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December 19, 2010

Planet Janet

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Planet Janet by Dyan Sheldon: Book Cover

Planet Janet

Author: Dyan Sheldon


Page Length: 221


Reading Level: 6


Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Janet’s lost in her own “me” world and she reveals all her thoughts, hopes, and dreams in her diary. Janet talks about the mad cow (MC), her mother, her best friend Disha who has joined her in the dark phase, her wacked out brother, and her psychotherapist father. Janet’s so lost in her own self-centered world that she fails to see the turmoil swirling around her. Events are in place that just may bring her crashing back to reality.

REVIEW: Reading Janet’s diary is interesting and revealing. She talks about everything from a crush on a guy and how she plants herself in his path to catch his attention to finding her bra in her brother’s room. The book is definitely only appropriate for older teens as she and her best friend smoke a joint and Sara Dancer talks about “doing it” and subsequently suffers a pregnancy scare. All along throughout the story, Janet’s busy being disgusted by her mother and never stops to see the pain her mother is going through. An affair is revealed at the end and both Janet and her mother discover their common strengths, and Janet discovers that she needs her mother more than she thought. I’d recommend this book to teen girls – especially the ones that tend to be more self-centered (as they might learn something about themselves along the way).

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  identifying plots, subplots, elements of plot, written response in the form of a diary, cause and effect, character traits

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: grandma’s disapproval of a homosexual relationship, presence of marijuana, Sara Dancer talking about doing it for the first time and what it was like

RELATED BOOKS: Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, My Perfect Life, Planet Janet in Orbit, Confessions of a Hollywood Star

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004)


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

August 30, 2009

Girl 15 Charming but Insane

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Girl 15 Charming but Insane

Author: Sue Limb

Page Length: 214  

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Jess Jordan is 15 years old, lacks in physical development of her upper body and thinks her lower portion is way too big!  Not only is she disappointed with her lack of beauty, but has to live with the knowledge that Flora, her best friend, is a goddess!

Jess lives with her mother and grandmother, and corresponds with her dad through e-mail.  Her dad sends her daily horoscopes that do not predict the future as anything but bad days!  Jess has a crush on Ben, who does not know that she is alive.  After Flora joins a band with Ben and his best friend, Jess does begin spending time with her secret love.  Ben is nice to her, but does not pursue a romantic relationship.

Jess moves through the spring by being humiliated at a party where she has used minestrone soup to enhance her breasts.  When she learns that she has been videoed in the restroom at the party, she panics that the entire school will witness her trauma with the soup enhancements.  She learns her secret is saved by Fred, her neighbor.  In a series of events and her own imagination, Jess jeopardizes her friendship with both Fred and Flora. 

REVIEW: This is a hilarious book that girls would enjoy.  Jess humorously describes the feelings a typical teen would experience in the early years of high school.  Her insecurities, as well as jealousy, are common feelings teens have today.  The relationships she has with her mother, grandmother, and estranged father are also realistic.  This is a good book for leisure reading.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Point of View, Characters, and Compare/Contrast

RELATED BOOKS: Girl, Nearly 16: Absolute Torture, Girl, Going on 17: Pants on Fire

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Pretty in Pink (1986)


 REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

July 1, 2008

Agnes Parker Girl in Progress

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Agnes Parker…Girl in Progress

Author: Kathleen O’Dell

Page Length: 157

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The book begins with the last glorious day of summer before sixth grade. Agnes and her friend Prejean are savoring every last moment. The first day of school arrives as Agnes is faced with the strictest teacher in sixth grade and wouldn’t you know it – the class bully (Neidermeyer) too. A new boy arrives to class and Agnes is instantly besotted, but she’s disgusted that he’s constantly hanging out with Neidermeyer. Agnes’s adventures are just beginning. Sixth grade is an action packed year complete with a bicycle accident, a broken wrist, a tiff with Prejean, discussions about getting a bra, a new friendship, and an unexpected discovery. Agnes is sure to remember this year forever as she grows closer to adulthood and learns more about whom she really is and what she wants than she ever expected.

REVIEW: I liked this book. It is light and entertaining; yet, there is deep emotional depth in dealing with Joe’s father’s depression and the family circumstances. Agnes learns some powerful lessons about life, her inner strengths, and helping others. Overall, I think that girls would be more drawn to this book and really middle school girls experiencing some of the same things Agnes is going through. However, high school girls could relate to that phase in their life and to the theme of self-discovery in general. 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence, character development, plot, writer’s motive, voice, causes and effects of Agnes’s discoveries about her self

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: deals with depression after the loss of a parent

RELATED BOOKS: Agnes Parker…Happy Camper?, Agnes Parker…Keeping Cool in Middle School, Ophie out of Oz, Bad Tickets


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

May 2, 2008

When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

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When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

Author: Kimberly Holt

Page Length: 227

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Cal and Toby are two junior boys growing up in the small town of Antler, Texas. Cal’s older brother, Wayne, is away fighting in Vietnam. It seems like an ordinary summer. Nothing much exciting ever happens in Antler until the day the small trailer decorated with Christmas lights comes to town. The trailer contains a side show act– a 643 pound boy (claimed to be the fattest kid in the world) named Zachary Beaver. The town folk of Antler line up to gawk at Zachary who quickly becomes the talk of the town.

Cal and Toby feel sorry for Zachary when his manager leaves town for two weeks. They begin to leave food on his doorstep. Cal and Toby eventually befriend Zachary and even take him to a movie one night.

Meanwhile, Toby’s mother is gone away to Nashville to pursue her dream of becoming a country singer. Cal never answers his letters from Wayne in Vietnam, and no matter how hard Toby tries; Scarlett only has eyes for Juan. The sheriff is threatening to notify the authorities about Zachary’s abandonment. Cal is devastated by the news his family receives. Toby is angry and can’t seem to face the truth. Is there hope for Zachary? Can Toby pull himself together in time to save his friendship and his family?

REVIEW: The lessons in this book are excellent: overcoming your fears, seeing the person behind their appearance, realizing that you can’t make someone love/like you, and the importance of family.

However, the topic was strange (are there still traveling side shows??). I found the book mediocre; I would like to have seen Zachary’s life changed more dramatically.

This book is a National Book Award winner and it certainly does take compositional risk – so in that sense it might be good for teaching students to break outside the ordinary when they write.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: theme, setting, characterization, plot, sequence of events, audience, author’s purpose, tone

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: a baptism takes place, Vietnam – loss of a loved one, the issue of weight and appearance, Alzheimer’s

RELATED BOOKS: My Louisiana Sky, Mister and Me, Part of Me, Keeper of the Night

RELATED MOVIES: When Zachary Beaver Came to Town (2003), What’s Eating Gilbert Grape


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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