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August 30, 2009


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Author: Jan Cheripko

Page Length: 205

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Rat loves everything about basketball –except for the fact that he is disabled and feels that he can’t play the sport on the same level as his peers. He’s still a part of the team as the manager, but one day all of that changes. Rat witnesses something he wishes he hadn’t (or maybe he is glad that he could help – he really can’t decide). Coach has his hands all over one of the cheerleaders. Rat’s the only witness and he becomes caught in the crossfire. Will he tell the truth? Will the team treat him any differently if he “rats” on the coach? How far is he willing to go for a friend?

REVIEW: This book really packs in quite a few moral lessons and dilemmas. Rat is turned against by the basketball team because he tells the truth. No one will talk to him, he’s bullied and threatened, and he can’t even get his dad to see him for who he is. The new coach changes how Rat feels about himself and his relationships. We’re introduced to not only bullying, the cold hard truth about how doing what is right is not always popular, and two characters suffer with the loss of their loved ones to cancer. The new coach of the team not only teaches the boys great plays but also teaches them the elements of successful character traits (a lesson in and of themselves). Altogether it is a nicely crafted story that should appeal to both male and female students. There are great lessons in this book and wonderful vivid discussion points about decisions, actions, and repercussions – and about believing in yourself and standing up for what you believe in. Cheripko also teaches students that everyone has heart and everyone makes mistakes – great classroom read!

AREAS FOR TEACHING: huge potential – connecting text to self, sensory images, elements of plot, cause and effect, sequence of events

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: death from cancer, bullying, intimidation, sexual harassment

RELATED BOOKS: Imitate the Tiger, Brother Bartholomew and the Apple Grove, Voices of the River


REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

January 17, 2009

Stay Strong

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Stay Strong

Author: Terrie Williams

Page Length: 219  

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Non-Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The book is compiled of life lessons for teens.  It contains “real stories” of challenges and victories experienced by teens.  Also, included are quotes by students about various life situations. Tools for being successful and positive are included.  

REVIEW: Terrie Williams, an African-American woman began her career as a social worker.  She then opened a public relations business representing celebrities such as Eddie Murphy, Janet Jackson, Boys II Men, and Sean “Puffy” Combs. With teens holding a top place in her heart, she incorporates life lessons she has used to get to the top of the public relation industry into sayings and advice for them.  The book is written to address young people who want to make an impact in the world.

The book begins with a forward from Queen Latifah, and then, Ms. Williams states that “Life Ain’t Fair, but what you do does matter.”  From there, she encourages teens to make good choices, do the right thing, reach out for help, give back to the community, be honest, show gratitude, and develop relationships.

I think students would enjoy this book.  It could be read aloud by the teacher and then students could break up into groups to have discussions on appropriate actions and behaviors they should use in various social situations.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Theme, Point of View, Reading Varied Sources, Cause/Effect, and Compare/Contrast  

RELATED BOOKS: Chicken Soup for the Kid’s Soul: 101 Stories of Courage, Hope and Laughter, The Young Adult’s Guide to “Making It”: Successful Strategies for Getting and Keeping a Job, Girls Seen and Heard: 52 Lessons for Our Daughters, Stretch Your Wings:  Famous Black Quotations for Teens


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 12, 2008

Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo

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Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo

Author: Greg Leitich Smith

Page Length: 188

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Elias, Shohei, and Honoria are best friends attending Peshtigo Middle School. Elias is from a family of very smart and successful parents and siblings.  Shohei is the adopted Japanese son of two Irish parents. Honoria is the girl caught in between the two.

It is time for the annual school Science Fair.  Elias decides to copy one of his older brother’s past experiments and Shohei decides to join him in working on the project. Honoria wants to teach piranhas to become vegetarians.

The plot thickens when Elias’ experiment does not match the findings of his brother; Shohei faces his parent’s daily issues to acquaint him with his Japanese culture; and, Elias has a crush on Honoria who confides in him that she has a crush on Shohei.   

REVIEW: This is an entertaining book in that the character’s each tell a portion of the story.  Each of their personalities is developed through their actions and thoughts.  The trio face conflict with their parents, teachers and each other. There is a Reading Group Guide at the end of the book which would assist if the book was used as a class novel. I think both boys and girls would enjoy the book for leisure reading.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Character, Theme, Conflict, Compare/Contrast, and Cause/Effect

RELATED BOOKS: Holes, Tofu and T. Rex


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 24, 2008

Life, Love, and the Pursuit of Free Throws

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Life, Love, and the Pursuit of Free Throws

Author: Janette Rallison

Page Length: 185

Reading Level: not listed

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY: Josie and Cami are best friends in ninth grade and both are on the basketball team.  Josie is a natural athlete and basketball comes very easy for her.  Cami loves the sport, but must work hard for everything she accomplishes.  Josie has asked Cami to help her get Ethan’s attention.  Ethan, one of the cutest boys in ninth grade, has recently broken up with Ashley who is the captain of the basketball team.

The book is written in narrative form with Josie penning one chapter, then Cami the next.  The reader gets opinions, thoughts, feelings and ideas from both Cami and Josie.  As the book progresses, Cami realizes she also has a crush on Ethan.  Josie begins to enjoy the idea that she could actually be the MVP of the basketball team because she is always the highest point shooter.

The two girls discover that each of them has not been totally honest with the other and a fight develops.  This quarrel carries over to the basketball team and the other players, which causes the team to suffer several losses.  On a road trip to an important basketball game, Josie and Cami discover that friendship is more important than the issues they have put between themselves.

 REVIEW: This is definitely a “chick” book and I think girls of middle school and junior high would enjoy it more than older girls.  The characters and their behaviors are very stereotype of middle class Anglo-Saxon females.

The book was a fast read, but not one that I would highly recommend.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Compare/Contrast, Cause/Effect, Characters, and Sequence of Events

RELATED BOOKS: All’s Fair in Love, War, and High School, It’s a Mall World After All, The Revenge of the Cheerleaders, Playing the Field

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Grease” (1978)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

January 31, 2008

My Land Sings: Stories from the Rio Grande

My Land Sings: Stories from the Rio Grande

Author: Rudolfo Anaya

Page Length: 176

Reading Level: 5th

Genre: Short Story, Folklore, Fables


REVIEW, PLOT SUMMARY, & AREAS FOR TEACHING: Every English teacher must read the Preface of this book on pages 7-16! In these lines, the author portrays a genuine opinion about the richness of reading and story telling. The Preface is also important in that it highlights the 10 short stories that follow. Some of the tales in this book are from the Hispanic and Native-American folklore tradition, while others are original stories created by the author himself. Each story teaches a lesson and draws upon the culture of those that lived near the Rio Grande Valley. The lessons in this compilation of stories include parental obedience, death’s role in life, consequence of keeping secrets, saving for a rainy day, respect for elders, explanations of natural events, and the search for eternal youth.


Students will likely recognize the first story titled “Lupe and la Lorona”. I believe there is a version of this story in the World Literature text. This tale is about a woman (Lorona) who is threatened that her baby will be taken from her. She then runs near the river where she and the baby “fall into the water”. Some believe Lorona intentionally threw the baby into the water. The child is lost and the woman is left to walk along the river mourning for the loss of her baby. Lorona’s mourning takes the form of crying. The lesson is that children should not disobey their parents and travel near the river without permission for fear that Lorona will appear. The main character in this first story, Lupe, learns this lesson and several others.


“Dulcinea” is about a girl of the same name who wants to break free from the chains of her present life. She decides to disobey her parents’ orders and go to a dance with a charming man. The man turns out to be an evil spirit with hands of goat hooves. As punishment, Dulcinea is psychologically unable to move on in life. They say if you listen to the wind closely, you can hear Dulcinea’s crying pain.


“The Three Brothers” contains religious themes linked to the issue of greed. The family has three sons, two of which took the road of selfishness which led them to hell – depicted as a city. The third brother went down the honorable path and was led to a mansion – referred to as heaven. The third brother is rewarded with a full and prosperous life.


“Dona Sebastiana” is about a poor man, Baltazar, who steals a chicken then refuses to share it with the “Lord” and the “Virgin Mary”. Out of fear, the man does end up sharing his meal with “Death” – referred to as Dona Sebastiana. For the kindness to Death, Dona Sebastiana grants Baltazar the power to heal people. However, the man must not try to heal a person when Death is at the “head of the bed”. Due to his new power, Baltazar became very wealthy. Then a man named Don Mateo came to the healer because his daughter was sick. Even though Death was at the head of the bed, Baltazar healed the young woman. Death later took the life of Baltazar saying one can never cheat death. In the end you always lose.


“The Shepherd Who Knew the Language of Animals” is about a boy who, upon helping a serpent, is granted the power to hear the communication of animals. There was one catch: he could never tell anyone about his power or else he would die. With this power, the boy found out that a treasure was buried near a tree that he was at. People questioned where the poor boy got the money. An arrest was never made though. Then the boy met a girl who wanted to find out what secret her lover had been keeping from her. The boy was about to tell her until a dream came to the girl. Upon experiencing the dream, the girl came to the conclusion that secrets belong to the people that own them. She was content on not knowing her lover’s secret about the animals.


“The Fountain of Youth” is about adventurers who were willing to sell their soul to evil in exchange for eternal youth. However, evil did not deliver on its deal. Instead, evil trapped these adventurers forever in its prison. The moral: never make a deal with the devil.


“The Lost Camel” is about identifying people who are honest. The Virgin Mary is present in this story. An apple cut in two is used as the means to identify honesty in individuals. This story was rather simple.


“The Miller’s Good Luck” is about the role of luck versus careful planning in making a man rich. Two men in this story set out to prove each other wrong by giving some money to a man named Pedro Bernal. Pedro ends up losing some of the fortune the men give him. In the end, by luck, he discovers a diamond in a fish and becomes wealthy. Afterwards, the lost money from the beginning returns. The two men from the initial lines, still do not resolve their conflict.


“Sipa’s Choice” is about a boy who disobeys his father and his god’s wishes to take care of the fish. This request was the only one the god made in return for the boy’s healed leg. The boy grew too proud and viewed the teachings of his father as meaningless. In return, the god turned the boy and his people into fish.


“Coyote and Raven” is a creative tale about how man and woman came to live on the Earth’s surface with animals. It also told the story of how the raven got its black feathers and how the coyote lost its long tail. Furthermore, this story illustrated the reasons why humans fight amongst each other. I found this story to be the most entertaining of all of the tales in this book.


I like that there is a glossary in the back with Hispanic terms that were used throughout the book. This book would be great for students who tire easily with long chapters and lengthy books. The short tales can be easily read in 5-10 minutes.




REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

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