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January 18, 2010

The House of Scorpions

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The House of the Scorpion

Author: Nancy Farmer

Page Length: 380

Reading Level: 6.3

Genre:  Science Fiction, Fantasy

PLOT SUMMARY: Matt, who is almost 6 years old, lives in a small cottage with only his foster mother, Celia. He has only the television for company and occasional visits from a doctor. He desires to be able to play with the children he sees outside his windows but he is not allowed to go outside or talk with anyone. One day, some children come close enough to talk to him. He breaks a window to escape the locked house, but injures himself by jumping out onto the broken glass. The children rush Matt to the Big House, where he is kept as a prisoner in a small room and where he is visited and sometimes tormented by the other children. As it turns out, Matt’s full name is Matteo Alacran. Alacran means “scorpion,” from which the title of the book, The House of the Scorpion, is named.

Matt gradually finds out that he is a clone, a genetic copy of El Patron. El Patron is the 142 year old ruler of the country of Opium, a small strip of land between the United States and what was formerly Mexico but is now called Aztlan. When people try to cross the border from Aztlan to the United States, they are caught by the Farm Patrol and put to work on the opium farms. Then chips are implanted into their brains so they will be obedient workers, called eejits. Clones are normally rendered mentally disabled at birth and are used for spare parts by the rich and powerful. But El Patron ignores the law and enjoys watching Matt grow up and seeing himself as a young man in him. Once he finds out about Matt’s presence in his house, he provides the boy with an education, music lessons, and a kind but gruff bodyguard named Tam Lin. Celia and Tam Lin are the two loving people in his life who teach him about caring and self-preservation. Others in the household mostly scorn him, considering clones to be like animals, but Maria, a United States senator’s daughter, offers him friendship though she refuses to acknowledge how cruel the two-faced Tommy is to Matt.

During the wedding of Maria’s older sister, Emilia, when Matt is 14, El Patron suddenly collapses, and Matt finally realizes that the old man needs his heart to stay alive. Matt must make a daring escape to Aztlan, but is captured there and put into a slave labor camp for orphans, where he makes some new friends and enemies.

REVIEWThe House of the Scorpion is a thought-provoking novel, presenting issues like human cloning, the value of human life, the importance of responsibility and friendship. Matt is a confused but sympathetic protagonist who has some of the less likable characteristics of El Patron but who also reflects the values he has learned from Celia and Tam Lin. The unusual setting is brought vividly to life with a wealth of detail based on Farmer’s childhood growing up in Yuma, Arizona, near the Mexican border. At 380 pages, the book may be a challenge for younger readers, but it is also rewarding. The book would appeal to science fiction, fantasy, and adventure fans who may enjoy a good coming-of-age story.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  figurative language, connotation and denotation, main idea and supporting details, theme, setting, characters, point of view, conflict, plot, compare/contrast, cause/effect conclusions, generalizations, predictions, voice, mood, and tone.

RELATED BOOKS:  The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Feed by M.T. Anderson, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. Books by the same author: The Ear, the Eye and the Arm, The Sea of Trolls, The Land of the Silver Apples.

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Jurassic Park (1993), The Boys From Brazil (1978), Multiplicity (1996)

MUSIC CONNECTIONS:

http://maisonceleste.wordpress.com/2009/02/04/music-mentioned-in-house-of-the-scorpion/

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.simonandschuster.net/content/book.cfm?sid=812&pid=487387&agid=10

ART CONNECTIONS:

http://maisonceleste.wordpress.com/2009/03/20/house-of-the-scorpion-loteria/

http://www.nku.edu/~bookfest/activities_for_house_of_the_scor.htm

http://www.multcolib.org/talk/guides-scorpion.html

http://www.bookrags.com/wiki/The_House_of_the_Scorpion

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/sci_tech/highlights/011127_humanclone.shtml

http://science.howstuffworks.com/genetic-science/cloning.htm

REVIEWED BY:  Tammy Leitzel

August 30, 2009

Dragonwings

Dragonwings

Author: Laurence Yep

Page Length: 317

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Realistic Fiction     

PLOT SUMMARY: In 1903, eight-year old Moon Shadow, came to America to join his father, Windrider.  Windrider had lived in American working with other Chinese immigrants in a laundry company for several years.  As Moon Shadow learns the lifestyle and responsibilities of the Chinese/Americans he develops a bond with his father. 

His father, has a fascination with flying, especially when he hears of the flight of the Wright brothers in Kitty Hawk.  Moon Shadow sends a letter to the Wright brothers and tells them of his father’s interest.  The father and son endure the pain of separation from their family after one of their relatives steals from them to get opium.  After the earthquake of 1906, the boy and his father move to Oakland. They develop a friendship  with Mrs. Whitlaw and her daughter, Robin, while Windrider begins his quest to build his own flying machine.     

REVIEW: This is the fifth of a series of books written about the Young family from China.  The book is a narrative by Moon Shadow.  He  expresses the feelings he has towards his mother, he left in China, and  his father and uncles who he lives with for the seven years in which the book is written. The reader also gets an idea of how the Chinese immigrants were discriminated against and the feelings the Chinese had towards the “demons” (Americans).  Eventually, Moon Shadow, realizes some of the positive attributes of living in America and how the opportunites can out weigh the setbacks.

This is an excellent book to use in teaching of the arrival of the Chinese immigrants to the United States.  It also shows how the Chinese, like the Hispanic and African American cultures, have been discriminated against.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Opium use by one of the nephews throughout the book. It is referred to in a negative way so that the reader will realize the harm and damage of its use.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Conflict, Theme, Point of View, and Compare/Contrast

RELATED BOOKS: The Serpent’s Children, Mountain Light, Dragon’s Gate, The Traitor, The Red Warrior, Child of the Owl, Sea Glass, Thief of Hearts and The Kite Runner

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Dragonwings/ The Play-performed at Lincoln Center and Kennedy Center

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/2003/4/03.04.02.x.html

www.hti.math.uh.edu/curriculum/units/2001/03/01.03.04.php

www.literatureplace.com/bookfolios/bookfolio_title.asp

www.harperchildrens.com/hch/parents/teachingguides/LaurenceYep.pdf

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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