The Book Reviews – Website

June 5, 2010

Bucking the Sarge

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Bucking the Sarge

Author: Christopher Paul Curtis

Page Length: 259

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Luther T. Farrell has something most boys don’t – a mother who’s a calculating businesswoman adept at amassing riches. Unlike other boys, Luther spends countless hours each day running his mother’s business. He’s responsible for caring completely for the residents of the adult home she runs. Luther’s life is anything but fun and games and his least favorite activity is getting called to clean up a rental after his mother and Darnell, the enforcer, have kicked somebody out. Luther’s days at school are his only duty free times. There he’s consumed with winning the Science Fair for a third year in a row.  Luther’s seems lost until Mr. X reveals to him what he’s always known is true – he deserves a better life than growing up heartless like his mother, the Sarge. With his mother’s schemes exposed, Luther’s finding out how to stand strong and be his own man. His future waits. Will he find the courage he needs to make it a good one?

REVIEW: Christopher Paul Curtis is a fabulous writer. Every book he’s written that I’ve read has been wonderful. His characters are masterful, and his message is unforgettable. Hope prevails despite circumstance. Doing what is right, despite how easy it might be not to, is a powerful message that most kids need to hear. The issues of disabilities and human nature are also addressed. Great story teller!

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence, compare and contrast, voice, narrative, author’s purpose, point of view

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: slums, poverty, condoms, heartless mother, violence (beating people)

RELATED BOOKS:  Bud Not Buddy, The Watson’s Go to Birmingham 1963, Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.randomhouse.com/features/christopherpaulcurtis/buckingthesarge.htm

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

http://nancykeane.com/booktalks/curtis_bucking.htm

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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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

The Dashwood Sisters’ Secrets of Love

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The Dashwood Sisters’ Secrets of Love

Author: Rosie Rushton

Page Length: 325

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Ellie, Abby, and Georgie have always lived a comfortable life. They have plenty of money, attend a well known school, and live in a large home passed down by their ancestors. Most of the time the girls are worrying about going out, dating, and what exciting adventure they’ll choose to participate in next – until tragedy hits a little too close to home! It’s when everything changes and the girls are on the brink of losing everything that they learn what really matters to themselves and each other.

REVIEW: This book was ok. It is interesting from the stand point of being told through the interests of three very different sisters: the tomboy, the socialite, and the practical one. Most girls will be able to identify with predicaments and feelings that at least one of the girls share. A real life look at what matters most is brought about in the story line when their father is taken from them. The girls must learn to come together and find their strengths outside of their former fortune. Students might also identify with the father leaving the family to take up with a younger woman who seems to have “taken over” their dad. One of the girls falls for a young man who appears to be taken and keeps promising to break it off with the other girl (another issue many girls will be able to relate to).

Overall, it’s not a bad book. I did find the first half of the book confusing because I kept trying to backtrack and remember which girl was which. The book cover cites the book as “an engaging homage to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.”

AREAS FOR TEACHING: character traits, elements of plot, comparing and contrasting the characters, comparing text to self, point of view, effective use of dialogue in writing

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: lying to sneak out to a club, vicious controlling games the girlfriend plays to keep her man

RELATED BOOKS: Summer of Secrets, Secret Schemes, Daring Dreams, What a Week to Risk it All, The Secrets of Love, Looking for Billie

RELATED WEBSITES:                            

http://www.rosierushton.com/

http://www.wordpool.co.uk/ap/rushton.htm

http://yzocaet.blogspot.com/2006/11/dashwood-sisters-secrets-of-love.html

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

A Hope in the Unseen

A Hope in the Unseen

Author: Ron Suskind

Page Length: 390

Reading Level: 9

Genre: Biography   

PLOT SUMMARY: This story follows Cedric Jennings through his last two years of high school and his first year of college at Brown University.   Cedric went to Ballou High School in the inner city of Washington D. C. The school had a reputation for low-achievers, a high drop out rate, and few students who went on to attend four-year universities.

Cedric’s mother, Barbara, raised Cedric with the intentions of having him be professionally successful by instilling in him a respect for education and a strong, spiritual background. His father had a degree, but he was a heroin addict who served prison time for various associated crimes.

After his junior year of high school, Cedric attended a summer conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Cedric’s dream was to attend school there, but when he was not accepted he applied to Brown University (also an Ivy League school). As an honor student at Ballou High School, Cedric was often taunted by other students and was eager to graduate and leave the poverty filled environment. After an article was written about him in the Wall Street Journal, Cedric was invited to visit Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for a meeting.  That meeting, in which Justice Thomas challenges Cedric and tells him that he will be among many smart white students at Brown, is chronicled on pages 116-123.

Cedric graduates from high school with many honors, but when he reaches Brown University, he finds he is one of the lowest achievers.  He not only must work hard academically, but he also finds that he doesn’t belong in any special place in the population of Brown.  He doesn’t want to associate with only African Americans, but Cedric finds that he doesn’t fit in with the materialistic, white males in his dorm unit, either. He experiences a lot of conflict with his roommate, Rob.  However, Cedric does form a good friendship with one white boy who shares a love of music with him. Cedric also makes friends with one, rather odd, white girl. He also meets a black girl who becomes a life-long friend.

Cedric considers majoring in math but has an interest in education, too.  He writes a poignant paragraph after observing a high school classroom for one of his education classes that appears on page 338. Through his academic and social struggles, Cedric begins to question some of his thoughts about his religious beliefs and his relationship and attitudes towards both of his parents.

The epilogue on pages 362-365 summarizes where Cedric is emotionally, spiritually, socially and professionally at the end of his college experience.

REVIEW: This book describes the hardships that Cedric endured as a strong-willed, intelligent African American male in not only a low-income environment but prominent Ivy League surroundings. It is an accurate depiction of attitudes in both cultures. 

I felt it was a bit lengthy and quite serious.  I would recommend it only to college bound high school students with interests in social or education professions.  However, I think it is an excellent book for high school teachers to read who teach in inner city or low income schools.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: harsh profanity (p. 57, 58, 126, 207, 216, 225, 226, 280, and 351), reference to sexual act (p. 200), references of drug use throughout the book

AREAS OF TEACHING: Character, Conclusions, Generalizations, and Predictions, Cultural Diversity, Racial Differences, Theme, Conflict, and Mood

RELATED BOOKS: Things Fall Apart, Monkey Bridge, The Best of Simple, Middle Passage, Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Tutu and Franklin: A Journey Towards Peace (2001, PBS Documentary)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.randomhouse.com/highschool/RHI_magazine/pdf/RHI07.pdf

www.pinkmonkey.com/booknotes/monkeynotes/pmAHopeInTheUnseen01.asp

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 8, 2009

A Step from Heaven

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A Step from Heaven

Author: An Na        

Page Length: 160  

Reading Level: 5.5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Young Ju Parks moves with her parents from Korea to America when she is four years old.  She has heard stories of Mi Gook, the Korean name for America, and believes she is moving to heaven.  After a very long ride on an airplane, the Parks arrive.  However, what they encounter is not heaven.

First, the father, Apa, must find work.  Then, mother, Uhmma, has a new baby boy, Joon.  The family struggles to be like Americans, but there is not enough money to get ahead.  Eventually, both parents have two jobs, and still rent an apartment and drive a dated station wagon. The family struggles with the language barrier and adapting to the American culture.

As Young Ju does experience success at school, she witnesses her parent’s relationship crumble, her father turn to alcoholism and her brother skip school.  She is forbidden to associate with her best friend, Amanda, because she is a frivolous American girl.  As Young Ju matures into a high school student she strives to make good grades so that she can attend college.

REVIEW:  An Na writes her first novel from her own first memories of moving to American from Korea.  She uses Young Ju as the narrator and explains the story of a young Korean family whose dreams of a “good life” in America never develop.  The book is written in vignettes, and chronicles Young Ju’s life from the time she is four until she graduates from high school.

The characters are developed so that the reader feels empathy for each of them in their dire situations.  This book is an excellent book for the high school student who lives in a diverse community. It helps to understand the difficulties immigrants experience as they are moved into the American culture but attempt to maintain their own cultural heritage.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Setting, Point of View, Conflict, and Characters

TOUCHY AREAS: Domestic violence by the father to the mother and children

RELATED BOOKS: The House on Mango Street, Angela’s Ashes

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Ariring: The Korean-American Journey (2003)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.multcolib.org/talk/guides-stepfrom.html

www.teachervision.fen.com/fiction/asian-americans/20010.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Autobiography of My Dead Brother

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Autobiography of My Dead Brother

Author: Walter Dean Myers

Page Length: 212

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Jesse and Rise, though a couple of years apart, have been like brothers since they were young. They even made a pact once and became blood brothers. Lately Jesse’s noticed that Rise seems different. In his art work he begins to try capture what seems different about Rise. Outside, in his neighborhood, more violence is occurring every day. Drive by shootings have been happening in the area. Rise has begun to appear more violent and even talks about what it would be like to get their group, The Counts, into dealin’ drugs. Jesse’s terrified at the turn his friend’s life has taken and before he knows it, he too is in over his head. Can he save Rise and himself before it’s too late?

REVIEW: The story is filled with all the struggles of an inner city boy caught in a gang infested neighborhood. The reality of drug use, dependence, and dealing are ever present in this book. Myers describes drive by shootings and the fear present on the streets exceptionally well. The reader can feel Jesse’s pain as he sees Rise’s transformation but is powerless to stop him. The story line lends to a good classroom discussion about choices, circumstances, and reactive paths of action. I think that students would be able to relate to this story and would enjoy reading it as a class.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: comparing text to self, compare and contrast, sequence of events, foreshadowing, character traits, setting

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: firebombing, guns, drive bys, intimidation, prostitution

RELATED BOOKS: Shooter, Monster, Malcolm X, Fallen Angels, Slam!, The Beast, The Glory Field

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, Freedom Writers

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.teenreads.com/reviews/006058291X.asp

http://www.walterdeanmyers.net/

http://www.webenglishteacher.com/myers.html

http://www.learningthroughlistening.org/Classroom-Teaching-Tools/Lesson-Plans/View-Lesson-Plans/463/gradeId__4/subjectId__4/lessonId__189/

http://www.classbrain.com/artteensm/publish/article_37.shtml

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

December 5, 2008

Jip His Story

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Jip His Story

Author: Katherine Paterson

Page Length: 181

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Did you know that during the mid to late 1800s people who had no income might have lived together on a poor farm? Jip, a young boy, is the backbone of the poor farm on which he lives. He milks the cows, cares for the all the animals, and does more than his fair share of chores. Everyone relies on Jip; one day, the town lunatic is brought to the farm to be housed in a cage. Jip befriends Put and helps him enjoy his life on the farm and never gives up on him no matter how deep his darkness runs. One day, Jip is approached by a stranger who claims that he knows a man who just might be Jip’s father. Jip senses danger and avoids the stranger – until the day that the stranger and the man come to town. Soon Jip is on the run for his life. Can he get away before it is too late? Why does this man seek him and what might his “father” want from him?

REVIEW: This is an excellent book. The reader is completely absorbed in Jip’s acceptance of his life on the poor farm and how responsibly he shoulders the burden for everyone. We feel Jip’s angst at the stranger’s continued appearances and fear for Jip’s life when he learns of his past and must run to keep from being captured and taken to a life of slavery. Connecting students to text and historical contexts would be easy with this text. Engaging and recommended! Jip teaches everyone compassion and hope.

Of special interest in this story also is the role of the country school teacher. She teaches Jip to believe in himself and that he is not stupid as he has been led to believe by those who wish to keep him in a certain role. She champions Jip’s education and becomes an important part of his struggle for freedom.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: historical connections, cause and effect, sequence, author’s purpose, connecting text to self, point of view

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: the issue of slavery, slave catching, treatment of the town lunatic (locked in a cage), alcoholism, social status issues

RELATED BOOKS: Bridge to Terabithia, Jacob Have I Loved, Nightjohn, Lyddie

   

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-1019

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Were_mixed_children_born_of_a_black_momma_and_white_slave_holdong_daddy_were_they_considered_slaves

http://www.fpri.org/footnotes/1314.200808.johnson.teachingaboutslavery.html

http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?historyid=ac41

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fugitive_Slave_Law_of_1850

http://www.terabithia.com/books/jip.html

http://cyberspaces.net/Nixon/AR/Jip.html

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

August 6, 2008

True Believer

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True Believer

Author: Virginia Euwer Wolff

Page Length: 264

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: LaVaughn is 15. Despite the fact that she lives in poor neighborhood filled with violence, LaVaughn longs to go to college. LaVaughn begins to dream about life after high school. She sees how her friend, Jolly, suffers to make ends meet, take care of her two young fatherless children, and try to earn her credits to graduate. LaVaughn knows that she must find a way to a better life. Her friends have turned to a new interests, and Jody, a boy that used to be a close friend, has moved back to town. LaVaughn’s heart races every time she’s never him or even smells his wonderful chlorine scent left behind in the elevator. Life doesn’t always turn out the way LaVaughn expects. Can she keep her friends and find true love before her sixteenth birthday arrives?

REVIEW: Although this book lists as a reading level of 7, it has the potential to appeal to a lower reading level because of the short , easy to navigate and understand chapters. The only qualifier for a level 7 to me it seems are the large science vocabulary words LaVaughn shares with the reader as she learns them. The book has an excellent message about education and expectations and the discord that can arise between friends and family members who aren’t comfortable with the new developments sometimes perceived as “snootiness” in the person who is changing for the better. The book details friends who were lost to violence and a school shooting. LaVaughn walks in on two males kissing; the readers experience her shock and reaction.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause and effect, character sketch, technical vocabulary, conclusions and predictions, setting, theme, characters

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: violence, homosexuality, death of a parent, death of a classmate

RELATED BOOKS: Probably Still Nick Swanson, The Mozart Season, Make Lemonade

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.simonsays.com/content/book.cfm?sid=812&pid=417088&agid=21

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

http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780807206935

http://crhssreadingolympics.blogspot.com/2007/05/wolff-virginia-euwer-true-believer.html

http://www.simonsays.com/subs/pdfs/kids/Wolff.pdf

www.hbook.com/magazine/articles/2001/may01_wolff_sutton.asp

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

June 2, 2008

A Family Apart

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A Family Apart

Author: Joan Lowry Nixon

Page Length: 162

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: It is the 1850’s and Frances Mary Kelly and her five brothers and sisters live in New York. Her father died in the past year and her mother is struggling to survive and support her six children. All of the children do their part around the house. Mike and Danny go downtown to shine shoes, and Mary Frances goes to work with her mother. The family struggles to survive; Mary Frances travels the streets without even a pair of shoes. Mike, the oldest brother, is caught stealing and a difficult decision is made. Mother sacrifices everything to save Mike and to provide for the rest of her children. She puts them on the Orphan Train to Missouri.

The children are devastated; they miss their home and their mother. As the train chugs closer to Missouri they each fear for their safety and what fate awaits them. Will they find a home? How will their new “parents” treat them? Will they be able to stay together? What will life in pro-slavery Missouri be like?

REVIEW: Nixon does an excellent job of bringing historical fiction to life. The reader can feel the struggles of the family and their love. Nixon portrays the anger and shock the children feel at their mother’s actions vividly. Historically, the mannerisms of the people, the tensions of slavery in the states, and the roles of women at the time are accurate. Hardships appear but the Kelly children persevere and May Frances begins to understand how much her mother truly loved them to have made the greatest sacrifice of all.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: summarization, theme, setting, characters, point of view, conflict, sequence, cause and effect (mother’s actions), author’s purpose

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: issue of being put up for adoption

RELATED BOOKS: Anne of Green Gables, Jane Eyre, Pollyanna, The Thief Lord, Oliver Twist

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS:  Bruce Springsteen – Songs to the Orphan, Annie, Heidi, Anne of Green Gables (movie and mini-series)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.randomhouse.com/teachers/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780440226765&view=tg

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

http://www.orphantraindepot.com/FamilyApartLessonPlan.html

http://www.daily-tangents.com/BOB/games/quotes/L10_FAq.shtml

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

May 1, 2008

The Center of Everything

The Center of Everything

Author: Laura Moriarty

Page Length: 374  

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

 

PLOT SUMMARY: The setting is Kansas, the 80’s, Ronald Reagan is the president.  Evelyn is a young girl living with her single mom in a small apartment.  Born out of wedlock, Evelyn tells the story in a narrative form.

 

When the book begins, Evelyn is in fourth grade.  She is quite observant about all that goes on around her.  She observes her mothers actions and senses that her relationship with her boss is not socially acceptable. She gives illustrative accounts of her teachers and their mannerisms.  She describes her relationships with her peers, both boys and girls.  Also, the relationship she shares with her grandmother is developed.

 

The story covers a period of Evelyn’s adolescent through teen years. Evelyn is very intelligent, but it is hard for her to channel her goals towards being a high achiever because of the lower values and expectations her mother has.  She experiences victories and defeats in the classroom, spiritually and with her family and friends.  Her ideas and beliefs change as she experiences the realities of life.

 

REVIEW: Laura Moriarty does an excellent job of getting the reader emotionally involved in Evelyn’s life as a young girl, victim of a dysfunctional, poverty-stricken mother.  I felt I was connected to Evelyn’s inner being through her thoughts and actions.  On page 67, Ms. Fairchild, Evelyn’s teacher, makes Evelyn aware of the fact that she is an intelligent person, and must set herself apart from her mother’s goals and set higher ones for herself. Throughout the book, Evelyn strives to reach these goals, but is constantly held back from complete success by the events that go on in her family, neighborhood, and school.

 

On pages 104 and 116, Evelyn does demonstrate her awareness and desire to set herself apart from her mother, knowing that she will achieve higher standards of living.  On page 155, Evelyn expresses strong feelings for Travis, her neighbor and childhood friend.  Both her mother and Travis become barriers to her happiness, but she never loses her feelings of attachment to both of them.

 

Moriarty uses a lot of symbolism throughout the story as well as a great analogy on page 151.  Her character development is very good and realistic. At the end of the book, there is a reader’s study guide. 

 

I loved this book, and think mature teens and adults would enjoy it.  Because of the strong language, sexual relationships, and moral issues discussed, I do not think it would be suitable for a class novel.

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Characters, Symbols, Sequence of Events, Generalizations and Predictions, Compare/Contrast, Cause and Effect

 

TOUCHY AREAS: Strong language (p. 32, 63, 72, 74, 86, 91, 112, 134, 150, 167-170, 186-187, 213-214, 289, 317- and 329), illegitimate children, teen death, religious issues concerning evolution

 

RELATED BOOKS: Where the Heart Is, The Lovely Bones, Olive’s Ocean, So B. It

 

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Where the Heart Is, Who’s Looking for Gilbert Grape

     

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

www.lauramoriarty.net

    

www.allreaders.com/Topics/info_26904.asp

 

www.curledup.com/centerof.htm

   

www.bookreporter.com/reviews/1401300316.asp

 

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

March 10, 2008

Just Ask Iris

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Just Ask Iris

Author: Lucy Frank

 

Page Length: 214

 

Reading Level: 5

 

REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: This story is about twelve year old Iris Pinkowitz. Iris, her brother, and her mother live in an apartment building with colorful neighbors and many of the afflictions of struggling inner-city Americans. Iris’s mother works longs hours and has strict rules for Iris. She is not to leave the apartment; her summer is to be spent perfecting her typing skills because she is going to computer school in the fall. Iris grows lonely and bored with her 1950’s typing book. She befriends a cat who appears on the fire escape outside her window one day. Iris sets out on a quest to find the cat. Her quest takes her up the fire escape past the man with tattoos and his ferocious dog. Past the apartment of a wheelchair bound young man named Will, who lives with his angry and withdraw father.

 

Iris ends up doing odd jobs for all of her neighbors. Her boring summer turns adventurous as she befriends her neighbors and becomes engrossed in their lives. Iris continues to slip out after her mother leaves for work and return before she arrives back home. She earns money which she is anxious to spend to buy a bra. Her concern over her development leads her to safety pin one of her mother’s bras on each morning; although, her mother refuses to acknowledge her plea for a bra, Iris realizes (with the help of a female neighbor) how desperately she needs one. Iris’s struggle with the boys beginning to pay attention to that feature of her body is also discusses in the book. Iris gains self confidence and becomes the hero of her building when she faces off against the landlord’s people. The cat woman is in danger of being evicted, the building elevator isn’t operational, and all everyone needed was a reason to join together. Iris strengthens her community, herself, her relationship with her family, and the determination of almost everyone she meets.

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: I would recommend this book for girls really. Although, boys might be interested in the development aspects, it’s really more of a growing strong girls story. This would be a great discussion piece for looking at the importance of self-confidence, perseverance, and the power of taking action for change.

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://www.lucyfrank.com/Just%20Ask%20Iris.html

 

http://www.kidsreads.com/reviews/0689844069.asp

 

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0PBX/is_3_37/ai_111305361

 

http://www.aliciapatterson.org/APF0801/Cohn/Cohn.html 

 (great article about what living in a building like Iris’s is like)

 

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

 

February 15, 2008

The Slave Dancer

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The Slave Dancer

Author: Paula Fox

Page Length:  138 (including a brief Italian glossary)

Reading Level: 6

 

REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: The Slave Dancer is an emotional and revealing book about the slave trading practices in the South. Set before the Civil War, the book is a graphic depiction of the atrocities of slavery. Jessie, a thirteen year old boy, is growing up in New Orleans with his mother, a seamstress, and a younger sister. During the daytime, Jessie roams about playing his fife. Although he’s been warned by his mother to stay away from the slave market, his fascination often draws him near. Sent out for candles so that his mother can do her work to support the family, Jessie ventures out to his aunt’s house to borrow some. On his way his home is kidnapped and taken aboard a ship. With no hope for escape and no way to get word to his mother, Jessie is doomed to make the fateful voyage with the crew.

 

The crew (reminiscent of Treasure Island) consists of a hardened group of men. There Jessie learns the harsh realities of sea life. He witnesses violence, whippings, fear, and intimidation. Jessie learns that his ship is to carry slaves and that he has been taken to become “the slave dancer.” Jessie will play his fife to dance the slaves and keep them fit. Horrors continue to unfold as the slaves are secreted to the ship, shackled, and packed in tightly among the holds. The inhumane treatment of the slaves, Jessie’s own sickness at having to witness their suffering and pain, and the crews’ views of superiority are carefully blended by Fox to reveal how bad human behavior can really be. The reader feels for the slaves and wishes they too could free them from their fate. The captain forges in on despite all for he has money in his sights and the people in his way are disposable. The story ends with the pursuit of the slave ship by American ships, lives hanging in the balance, and a storm raging upon the ship. Who will live and who will die? What will become of the slaves still captive on the boat? Will Jessie ever return home? Fox answers all of these questions and more.

 

 I would recommend this book for use with students who are mature and able to handle the content. The book is very graphic; one feels sickened and sad when reading it. After I finished reading it, I was even more discouraged at how dark and twisted human nature can be. With an insightful and mature audience, the possibilities with this book would be endless.

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: After reading, one could compare the other atrocities committed against people throughout history. Higher level thinking skills could lead to the analysis of: why this happens, why people become commodities who are so easily sacrificed, and how we can prevent this pattern from repeating in the future? 

 

BOOK CONNECTIONS: Treasure Island

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://www.glencoe.com/sec/literature/litlibrary/pdf/slave_dancer.pdf

 

http://www.enotes.com/slave-dancer

 

http://www.bookrags.com/The_Slave_Dancer

 

http://www.nancypolette.com/LitGuidesText/slavedancer.htm

 

http://www.civilwarhome.com/slavery.htm

 

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

 

February 6, 2008

Sounder

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Sounder

Author: William H. Armstrong

Page Length: 116

Reading Level: 6th

Genre: Realistic / Historical Fiction

 

REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: This book is about an African-American family of unnamed characters. They live in poverty in a cabin on the far edge of a southern town during the 19th century. I loved the description of the under-belly of the cabin on page 42 when it stated, “it smelled stale and dead, like old carcasses and snakes”.  Present in the family are a father, mother, and several male and female siblings. The main character is referred to as “boy”. Another prominent character is a dog name Sounder. Sounder is coon dog that travels with the boy’s father as they attempt to hunt for food. Often times the father will return to the cabin empty-handed.

 

Quite rapidly the story changes from a simple tale about a poor family living in the south with their dog, to an account of a father who is caught stealing a ham for the family. As the father is being hauled away for this crime, Sounder gets caught in the commotion. Sounder is wounded and trails off into solitude leaving droppings of blood and a piece of his ear. This book lends itself well to a lesson on imagery.

 

The family is devastated that their father is being taken to jail only for the crime of trying to provide his family with a descent meal. We later find out that his punishment for stealing is years of working in labor camps. In addition to the loss of the father, Sounder’s absence is greatly felt by the boy. Day after day, the boy searches for Sounder in hopes that he will be re-united with the beloved dog. The boy spends the rest of his time attending to jobs in the field, searching for his father in labor camps, and dreaming of being able to read. Various references are made to the boy attempting to read town signs and store signs and newspapers out of the trash can. I really enjoyed the examples cited in this story about the excitement of a boy yearning to read.

 

Later on in the novel, Sounder returns. It is apparent though that he was badly wounded. He has one eye, the side of his face is badly altered, and he limps. Sounder’s spirit that was one present at the beginning of the book is now much more subdued.

 

Towards the end of the book, the boy meets a teacher who offers to help him with his studies. The boy begins to attend school while still helping out his family with work.

 

The story wraps up quickly with the return and death of the father, Sounder’s death, and the boy’s reflection on his continuing studies and life.

 

MOVIE CONNECTION: There is a movie of the same name (1972, 2003)

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://www.emints.org/ethemes/resources/S00000886.shtml

 

http://www.webenglishteacher.com/armstrong.html

 

http://www.easyfunschool.com/article1936.html

 

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

 

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

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