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December 19, 2010

Catching Fire

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Catching Fire (Hunger Games Series #2) by Suzanne Collins: Book Cover

Catching Fire

Author: Suzanne Collins


Page Length: 391


Reading Level: 5.4


Genre: Fiction


Career Connection: Coal miner, political leader


PLOT SUMMARY: In this sequel to The Hunger Games, Katniss is at home but not able to enjoy her life in Victory Village because of the rumors of uprisings against the Capitol. She lives under the pretense that she loves Peeta, but she longs for her days in the meadow with Gale. Gale is working in the coal mines now, so she spends her days alone, hunting for food for Gale’s family. Her heroic moves at the end of The Hunger Games have made her the target for the president to help stop the rebellious behavior of the people in the neighboring districts.


When it is time to pick the tributes for the annual hunger games, the citizens learn that the rules for the “Quell” have been changed. The tributes can be picked only from previous participants. So, Peeta and Katniss are back in the arena. They face bigger challenges and Katniss discovers her conscious plays a bigger part in survival.


REVIEW: This is a good sequel to the first in the series, but is not as fast paced. More of the action takes place outside of the arena where Katniss must make decisions of personal issues. The book would be enjoyable for both boys and girls as the plot unveils violent and heroic events.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: Characters, Theme, Cause/Effect, Setting


TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: None that aren’t age and content appropriate


RELATED BOOKS: The Hunger Games


MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The Hunger Games (to be released 2011)




REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


The Lightning Thief

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The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series #1) by Rick Riordan: Book Cover

The Lightning Thief

Author: Rick Riordan

Page Length: 375

Reading Level: 4th-6th

Genre: Fiction, Mythology

PLOT SUMMARY: Percy Jackson is a troubled kid with ADHD who has been bounced from one boarding school to another. He is the son of a mother who has been trapped in an abusive relationship for quite some time. In the beginning, the whereabouts of Percy’s real father are unknown.

When characters from Percy’s mythology textbook begin to literally leap out in front of him, Percy begins to question who he is. When he gets kicked out of his latest school, monsters chase after Percy in an attempt to kill him. Soon enough, Percy ends up at Camp Half-Blood where he learns that he himself is a “Half-Blood” (his mother is human and his father is the Greek god Poseidon). Percy also finds out that the lightning bolt of Zeus has been stolen and that he is the main suspect! At Camp Half-Blood, Percy trains for the eventual quest of finding Zeus’ missing lightning bolt and stopping an impending war between the Greek gods.

During his quest, Percy ventures to the Underworld to find out if Hades has stolen Zeus’ lightning bolt. After meeting with Hades, it is discovered that not only does Hades not have Zeus’ prized possession, Hades’ is missing his helm. Hades demands that Percy hand over the lightning bolt at once. When Percy opens his backpack to show Hades he does not have it, the lightning bolt magically appears in the bag! Immediately Percy escapes the enraged Hades committed to find the god’s helm and deliver both the helm and the lightning bolt to their rightful owners.

After Percy finds Hades’ helm, the god Ares turns up. Both begin to battle. It is discovered here that Ares, under the spell of Kronos, has plotted to start a war between the gods and has used Percy as the catalyst for the war. Ares, defeated by Percy for now, vanishes. Afterwards, Percy ensures the delivery of both the helm to Hades and the lightning bolt to Zeus.

In the end, Percy discovers that he has been betrayed by one of his friends at Camp Half-Blood, Luke, who has teamed up with Kronos to reek havoc on the gods. This realization is the catalyst for the next story in the Percy Jackson series.

REVIEW: After a few chapters I really got hooked on this story. I enjoyed how the author creatively blended elements of Greek mythology with a basic story line of a boy on an adventure to prove his father right. However, if one is not familiar with mythology, it would be beneficial to brush up on some of the basic points (ie. the names of the gods and their basic characteristics). This will help with the understanding of the story as a whole.

Some may find the topic of mythology boring, however this fictional story is a great way to “spice up” the study of the Greek gods. I found it interesting that non-mythological elements were infused in the story-line (e.g., Empire State Building, Santa Monica Pier, Shakespeare, George Washington, ADHD, etc.).

AREAS FOR TEACHING: mythology, humor, foreshadowing, setting

RELATED BOOKS: Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series (#1-5)

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief” (pre-production – 2010)


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

June 5, 2010

The Lightning Thief

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The Lightning Thief

Author:  Rick Riordan

Page Length:  375

Reading Level: 5

Genre:   Mythology

PLOT SUMMARY:  This book was about a twelve year old boy, named Percy Jackson, who gets in all kinds of trouble in school because he is ADHD and has dyslexia.   He also has been expelled from various schools and the last expulsion came from vaporizing his pre-algebra teacher.   When Summer begins he takes a vacation with his mother to Montauk .  Grover has followed Percy and soon finds him when the vacation begins.  However, the trio (Percy, his mom, and Grover) are attacked immediately by a monster.  Percy soon discovers that his best friend, Grover, is a satyr.  His mother had been told by his birth father that Percy must go to a special summer camp which would be great for him. 

Unfortunately, when a monster attacked, his mom was turned into a golden light.   So Percy is left without a mother.  Luckily, Percy and Grover escape after killing the monster, and the two end up at Camp Half Blood which is a place for children associated with the Olympian Gods. 

Percy and Grover are sent right into training, because that is what the camp is for.  Grover has observations by his superiors so he will be right alongside Percy.  Also, the fact that Percy has ADHD characteristics is a good thing.  It turns out that ADHD is also a battle reflex.  Luckily, his shortcoming of dyslexia allows him to read Greek.  Therefore, Percy is aided immensely in his activity games.  Percy is put into the cabin of Hermes and under the care of Luke, the Cabin Head.  Percy’s new camp family participates in a flag game and they win the flag.  Even though Percy is a winner, he is also attacked by the children of Ares and is wounded.   After Percy steps into some water to cool off he is magically healed, and that is when his father, Poseidon, is revealed.   After that, Percy is given a quest to find Zeus’s master bolt which is believed to be stolen by one of the three main gods, Poseidon.   Unfortunately, this quest is given to Percy, because of an earlier broken oath from Percy’s father that he remain childless after World War II.

So, Percy along with Grover, and Annabeth (another good friend of Percy) take upon the quest to find the thunder bolt and set off with only 10 days to find it before the Summer Solstice.  They have determined the real thief must be Hades, God of the Underworld, because Percy knows that his father Poseidon could not possibly be the thief.   The trio must travel across America to Los Angeles which is the new home of the entrance to the Underworld.  Fortunately, Percy is given magic shoes by Luke that he in turn gives to Grover.   They encounter various Greek monsters and the God of War, Ares, who tells Percy that his mother is still alive. As they approach the pit of Tartartus, Luke’s shoes try to pull Grover into it, but Grover is finally able to slip his hooves free. Percy confronts Hades, who also believes Percy stole the Master Bolt as well as his darkness helm.  It is then that Percy discovers the master bolt has been in his backpack the whole time, and he assumes that Ares had tricked him.

Percy and his friends get out of the Underworld, but Percy is forced to leave his mother. On the shore, he battles against Ares and wins by injuring the god’s heel.  He is also cursed by Ares who determines that Percy’s sword would fail him in battle when he needs it the most.  Percy also finds the Helm of Darkness which in turn is given back to Hades.  Next, Percy takes a flight to get to New York City to give the Thunder bolt back to Zeus.    Both of these tasks allow Percy to be the victor of the impossible quest.  However, when Percy returns to the camp he discovers that the real thief was Luke who calls upon a poisonous scorpion to kill Percy.  Luckily, Percy is healed of the poisonous bite by Chiron, and at the end of summer, Percy decides to attend another school found by his mother.

REVIEW:   My opinion is that the book is excellent.  It was a great book because of all the excitement.   It is a bit lengthy, but most readers will love it.


5.9 draw on experience for word meanings

5.10 learn the main ideas and details supporting it

5.11 connect compare the various ideas

5.12 analyze the characters

RELATED BOOKS:   books also by Rick Riordan – The Sea of Monsters, The Titan’s CurseThe Battle of the Labyrinth, and The Last Omypian


REVIEWED BY: Linda Schwegler

August 6, 2008



Author: A. LaFaye

Page Length: 144

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The time period is the 1800’s. Nathaniel Peale and his mother and father have moved from the city to the country life of Nebraska. Nathaniel’s father farms while his mother repairs clocks and other various objects. After a lightening storm spooks some of the animals on the farm, Nathaniel falls and crushes his leg under a wagon wheel. As a result, Nathaniel is unable to help his father on the farm anymore. This is a significant turning point in the lives of the Peale family. Nathaniel’s father, out of guilt, avoids his son at all costs. Then in an effort to replace his son on the farm, Mr. Peale obtains an orphan named John Worth through “The Orphan Train”. Mrs. Peale is furious at her husband for bringing an orphan into their home to work. As a result, their husband and wife relationship becomes strained.

The relationship between Nathaniel and John is also a strained one. Nathaniel tries his hardest to hate the boy, and is very much jealous that John gets to spend so much time with Nathaniel’s father. However, upon discovering that John’s parents died in a fire, Nathaniel slowly begins to warm up to his new family member. Nathaniel can understand about losing a loved one because his sister died. Nathaniel and John further bond because John is good at math, and Nathaniel is not. And Nathaniel, with the assistance of regular schooling, helps John at reading.

Beyond the storms at home, dark clouds are forming in the community. There is a land feud between “farmers” and “ranchers”. The ranchers aggravate the farmers by cutting their fences and allowing the cattle to graze on the farm land. With the teamwork of Nathaniel and John, both boys solve the case of who exactly has been cutting the fences. Nathaniel’s father discovers this teamwork and subsequently begins to mend his distant relationship with his real son. In the end, the unconventional family structure of the Peale’s turns out to be a very good one.

REVIEW: The issue of adoption is addressed in a very real manner in this book. John Worth was obtained from an orphan train. During the late 1800’s, adults would actually obtain children from these trains to live and work on farms. The author, through the use of real dialogue and powerful description, forces the reader into this family’s tense life. I enjoyed this book, not because it was easy to read, but because it seemed very authentic. Writing from the point-of-view of a teenager who feels that his father has disowned him because of his disability, I could almost feel the boy’s pain. And to feel that an adopted boy is allowed into the Peale home to replace their real son, was even more emotional to read. However, great writing comes when emotions are stirred within the reader.

Also, the mental state of someone who has just become disabled is explored in this story – not only in the context of family and community but of school as well.

On another note, the author does a beautiful job intertwining mythology into Nathaniel and John’s characters as they are off on an adventure to capture the fence cutting culprits.

For convenience, a “Reading Guide” with questions and activities is found at the back of the book.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: simile (pages 21 & 32), theme, characterization, conflict, & predictions

RELATED BOOKS: A Family Apart (The Orphan Train Adventure series), McGuffrey Reader, books about Greek mythology

MOVIE CONNECTIONS:Orphan Train” (1979)

RELATED WEBSITES: (historical website about the Nebraska Orphan Trains) (Literature Circle with questions/answers & activities) (excellent site that addresses pre-reading strategies, predictions, and cross-curriculum activities)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

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