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August 30, 2009

Begging for Change

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Begging for Change

Author: Sharon G. Flake

Page Length: 248         

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Raspberry lives with her mom who has been beaten up by Shiketa, a teen-age girl in their neighborhood.  While her mom is in the hospital, Raspberry’s father visits which is an unpleasant experience for her because he will steal and lie to anyone to get money for drugs.  Raspberry is anxious to leave the hospital with Zora, her friend, and Zora’s dad, Dr. Mitchell, who her mom dates. 

While eating dinner that evening, Zora and Dr. Mitchell both leave the table.  Raspberry feels compelled to look into Zora’s purse and instinctively takes the cash from her wallet.  Raspberry doesn’t know why she took Zora’s money, but doesn’t know how to give it back.

When her mom returns home from the hospital, there is tension between Shiketa’s friends and Raspberry and her mother.  Raspberry spends the summer days working and hanging out with other teens in the neighborhood.  Zora becomes stand offish but does not confront Raspberry about the stolen money and doesn’t tell her dad. 

As each day passes, Raspberry feels tension about her theft, but when the opportunity arises to steal from a neighbor lady, she takes more money.  When Raspberry’s father comes to her apartment and steals her own money, Raspberry knows how Zora must feel towards her. When Zora insists that Raspberry tell Dr. Mitchell about stealing the money, Raspberry makes up a lie to tell the doctor and her mom.  Raspberry begins to wonder if she is like her dad—a thief and a liar.

The summer passes with Zora and Raspberry not speaking, her friend, Mai, having bi-racial issues, a romance developing with Sato, another theft by her father, and a move to a nicer part of town. Raspberry has a good support system from her mom, Dr. Mitchell, and her friends but she has a love for money. It is only after she sees her dad, finally drug free, that she can admit her guilt.  She realizes she was “begging for change” not only through monetary means, but in her own life style.

REVIEW: This is the sequel to Money Hungry, whose main character, Raspberry Hill, continues to display a love for money. The book started out a little slow, but as the characters and plot developed, I became more interested.  Middle school and junior high African American girls would probably enjoy this book the most.  The relationship between the girlfriends is very realistic to the feelings 12-14 year-olds experience.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: References to drug use

AREAS OF TEACHING: Characters, Theme, Conflict, and Point of View

RELATED BOOKS: Chill Wind, Spellbound, and Money Hungry

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Daddy’s Little Girls (2006)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


December 12, 2008

Math Curse

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Math Curse

Author: Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

Page Length: 30

Reading Level: 3

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: When Mrs. Fibonacci, the teacher, challenges her class by saying, “You know, you can think of almost everything as a math problem,” the narrator finds she is consumed with math equations about everything she encounters in his everyday life.  Her thoughts are so full of math that she feels he has a “math curse”.   After a day of calculating her every thought and move with math equations, she even dreams about math.  However, the following morning, she quickly resolves the first math question of the day.  Relieved of the curse, she attends her science class, only to hear this statement come out of Mr. Newton’s mouth, “You know, you can think of almost everything as a science experiment . . .”

REVIEW: This is a colorful, well illustrated, book with dozens of math thought questions.  It could be used in a class presentation to challenge students to think of ways we use math in everyday life.  It is short and a lower reading level that would appeal to boys who want to avoid reading longer chapter books. 

AREAS OF TEACHING: Cause/Effect, Logical Argument, Making Predictions

RELATED BOOKS: Sir Cumference and the Dragon Pi, Sir Cumference and the Isle of Immeter, What’s Your Angle Pythagoras, Spaghetti and Meatballs for All: A Mathematical Story, Anno’s Magic Seeds

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Stand and Deliver (1988), October Sky (l999)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 10, 2008

The Boys of San Joaquin

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The Boys of San Joaquin

Author: D. James Smith

Page Length: 231

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: The setting of the story is in l951, in Orange Grove City, California.  Paolo is the twelve-year-old brother to ten siblings, cousin of Billy, who is deaf, and owner of Rufus, the dog. The story begins with Rufus appearing with a torn twenty-dollar bill hanging from his mouth.  Paolo figures there is probably more money where that came from and employs Billy (the deaf cousin) and Georgie (his younger brother) to help him locate the rest of the treasure. Billy is eager to find the money because he needs the wheel on his bike repaired.  Georgie just enjoys being included with the other boys.  The search ends up in the priest’s garden behind the Cathedral of San Joaguin. However, the boy’s quest involves much more suspense and adventure before the mystery is solved.  

REVIEW: Paolo narrates the story and is quite descriptive of each of the characters and events.  He gives an excellent description of a dog (p.8) and of tools (p. 44) that could be used in teaching descriptive writing.  The story is full of adventure and family situations that arise in Paolo’s life.  Although the book’s setting is in 1951, it has the same type of humor, description, and adventure that I found in reading Mark Twain’s Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Descriptive Writing (p. 8 and 44), Characters, Setting, Theme, and Conflict

RELATED BOOKS: Probably the World’s Best Story about a Dog and the Girl Who Loved Me, Fast Company, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Outsiders


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

April 2, 2008

Visions 19 Short Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults

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Visions 19 Short Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults 

Editor: Donald R. Gallo

Page Length: 229

Reading Level: 7


PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW: Visions is a collection of short stories by 19 different authors. The book is divided into themes: figments, adjustments, conflicts, choices, illuminations, and kinships. Each short story ends with the author biography.


“Shadows” by Richard Peck is the story of a teenage girl who encounters a ghost. Her time spent with her spinster aunts progresses and she discovers that the ghost she had once taught to write returns before she leaves for college.


“Saint Agnes Sends the Golden Boy” is a thriller about a young woman waiting for Saint Agnes to reveal her destiny. Maddy discovers the short comings in her boyfriend and dreams of Golden Boy.


“Dream Job” is the story of young woman paid to smile and greet clients for $6.25 an hour. She dreams of one day being a fabulous writer. Her dreams lead the reader on a wild ride.


“The All American Slurp” is the story of an American and Chinese family each inviting the other to dinner. Their understanding and concerns over eating customs within each culture. The humor comes into play in the slurping of soup and ultimately milkshakes – to which Meg declares “all Americans slurp.”


“Jason Kovak, The Quick and the Brave” is a seemingly real tale set amidst the horror of a hold up in a Wendy’s restaurant. Jason is an employee working the day of the hold up. He has always been mild mannered and somewhat timid. Through Jason’s struggle to maintain composure and hope in the midst of danger, he gains courage and strength. Later, Jason is called to go to the police station and identify the potential robber in a line up. Although he is afraid, he does not falter. Jason’s bad experience turns out to teach him that he is stronger and more capable than he believed.


“What Happened in the Cemetery” is the story of young Fan. Fan is a teenage girl struggling foremost with her father’s disability. Once a robust, athletic man, Fan’s father is suffering from heart ailments that are have disabled him from working. Sinking further into depression every day, Fan’s father sits around the house drinking and watching television. Fan has her own growing pains and long for a different life. When she ends up in the cemetery with Richie, she finds herself again and refuses to compromise.


“Amanda and the Wounded Birds” is the story of a young woman named Amanda. Amanda’s mother is a famous radio personality known for solving everyone’s problems and offering comforting advice. As her mother gets syndicated and becomes even more swept in her career, Amanda finds that she needs her most. With her mother always being busy on the radio, Amanda resorts to becoming one of her callers. The story concludes with a touching reconnection of mother and daughter.


“Playing God” begins with an angry Josh who is running away. He can never please his parents and his girlfriend will be moving soon. Josh’s believes it’s better to run away than let others hurt and disappoint him. Laurel, the girlfriend, watched Josh cross the bridge to leave town. It’s then that hears yelping and discovers a box of five abandoned puppies near the river. Laurel convinces Josh to save them. He returns to town to give them away. Josh finds good homes for the puppy and even returns home himself.


“The Fuller Brush Man” is a story of survival and courage. Donald sells brushes and other items throughout the neighborhood and surrounding areas. Often the door closes in his face, yet Donald persists. At home his mother’s condition is worsening daily. Donald doesn’t want to face the inevitable; yet, he’s missing out on precious time with his mother. Donald must learn to be brave and visit his mother too.


“The Good Girls” is a heart wrenching story of two lives damaged by sexually abusive fathers. Frances lives alone with her drunken and abusive father. Her escape is the ballet classes that she teaches nearby. When a new student moves slowly and seems withdrawn from the other children. It doesn’t take Frances long to figure out what is going on. Together the two give each other strength and find freedom from their abusive fathers.


“On The Bridge” is a classic tale of wanting to be popular and thinking that “bad” looks cool. Adam and Seth are hanging out together on the bridge. Adam decides to have a little fun by throwing rocks of the bridge onto the cars down below. One car gets hit by the rock and comes back up on the bridge. Three men get out and demand to know who did it. Adam fingers Seth  who is beaten by the group. Seth learns the hard way what friendship and being cool are not.


“Great Moves” details the dating adventures of two girls. One seems to be the pampered popular sought after girl, Annie, while the other a more ordinary girl, Brenda. The two most eligible young men in the grade, also friends, go to great lengths to get Annie to take one of the them to the dance. The competition is fierce and before long they are even fighting over Brenda. The girls reunite when the realize that all the boys want is competition.


“A Hundred Bucks of Happy” is the story of a teenage boy who finds a one hundred dollar bill on his way home from school. He’s ecstatic and insists despite his brother’s comments and his mother’s economic status that the money is his to spend. Yet, when he goes to the mall, nothing seems to suit him. Torn between his desires and his sense of right and wrong, Chris even returns to the spot where he found the money hoping someone will claim it and relieve him of the necessity of  decision.  In the end, Chris splits the  money with his brother and mother and harmony and relief follow.


“Cousin Alice” is the story about Fern’s visit to stay with her aunt. Her mother is in a coma and Fern has nowhere else to go while her father looks after her mother. Fern’s aunt is her mother’s twin sister. Fern uncovers the tensions among members of the town and her aunt. Her young cousin had died when she fell into a well in the neighbor’s backyard years ago. Tensions have been running high ever since. As the towns people band together against Fern’s aunt an interesting turn of events take place. A fire erupts and old scores are settled.


“Words of Power” is told much like a traditional Native American tale. Late Blossoming Flower is a young Native American woman who descends from a woman of power. When puberty arrive, she must set out to find her power word. She is not to speak but must embark upon her journey with silence until she finds what she is searching for. Following a butterfly that seems to take her away from the path of light, Late Blossoming Flower discovers her power and passes the test of restraint.


“The Sweet Perfume of Goodbye” is a Bradbury like science fiction story. Caroline is a seventeen year old scientist sent to another planet to gather data for two years. The planet is devoid of any smells except for the alluring and exotic smell of the death – to which the inhabitants rejoice and smile about – after all death is inevitable. Caroline becomes the outsider “freak show” who makes the rounds talking about Earth and its fabulous smells. She’s received with humor and polite tolerance of her wild ideas. Caroline’s ship arrive to return her to Earth; but, Caroline realizes she’s in trouble when Dr. Orr, her ride, arrives but begins talking about the lovely overwhelming fragrance.


“Jeremiah’s Song” is the story of the death of a grandfather. Ellie having gone off to college has her own views of the ways things should be. Emphasis is given to the importance of Grandpa’s stories and listening to what he has to teach. Grandpa reveals that his stories are like a bridge connecting us all to others who have experienced hardships too.


“The Boy with the Yellow Eyes” is a story of two very different boys – a bookworm, Norman and a budding athlete, Willie. Both boys meet up in an abandoned train yard. A stranger is in another box car setting up his equipment. The boys hear tapping sounds and run to investigate. Norman decodes the tapping and realizes the man is a spy. The boys are caught and Norman is captured. Willie saves the day with a well timed and placed baseball swing. The boys become heroes and even receive a visit from the Vice President.


“The Beginning of Something” tells the story a teenager, Roseanne, and her mother. One night her mother receives a call that her Cousin Jessie has passed away from complications of diabetes. Melissa, Cousin Jessie’s daughter, is suffering without her mother.  Roseanne visits and compares herself to her beautiful cousin Melissa. The two girls bond and begin to see the strengths within each other. Amidst a funeral and grieving a new adventure begins for Roseanne as she goes a double date with a childhood friend. As Melissa and Roseanne grow closer together, Roseanne reflects on how their friendship and dating secrets mirror those of their mothers.




REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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