The Book Reviews – Website

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)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.aloha.net/~uncldon/rothmyc.htm

www.litsum.com/rollofthunderhearmy-cry

www.sparknotes.com/lit/rollofthunder

www.scholastic.com/kids/homework/pdfs/Roll_of_Thunder.pdf

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

The Land

The Land

Author: Mildred D. Taylor

Page Length: 375

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Realistic Fiction     

PLOT SUMMARY: The time is the 1870’s, the setting is the Southern United States and the main character is Paul-Edward Logan.  Paul was the child of a white man and a woman of Indian and Black mix.  Paul looked white but was referred to as a “white nigger”.  Paul has three half-brothers who share his dad as their father.  Paul’s older sister, Cassie, had the same father and mother. 

As the story begins, Paul is often beat up by Mitchell, an African American boy whose dad works for Paul’s dad.  Paul’s older brothers will not defend Paul against Mitchell, so Paul eventually makes a deal with Mitchell to teach him to “read, write, and figure” if Mitchell will teach him how to fight. The boys stick to this arrangement and become best friends.

Paul’s dad, unlike many white men, acknowledges Paul and Cassie as his children, but when Paul and his half-brother, Robert, have a conflict in front of a white family, it is Paul who is whipped and punished.  Paul realizes that things will never be the same, so he and Mitchell decide to run away.  This begins the adventure they have together trying to make a life for them.  

REVIEW: The Land is the prequel to Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.  Mildred Taylor writes the book that is based on stories she was told by her parents and grandparents.  The book is historical in that it accurately describes the racial prejudices that resulted in the abolishment of slavery.  The attitudes of the white people towards African Americans are well depicted. 

The characters and their relationships are well-developed, the setting of the south is well described, and the adventures of Mitchell and Paul keep the plot moving at a fast pace.  This is an excellent book for African-American students to read to learn of the hardships their ancestors had to endure before the Civil Rights Movement.

At the back of the book, there is an author’s note, Saga of the Logan Family, and a section with discussion questions that could be used in a book study or when used as a supplement to a class novel.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Character, Setting, Theme, Conflict, and Historical Context

RELATED BOOKS: Song of the Trees, The Well, Mississippi Bridge, The Friendship, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Let the Circle Be Unbroken, The Road to Memphis, Logan, The Gold Cadillac

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1978), Sounder (1972)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.webenglishteacher.com/mtaylor.html

www.litplans.com/authors/Mildred_D_Taylor.html

www.davis.k12.ut.us/curric/languagearts/grade8.html

www.theteacherscorner.net/seasonal/black-history-month

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 5, 2008

The Foxman

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The Foxman

Author: Gary Paulsen

Page Length: 119

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Carl is being sent to live in the country with his uncle and cousins because the court has ordered his home unfit. At first, Carl is terribly homesick for his own place, but soon he finds a home among his country family. Carl learns all about farming and hunting. One night, Carl and his cousin are lost in a terrible snowstorm. They stumble upon a cabin and become guests of the Foxman. Carl thinks about the Foxman often and decides to befriend him. As their friendship grows, Carl learns a great deal about hunting, trapping, and the realities of the war (the very war in which the Foxman became disfigured). One day, Carl suffers snow blindness and becomes lost in the wilderness. The Foxman may be his only hope but at what cost?

REVIEW: Like many Paulsen books, the book centers around the theme of survival. Carl must learn to endure harsh weather conditions and to fend for himself. The Foxman has survived on his own, rebuked by society for many years. Graphic details of hunting and gutting animals are involved. The plot is well developed and moving. I would preface the reading of this book with an understanding of survival, discussions of hunting and living off the land. It would be a great tool for reinforcing the different viewpoints and harsh realities of war – even years after it has ended. This is a touching story of friendship and of seeing beyond appearances coupled with healing from one’s past.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence, author’s purpose, historical connections, cause and effect, compare and contrast (of war reactions by the Foxman and Agile), descriptive writing

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: details of war disfigurement, alcoholism (lightly addressed)

RELATED BOOKS: Hatchet, Brian’s Winter, Brian’s Return, Dogsong, Sentries, Tracker, Dancing Carl

 

RELATED MOVIES: “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “Anne of Green Gables”

   

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.carolhurst.com/titles/foxman.html

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

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

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Paulsen

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

December 4, 2008

Tracker

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Tracker

Author: Gary Paulsen

Page Length: 90

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: John Borne has already lost enough in his lifetime. He lives with his grandparents and has just found out that his grandfather is dying. John has always hunted with his grandfather, but this year he will hunt alone. John sets out alone to kill a deer for his family to have meat. Yet, John begins to track the deer across the forest and through the night. It’s almost as if the deer has something to tell him.

REVIEW: This is a typical Paulsen book which is graphic in terms of describing the habits of the animal and the hunter. Students who have ever hunted before can certainly relate to the events John describes; students who have never hunted or tracked an animal can learn what that might be like. Paulsen is able to help the reader feel John’s mixed emotions and share his anxiety over losing his grandfather while coming to terms with the inevitability of death.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, cause and effect, plot, author’s purpose, imagery

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: use of a rifle, detailed descriptions of the voiding habits of a deer

RELATED BOOKS: Dancing Carl, Night John, Dogsong, Sentries, The Foxman

 

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://litplans.com/titles/Tracker_Gary_Paulsen.html

http://rrrs120.tripod.com/id3.html

http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/fall94/Schmitz.html

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

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

September 21, 2008

The Teacher’s Funeral

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The Teacher’s Funeral

Author: Richard Peck

Page Length: 190

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Summer is winding down in August of 1904 and 15 year old Russell, his brother, Lloyd, and his friend, Charlie are enjoying their annual camp out by the river when news reaches them that Myrt Arbuckle has died. The boys are ecstatic – after all she is the only teacher in these parts and surely that means there will be no school this year. Russell feels sure that now he will be able to fulfill his dream of working with the harvesters on the all new threshing machines. A new teacher is found who can only be worse than the last. Russell and Lloyd just know that this will be the worst year ever. Before long, the privy’s on fire and there’s a snake in the teacher’s desk. Will the new teacher survive the year? Will Russell ever get out of town to live the life he has longed for?

REVIEW: Peck does a fabulous job of finding humor in many situations. The book rings true to what one would expect to find people saying and doing in rural America in 1904. The characters are adventurous and colorful. Peck’s books make you long to hear your grandparent’s stories (maybe teens never realized they could be this good). This book is a very entertaining read!

AREAS FOR TEACHING: historical context, narrative effect, predictions, inferences, summarization, point of view

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: none (funeral – but a humorous one)

RELATED BOOKS: Fair Weather, A Year Down Yonder, Here Lies the Librarian, On the Wings of Heroes

RELATED WEBSITES:

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

http://nancykeane.com/booktalks/peck_teacher’s.htm

http://www.teachertube.com/view_video.php?viewkey=c7097e218b4fd6b767f4

http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9781400091041

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Project Mulberry

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Project Mulberry

Author: Linda Sue Park

Page Length: 217

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Julia and her best friend Patrick are in The Wiggle Club after school. The Wiggle Club teaches them about farming and animal care. Since, Patrick and Julia are hoping to win first prize at the state fair, they have to come up with a great project idea. The two decide to raise silkworms even though they both have secret reasons for not wanting to – neither one tells the other. They discover that raising silkworms is more challenging than it seemed. Through the adventure, they make new friends, overcome prejudices, and learn more about themselves and each other along the way. Can they pull the project together in time to win at the fair?

REVIEW: This story was entertaining and informative about agricultural pursuits and appreciation for the struggles of the American farmer. In addition, the story is eye-opening about prejudice everywhere – the elderly African-American gentlemen assumes the girl is white and then we he meets her, mistakes Korean for Chinese. The mother is portrayed as being prejudiced against black people. The kids overcome all of the barriers and simply see people for who they are.

The story might be more interesting to junior high and 6th grade students as it lacks typical teen appeal.

An interesting aspect of this book is that in between the chapters the author dialogues with the main character. These chats teach the reader about the writing process and how Park developed her characters and allowed the story to evolve along the way.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: main idea, author’s purpose, making predictions, cause and effect, chronological ordering, theme, plot, setting, characters

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: racial tensions and prejudice

RELATED BOOKS: A Single Shard, The Archer’s Quest, Keeping Score, The Kite Fighters, Click, Seesaw Girl

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.lspark.com/books.html

http://www.kidsreads.com/reviews/0618477861.asp

http://suzyred.com/2006projectmulberry.html

http://www.familyreads.com/2008/02/project-mulberr.html

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

August 6, 2008

Worth

Worth

Author: A. LaFaye

Page Length: 144

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The time period is the 1800’s. Nathaniel Peale and his mother and father have moved from the city to the country life of Nebraska. Nathaniel’s father farms while his mother repairs clocks and other various objects. After a lightening storm spooks some of the animals on the farm, Nathaniel falls and crushes his leg under a wagon wheel. As a result, Nathaniel is unable to help his father on the farm anymore. This is a significant turning point in the lives of the Peale family. Nathaniel’s father, out of guilt, avoids his son at all costs. Then in an effort to replace his son on the farm, Mr. Peale obtains an orphan named John Worth through “The Orphan Train”. Mrs. Peale is furious at her husband for bringing an orphan into their home to work. As a result, their husband and wife relationship becomes strained.

The relationship between Nathaniel and John is also a strained one. Nathaniel tries his hardest to hate the boy, and is very much jealous that John gets to spend so much time with Nathaniel’s father. However, upon discovering that John’s parents died in a fire, Nathaniel slowly begins to warm up to his new family member. Nathaniel can understand about losing a loved one because his sister died. Nathaniel and John further bond because John is good at math, and Nathaniel is not. And Nathaniel, with the assistance of regular schooling, helps John at reading.

Beyond the storms at home, dark clouds are forming in the community. There is a land feud between “farmers” and “ranchers”. The ranchers aggravate the farmers by cutting their fences and allowing the cattle to graze on the farm land. With the teamwork of Nathaniel and John, both boys solve the case of who exactly has been cutting the fences. Nathaniel’s father discovers this teamwork and subsequently begins to mend his distant relationship with his real son. In the end, the unconventional family structure of the Peale’s turns out to be a very good one.

REVIEW: The issue of adoption is addressed in a very real manner in this book. John Worth was obtained from an orphan train. During the late 1800’s, adults would actually obtain children from these trains to live and work on farms. The author, through the use of real dialogue and powerful description, forces the reader into this family’s tense life. I enjoyed this book, not because it was easy to read, but because it seemed very authentic. Writing from the point-of-view of a teenager who feels that his father has disowned him because of his disability, I could almost feel the boy’s pain. And to feel that an adopted boy is allowed into the Peale home to replace their real son, was even more emotional to read. However, great writing comes when emotions are stirred within the reader.

Also, the mental state of someone who has just become disabled is explored in this story – not only in the context of family and community but of school as well.

On another note, the author does a beautiful job intertwining mythology into Nathaniel and John’s characters as they are off on an adventure to capture the fence cutting culprits.

For convenience, a “Reading Guide” with questions and activities is found at the back of the book.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: simile (pages 21 & 32), theme, characterization, conflict, & predictions

RELATED BOOKS: A Family Apart (The Orphan Train Adventure series), McGuffrey Reader, books about Greek mythology

MOVIE CONNECTIONS:Orphan Train” (1979)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.nebraskahistory.org/sites/mnh/orphans/ (historical website about the Nebraska Orphan Trains)

http://teacher.scholastic.com/clubs/lit_circle_pdfs/worth_t.pdf (Literature Circle with questions/answers & activities)

http://www.alafaye.com/pdf/worth.pdf (excellent site that addresses pre-reading strategies, predictions, and cross-curriculum activities)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

May 1, 2008

Across Five Aprils

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Across Five Aprils

Author: Irene Hunt

Page Length: 227

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Jethro Creighton is nine year old boy growing up on a farm in Southern Illinois during the time of the Civil War. His sister Jenny is in love with the young school teacher, Shadrach Yale. Jethro’s older brothers and cousin have gone away to fight – all but one of them for the North. Jethro’s family knows loss well – four children have already died. What will happen to three off fighting in the War?

When Jethro’s father becomes ill, Jethro must assume the duties of manhood before his time. Plowing the fields and caring for the animals falls on his shoulders. He and young Jenny must help their mother manage affairs. Attacks on the family begin in retaliation for his brother’s involvement on the “wrong side” of the war. One of the boys deserts and Jethro decides that President Lincoln is the only one he can turn to for help. Will the war tear his family and his country apart?

REVIEW: If you are a history buff, you will love this book. Commanders and battles are described in detail. Teachers could trace the battles recounted in the book and create a map of happenings as they occur during the Civil War and in sequence throughout the novel. Jethro is a strong role model who weathers the storm, accepts responsibility, and battles moral decisions. He takes action and is able to empathize with both sides of an issue and to see that often there is no clear black and white to any issue.

Personally, I found the book laborious to read. I would like to have been spared the minute details of battles and commander inadequacies and given an overall perspective. I would not recommend this book for struggling readers below a sixth grade level.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: theme, setting, cause and effect, sequence, bias, inferences, summarization

RELATED BOOKS: Killer Angels, Gone with the Wind, The Red Badge of Courage, Girl in Blue, Cold Mountain

from Reluctant Witnesses: Children’s Voices from the Civil War—nonfiction by Emmy E. Werner

“Come Up from the Fields Father” and “An Army Corps on the March”—poems by Walt Whitman

“Tenting on the Old Camp Ground”—song lyrics by Walter Kittredge

from When Heaven and Earth Changed Places—memoir by Le Ly Hayslip

“Lament of Ben Hai River“—poem by Nhat Hanh (translated by the author and Helen Coutant)

RELATED MOVIES: Gone with the Wind, The North and the South, The Red Badge of Courage

RELATED WEBSITES:

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

http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/fiveaprils/

http://www.classzone.com/novelguides/litcons/across/guide.cfm

http://www.mtabe.k12.vt.us/middleschool/aurora/languagearts/across5aprils.htm

http://www.civilwar.com/

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

April 29, 2008

The Story of Clocks and Calendars

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The Story of Clocks and Calendars

Author: Betsy Maestro

Illustrator: Giulio Maestro

Page Length: 48

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Non-fiction

REVIEW: Where do we get the concept of time and time management? This awesome picture-book answers these questions that many of us probably have thought about but have never asked out loud.

Not only does this book describe time in the context of the United States, but it also discusses the influence of time on other countries, religions, and cultures. This book definitely does not take a narrow focus on the topic! After reading this book, I have learned that different religions use different calendars. I have also learned that the calendar months of July and August were named after Roman emperors. The first calendars were lunar/moon then transitioned into solar. Farming was the catalyst for the creation/discovery of time and calendars. The author, Maestro, notes that in India, “there have been as many as thirty calendars in use all at the same time”. Maestro goes on to say that today most of the world uses the Gregorian calendar for official business even though not even half the world is Christian. Some people would like to see a change to a different uniform calendar, but none is anticipated in the near future.

Other Facts Included in the Book: Examples of primitive clocks are the burning candle, sundial, hourglass, and water/clock dial. The exact length of a solar year is 365.2422 days. The most accurate clocks available are atomic clocks which may have an error of only one second in millions of years. Finally, atomic clocks keep the official time here on Earth.

My only criticism of this book is that I would have liked to have seen some real photographs of the artifacts illustrated. In all, I believe the information presented in this book is very relevant and appropriate for high school students, however photographs would have given this picture book even more credibility.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: text features (captions, diagrams, charts, dates, glossary), sequence of events, cause and effect, symbols

RELATED BOOKS: Midnight Magic (evidence of the burning candle being used as a clock), Maestro & Maestro have written other books: Christopher Columbus, Colonial Times, & The French and Indian Wars

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Stonehenge, Zodiac signs, Chinese calendar

TOUCHY AREAS: Jesus Christ is mentioned in this text not in the context of preaching an agenda, but rather to focus in on the context of a certain time period in history. Hebrew, Roman, Muslim, Chinese, and Gregorian cultures/religions are also mentioned in similar context.

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://fi.edu/qa00/attic3/index.html (link to different clock activities)

http://www.shambles.net/pages/learning/primary/Time/ (giant list of links about time and clocks)

http://www.wrentham.k12.ma.us/C4/C4/Calendar%20%20Time/default.aspx

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

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