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January 1, 2011

Monsoon Summer

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Monsoon Summer

Author: Mitali Perkins

Page Length: 257


Reading Level: 5


Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Jazz Gardner has to tell her business partner, Steve Morales, (best friend and secret love of her life) that she will be traveling to India with her family for the summer.  Her mother has received a grant for the orphanage in which she was adopted from several years earlier.  Having no choice, Jazz tells Steve good-bye, with sadness that he will find a girlfriend while she is gone. 

Upon arriving in India, Jazz decides to attend the local school rather than work at the orphanage.  However, her brother gets involved with the orphans by coaching them soccer, and her dad, a loner, becomes obsessed with teaching the nuns who run the orphanage computer skills.  Meanwhile, her mother is fulfilling her dream of making the orphanage a safe-haven for pregnant women of India to come and receive medical services.

Steve writes her letters, but Jazz cannot find the words to respond to him.  She pens many letters, but hides them away.  When Danita, one of the girls at the orphanage, starts to cook and clean for the Gardner’s, Jazz opens up to her and tells her how she feels about Steve. 

Jazz meets girls at the school who try to get her involved by attending dances after school.  Jazz has only danced once (with Steve at the eighth grade dance) and she was a complete klutz.  Jazz feels she is too large and clumsy to be attractive, not petite like her mom.  She eventually starts to take ceremonial dance from Danita for a performance they will give at the opening of the orphanage.

As Jazz observes her family at the orphanage, learns of Danita’s destiny of being an orphan, and raffles through her relationship with Steve, she realizes that there is a gift in giving and opens her heart to touch others. 

REVIEW: This is an excellent coming of age book for junior high and high school girls to read.  Jazz lacks confidence, specifically because her mother exemplifies a super-woman.  She is cautious in giving of herself after being taken advantage of by a druggie, earlier in the year. As Jazz observes the poverty in India, she realizes she has much to be grateful for and understands her mother’s mission to help the people of her home country. Through her relationships with Danita and her girlfriends she makes at the school, Jazz gains the confidence she needs to tell Steve her feelings and make good mature decisions about her life.

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

RELATED BOOKS: The Kite Runner, Born Confused

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Slumdog Millionaire (2008)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


Millicent Min Girl Genius

Millicent Min Girl Genius

Author: Lisa Yee

Page Length: 248

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Millicent Min is eleven years old and is enrolling in her first college class.  She is a genius and has appeared on TV talk shows, made the Dean’s Honor Roll, and is about to begin her senior year in high school.  Millicent is very intelligent, but has no idea of how to make friends or even have a normal conversation.

Her mother forces her to join a volleyball team and through her grandmother’s friend, she is forced to begin peer tutoring for Sanford Wong, the dumbest athlete in school.  Millicent is close to her grandmother, Maddie, who is about to leave on an extended trip to Europe. With a hatred for sports, ignorant boys, and the departure of her grandmother, Millicent is dreading the summer.  She only looks forward to the poetry class she has enrolled in at the local college.

Millicent actually has no friends, but at volleyball practice, a new girl, Emily befriends her.  Excited that Emily likes her, Millicent hides the fact that she is a genius from Emily.  She is afraid that Emily will not like her if she is aware of how smart she is and her placement in high school. As the story continues, Emily meets Stanford, the incorrigible jock that Millicent tutors.  When Stanford and Emily are attracted to each other, the plot thickens as Stanford tries to hide his lack of intelligence and Millicent becomes the “third party” in the triangular friendship.

REVIEW: The book is a narrative told from Millicent’s point of view.  The character development is excellent and the relationships between the families and friends are very realistic.  Lisa Yee includes humor and sarcasm, in how Millicent views the people who are apart of her life. I enjoyed this book immensely and would suggest it especially for junior high and high school girls to read.

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

RELATED BOOKS: Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time, Totally Emily Ebers


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Maximum Ride The Angel Experiment

Maximum Ride The Angel Experiment

Author: James Patterson

Page Length: 440

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction, Adventure

PLOT SUMMARY: Maximum Ride got to name herself because she is a fourteen-year-old girl who is the result of genetic experimentation conducted in a lab.  She has wings as a result of avian genes injected into human embryos. She is 98% human and 2 % bird.

Maximum lives with five other kids who have her same genetic make-up.  They are called “bird children” and call themselves, “the flock”.  Fang is a boy, four months younger than Max.  The other members are: Iggy, another boy blinded by an experiment at the lab, Nudge, a girl who talks in excess, Gasman, an eight-year-old boy with stomach problems, and Angel, his six year old sister.

The group was raised at the lab in cages and subjected to many experiments.  Then, Jeb Batchelder, one of the lab scientists, took them to his home in the mountains and educated and nurtured them as a father would his own children.  When he suddenly disappeared, two years ago, Max, being the oldest, was put in charge of “the flock”. 

One day, Erasers (other experimental beings who can become wolf-like creatures) appear at the mountain home and kidnap Angel. Led by Max, “the flock” begins the journey to find Angel, discover their real parents’ identity, and get revenge on an unlikely traitor.

REVIEW: Full of adventure, mystery, and suspense this would be a good book to use as a class novel.  The characters, along with the action, provide good descriptive reading.  I believe young adults would identify with the loyalty the children exhibit for each other and enjoy the fantasy of what genetic experimentation may provide in the future.

This is an excellent book for boys, girls and adults to read.


AREAS OF TEACHING: Figurative Language, Simile and Metaphors, Compare/Contrast, Theme, Character, Sequence of Events, and Cause/Effect

RELATED BOOKS: Maximum Ride: School’s Out Forever, Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports


MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Maximum Ride (set to release in 2013)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 19, 2010

Marcelo in the Real World

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork: Book Cover

Marcelo in the Real World


Author: Francisco Stork


Page Length: 312  


Reading Level: 5.3


Genre: Realistic Fiction


Career Connection:  Lawyer, Teacher, Occupational Therapist, Ministry

PLOT SUMMARY:  It isn’t often that a father forces his son to give up a job he has secured on his own, to take one in his own office.  However, that is what happens to Marcelo Sandoval, the summer before his senior year in high school.  Marcelo had planned to take care of the ponies at Paterson, his special school’s therapeutic-riding stables.  Marcelo exhibits qualities of Asperger’s Syndrome and is more comfortable at Paterson than he is in the real world.

His dad, Arturo, is a prominent lawyer.  He has always felt that Marcelo could overcome any obstacles he has, and wants to prove it to Marcelo by having him work in the mail room at his law firm.  He also wants Marcelo to attend the local regular high school, Oak Ridge High, rather than Paterson in the fall. Marcelo agrees to work for his father, if at the end of the summer he can make the choice of the school he will attend in the fall. 

Marcelo finds that working with Jasmine in the mailroom is not as bad as he thought it would be.  Jasmine is patient with him and he becomes comfortable in the working routine they have.  It is when Wendell, one of the partner’s sons, also working at the firm, confronts Marcelo and makes inappropriate remarks about Jasmine that Marcelo becomes upset.  Marcelo does not know how to react to Wendell, his feelings towards Jasmine, or a picture he finds when he is doing some work for Wendell.  The information he gains about the picture will affect a high profile case and the future of the firm. 

Will Marcelo tell what he knows about “the real world” or stay hidden in his Asperger-like comfort zone of Paterson?

REVIEW:  The book is narrarated by Marcelo who frequently talks of himself in third person.  He relates some of his peculiarities (e.g., he has obsessions with God and religion, hears internal music (IM), and sleeps in a tree house). He shares the difficulty he faces as he must learn menial tasks of the mailroom and deal with office politics.  He retains his innocence while considering the possibility of love, ethical dilemmas and other conflicts. 

Teen boys and girls, as well as adults, would enjoy this book that deals with the conflicts exposed for not only a boy with Asperger’s, but professional and social issues they may encounter themselves in the “real world”.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Theme, Characters, Point of View, Conflict, Compare/Contrast, and Cause/Effect

TOUCHY AREAS: Occasional harsh profanity and sexual inferences

RELATED BOOKS: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, Rules, Anything But Typical

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Mozart and the Whale (2005), Adam (2009), Rain Man (1988)

RELATED WEBSITES:…/scholastic-ala-2010-award-winners.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

In the Woods

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In the Woods by Robin Stevenson: Book Cover

In the Woods

Author: Robin Stevenson

Page Length: 124


Reading Level: 3.2 


Genre: Fiction


Career Connections: Social Worker      

PLOT SUMMARY: When Cameron gets a strange call from his twin sister, Katie, to ride to the park on his bike, he feels his all-star sister is hiding something. As Cameron circles the park in pouring rain, he hears a small cry in the woods.  He gets off his bike and follows the sound—discovering a baby wrapped on the forest floor.  Trying not to panic, he wraps the baby in the blankets and his jacket to protect it from the rain.  Luckily, a woman stops on the side of the road and rushes them to the hospital. After being questioned by the police, Cameron goes home and he questions Katie about the baby, but she completely denies knowing anything about it. 

At school the next day, Cameron confides his secret to Audrey, a girl with whom he is working on a school project. Audrey urges him to find out who the mother is, because Audrey herself is adopted and would like to know who her birthmother is. 

That afternoon, Cameron approaches Katie, again.  She does admit the baby is hers, but still wants to keep it from her mother.  Later, Cameron finds Katie in the bathroom having complications from the birth.  He convinces her to go to the hospital and tell her mother.

REVIEW: This book is an excellent high interest low level story for the reluctant reader.  Cameron’s character is nicely developed as he demonstrates gentleness and responsibility with the baby, his sister, Audrey, and his mother. These are traits young teens often try to hide.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Mild profanity

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

RELATED BOOKS: Hanging on to Max, November Blues, and Saving Grace


MUSIC, MOVIE, AND ART CONNECTIONS: Where the Heart Is (2000), Juno (2007)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


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Canyons by Gary Paulsen: Book Cover


Author: Gary Paulsen


Page Length: 184


Reading Level: 6


Genre: Historical Fiction   

PLOT SUMMARY: This story is about two different boys who lived in different eras, but have a similar spiritual connection.  Coyote Runs was a teen-age apache who died as he was coming of age on his first horse raid.  Breenan Cole is a teen-age boy who lives with his divorced mother and loves to run in the city of El Paso.

While on a camping trip with his mom and her new boyfriend, Brennan discovers a human skull.  He hides the skull and takes it home.  There, he becomes obsessed with it and determined to find out what happened to the person who died from a bullet shot to the head.  The spiritual connection is formed when Brennan begins to have dreams about an Apache boy who seems to be sending a message to him.

Coyote Runs was the young apache boy who was shot and killed by U. S. army soldiers during a night raid the tribe had made to steal horses from Mexico almost 100 years earlier.

Brennan confides his secret to his biology teacher who contacts a friend that has a link to obtaining historical documents.  When Brennan discovers what happened to Coyote Runs, he leaves home to find the slain Indian’s body in the desert outside of El Paso.

REVIEW: The beginning of the book is written from the point of view of both boys in alternating chapters.  After Coyote Runs dies, the rest of the book is written from Brennan’s point of view. The book would be a good read as a class novel because it would hold the interest of both boys and girls. It could easily be used with a social studies unit on a study of American Indians of the Southwest.  The sill of compare/contrast as it relates to the two boys and their cultures could be studied, as well as the skills of setting and theme.

This is one of Paulsen’s better books and would appeal to most young adults.


AREAS OF TEACHING: Compare/Contrast, Sequence of Events, Setting, Point of View, Theme

RELATED BOOKS: The Birchbark House, Cloudwalker: Contemporary Native American Stories


MUSIC CONNECTIONS: Warrior Spirit (1994), The Fast Runner (2007), Spirit Rider (1993)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


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Back by Norah McClintock: Book Cover



Author: Norah McClintock


Page Length: 93


Reading Level: 3


Genre: Fiction


Career Connections: Policemen, Doctor

PLOT SUMMARY: How would you feel if a neighbor who had been jailed for beating your brother so badly that he was in a coma was released from prison and back living with his mother?  This is the situation Ardell Withrow is facing as Jojo Benn returns to the neighborhood. 

The story is told by a young boy who has a broken ankle and is doomed to wear a cast for the summer.  So, he has a good view from his front porch of the neighborhood activities. 

He first explains why Jojo was in jail.  It began when his girlfriend, Shana, became pregnant with his child.  Jojo had an attitude with people and when Shana wanted more attention than Jojo was willing to give, he got an “attitude” with her.  Eden, Ardell’s brother, witnessed this and came to her rescue.  This infuriated Jojo so much that he got a crowbar and beat Eden so badly that he went into a coma.  He has been in a hospital since the horrifying event.

When Jojo is released, the people of the neighborhood are leery of what his behavior will be.  The neighborhood stores refuse to sell him groceries.  He stays at home most of the time, except on the days when he and his mother leave in a taxi.  Shana comes to visit him and shows him their baby.  All of this is observed by the people in the neighborhood, including Ardell and his family.

Ardell and his mother go to visit Eden, but Ardell’s father refuses to visit him. One day his dad comes to the house and tells Ardell’s mother that the hospital has determined that Eden is brain-dead.  Eden is taken off of life support and dies. 

Many of the neighbors attend the funeral, but Shana doesn’t.  The tension increases with each of Shana’s visits to Jojo’s home.  Ardell confronts her and asks how she can forgive Jojo when it is his fault that Eden is dead. When Shana tells him that she didn’t ask for Eden’s help, this is more than Ardell can take.

REVIEW: This is a high interest level book written for the reluctant teen reader.  The story is told from an observer’s point of view, I think a student who has few friends or shy may be able to relate to the narrator. I would suggest the book to boys who are just beginning to do independent reading.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Drawing Conclusions, Making Predictions, Character, Conflict, Cause/Effect, and Compare/Contrast


RELATED BOOKS: Snitch, Tell, Bang, Down, Marked, and Watch Me


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Al Capone Does My Shirts

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko: Book Cover

Al Capone Does My Shirts

Author: Gennifer Choldenko

Page Length: 225

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Historical Fiction

Career Connections: Electrician, Prison Warden, Prison Guard     

PLOT SUMMARY: Moose is not happy about the move his family has made to Alcatraz, the island that holds many famous prisoner’s hostage. His dad took the job as an electrician and prison guard, in the hopes that they would be able to place Moose’s older sister, Natalie, in a special school in San Francisco. Natalie displays signs of Autism, but in 1935 (the setting of the story) the disease had not been diagnosed. Moose is in the 7th grade and loves baseball and a good game of catch.  However, there are no boys his age on the island.

Because Moose is required to stay with Natalie every afternoon after school, he loses the one friendship he established with his schoolmate, Scout, in San Francisco.  He and Natalie form friendships with the younger children on the island and the warden’s daughter, Piper. While trying to stay out of trouble with the warden and trying to find a way to rekindle Scout’s friendship, Moose relentlessly looks for a way to keep Natalie happy and to find a convict’s baseball for Scout.

Meanwhile, his mother earnestly tries every possible avenue to ensure Natalie’s acceptance into the private school while his dad works and tries to keep the dysfunctional household in peace.

REVIEW: This is an excellent story based on historical facts about life on the island of Alcatraz in the depression years of the 1930’s.  Although the characters are fictional, they are based on authentic lives on the island during the time Al Capone was serving his sentence for tax evasion.  

The characters of the story are well-developed and the portrayal of Natalie’s symptoms of Autism is authentic.  Al Capone’s character is minimal, however, mystical in capturing the interest of the reader.  An author’s note and discussion questions and activities are included in the back of the book.

I would recommend the book for any teen or adult to read.


AREAS OF TEACHING: Historical Context, Character, Setting

RELATED BOOKS: Al Capone Shines My Shoes, Mr. Capone, Capone: The Life and World of Al Capone, Children of Alcatraz: Growing up on the Rock


MUSIC CONNECTIONS: Escape from Alcatraz (1979), Al Capone (1959)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

A Corner of the Universe

A Corner of the Universe by Ann Martin: Book Cover

A Corner of the Universe

Author: Ann M. Martin

Page Length: 189

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

Career Connections: None         

PLOT SUMMARY: It is summertime in Millerton, and Hattie plans on spending it with her family and the adult residents of her parent’s boarding house.  She also has acquaintances she likes to visit throughout the town, but none of them are her age. The summer is fairly normal until Hattie meets her Uncle Adam who has returned to her wealthy grandparent’s house because the school he was attending closed.

Hattie had never heard of Adam, who is 21 years old.  She realizes that her mother and grandparents have not told her about him because he has mental challenges.  Adam quotes lines from “I Love Lucy” and sometimes has erratic behavior, but Hattie bonds with him and they spend many afternoons together.

When the carnival comes to town, Hattie meets Leila, daughter of the couple who own and operate the carnival.  Hattie’s grandmother will not allow Adam to go to the carnival, so Hattie encourages Adam to sneak out of his house one evening and meet her there.  Adam is intrigued with the Ferris Wheel but when he gets stuck at the top with Hattie and Leila, a disaster occurs. Hattie and Adam are both grounded and by the time Hattie is allowed to leave her house again, the carnival has left town.  As Hattie mourns the loss of her one friend in town, she observes that Adam is intrigued with Angel Valentine, a beautiful young woman who lives at the boarding house.

When Adam comes to visit Angel and finds her in bed with her boyfriend, another disaster occurs.  Hattie is required to grow up quickly and deal with some of life’s hardest lessons at a very early age.

REVIEW: The characters have vivid personalities and the small town setting of the 1960’s is authentically described.  The social practices of Hattie’s parents and grandparents, as well as, the townspeople are an accurate account of the times.

This would be an excellent book to read as a class novel for discussions about family, peer, and social relationships.


AREAS OF TEACHING: Character, Conclusion, Generalizations, and Predictions, Compare/Contrast, Conflict

RELATED BOOKS: Esperanza Rising, Becoming Naomi Leon, So B. It, The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night, Marcelo in the Real World, Here Today


MUSIC CONNECTIONS: Rain Man (1988), Mozart and the Whale (2005), Snow Cake (2006), Autism the Musical (2008), and I am Sam (2001)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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

Hope Was Here

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Hope Was Here

Author: Joan Bauer

Page Length: 186

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Hope, formerly named Tulip, is moving from Brooklyn to Wisconsin with her aunt, Addie.  When Hope was just an infant her mother, a waitress, left her with her aunt, a cook. Hope is leaving her first job as a waitress and dreads moving to a new town with a new job and new school.

When Hope arrives with her aunt to their new diner, Welcome Stairways, she meets the owner, G. T. Scoops.  As Hope and Addie become acclimated to life in the small town, they meet Flo, Yuri, and Braverman, the other employees. 

As the story progresses, the town learns that G. T. has cancer and that is the reason he has asked Addie to come cook so that he can get some relief from his chemo treatments.  However, G. T. is not a quitter, and decides to run for mayor of the town to eliminate some of the corrupt business transactions that are currently being ignored.  Hope, Braverman, and a group of other teens back G. T. and help run his campaign.

As the book progresses, the campaign becomes more intense with unethical events happening to sabotage G. T.’s chances of winning.  Working together, both at the diner and for the campaign, Braverman and Hope develop a romantic relationship, as do Addie and G. T.

REVIEW: This is an excellent book that would be good to use as a class novel.  The basic theme is how Hope tries to spread hope through each person she touches in life.  However, there are several underlying themes, including:  the political campaign for mayor, dealing with the disease of cancer, parental abandonment, romance, and the developmental delays of a child.  The book is appealing to a wide range of age groups and both genders.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Characters, Setting, Theme, and Conclusions, Predictions, and Generalizations

RELATED BOOKS: Becoming Naomi Leon, The Center of Everything, My Time as Caz Hazard, Everything on a Waffle

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Hope Floats (1998), Frankie and Johnny (1991), About a Boy (2002), and Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

November 15, 2009

Crazy Loco

Crazy Loco

Author: David Rice

Page Length: 135

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: This is a series of short stories in the setting of the Texas Rio Grande Valley.  All of the stories are about the daily lives of Mexican-American teens.  One story deals with two boys who live in a lower socio-economic small town who have their “uppity” cousins from California visit.  Another story is about an 85 year-old mid-wife and the relationship she shares with her niece.  One of the stories focuses on a young boy who is forced to move-in with his grandfather after his parent’s divorce.  There is a dog who loves firecrackers and a big learning experience for an altar boy.

REVIEW: The stories appear authentic because the author includes many Spanish words and phrases and depicts the characters with realistic personalities and viewpoints.   Also, the primary religion, Catholicism is used as a reference in the narratives that contain drama and some humor.

I would suggest this book for Hispanic males.  It could also be used in a study of Hispanic Heritage or in a cultural diversity unit.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Point of View, Character, and Setting

RELATED BOOKS: Becoming Naomi Leon, House on Mango Street, Finding Our Way, and Crossing the Wire

RELATED WEBSITES:…/463/lessonId__383

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

September 28, 2009

Harley Like a Person

Harley Like a Person

Author: Cat Bauer

Page Length: 282  

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Harley believes that she is adopted.  All of her family has blue eyes, Harley’s are brown.  Her mom told her she lost her birth certificate after she was born.  She does not relate to her alcoholic father and her bitter mother.  It seems they are always nagging her to clean her room, dust, do the dishes, and never notice her good grades or the way she helps with her younger sister. While Harley stumbles through her ninth grade year in school, she continues to research clues in finding out who her true parents are.

Harley does not deal with the conflicts in a rational way.  She hides under her bed, locks herself in her room, and refuses to talk to her parents when they make her angry.  However, she does find comfort in writing poetry, painting, and playing her oboe.  Harley not only has difficulties at home, but begins to show anger and jealousy towards her best friend.  After being treated badly by one boy she finds herself in a relationship with a fast talking, drug dealer.  Her grades begin to fall, although she is ask to complete a special art project for the school play.  Harley finds herself experimenting with drugs, alcohol, and sex although she knows she is making bad decisions.

She continues her quest to find her true identity but hits many hurdles on the road before finding answers to the many family questions that plague her.

REVIEW:  Harley Like a Person is a fast read with lots of drama.  Harley encounters emotional issues that cause her to question her parent’s honesty and morals and make bad moral decisions for herself. 

This book would be enjoyed by girls who face the many conflicts and issues of teens growing up in today’s world.  Unlike many books, the main character makes bad choices then is forced to answer to her parents and teachers.  In the end, Harley’s questions are answered but not before she suffers some bad experiences with her family, boyfriend, and best friend.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Conflict, Theme, Character, Cause and Effect, Point of View

TOUCHY AREAS: marijuana use- (p.172-175, 212- 216), alcohol use (212-216), and sexual situations (p. 176, 217)

RELATED BOOKS: Harley’s Ninth


 REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 30, 2009



Author: Laurence Yep

Page Length: 317

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Realistic Fiction     

PLOT SUMMARY: In 1903, eight-year old Moon Shadow, came to America to join his father, Windrider.  Windrider had lived in American working with other Chinese immigrants in a laundry company for several years.  As Moon Shadow learns the lifestyle and responsibilities of the Chinese/Americans he develops a bond with his father. 

His father, has a fascination with flying, especially when he hears of the flight of the Wright brothers in Kitty Hawk.  Moon Shadow sends a letter to the Wright brothers and tells them of his father’s interest.  The father and son endure the pain of separation from their family after one of their relatives steals from them to get opium.  After the earthquake of 1906, the boy and his father move to Oakland. They develop a friendship  with Mrs. Whitlaw and her daughter, Robin, while Windrider begins his quest to build his own flying machine.     

REVIEW: This is the fifth of a series of books written about the Young family from China.  The book is a narrative by Moon Shadow.  He  expresses the feelings he has towards his mother, he left in China, and  his father and uncles who he lives with for the seven years in which the book is written. The reader also gets an idea of how the Chinese immigrants were discriminated against and the feelings the Chinese had towards the “demons” (Americans).  Eventually, Moon Shadow, realizes some of the positive attributes of living in America and how the opportunites can out weigh the setbacks.

This is an excellent book to use in teaching of the arrival of the Chinese immigrants to the United States.  It also shows how the Chinese, like the Hispanic and African American cultures, have been discriminated against.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Opium use by one of the nephews throughout the book. It is referred to in a negative way so that the reader will realize the harm and damage of its use.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Conflict, Theme, Point of View, and Compare/Contrast

RELATED BOOKS: The Serpent’s Children, Mountain Light, Dragon’s Gate, The Traitor, The Red Warrior, Child of the Owl, Sea Glass, Thief of Hearts and The Kite Runner

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Dragonwings/ The Play-performed at Lincoln Center and Kennedy Center


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner



Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Page Length: 233

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Kate Malone is nervously awaiting her acceptance letter to MIT, the only college she applied to as a senior honor student.  Her deceased mother went to MIT and that is the only school she has ever wanted to attend.  As Kate watches her friends being accepted to not only their first choice schools, but their second and third choices, she begins to be unable to sleep. An avid runner, she chooses to run at night to avoid the inevitable nightmare that will occur if she does not get the positive letter from MIT.

In Kate’s everyday life, she is an honor student and a track star. She handles all of the domestic duties at her home over her sickly brother, Toby,  and her  father who is a minister.  Her neighbor, Terri Litch, who has always been an enemy, continues to send bad vibes to Kate in the school cafeteria.

When the Litch’s house catches on fire, and Ms. Litch is unable to care for Terri and her brother, Mr. Malone has them move in with Kate, Toby, and him.  Now, Kate, has new responsibilities—Terri and Mikey. 

As Kate moves through the everyday motions of school, a romantic relationship, and church volunteer obligations, with no sleep, she finds she has a growing attachment for Mikey and a concern building for Terri, the arch enemy. A series of events follow that impact not only the Litch’s and Malone’s, but the entire community.  Relationships and personal values and morals are exposed and questioned as the town deals with tragedy.

REVIEW: This is an excellent book for the mature, advanced high school student to read.  I think girls would especially like it, as it is dramatic in content.  The events of the story, while tragic, are common in our society today.  Ms. Anderson does an excellent job of developing the characters through Kate’s eyes and the world through her point of view. It is one of the best young adult books I have read.   

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

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: reference to masturbation (p. 14), incest, occasional profanity

RELATED BOOKS: Speak, The Center of Everything, Prom


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Athletic Shorts

Athletic Shorts

Author: Chris Crutcher

Page Length: 194  

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Athletic Shorts is a book containing six short stories.  Crutcher has taken characters from his novels and writes new stories in different scenarios.  Peety, Johnny Rivers, and Telephone Man, all characters from The Crazy Horse Electric Game, appear in two different stories.  Telephone Man describes his experience of an upset stomach at school and Johnny gets Peety to volunteer to wrestle Chris Allen, an accomplished female wrestle in one of the first matches of the season.

Angus Bethune is introduced for the first time as an obese young man who has divorced parents who both live with gay partners.  Angus has been picked king of the prom, but realizes it is a practical joke.  Never the less, he prepares to dance the spotlight dance with the queen, who he learns has emotional problems of her own.

In another wrestling story, Johnny must wrestle his dad who is physically and emotionally abusive to both Johnny and his mom.  When Johnny pins his dad in front of the school he must endure the humiliation of his dad slapping him.

REVIEW:  This is an excellent book for the reluctant reader to read.  The stories are short, but emotional and deal with issues that involve teens today.  After reading Athletic Shorts, I believe the reader would want to read more of Crutcher’s work.  Chris Crutcher is an author who realistically relates to young adult readers.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Character, Conflict, Point of View, Cause and Effect, and Theme

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: racial slurs (p. 133-154), AIDS and gay themes (p. 159-194)  

RELATED BOOKS: Running Loose, Stotan!, The Crazy Horse Electric Game, Chinese Handcuffs, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, Ironman, Whale Talk


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 8, 2009

A Step from Heaven

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A Step from Heaven

Author: An Na        

Page Length: 160  

Reading Level: 5.5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Young Ju Parks moves with her parents from Korea to America when she is four years old.  She has heard stories of Mi Gook, the Korean name for America, and believes she is moving to heaven.  After a very long ride on an airplane, the Parks arrive.  However, what they encounter is not heaven.

First, the father, Apa, must find work.  Then, mother, Uhmma, has a new baby boy, Joon.  The family struggles to be like Americans, but there is not enough money to get ahead.  Eventually, both parents have two jobs, and still rent an apartment and drive a dated station wagon. The family struggles with the language barrier and adapting to the American culture.

As Young Ju does experience success at school, she witnesses her parent’s relationship crumble, her father turn to alcoholism and her brother skip school.  She is forbidden to associate with her best friend, Amanda, because she is a frivolous American girl.  As Young Ju matures into a high school student she strives to make good grades so that she can attend college.

REVIEW:  An Na writes her first novel from her own first memories of moving to American from Korea.  She uses Young Ju as the narrator and explains the story of a young Korean family whose dreams of a “good life” in America never develop.  The book is written in vignettes, and chronicles Young Ju’s life from the time she is four until she graduates from high school.

The characters are developed so that the reader feels empathy for each of them in their dire situations.  This book is an excellent book for the high school student who lives in a diverse community. It helps to understand the difficulties immigrants experience as they are moved into the American culture but attempt to maintain their own cultural heritage.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Setting, Point of View, Conflict, and Characters

TOUCHY AREAS: Domestic violence by the father to the mother and children

RELATED BOOKS: The House on Mango Street, Angela’s Ashes

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Ariring: The Korean-American Journey (2003)


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

Belle Prater’s Boy

Belle Prater’s Boy

Author: Ruth White

Page Length: 196

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Belle Prater, Woodrow’s mother and Gypsy’s aunt, disappears one night without any explanation.  Woodrow, a rather backward boy, moves in with his grandparents who live next door to Gypsy’s more socially adapt family.  Gypsy is the town beauty but she feels invisible and hates her long beautiful hair. Although the townspeople try to find out what happened to Belle, Woodrow seems content and knows why his mother disappeared. He is a great storyteller and entertains his schoolmates and the family with his stories.  Gypsy and Woodrow become instant best friends. Gypsy wonders how Woodrow deals with the loss of his mother while she tries to come to grips with the death of her own father. 

REVIEW: This story is set in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky.  The author writes with local colloquial sayings that make the reader become familiar with the characters and their personalities.  It has mystery with touches of humor that also make it a very humanistic tale. The character development of Gypsy and Woodrow are excellent. The book is based on the friendship that develops between the two sixth graders and how the family deals with death and sorrow.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Gypsy’s father commits suicide and she discovers him as she looks through the living room window.  However, it is not too graphic for the junior high reader or the older reader to handle.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Theme, Conclusions, Generalizations, Predictions, Cause/Effect, Character, and Conflict

RELATED BOOKS: Journey, Comfort Creek, The Pinball’s, Holes

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Cold Mountain (2003)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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