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November 3, 2008


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Author: Colin Frizzell

Page Length: 98

Reading Level: 3.5

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Chill is exactly that – a teenager with an even temper that doesn’t let life get him down. Even though he was born with a limp leg, he doesn’t let that bother him. He is a talented artist with a promising future. Sean is his good friend. Sean is the narrator of the story and an insightful & funny one at that.

When the school hires a new English teacher, things start to become interesting. Mr. Sfinkter makes it his mission to belittle all the students in his class. He is stern, crushes students’ hopes and dreams, and does not seem to show any concern for his pupils. All of the students realize this except for one – Sean. Mr. Sfinkter, for an unknown reason, takes a liking to Sean’s aspirations to become a writer. Sean is excited and begins a novel which he finishes and turns into Mr. Sfinkter for possible publishing.

On the flip-side, Mr. Sfinkter pokes fun at Chill’s desire to become an artist. This angers Chill who is set out to expose Mr. Sfinkter for the cruel man that he is. The entire faculty, view Mr. Sfinkter as a genuine and courteous man.  However, the students know better. The “face” that Mr. Sfinkter puts on for his teaching peers is the opposite of what he wears in class.

Chill first uses his drawing abilities to post (on the local news) an artistic rendering of a man suspected of flashing women. The man that Chill draws looks exactly like Mr. Sfinkter. The students enjoy this trick, however the faculty seem un-phased. Chill continues his quest to expose Mr. Sfinkter by altering his own mural for the school and adding a “few special touches”. At the murals unveiling, what is seen is a picture of Mr. Sfinkter with a “flaming face”. Chill’s mural is intended to depict Mr. Sfinkter in a bad light. Chill is called into the office along with others who follow to hear the gossip. Mr. Sfinkter is present as well. It is in the office that Mr. Sfinkter “blows up” and begins calling Chill names such as “daydreamer” and “gimp”. In this fit of rage, Mr. Sfinkter reveals to all his true nature.

Sean realizes that Mr. Sfinkter was never going to read his book or publish it and understands all that Chill has been going through. Their friendship, once strained with the arrival of Mr. Sfinkter, is now growing stronger.

REVIEW: I truly enjoyed this book. The topic will be of great interest to many students since I am sure that any student can remember a time when they had a teacher that was “less than nice” to them. The vivid and fresh dialogue of the character Sean was wonderful to read. It kept my interest. I must credit the great writing to author Colin Frizzell. The writing was authentic in that it was almost as if teenagers were writing this book expressing their concerns over Mr. Sfinkter.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: simile (page 5), descriptive paragraphs about teachers (page 8-9), descriptive paragraphs about reading/English (page 14)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: the topic of teachers being disrespectful to students


websites about “good teachers”

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton


September 21, 2008

LeRoy and the Old Man

LeRoy and the Old Man

Author: W. E. Butterworth

Page Length: 168

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: LeRoy Chambers is the sole witness to a murder by a local Chicago gang called the “Wolves”. To escape police questioning as well as the rath of the gang who does not want LeRoy to sqeal on them, LeRoy is sent by his mother to Pass Christian, Mississippi. It is here that LeRoy is to live with his grandfather. Upon arrival in a New Orleans bus station, LeRoy meets his grandfather for the first time. However, this is one of many firsts in LeRoy’s new adventure.

Living with his grandfather, LeRoy learns how to sleep on a boat, how to catch shrimp and crabs, how to saw lumber, how to buy and sell goods, and even how to drive a truck. LeRoy also learns about the Cajun culture of which is a part of his heritage. However, one thing that LeRoy is not able to learn much about is his father. His father ran away from he and his mother many years ago. LeRoy’s grandfather will not talk about LeRoy’s father because of this.

When the Chicago police come looking for LeRoy in Mississippi to testify as a material witness to the murder he saw, LeRoy has serious reservations. LeRoy understands that he is the only person who saw the Wolves murder an old woman in his housing development. However, LeRoy is scared that if the Wolves see him in court, he may not get out of Chicago alive. LeRoy’s grandfather as well as the local Mississipi sheriff agree that LeRoy must go to Chicago. However, LeRoy’s father (who arranges to surprise LeRoy in a New Orleans restaurant) thinks that LeRoy should steal away to New York with him. LeRoy, even though he is angered to see his father after so long, is tempted to accompany his dad. However, in the end, the respect LeRoy has for his grandfather and the new life he has started to build in Pass Christian, Mississippi trumps his father’s wishes as well as the fear he has to testify in court (page 165).

REVIEW: Despite the boring title and the less than appealing book cover, LeRoy and the Old Man was a great story. It was suspenseful, humorous, mysterious and gut wrenching. I loved the character of the grandfather. His dialogue kept me reading on and on. I was intrigued by the southern Cajun setting. The elements of Mississippi / Louisiana culture, food, dialect, and community pride are beautifully interwoven in this story. Also, the stark contrasts between life in Chicago and life in New Orleans is effective.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause/effect, comparison/contrast (grandfather, father, son)

RELATED WEBSITES: (culture referred to in the story) (official site of Pass Christian, Mississippi)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

April 10, 2008

A Fate Totally Worse Than Death

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A Fate Totally Worse Than Death

Author: Paul Fleishman

Page Length: 124

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Danielle, Brooke and Tiffany enjoy their status as beautiful people at Cliffside High. When the desirable male students take an interest in Helga, the new exchange student from Norway, the girls are not pleased. The girls plot to get rid of Helga. We learn they caused the death of another female student last year and we learn that they are mean spirited. When the girls are performing community service at a local nursing home, they speak hatefully of the old people there right in front of them, making fun of the fact that they can’t speak, or stop the girls from eating the chocolates brought by a family member and various other types of insulting behavior. Gradually, through a series of misunderstandings, and the fact that Danielle, Brook and Tiffany suddenly and mysteriously begin ageing rapidly, the girls come to believe that Helga is the ghost of the girl who died last year come back to get her revenge by making them old, deaf, gray, etc. We find out in the end that Helga is not a ghost and one of the recovered ‘old’ people from the nursing home has taken her own revenge on the girls by poisoning them with a drug that causes people to age.

REVIEW: Think Mean Girls with a horror twist. Love Paul Fleishman, didn’t care for this book. The girls are vain and hateful with no redeeming qualities. The older lady who gets revenge on them is mean too. No lesson is learned that can be used in life. The girls remain old and infirm. I also did not like the message that growing old is worse than anything, even death. The book is written as a parody and does have funny moments, but I just didn’t really enjoy the humor and I can usually find something to laugh about in almost any situation. It is a quick read and may be hilarious to some.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: People not to emulate

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Flip discussion of student’s death, condoms, Playboy magazine, lots of talk about body parts ageing.

RELATED BOOKS: Les Liasons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liasons)

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Mean Girls & Cruel Intentions


REVIEWED BY: Sherry Hall

January 31, 2008

My Land Sings: Stories from the Rio Grande

My Land Sings: Stories from the Rio Grande

Author: Rudolfo Anaya

Page Length: 176

Reading Level: 5th

Genre: Short Story, Folklore, Fables


REVIEW, PLOT SUMMARY, & AREAS FOR TEACHING: Every English teacher must read the Preface of this book on pages 7-16! In these lines, the author portrays a genuine opinion about the richness of reading and story telling. The Preface is also important in that it highlights the 10 short stories that follow. Some of the tales in this book are from the Hispanic and Native-American folklore tradition, while others are original stories created by the author himself. Each story teaches a lesson and draws upon the culture of those that lived near the Rio Grande Valley. The lessons in this compilation of stories include parental obedience, death’s role in life, consequence of keeping secrets, saving for a rainy day, respect for elders, explanations of natural events, and the search for eternal youth.


Students will likely recognize the first story titled “Lupe and la Lorona”. I believe there is a version of this story in the World Literature text. This tale is about a woman (Lorona) who is threatened that her baby will be taken from her. She then runs near the river where she and the baby “fall into the water”. Some believe Lorona intentionally threw the baby into the water. The child is lost and the woman is left to walk along the river mourning for the loss of her baby. Lorona’s mourning takes the form of crying. The lesson is that children should not disobey their parents and travel near the river without permission for fear that Lorona will appear. The main character in this first story, Lupe, learns this lesson and several others.


“Dulcinea” is about a girl of the same name who wants to break free from the chains of her present life. She decides to disobey her parents’ orders and go to a dance with a charming man. The man turns out to be an evil spirit with hands of goat hooves. As punishment, Dulcinea is psychologically unable to move on in life. They say if you listen to the wind closely, you can hear Dulcinea’s crying pain.


“The Three Brothers” contains religious themes linked to the issue of greed. The family has three sons, two of which took the road of selfishness which led them to hell – depicted as a city. The third brother went down the honorable path and was led to a mansion – referred to as heaven. The third brother is rewarded with a full and prosperous life.


“Dona Sebastiana” is about a poor man, Baltazar, who steals a chicken then refuses to share it with the “Lord” and the “Virgin Mary”. Out of fear, the man does end up sharing his meal with “Death” – referred to as Dona Sebastiana. For the kindness to Death, Dona Sebastiana grants Baltazar the power to heal people. However, the man must not try to heal a person when Death is at the “head of the bed”. Due to his new power, Baltazar became very wealthy. Then a man named Don Mateo came to the healer because his daughter was sick. Even though Death was at the head of the bed, Baltazar healed the young woman. Death later took the life of Baltazar saying one can never cheat death. In the end you always lose.


“The Shepherd Who Knew the Language of Animals” is about a boy who, upon helping a serpent, is granted the power to hear the communication of animals. There was one catch: he could never tell anyone about his power or else he would die. With this power, the boy found out that a treasure was buried near a tree that he was at. People questioned where the poor boy got the money. An arrest was never made though. Then the boy met a girl who wanted to find out what secret her lover had been keeping from her. The boy was about to tell her until a dream came to the girl. Upon experiencing the dream, the girl came to the conclusion that secrets belong to the people that own them. She was content on not knowing her lover’s secret about the animals.


“The Fountain of Youth” is about adventurers who were willing to sell their soul to evil in exchange for eternal youth. However, evil did not deliver on its deal. Instead, evil trapped these adventurers forever in its prison. The moral: never make a deal with the devil.


“The Lost Camel” is about identifying people who are honest. The Virgin Mary is present in this story. An apple cut in two is used as the means to identify honesty in individuals. This story was rather simple.


“The Miller’s Good Luck” is about the role of luck versus careful planning in making a man rich. Two men in this story set out to prove each other wrong by giving some money to a man named Pedro Bernal. Pedro ends up losing some of the fortune the men give him. In the end, by luck, he discovers a diamond in a fish and becomes wealthy. Afterwards, the lost money from the beginning returns. The two men from the initial lines, still do not resolve their conflict.


“Sipa’s Choice” is about a boy who disobeys his father and his god’s wishes to take care of the fish. This request was the only one the god made in return for the boy’s healed leg. The boy grew too proud and viewed the teachings of his father as meaningless. In return, the god turned the boy and his people into fish.


“Coyote and Raven” is a creative tale about how man and woman came to live on the Earth’s surface with animals. It also told the story of how the raven got its black feathers and how the coyote lost its long tail. Furthermore, this story illustrated the reasons why humans fight amongst each other. I found this story to be the most entertaining of all of the tales in this book.


I like that there is a glossary in the back with Hispanic terms that were used throughout the book. This book would be great for students who tire easily with long chapters and lengthy books. The short tales can be easily read in 5-10 minutes.




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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