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January 1, 2011

The Road of the Dead

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The Road of the Dead

Author: Kevin Brooks

Page Length: 339

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Ruben has always been different. He can sense what others are thinking or feeling even when they’re not near him. One night he senses that his sister Rachel is in pain and is gripped by fear. The next day, his family finds out that Rachel was murdered. He and his older brother Cole set out on to avenge her death and find out who killed her. Before long, they are themselves victims of violence. Trapped in a web of deceit and surrounded by people who want to silence them permanently, Cole and Ruben must fight their way out. Their only goal is to take Rachel’s body home for a proper burial... if they can make it back alive.

REVIEW: Typical Kevin Brooks book – edgy, violent, dark, foul mouthed, violent… To some teens though – this might be interesting. I found the book to be a little shallow and unrealistic – 2 boys taking on an entire town – what are the chances? The fact that the girl has been raped and murdered is a little dark (not something the teenage mind always needs more of). The review on the back of the book mentions “brutal, vivid violence” – I totally concur. I would not read this book as a class. On a historical note, the road of the dead was a passageway, funeral processions walked along to arrive to the final resting place of the body many years ago.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: imagery, author’s purpose, sequence of events, cause and effect

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: many – violence, shooting, torture, rape, dead bodies, etc.

RELATED BOOKS: Lucas, Candy, Being


REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor


December 19, 2010

The Afterlife

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The Afterlife by Gary Soto: Book Cover

The Afterlife

Author: Gary Soto

Page Length: 161

Reading Level: 6.1

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Chuy’s just a normal seventeen year old. He likes to hang out with his friends and he’s hoping to snag a girlfriend soon. But fate has another plan. At a club his mother warned him about, Chuy is stabbed multiple times and left for dead on the bathroom floor. Why Chuy? Why now?

REVIEW: This book has a lot of potential. I think it would be an excellent read for many students. One of the great teachable moments of this book occurs when both Chuy and Crystal reflect on their choices and the course of their young lives. Students learn that Crystal killed herself out of fear and the Chuy’s killer lives by and in fear of those around him. The tragic deaths are explored in terms of their effects on the families, friends, and even strangers around them. Students can reflect how we all matter to more people than we may think and how far reaching one’s influence really is on others. Being a book about death – it’s message is all about what it means to live and about how life should be about taking chances and facing our fears.

The book begins with Chuy alive and in a club where he is suddenly stabbed to death in the bathroom. The rest of the book is about Chuy’s acceptance and exploration of his death as he travels about his neighborhood as a ghost. Chuy makes friends and discoveries, and he learns even more about his life as he witnesses the effect his death has on others.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: comparing text to self, compare and contrast, sequence of events, writing styles – reflective

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: stabbing (pages 2-3), death, suicide, fighting

RELATED BOOKS: Buried Onions, Baseball in April, A Summer Life, Accidental Love, The Lovely Bones (A Sebold)

RELATED WEBSITES:  (awesome book trailer)

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

July 21, 2008

Missing Since Monday

Missing Since Monday

Author: Ann M. Martin

Page Length: 167

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Mystery, Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Maggie Ellis and her brother Matt have been given the responsibility of taking care of their step-sister Courtenay while their parents travel on their long-awaited honeymoon. Leigh, their step-mother, is not too comfortable with giving up her parental responsibilities for a week, but she finally agrees.

Maggie feels that Leigh does not view her as a responsible young adult. Even though their relationship has been amicable ever since Leigh became Maggie and Matt’s “new mom”, Maggie feels that there has always been a lack of trust.

On Monday morning, a few days after her parents depart, Maggie puts Courtenay on the bus for school. However, Courtenay does not make it into the school building! Someone abducts her! Maggie does not realize this until she calls the school in the afternoon because Courtenay obviously does not show up back home.

Neighbors, police, the media, and other agencies all become involved in the search for this missing child. Maggie’s parents quickly return home once they are notified. Leigh is even colder and more disapproving than before while Maggie feels guilty.

In the midst of the emotional trauma, a massive search party of the town is organized as well as several fundraising projects. Thousands of posters are also created and distributed in an attempt to publicize the situation.

A few people are labeled suspects – Leigh’s ex-husband and Maggie’s mother, Jessica Ellis. Leigh’s ex-husband is found to have a strong alibi, therefore the focus shifts to Maggie’s mother. No one has physically seen Jessica Ellis for years, and Jessica Ellis only communicates with her children through postcards. Unfortunately Maggie’s father finally reveals the truth to his kids. When they were young, Jessica was charged with emotional abuse and therefore lost all custody rights to Maggie and Matt. Maggie has a hard time believing this and sets out to prove that her long-lost mother is innocent of any wrong-doing.

Towards the end of the book, Jessica Ellis contacts Maggie and asks to meet her and Matt. Upon arrival to a shady diner, Maggie and Matt discover their mother “found Courtenay” and is going to return her to their family. However, this is not the truth. The police discover that Jessica Ellis abducted Courtenay as a means of revenge against her ex-husband and was planning on returning Courtenay to Maggie and Matt as a gift for all the she has not given her children in the past. Jessica Ellis is subsequently transferred to a psychiatric hospital. 

REVIEW: I enjoyed this book. It was fast-paced and emotionally charged! I didn’t want to put it down. The dialogue and characterization added to the excitement of the story line. Child abduction is a very real issue that continues to be a problem in our society. This book highlights the emotions attached to such an incident. My only criticism of this book is that I felt the ending was rushed. However, the suspense building throughout the story was great. Whenever the “green station wagon” entered the scene, my attention was totally focused. Students should have no trouble reading this book as the readability level is easy.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: foreshadowing, predictions, characterization, compare/contrast (Maggie vs. Leigh)

TOUCHY AREAS: The subject matter is about the abduction of a child.

RELATED BOOKS: Journey (both mothers have an issue with parental responsibility and are nomadic), The Ransom of Red Chief

MOVIE CONNECTIONS:Scream” (1996) & “Kindergarten Cop” (1990)

RELATED WEBSITES: (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) (highlights disappearance of two famous men, mentioned in the book) (rules to teach children about strangers) (online copy of the book)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

May 21, 2008



Author: Norah McClintock

Page Length: 100

Reading Level: 2.1

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Josh is a troubled teen with a violent hand and experience in theft. Josh has a hard time getting along with others – especially if they are bullies. Travis is just such a guy. Josh once had an altercation with Travis after witnessing him picking on another kid. As a result, Josh punched Travis.

On another “purse snatching” venture, Josh’s best friend, Scott, surprisingly snitches on him. As a result, Josh is sent to anger management classes (dog training classes). When Josh walks into his first day of anger management class, he realizes that he will have to work in the same environment as Travis and Scott! Josh will have to manage not only humans, but dogs with serious behavior problems. Patience and kindness will be required in order for the dogs to respond well to Josh’s training.

As Josh struggles to train his dogs and ignore Travis and Scott, he attempts to stay out of the way of his brother’s nagging wife with whom he lives. Later on in the story, Josh is questioned about a recent attack on Scott that has left the boy unconscious. The police suspect Josh because the weapon in which was used to hit Scott is Josh’s.

It is later discovered that Travis is the culprit in the attack. Josh successfully completes his anger management classes and reconciles with his best friend Scott.

REVIEW: This book was very easy to read and follow. It gave a simple message about reconciling with old friends and realizing the need to control one’s anger. I did not realize that dog training classes were an alternative to traditional anger management courses. I would recommend this book to struggling readers.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: similes (page 31), foreshadowing (page 18), predictions (page 32)

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Anger Management (movie – 2003)


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

April 29, 2008

Midnight Magic

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Midnight Magic

Author: Avi

Page Length: 247

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fantasy

PLOT SUMMARY: Mangus, the magician, has been banned by King Claudio from practicing all forms of magic. He now lives quietly with his wife Sophia and his servant boy Fabrizio. One late evening, Mangus is summoned to King Claudio’s castle and escorted there by the king’s trusted advisor, Count Scarazoni. Upon arrival, the king orders Mangus to free his daughter, Princess Teresina, from a haunting ghost in the castle. Mangus tells the king that he no longer practices or believes in magic. In response, the king tells Mangus that he shall either help his daughter or die. (In the king’s mind, a marriage between Princess Teresina and Count Scarazoni must occur soon).

Conspiracy resides all throughout the kingdom. Princess Teresina feels that the ghostly image she encounters at night is her murdered brother (prince and heir to the throne). But we find out that the prince is actually alive and aiding the princess in the downfall of Scarazoni (who think the prince is dead). We also see an eager Count Scarazoni excited about his impending marriage to Princess Teresina. With an official marriage, Scarazoni would eventually claim the throne himself. Perhaps Scarazoni has had something to do with the “death” of the prince! On a larger scale, the citizens of Pergamontio want to see the downfall of Count Scarazoni! They feel he would be an evil leader.

Now Mangus is unaware of most of this initially because people in this story keep many things secret. They hide in secret, they talk in secret, they do things in secret. Mangus believes there has to be a reason for the ghostly images and that magic is not the answer. Rather he uses his skill of reasoning to deduce the answers throughout the book and finally comes to an answer that the “ghost” is Princess Teresina herself and her mother, the Queen (page 197).

However, Mangus does not make this knowledge public yet. During a riveting “magic show” to convince the king and Scarazoni that there is a “ghost”, Count Scarazoni reveals to all that he was the man who orchestrated an assassination on the prince. The count now has been exposed as the murderer and evil man all of Pergamontio has believed.   

REVIEW: This book was an easy-read. I am glad that it was because there were a lot of plot twists and turns. The story line kept me guessing. I did not predict that the Queen was involved in the conspiracy. The author, Avi, is a great story-teller.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: characterization, foreshadowing, theme, conflict, similes (page 17), vocabulary (sentries, parapet, portcullis, etc.), pages 82-83 and 100-101 are helpful in understanding the story

RELATED WEBSITES: (excellent site to teach the TEKS of characterization, theme, foreshadowing, and conflict)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

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