to hear what she is saying, but because of his infatuation with Birgit, he makes choices that become fatal.

I think both boys and girls would both enjoy this book.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Theme, Conflict, and Setting

TOUCHY AREAS: Alcohol and marijuana use on page 56.


MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Rats and Bullies (2004), Mean Creek (2004), Bully (2006)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner



November 3, 2008


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Author: Norah McClintock

Page Length: 103

Reading Level: 3.2

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Remy has just been released from a nine month stay at a juvenile correction facility for assaulting a man who insulted his girlfriend.   While in jail, he did not return letters to his family or girlfriend.  Upon his release, he finds his mother and sister treating him like a criminal.  His girlfriend, Asia, has a new boyfriend, Marcus.   Marcus and his friends are in a rivalry with some of Remy’s friends from school.   Asia knows that Marcus has a knife and wants Remy to talk to him-to warn him what can happen in reality.  Remy is suffering from a lot of anger.  He has to learn to control it and to cope with the people in his surroundings.

REVIEW: Norah McClintock has written another suspenseful book for the reluctant reader.  I thought the book was good because it deals with prejudice, peer pressure, romantic and family issues, and violence.  All of these subjects are matters of pressure that high school students must face each day. 

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Marijuana use and some profanity but it is not inappropriate for the high school audience. 

AREAS OF TEACHING: Point of View, Conflict, and Cause/Effect

RELATED BOOKS: Bang, Marked, Snitch, Tell

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Gridiron Gang (2006), Stomp the Yard (2006)

RELATED WEBSITES:…/TeachersGuides/Orca Soundings/DownTG.pdf

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

September 30, 2008

The World’s Dumbest Criminals

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The World’s Dumbest Criminals

Author: Daniel Butler and Alan Ray

Page Length: 183

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Non-Fiction           

PLOT SUMMARY: This book is 76 crime stories compiled by Daniel Butler and Alan Ray that have occurred around the world.  They are based on true stories from law enforcement officers, but the real names of the criminals and victims are not used.  

REVIEW: Although the cover of this book indicates the crime reports might be humorous, I did not find anything about them funny.  Not only were they not funny, they were not interesting or all that bizarre. The stories I found a little bit humorous or rare were The Stooges Go North, Eh? (p. 21), The World’s Fastest Cop (p. 51), The Great Train Robbery (p. 52), Grind This, Pal (p. 61), That’s a Spiceeeeey “Meatball”! (p. 79), and Right is Right (p. 52).

While reading this book, I found myself annoyed that I was wasting my time and trying to decide who would enjoy this type of writing.  I feel like the authors worked hard in their descriptions of the localities where the crimes took place but wasted their time in the attempt to create interest at the cost of others stupidity.

I would not recommend this book for anyone, but some “redneck” males may enjoy it.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Main Idea, Supporting Details

RELATED BOOKS: America’s Dumbest Criminals, Wanted! Dumb or Alive

TELEVISION CONNECTIONS: Syndicated Show-America’s Dumbest Criminals


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 12, 2008


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Author: Willo Davis Roberts       

Page Length: 153

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY: Amanda Jane Keeling has the nickname Rebel because at an early age she was defiant in all that her parent’s tried to teach her.  Rebel is the only girl in her family and she has three musically talented brothers. As her family prepares for a trip to Europe where the boys will participate in music competition, Rebel’s Gram, decides to buy a boarding house in the University area.  She asked if any of the children would be able to help with house renovations.  Rebel thinks this would be a good opportunity to miss another competition, and plans to stay with Gram and help for two weeks, then join her family for the road trip through Europe.

Gram is going into her housing venture with another older woman, Old Vi, as referred to by her grandson, Moses.  Both ladies have pet dogs. Gram’s is Pookie and Old Vi’s is Tiger.

Upon meeting Moses, Rebel is pleasantly surprised.  At the age of 14 she is 5’ 10” and towers above all the boys she has ever known.  Moses is 15 and is 6’ 6’’.  While Rebel has overcome some of her rebellious ways, she identifies with Moses on some family issues and expectations.  Moses’ dad is a lawyer and wants his son to follow in his footsteps.  Moses would rather die than be a lawyer.  His interest lies in making movies and he constantly carries a video, capturing all of his surroundings on film.  Rebel’s family expected her to play the piano and follow her brothers in the music field but she expresses that she is “tone deaf.”

The two teens have every intention to help with the painting of the three-story Victorian home, but several events get them distracted.  They witness a thief steal a candy bar from the neighborhood deli and a mystery and adventure begin.

REVIEW:  This is an easy book to read.  The author captures the reader’s attention quickly and it is hard to put the book down, as the characters are developed with unique personalities that are easy to like.  Moses and Rebel establish a bond, and the reader senses there is somewhat of an attraction as they work on the house, hang out, and solve a mystery together.  Gram and Old Vi are feisty old ladies with dogs that add depth to the plot.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Plot, Sequence of Events, Main Idea and Supporting Details, Characters, Conflict, Cause and Effect, and Conclusions, Generalizations, and Predictions

RELATED BOOKS: The Kidnappers: A Mystery, Twisted Summer, The One Left Behind


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 11, 2008

Freak the Mighty

Freak the Mighty

Author: Rodman Philbrick          

Page Length: 169

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY: Max is a learning disabled student with no friends who has just finished seventh grade and is very large for his age. Max becomes friends with his new neighbor, Kevin, a boy the same age who has a health impairment, which has stopped his growth at about the height of three feet.  Kevin is very intelligent and quotes large words and their meanings to Max on a routine basis. Kevin lives with his mother, The Fair Gwen, next door to Max and his grandparents. Although the two boys are extreme opposites they bond and become know as “Freak the Mighty.”

During the summer, they spend hours together as Kevin shares his knowledge and imagination with Max.  They have several encounters with some adverse people who help build their reputation as “Freak the Mighty.”  The first boy they encounter is Tony D., the local gang leader. Then Kevin and Max come in contact with Loretta Lee and Iggy, who live in the “testaments”.  Next, they must work with Ms. Donelli, the English teacher; and last but not least, they meet Killer Kane, Max’s dad who has been in jail and just released on parole.

Kevin or Freak, as Max calls him, helps Max see that he is not as “dumb” as he thinks he is.  They convince the school principal that Kevin needs Max in his classes in the fall and the two become inseparable.  Together, they experience friendship accompanied by heartache, hurtful truths and a little bit of magic.

REVIEW:  This is a wonderful story of two quite different boys.  Although, they both have experienced a lot of heartache, together they find a life filled with magic and adventure.  It is a story of the underdog overcoming extreme odds or two underdogs who become one mighty force.

At the end of the book, the author gives tips to young writers on how to get started in writing.  Also, listed is an interview with the author and a list of Kevin’s dictionary.

This book is different from most books written for young adults in that it covers several issues that most of the public has trouble accepting.  And, he author does it in a humorous way. I think anyone above the age of twelve would enjoy this book. It would be especially good for anyone who is mentally or physically challenged.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Character, Sequence of Events, Compare/Contrast, and Cause/Effect

RELATED BOOKS: Max the Mighty, Tangerine, The Outsiders

MOVIE CONNECTIONS:The Mighty” (1998)

RELATED WEBSITES:…/ftm/activities/

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 10, 2008

Home Invasion

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Home Invasion

Author: Monique Polak    

Page Length: 105

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY:  The story opens the summer before Josh, the narrator enters 10th grade.  He introduces the reader to his mom and her new husband, Clay, an artistic type.  They live in the city of Montreal, where there have been several “home invasions” where people have been robbed.

Josh’s granddad has a heart attack, so his mom has to go to his home and care for him, leaving Josh and Clay, home—alone.  Neither of the males is crazy about this situation; they both love Josh’s mom, but are not fond of each other.   Clay surprises Josh, by paying for him to go to basketball camp so that he can have time to work on his art.

Josh meets the new neighbors down the street, the Levesques, who have a daughter, Patsy, also entering 10th grade.  Josh finds himself in more than one situation, where he has entered the Levesque home, uninvited and goes into hiding.  He experiences an enter thrill and feels he might relate to the “home invaders.”  Although he doesn’t rob the new neighbors, he does overhear some confidential conversations.

The story continues with basketball camp, Clay, more “home invasions” by Josh, and the real home invaders and a blossoming relationship between Patsy and Josh.

REVIEW:  This book is an easy book to read. It seemed the author put too many subplots in the story for the reader to focus on the main idea.  I would not suggest the book for a high school student.  It would serve as a quick read for a junior high student.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Supporting Details

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES:  Sexual references, p. 1-2 and some profanity, but not offensive.

RELATED BOOKS: No More Pranks, Blue Moon, Bull Rider


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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

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