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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 5, 2008

Learning the Game

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Learning the Game

Author: Kevin Waltman

Page Length: 217

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Nate isn’t the typical teenager. His parents are loaded but never notice him, he has a popular girlfriend who is all about appearances, and his brother is one of the town druggies. Nate wants to fit in with all the guys on the basketball court. One summer day, he is tested. Will he choose the team or what he knows is right? Will he stand by his friend or be bullied by Branson? Nate’s worked super hard on his game all summer, but the terrible truth of his actions just may cost him everything. A surprise call from his brother, a guilty conscience, and a chance that his team could suffer may be too much for Nate. Will he save himself, his team, his girlfriend, or his brother?

REVIEW: This book was fast paced and contained many important elements for teen readers: relationships, sexual tension, bullying and popularity, sports, and family. The moral to the story: telling the truth is the right thing to do – no matter what the consequences – could spark an interesting debate in the classroom – as the book is being read – what are his options? What could he (Nate) do instead? Should he tell or not?

The lessons about true friendships and relationships were important ones. I think that this book would be good for classroom study or for a small group instruction. Boys would generally be more drawn to it than girls and basketball lovers would especially understand Nate’s drive to be the best, make the Varsity starting line, and his descriptions of basketball action.

A secondary story is the disintegration of Nate’s family due to a previous event. When he was younger, he and his brother were at a friend’s house. His brother describes how they were looking at the gun, putting it away, and how it accidentally went off. His friend was dead and his life was forever changed.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence, author’s purpose, character motivations, point of view, cause and effect, flow chart of decisions

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: accidental shooting, drugs (mild reference), drinking

RELATED BOOKS: Nowhere Fast, Push, Slam, Game, Hoops, Coach Carter, Summer in the City, Taking Sides

RELATED MOVIES: “Coach Carter,” “Believe in Me,” “Glory Road,” “Finding Forrester”            



REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

November 2, 2008


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Author: Norah McClintock

Page Length: 95

Reading Level: 3

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Quentin and JD have been friends for a long time. They are school-mates and they also hang out with each other after school engaging in such activities as smoking marijuana. One day, Quentin and JD are smoking in the park, scaring off some kids, when a man approaches them and tells them to leave. The man threatens that he’ll call the cops on the boys for smoking marijuana. In response, both Quentin and JD become disrespectful to the man. As they leave, Quentin points his finger toward the man as if he is going to shoot him.

The next day after Quentin and JD are talking to some girls at the beach, they start to head home but become hungry. They spot a “canteen van” in an alley and decide to see if there is any food inside it. As they are robbing the vehicle, a man approaches – the same man JD and Quentin spoke with in the park the other day. The man grabs Quentin, JD spots this, JD pulls a gun on the man, and JD shoots!!!

The man dies, but the boys don’t stay around long to see it. They ride their bikes home and change out of their bloody clothes. The incident is on the local news the next day and the TV reports that the cops are looking for one suspect that fits the description of Quentin!!! After a meticulous investigation by the police – going through school yearbooks, meeting with students in an assembly, pulling students out to talk with one by one – they arrest Quentin.

Quentin finally realizes that JD went to the police first to free himself from the blame. JD betrayed Quentin! At this point, Quentin is confused and upset at JD. Quentin tries to tell the police that both he and JD were at the scene of the crime but that JD was the one who pulled the trigger. In the midst of all this – Quentin is sent to jail.

However, after the police begin to investigate the crime further, it is discovered that JD voluntarily gave the police his “clean clothes”, JD planted Quentin’s bloody clothes in Quentin’s own home, and JD burned & buried his own bloody clothes along with the gun in a ravine – all to frame Quentin. The one piece of evidence however that reversed this false trail of evidence was a picture that JD’s sister took of JD and Quentin on the day of the murder. It shows that JD was wearing a different shirt that day – the one he burned and buried. The police look for these clothes along with the gun and find them! In the end, JD is sent to jail and Quentin is released pending his consequence.

REVIEW: Despite the awful subject matter (murder) this book was engaging and kept my attention. I would not suggest this to just any student due to the “touchy areas”. As with any “Orca” book, it is written on a very low reading level but the content is adult level. Several lessons can be learned using this story – from drugs to theft to being disrespectful to adults. The book’s cover will definitely spark an interest to some, however the real issue is the consequence one faces when engaged in activity that is illegal.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: predictions (page 27), flashback, internal dialogue, cause and effect

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: “smoked up” (page 22), Canadian pot / marijuana rules (page 26), topic of murder

RELATED BOOKS: Guns and Violence by Laura Egendorf

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Romeo + Juliet” (2006)

MUSIC CONNECTIONS: music by Eminem, Heavy D, Notorious B.I.G.,  & Dr. Dre

RELATED WEBSITES: (toy guns) (rappers, guns, reality) (statistics)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

October 30, 2008


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Author: Diane Tullson

Page Length: 103

Reading Level: 2.9

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: An emotionally unstable student is pushed over the edge by thoughtless classmates and brings a gun to school causing a real lockdown. Panic and chaos ensue as the students realize this is not just another drill. One student who feels he can help takes a risk, but the ending is still not a happy one.

REVIEW:  This book broke my heart. Josh, the student who brings the gun, cares and knows all about the hamsters in his science class. Some of the other kids want to see the new babies and disrupt the nest and touch the babies causing the mother hamster to reject them and eat them. It is just too much for Josh who is a bit naïve and socially out of things but truly cares about the animals. He loses it, brings the gun, taunts his classmates, but ultimately ends up shooting and killing himself. Like I said, it broke my heart.

 AREAS FOR TEACHING: Point of view, cause and effect

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: pages 13-15 in the science class, and the rest of the book during the lockdown – especially the final pages.


REVIEWED BY: Sherry Hall

October 17, 2008

The Rifle

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The Rifle

Author: Gary Paulsen

Page Length: 105

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The story begins west of Philadelphia in 1768. Cornish McManus has opened a new gunsmithing business. His business struggles but good fortune prevails. McManus crafts a rifle so perfect and accurate it is a masterpiece like no other. He loves the gun, but desperate to provide for his family, he sells it. John Byam gains the rifle and uses it as a sharp shooter in the American Revolution. He becomes legendary for his sure shot from far away; indeed, the rifle is a formidable weapon. The rifle changes hands again and again to owners who simply possess or admire it for awhile and are forced to sell or exchange it later. Through the years, the rifle travels. No one has ever checked to see if the rifle was loaded and the consequences may be disastrous.

REVIEW: The first part of this story does contain excessive details about rifle crafting and at time readers may lose engagement; however, the story picks up nicely and progresses well.

Lessons abound in this story. One – think carefully about what you design and create (we could even tell students about their actions in general), because you never know what may one day become of it. Two – weapons are always weapons and should be respected accordingly (a quick web search would reveal a number of teens and children who have died in accidental shootings). As one review site points out – Paulsen reminds the reader that weapons don’t kill – people (their mistakes and actions) do. It’s a powerful story with a tragic and memorable ending.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: historical context, creating a timeline, predictions,  causes and effects, summarization, question the text, comprehending impact on point of view

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: use of weapon to kill others (war), shooting

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

RELATED MOVIES: “The Crossing,” “Johnny Tremain”, “The Patriot”



REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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