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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


August 30, 2009

Lion Boy

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Lion Boy

Author: Zizou Corder

Page Length: 275

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Charlie, son to parents of scientists, has a unique skill. He is able to communicate with cats! Due to a mixing of blood between himself and a young cub when Charlie was an infant, Charlie gained the ability to communicate with feline animals. This ability is kept secret from almost everyone.

One day, Charlie discovers that his parents have disappeared. Subsequently, a boy named Rafi forces Charlie to remain with him. Eventually, Charlie escapes from Rafi’s watch and sets out to find his lost parents. With the help of several cats, Charlie is able to gather updates about his parent’s situation. The helpful cats are even able to run notes back and forth between Charlie and his mother & father. On his trip to search for his parents, Charlie joins the circus on a boat bound for Paris. At the circus, Charlie encounters several lions in which he promises to set free and help them return to Africa. The lions, in return, assist Charlie in continuing his search for his family.

Their escape from the circus and subsequent arrival on the Orient Express is a success despite Rafi’s attempts to capture Charlie. While on the Orient Express, Charlie meets the king of Bulgaria who allows Charlie and his lions to remain with him in his lavish train car. As the train speeds towards Venice, the king of Bulgaria agrees to assist Charlie in his quest. The king’s assistant, Edward, reveals to Charlie that his parents have been captured by a drug company because of their knowledge about an asthma cure. Charlie can’t imagine why anyone would want to capture someone who is trying to help humanity. However, his thoughts quickly shift to his main mission – finding his parents and bringing them safely home.

REVIEW: The story ends without a resolution because Lion Boy is a trilogy. The story started out a little slow for me, but about a quarter of the way into the reading, the action began to pick up. Even though the book is fiction, I did find it a little unbelievable that so many cats could communicate effectively enough to allow many of the actions to occur “without a hitch”. There did not seem to be enough road blocks in this story to make it believable. However, I am interested in what the second and third book will reveal. The end of this book reveals the real world element to the story – a possible cure for asthma and the drug company’s attempts to take control of it to prevent it from being distributed.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: creative writing, motivation, cause and effect

RELATED BOOKS: Whittington by Alan Armstrong, Lion Boy: The Chase, Lion Boy: The Truth


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

November 3, 2008

The Golden Compass

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The Golden Compass

Author: Philip Pullman

Page Length: 351

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy     

PLOT SUMMARY: The story begins when Lyra Belacquat, a 12 –year-old girl, living at Jordan College, in Oxford secretly enters and hides in the “Retiring Room” and discovers the master is trying to poison Lord Asriel.  Lyra, and all the residents of Oxford, each have their own daemon, an animal-formed, manifestation of their soul.  Lyra’s daemon, Pantalaimon, advised her not to enter the room. Lyra warns Lord Asriel about the attempted poisoning and Lord Asriel leaves and travels to the North Arctic. As children begin disappearing from the town, Lyra vows to find out where they are being taken.  When the master learns of this, he gives Lyra a sacred object, an alethiometer.  He also agrees for Mrs. Coulter, head of the General Oblation Board, to take Lyra to live with her.  Lyra learns that Mrs. Coulter and the GOB are the ones responsible for the kidnapping of the children. Lyra runs away from Mrs. Coulter and joins a group of nomads. They  help her engage an armoured bear, Iorek Byrnison, who aids her in  the  search for the children and to eventually find Lord Asriel in the North.

 REVIEW: This book of Lyra’s journey to discover why the “grown-ups” in the story are kidnapping children is an adventure filled with fantasy and imagination.  The armoured bear, Iorek Byrnison, has a well-developed character, as does, Lyra’s daemon, Pantalaimon.  Those who enjoyed the Hobbit trilogy and the Harry Potter series would also like The Golden Compass, the first in Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy.  The movie website is interesting. You can take a test and have your own daemon assigned to you.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Vocabulary- daemon, naphtha (p. 39), malodorous (p. 39), brantwign (p. 42), basilisk (p. 43), zeppelin, alethiometer (p.65), macaw (p.78), lorgnette, Theme, Character

RELATED BOOKS: The Subtle Knife, Book ll, The Amber Spyglass, Book III

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: The Golden Compass (2007)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

October 30, 2008

Saving Grace

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Saving Grace

Author: Darlene Ryan

Page Length: 97

Reading Level:

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Evie, a single teenage mom gives her baby up for adoption after being pressured by her father but she changes her mind. The book opens with her kidnapping her own child back from the adoptive parents. She has tricked her boyfriend, the baby’s father, into being her accomplice and he is less than thrilled. Evie’s plan is to go to Canada and raise the baby but tensions flare between Evie and Justin as the baby, who is sick and fussy continues to cry. Justin soon leaves and Evie and her baby try to make it to Canada alone without being spotted by the authorities.

REVIEW: I liked the book even though I just knew from the beginning it wasn’t going to work out for Evie the way she planned. Evie does come to understand that she isn’t able to take the best care of her child and she turns herself in because it is the right thing to do. The book ends before we find out what happened to Evie or the baby after that.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Point of view, character motivation

RELATED BOOKS: Spellbound by Janet McDonald



REVIEWED BY: Sherry Hall

September 21, 2008

Locked Inside

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Locked Inside

Author: Nancy Werlin

Page Length: 259

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Marnie is the teenage daughter of an American celebrity. Her mother was a famous self-help author and a singer-songwriter. Marnie’s mother died and she’s under the care of her guardian and trust fund controller, Max. Marnie is away at a boarding school where she would rather spend her time online playing against the The Elf in a magical world. Marnie’s grades are slipping and her friendships deteriorating; being Skye’s daughter isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Marnie is forced to go to lunch with her teacher. The next time she awakens she has a horrible headache, a swollen face, and she’s locked in a basement type room. Who has taken Marnie? What do they want? Will anyone care enough to save Marnie after her wretched behavior? Can they even save her before it’s too late?

REVIEW: This book was interesting in a strange way. It begins with the typical teenage issues. Marnie loves playing on the computer, isn’t motivated academically, and is having trouble wanting or making friends. Yet, the book takes an odd turn when the kidnapper turns out to have psychological issues and delusions related to her poor sense of self worth. Overall, there are important lessons learned by Marnie and her friends. Marnie begins to discover who she is and to leave the pain of the past behind her. This book would be a good read for computer savvy teens who like a psychological thriller with a little romance and teen issues mixed in.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: main idea, author’s purpose, predictions, cause and effect, chronological ordering, compare and contrast

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: suicide, kidnapping, parent who died, psychological duress

RELATED BOOKS: The Killer’s Cousin, Are You Along on Purpose?, Double Helix, Black Mirror, ImpossibIe, The Rules of Survival

Other teen books on the topic of kidnapping: The Face on the Milk Carton


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

August 10, 2008

Max the Mighty

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Max the Mighty

Author: Rodman Philbrick

Page Length: 166

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: It has been a year since Kevin, Max’s best friend, passed away.  Max is, again, living a lonely life until he sees some boys harassing an 11-year-old girl.  Because of his size, not his demeanor, he scares the boys away, and becomes the hero of Rachel.  Rachel has the nickname of “Worm” because she always has her face in a book.

Worm and Max meet for the second time in the park.  Her mother is wary of Max because of his large size.  After Worm assures her mother that Max is “okay”, her stepfather, the Undertaker drives by and forces Worm and her mom to get in the car with him.  Worm runs back to Max and hands him one of her books, which has her home address in it.  Now, Worm is suspicious.  The Undertaker dresses in black and goes around the town shouting that he is from God and he knows the “Truth”. 

Reluctantly, Max walks to Worm’s house in the address.  There, he witnesses the Undertaker physically abusing Worm’s mom.  He loses control, and bursts through the house, taking Worm away.  This seems like a heroic move, but Max is accused of kidnapping and assault by the Undertaker and is now a fugitive.

Worm convinces Max that if she can just get to Chivalry, Montana, her real dad will be able to help her get away from the Undertaker.  So the twosome, Max the Mighty and Worm, start for Montana.  On their trip, they encounter several colorful characters and build a bond of friendship. 

REVIEW: Rodman Philbrick does an excellent job of writing in the sequel to Freak the Mighty.  He presents new, colorful characters and expands Max’s character into one with more confidence after the passing of Kevin. 

The theme that is developed is one of truth and is used by The Undertaker, Max and Worm (p. 18, 23, 23, 71, 79, 83, and 166). He, also, gives great descriptions of his characters and their dialogues.  It is very easy for the reader to visualize these characters and also the various settings visited as Max and Worm travel across the United States.

This is another book that I would recommend for all ages. 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Theme, Character, Conflict, Setting

RELATED BOOKS: Freak the Mighty, Maniac Mc Gee, Walk Two Moons, Others See Us

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “The Mighty” (1998)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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