The Book Reviews – Website

January 1, 2011

The Hoopster

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The Hoopster


Author: Alan Lawrence Sitomer


Page Length: 218


Reading Level: 6


Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Andre seems to have everything – an uncanny ability to shoot baskets, a great job at a magazine, and an awesome girlfriend. Andre is assigned the job of writing an article on racism. He begins to notice it everywhere he goes, even in his cousin Cedric’s skits. One night, Andre’s article gets written and he becomes a local celebrity; but, fame comes with a price. Race tensions are high in Andre’s town and his article is getting as much hate mail as fan mail. Andre’s own life is threatened. Will he ever reach his dreams of becoming a famous writer in the midst of so much hatred? What will reaching for his dreams cost him in the end?

REVIEW: This book has a decent story line and was actually able to include basketball without being totally focused on just the sport. As the matter of fact, this athlete has dreams of being a writer. He dates a Hispanic girl, his best friend is white, and he learns that his own father once changed his fate because of racist hatred. Faced with this knowledge and facing his own hate crime, Andre must decide if he too will enter into the cycle of violence or if he can follow a different path. Andre suffers tremendously because his views are outside the norm. The actions of the supremacist group leaves Andre emotionally and physically battered; yet, through it all, Andre prevails and continues to believe in himself and believe that he can change the racist views of the world.

This book had a basic plot and an easy story line to follow. This book would work well as a classroom read for students with a lower reading level.

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

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: racist remarks, hate crime –  Andre is physically assaulted with the intent to permanently maim him, his father tells of a white man relieving himself on his boots and of being hit over the head with a bottle

RELATED BOOKS: Hip-Hop High School, Paulsen’s Nightjohn, Draper’s The Battle of Jericho, To Kill a Mockingbird, Richard Peck’s The River Between Us

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Dead Poets Society (1989), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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

Romiette and Julio

Romiette and Julio

Author: Sharon M. Draper

Page Length: 320

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Romantic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Romiette and Julio begins with a strange recurring dream about drowning and a male voice that Romiette Cappelle is having. She is terrified of water and cannot swim.  Julio Montague, 17 years old, is forced to move from Corpus Christi, Texas to Cincinnati, Ohio. He hates Ohio. Everything is gray and there is no where to swim. Julio is an excellent swimmer and loves to swim. The only companionship he has is with a girl he has met in the chat room. Come to find out this girl, Romiette, whom he shares a great deal in common, goes to the same Ohio school. On the first day of school Julio meets Ben during a fight. Ben is a quirky, lighthearted character who changes his hair color everyday. Romiette’s best friend is Destiny who is also quirky and thinks she is psychic. As Romi and Julio’s online friendship develops, they decide to meet in person. Julio and Romi immediately feel a strong attraction to one another. Julio brings with him a bottle of hot sauce and a rose to their first meeting. As they start hanging out together more often, the school gang, the Devildogs or “The Family” begin to threaten Romi and Julio just because Romi is African American and Julio is Hispanic. Also, Romi’s parents do not approve of Julio because he is Hispanic and Julio’s parents do not approve of Romi because she is African American. The gang intensifies their threats which force Romi, Julio, Destiny, and Ben to devise a plan to obtain proof that the gang exists and is threatening them. However, the plan goes horribly wrong. The gang has a plan of their own. They capture Romi and Julio leaving them helpless, tied up, and unconscious in a boat floating in London Woods Lake during a severe thunderstorm. What happens to Romi and Julio? Whose voice was in the dream? What happens to Destiny and Ben? Does the police and search party rescue them in time or is their fate sealed as in Romeo and Juliet?        

REVIEW:  Romiette and Julio is a present day Romeo and Juliet without the tragic ending. Reader’s still experience the themes of friendship, romance, suspense, love, prejudice, racism, and familial pressures exemplified within Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. However, in Romiette and Julio, Sharon Draper allows the reader to identify with the themes in a modern day setting even allowing Romiette and Julio to meet in a chat room. A strong affection develops which leads to gang threats due only to the fact that Romiette is African American and Julio is Hispanic; thus, suspense ensues. Romiette and Julio is a definite supplement for the classic, Romeo and Juliet.  Readers can identify with many themes throughout the book whether it is racism, peer pressure, romance, or soul mates.   

AREAS FOR TEACHING: main idea and supporting details, theme, setting, characters, point of view, conflict, plot, compare/contrast, cause/effect, sequence of events, inference, conclusions, generalizations, predictions, voice, mood, tone,  5 steps of the writing process, allusion, protagonist, antagonist, comic relief

RELATED BOOKS:  Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet in Beverly Hills (Readers Theater), The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, The First Part Last by Angela Johnson,  Who Am I Without Him? By Sharon Flake, Books by same author: Tears of a Tiger, Forged be Fire, The Battle of Jericho, Copper Sun, November Blues, Darkness Before Dawn, Double Dutch, Fire by the Rock

MOVIE CONNECTIONS:  Westside Story (1950), Romeo and Juliet (1996), Romeo and Juliet (1968), Gone With the Wind (1939), The Notebook (2004), The Outsiders (1983)

MUSIC CONNECTION: Love Story by Taylor Swift

RELATED WEBSITES:  (secure chat room suggested by the technology department)

REVIEWED BY: Tammy Leitzel

January 18, 2010

The Contender

The Contender

Author: Robert Lipstyte

Page Length: 227

Reading Level: 6.1

Genre: Fiction, Drama

PLOT SUMMARY: The main character, Alfred Brooks, is a young African American man whose daily life exemplifies the struggles of urban life in the 1960s.  He lives with his caring, loving Aunt Pearl in Harlem since the death of his mother when he was 13 and abandonment of his father when he was 10. On the stoops of his neighborhood are alcoholics, drug addicts, and homeless people. The plot intensifies when Alfred’s long-time best friend, James, and others try to get Alfred to rob the store at which he works. Alfred refuses but forgets to tell the others of the silent alarm. One person gets arrested and the other two get away. James turns to drugs and tempts Alfred. Through these struggles, he manages to find the will to survive and be a better person by learning to box. Boxing and his coaches provides him with the self confidence and discipline he so desperately needs to reject the temptations of drugs, robbery, and dropping out of school for good. Alfred then begins to learn that he can be a positive influence upon the community in which he lives. Alfred learns that being a contender does not necessarily apply only to boxing.

REVIEW: The Contender is an excellent book in which most reader’s can identify with the themes; that is, resisting peer pressure, trying to become a better person, and overcoming difficult situations. Robert Lipstyte, the author of The Contender, leaves the reader with a sense of hope at overcoming obstacles and moving forward rather than following the status quo. After reading the book, one believes he or she can arise from his/her surroundings of desperation if only one becomes focused upon something that is positive and maintains discipline to achieve a goal and maintain hope in a better tomorrow.   

AREAS FOR TEACHING: main idea and supporting details, theme, setting, characters, point of view, conflict, plot, compare/contrast, cause/effect, sequence of events, inference, conclusions, generalizations, predictions, voice, mood, tone, peer pressure,  5 steps of the writing process

RELATED BOOKS: Monster by Walter Dean Myers, Rocky Marciano: The Rock of His Times by Russell Sullivan, Muhammad Ali, the People’s Champ  by Elliott J. Gorn,  King of the World by David Remnick, Grammar for Middle School: A… by Don Killgallon, Iron Mike: A Mike Tyson Reader by Daniel O’Connor. Books by the same author: The Brave, The Chief, Warrior Angel, One Fat Summer (Ursula Nordstrom, Raiders Night, The Yellow Flag

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Hope for the Broken Contender (2008), Kid Monk Baroni (1952), Cinderella Man (2005), Rocky Balboa (2006), Rocky (1976)

RELATED WEBSITES:,pageNum-4.html

REVIEWED BY: Tammy Leitzel

August 30, 2009

Romiette and Julio

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Romiette and Julio 

Author: Sharon Draper

Page Length: 274

Reading Level: 5

Genre:  Romance fiction

PLOT SUMMARY:  The two main characters, Romiette and Julio are alike in spirit and feelings, but they are culturally different.   Romiette “Romi” Cappelle is sixteen years old, and is an African American teenager who lives in Cincinatti, Ohio.   As the book begins Romi has a nightmare of drowning which remains in her dreams throughout most of the book.   She searches for an understanding of her fear of water, but comes up with nothing.   Sixteen year old Julio Montague is a Mexican teenager who has just moved to Cincinnati.  He hates the cold weather in Ohio and wants to move back home to his grandfather’s ranch.  However, Julio knows it’s impossible since his parents moved from Texas, because of the heavy gang pressure in its schools. When Julio meets Romi online in a teen chat room and they discover that they attend the same high school, they make an instant connection.  Romi can’t believe that Julio is so good looking, charming and sensitive, and Julio has never known another girl like Romi, who is so beautiful, smart and caring. Although neither Romi nor Julio sees their different races as a problem, other people begin to object to their budding romance.   Julio’s father tells him straight out that he will never approve of his son dating a black girl. And then there are the “Devildogs”, an African American gang at school who wear all purple and make it glaringly obvious to Romi and Julio that they don’t like the races mixing.  When Romi and Julio stand up to the gang members and turn the tables on them, the gang members threaten to get even.  The danger escalates when the gang begins stalking the couple and making overt threats with guns.

Julio and Romi are terrified by the threats of violence. When Romi, Julio and their best friends Ben and Destiny forge a plan to break away from the gang’s grip, Romi and Julio find themselves caught up in a deadly situation.   The parents finally become close enough to mend their ill feelings of prejudice and work right along with the police to help their children.   Although the danger is pending throughout the plot’s climax the book’s resolution is breathtakingly awesome.  

REVIEW: It was a great book, and I would recommend it to anyone, young or old.


5.9 draw upon experience to for word meanings

5.10 know main idea and details

5.11 connect and compare the various ideas

5.12 analyze characters

RELATED BOOKS:  Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.   Other books by Sharon Draper: Tears of a Tiger, Forged by Fire, Darkness before Dawn

MOVIE & MUSIC CONNECTIONS:  Romeo and Juliet vs. West Side Story


 REVIEWED BY: Linda Schwegler

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)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

January 18, 2009

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Author: Mildred Taylor

Page Length: 276

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Realistic Fiction     

PLOT SUMMARY: The story begins with Cassie Logan and her brothers walking to school. Although they are young children, they are aware of the different ways whites and blacks are treated.  Being Negroes, they must walk to school, while the white children ride a bus. Their schoolbooks are worn, discarded rejects from the white children’s school. They even become the subjects of jokes when the bus driver deliberately splashes them with mud as he drives the white children to school.

As the events of the book unfold, repeated incidents of racism are witnessed at school and in the community.  The Logan family lives in fear of the Ku Klux Klan ,but with the influence of Big Ma, Mama, and Papa they cling together to protect the 400 acres they call “their land.”

REVIEW: Many of the events and themes of the story are adult in nature, but Cassie, a fourth grader, tells the book in narrative form. The children must witness their mother being fired as a teacher, grown men being tarred and feathered, and a rebellious friend, T. J., accused of murder.  They learn the viciousness that prejudicial feelings of racism bring. Through the violence, Cassie realizes the importance of family and why “the land” is an endearment they must protect.

This is an awesome book I would recommend it for reading as a class novel.  The character development and setting are excellently described, as well as the drama in the sequence of events.  It is a great book to read in conjunction with a Civil Rights Movement theme.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Compare/Contrast, Conflict, Characters, Setting, Theme, and Cause/Effect

RELATED BOOKS: The Land, Let the Circle Be Unbroken, A Time to Kill, To Kill a Mockingbird

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1978), A Time to Kill (1996), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

January 17, 2009

Leon’s Story

Leon’s Story

Author: Leon Tillage

Page Length: 107

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Autobiography       

PLOT SUMMARY: This is Leon Tillage’s story of his life, as he remembers it from 1936 in North Carolina.  Leon’s family lived on a farm where his dad was a sharecropper.  This was a time when African American children began school at the age of six, but the school was not integrated and the supplies and facilities were not near as nice as what was provided for the white children of the community. 

This lifestyle of being discriminated against is the life that Leon remembers.  His parent’s didn’t question the way they were treated.  Jim Crow laws were in effect and if the black family did not abide by them the KKK would visit them.

After some drunken teenagers killed Leon’s dad and Martin Luther King Jr. visited Leon’s school, Leon became a part of the Civil Rights Movement against his mother’s wishes.  Leon could no longer accept the treatment and injustices that were being dealt to the members of the black community in the southern United States.  

REVIEW: This was a touching book as it was written in the dialogue in which Leon Tillage told it.  Leon is a custodian in an elementary school today.  This autobiography was written because of the story Leon shared with some third grade elementary students of that school.  The book exposes the cruelty of racism after the Civil War and prior to the Civil Rights Movement.  It shows the strength and courage that African Americans of the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s endured to survive.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Setting, Character, Point of View, Compare/Contrast, and Historical Context

RELATED BOOKS: Roll of Thunder; Hear My Cry, Rosa Parks, Mississippi Morning


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

The Friendship

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The Friendship

Author: Mildred D. Taylor

Page Length: 53

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Realistic Fiction     

PLOT SUMMARY: Cassie Logan and her brothers are not supposed to go to the Wallace’s general store, because “the Wallace’s don’t treat our folks right”.  However, they are at the store when Mr. Tom Bee (an elderly black man) addresses the storeowner, John Wallace, by his given name.  In the 1930’s the accepted practice of black men speaking to white men was to use “Mister”. 

However, the Logan’s were not aware that Mr. Tom Bee had saved Mr. Wallace’s life not once, but twice when they were younger men.  At that time, Mr. Wallace had given Mr. Tom Bee permission to call him by his first name for the rest of his life.  As times changed, and racism became stronger, Mr. Wallace was ridiculed by his sons and the townspeople for the manner in which the old black man spoke to him. A lifelong friendship is destroyed because of racial prejudices.

REVIEW: This is a short book that introduces the reader to Cassie Logan and her brothers who live in Mississippi in 1933.  They experience racial prejudices from an early age and realize there isn’t much that can be done about the injustices they must endure.

I think this book could be used as an introduction to a study of the Civil Rights Movement.  

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: p.50-51 (Mr. Wallace shoots Mr. Tom Bee)

AREAS OF TEACHING: Historical context, Setting, Compare/Contrast, Characters, Theme, and Voice, Mood, and Tone

RELATED BOOKS: Roll of Thunder; Hear My Cry, Leon’s Story, To Kill a Mockingbird, Witness

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Roll of Thunder; Hear My Cry (1978), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

November 2, 2008

Middle Row

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Middle Row

Author: Sylvia Olsen

Page Length: 100

Reading Level: 2.4

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Raedawn (a Native American) and Vince (a white American) are dating in a town where racial tensions run high. Neither family totally embraces the couple’s bond.

When a fellow classmate, Dune, turns up missing from school, not many people are motivated to find out the truth about this boy’s disappearance. As Vince, Raedawn, and her Uncle Dave dig deeper into the disappearance of Dune, they stumble across a marijuana operation in the backwoods country. Upon their discovery, all three are chased out of the woods by gun shots and dogs. The “detectives” turn to the police to report what they have seen. As a result, Dune and his mother Ocean are forced from their hiding place in the woods to a farmhouse basement.

When Uncle Dave, who used to date Ocean, comes face to face with Ocean and Dune, it hits him that Dune is his son. Uncle Dave and Ocean make amends for their past actions, and the story closes with Uncle Dave accepting Dune into his “family”. A celebration of Dune commences at the Reservation.

REVIEW: This book was a simple story about how in the midst of racial tensions, family can transcend hatred and bigotry. The character of Dune is an outcast of mixed race, yet finally discovers his true family in his long-lost father. I enjoyed this book, however I wished that the character of Dune had some more dialogue. The lack of dialogue used by the author for Dune was probably for effect, but it would have been nice to know a little bit more about this character. 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: simile (page 41), characterization of Raedawn (page 71)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: “beach bastards” (page 20), weed operation (page 55), marijuana mentioned (page 56), “damn racist” (page 79), racial tension throughout the book


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

August 11, 2008


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Author: Louis Sacher       

Page Length: 233

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY:  Stanley Yelnats is caught with some stolen tennis shoes of Clyde Livingston, a famous professional basketball player.  Rather than being sent to jail, he is sent to Camp Green Lake.  The trouble with Camp Green Lake is there is no lake and nothing is green.  A female warden who has rattlesnake venom in her fingernail polish runs the camp.  Mr. Pedanski, the counselor, otherwise known as “mom works at the camp.  Also, Mr. Sir, who has quit drinking and chews mainly on sunflower seeds, supervises the camp.

Stanley is put into a group of boys who work, sleep, and eat together.  They go by nicknames such as Armpit, Zigzag, Squid, Barfbag, Zero, and X-Ray.  Stanley acquires the name of Caveman after a few words are traded with another boy in the camp. He learns quickly there is a hierarchy to follow among the group.

Each day the boys are sent to the dried up lake to dig holes 5’wide, 5’ long, and 5’ deep.  The warden says this is to “build character” but is doesn’t take Stanley long to realize the warden is looking for something, something very valuable to her.

As the story develops there are references made to Kate Barlow, a black man named Sam, and Stanley’s great-great-great grandfather, Elya Yelnats.  All of these people lived about 100 years earlier when the lake was full and the surroundings were green.

After discovering a shiny tube with the initials KB engraved on the cover, Stanley wonders if there is any relationship between Kate Barlow and the treasure that consumes the warden.

REVIEW:  This book is a delightful read for anyone above fifth grade.  Many of my senior students had read the book as eighth graders and convinced me to let them read it again as seniors.  It is humorous, develops the characters very well, and stimulates good class room discussions.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Character, Setting, Cause and Effect, Compare and Contrast, Inference and Predictions

RELATED BOOKS:  Small Steps, Stanley Yelnats Guide to Camp Green Lake



REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

June 2, 2008

Yellow Line

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The Yellow Line

Author: Sylvia Olsen

Page Length: 107

Reading Level: 2.4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Vince lives in a small town divided by a yellow line. Indians stay one side of the town (and the street) and whites stay on another. Despite the fact these students ride the bus and are schooled together, racial tensions prevail everywhere. Vince becomes involved when his cousin Sherry begins dating one of the “other kind.” Vince’s parents are enraged and want Vince to tell Sherry’s parents what he’s seen. Vince himself is finding that he’s changing. That cute girl on the bus with those mesmerizing eyes won’t leave his mind, hanging with his friends isn’t that fun it used to be, and dealing with the taunting and threats of the Indian crowd is getting him down.

Vince faces difficult decisions. Will he rat Sherry out to her parents? Should he tell someone what he knows about the assault? How can he ease the tensions all around him?

REVIEW: This book is written on a low reading level and is a quick read. However, its briefness does not allow full development of the story line and often issues are introduced and dismissed more quickly than they should be. Sometimes it seems as if the Orca books try to address too many issues at once. For struggling readers, the story line is engaging and the length of the book motivating. This book examines racial tensions and just how difficult but rewarding overcoming them can be. The character also faces difficult decisions and learns that taking a stand for what is right is often difficult but always essential.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence, cause and effect, writer’s motive, audience, purpose, tone, compare and contrast

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: an assault takes place – but the details provided are sketchy

RELATED BOOKS: Death Wind, One More Step, Grind, Tears of a Tiger, The World According to Dog, Maniac Magee

MOVIE CONNECTIONS:  Crash, Freedomland

MUSIC-SONG CONNECTIONS: Black or White by Michael Jackson, Ebony and Ivory by Paul McCartney, Drowning by Hootie and the Blowfish, Free Your Mind by En Vogue


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

April 8, 2008

Stealing Home The Story of Jackie Robinson

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Stealing Home The Story of Jackie Robinson

Author: Barry Denenberg

Page Length: 116

Reading Level: 5


PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW: Stealing Home: The Story of Jackie Robinson, is a story not only of a great athlete, but of a great African American.  His career began in 1947, as the first black professional baseball player; and, with it, he launched a movement for equality in the “very public eye” of America.  Denenberg tells the story of Jackie’s life with man facts, details, and records which would interest the avid baseball fan.  However, he also shares the struggles Jackie endures as an African American in the early decades of the 20th century.


Jackie Robinson came from a large athletic family raised by a mother with dreams for a better life for her children than she had lived. I was surprised to learn that Jackie attended UCLA and was the first four-letter athlete.  With this history, it was hard to believe the discrimination that was shown to him as he tried to enter Major League baseball.


Jackie served in the army during World War II where he felt the first major impact of the way the country, as a whole, viewed whites and blacks.  He was wanted by the white soldiers to play on their football team but was not allowed to sit next to them in the dining hall.  Jackie tired of this treatment quickly and Denenberg writes a quote from Jackie (p. 29) which got him transferred to Camp Hood, Texas.


After serving his time for his country, Jackie was recruited by Branch Rickey and became the first black player of Major League baseball.  It was an exciting but scary time for Jackie and his family.  It didn’t take Jackie long to break batting records and home-run records but it did take awhile to break the racial barriers.


The barriers were broken, however and with Jackie’s rise to fame he was considered a baseball hero who had the courage and humility to confront racism for black people, both on and off the field.


I enjoyed reading this book because of the vulnerable humanitarian way Denenberg presents Jackie Robinson.  The story is not only of Jackie Robinson but of the perils African Americans suffered prior to the Civil Rights Movement.  This would be a good book for baseball lovers and a good novel to read in the study of the Civil Rights movement.




REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

February 7, 2008

Something Upstairs

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Something Upstairs

Author: Avi

Page Length: 119

Reading Level: 5th

Genre: Historical Fiction


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: This book started off with an “author’s explanation” of how he came to write this story. It seems that Avi, the author, was inspired by a child’s real experience with a ghost-like being. The story is set during the present in Providence, Rhode Island. This choice of setting intrigued me as part of my family is from this area. I didn’t realize though that residents of Rhode Island continued to take part in the slave trade from Africa to the U.S. South long after the slave trade was declared illegal. This fact along with several others in the initial chapters showed me that this story is not only shrouded in ghost-like mysteries but a little bit of history as well.


The main character is a child named Kenny who moves to Providence with his family. Their new home is actually an old one built in 1789. Kenny’s room ends up being a tiny room in the attic. It is here that Kenny discovers strange noises coming from an interior room. The noises turn out to be a ghost reaching out from a stained (bloody) floor. Kenny cannot believe his eyes! He is able to talk to the ghost who identifies himself as Caleb. The ghost also identifies himself as a slave and that his last memories are from August 17, 1800. Kenny investigates this recent event in the local library and discovers that around August 17, 1800 a slave named Caleb appeared to take his own life in a locked room inside the very house Kenny now lives. Upon reading this, Kenny agrees to help Caleb find his murderer by walking with him outside of his house. When the two of them do this, they are transported back to the year 1800. During this time they witness several people talking about the slave trade. Some are against it for moral reasons, and others are for it for financial reasons. There are many clues and actions in the chapters that follow that lead all the way up to the point in which Caleb is supposed to have died. However there is a twist.


Mr. Willinghast, who haunts the present day but lives during the 1800s forces Kenny to choose whether or not to kill Caleb. If Kenny kills Caleb, Kenny can return back to his own time. If he does not kill the slave, Kenny will remain in the past forever. Willinghast has power over Kenny in the form of Kenny’s key chain (an article from the present).


It is implied, at the end, that Kenny kills Mr. Willinghast. Then, Kenny returns to his own time. In a newspaper article at the conclusion of this story, it is stated that it was not Caleb that took his own life in a locked room, but rather Willinghast. The roles of the dead have reversed.


I enjoyed this story because it was fast-paced. The blending of history and suspense kept me interested from beginning until end. The role of Mr. Willinghast was a little confusing at first but at the end I got the gist of his purpose.


TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: One note of caution: there is one word that is repeated several times on pages 88 and 89 that may cause offense to some people. Please preview this section (in the context of the whole story) before allowing students to read this book.




REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

January 26, 2008



Author: Jean Ferris

Page Length: 182

Reading Level: 4


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: Sixteen year old Dallas, is caught attempting to rob a convenience store at gunpoint. The judge offers her parole at home, but her father refuses and so she is sentenced to six months at a Girl’s Rehabilitation Center.


One of the book reviews I read for Bad called it an “absorbing, quick, read”. I agree with the absorbing part, but for me this was not a quick read. It was a gritty, non-blinking look at life in a rehabilitation center. There are candid discussions of drug use, sex, and violence including abusive relationships and rape.  The author spent some time interviewing girls at a rehab facility in San Diego and she has dedicated this book to those girls. Her characters are tough, street smart survivors who also have real fears, hopes and dreams.


The book chronicles Dallas’ journey through the criminal justice system and back to the real world.  Ferris does not wrap up the ending in a nice neat package. Dallas makes the decision not to return to her father’s home and we are left feeling hopeful about her future, but knowing she has a difficult road ahead. Dallas doesn’t pretend to herself that it is going to be easy for her to turn her life around. I would have liked for Dallas and her father to reconcile and for Dallas to live happily ever after, but in real life that just doesn’t always happen.


While I was left wishing for a little better outlook for Dallas, I must say I think Ferris got it right. From beginning to end, the subject is treated in a realistic straightforward way.  Near and dear to my heart though is the fact that while in rehab Dallas falls in love with reading and learns for the first time about the beauty and comfort you can find between the covers of a book.




REVIEWED BY: Sherry Hall

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