The Book Reviews – Website

July 7, 2008

A Year Down Yonder

Filed under: *AWESOME BOOKS!!!,A — thebookreviews @ 3:00 pm
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A Year Down Yonder

Author: Richard Peck

Page Length: 130

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The story of Grandma Dowdel continues (from A Long Way from Chicago) when Mary Alice goes to live with Grandma for a year. It’s the Great Depression. Times are tough and Mary Alice’s parents can not afford to support her in Chicago. Joey has gone off to work and Mary Alice must face Grandma Dowdel alone for the first time. A country school with all the grades combined and a whole year with Grandma may just do Mary Alice in.

On the other hand, maybe there is more of Grandma in Mary Alice than she realized. Mary Alice begins to adjust to country life, make new friends, and meet an interesting young man. All the while she begins to realize that Chicago might not have been so great after all.

REVIEW: I loved this book and how it brought small town life in the 1930s to life. Grandma Dowdel is a woman to be admired and studied for her “take life by the horns approach.” I loved the adventures and the cunning Grandma displays when she outwits and out performs everyone around her. Perhaps Grandma Dowdel’s greatest lesson is to be true to yourself. This book is humorous and heart-warming.

Teaching this novel might be a great starting point for having students re-connect with their elders (perhaps write a collection of stories they’ve heard through the generations). It would go great as a read during the study of this time period in history class too. Students could write about how an experience with their grandparent influenced or changed them. Peck did a masterful job of enveloping the reader in small town life and in the realities of the depression era. Great book! Satisfying ending!

AREAS FOR TEACHING: character traits, context clues, plot, setting, word choice, mood and tone, causes and effect (sending Mary Alice to live with Grandma), connotative and denotative, conclusions, generalizations, and predictions

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: shooting – Grandma doesn’t mind wielding her shotgun when she has to, bullying, class systems

RELATED BOOKS: A Long Way from Chicago, Strays Like Us, Fair Weather, The River Between Us, The Teacher’s Funeral, Stories My Grandmother Would Love: Featuring Eleven “Miss Lillie” Stories About Life on the Farm in the 1930s

MOVIES: Kitt Kitteredge, Cinderella Man, All the Kings Men, Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


April 30, 2008

My Time as Caz Hazard

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My Time as Caz Hazard

Author: Tanya Lloyd Kyi

Page Length: 103

Reading Level: 3.2

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Caz Hallard is a 10th grader with a less than stellar academic career and a discipline file that includes punching her former boyfriend. Caz is diagnosed with dyslexia (something her parents have trouble believing) and sent to a new school where she is placed in a special reading class to help her. On her first day of school, she meets Mr. Popular who approaches only to recoil when he realizes she is headed to the “special” class. Caz’s special education classroom contains a variety of students. Dodie is shy, less than fashionably dressed, and an easy target. Amanda, a foster child who has been in many homes, has a knack for trouble and soon pulls Caz into a world of skipping school and breaking laws. Caz’s parents are separating, her best friend won’t speak to her anymore, and Dodie has committed suicide. Is she responsible for Dodie’s death and can she save herself before she loses everything? 

REVIEW: This book is typical of the Orca book series. It is written in simple language, on a high interest topic, and the action proceeds quickly. However, the book seems to lack depth. Many of the issues are never fully addressed or developed. I personally find the messages in it disturbing – enough attention wasn’t given to the bullying that led to the suicide. Caz doesn’t pay serious repercussions for her shoplifting habit, and Amanda gets in with the in crowd by “putting out.” While I think these books take a Jerry Springer approach to an interest in “trashy” subjects, I am not sure they are strong enough morally to be worthwhile reads.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: causes and effects (inferred) beyond what the author presents, use of dialogue, examining stereo-types

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: most pages – suicide, sex, shoplifting, bullying, skipping school …

RELATED BOOKS: Orca series, The Shoplifting Game, Klepto

RELATED MOVIES: “CBS Afternoon Playhouse”, Portrait of a Teenage Shoplifter (1981), Rats and Bullies (bullying leads to suicide), Mean Girls


RELATED WEBSITES: (downloadable MP3 file of the first chapter)

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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