The Book Reviews – Website

December 19, 2010

Marcelo in the Real World

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork: Book Cover

Marcelo in the Real World

 

Author: Francisco Stork

 

Page Length: 312  

 

Reading Level: 5.3

 

Genre: Realistic Fiction

 

Career Connection:  Lawyer, Teacher, Occupational Therapist, Ministry

PLOT SUMMARY:  It isn’t often that a father forces his son to give up a job he has secured on his own, to take one in his own office.  However, that is what happens to Marcelo Sandoval, the summer before his senior year in high school.  Marcelo had planned to take care of the ponies at Paterson, his special school’s therapeutic-riding stables.  Marcelo exhibits qualities of Asperger’s Syndrome and is more comfortable at Paterson than he is in the real world.

His dad, Arturo, is a prominent lawyer.  He has always felt that Marcelo could overcome any obstacles he has, and wants to prove it to Marcelo by having him work in the mail room at his law firm.  He also wants Marcelo to attend the local regular high school, Oak Ridge High, rather than Paterson in the fall. Marcelo agrees to work for his father, if at the end of the summer he can make the choice of the school he will attend in the fall. 

Marcelo finds that working with Jasmine in the mailroom is not as bad as he thought it would be.  Jasmine is patient with him and he becomes comfortable in the working routine they have.  It is when Wendell, one of the partner’s sons, also working at the firm, confronts Marcelo and makes inappropriate remarks about Jasmine that Marcelo becomes upset.  Marcelo does not know how to react to Wendell, his feelings towards Jasmine, or a picture he finds when he is doing some work for Wendell.  The information he gains about the picture will affect a high profile case and the future of the firm. 

Will Marcelo tell what he knows about “the real world” or stay hidden in his Asperger-like comfort zone of Paterson?

REVIEW:  The book is narrarated by Marcelo who frequently talks of himself in third person.  He relates some of his peculiarities (e.g., he has obsessions with God and religion, hears internal music (IM), and sleeps in a tree house). He shares the difficulty he faces as he must learn menial tasks of the mailroom and deal with office politics.  He retains his innocence while considering the possibility of love, ethical dilemmas and other conflicts. 

Teen boys and girls, as well as adults, would enjoy this book that deals with the conflicts exposed for not only a boy with Asperger’s, but professional and social issues they may encounter themselves in the “real world”.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Theme, Characters, Point of View, Conflict, Compare/Contrast, and Cause/Effect

TOUCHY AREAS: Occasional harsh profanity and sexual inferences

RELATED BOOKS: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, Rules, Anything But Typical

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Mozart and the Whale (2005), Adam (2009), Rain Man (1988)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.blogs.scholastic.com/kid…/scholastic-ala-2010-award-winners.html

www.kidshealth.org/parents/medical

www.aspeneducation.com/article-equine-aspergers-autism.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt: Book Cover

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

  

Author: Gary D. Schmidt

 

Page Length: 219

 

Reading Level: 5.5

 

Genre: Realistic Fiction     

PLOT SUMMARY: The story is set in 1912 in Phippsburg, Maine. Turner Buckminster and his parents have recently moved to the small coastal town from Boston, Massachusetts.  Turner’s father is the new town minister.  Turner is not accepted well by the townspeople, primarily for the way he plays baseball.  While out throwing rocks, Turner meets Lizzie Bright, an African American girl who lives on an island just across the bay.

While Turner befriends Lizzie, the townspeople decide that the residents of Malaga Island (Lizzie’s home) should be taken off the island so that the island can be transformed into a resort.  Meanwhile, the deacons of the church and Mrs. Cobb keep the minister informed of his son’s wrongdoings. Subsequently, Turner is forbidden to go to Malaga Island and sentenced to read and play the organ for Mrs. Cobb in the afternoons. This punishment turns into a chance for Mrs. Cobb and Turner to bond. Lizzie also joins the two as she comes to listen to Turner.

When Mrs. Cobb dies, she leaves her home to Turner. When Turner decides to move Lizzie and other residents of the island into the vacated home, Turner’s father supports his son (however much of the congregation turn on the minister).  An accident ensues and the minister is ousted from the church. As a result, Turner and his mother are forced to move into Mrs. Cobb’s vacant home. 

After the minister’s death, the town falls into terrible debt, and all too late the people of Phippsburg find that their racial prejudice and greediness left them with virtually nothing.

REVIEW: This book is based on actual events that occurred in Maine in the early 20th century.  The writing is very descriptive and many similes are used.  It would be an excellent novel to read in connection with the social issues of the time

The relationship that Turner experiences with the whales on pages 79-80 and 214-216 are chilling. 

AREAS OF TEACHING: Similes, Descriptive Writing, Character, Theme, Setting, and Historical Context

RELATED BOOKS: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Leon’s Story, Mississippi Morning

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

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.pages.drexel.edu/~eg72/EDUC525/site3/socialiss.htm

www.doinggoodtogether.org/books.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

The Brimstone Journals

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The Brimstone Journals by Ron Koertge: Book Cover

The Brimstone Journals

Author: Ron Koertge

Page Length: 113

Reading Level: 6.6

Genre: Poetry

PLOT SUMMARY: Meredith, Jennifer, Joseph, Lester, Tran, Sheila, Allison, Kelli, Damon, Rob, Carter, Neesha, David, Boyd, and Kitty are all students at Branston High School. That’s where from many of them their similarities end. One of them is branded as the school slut, another has unwanted advances being made by her stepfather, and yet another is worried about her weight. One of the boys is super athlete who controls his girlfriend, another is new kid in school whose father only wants him to follow the family line and be a doctor, and yet another – perhaps the most dangerous of all – is stockpiling weapons. His plan is to get rid of the people on his “list” and he’s not going to let anything get in his way.

REVIEW: Finally there is a story that can still be a story, maintain a smooth pace, and keep the reader entertained and engaged while being written as a series of journal type entries in the form of poems. Koertge did an excellent job of coming up with a character that almost every high school student can identify with. Boyd’s list of people he plans to execute is an interesting study in pathological behavior – sometimes people end up on the list just for being smart, etc.

This book takes an excellent stand on school violence because the others kids, even those who were going to be involved, take a stance, seek help, and do everything that they can to prevent the tragedy from occurring. I liked this book; it’s a short read that is full of discussion potential. I would recommend this as a classroom / small group assigned reading activity.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause and effect, character’s motivation, elements of plot, poetic forms, tree map of the characters and their personality traits

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Rob has sex with Jennifer because he’s earning points in his sex game – her reaction “it was kind of gross him lying on me like that, plus it hurt” (77)

Talk of pipe bombs, guns, and other explosive materials

References to drinking and a girl with a crush on another girl

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.teenreads.com/reviews/0763617423.asp

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0PBX/is_5_38/ai_n6207023

http://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/Brimstone-Journals.html

http://www.lessonplanspage.com/SSODoSomethingAboutSchoolViolenceUnitDay2WhatsLifeLikeInMyShoes912.htm

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

November 15, 2009

Crazy Loco

Crazy Loco

Author: David Rice

Page Length: 135

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: This is a series of short stories in the setting of the Texas Rio Grande Valley.  All of the stories are about the daily lives of Mexican-American teens.  One story deals with two boys who live in a lower socio-economic small town who have their “uppity” cousins from California visit.  Another story is about an 85 year-old mid-wife and the relationship she shares with her niece.  One of the stories focuses on a young boy who is forced to move-in with his grandfather after his parent’s divorce.  There is a dog who loves firecrackers and a big learning experience for an altar boy.

REVIEW: The stories appear authentic because the author includes many Spanish words and phrases and depicts the characters with realistic personalities and viewpoints.   Also, the primary religion, Catholicism is used as a reference in the narratives that contain drama and some humor.

I would suggest this book for Hispanic males.  It could also be used in a study of Hispanic Heritage or in a cultural diversity unit.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Point of View, Character, and Setting

RELATED BOOKS: Becoming Naomi Leon, House on Mango Street, Finding Our Way, and Crossing the Wire

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.learningthroughlistening.org/…/463/lessonId__383

www.readwritethink.org/calendar/calendar_day.asp?id=293

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 30, 2009

Catalyst

Catalyst

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Page Length: 233

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Kate Malone is nervously awaiting her acceptance letter to MIT, the only college she applied to as a senior honor student.  Her deceased mother went to MIT and that is the only school she has ever wanted to attend.  As Kate watches her friends being accepted to not only their first choice schools, but their second and third choices, she begins to be unable to sleep. An avid runner, she chooses to run at night to avoid the inevitable nightmare that will occur if she does not get the positive letter from MIT.

In Kate’s everyday life, she is an honor student and a track star. She handles all of the domestic duties at her home over her sickly brother, Toby,  and her  father who is a minister.  Her neighbor, Terri Litch, who has always been an enemy, continues to send bad vibes to Kate in the school cafeteria.

When the Litch’s house catches on fire, and Ms. Litch is unable to care for Terri and her brother, Mr. Malone has them move in with Kate, Toby, and him.  Now, Kate, has new responsibilities—Terri and Mikey. 

As Kate moves through the everyday motions of school, a romantic relationship, and church volunteer obligations, with no sleep, she finds she has a growing attachment for Mikey and a concern building for Terri, the arch enemy. A series of events follow that impact not only the Litch’s and Malone’s, but the entire community.  Relationships and personal values and morals are exposed and questioned as the town deals with tragedy.

REVIEW: This is an excellent book for the mature, advanced high school student to read.  I think girls would especially like it, as it is dramatic in content.  The events of the story, while tragic, are common in our society today.  Ms. Anderson does an excellent job of developing the characters through Kate’s eyes and the world through her point of view. It is one of the best young adult books I have read.   

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Theme, Character, Point of View, Conflict,

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: reference to masturbation (p. 14), incest, occasional profanity

RELATED BOOKS: Speak, The Center of Everything, Prom

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.webenglishteacher.com/lhanderson.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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

July 29, 2008

Godless

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Godless

Author: Pete Hautman     

Page Length: 198

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY:  As Jason Bock looks up at the sky after being hit by Henry Stagg’s, he focuses on the tall water tower above him and has the revelation that the town water tower is his god. 

Jason is the son of a slightly neurotic mother who obsesses over Jason having some disease. His dad is a devout Catholic who insists Jason attends the weekly Teen Power Outreach (TPO) meetings at the church. Jason has doubts about the validity of his faith and therefore, reasons that he can invent his own religion, which is the worship of the Ten-legged God, the town water tower.

He quickly recruits his friends, Shin, Magda, and Dan to be in the TLG faith with him and gives each of them specific titles of leadership.  As he ponders how the group can climb the tower for a weekly mass, he runs into his bitter enemy, Henry Stagg’s who is atop the tower.  When Henry shares the secret of climbing the tower, Jason allows him to be a member of the TLG and names him “High Priest”.

As the story unfolds, Shin starts writing and drawing works, which reflect the teachings of the TLG. Henry, Magda, Dan, and Jason all climb the tower and go for a swim in the top of the water tank.  As they attempt to descend the steps of the tower, there is an accident. They are caught by the police and punished by their parents.  Shin, however, is at home “hearing the voice of the TLG. 

REVIEW: Probably, most teens at some time, question their faith as their parents have taught them.  This book is a narrative by such a teen as he not only questions his parent’s beliefs, but also decides it is perfectly fine to invent his own religion. 

The story is believable that a group of teens would join a “cult”, but mostly for the fun and adventure of the group doing adventures together.  As Shin, becomes obsessed with the religion, the story gets eerie that one could take the fantasy too far.

The book is an easy and fast read.  Students who enjoy fantasy or science fiction would enjoy. At the back of the book there is a summary and questions for discussion.  Also, there are some activities if it was read as a class novel.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Compare/Contrast, Cause/Effect, Character, Point of View

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.petehautman.com/godless.html

www.powells.com/biblio/61-0689862784-0

www.romantictimes.com/books_review.php?book=22600

http://web.mac.com/stannes1/iWeb/Book Review/Other/

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

April 29, 2008

The Story of Clocks and Calendars

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The Story of Clocks and Calendars

Author: Betsy Maestro

Illustrator: Giulio Maestro

Page Length: 48

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Non-fiction

REVIEW: Where do we get the concept of time and time management? This awesome picture-book answers these questions that many of us probably have thought about but have never asked out loud.

Not only does this book describe time in the context of the United States, but it also discusses the influence of time on other countries, religions, and cultures. This book definitely does not take a narrow focus on the topic! After reading this book, I have learned that different religions use different calendars. I have also learned that the calendar months of July and August were named after Roman emperors. The first calendars were lunar/moon then transitioned into solar. Farming was the catalyst for the creation/discovery of time and calendars. The author, Maestro, notes that in India, “there have been as many as thirty calendars in use all at the same time”. Maestro goes on to say that today most of the world uses the Gregorian calendar for official business even though not even half the world is Christian. Some people would like to see a change to a different uniform calendar, but none is anticipated in the near future.

Other Facts Included in the Book: Examples of primitive clocks are the burning candle, sundial, hourglass, and water/clock dial. The exact length of a solar year is 365.2422 days. The most accurate clocks available are atomic clocks which may have an error of only one second in millions of years. Finally, atomic clocks keep the official time here on Earth.

My only criticism of this book is that I would have liked to have seen some real photographs of the artifacts illustrated. In all, I believe the information presented in this book is very relevant and appropriate for high school students, however photographs would have given this picture book even more credibility.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: text features (captions, diagrams, charts, dates, glossary), sequence of events, cause and effect, symbols

RELATED BOOKS: Midnight Magic (evidence of the burning candle being used as a clock), Maestro & Maestro have written other books: Christopher Columbus, Colonial Times, & The French and Indian Wars

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Stonehenge, Zodiac signs, Chinese calendar

TOUCHY AREAS: Jesus Christ is mentioned in this text not in the context of preaching an agenda, but rather to focus in on the context of a certain time period in history. Hebrew, Roman, Muslim, Chinese, and Gregorian cultures/religions are also mentioned in similar context.

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://fi.edu/qa00/attic3/index.html (link to different clock activities)

http://www.shambles.net/pages/learning/primary/Time/ (giant list of links about time and clocks)

http://www.wrentham.k12.ma.us/C4/C4/Calendar%20%20Time/default.aspx

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

April 8, 2008

The Talking Earth

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The Talking Earth

Author: George, Jean Craighead

Page Length: 151

Reading Level: 6th

Genre: Fiction

 

PLOT SUMMARY: Have you ever wondered what it would be like to survive all alone in the wilderness?  How might you escape the clutches of a forest fire, or avoid being eaten by wild animals? The Talking Earth forces its reader to do just that, as it chronicles a young girl’s twelve-week adventure through the Florida Everglades. 

 

When Billie Wind doubts the teachings of her Seminole people, she is sent into the wilderness to revive her faith.  What begins as a weekend lesson turns into a months long ordeal when a forest fire breaks out and Billie is trapped in the swamps.  She finds refuge in a cave, which is not only stocked with fresh fish, but is also the habitat of a playful young otter that she names Petang.  During her stay in the cave, Billie discovers that her shelter was once home for Calusa Indians.  Finding several ancient artifacts is exciting to her, as the Calusa people have been extinct for many years.

 

As the ground begins to cool Billie and Petang begin their journey out of the Everglades.  During their trip they encounter many obstacles such as alligators, panthers, finding food, and building their own houseboat.  But they also make a few new friends along the way: a panther cub named Cootchobee, and a turtle named Burden, and finally an American Indian boy on his own quest for meaning.

 

Billie’s adventure climaxes with the arrival of a hurricane.  By climbing onto high ground and digging a shelter, she and her friends ride out the terrifying storm and finally find their way home.

 

In the end, Billie’s ordeal has confirmed three vital Seminole beliefs: animal god’s talk, a great serpent lives in the Everglades and punishes bad Seminoles, and there are little people who live underground and play tricks on people.  With her spiritual transformation, Billie is welcomed back into the tribe with open arms.

 

REVIEW: This book is ideal for students who strongly identify with an American Indian heritage.  It’s also a good book for students who enjoy wilderness adventure stories. Though, like many of Jean Craighead George’s novels, the plot in this book is at times extremely naïve and unrealistic.  For example, Billie Wind becomes instant friends with each of the wild animals that she encounters.  She also shows no concern for the alligators that patrol her homemade raft and daily kill the wildlife around her.  That aside, The Talking Earth is built on an interesting concept, and the character Billie is a strong role model for girls as she is independent, determined, and true to herself. 

 

RELATED BOOKS: Hatchet & My Side of the Mountain

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://www.kidsreads.com/authors/au-george-jean-craighead.asp

 

http://nativeamericans.mrdonn.org/seminole.html

 

http://www.seminoletribe.com/

 

http://fcit.usf.edu/florida/lessons/calusa/calusa1.htm

 

http://www.nps.gov/ever

 

http://www.floridamemory.com/OnlineClassroom/seminole-people/

 

REVIEWED BY: Jennifer John

March 10, 2008

One-Eyed Cat

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One-Eyed Cat

Author: Paula Fox

Page Length: 216

Reading Level: 6

 

REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: Eleven year old Ned Wallis lives in a rural area in 1935. His father is a preacher of the nearby small community church; his mother suffers from crippling arthritis and is bed ridden or wheelchair bound throughout much of the story. Ned is a generally agreeable young man who does as he’s told and is respectful of those around him. His rich uncle visits one day and gives him an unexpected gift – an air rifle. Ned’s father is outraged claiming Ned to young. He takes the gun away and places it in the attic. Ned can’t resist the temptation; after everyone is in bed, Ned takes the air rifle from the attic and sneaks outside. Something moves in the night and Ned takes aim and fires. Feeling guilty for having shot something and for disobeying his parents, Ned returns the gun to the. His actions are never discovered; yet, the rest of the book is focused on his guilt.

 

Ned visits elderly Mr. Scully daily to help him with chores and to be with him. One day, a one-eyed cat shows up. Mr. Scully notes that something has recently damaged the cat’s eye; Ned is sure it was him. He becomes caught up in the cat’s survival. He and Mr. Scully become engrossed with the daily activities of the cat. Mr. Scully finds that the cat assuages his loneliness; Ned finds that the cat’s survival assuages his guilt.

 

Mr. Scully is growing weaker and winter is setting in. Will Mr. Scully and the cat be able to survive the harsh conditions? Will Ned’s mother’s condition improve? Will Ned everyone divulge his horrible secret to anyone?  Will the guilt and the lies consume his life?

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: The way Paula Fox presents the issues of the elderly in this book is moving. I think understanding the loneliness and the inability to do for one’s self anymore would be a great lesson for all students. We really must impress upon our students how their grandparents and others around them are the same as they always were (in thoughts and feelings); however, they are limited by their present ability levels. This book is also a fabulous tool for gaining an understanding of the treacherous web telling just one lie or committing one dishonest act leads to. Overall, I think that this book would appeal more to the boys. I found it slow at times and difficult to stay engaged in. Yet, if the reader hangs on until the end, the book is a moving story with an excellent message.

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://www.kidsreads.com/reviews/0689839707.asp

 

http://www.literatureplace.com/bookfolios/bookfolio.asp?BookfolioID=17

 

http://www.indiana.edu/~reading/ieo/bibs/fox.html

 

http://www.bookrags.com/Paula_Fox

 

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

 

January 22, 2008

Crispin: The Cross of Lead

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Crispin: The Cross of Lead

Author: Avi

Page Length: 262

Reading Level: 5th

Genre: Fiction

 

REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: This book started out rather slow for me. It took awhile for me to get into the setting of England in the year 1377. It is almost as if the choice of words and language that the author uses in the very beginning does not reflect that of a young boy. After about 20 pages, however the story picked up some momentum. The book is essentially about a poor boy who is described by people as “Asta’s son”. Asta is the name of the boy’s mother. The boy does not know his real name. He also does not know who his father is. His mother keeps this a secret for good reason. One of the excuses she uses for the father’s absence is death from the Plague. The boy doesn’t question this since many people during this time suffered from this event. In addition to Asta’s son, the reader is kept in secret of the father’s identity for quite some time. In his community of Stromford, Asta’s son had few friends and felt very shunned. He does not know the reason why.

 

After a course of events, the steward of the area, John Aycliffe who serves Lord Furnival, makes up a story about Asta’s son breaking into his home. As a result, Asta’s son is labeled a “wolf’s head”. This means that anyone may shoot him on-site. Asta’s son runs to his close companion, Father Quinel for help. The priest reveals to Asta’s son that his mother named him Crispin and that she could read and write. Both pieces of information puzzled the boy. The priest seems to have so much more to reveal, but his time on Earth is limited as he is murdered. Crispin feels that it is his fault since he is a “wolf’s head” and sets out far away from his village with a cross in hand that his mother gave him. Another piece of information that Crispin and the reader are left unaware of is what is written on the cross of lead.

 

As Crispin treks away from Stromford, just ahead of his “hunting party”, he runs into a man named Bear. Bear is a very large man with a red beard. He is a juggler and plays the recorder for people’s amusement. Bear eventually forces Crispin to be his personal servant. The two then venture off towards the city of Great Wexly. When Bear and Crispin reach Great Wexly, Crispin feels that Bear is more than just a juggler. Bear engages in secret talks and dealings with individuals behind closed doors. It eventually comes out that some citizens are unhappy with the current ruling body. They yearn for more freedom, however talk of such things is considered treason in the eyes of the authorities.

 

It is later revealed in the story that Crispin’s mother, Asta, was most likely the daughter of Lord Douglas. Now Asta caught the eye of Lord Furnival who between the two of them bore a son – Crispin. Crispin is considered a “bastard” son. The current people in power want Crispin dead, not for any true crime, but for being a possible heir to the ruling party. To be more exact, if word got out that an heir to Lord Furnival (who is dead now) is alive, then Lord Douglas (Crispin’s grandfather) might want to stake a claim for authority. The individuals in high power in the area, want things to remain the same as Lady Furnival is currently in power.

 

As a side note, it is revealing that in the short time that Crispin has known Bear, he is more of a father to Crispin than his true father, Lord Furnival, ever was. On page 222, a theme among many of the townspeople is best stated by the quote, “no man, or woman either, shall be enslaved to any other, but stand free and equal to one another”. This is the type of revolutionary thinking that some of the people were engaged in. Again, these were dangerous thoughts.

 

Towards the end of the book, Bear is kidnapped in order that John Aycliffe may get to Crispin and kill him. Crispin eventually uses his cross of lead (with its inscriptions) as proof that he is of royal blood to force Aycliffe to let Bear and he escape from Great Wexly. The cross in return would be given to Aycliffe. Aycliffe agrees to this arrangement in the beginning. However, he eventually dissents. Bear is upset and “throws” Aycliffe to his death. Bear and Crispin are then allowed to leave the town after Crispin places the cross of lead on Aycliffe’s bloody chest.

 

We can assume that now with Crispin’s new found freedom, he and Bear will have many adventures and grow closer together. Bear never achieved the societal freedom that he wanted but he achieved something that he wasn’t looking for – freedom for a boy who deserved so much more.

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: The book ends with 14 questions that a teacher could use for discussion or essays and 3 activities (map, writing, and drama) that could supplement elements of the story. This story would be a great supplement to a unit on England during the 1400’s as well as a unit about themes such as freedom and family.

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://suzyred.com/2004crispin.html

 

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

 

http://www.funtrivia.com/trivia-quiz/Literature/Crispin-The-Cross-of-Lead-276099.html

 

http://litplans.com/authors/Avi.html

 

http://teacherweb.com/VA/PulaskiElementary/Crispin/wqr3.stm

 

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

 

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