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January 1, 2011

Monsoon Summer

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Monsoon Summer

Author: Mitali Perkins

Page Length: 257


Reading Level: 5


Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Jazz Gardner has to tell her business partner, Steve Morales, (best friend and secret love of her life) that she will be traveling to India with her family for the summer.  Her mother has received a grant for the orphanage in which she was adopted from several years earlier.  Having no choice, Jazz tells Steve good-bye, with sadness that he will find a girlfriend while she is gone. 

Upon arriving in India, Jazz decides to attend the local school rather than work at the orphanage.  However, her brother gets involved with the orphans by coaching them soccer, and her dad, a loner, becomes obsessed with teaching the nuns who run the orphanage computer skills.  Meanwhile, her mother is fulfilling her dream of making the orphanage a safe-haven for pregnant women of India to come and receive medical services.

Steve writes her letters, but Jazz cannot find the words to respond to him.  She pens many letters, but hides them away.  When Danita, one of the girls at the orphanage, starts to cook and clean for the Gardner’s, Jazz opens up to her and tells her how she feels about Steve. 

Jazz meets girls at the school who try to get her involved by attending dances after school.  Jazz has only danced once (with Steve at the eighth grade dance) and she was a complete klutz.  Jazz feels she is too large and clumsy to be attractive, not petite like her mom.  She eventually starts to take ceremonial dance from Danita for a performance they will give at the opening of the orphanage.

As Jazz observes her family at the orphanage, learns of Danita’s destiny of being an orphan, and raffles through her relationship with Steve, she realizes that there is a gift in giving and opens her heart to touch others. 

REVIEW: This is an excellent coming of age book for junior high and high school girls to read.  Jazz lacks confidence, specifically because her mother exemplifies a super-woman.  She is cautious in giving of herself after being taken advantage of by a druggie, earlier in the year. As Jazz observes the poverty in India, she realizes she has much to be grateful for and understands her mother’s mission to help the people of her home country. Through her relationships with Danita and her girlfriends she makes at the school, Jazz gains the confidence she needs to tell Steve her feelings and make good mature decisions about her life.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Setting, Characters, Compare/Contrast, and Point of View

RELATED BOOKS: The Kite Runner, Born Confused

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Slumdog Millionaire (2008)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


January 17, 2009

Around the World in 80 Days

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Around the World in Eighty Days

Author: Jules Verne

Page Length: 237  

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Phileas Fogg is a wealthy man who lives in London and belongs to the elite Reform Club.  One evening at the club, Mr. Fogg makes a wager with several of the members that he can travel around the world in eighty days.  He begins his trip, almost immediately with his employee, Passepartout.

Fogg plans to complete the trip by train and ship.  The two men travel to Suez, Bombay, miss a train and buy an elephant to get through India.  While in India, they rescue a Parsee woman from human sacrifice.  Along the way, Passepartout becomes acquainted with Mr. Fix, a detective from London who suspects that Mr. Fogg has robbed a bank.  Eventually, Mr. Fix joins the trio and completes the trip with them through Hong Kong, Shanhai, the United States and across the Atlantic. 

The trip has many bumps in the road, but Mr. Fogg thinks he will arrive within the time frame to collect his wagers.  However, in the end, he realizes he arrives forty-five minutes late… or does he?

REVIEW:  Because the book was written in 1874, I would recommend it for reading as a class novel rather than independent reading for the teenager of the 21st century.  The teacher would be able to incorporate instruction of vocabulary, descriptive writing, character development, and world geography in the reading. 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Cause/Effect, Characters, Vocabulary, Descriptive Writing, World Geography, Sequence of Events, Setting

RELATED BOOKS: Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

MOVIE & TV CONNECTIONS: Around the World in Eighty Days (1956, 2004), Around the World in Eighty Days-TV Mini-Series (1989)



REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 10, 2008

Blue Jasmine

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Blue Jasmine

Author: Kashmira Sheth

Page Length: 186

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Realistic Fiction     

PLOT SUMMARY: It is very hard for Seema to leave her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins for America but the twelve-year-old girl moves with her family from India to Iowa City. Upon arriving in the United States, Seema learns that very little is the same in her new home and environment.  The streets, buildings and grocery stores are much larger but she finds fewer people with whom she can communicate.  As she enters school, she compares her life to “chutes and ladders”.  Some days everything goes great, others are pure disasters.  Seema does make friends and adjusts to her new home.  When her grandmother in India becomes ill, she returns to her old home and finds that things are not the same and she has trouble fitting in to both worlds.

REVIEW: This book is filled with great descriptions of India and its beautiful flowers and aromas of food flavors.  Sheth uses metaphors, similes, and idioms to write a great book for teaching examples of figurative language.  The characters are developed with vivid personalities and the setting of both India and Iowa City are well described. 

I think young girls would especially enjoy reading this book that not only describes two different cultures but also confronts the issues middle school girls must go through to “fit in”.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Figurative Language, Setting, Character, and Comparison/Contrast

RELATED BOOKS: The Kite Runner, Born Confused, The Conch Bearer, New Kids in Town



REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

April 15, 2008

The Conch Bearer

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The Conch Bearer

Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Page Length: 265  

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fantasy

PLOT SUMMARY: As the story begins, Anand, lives with his mother and sister, Meera in India.  His father has gone away and they have become so poor, he cannot attend school.  One day when getting water for his mom, he is approached by an old man. 

It turns out that the old man, Abhaydatta, is a member of a secret brotherhood, and is a master healer. He wants Anand to travel with him and be the guardian of the “magic conch”.  He uses his healing powers to heal Meera who had not been able to talk for years to convince Anand’s mother that he is sincere in his quest.   Anand decides to go on the journey with Abhaydatta; and, Nisha, a homeless girl, travels with them. The threesome is in route to the Silver Valley, but must defend themselves from the evil, Surabhanu, who is trying to steal the conch. 

They travel many miles together, embarking on dangerous adventures.   Abhaydatta, instructs the children to call him Dadaji, the Indian word for grandfather. The three actually bond like a family.  They are loyal and compassionate with each other.  He instructs them to memorize a map to the valley, in case something happens to him. Many things “happen” on their journey but they eventually reach the Silver Valley. Anand has to be accepted by the Brotherhood before they can enter the valley. After they enter the valley, they still have obstacles to overcome before they are completely safe.

REVIEW:  This book is full of adventure from the beginning.  I especially enjoyed reading the descriptions of India’s landscapes, foods, and culture created so vividly by Divakaruni. I think this would be a good class novel to read for ninth graders.  Although it is fantasy, the reader can relate to the characters in the emotional and physical choices they must make.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Metaphors/Similes (p. 58), Compare and Contrast (good and evil), Cause and Effect, Conflict, Character


RELATED BOOKS: The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming (2nd part).  If the reader enjoyed this book they may want to read:  The Iron Ring, Rowan of Rin, The Hobbit, The Vine of Desire, Queen of Dreams, The Mistress of Species


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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