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August 30, 2009

Buddha Boy

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Buddha Boy

Author: Kathe Koja

Page Length: 117

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Michael, also known as Jinsen, is the new kid in school. Only this new kid couldn’t stand out more in a rich school full of super jocks. Jinsen wears a big baggy peeling dragon shirt, shaves his head, and walks from table to table begging at lunch like a monk. Before long, he’s given the name Buddha Boy. He’s constantly picked on and ridiculed – hanging out with him is like committing social suicide. But Justin’s drawn to Jinsen’s outlook on life and his extreme talent an artist. The two become friends and Justin begins to discover Jinsen’s secret past. Bullies are constant looming, seeking to destroy Jinsen’s work and disrupt his indifference to their torture. Can Jinsen and Justin break the cycle of bullying before it is too late?

REVIEW: This is a wonderful book. The story relates some Buddhist principles about how everyone is like a God inside. Jinsen reveals his violent past and discusses why now he turns the other cheek – and how he too was once violent because he liked the way it made him feel.

I would highly recommend this book as a classroom read. It’s a wonderful opportunity to discuss bullying and the necessity for tolerating and understanding differences. It’s short – could be covered in a week or two in class – and carries an awesome message. The reader feels the pain and humiliation of Jinsen; we also share Justin’s rage and internal conflict at what he should do to aid his friend is also well expressed – the reader can feel the conflict within themselves and sense the gravity of the situation.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause and effect, author’s purpose, comparing and contrasting, character traits, conflict, and resolution

Full cast audio version is available

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: bullying and threat

RELATED BOOKS: Straydog, Exposure, Hit Squad, Crash, The Battle of Jericho


Metropolitan Museum of Art


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


January 17, 2009

Jake Reinvented

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Jake, Reinvented

Author: Gordon Korman

Page Length: 213

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Jake Garrett is the new kid at F. Scott Fitzgerald High School. He’s dresses like a male model for a fashion magazine, and he is perhaps the best long snapper the football team has ever had. Jake throws fabulous parties every Friday night – who doesn’t love Jake?

Despite the admiration of every male and female in the high school, Jake only longs for one thing – Didi. Didi, the most beautiful girl around, happens to be dating Todd, the team quarterback. Jake is determined to do whatever it takes to win Didi. Will Jake really be willing to sacrifice everything just to have Didi? What will happen if Todd discovers Jake’s plan?

REVIEW: Korman delivers another entertaining read. The reader loves Jake as much as everyone else. Rick, who befriends Jake through good and bad, is an admirable character who teaches everyone what true friendship should be. The focus of much of the story is Jake’s willingness to do whatever it takes (without being psychotic) to get what he wants – Didi. The interesting depth of the story here is how hung up Didi is on position and appearances – and that no matter how hard Jake tries Didi doesn’t look at him as she does Todd. (This part of the book presents a great opportunity to talk about appearances and how often we all see what we want to see in someone.)

Korman makes an excellent point about trying to buy loyalty and popularity. Jake’s true self is revealed and the consequences aren’t pretty. Another character in the book, Dipsy, suffers the teasing of the football team. Teachers could examine his sacrifices of self and what it does or does not do for him. Dipsy is also known to throw out philosophical statements relating to animals. This is a great book for talking about appearances and what makes someone who they really are – always an interesting topic for teens struggling to discover their sense of self.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  cause and effect, sequence of events, character traits, elements of plot, theme, author’s purpose

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: drinking, party going, flagrant disregard for someone else’s property

RELATED BOOKS: The Juvie Three, No More Dead Dogs, Swindle, The Search

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Mean Girls”, “Bratz”, “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club”


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

October 30, 2008

House Party

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House Party

Author: Eric Walters

Page Length: 102

Reading Level:

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: When Casey’s parents go out of town they think she is staying at Jen’s house overnight, but Jen has other ideas. She talks Casey into having just a ‘small get-together’ with a ‘few friends.’ The party gets wildly out of control ending with property damage, police and ambulances.

REVIEW: This book was ok and I think fairly realistic. As a high school student who did have a house party while my parents were out of town (yes I got caught) I could relate to many aspects of what happened in the book, although thankfully not to such a large degree. A lot of the unknown, uninvited kids who show up at this party read about it on somebody’s webpage. That is a scary thought considering just how out of control things can get without everyone on the World Wide Web being invited. Before the party Casey is worried someone might spill something on the carpet or throw up. Those worries come to pass, but they are only the beginning. Lamps and windows are broken, the crowd grows to over 200 people and fights break out. The book ends with Casey getting ready to face her parents and take responsibility for her actions.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Cause and effect, prediction

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Lots of underage drinking on the party pages and a couple is interrupted in the parent’s bedroom during the party.


REVIEWED BY: Sherry Hall


September 1, 2008

The Trouble With Liberty

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The Trouble With Liberty 

Author: Kristin Butcher

Page Length: 88

Reading Level: 4.2

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Liberty is the new girl in school and quickly becomes the most popular. Val, the narrator, befriends Liberty. Almost everyone is drawn to Liberty except for, Ryan, Val’s friend. Ryan knows that Liberty is up to no good. Liberty is a major flirt with the guys. Even when she exclusively dates Val’s brother Cody, Liberty flirts with other boys.

One day at school, Liberty decides to “talk” with her band teacher, Mr. Henderson, in private. After their short conversation, Liberty is found in the school office crying. Liberty has accused Mr. Henderson of rape. The band teacher is subsequently suspended. Everyone in school appears to be on Liberty’s side. However, Ryan distances himself from the situation. Val later confronts Ryan. At this point, Ryan reveals to Val that Liberty “came on” to Mr. Henderson by unbuttoning her blouse and throwing her chest onto the teacher. Ryan also tells Val that Liberty said that Mr. Henderson “will be sorry for this” after he asks her to leave his classroom. Ryan witnessed all of this because he had been sleeping in one of the band practice rooms.

Val finds it hard to completely believe Ryan’s story, however Val eventually confronts Liberty about these new-found details. Upon doing so, Liberty becomes upset. Fortunately Liberty’s mom overhears the conversation and turns her daughter in. Unfortunately, Mr. Henderson does not return to the school because he had put in his resignation before his name could be cleared.    

REVIEW: I enjoyed this book, because even though it was somewhat predictable, I felt the character of Liberty was very intriguing. Her actions, emotions, thoughts, and motives would make for an excellent character sketch. The topic of teacher/student misconduct is a very real one in today’s society. Evidence of such issues can be found in the media today. Like all other Orca Soundings books, it was an easy read and a short one.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: simile (pages 77 & 87), foreshadowing & predictions (page 17), characterization, cause and effect  

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: a teacher is accused of raping a student in this book

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Mean Girls” (2004)


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

August 6, 2008

Now You See It

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Now You See It

Author: Vivian Vande Velde

Page Length: 278

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Wendy returns home for her latest eye doctor appointment with blurred vision thanks to the eye drops he put in her eyes. She discovers a pair of sunglasses on her front lawn and slips them on. Her vision becomes clear and happy. Wendy can suddenly see great with these new sunglasses on. The next day, Wendy wears them to school and suddenly everything has changed. On the way to school, the bus driver witnesses an accident and Wendy sees a ghost. In class, she puts on the glasses and can’t believe her eyes when she sees beautiful, popular Tiffanie as a wrinkled old crone. Soon it seems that Julian and Tiffanie have discovered her secret. Hot on her trail, Wendy hides out at her grandmother’s nursing home until Julian shows up. Wendy runs outside and finds herself taken to another dimension where there are villains, elves, and dragons. Wendy must befriend the creatures and the crone so that she can rescue the prince before it’s too late.

REVIEW: This was an interesting book. It was entertaining and humorous despite the seemingly far-fetched plot. Although who doesn’t wonder and wish that time travel were possible (and what a great journal writing exercise that would make after reading this book)? The author includes just enough teenage feelings and emotions as well as science fiction element to keep the reader engaged and interested in turning the page to discover what will happen next. Students who enjoy books like Inkheart and the Artemis Fowl series would also enjoy this one.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: symbols, characters, plot, conflict, theme, setting, author’s purpose

RELATED BOOKS: The Changeling Prince, A Coming Evil, Being Dead, Witch Dreams, Never Trust a Dead Man


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

April 2, 2008

Breathing Underwater

Breathing Underwater

Author: Alex Flinn

Page Length: 263

Reading Level: 4

REVIEW: Breathing Underwater details the life of Nicholas Andreas. Nick is a sixteen year old who seems to have everything going for him. He’s on the football team, has a rich father, is popular, and even has a girlfriend. What everyone doesn’t see is his pain; his mask to the world shows none of the devastation he’s feeling on the inside. Nick’ father is an investment banker – Greek, attractive, hardworking – but with a dark secret. He’s controlling and often angry; Nick pays the price by enduring his beatings and beratings. Nick is scarred emotionally and often injured physically. As a result, he’s afraid of being rejected and mistreated; he doesn’t know how to trust. His mother ran off when he was five; what kind of woman would leave her son with such a monster of a father?  

Nick’s anger and feelings of worthlessness can’t be suppressed any longer. Sometimes he’s in a rage and can’t control himself. Caitlin, his girlfriend, suffers the consequences of Nick’s misplaced emotions. He hits her and humiliates her often. Always remorseful afterwards, Nick sometimes can’t even believe his own behavior. Caitlin is always sorry she has upset him; although she realizes his behavior is wrong, her love keeps her from leaving him. As Nick’s outbursts become more common others begin to see the dangerous young man lurking underneath the seemingly calm exterior. How far will Nick’s out of control anger take him? Can he change before he loses everything?

TEACHING AREAS: As a teaching tool this book is excellent. Everyone – parents, teachers, young men and young women – needs to understand the signs of, effects, and long term consequences associated with physical and emotional abuse. Every young adult needs to truly understand how wrong violence is in a relationship. The reader learns though Nick’s erroneous ways of thinking. It’s shocking to realize how much he loves Caitlin and how his warped view of love is presented to her (with put downs, controlling behavior, and physical violence). A particularly telling scene to how far Nick has removed himself from his own behavior happens when he watches a group of girls say awful hurtful things to Caitlin. He feels hurt for and comforts her; yet, it isn’t long before he’s using the same kind of hurtful remarks towards her himself. This book was eye-opening as a teacher and as a mother. The only cautions for this book are the language. Nick pretty much uses every bad word he knows in his angry outbursts and between boys slang sexual terms are used. The book ends with a great message and the reader is truly better off for having read it. I also like the way the story varies between narration and Nick’s own journal entries (this is a great teaching tool and maybe a nice way to teach compositional risk for TAKS).  


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Shattering Glass

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Shattering Glass

Author: Gail Giles

Page Length: 215

Reading Level: 6.2


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: The front cover of the book boasts the review “suspenseful, disturbing…” Disturbing is definitely a description I would use also. In a nutshell, the story centers around the popular crowd in a Texas high school. Rob is the ring leader who determines the actions of all the other members. He deems who is to be popular and who is not; his followers do as he asks without question. Stepping outside his usual realm, he deems it necessary to completely usurp and demean the former most popular guy in high school, Lance. He hatches this scheme by making the most ridiculed boy in school, Simon Glass, popular. With a makeover, new clothes, and lessons from Rob, Simon couldn’t be better received. Simon and all the male characters, suffer some parent issues – especially with their fathers. Simon steps outside the lines when he begins to think for himself. He discovers Rob’s untold secrets and perhaps the motivating factor behind is excessive need to control and dominate everything. Everything begins to unwind as the competition for class favorites concludes at the dance. Secrets are revealed and alliances shattered. How far will Rob go to keep his secrets? Who will pay the ultimate price?


AREAS FOR TEACHING: From a teaching perspective this book has some strong points. For example, it is a powerful example of how blindly following others can go wrong. The book completely illustrates how hurtful and inane cliques can be and how devastating the consequences of seemingly harmless actions can be. Giles also details how making a wrong turn (a bad decision) can quickly spiral out of control; one bad action leads to another and another. This book is great for teaching life lessons and for examining the consequences of actions – and for really discussing how often we should pause and consider the repercussions of our actions before making decisions. The letters that begin each chapter are beautiful examples of foreshadowing. Another huge discussion point is presented at the end of the book when justice is meted out unevenly.


TOUCHY AREAS: On the other hand, the book deals frankly with some touchy subjects – namely, molestation of boys by fathers and camp counselors. It also exposes the cruelty of cliques through negative comments and treatment of others.  This book is disturbing because it exposes the potential darkness within a hurting and damaged heart. The characters lose their sense of self and even of right and wrong. We witness one character breaking up with his girlfriend because it’s part of the master plan. Teenage sex and the disappointment characters had with their first time are also discussed— but decently. Be wary – this is loaded with issues – but on the other hand it’s certainly not the average read.



(consider the video book trailer as an assignment – this has a lot of potential ***)


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


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