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January 1, 2011

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm

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The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm


Author: Nancy Farmer


Page Length: 311


Reading Level: 6


Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Tendai, Rita, and Kuda have lived a sheltered life. They are the children of a very powerful general in Zimbabwe. Their life has been sheltered from the outside world where danger and evil lurk in the year 2194. Yet, one day, the Mellower convinces mother and father to agree to a trip into the city. The children have left before mother and father realize what has happened. Danger strikes quickly and the children are whisked to labor in a world they never even knew existed. From one harrowing escape to another, the children never give up hope of going home. With the lands most unusual detectives on their case, they just might make it if the dreaded masks don’t get to them first.

REVIEW: This book is definitely an out of the norm read. The characters have depth and are very interesting. Analyzing the motivation and traits of each would make an excellent class project. It was a little hard to follow in areas, and I think it would be difficult for some students to relate to the types of settings many parts of the story take place in. Some of the language and names would make the story very difficult for struggling readers. I would only recommend this book to more advanced readers. In order to teach this book effectively, much discussion and explanation should follow.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  sequence of events, cause and effect, character traits, making predictions

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: kidnapping, gangsters, crime, forced labor

RELATED BOOKS: A Girl Named Disaster, The House of the Scorpion, The Sea of Trolls, The Islands of the Blessed, City of Ember


City of Ember (2008 – related futuristic societal fears and challenges)

RELATED WEBSITES:,%20the%20Eye%20and%20the%20Arm.htm

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


June 5, 2010

The Last Book in the Universe

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The Last Book In The Universe

Author: Rodman Philbrick

Page Length: 223

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Science Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY:  A young boy, Spaz, finds himself fending for himself in the Urb, where all the normals live, after being kicked out of his foster home for having epilepsy. Charley, his foster dad, feels that Spaz’ illness will cause harm to his foster sister, Bean. Spaz steals from Billy Bizmo, the latch boss, to get food and protection. Everyone in the Urb mindprobes but Spaz can’t because he has epilepsy and can’t put a needle into his brain. Little did Spaz know that when sent to steal from Ryter, a gummy (or old person) per orders of Billy, Spaz’ life would change forever. On the way to steal from Ryter, Spaz meets a very young boy named Little Face who leads him to Ryter’s stack. Ryter is waiting for Spaz providing all his valuables except a book that he has been writing. Spaz does not understand the importance of the book and passing down stories from the Big Shake but he lets Ryter keep it. Little Face guides Spaz through the stacks on the promise of a choxbar since Spaz has been ordered to steal more items. Spaz befriends Ryter during these robberies. Then a runner comes with bad news of his sister Bean. Spaz must get to Bean as quickly as possible. But this isn’t as easy as it may seem. Spaz must sneak out of the latch, cross two others, and reach his sister hoping to save her. Ryter helps Spaz develop a plan to travel through The Pipes to get through the latches. On their journey, Spaz meets a Proov, a genetically altered person, who is giving away edibles, Ryter saves her life at the end of one of the latches that is on fire. Lanaya, the Proov, decides to help Spaz reach his sister. So Spaz, Ryter, Little Face, and Lanaya set out in search of Bean. Once they locate her they find that she is very ill. Ryter and/or Spaz (depending upon who you ask) decide that the only way to save Bean is to take her to Eden, where the Proovs live. The only problem is that normals aren’t accepted in Eden so Lanaya has to sneak them into Eden passing through The Forbidden Zone which is full of mines. Do they make it? Do they save Bean? If so, how do they save her? What happens to Little Face? Do the Proovs accept the normals? What happens to Spaz and Ryter? What happens to the last book in the universe?  What happens to the writer?   

REVIEW:  From the very first sentences in The Last Book In The Universe “If you’re reading this, it must be a thousand years from now. Because nobody around here reads anymore. Why bother, when you can just probe it?”, the reader’s attention is grabbed immediately. This science fiction book is excellent. Rodman Philbrick creates an alternate futuristic world with invented vocabulary to describe this new world, the people, and the items used in it. From the Urb, to the Proovs, to the Takvees, to the latches, this new world comes alive. The reader finds oneself transformed into this new world. One part of the new world is the burned- out Urb and the other part is the perfection of Eden. Both the strengths and weaknesses of both worlds are noticed. The themes of addiction, abandonment, poverty, environmental concerns, and violence of the 21st century are still prevalent in The Last Book In The Universe’s new world of the future. However, Spaz, Little Face, Ryter and Bean capture the reader’s heart evoking a sense of empathy and possibly sympathy for one if not all of these characters. One realizes that we all have a story to tell. Those stories need to be protected and passed along to future generations so that they may learn from our mistakes.  At the end of the book is a list of “New Words for a New World”.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: main idea and supporting details, theme, setting, characters, point of view, conflict, plot, compare/contrast, cause/effect, sequence of events, inference, conclusions, generalizations, predictions, voice, mood, tone, 5 steps of the writing process.

RELATED BOOKS: The Giver by Lois Lowry, The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer, Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. Books by the same author: Freak the Mighty, Max the Mighty, The Young Man and the Sea

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The Mighty (1998), Back to the Future (1995), The Incredibles (2004), War of the Worlds (1960)


REVIEWED BY: Tammy Leitzel

November 3, 2008

The Last Book in the Universe

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The Last Book in the Universe

Author: Rodman Philbrick

Page Length: 221

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Science Fiction     

PLOT SUMMARY: The story is set in the future in a world that has been hit by a severe earthquake known as “The Big Shake”.  As the story begins, Spaz, an epileptic 14 year-old boy is talking to Ryter, an old man, who constantly refers to books, something Spaz knows nothing about. Spaz tells Ryter that he has been kicked out of his home and forbidden to see his sister, Bean.  However, he has received a message from Bean that she is sick.  Together, Spaz and Ryter, along with Little Face (a young boy who likes Spaz because he gives him chocolate), set out to find Bean. They travel through the “Urbs”, using a futuristic dialect in a post-modern world.

REVIEW: For those who are fans of Rodman Phibrick and science fiction, you will enjoy the world of the future that Spaz, Ryter, and Bean adventure through.  I especially enjoyed the language of the future world that is used, much of it associated with the current language of today.  Also, the importance of books that Ryter emphasizes to Spaz is used throughout the book.  I especially like Ryter’s quote, “The only real treasure is in your head. They are memories and no one can steal them from you.”  These words and Spaz’s memories inspired him to write, The Last Book in the Universe.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Character, Sequence of Events, Setting, and Compare/Contrast

RELATED BOOKS: Freak the Mighty, Max the Mighty, REM World

RELATED WEBSITES:…/yas/book reviews/last book in the universe.htm…/yas/book reviews/last book in the universe.htm

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

September 21, 2008


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Author: Lesley Choyce

Page Length: 102

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Jeremy is a sixteen year old boy who has a love for guitars and rock and roll. Ever since his father gave him a guitar as a gift, playing music has been his passion. Jeremy is part of a band with two others guys – Alistair and Steve. All three enter a Battle of the Bands competition at a local bar – “The Dungeon”, in hopes that they may secure a place as a regular musical act there. “Thunderbowl” is their name and rock and roll is their game!

There is one major catch – Jeremy is underage in this bar that he is to play in and no one but his band mates know this. Also, Jeremy’s parents do not know that he is spending his time at “The Dungeon”. Jeremy ultimately lies to get in and his band mates and he play their hearts out. They win the competition and are awarded the opportunity to play at the bar several nights a week. This means Jeremy will be out late – past 1:00am.

Once his parents discover that he is out so late, his homework is not being completed, his front tooth gets knocked out, and he is failing in school, they demand that Jeremy quit the band. Jeremy disobeys them and even considers dropping out of school for love of music. Even his teacher, Mr. Langford, tries his best to talk Jeremy into staying in school, but Jeremy has eyes only for the guitar.

One night while playing at “The Dungeon”, Jeremy spots his teacher in the crowd. Again, Mr. Langford tries to convince Jeremy to focus more on his studies. Jeremy seems continually oblivious to the teacher’s advice and encouragement. At around this time, Jeremy gives up with his parents nagging and leaves his home to live with his band mates.

Jeremy eventually misses the comforts of his family and home and grows tired of the violence that occurs at the club between his band and another local group. After several incidents, Jeremy comes up with a compromise between the two bands that allows both to play without any feelings of jealously. It is at this time that Jeremy realizes the idea of moderation. He understands that he immersed himself too much into his music at the start and did not try to achieve a balance between work (school) and play (music). Eventually Jeremy finds this balance and is well on his way to success – his band mates and he are soon to cut a demo track in a studio.

REVIEW: I enjoyed reading this book. It was easy to follow and was an enjoyable story. Most high school students have “big dreams” such as football players, rap artists, and rock stars. However few realize that it does take a sense of balance and direction in order to achieve greatness. A discussion on the effects of school on one’s life would be appropriate.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: foreshadowing & predictions (page 9), internal conflict

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: There are several references to “booze”, “beer”, “cigarettes”, and a “bar”. Also, one of the teachers in this book is placed at a bar with liquor in the presence of one of his students.

RELATED BOOKS: Fat Kid Rules the World (great to use as a comparison contrast reading)

MOVIE & MEDIA CONNECTIONS: “Rockstar” (2001), Video Games – Rockband & Guitar Hero

RELATED WEBSITES: (Article about Rockband vs. Guitar Hero)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

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