The Book Reviews – Website

December 19, 2010

Learning to Fly

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Learning to Fly by Paul Yee: Book Cover

Learning to Fly

Author: Paul Yee

Page Length: 107

 

Reading Level: 3.34

 

Genre: Fiction

 

Career Connections: none         

PLOT SUMMARY: Jason is the only Chinese student at the high school in the small town where his mother has opened a deli.  Students make fun of him at school and when he is working at the deli.  He and his mother moved to the United States from China two years after his father had immigrated.  Little did his mother know that his father was having an affair and would leave them as soon as they arrived in the United States.  Jason hates the U. S. but cannot return to China because his mother would have no one to help her.

After witnessing a police chase in the mall, Jason becomes friends with Chief, a Native American student who attends his high school.  Because Chief and his friends smoke marijuana, Jason decides to join them. Jason takes money from his mother to buy pot for him and his new friends. When their supplier gets busted, Jason gets a call to buy a large quantity of pot for the group.  That night, he realizes he was “set up” and is busted by the police. 

Jason feels all alone, but when Chief’s sister dies from an overdose, he realizes that he is not alone in feeling like an outsider and reaches out as a friend to the only other non-white boy in town, Chief.

REVIEW: Many of our low level reading students are those who are immigrants from other countries. I believe this would be a good book for students to read who feel discriminated against.  The events of the book show what students will participate in (many activities legal or illegal) just to be accepted by someone or some group.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: profanity (pp. 83), marijuana and drug use

AREAS OF TEACHING: Characterization, Setting, Compare/Contrast

RELATED BOOKS: To Kill a Mockingbird, Romiette and Julio, and The Hoopster

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.orcabook.com

www.learningtogive.org/lessons/unit92/lesson1.html 

www.learningtogive.org/lessons/unit137/lesson2.html

MUSIC, MOVIE, AND ART CONNECTIONS: Remember the Titans (2002), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Gran Torino (2008)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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September 28, 2009

Funny Little Monkey

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Funny Little Monkey

Author: Andrew Auseon

Page Length: 298

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Arty Moore is a fourteen-year-old boy with a growth hormone deficiency which has stifled his growth to a mere 4’ 2”. Arty has a twin brother, Kurt, who has seemed to get all of the growth hormones of the two and towers more than 6’ tall. 

Kurt has tormented Arty most of their adolescent life, and when Arty hears of an “underground misfit group” in his school, he employs them to sabotage his brother.  When the school mascot is stolen, Kurt becomes a prime target of accusation. 

While the underground organization mounts evidence against Kurt, Arty becomes infatuated with Leslie Dermott, the new, rich girl in town.   Arty doesn’t really know why, but Leslie seems to enjoy his company, also. A series of events follow that make Arty question his feelings about his brother, mother, Leslie, and the underground misfits.

REVIEW: Young teen boys would enjoy this book as it deals with many of the feelings they experience in the years of puberty and early maturity. The book had several subplots that kept the story line interesting. However, the book focuses on many negative behaviors and feelings and the author does not end it with any strong socially redeeming conclusion.

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

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Mild profanity, some underage tobacco, alcohol, and drug use

RELATED BOOKS: Tangerine

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 30, 2009

My Life and Death by Alexandra Canarsie

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My Life and Death by Alexandra Canarsie

Author: Susan Heyboer O’Keefe

Page Length: 255

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Alexandra, with her mother, has just returned to her mother’s home town, Nickel Park. Alexandra has had trouble in every school she’s been to lately, she and her mother are always on the move, and she already hates life in this little town trailer park. The only pastime Allie enjoys is attending funerals – even of complete strangers. This time Allie makes a new friend, find a teacher who believes in her, and uncovers a mystery – it appears that Jimmy was murdered and Allie intends to find out who did it.

REVIEW: This book was an “ok” read. It deals with some of the typical issues of teenage rebellion and general discontent. The one notable subject matter was that Allie constantly blames her mother for the disappearance of her father – and in her mind she romanticizes the reasons why she hasn’t heard from him – only to later come to terms with the crushing reality that he’s started a new life and doesn’t want her included in it. There are many likable characters for readers to relate to. However, the plot isn’t as well developed as it could be, and Allie’s counter bullying of Dennis and the consequences isn’t adequately addressed.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: comparing text to self, compare and contrast, sequence of events, setting, conflict, resolution

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: bullying issues, funeral descriptions, suicide due to parent acceptance issues

RELATED BOOKS: Death by Eggplant, Christmas Gifts

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.meghan-mccarthy.com/authorstalk_susanokeefe.html

http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/childrens_writing/117238

http://www.girlposse.com/reviews/books/my_life_and_death.html

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

Candy

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Candy

Author: Kevin Brooks

Page Length: 364  

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Joe is an ordinary teen age boy living outside London with his father and sister.  His parent’s are divorced although they continue to see each other.  Joe plays bass in a local rock band.  One day, on the way to a doctor’s appointment, Joe encounters Candy, the most beautiful girl he has ever seen.  His conversation with her in Mc Donald’s is brief because a large black man comes in to the restaurant and forces her to leave with him.

Although the encounter was brief, Joe did get Candy’s number. He calls her and they meet at the London Zoo.  While in the Moonlight World tunnel, Candy begins to kiss Joe and a heavy make-out scene follows.  Joe is aware that Candy is taking some type of drugs but he is not sure what.  He becomes obsessed with her and writes a song about her. 

When Candy goes to see Joe at the club where his band is playing, she hears the song about her.  As the crowd applauds the performance, a fight breaks out between the black man who appears to possess Candy, and Mike, Joe’s future brother-in-law.  Joe discovers Candy is living a life of heroin drug addiction and prostitution. Determined to help her, he risks his relationship with his father and his friends and eventually his own life. 

REVIEW: The book is a narrative written from Joe’s point of view.  The characters are developed in a realistic manner in which the reader can embrace their feelings and emotions.

I would recommend the book for mature teens.  The content is heavy, but gripping, as the characters experience the tragedies of drug addiction.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Cause/Effect, Conflict, Theme, and Character

TOUCHY AREAS: Teachers should be aware that the theme of the book is about drug addiction.  Mild profanity is used throughout the book (p. 22, 30, 102, 118, 285, through the end of the book) and a heavy make-out scene is described on page 97.  There is drug use on pages: 116, 142, and 195.  Chapter 19 describes Candy’s withdrawal from heroin.  There is also physical violence included.       

RELATED BOOKS: Crank, The Beast, Slam, Charmed, Rats Saw God, No Problem, The Glory Field

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Miles from Home (2006),

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.pbskids.org/itsmylife/parents/lesson_plans/dangers_of_drug_abuse.html 

 REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

January 18, 2009

When Dad Killed Mom

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When Dad Killed Mom

Author: Julius Lester 

Page Length: 199

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Jenna and Jeremy were living a typical day at school when they were called into the office. Seeing each other there together and sensing the tension of those around them they knew bad news was coming, but they had no idea it would be this devastating. Just this morning, as they sat innocently in class, their own father gunned down their mother. They have nowhere to go and no one to turn to. Torn apart by this tragedy, Jenna and Jeremy grow distant from each other. Jenna has her own guilty conscience and terrible secret. Jeremy who was always by his mother’s side is lost without her. Why would dad do something like this? What will happen to Jenna and Jeremy?

REVIEW: As many of the reviews note, this story line could have been ripped from any headline. The subject matter of domestic violence will be relative to many students. I like how Lester differentiates the viewpoints and experiences between Jenna and Jeremy.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  character traits, cause and effect, author’s purpose, sequence of events, theme, compare and contrast

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: “I had drawn a vagina on the bathroom walls” (page 11), language (page 146), knowledge of affairs, father having suggestive contact with daughter

RELATED BOOKS: The Color Purple, Shining, Why Heaven is Far Away, Days of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://books.google.com/books?id=sOEA6RWBpzkC&dq=when+dad+killed+mom&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0

http://nancykeane.com/booktalks/lester_when.htm

http://www.domesticviolence.org/

http://www.helpguide.org/mental/domestic_violence_abuse_types_signs_causes_effects.htm

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

January 17, 2009

The Boyfriend

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The Boyfriend

Author: R. L. Stine

Page Length: 164

Reading Level: 3

Genre: Fiction-Mystery      

PLOT SUMMARY: This is the story of Joanna, a spoiled, materialistic teen-ager, whose parents are divorced.  Joanna has been dating Dex for a year.  Her mother never approved of him, probably because he was an orphan who lived with his aunt on “the other side of town.”  Joanna finds that she, also, no longer approves of Dex.  She wants to break up with him and date Shep.  Shep is wealthy and a good “prospect”. 

Joanna stands Dex up for a date at the mall, but later he convinces Joanna to take a ride with him and Pete.  While watching the moon at a lookout point, Dex falls off of a cliff, and Joanna leaves in a panic.  On the way back to town, she is in an accident and has to stay in the hospital for an extended time. She learns that Dex is dead and feels no remorse or loss.  However, she begins getting phone calls from Dex and begins seeing him in town.

Although she is dating Shep, Joanna risks losing him and her friend, Mary, as she continues to exhibit shallow, selfish, and materialistic characteristics.

REVIEW: This was my first book to read by R. L. Stine.  His style is unique, in that he creates suspense and mystery with open-ended questions at the end of each chapter.  He created great visual images in his descriptive writing of Dex as a dead person.  I think both boys and girls who enjoy horror and mystery would like this easy to read book.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Teachers and students should be aware that the majority of R. L. Stine’s writings for the high school reluctant reader are filled with descriptions of some grotesque images that create the horror stories he writes.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Character, Conflict, Supporting Details, and Sequence of Events

RELATED BOOKS: The Girlfriend, Call Waiting, and Beach House

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.buildingrainbows.com/bookreview/reviewid/30753

www.content.scholastic.com/browse/search?query=stine

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

October 30, 2008

Cruise Control

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Cruise Control

Author: Terry Trueman

Page Length: 149

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

 

PLOT SUMMARY: Paul McDaniel is a star athlete in high school. His life seems perfect, but it isn’t. Paul keeps bottling up his rage over his family situation; unfortunately, when he lets his rage out he is in danger of completely losing control. On the one hand, Paul loves his brother and longs for a typical relationship; on the other hand, he hates the conditions having his special needs brother in his life has created for his family. Paul’s dad left the family and now he’s the man of the house – unwanted responsibilities that are affecting his future. Will Paul ever break free and can he ever forgive his father?

 

REVIEW: This book takes a real look at what life might be like for a family with a severely handicapped child. Through Paul’s emotions we experience his anger at not having a normal life, his disappointment in his father’s inability to be the man of the house and handle the situation, and his anger with himself over not being a better brother and ever even thinking about wishing that his brother didn’t exist. Powerful and raw — this book is moving and very real.

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: description, imagery, word choice in writing, mood, tone, author’s purpose, sequence of events, cause and effect, internal conflict, external conflict

 

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Foul language interspersed throughout the story

 

RELATED BOOKS: Stuck in Neutral, Inside Out, No Right Turn

 

RELATED MOVIES: “Rain Man,” “Gaby,” “Touched by Love,” “Door to Door”

 

   

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

www.harperchildrens.com/webcontent/teachers_guides/pdf/0066239613.pdf

 

http://unjobs.org/authors/terry-trueman

 

http://www.terrytrueman.com/books_cruise.htm

 

http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/cerebral_palsy/cerebral_palsy.htm

 

http://www.terrytrueman.com/

 

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Stuck in Neutral

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Stuck In Neutral

Author: Terry Trueman

Page Length: 114

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

 

PLOT SUMMARY: Shawn McDaniel is fourteen years old. He is the average teenager – interested in girls and sports. He has an amazing mind and can remember details from conversations. The problem is that no one knows how brilliant Shawn is because he can’t tell them. He’s confined to a wheelchair, unable to move or speak, and prone to violent seizures. Everyone thinks he is incapable of thought or feelings, except maybe his dad. Shawn’s father is fixated on his son’s suffering; he cannot stand to watch his body tremor during a seizure and he’s feels guilty about Shawn’s suffering. Shawn fears that his father may be plotting to kill him.

 

REVIEW: This book takes a powerful look at the what if. What if mental and physical impairments aren’t always as comprehensive as they seem?  What if what we have always assumed to be true isn’t true after all?  Trueman paints a vivid picture of what life might be like for Shawn – colorful, rich, and exciting in its own way. As The Horn Book reviewer writes “evoking one of our darkest fears and deepest hopes — that a fully conscious and intelligent being may be hidden within such a broken body, as yet unable to declare his existence.”

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: description, imagery, word choice in writing, mood, tone, author’s purpose

 

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: pages 91-93 – violence as Paul nearly beats to death two boys torturing his brother, seizure descriptions, anger from siblings

 

RELATED BOOKS: Cruise Control, Inside Out, No Right Turn

 

RELATED MOVIES: “Rain Man,” “Gaby,” & “Touched by Love”

 

   

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-stuck-in-neutral/

 

http://www.harperchildrens.com/webcontent/teachers_guides/pdf/0066239613.pdf

 

http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/cerebral_palsy/cerebral_palsy.htm

 

http://www.terrytrueman.com/

 

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

September 21, 2008

One More Step

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One More Step

Author: Sheree Fitch

Page Length: 85

Reading Level: 2.5

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: 14 year old Julian lives with his older brother Chris and his divorced mother. Julian’s father separated from his mother when he was only 1 year old. As a result, Julian’s relationship with his father is not a close one. Their contact is limited to weekend and holiday visits. On a recent Christmas visit to their father’s home, Julian and Chris spend time with their father’s new wife, children, and their grandfather – Poppie. When Chris and father are sent outside to fix some broken Christmas lights, Chris’ leg is broken breaking the fall of his father. Julian becomes upset at the scene and decides to leave his father and join his mother and her new boyfriend, Jean-Paul, for a visit to Quebec. Jean-Paul intends for Julian’s mother to meet his huge family!

On this trip, Julian discovers that this “new man” in her mother’s life is a supportive and loving one. Jean-Paul and Julian bond and move several steps towards becoming a “family”. The past 14 years of Julian’s life have resulted in his mother dating 3 men – all with their flaws. His mother’s new French boyfriend, Jean-Paul, proves to be promising, despite Julian’s constant cocky and sarcastic attitude.

Towards the end of the Quebec trip, Julian’s mother gets a call that her father, Poppie, has passed away. This is a blow to Julian, who was very close to his grandfather. The story comes to a close with Julian’s mother marrying Jean-Paul, Chris going off to school, and Julian realizing that Jean-Paul is not going to be his replacement father but rather a supportive male presence.   

REVIEW: I enjoyed this book. I thought the internal and external dialogue of Julian was awesome. It kept me engaged. For a book written at a 2nd to 3rd grade level, I was entertained. The topic of divorce, separation, and new family figures is a touchy one, and I felt the author did an excellent job portraying the emotions, change, and acceptance that comes with this frequent situation in society. The book overall had a positive tone yet the youthful sarcastic elements remained. This certified it as authentic. Even though there were numerous curse words, this gave the dialogue true and real meaning.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: voice, internal & external dialogue

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: curse words (pages 47 & 54), references to underage drinking (page 65 & 79-82), references to items such as condoms and hickeys

RELATED BOOKS: Dear Mr. Henshaw, It’s Not the End of the World

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979), “Boys N the Hood” (1991)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://books.google.com/books?id=wbHEYSa0uCYC&dq=one+more+step+sheree+fitch&pg=PP1&ots=fcz-rGMEhP&sig=1MBRfal4ufjNWhdKJvqPCl1K5O4&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result

http://orca.powerwebbook.com/client/PDFs/TeachersGuides/Orca%20Soundings/OneMoreStepGuide.pdf

http://www.shereefitch.com/books/oneMoreStep.php

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

September 2, 2008

Hatchet

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Hatchet

Author: Gary Paulsen

Page Length: 181

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: It’s summer and what should be a fun time, but Brian’s parents have split and he’s traveling to see his father in Canada. During the plane ride, he can’t stop thinking about the terrible secret he knows. Suddenly, the pilot is in terrible pain and the plane is headed down. Brian must act fast to have any chance of survival. Will help arrive in time? Can Brian survive the plane crash and sustain himself the wilderness below?

REVIEW: Paulsen is well known for his survival of the fittest like stories. This book is a good read for anyone – because one never knows when survival on your own might be necessary. This book leaves the reader considering how they could survive and pondering what they would do in Brian’s situation. Brian never completely gives up hope as he must learn the hard way to kill or be killed and to do whatever it takes to survive. This story is thought provoking about what is important in life. It sends a clear message that survival depends often depends upon one’s mental attitude (a lesson many teenagers could use).

Hatchet is a great teaching tool. It naturally lends itself to journal responses (students might write entries as if they were Brian after each chapter). Students can connect with Brian’s feelings and experiences. Critical thinking is required for survival.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: theme, setting, point of view, characters, author’s purpose, responding to text, visualizing as you read, making predictions

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: killing animals for survival

RELATED BOOKS: Brian’s Winter, The Cookcamp, Dogsong, Canyons

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.mce.k12tn.net/survival/hatchet/hatchet.htm

http://www.sdcoe.k12.ca.us/score/hatch/hatchettg.htm

http://edhelper.com/books/Hatchet.htm

http://library.thinkquest.org/TQ0310399/Hatchetquiz.htm

http://www.randomhouse.com/features/garypaulsen/

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

April 30, 2008

My Time as Caz Hazard

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My Time as Caz Hazard

Author: Tanya Lloyd Kyi

Page Length: 103

Reading Level: 3.2

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Caz Hallard is a 10th grader with a less than stellar academic career and a discipline file that includes punching her former boyfriend. Caz is diagnosed with dyslexia (something her parents have trouble believing) and sent to a new school where she is placed in a special reading class to help her. On her first day of school, she meets Mr. Popular who approaches only to recoil when he realizes she is headed to the “special” class. Caz’s special education classroom contains a variety of students. Dodie is shy, less than fashionably dressed, and an easy target. Amanda, a foster child who has been in many homes, has a knack for trouble and soon pulls Caz into a world of skipping school and breaking laws. Caz’s parents are separating, her best friend won’t speak to her anymore, and Dodie has committed suicide. Is she responsible for Dodie’s death and can she save herself before she loses everything? 

REVIEW: This book is typical of the Orca book series. It is written in simple language, on a high interest topic, and the action proceeds quickly. However, the book seems to lack depth. Many of the issues are never fully addressed or developed. I personally find the messages in it disturbing – enough attention wasn’t given to the bullying that led to the suicide. Caz doesn’t pay serious repercussions for her shoplifting habit, and Amanda gets in with the in crowd by “putting out.” While I think these books take a Jerry Springer approach to an interest in “trashy” subjects, I am not sure they are strong enough morally to be worthwhile reads.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: causes and effects (inferred) beyond what the author presents, use of dialogue, examining stereo-types

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: most pages – suicide, sex, shoplifting, bullying, skipping school …

RELATED BOOKS: Orca series, The Shoplifting Game, Klepto

RELATED MOVIES: “CBS Afternoon Playhouse”, Portrait of a Teenage Shoplifter (1981), Rats and Bullies (bullying leads to suicide), Mean Girls

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://orca.powerwebbook.com/client/PDFs/TeachersGuides/Orca%20Soundings/CazHazardTG.pdf

http://nancykeane.com/booktalks/kyi_my.htm

http://www.schoolinfo.ca/read/podcast/MyTimeAsCazHazard.htm (downloadable MP3 file of the first chapter)

http://www.kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/behavior/suicide.html

http://kidshealth.org/teen/school_jobs/good_friends/shoplifting.html

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

April 21, 2008

The View From Saturday

The View from Saturday

Author: E. L. Konigsburg

Page Length: 163

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: This book details the story of The Souls and their teacher Mrs. Olinski (a paraplegic returning to teaching after ten years) . The Souls, otherwise known as Nadia, Noah, Ethan, and Julian, are four sixth graders with interconnected lives and a depth of friendship beyond their years. Mrs. Olinski must put together an academic team; she chooses the Souls (all four from her classroom). The Souls are brought together each Saturday for tea at Sillington House. As the academic competition heats up, the reader learns through flashbacks how the team members’ lives are intertwined. Each soul (including Mrs. Olinski) finds solace and strength in their relationship. What forces have conspired to bring them together? Will the Souls be able to clench the title?

REVIEW: This book was a light, heart-warming read. I loved the depth of the characters and how well Konigsburg wove their stories together. Finding kindness in yourself (for others and even sea turtles) is a great lesson for any age. I feel that the strongest appeal of the book would be to 5th through 7th graders; however, the character depth and academic rigor of the contest would appeal too many.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: voice, mood, and tone; writer’s motive, theme, literary devices, point of view

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: On pages 69 and 71 a few students treat Mrs. Olinski poorly by writing cripple on the board and making veiled malicious comments such as “could you write that a little higher on the blackboard?”

RELATED BOOKS: Holes by Louis Sachar, Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS:

Phenomenon with John Travolta (random acts of kindness)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.sdcoe.k12.ca.us/score/view/viewtg.html

http://www.planetbookclub.com/kids/archive/saturday12.98/saturdayintro.html

http://eduscapes.com/newbery/97a.html

http://www.eduplace.com/kids/tnc/mtai/konigsburg.html

http://www.discoveryjourney.com/ContentSummary.asp?ContentID=59&List=1&frompublic=true  (this site rates the book on positive and negative aspects)

www.remc11.k12.mi.us/bstpract/bpII/Lessons/99035/99035.pdf (activities to promote random acts of kindness)

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

April 2, 2008

Rats Saw God

Rats Saw God

Author: Rob Thomas

Page Length: 202

Reading Level: 6

REVIEW: This is the story of a high school senior, Steve York, who is called to the counselor’s (Mr. DeMouy) office to discuss how Steve, an underachieving merit scholar, can make up an English grade he failed his junior year in high school. Steve lives in San Diego with his newly remarried mom and sister. He has received a possession and three under the influence citations since the beginning of his senior year.  But Mr. DeMouy, a 30 year old counselor, wants to give Steve a second chance.  He tells Steve he can make up the failing grade by writing a 100 page essay.  He promises Steve no one else will read the essay but him.  Steve decides to take the challenge and titles his essay, “Roads Scholar”.   

The story begins in Houston, the summer after Steve’s sophomore year in high school. Steve is living with his father while his mom and sister move to San Diego after their divorce.  The book is written in two settings.  The first is Steve’s essay, a recollection of the past three years; the second is Steve’s present life, a senior in San Diego.   

Through Steve’s essay, the reader becomes familiar with the strained relationship Steve has with his father. Steve dons large hooped earrings and a bandana in an act of deviance to his Vietnam vet and astronaut father.   He admits loathing his dad as he states on page 110, “ is in better shape than me, buys American, watches CNN nonstop, drinks bottled water, reads the entire newspaper, works 16 hours a day, and has never air-guitared the Rolling Stones.”  The essay also describes the formation of the “Grace Order of Dadaists,” a club Steve and an obscure group of students charter at the high school.  From this group, Steve experiences his first love and loss of virginity.  

As Steve works through these memories in his writing, he works through feelings and relationships he has experienced.  He has both rewards and disappointments.  However, in writing about his past, Steve realizes where he needs to go and what he needs to do. 

I enjoyed this book immensely.  What I thought started off slowly, gripped my attention and I completed the book on an airplane ride to San Diego. 

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: The book has mature content about drugs and sex.  On pages 150-154 is a graphic picture of Steve’s first sexual experience.  It is not inappropriate for mature high school students but teachers should be aware of it. I would suggest this book for junior and senior students and any adults in the education field. 

RELATED WEBSITES: 

www.bookrags.com/studyguide-rats-saw-god/

 

www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/Rats-Saw-God.html

 

http://bfgb.wordpress.com/2007/08/21/rats-saw-god-by-rob-thomas/

 

http://moorebrarians.blogspot.com/2007/12/rats-saw-god-by-rob-thomas.html

www.powells.com/biblio/62-9781416938972-0

 

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

March 10, 2008

Joey Pigza Loses Control

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Joey Pigza Loses Control

Author: Jack Gantos

Page Length: 196

Reading Level: 6

 

PLOT SUMMARY: Joey Pigza is an eleven year old boy with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He reveals to the reader some of his exploits that occur whenever he has that crazy feeling inside. Joey currently lives with his mom and his Chihuahua, Pablo. Joey’s mother understands his problems and has taken Joey to the doctor; his medicine helps keep him in control and deters him for acting impulsively.

 

Mom takes Joey to visit with his father for the summer. Dad has supposedly cleaned up his act and is looking forward to making up for lost time. Joey arrives to dad and grandma. Grandma smokes like crazy in between being hooked up to her oxygen tank and being seized by coughing fits. Dad is well intended but often off track. Joey tells dad that he never gets a chance to talk too. As the story progresses, we see that dad is likely ADHD just like Joey. He self-medicates with cigarettes and alcohol (all things he is not supposed to be doing anymore). Joey and his father bond when Joey becomes the pitcher on his dad’s baseball team. They enjoy each other’s company, but there are many hurdles to overcome in their relationship.

 

One night dad drinks too heavily and determines that neither he nor Joey need their patches anymore. He crumples Joey’s patches and disposes of them. Joey begins to feel himself slipping out of control again; despite the fact that he really would like to be a normal kid, Joey can’t control his responses. Things heat up when Joey tries to protect dad and lies to mom about what’s going on at dad’s house. Joey’s guilt begins to consume him. Dad begins to pressure Joey to stay with him permanently. As everything around him begins to spiral out of control, Joey heads to his safe haven. Who will save Joey? Will dad ever realize that he needs help? Will Joey be forced to choose sides?

 

REVIEW: What was fascinating about this book was that you almost have to be ADHD to appreciate it. On the other hand, it was a fascinating look at what it might really be like to be ADHD. Gantos’s descriptions of the uncontrollable chaos in Joey’s mind and his outrageous actions really create sensitivity within the reader to the fact that Joey can’t help. The reader empathizes with Joey’s desire to be normal, but the same time, the reader realizes that just can’t happen without his medication.

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: This book would definitely appeal more to boys. The episode Joey experiences on pages 140-142 might be a great read aloud and discussion of what it would be like to have ADHD and how it would affect your social and academic life (a great written response activity). Analyzing Joey at the beginning, middle, and end of the story would be a great activity (a bubble flow map). Overall, this book was an easy read. I’d even recommend it for teachers who work with ADHD students. 

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://www.multcolib.org/talk/guides-joeypigzaloses.html

 

http://www.kidsreads.com/reviews/0374399891.asp

 

http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?id=1125&type=book&cn=3

 

http://www.kidsource.com/books/JPigzalosescontrol.html

 

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

 

March 8, 2008

When Dad Killed Mom

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When Dad Killed Mom

Author: Julious Lester

Page Length: 199

Reading Level:

 

REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: The title says it all.  Jeremy and Jenna’s mom was shot by their dad. Mom is dead, dad is in jail and two kids are left to try and make some sort of life for themselves in the aftermath. This is a disturbing book as you would imagine. It is well written, but I didn’t enjoy it, much as I didn’t enjoy watching Schindler’s List. That is not to say there is not value and it wasn’t compelling, there is and it was, it is just not the kind of book you read for fun.

 

The newspaper headline reads “College Shrink Kills Wife.” The story is told from both Jeremy and Jenna’s point of view. They take turns narrating. The mom, who has already been killed when the book starts, tells her story through a diary the son finds. This is obviously a family in trouble but the actions of the father come as a shock to the children. Throughout the book several deep dark family secrets are revealed that shake-up the characters and the reader. We find out that Jenna and her dad don’t have an entirely wholesome father daughter relationship just for an example.

 

I had to read this book in short segments and follow-up with something lighter. I would have a hard time recommending it to just anyone although, given the title, I think the reader is fairly well prepared for some of the content and tone.

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

www.eduplace.com/kids/tnc/mtail/lester.html

 

http://falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/lester.htm

 

REVIEWED BY: Sherry Hall

 

February 9, 2008

The Summer of Riley

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The Summer of Riley

Author: Eve Bunting

Reading Level: 4th

Page Length: 170

 

REVIEW & PLOT SUMARY: After looking at the cover, I knew I would enjoy the book because it was a picture of a boy and a dog.  I inferred from the question on the cover that the boy and the dog experience some type of trauma. Since I recently lost my nine year old, maltese / yorkie, Sassy, I imagined I would be able to relate to the plot.  The story begins with William, the boy explaining that he got Riley, a lab/collie mix, two months after the death of his grandpa who had lived with him and his divorced mother on a farm.  William has a best friend, Grace, who is well-versed in her opinions.

 

The story is about an unfortunate incident in which Riley chases the neighbor, Peachie’s, aging racehorse.  Peachie lodges a complaint to the county commissioners against Riley. William and Grace begin a campaign to spare Riley’s life.  All of the town people become involved with their opinions.

 

Eve Bunting, the author, not only tells a story about a boy and his dog, but discusses the issues of divorce between William’s parents, political procedures and relationships between grade school friends.

 

I think both boys and girls would enjoy this book as independent reading for personal enjoyment.

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6431059

 

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

January 18, 2008

Strider

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Strider

Author: Beverly Cleary

Page Length: 152

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Realistic Fiction

 

REVIEW: Strider is the story of stray dog that wanders into the life of a teenage boy, Leigh. Leigh keeps a journal of daily activities that he feels are meaningful (because they are either good or bad). As the reader traverses the pages through Leigh’s journal, he/she discovers Leigh feelings of insecurity, his struggles with their economic and living conditions, his feelings about his father after a divorce, and his struggles to find himself and realize his strengths.

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: The book is fast paced and very well written. Characters in the story are easy to identify with. Leigh makes several references as he write in his journal to what his English teacher is teaching or has taught him (so the book becomes a wonderful learning tool for applying what you’ve learned and for reinforcing ELA concepts were it to be read and discussed in class). This book truly is a moving story of courage and one young man’s success in finding his way and in learning to accept others as well.

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://www.beverlycleary.com/books/0380712369.html

 

http://www.litplans.com/authors/Beverly_Cleary.html

 

http://www.webenglishteacher.com/cleary.html

 

http://falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/clearybio.htm

 

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

 

January 2, 2008

Freeze Tag

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Freeze Tag

Author: Caroline B. Cooney

Page Length: 166

Reading Level: 4th

Genre: Fiction

 

REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: The cover of this book is awesome. It truly depicts the main character, Lannie, and the feeling of being frozen. The action in this story happens quickly. It did not take long for me to get “hooked”. This book is about a girl, Lannie, who has been deprived of a loving upbringing. This story is also about a pair of love-struck teenagers, Meghan and West.

 

In the Prologue we see the kids of Dark Fern Lane playing a harm-less game of Freeze Tag. However, we discover that the game is not harm-less after all. Lannie has the power to actually freeze people in their place. This realization frightens the children of the neighborhood who end up avoiding the game from then on. However, Lannie’s power to freeze, remains.

 

On page 8, we see a good description of childhood jealously. Lannie is jealous of West’s family because they are nothing like her own. Lannie’s personality becomes even more layered as the story progresses with the added emotion of hatred. Lannie hates Meghan because Meghan is allowed to hang out with West’s family. On top of all this, Lannie is jealous of the relationship that West and Meghan have. Lannie wants West in every sense of the word, and she hates Meghan because she has West as a boyfriend.

 

Lannie is the product of a family that has divorced and re-married. She has not adjusted well at all to this change. Lannie’s step-father doesn’t even hug her, but rather shows his affection towards a new dog. This infuriates Lannie. Meghan makes a clear realization on page 51, that no one loves Lannie and no one ever has. Lannie’s feeling of parental neglect transforms itself into a violent act as we find out that Lannie froze her own mother as she was driving a car. Her mother subsequently died. On page 63, West’s mother paints a vivid description of the type of emotional neglect that Lannie has suffered in her early life.

 

Lannie’s retaliations on others are in the form of freezing them. Lannie yearns for affection and love. She yearns for it from West – the boyfriend of Meghan, the son of the family Lannie admires. Eventually Lannie persuades West to go out with her. West only agrees because Lannie has threatened to freeze his loved ones if he disobeys. Meghan cannot believe West is actually going to date Lannie and drop her as a girlfriend. Yet, Meghan understands the very real threat that is Lannie and her freezing-fingers. What is ironic is that just as Lannie is jealous of West’s family, Meghan is jealous of his family too. Both Lannie and Meghan do not regard their families as comforting ones. The difference is Lannie has been emotionally neglected, while Meghan has not.

 

The story progresses with Lannie freezing and unfreezing people. Lannie is only persuaded to unfreeze people because of opportunities to visit with West, have sleep-overs with his sister, and just be part of a loving family environment.

 

As West’s siblings become more and more annoyed, they begin to plot, along with West, a way to “end” Lannie. Meghan, even though she cannot stand Lannie, does not feel that any human should be “ended”. Meghan holds fast to the idea that good triumphs over evil, and if they plot to kill Lannie, then they are no better than she is.

 

Eventually, West and his siblings carry out a plan where Lannie becomes trapped in his truck (one with no handles on the inside). Lannie is stuck in this truck out in the freezing cold. Meghan realizes “the plan” and tries hard not to think about it. She ultimately cannot bear to think of someone dying in the cold and rescues Lannie from her “end”. The ending of this story is more of a beginning for both Meghan and Lannie as we can only infer what may happen next. Good did triumph evil, however it appears that some of the characters who were initially “good” have turned “evil”.

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: A compare/contrast lesson on the themes of good and evil would be most appropriate to touch upon with this book. Discussions on different types of family life would also be beneficial.

 

I would highly recommend this book to students!

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://www.chw.org/display/displayFile.aspdocid=20792&filename=/Groups/CAPFund/cap_emotional_neglect.pdf

 

http://teacher.scholastic.com/professional/bruceperry/bonding.htm

 

http://www.teenreads.com/authors/au-cooney-caroline.asp

 

http://falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/ccooney.htm

 

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

 

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