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December 19, 2010

Guys Write for Guys Read

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Guys Write for Guys Read by Jon Scieszka: Book Cover

Guys Write for Guys Read

Author: Jon Scieszka

Page Length: 272

Reading Level: 6.5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: This is a collection of short stories of over 80 authors’ who write for young teens.  The stories deal with memories from childhood and family experiences, as well as, incidents of events that occurred during puberty.  Many of the stories or of the failures the author’s had while participating in sports.  Several serve as an inspiration as to the value of importance of reading.

REVIEW: Each of the stories is rather short but they have good messages, especially for the reluctant reader.  Many of the authors are widely known in the writing field today for young adult readers.  I especially enjoyed the stories by Gary Paulsen, Richard Peck, Chris Crutcher, Matt Groening, and Jerry Spinelli.  However, that could be because I have enjoyed the books I have read by them.

At the end of each selection, a short bio of the author about where he lived, where he lives now, one peculiar thing about him and a list of some of his writings are listed.

Scieszka compiled these stories especially to inspire boys to read.  The websites listed below are geared towards activities to engage boys in reading. Teachers could use the stories independently for teaching a variety of reading and writing TEKS skills.


AREAS OF TEACHING: Point of View, Writer’s Motive

RELATED BOOKS: Crazy Loco, Haunted Schools, Destination Unexpected, Athletic Shorts, Baseball in April and other Stories, Amazing But True Sports Stories, Visions-19 Short Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults, True Sea Stories


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

November 3, 2008

The Wedding Planner’s Daughter

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The Wedding Planner’s Daughter

Author: Coleen Murtagh Paratore

Page Length: 192

Reading Level:

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Twelve-year-old Willa Havisham has only one wish – she longs for a father. Willa’s mother is beautiful and educated, but there is a problem. Her heart seems closed forever to anything that has to do with love. Willa loves living in Bramble. She finally has a best friend, enjoys spending time with her Nana, and has a wonderful English teacher who would be perfect for her mother. Willa plans a picnic for her mother and Sam and all seems well, until everything goes wrong.  Willa’s secret thirteenth ingredient to each wedding just may be her undoing. Stella does what she always does when she feels in need of protection – she flees. Willa is forced to leave the only home she has every really known. Can she change her mother’s mind before it is too late? Will Willa ever have a father she can call her own?

REVIEW: I absolutely loved this book! I highly recommend it!! Some might consider it a definite magnet for girls. On the other hand, fathers would benefit from the insight into the heart of a young girl that this book offers. The characters are wonderfully crafted. The reader can feel the pain of Willa’s mother and yearn with Willa for her happy ending. Willa’s insight is beautiful – “I can take the look on the father’s face when the music starts and he smiles and whispers ‘Are you ready?’ and his daughter looks up at him and nods like she’s trying not to cry.” The book offers a beautiful lesson about love and trust and how important is in life to never let fear win out.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: description, imagery, mood, tone, author’s purpose, sequence of events, cause and effect, internal conflict, external conflict, character traits

RELATED BOOKS:  The Cupid Chronicles, Willa by Heart, Forget Me Not

RELATED MOVIES: “The Wedding Planner,” “The Parent Trap”


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

May 1, 2008

No More Dead Dogs

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No More Dead Dogs

Author: Gordon Korman

Page Length: 180

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY #1: Wallace is a popular eighth grader with only one fault: he only tells the truth. Unfortunately, some people just aren’t ready to hear the truth. Wallace’s bad luck begins when he writes a review of his English teacher’s favorite book. Wallace hates the book and Mr. Fogelman hates his review. He sentences Wallace to detention until he turns in an acceptable review. Detention is held in the auditorium where drama practice is taking place. The drama club happens to be performing the play of the book (Old Shep, My Pal) Wallace had to review. Wallace begins to make suggestions for the performance and before long everyone is listening to him instead of Mr. Fogelman.

Strange things have begun to happen during rehearsals It seems as if someone is trying to sabotage the play. All eyes are on Wallace, but Wallace suspects his football teammates who are anxiously awaiting his glorious return to practice. After all, Wallace is the hero of the football team whose brilliant play clinched a title game (what everyone forgets is that Wallace sits the bench 80% of the time – he knows he is no football great, but no one else seems to realize it).

Rumors circulate because Parker Schmidt only ever gets part of the facts before he embellishes the story he prints in the paper. The play begins to develop and Wallace finds that he is in no hurry to return to football practice. Trudi, an actress in the play, falls for Wallace and can’t wait to be his girlfriend. Her best friend, Rachel, can’t wait for Wallace’s sabotage of the play to be discovered. He disgusts her and she can’t wait to see him go. The big night is drawing near; the show is sold out, and the play and its cast may be in danger. Can Wallace discover the truth and save the show? Will everyone else learn to see Wallace for who he really is?

REVIEW #1: This book was cute and entertaining. I enjoyed how the chapters switched view points between the characters. Rachel’s letters to Julia Roberts were also a great technique for introducing her feelings about Wallace (the reader figures how she feels before she does). The fact that Wallace Wallace can not tell a lie leads the reader to question truths and lies – what they mean and where the line is drawn. Friendships are restored and Wallace perseveres through being abandoned by his teammates and being a suspect among the drama club. The ending is good and Wallace is an admirable character.

REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY #2: Wallace Wallace (last name same as the first), hero of his school football team, is a chronic truth teller. He is unable to tell a lie which sometimes makes life a little uncomfortable. When his eighth-grade English teacher assigns a book review on Old Shep, My Pal, Wallace follows the assignment to the letter giving his absolute honest opinion; he hated it. Unfortunately for Wallace, Old Shep, My Pal is his teacher’s all time favorite book and Mr. Fogelman can’t understand how anyone could dislike such a classic. Wallace however is sick and tired of reading books where the dog dies in the end and he refuses to change his report to the point of earning detention, which also gets him suspended from the football team.


The book makes the point that sometimes there is a valid reason to rebel. Wallace stands behind his conviction and makes a reasonable argument to his teacher saying he knew the dog was going to die before he even read the book because, “…the dog always dies. Go to the library and pick out a book with an award sticker and a dog on the cover. Trust me, that dog is going down.” He then lists several examples as his classmates begin to chime in, much to the teacher’s distress.


Wallace’s teacher is also directing the school play which is, no surprise, Old Shep, My Pal, and Wallace has to serve his detention by sitting in on play rehearsals.  Wallace never changes his mind as Mr. Fogelman hopes, but he does get involved with the play and ends up making changes to it that include rollerblades, a moped and a rock-and-roll band called The Dead Mangoes. 


What appealed to me about this book, aside from the humor, is that Wallace is never mean or disrespectful. He doesn’t try to change the play out of spite. Rather, he honestly thinks it could be better and the cast members agree with him. He even finally wins over Mr. Fogelman while staying true to himself. He is willing to accept whatever consequence he receives because he believes in himself. I think kids will get the point as well as enjoying the story.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: point of view, organization of text, voice, mood, character traits, plot

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: mild language – Wallace Wallace is referred to as “dumbass, dumbass”

RELATED BOOKS: Swindle, Schooled, Kidnapped, The Climb


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor & Sherry Hall

February 6, 2008


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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)




REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

January 13, 2008



Author: Alan Armstrong

Page Length: 191

Reading Level: 4th

Genre: Fiction / Historical Fiction


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: Taking a look at the cover of this book, one may think that this is a simple story about a cat. However, this book contains three main stories.


The first story is about a cat, Whittington, and the simple adventures with his barnyard friends – such as Lady, the duck, Coraggio, the rooster, Havey, the dog, and Aramis, the race horse. In this book, the animals have dialogue with each other. Besides the animals who can understand one another, the grandchildren of the farmer, Bernie, can hear these creatures.   


This leads us to the second story-line. Bernie, the farmer, is one of those men who would take in any creature that others will not keep. He is a simple man with a tender heart. He has two grandchildren, Ben and Abby who attend school. Ben is a boy with a slight temper. He also struggles with reading. One could say his temper comes from the frustration with books. Whittington, the cat, makes note that he used to be the pet for a boy who struggled with reading too until the boy’s parents sent him off to a “special school”. Whittington was without love and support from then on.


The main character of the book is the cat, Whittington. To all the animals in the barn as well as Ben and Abby, he tells stories of the adventures of a boy named Dick Whittington. This leads us to the third story-line. These stories about Dick Whittington are told by Whittington the cat after Abby helps Ben with his reading lessons in the barn. Whittington, the cat, says that he got his name from Dick Whittington whose story has been handed down from one generation to another in his cat lineage. Whittington, the cat, says that Dick Whittington was English and lived a hundred years before Columbus. Dick Whittington had a cat that made him a fortune due to his rat-hunting abilities. Also, stories of spice trading and sea voyages flow from the cat’s mouth. Listening to the cat’s stories captivate all the animals as well as Ben who is learning to read better every day. Lessons with a Reading Recovery teacher during the summer also aid Ben in making sure he is not held back a grade.


TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: References to “Special Ed” and other labels such as on page 44 may raise a few eyebrows from the more conservative audience or immature student.


HELPFUL NOTE / AREAS FOR TEACHING: The ending of this book is very positive yet felt a little rushed. A lot of the information in the Endnotes is alluded to in the last few chapters. For those who like to skip to the end for a better reference of who Dick Whittington was, read the Endnotes on pages 187-191. This will give you a glimpse into the legend of the man upon which this story is loosely based. This book is part fact and part fiction. If you use the Endnotes along with this story, one might teach a good lesson about history and literature.




REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton


January 4, 2008


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Author: Cornelia Funke

Page Length: 534

Reading Level: 7th

Genre: Suspense / Fantasy


REVIEW & SUMMARY: I really enjoyed reading this book. My eight year old daughter was also enjoying the suspense as she listened to the first half of this book aloud (we would read a couple of chapters a night). The characters were entertaining and the suspense was well paced. I was anxious to read the next chapter to find out what would happen. Funke leaves questions nicely unanswered inviting the reader to find out more.   


In the book we meet Meggie, a twelve year old girl, and Mo, her father. Mo has instilled in his daughter a love of books. She has her own special book box that she carries with her everywhere. Mo himself loves to read and makes a living restoring books. Things seem “normal” until the arrival of an old friend of Mo’s named Dustfinger. After Dustfinger visits, Mo packs them up and they are on the move (something which we discover is common for Meggie and Mo as they have never stayed any one place too long). Meggie eavesdrops to discover Dustfinger and Mo discussing a particular book that a man named Capricorn wants to regain in his possession. The book is secreted away with the three of them to Elinor’s house. Elinor is Meggie’s mother’s aunt and an avid book collector. Strangers of the mob-kind visit in the night and leave with both the book and Mo. Meggie is heartbroken, but the adventure is just beginning. Meggie, Elinor, and Dustfinger are hot on their trail. How were they found so easily?  What does Capricorn want with Mo?


Perhaps the most startling discovery for Meggie is that this mob and Dustfinger refer to her father as Silvertongue. Meggie soon discovers Mo’s unique power of reading characters to life from books. She also learns that as characters come out of the story, objects and people nearby have disappeared. The book in question is in fact called, Inkheart. The mob of villains after Mo and the book are in fact characters from the book. When Meggie was a young child, her father read the book aloud to Meggie and her mother. Her mother disappeared and three prominent characters came to life. Mo has been on the run away from them ever since and try as he might he hasn’t been able to find Meggie’s mother. The adventures unfold as the forces of good and evil must battle. Who will win? How will they triumph against seemingly insurmountable odds? Can the author of the book help? What does Capricorn want the dreaded Shadow for?


AREAS FOR TEACHING: This book is a fascinating tool for teaching about the power of words and the richness of language. After all, Silvertongue (Mo) can bring characters to life. Funke came up with an original idea – characters coming to life from the book. It’s interesting to discover their longing or dislike for their homes. Teachers could discuss what makes a home and what connects people to one another.  What are our motivations in life? What makes us happy? Why do we need other people?  The list of discussion topics and writing response prompts the book yields is enormous. We also find characters in the book and who can not read and are therefore more easily controlled by Capricorn. Teachers could springboard discussions about how education, reading, and being able to consider all the alternatives changes one’s outlook. Why is knowledge important if one wants to control his/her own destiny?


It is a long book. Fantasy readers will be more interested. In general, I think that this book would be more successful with a student who already enjoys reading. I would not use for independent reading with a struggling reader – although as a read aloud it would work well. Great book!


BOOK CONNECTIONS: Since writing Inkheart, Cornelia Funke has continued the trilogy with Inkspell and Inkdeath. The first chapter of Inkspell is provided at the end of Inkheart. It looks as promising as the last. A movie, based on the book Inkheart, was made in 2008.




REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


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