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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

Romiette and Julio

Romiette and Julio

Author: Sharon M. Draper

Page Length: 320

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Romantic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Romiette and Julio begins with a strange recurring dream about drowning and a male voice that Romiette Cappelle is having. She is terrified of water and cannot swim.  Julio Montague, 17 years old, is forced to move from Corpus Christi, Texas to Cincinnati, Ohio. He hates Ohio. Everything is gray and there is no where to swim. Julio is an excellent swimmer and loves to swim. The only companionship he has is with a girl he has met in the chat room. Come to find out this girl, Romiette, whom he shares a great deal in common, goes to the same Ohio school. On the first day of school Julio meets Ben during a fight. Ben is a quirky, lighthearted character who changes his hair color everyday. Romiette’s best friend is Destiny who is also quirky and thinks she is psychic. As Romi and Julio’s online friendship develops, they decide to meet in person. Julio and Romi immediately feel a strong attraction to one another. Julio brings with him a bottle of hot sauce and a rose to their first meeting. As they start hanging out together more often, the school gang, the Devildogs or “The Family” begin to threaten Romi and Julio just because Romi is African American and Julio is Hispanic. Also, Romi’s parents do not approve of Julio because he is Hispanic and Julio’s parents do not approve of Romi because she is African American. The gang intensifies their threats which force Romi, Julio, Destiny, and Ben to devise a plan to obtain proof that the gang exists and is threatening them. However, the plan goes horribly wrong. The gang has a plan of their own. They capture Romi and Julio leaving them helpless, tied up, and unconscious in a boat floating in London Woods Lake during a severe thunderstorm. What happens to Romi and Julio? Whose voice was in the dream? What happens to Destiny and Ben? Does the police and search party rescue them in time or is their fate sealed as in Romeo and Juliet?        

REVIEW:  Romiette and Julio is a present day Romeo and Juliet without the tragic ending. Reader’s still experience the themes of friendship, romance, suspense, love, prejudice, racism, and familial pressures exemplified within Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. However, in Romiette and Julio, Sharon Draper allows the reader to identify with the themes in a modern day setting even allowing Romiette and Julio to meet in a chat room. A strong affection develops which leads to gang threats due only to the fact that Romiette is African American and Julio is Hispanic; thus, suspense ensues. Romiette and Julio is a definite supplement for the classic, Romeo and Juliet.  Readers can identify with many themes throughout the book whether it is racism, peer pressure, romance, or soul mates.   

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, allusion, protagonist, antagonist, comic relief

RELATED BOOKS:  Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet in Beverly Hills (Readers Theater), The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, The First Part Last by Angela Johnson,  Who Am I Without Him? By Sharon Flake, Books by same author: Tears of a Tiger, Forged be Fire, The Battle of Jericho, Copper Sun, November Blues, Darkness Before Dawn, Double Dutch, Fire by the Rock

MOVIE CONNECTIONS:  Westside Story (1950), Romeo and Juliet (1996), Romeo and Juliet (1968), Gone With the Wind (1939), The Notebook (2004), The Outsiders (1983)

MUSIC CONNECTION: Love Story by Taylor Swift

RELATED WEBSITES:  (secure chat room suggested by the technology department)

REVIEWED BY: Tammy Leitzel

August 30, 2009

Romiette and Julio

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Romiette and Julio 

Author: Sharon Draper

Page Length: 274

Reading Level: 5

Genre:  Romance fiction

PLOT SUMMARY:  The two main characters, Romiette and Julio are alike in spirit and feelings, but they are culturally different.   Romiette “Romi” Cappelle is sixteen years old, and is an African American teenager who lives in Cincinatti, Ohio.   As the book begins Romi has a nightmare of drowning which remains in her dreams throughout most of the book.   She searches for an understanding of her fear of water, but comes up with nothing.   Sixteen year old Julio Montague is a Mexican teenager who has just moved to Cincinnati.  He hates the cold weather in Ohio and wants to move back home to his grandfather’s ranch.  However, Julio knows it’s impossible since his parents moved from Texas, because of the heavy gang pressure in its schools. When Julio meets Romi online in a teen chat room and they discover that they attend the same high school, they make an instant connection.  Romi can’t believe that Julio is so good looking, charming and sensitive, and Julio has never known another girl like Romi, who is so beautiful, smart and caring. Although neither Romi nor Julio sees their different races as a problem, other people begin to object to their budding romance.   Julio’s father tells him straight out that he will never approve of his son dating a black girl. And then there are the “Devildogs”, an African American gang at school who wear all purple and make it glaringly obvious to Romi and Julio that they don’t like the races mixing.  When Romi and Julio stand up to the gang members and turn the tables on them, the gang members threaten to get even.  The danger escalates when the gang begins stalking the couple and making overt threats with guns.

Julio and Romi are terrified by the threats of violence. When Romi, Julio and their best friends Ben and Destiny forge a plan to break away from the gang’s grip, Romi and Julio find themselves caught up in a deadly situation.   The parents finally become close enough to mend their ill feelings of prejudice and work right along with the police to help their children.   Although the danger is pending throughout the plot’s climax the book’s resolution is breathtakingly awesome.  

REVIEW: It was a great book, and I would recommend it to anyone, young or old.


5.9 draw upon experience to for word meanings

5.10 know main idea and details

5.11 connect and compare the various ideas

5.12 analyze characters

RELATED BOOKS:  Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.   Other books by Sharon Draper: Tears of a Tiger, Forged by Fire, Darkness before Dawn

MOVIE & MUSIC CONNECTIONS:  Romeo and Juliet vs. West Side Story


 REVIEWED BY: Linda Schwegler



Author: Lynne Ewing

Page Length: 85

Reading Level: 3.5

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The story begins as Jimmy is shot and killed in front of his brother Tito and little sister Mina by a possible gang member in a car. The police imply that Jimmy was in a gang and that two potential suspects Ice-Breaker and Lamar Calles want something Jimmy had that belonged to them. This makes no sense to Tito because Jimmy had always said there are two kinds of gang bangers: those who are dead and those who were going to die. He told Jimmy that joining a gang didn’t make any sense at all. Tito then tries to find out the truth about his brother – Was he really in a gang? If so, what did the gang members want from him? Tito then must become the man of the house by taking care of and protecting his little sister, Mina.

The mystery begins when Tito and his mother attempt to collect Jimmy’s last paycheck at the restaurant only to find out that he had never worked there. To add to the mystery, Gus who is Tito’s long-time friend intentionally gives an inaccurate description of the car used in the drive-by shooting. Gus tries to pressure Tito into carrying a gun and joining a gang for protection now that Jimmy is dead. On the other hand, Tito’s Jewish friend, Zev, tries to be a positive influence.

Tito is faced with many tough decisions: how to find out the truth about his brother, what the gang members want from him, whether or not to join a gang, or to perform honest work to provide for his family.   

REVIEW: Ewing’s novel is bleak, though ultimately hopeful, with a satisfying ending that makes its point without belaboring it. In the early pages, Tito’s older brother, Jimmy, is killed in a gang-related drive-by shooting. This is only the beginning of Tito’s family’s troubles for while they cope with their grief; the gang attacks their house repeatedly, forcing the family to move. Following revelations about Jimmy’s secret life, Tito’s innocence is gradually stripped away; he confronts hard truths about gang life and takes action to protect his family and do what is right. Written in stripped-down prose that mirrors Tito’s bleak world, the brief tale combines the plot twists of a mystery with a topical setting and theme that will appeal to reluctant readers.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Conflict, Point of View, Cause/Effect, Conclusions, Generalizations, Predictions, Tragedy Theme, Protagonist, Antagonist, Parallelism, peer pressure

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: drive-by shooting, death of character

RELATED BOOKS:  The Outsiders, Scorpions, Monster, Books by the same author: The Final Eclipse, Moon Demon, The Talisman, Possession, Night Shade, The Sacrifice, The Haunting, The Secret Scroll, Divine One, Night Sun

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Westside Story (musical – 2003),  Once Upon a Time In the Hood (2004), The Outsiders (2008), Drive-by Shooting (documentary of gangs in Fort Worth, Texas – 1994), The Price of the American Dream (2004)


REVIEWED BY: Tammy Leitzel

August 8, 2009

Autobiography of My Dead Brother

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Autobiography of My Dead Brother

Author: Walter Dean Myers

Page Length: 212

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Jesse and Rise, though a couple of years apart, have been like brothers since they were young. They even made a pact once and became blood brothers. Lately Jesse’s noticed that Rise seems different. In his art work he begins to try capture what seems different about Rise. Outside, in his neighborhood, more violence is occurring every day. Drive by shootings have been happening in the area. Rise has begun to appear more violent and even talks about what it would be like to get their group, The Counts, into dealin’ drugs. Jesse’s terrified at the turn his friend’s life has taken and before he knows it, he too is in over his head. Can he save Rise and himself before it’s too late?

REVIEW: The story is filled with all the struggles of an inner city boy caught in a gang infested neighborhood. The reality of drug use, dependence, and dealing are ever present in this book. Myers describes drive by shootings and the fear present on the streets exceptionally well. The reader can feel Jesse’s pain as he sees Rise’s transformation but is powerless to stop him. The story line lends to a good classroom discussion about choices, circumstances, and reactive paths of action. I think that students would be able to relate to this story and would enjoy reading it as a class.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: comparing text to self, compare and contrast, sequence of events, foreshadowing, character traits, setting

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: firebombing, guns, drive bys, intimidation, prostitution

RELATED BOOKS: Shooter, Monster, Malcolm X, Fallen Angels, Slam!, The Beast, The Glory Field

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, Freedom Writers


REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

December 1, 2008

Hit Squad

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Hit Squad

Author: James Heneghan

Page Length: 106  

Reading Level: 3.8

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Grandview High School has been known in the past as an upscale high school with few gangs or inner high school rivalry.  When students get a choice to transfer across previous school boundaries, some bullying and hazing begin to occur.  Birgit is trapped in a closet with three strange girls spitting chocolate on her, Mickey’s lunch is stolen and Joey is beaten up so badly he is admitted into the local hospital.  Birgit feels that the principal and teachers cannot control the violence, so she forms a “Hit Squad” made up of Mickey, two other football players and herself to teach the bullies a lesson.

REVIEW:  This was a captivating book because of the violent action occurring on a high school campus. To me, it was almost too violent in the retaliation steps that the “Hit Squad” takes to teach the bullies a lesson.  When Candy, Mickey’s foster sister questions him about the ‘squads’ methods and motives, Mickey appears to hear what she is saying, but because of his infatuation with Birgit, he makes choices that become fatal.

I think both boys and girls would both enjoy this book.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Theme, Conflict, and Setting

TOUCHY AREAS: Alcohol and marijuana use on page 56.


MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Rats and Bullies (2004), Mean Creek (2004), Bully (2006)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner



October 17, 2008

The Crossing

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The Crossing

Author: Gary Paulsen

Page Length: 114

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Manny is a fourteen year old orphan surviving on the streets of Juarez, Mexico. Manny’s nights are spent in a cardboard box and his days planning how to outwit the older, meaner gang members so that he can grab coins being thrown off the bridge by tourists. Manny dreams of leaving Juarez for the United States. One fateful night Manny decides to try his luck against the border patrol. He runs into the sergeant, a career military man who is haunted by his past. Manny and the sergeant develop an unlikely friendship that is put to the test one fateful night. Will Manny ever make it to the United States, or will he fail like so many others before him?

REVIEW: The book was stark and realistic. The sergeant is depicted in all his military perfection and glory, but also shown realistically as a man haunted by the demons of war. He spends his evenings numbing his mind with alcohol. Manny is ever hopeful despite his sparse lifestyle. He’s a great character to study for strength and perseverance. He never stops trying to better his conditions no matter how hopeless it may seem. This book is very real and in it’s own way violent, dark, and graphic; however, it would likely capture and keep the attention of male students.

Reading this book and also reading an editorial on the need for border patrol might make for a very interesting classroom discussion.

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

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: alcohol, violence, bull fight (with the goring of the bull), post traumatic stress flashbacks, illegal activity

RELATED BOOKS: The Rifle, Brian’s Winter, Hatchet, Good-bye and Keep Cold, Fallen Angels, The Island


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

April 23, 2008

Emergency Room

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Emergency Room

Author: Caroline B. Cooney

Page Length: 213

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The story takes place on an ordinary day during the hours of 6:00pm and 9:00pm. The setting shifts between a city college campus, a major highway, a city street, and a city hospital. The settings themselves are generic however the characters and what happens to them are not. The story flows in a time sequence with shifts from one setting and character’s issue to the next.

Jersey is a college student who, on her way to buy some shoes, is caught in the middle of a gun fight between local gang members. She is rushed to the emergency room. She eventually makes it, and at the end of the story, is resting in the ICU.

Anna Maria is a young girl who is in charge of taking care of her two siblings (Yasmin and Jose). She finds herself without electricity and TV in her apartment. Anna Maria ventures out to the emergency room for the comfort of those things in which she does not have. However, she does not expect to be caught in the middle of gang activity in the E.R. while enjoying the nice air-conditioning!

Alec is a young man who borrows his friend’s motorcycle for a brief trip, yet drives a little too far off course. He subsequently crashes head-on into the pavement and later dies in the hospital.

Roo is a young single mother of twins (Cal & Val). She is without much support from her family as she has decided to live in the city away from mom and dad. Roo decides to take a trip to the E.R. (faking a fever with one of her children) in order to gain some relief from them. During her stay in the E.R., one of Roo’s babies is kidnapped by a gang member (Dunk) in an attempt to confront another rival gang member behind the nurse’s desk. Dunk is unsuccessful in his venture, eventually tossing Roo’s baby off to a volunteer worker, Seth.

Seth is one of the main characters in the book, along with Diana. Both are volunteer workers at the hospital, hoping to gain real-life experience for their futures. As the story progresses, their mild flirting increases while Seth and Diana realize that in the midst of chaos and stressful situations, companionship is important.      

REVIEW: I really enjoy the author’s writing style, as it is easy to comprehend and follow. The use of many characters and settings makes for a varied story-line. Not only was this book filled with action, it also provided some great descriptions of a hospital. There were many aspects of a hospital environment that I was unfamiliar with, and I felt that after reading this story, I am much more knowledgeable of the E.R. A good book for me is one in which the action is fast-paced, yet new knowledge is acquired. This story would fall into such a category. The reader must read pages 28-33 which paint a vivid description of Anna Maria’s environment. Each chapter ending of this book left me wanting to immediately read the next chapter. A must read for kids and adults!

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Point-of-View (shift from chapter to chapter), setting/descriptions (page 76 & 145), similes (pages 40, 65, 81, 91, & 149), abbreviations (ex. GSW, SOB), and how to write a good ending to a chapter

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: the descriptions of the wounded are not too dramatic as to offend the average reader

RELATED BOOKS: Flight #116 is Down (author’s writing style of tragic events)

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: TV Shows: E.R., Grey’s Anatomy, Chicago Hope

RELATED WEBSITES: (how an emergency room works) (report on emergency rooms) (Emergency Room Nurse blog)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

April 10, 2008

The Battle of Jericho

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The Battle of Jericho

Author: Sharon Draper

Page Length: 337

Reading Level: 7

PLOT SUMMARY: The Battle of Jericho tells the story a Jericho, his cousin, Josh, and their circle of friends. Junior in high school, Josh, Jericho, and Kofi are thrilled when one of the elite members of the Warriors of Distinction club asks them to help with the Christmas toy drive. The Warriors are the most admired group in school; they have existed for over 50 years, and numerous people in the community are members. Their black satin jackets, revered status, and well known parties make them the most sought after alliance in the school.

Soon the three boys are officially invited to become pledges. Draper details their desires and their relationships with each other and their girlfriends.  The pledges take vows of silence about the Warriors of Distinction pledge activities and the wild and unsettling ride begins. Although the Warriors have a charitable side, they also have a dark side. The pledges become subject to rituals testing their dedication and submission. As each pledge tasks becomes more questionable, Jericho becomes unsure of his decision to pledge. However, no one talks about the tasks and humiliation they have endured, and the pledge class has been told that they must all fail or all succeed as one. He persists even though part him realizes that he should not. The Warriors become so important to him that he loses sight of who he is and of his dreams. With a potential scholarship to Julliard on the line, Jericho must choose between his music and his desire to be popular and accepted.

As the pledging tasks worsen, Jericho must choose between what is right and what is wrong. Should he break his vow of silence and seek the advice of an adult? Or will he continue to participate? Will he become a coveted Warrior or will he lose everything trying?

AREAS FOR TEACHING: From a teaching perspective, I think that this a great book particularly for boys to read. Gang initiations and tales of college hazing incidents make this experience and important one for boys to gain (preferably through a book and not first hand knowledge). There are questionable acts required of the pledges. Discussing group dynamics and peer pressure after reading parts of this novel would be an excellent learning tool. I would also have students map the causes and effects (both anticipated and real) of the action of the pledge “masters” and the pledges. Draper includes a discussion guide at the end of the novel.

TOUCHY AREAS: Questionable parts are the pledge activities themselves and the consumption of alcohol as well as the belittling and inhumane treatment; however, realistically students need to know that things like this exist and do happen, and they need the opportunity to learn how to handle them.


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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