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January 1, 2011

The People of Sparks

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The People of Sparks

Author: Jeanne DuPrau

Page Length: 154

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: In this sequel to The City of Ember, Lina and Doon lead the residents of the underground into the village of Sparks.  They are a surprise to the people of Sparks but are housed, fed and taught to live off the land.  Conflicts between the two communities begin to occur because of lack of supplies.  The people of Ember are used to a life with electricity and comforts of the world before the Disaster.  The people of Sparks are accustomed to providing for themselves.

As the book progresses, Doon is intrigued by the one of the leaders of the underground people, Tick.  He is aggressive and wants to overtake the people of Sparks.  Doon finds it hard to follow Tick’s military style of leadership.

Lina leaves with the brother of the family she is staying with to explore the unknown area of the disaster.  The journey is more than she had thought she would encounter and she eventually makes her way back to the village. 

She finds Doon and together, they again try to save their people.

REVIEW: The characters are well-developed as well as the theme of this futuristic fiction novel. Young teens who enjoyed The Hunger Games and The Giver would like this book, too.


AREAS OF TEACHING: Theme, Conflict, Character, Sequence of Events

RELATED BOOKS: Book of Ember, The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, The Giver, and Gathering Blue


MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The City of Ember (2008)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


January 18, 2009

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Author: Mildred Taylor

Page Length: 276

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Realistic Fiction     

PLOT SUMMARY: The story begins with Cassie Logan and her brothers walking to school. Although they are young children, they are aware of the different ways whites and blacks are treated.  Being Negroes, they must walk to school, while the white children ride a bus. Their schoolbooks are worn, discarded rejects from the white children’s school. They even become the subjects of jokes when the bus driver deliberately splashes them with mud as he drives the white children to school.

As the events of the book unfold, repeated incidents of racism are witnessed at school and in the community.  The Logan family lives in fear of the Ku Klux Klan ,but with the influence of Big Ma, Mama, and Papa they cling together to protect the 400 acres they call “their land.”

REVIEW: Many of the events and themes of the story are adult in nature, but Cassie, a fourth grader, tells the book in narrative form. The children must witness their mother being fired as a teacher, grown men being tarred and feathered, and a rebellious friend, T. J., accused of murder.  They learn the viciousness that prejudicial feelings of racism bring. Through the violence, Cassie realizes the importance of family and why “the land” is an endearment they must protect.

This is an awesome book I would recommend it for reading as a class novel.  The character development and setting are excellently described, as well as the drama in the sequence of events.  It is a great book to read in conjunction with a Civil Rights Movement theme.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Compare/Contrast, Conflict, Characters, Setting, Theme, and Cause/Effect

RELATED BOOKS: The Land, Let the Circle Be Unbroken, A Time to Kill, To Kill a Mockingbird

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1978), A Time to Kill (1996), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

July 29, 2008

Malcolm X By Any Means Necessary

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Malcolm X By Any Means Necessary

Author: Walter Dean Myers        

Page Length: 210

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Biography 

PLOT SUMMARY: Malcolm X was born the son of Louise and Earl Little on May 19,1925 in Omaha, Nebraska.  Both parents were active in trying to make life better for African Americans, and Earl spoke publicly endorsing Marcus Garvey.  In 1931, Earl was found dead by some railroad tracks and Louise believed whites that opposed his political views killed him.

 Malcolm was a good and popular student, but always felt a threat to Black Americans.  As Malcolm ended junior high, one of his teachers ask him what he wanted to do when he got older.  Malcolm answered by saying that he would like to be a lawyer.  In a quote on page 37 the teacher tells Malcolm that he could not be a lawyer.  This was a turning point in Malcolm’s life.

From this point in Malcolm’s life, the book follows his years as a teen-ager in Harlem where he is known as “Detroit Red”, then, he joins the Nation of Islam, and changes his name again, to Malcolm X.  Malcolm is in the public eye as a Black Muslim leader for the rest of his life.

REVIEW:  After reading other books by Walter Dean Myers, such as Slam, Fallen Angels, and Monster I found I did not like Myers non-fiction writing as well as his fiction.  It could be because I didn’t like the personality of Malcolm X and the way he tried to get equality for African Americans.  He was extremely prejudiced towards the white Americans and in a violent manner.  His actions seemed to undermine the works of other civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall, Frederick Douglas, and Jackie Robinson. 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Historical context, Sequence of Events, Conflict, Compare/Contrast

RELATED BOOKS: The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X Speaks: Speeches and Statements, Malcolm X A Fire Burning Brightly


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

February 27, 2008

Frederick Douglass Fights for Freedom

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Frederick Douglass Fights for Freedom

Author: Margaret Davidson

Page Length: 80

Reading Level: 3

Genre: Non-fiction


REVIEW: I have read several of Margaret Davidson’s biographies and find Frederick Douglass Fights for Freedom as the best written.  The story of Frederick Douglass is graphic in the descriptions of the treatment of black slaves in the early 1800’s.


Frederick Douglass was born a slave in Maryland in 1817.  He lived his first few years with his grandmother but he knew it was a matter of time until he moved to Old Master’s house to begin his life as a slave.  Frederick was fortunate, in that he was sent to Baltimore as a young man to work as a slave in the city.  There, he served as a companion to one of Old Master’s brother-in-laws, Hugh Auld.  Not only did this give him the opportunity to be well-fed and live in comfortable accommodations but the lady of the house, Sophie, taught him to read.  She did not know it was against the law to teach slaves to read.


Frederick was smart and continued to teach himself to read.  He knew he did not want to spend his life as a slave.  It took two attempts but Frederick did escape and moved to the North where there was no slavery.  He became a spokesman for the abolitionists and a friend of Abraham Lincoln.  He wrote books and helped fight slavery for 25 years. 


He was the inspiration for those who fought for laws that would protect blacks, for schools for the blacks, and for better jobs for the blacks until his death on February 20, 1895.  Over 25,000 people attended his funeral in The Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington D. C.


This book was informative of the real life slaves led and the fight for equality that did not come until the end of the Civil War.  It tells of the fight Frederick Douglas continued to lead for African Americans after the war.


Frederick Douglas was the inspiration for Martin Luther King Jr. who continued the fight for freedom over 100 years after Douglass began.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: Students who enjoy history would like this book.  It would be a good book as a supplement to the study of the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement.




REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


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