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December 19, 2010

The Book Thief

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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: Book Cover

The Book Thief

Author: Markus Zusak

Page Length: 550

Reading Level: 4.0

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Liesel Meminger hasn’t had an easy childhood. Her mother, faced with nothing to feed her children, had to send them away to foster parents in Germany. Liesel has lived in the shadows of talk about her father being a communist and she watches her sweet, dear baby brother die right in front of her. Her foster mother is harsh and calls her names; yet, there is love on Himmel Street. Her foster father nurtures her and teaches her to read. She becomes great friends with Rudy and embarks on many adventures with him. Liesel loves books and finds great comfort in them. But Liesel is a German, a member of Hitler Youth, and a great war is raging. Even her little corner of Himmel Street cannot escape the results of Hitler’s actions, and death is always watching and waiting.

REVIEW: One excellent teaching point from this book is “voice” in the form of the unusual narrator of the story and the perspective that death brings to it (a great example of that compositional risk aspect of writing needed to achieve a 4 on the TAKS test). Another great teaching point is the humanity of the people and even the “enemy” during war in the book. The power of love and friendship are notable points too.

I did not find the beginning of the book very engaging, but by the second half the story seemed more interesting and easier to follow. Even the small words in another language make fluency more difficult. I would not use this book as a classroom read and would not recommend it to struggling readers. I read in one of the reviews that in his home country this is considered an adult book.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: comparing text to self, compare and contrast, sequence of events, historical context, compositional risk – narrator

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: treatment of Jews, bullying, death in bombing, death of a sibling, separation from a parent

RELATED BOOKS: Four Perfect Pebbles, The Diary of Anne Frank, books by Zusak: Fighting Ruben Wolf, Getting the Girl, The Underdog, I Am the Messenger

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: The Diary of Anne Frank, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2009), Schindler’s List

RELATED WEBSITES: (awesome video intro to the book) (Zusak interview)

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor


August 30, 2009

Finding Fish

Finding Fish

Author: Antwone Quentin Fisher

Page Length: 340

Reading Level: 10

Genre: Autobiography       

PLOT SUMMARY: Antwone Fisher was born in a prison and immediately placed in foster care where he was constantly verbally abused, often physically abused, and on occasion, sexually abused.  He lived in the home of the Pickett’s with his two foster siblings for 13 years.  During that time, he expressed himself through artwork, but mostly led a rather silent life, feeling unworthy.  On page 72, Fisher writes how his dreams were abandoned and he lived only to survive the day-to-day routine of school and verbal abuse at home.

When Antwone entered a new school in fourth grade, he met an angel, his teacher, Miss Profitt.  She was fair and treated him as if he were special. Although the Child Protective Services monitored Antwone’s foster parents and they suspected the Pickett’s were not providing the appropriate domestic environment, there never seemed to be a better placement for Antwone. 

At the age of 16, Antwone was placed in a reform school, where he felt more comfortable and safe than in his foster home. Antwone knew he had nowhere else to go.  After a time at the reform school, Antwone left and found himself homeless.  He eventually joined the Navy and it was there that he found confidence in himself and learned that he was worthy of a good life.  He began to write poetry and demonstrated excellent written and oral command with leadership qualities (p. 291). Through his experience in the Navy, Antwone found family, friendship, belonging, education, and purpose.

He eventually reconnected with his foster siblings, his biological mother, and then, married and had a daughter, Indigo. 

REVIEW: Because of the tragic experiences Antwone Fisher experienced in his childhood, this book reads more like fiction than reality.  The harsh treatment he received by his foster parents is difficult to read.  However, the story gives hope to those who do experience abuse, poverty, and loneliness as Antwone tells how through a few positive contacts in his life he did strive to be the best he could be. 

Although the writing is very descriptive, the teacher should be aware that it is quite graphic.  I would suggest the book for mature students.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: descriptive murder (p. 21), sexual abuse (p. 43-44, 241, and 245), harsh language and profanity (p. 138, 155, 195, 199-200, 231, 246, 274, 281)

AREAS OF TEACHING: Setting, Character, Sequence of Events, Cause/Effect, Point of View

RELATED BOOKS: The Antwone Fisher Story (screenplay), Who Will Cry for the Little Boy? (Poems), A Child Called It

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Antwone Fisher (2002)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner



Author: E. R.  Frank

Page Length: 242

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: America is a 15-year-old boy who was abandoned by his drug-addicted mother.  He was sent to various foster homes, and as a young child he was repeatedly sexually abused by an “uncle”.  After becoming obsessed with matches and lighters, he set his “uncles” blanket on fire one night and watched the house burn to the ground.  He was teased for being bi-racial and was placed in various treatment centers.  America had several psychiatrists before he started working with Dr. B., after a failed suicide attempt. 

America uses terrible language and calls Dr. B many names, but the doctor patiently plays card games with America and eventually makes a breakthrough with him. After being a victim of the system for many years, America eventually learns to live on his own.  However, he never really escapes the fear of abuse, abandonment and loneliness.

REVIEW: The book is well written in chapter form that shifts from present day to the past from America’s point of view.  The descriptions of the abuse that America endured was gut wrenching and sometimes hard to read.  However, once I started reading, it was hard to put down. 

Because of the harsh language and descriptive sexual abuse, I question whether it should be on the classroom library shelves.  Teachers should be aware of its content. 

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Harsh profanity (p. 28, 48, 59, 93,135, 136,142,148 158 and the remainder of the book), sexual abuse (p. 88, 93, 98, 98, 107, and 109), descriptions of other sexual activity (158 and the remainder of the book)

It is suggested that this book be previewed for appropriateness.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Character and Cause/Effect

RELATED BOOKS: A Child Called It

MOVIE & TV CONNECTIONS: America (2009, T.V. movie), Good Will Hunting (1997)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 24, 2008

One True Friend

One True Friend

Author: Joyce Hansen

Page Length: 154

Reading Level: 6

Genre:  Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: This is the story of a friendship between Amir and Doris who met while Amir was living in a foster home on 163rd street in the Bronx. Amir’s parents were killed in a car wreck and he was separated from his siblings who were put into foster care.  As the story evolves, Amir is living with his youngest brother, Ronald and his foster parent’s, Alvin and Grace Smith. Amir is on a mission to find his aunt, who he believes has his other sibling’s living with them.  He has a letter and picture he wants to send to all of the people who have the same last name as his aunt to try to find them.  However, Mr. Smith forbids Amir to send the letters and says that he will help find his aunt.

Amir feels alone and writes Doris about his life in Syracuse, the Smith’s, and Ronald.  Doris writes back about issues she is having with her schoolmates and family.  Both Amir and Doris, give each other advice and support through their mail. They both feel disconnected from the world they live in and hold on to the distant friendship to solve their problems.

REVIEW: This book starts off slow, but gets better as the relationship between Doris and Amir develops through the letters they write.  The issues that the two teens face are realistic as to what many teens fact today.  A meaningful relationship also develops between the Smith’s and Amir that makes Amir realize what blood family and chosen family can both be a part of one’s life.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Main Idea and Supporting Details, Conflict, Cause/Effect, Compare/Contrast, Setting and Characters

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: References to marijuana use and AIDS, but nothing that is not age appropriate.

RELATED BOOKS: The Gift Giver, Yellow Bird and Me


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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