The Book Reviews – Website

January 1, 2011

Millicent Min Girl Genius

Millicent Min Girl Genius

Author: Lisa Yee

Page Length: 248

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Millicent Min is eleven years old and is enrolling in her first college class.  She is a genius and has appeared on TV talk shows, made the Dean’s Honor Roll, and is about to begin her senior year in high school.  Millicent is very intelligent, but has no idea of how to make friends or even have a normal conversation.

Her mother forces her to join a volleyball team and through her grandmother’s friend, she is forced to begin peer tutoring for Sanford Wong, the dumbest athlete in school.  Millicent is close to her grandmother, Maddie, who is about to leave on an extended trip to Europe. With a hatred for sports, ignorant boys, and the departure of her grandmother, Millicent is dreading the summer.  She only looks forward to the poetry class she has enrolled in at the local college.

Millicent actually has no friends, but at volleyball practice, a new girl, Emily befriends her.  Excited that Emily likes her, Millicent hides the fact that she is a genius from Emily.  She is afraid that Emily will not like her if she is aware of how smart she is and her placement in high school. As the story continues, Emily meets Stanford, the incorrigible jock that Millicent tutors.  When Stanford and Emily are attracted to each other, the plot thickens as Stanford tries to hide his lack of intelligence and Millicent becomes the “third party” in the triangular friendship.

REVIEW: The book is a narrative told from Millicent’s point of view.  The character development is excellent and the relationships between the families and friends are very realistic.  Lisa Yee includes humor and sarcasm, in how Millicent views the people who are apart of her life. I enjoyed this book immensely and would suggest it especially for junior high and high school girls to read.

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

RELATED BOOKS: Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time, Totally Emily Ebers

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.webenglishteacher.com/childlit-y.html

www.scasl.net/bookawards/JBA_Activity_Guides_06_07.doc

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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November 14, 2009

Neighborhood Odes

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Neighborhood Odes

Author: Gary Soto

Page Length: 68

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Poetry

PLOT SUMMARY: Soto’s Odes take us back to childhood where we get to experience weddings, snow cones, Sundays in the park, piñatas at birthday parties and so much more. Throughout each poem Spanish vocabulary words are interwoven adding to the authenticity of the Mexican-American heritage expressed.

REVIEW: Soto’s poems are interesting and entertaining. As students read about these Mexican-American childhood experiences, they will relate to their own experiences of having a dog, eating their favorite foods, going to and having birthday parties, taking family photos, etc.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  poetic elements, imagery, adjectives

Teachers could consider reading a poem and then having students write about a memory the poem sparked.

RELATED BOOKS: Taking Sides, My Little Car, Nickel and Dime, Too Many Tamales

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.poemhunter.com/gary-soto/

http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/230

http://www.garysoto.com/

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

August 30, 2009

God Went to Beauty School

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God Went to Beauty School

Author: Cynthia Rylant

Page Length: 56

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction/Poetry         

PLOT SUMMARY: This is a collection of 26 short poems in which God is the main character. God lives out day-to-day life encounters as a teen living on earth would experience.  The poems are written from the author’s perspective of how God would react to beauty school, a dog, cable T.V., relatives, girls, and even fudge.

REVIEW: This is a short book and it is easy to read.  It would be a good book for the lower level reluctant reader to begin independent reading.  The poems enlighten the reader with a more realistic view of God’s perceptions.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Writing poetry, Point of View, Symbols, Word Choice, Voice, Mood and Tone

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: God as a character in a fictional book

RELATED BOOKS: Every Living Thing, For the Graduate: God’s Guide for the Road Ahead

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Oh, God (1977), Bruce Almighty (2003)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.ferrum.edu/applit/bibs/chlitresources.htm

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Finding Fish

Finding Fish

Author: Antwone Quentin Fisher

Page Length: 340

Reading Level: 10

Genre: Autobiography       

PLOT SUMMARY: Antwone Fisher was born in a prison and immediately placed in foster care where he was constantly verbally abused, often physically abused, and on occasion, sexually abused.  He lived in the home of the Pickett’s with his two foster siblings for 13 years.  During that time, he expressed himself through artwork, but mostly led a rather silent life, feeling unworthy.  On page 72, Fisher writes how his dreams were abandoned and he lived only to survive the day-to-day routine of school and verbal abuse at home.

When Antwone entered a new school in fourth grade, he met an angel, his teacher, Miss Profitt.  She was fair and treated him as if he were special. Although the Child Protective Services monitored Antwone’s foster parents and they suspected the Pickett’s were not providing the appropriate domestic environment, there never seemed to be a better placement for Antwone. 

At the age of 16, Antwone was placed in a reform school, where he felt more comfortable and safe than in his foster home. Antwone knew he had nowhere else to go.  After a time at the reform school, Antwone left and found himself homeless.  He eventually joined the Navy and it was there that he found confidence in himself and learned that he was worthy of a good life.  He began to write poetry and demonstrated excellent written and oral command with leadership qualities (p. 291). Through his experience in the Navy, Antwone found family, friendship, belonging, education, and purpose.

He eventually reconnected with his foster siblings, his biological mother, and then, married and had a daughter, Indigo. 

REVIEW: Because of the tragic experiences Antwone Fisher experienced in his childhood, this book reads more like fiction than reality.  The harsh treatment he received by his foster parents is difficult to read.  However, the story gives hope to those who do experience abuse, poverty, and loneliness as Antwone tells how through a few positive contacts in his life he did strive to be the best he could be. 

Although the writing is very descriptive, the teacher should be aware that it is quite graphic.  I would suggest the book for mature students.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: descriptive murder (p. 21), sexual abuse (p. 43-44, 241, and 245), harsh language and profanity (p. 138, 155, 195, 199-200, 231, 246, 274, 281)

AREAS OF TEACHING: Setting, Character, Sequence of Events, Cause/Effect, Point of View

RELATED BOOKS: The Antwone Fisher Story (screenplay), Who Will Cry for the Little Boy? (Poems), A Child Called It

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Antwone Fisher (2002)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.antwonefisher.net/index.html

www.harpercollins.com/books/9780061127410/Finding_Fish/index.aspx

www.mercury.educ.ketn.edu/database/eureka/

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 12, 2008

Out of the Dust

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Out of the Dust

Author: Karen Hesse

Page Length: 227

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Realistic Fiction written in Verse

PLOT SUMMARY: 14-year-old Billie Jo Kelby is the main character who narrates the story written in verse.  Billie Jo lives with her parents on a wheat farm in the Oklahoma Panhandle.  It is 1934, The Great Depression, and they live in the heart of the dust bowl.  In each entry, Billie Jo reveals that dust is around her and everything she touches. 

While barely making ends meet, the family learns that the mother is pregnant.  However, a terrible accident with a bucket of kerosene left beside the kitchen stove, burns Billie Jo and her mother.  Her mother dies in childbirth as well as losing the baby.  Billie Jo’s hands are scarred, and she no longer attempts to play the piano, which was her one pleasure in life. Billie Jo and her father become distant after the accident, and Billie Jo eventually leaves to join others who have fled the dust, in search for a better life in California. She soon learns that “dust” is apart of her life and returns home to find what the future holds.

REVIEW: Written in free verse, the book is somewhat like a diary or journal written from 1934-1935.  The character of Billie Jo is developed demonstrating courage, strength, and great emotion.  This book would be a good book to use when teaching journal writing or free verse.  It could be used in addition to a social studies unit about the 1930’s depression.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Verse writing, Historical Context, Setting, Character, Cause and Effect

RELATED BOOKS: The Grapes of Wrath

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The American Experience: Surviving the Dust Bowl (PBS, 1999)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.carolhurst.com/titles/outofthedust.html

www.webenglishteacher.com/khesse.html

www.emints.org/ethemes/resources/S00000587.shtml

www.gccisd.net/et/7th New/du_st.htm

www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/dustbowl

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 6, 2008

Girl Coming in for a Landing

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Girl Coming in for a Landing

Author: April Halprin Wayland

Page Length: 129

Reading Level: 6.5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: This is a book written entirely in poems. From the first day of school through the end of the year, the main character, a teenage girl, details her life at school and at home in poems. From the classroom to dating and parties she shares everything – her emotions, her thoughts, her hopes, and dreams. She offers authentic teenage emotions and insight – you will finish the book wishing for more.

REVIEW: This was an interesting book. It reads quickly because of the brief poems on each page (although many of the poems are worth more than one read). I think that this book would be a wonderful teaching tool for poetry. Students can see how poems can (and do) tell a story and the many forms they can take. Teachers could discussion the emotion and insight the author can convey with few but powerful words within a poem.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: poetic forms, voice

RELATED BOOKS: Braces, Bras, and Bellyrings, Lines in the Sand, The Night Horse

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.randomhouse.com/teachers/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780375801587

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7PrN-W_mcY

http://www.kidzworld.com/article/2420-book-review-girl-coming-in-for-a-landing

http://www.readersread.com/cgi-bin/review.pl?reviewid=10010203

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

May 28, 2008

What My Mother Doesn’t Know

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What My Mother Doesn’t Know

Author:  Sonya Sones

Page Length: 259  

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Poetry

PLOT SUMMARY: The book is written as a series of poems narrated by Sophie, a fourteen year old girl at the beginning of the school year. Sophie shares the events in her life by describing her feelings through her everyday experiences. 

Sophie shares her relationship with her boyfriend, Dylan.  The reader learns of her life-long friends, Rachel and Grace.  Sophie includes the dysfunctional elements of her family life.  After a break-up with Dylan, a rather mystical relationship occurs with a most surprising person.  

REVIEW: The entire book is written in poetry form.  It is a very fast read as Sonya Sones connects the reader very quickly with Sophie’s inner being. I liked the way each poem went in chronological order of the happenings in Sophie’s life. 

Some of the poems I especially enjoyed were: “Close to Midnight” (p. 55), “Long Weekend” (p. 62), “When Dylan Wakes Up” (p. 68), “Cyber Soul Mate” (p.87), “Litterbox ICG” (p. 102), “What I Want” (p. 139), “I’d Pictured It Before” (p. 142-144), “He Took Me There This Afternoon” (p. 190), “Heading Home” (p. 206), and “I Tell Him How Much I Love His Wall” (p. 223).  All of these poems except “I’d Pictured It Before” are of a romantic nature—sensitive, with feelings.

I think junior high through high school girls would especially enjoy this book. It is a good book to introduce the young adult to poetry, because it is not poetry set in rhyme or rhythmic verse.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Poetry Writing

TOUCHY AREAS: Female puberty (p. 47 & 49)

RELATED BOOKS: What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know, One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies, Stop Pretending

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.sonyasones.com/wmmdk.htm

www.powells.com/biblio/9780689855535

http://midlibteenspotreviews.blogspot.com/2006/08/what-mymother-doesnt-know-by-sonya.html

www.teenreads.com/reviews/0689841140.asp

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

April 25, 2008

James and the Giant Peach

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James and the Giant Peach

Author: Roald Dahl

Page Length: 126  

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fairy Tale                

PLOT SUMMARY: James Henry Trotter is a young boy who loses his parents when they are eaten by a rhinoceros. He is doomed to live with his terrible aunts, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker.  The two aunts are mean and abusive to him. 

James’ luck changes, however, when he drops some magic crystals into the ground.  The result of the spillage of the crystals is that a giant peach grows as big as a house.  When the aunts try to make money from people coming to look at the peach, James discovers a hole in the peach and crawls into a tunnel.

It is then, that James’ fairy tale adventure begins.  Inside the peach, he discovers there are a giant ladybug, centipede, spider, earthworm, silkworm, and grasshopper.  They had contact with the crystals which enlarged them the way it did the peach. 

Inside the peach, the animals and James bond.  They have several adventures after the peach rolls down the hill and crushes Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker.  The peach and party roll into the ocean and are attacked by sharks.  James has the idea for the spider and silkworm to make string so that he can lasso seagulls and they will rescue the sinking peach by lifting the peach into the air. The group eventually land in New York City where they all become very successful.

REVIEW: This book is fun and filled with magic.  It would be enjoyable for elementary students, but I think the content is immature for the high school student.  Within the book, Dahl incorporates poems which could be used in the teaching of poetry writing.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Poetry, Figurative Language, Characters, Voice, Mood and Tone

TOUCHY AREAS: The aunts are verbally and physically abusive in their treatment of James.

RELATED BOOKS: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Witches

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: James and the Giant Peach – movie

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116683/

http://www.easyfunschool.com/article1687.html

http://www.roalddahlfans.com/books/jame.php

http://www.roalddahlfans.com/teachers.php

http://falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/dahl.htm

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

January 24, 2008

Love That Dog

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Love That Dog

Author: Sharon Creech

Page Length: 86

Reading Level: 6th

Genre: Poetry

 

REVIEW: It is funny how the title is Love That Dog. I really love this book. I don’t know if it is the yellow cover, the blue print, the poetic twist on prose writing, the point-of-view of a young student, or the connections to famous poems. I just really enjoyed reading this book. It was an easy read, however as with all poetry you can sit and think about the words/meanings for hours.

 

The book first caught my glance as being the only yellow book I have in my classroom. It also brings me back to an interesting observation I had last year in my freshman English class. I had this student who was quite “difficult”. We have all had them. After I disciplined him for inappropriate behavior, he walked away and sat down with his head on the desk. After about 20 minutes, I watched out of the corner of my eye, to see this student pick up Love That Dog and start to silently read it. I could tell he was actually trying to read it, because his lips were moving. Now this is a student that I thought would never, ever, ever, read a book on his own. But he did. I suppose it was the topic or maybe it was the poetry. I do regret however, that I never asked him about the book. Or, perhaps it was best not to ruin this “reading moment”.

 

I was surprised to find that this book is written all in poetry. It appears that a teacher named Miss Stretchberry has kept some journal writing that a student named Jack has composed. Actually, I am not sure if it is journal writing or simple notes made to the teacher about poetry. At first, Jack does not understand, nor enjoy poetry. However, as the poetic story progresses, we find that Jack indeed not only enjoys the poems themselves, but also some of the poets such as Walter Dean Myers. This book is great because it uses humor (such as when Jack states that Robert Frost has too much time on his hands) and various examples of “plays on words” to illustrate a young boy’s feelings toward the topic of poetry.

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: I am going to consider using many of the dated entries from this book as ice-breakers for my class when I introduce poetry. The very first entry on page 1 is the best:

 

“September 13

 

I don’t want to

 

because boys

 

don’t write poetry

 

Girls do.”

 

POETRY CONNECTIONS: Jack’s poem titled “My Yellow Dog” on page 37 is very creative. Also, his letter to Walter Dean Myers that starts on page 55 is touching. The letter asks if Mr. Myers would visit Jack’s school. Jack’s final poem on page 86 is wonderful (especially if you have read all the previous pages). The book is supplemented at the back with excerpts from famous poems by Walter Dean Myers, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, William Blake, Valerie Worth, Arnold Adoff, and S. C. Rigg (who happens to have a great example of a shape-poem). Finally, the book contains 13 Literature Circle Questions and 4 activities that can be used in the classroom.

 

Sometimes beauty can be found in the smallest of places, and I believe this poetic book of 86 pages is one such example. It is a must read for all teachers and those who love or “might not” love poetry. Enjoy!

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://www.emints.org/ethemes/resources/S00001893.shtml

 

http://www.bgcs.k12.oh.us/kramp/poetry.htm

 

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

 

http://www.sharoncreech.com/novels/01.asp

 

http://suzyred.com/2002lovedog.html

 

http://teacher.scholastic.com/clubs/pdfs/lovethatdog_t.pdf

 

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

 

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