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January 1, 2011

Monsoon Summer

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Monsoon Summer

Author: Mitali Perkins

Page Length: 257


Reading Level: 5


Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Jazz Gardner has to tell her business partner, Steve Morales, (best friend and secret love of her life) that she will be traveling to India with her family for the summer.  Her mother has received a grant for the orphanage in which she was adopted from several years earlier.  Having no choice, Jazz tells Steve good-bye, with sadness that he will find a girlfriend while she is gone. 

Upon arriving in India, Jazz decides to attend the local school rather than work at the orphanage.  However, her brother gets involved with the orphans by coaching them soccer, and her dad, a loner, becomes obsessed with teaching the nuns who run the orphanage computer skills.  Meanwhile, her mother is fulfilling her dream of making the orphanage a safe-haven for pregnant women of India to come and receive medical services.

Steve writes her letters, but Jazz cannot find the words to respond to him.  She pens many letters, but hides them away.  When Danita, one of the girls at the orphanage, starts to cook and clean for the Gardner’s, Jazz opens up to her and tells her how she feels about Steve. 

Jazz meets girls at the school who try to get her involved by attending dances after school.  Jazz has only danced once (with Steve at the eighth grade dance) and she was a complete klutz.  Jazz feels she is too large and clumsy to be attractive, not petite like her mom.  She eventually starts to take ceremonial dance from Danita for a performance they will give at the opening of the orphanage.

As Jazz observes her family at the orphanage, learns of Danita’s destiny of being an orphan, and raffles through her relationship with Steve, she realizes that there is a gift in giving and opens her heart to touch others. 

REVIEW: This is an excellent coming of age book for junior high and high school girls to read.  Jazz lacks confidence, specifically because her mother exemplifies a super-woman.  She is cautious in giving of herself after being taken advantage of by a druggie, earlier in the year. As Jazz observes the poverty in India, she realizes she has much to be grateful for and understands her mother’s mission to help the people of her home country. Through her relationships with Danita and her girlfriends she makes at the school, Jazz gains the confidence she needs to tell Steve her feelings and make good mature decisions about her life.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Setting, Characters, Compare/Contrast, and Point of View

RELATED BOOKS: The Kite Runner, Born Confused

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Slumdog Millionaire (2008)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


June 5, 2010

Bud, Not Buddy

Bud, Not Buddy

Author: Christopher Paul Curtis

Page Length: 243

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Ever since Bud (not Buddy) lost his mother four years ago, life has been anything but easy. Bud’s been placed in homes only to be mistreated and returned again to the orphanage known as the Home. Despite his hardships, Bud hasn’t given up on himself or on finding his father. His mother left behind flyers of a famous man, Herman E. Callaway, and Bud’s come to realize they were clues – clues he believes that will lead him closer to his father. Despite setbacks and the need to adhere to Bud’s rules of life (lessons he’s learned the hard way), Bud presses on alone, never giving up. Set amidst the Great Depression this book tells a story of courage, love, and perseverance like no other.

REVIEW: Loved it! This is a fantastic story! The characters are well developed and entertaining. The story blends humor, tragedy and triumph beautifully. This book would be a great way of making curriculum connections due to its in-depth look at the Great Depression. The reader senses the hardships of the people living in the Flint shanties as well as the racial equality struggles of the time. Bud never gives up or turns to hatred despite the hardships he’s endured. The lessons the author gives about one door closing and another opening are wonderful – and could be applicable to all of life and opportunity. Truly the best book, I’ve read in awhile and very deserving of the Newberry.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause and effect, author’s purpose, sequence of events, imagery, inferences, predictions, character analysis, historical connections

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: mild racism references, death of a parent

RELATED BOOKS: Watsons Go To Birmingham – 1963, Bucking the Sarge, Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck, The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Seabiscuit (2003), Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken (1991), Annie (1999), The Cinderella Man (2005)

MUSIC CONNECTION: Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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