The Book Reviews – Website

September 28, 2009


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Author: Vickie Grant

Page Length: 101

Reading Level: 2.8

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Chris is tired of his life of growing up on the bad side of town. One day, he finds a wallet lying in the street. Chris matches the physical description of the guy and assumes his identity. The money and credit cards inside the wallet help finance Chris’s new life as Andrew Kirk Ashbury. Although, Chris means to stop by and give the wallet back, events keep occurring that distract him. Will Chris really be able to become Andrew or will his true identity be revealed?

REVIEW: This is the typical Orca book. The sentences are short. The lesson taught in this book is that there is no real right or wrong here. The character’s only remorse is that he almost got away with it. The story lacks depth and never really explores the consequences that Chris will face. The story ends with Chris being arrested as Andrew for a long list of crimes. Perhaps the only good lesson to teach from this story are the philosophical statements about the “grass being greener” and things not always being as they seem.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, internal conflict, external conflict, character traits, dialogue

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: subject of theft, smoking, drinking, language

RELATED BOOKS: Dead-End Job, Pigboy, Quid Pro Quo

RELATED MOVIES: “Identity Theft: The Michelle Brown Story”


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


December 1, 2008


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Author: Roald Dahl

Page Length: 240

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Matilda is only 4 years old but teaches herself to read and reading she does!  She spends her afternoons at the library reading novels by noted authors while her mother plays “Bingo” and her dad makes crooked deals at his used car lot.  She tires of their verbal abuse and put downs, and begins to invent practical jokes to get back at them.

When Matilda enters school, Miss Honey (her teacher) discovers she can multiply any two numbers and find the answer and reads like an adult. When she rushes to tell her parents, she realizes that Matilda’s parents put little value on education and could care less that Matilda is a genius.

At school, the entire faculty and student population must fight the principal and her physical abusive ways of tormenting others.  Matilda bonds with Ms. Honey and learns that she was abused as a child.  She makes a plan to use her newly found powers to help Ms. Honey; and, get rid of the dreaded school principal.

REVIEW: Elementary and junior high children would enjoy this book. The verbal and physical abuse towards Matilda and the other students made me grimace as I read, but in the end, the parents and principal (the bad guys) lose and Matilda and Ms. Honey have a happy ending. Dahl writes with great description and creates his characters quite visually.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Conflict, Character, and Making Predictions

RELATED BOOKS: Witches, James and the Giant Peach



REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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


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Author: Lesley Choyce

Page Length: 102

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Jeremy is a sixteen year old boy who has a love for guitars and rock and roll. Ever since his father gave him a guitar as a gift, playing music has been his passion. Jeremy is part of a band with two others guys – Alistair and Steve. All three enter a Battle of the Bands competition at a local bar – “The Dungeon”, in hopes that they may secure a place as a regular musical act there. “Thunderbowl” is their name and rock and roll is their game!

There is one major catch – Jeremy is underage in this bar that he is to play in and no one but his band mates know this. Also, Jeremy’s parents do not know that he is spending his time at “The Dungeon”. Jeremy ultimately lies to get in and his band mates and he play their hearts out. They win the competition and are awarded the opportunity to play at the bar several nights a week. This means Jeremy will be out late – past 1:00am.

Once his parents discover that he is out so late, his homework is not being completed, his front tooth gets knocked out, and he is failing in school, they demand that Jeremy quit the band. Jeremy disobeys them and even considers dropping out of school for love of music. Even his teacher, Mr. Langford, tries his best to talk Jeremy into staying in school, but Jeremy has eyes only for the guitar.

One night while playing at “The Dungeon”, Jeremy spots his teacher in the crowd. Again, Mr. Langford tries to convince Jeremy to focus more on his studies. Jeremy seems continually oblivious to the teacher’s advice and encouragement. At around this time, Jeremy gives up with his parents nagging and leaves his home to live with his band mates.

Jeremy eventually misses the comforts of his family and home and grows tired of the violence that occurs at the club between his band and another local group. After several incidents, Jeremy comes up with a compromise between the two bands that allows both to play without any feelings of jealously. It is at this time that Jeremy realizes the idea of moderation. He understands that he immersed himself too much into his music at the start and did not try to achieve a balance between work (school) and play (music). Eventually Jeremy finds this balance and is well on his way to success – his band mates and he are soon to cut a demo track in a studio.

REVIEW: I enjoyed reading this book. It was easy to follow and was an enjoyable story. Most high school students have “big dreams” such as football players, rap artists, and rock stars. However few realize that it does take a sense of balance and direction in order to achieve greatness. A discussion on the effects of school on one’s life would be appropriate.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: foreshadowing & predictions (page 9), internal conflict

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: There are several references to “booze”, “beer”, “cigarettes”, and a “bar”. Also, one of the teachers in this book is placed at a bar with liquor in the presence of one of his students.

RELATED BOOKS: Fat Kid Rules the World (great to use as a comparison contrast reading)

MOVIE & MEDIA CONNECTIONS: “Rockstar” (2001), Video Games – Rockband & Guitar Hero

RELATED WEBSITES: (Article about Rockband vs. Guitar Hero)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

July 1, 2008

Somewhere in the Darkness

Somewhere in the Darkness

Author: Walter Dean Myers

Page Length: 168

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction, Adventure

PLOT SUMMARY: Jimmy Little is a 14 year old living in Harlem. Mama Jean and Jimmy live together in a small but cozy apartment. Mama Jean leaves for work before Jimmy leaves for school. Even though Jimmy knows he should be in school, daydreams fill his mind and he often ends up wandering around. Jimmy’s unlocking the apartment door one afternoon, when a stranger approaches. That stranger is Jimmy’s father, and he’s just been released from prison.

Crab, Jimmy’s father, wants to take Jimmy with him to start a new life. Jimmy is afraid and part of him wants desperately to stay with Mama Jean and the life he knows. Yet, the other part of him wants to discover more about who he is, and he figures that his father just might have some insight. They set off on a strange and unpredictable journey from one place to another. Jimmy discovers parts of his past and the life his mother and father shared. Jimmy’s adventures along the way teach him to have strength and courage. As his father’s illness worsens, Jimmy is faced with a difficult decision. Does he stay by Crab’s side or return to Mama Jean? Can he connect with Crab and discover the truth about the father he has always longed for?

REVIEW: Myers writes a moving story about the struggles of a young boy and his father. The reader gets a sense of Jimmy’s depression and a potential learning disability. The narrator tells us that Jimmy scored high on the tests and the school officials can’t figure out why someone as smart as he is doesn’t do better in school. Jimmy’s daydreams are portrayed and explain why he can’t always concentrate.

Once Jimmy’s father arrives, the reader understands why Jimmy fears the unknown but also longs for a relationship. Crab’s disoriented behavior and his terminal illness only compound matters. Their erratic journey across America to find the truth isn’t always logical. This is an unusual story filled with strange twists and turns. I did not finish it with a sense of completeness – only a sense that Jimmy had learned more about his father and become strengthened by his trials. The one truly beautiful moment from the book is when Jimmy talks about one day when he becomes a father; he plans to share something with his child every day and to really know his child. Jimmy realizes that moments together are fleeting and he plans to make the most of them. On the end note alone, the novel is worth teaching students about.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: context clues, tone, author’s purpose, conclusions, generalizations, and predictions, mood, characters, setting, conflict and resolution

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: drinking, criminal behavior, stealing

RELATED BOOKS: Slam!, Fallen Angels, Monster, The Beast


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

May 1, 2008

Across Five Aprils

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Across Five Aprils

Author: Irene Hunt

Page Length: 227

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Jethro Creighton is nine year old boy growing up on a farm in Southern Illinois during the time of the Civil War. His sister Jenny is in love with the young school teacher, Shadrach Yale. Jethro’s older brothers and cousin have gone away to fight – all but one of them for the North. Jethro’s family knows loss well – four children have already died. What will happen to three off fighting in the War?

When Jethro’s father becomes ill, Jethro must assume the duties of manhood before his time. Plowing the fields and caring for the animals falls on his shoulders. He and young Jenny must help their mother manage affairs. Attacks on the family begin in retaliation for his brother’s involvement on the “wrong side” of the war. One of the boys deserts and Jethro decides that President Lincoln is the only one he can turn to for help. Will the war tear his family and his country apart?

REVIEW: If you are a history buff, you will love this book. Commanders and battles are described in detail. Teachers could trace the battles recounted in the book and create a map of happenings as they occur during the Civil War and in sequence throughout the novel. Jethro is a strong role model who weathers the storm, accepts responsibility, and battles moral decisions. He takes action and is able to empathize with both sides of an issue and to see that often there is no clear black and white to any issue.

Personally, I found the book laborious to read. I would like to have been spared the minute details of battles and commander inadequacies and given an overall perspective. I would not recommend this book for struggling readers below a sixth grade level.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: theme, setting, cause and effect, sequence, bias, inferences, summarization

RELATED BOOKS: Killer Angels, Gone with the Wind, The Red Badge of Courage, Girl in Blue, Cold Mountain

from Reluctant Witnesses: Children’s Voices from the Civil War—nonfiction by Emmy E. Werner

“Come Up from the Fields Father” and “An Army Corps on the March”—poems by Walt Whitman

“Tenting on the Old Camp Ground”—song lyrics by Walter Kittredge

from When Heaven and Earth Changed Places—memoir by Le Ly Hayslip

“Lament of Ben Hai River“—poem by Nhat Hanh (translated by the author and Helen Coutant)

RELATED MOVIES: Gone with the Wind, The North and the South, The Red Badge of Courage


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

January 23, 2008


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Author: Sharon Creech

Page Length: 180

Reading Level: 5th

Genre: Poetry


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: The cover of this book is very appealing. A clean white background with a shiny yellow/orange apple attracts the attention of the writer. However the title, Heartbeat, does not exactly fit with the front illustration. One would think this book might be about nutrition, health, or dieting. However, that is not the case at all.


The story is written in the format of poetry. It is easy to follow. The main character is Annie. Her greatest joy is running, and she runs everywhere! Annie also loves to draw.


However, Annie has fears too. She has stated ones such as war, being left alone, and dying. She also has unstated fears such as change and growing up. Many things in her life are occurring all at once. Her mother is pregnant, her grandfather who lives with her is forgetting many things, and her best-friend Max has good days and bad ones. In this story, Annie is trying to make sense of it all.


Starting on page 51, the author begins to use the tool of footnotes, for humor and effect. Annie has learned about footnotes in Mr. Welling’s class. On page 59, we are introduced to the apple assignment in Annie’s art class. The students each have a real apple from which to draw. They are to draw one picture of an apple a day for 100 days. The teacher feels that through this assignment, the students will discover the “un-ordinary-ness” of an apple. As weeks progress, Annie’s apple changes in appearance. The apple is a metaphor for change in Annie’s life.


The apple ultimately gets bitten into by Annie’s grandpa. At first, Annie is sad. But then she realizes that she can alter her project by drawing the apple with the bite in it. Each picture from then on would have less and less of the apple exterior drawn. In the end, what will remain will be the tiny seed. The seed is a metaphor for new beginnings, life, and creation.


The author enjoys the use of repetition. For example, “flip, flip, flip” give us a sense that we can see pages turning in Grandpa’s photo album as he attempts to remember his past. Annie is experiencing the pain and confusion her grandfather is going through. It appears that he has a condition similar to Alzheimer’s. Also, “thump-thump, thump-thump”, makes us feel as if we can hear a baby’s heartbeat in the womb of Annie’s mother. Annie is mesmerized by the fact that an “alien baby”, as she calls it, is growing inside her mother.


The quietist moment in the book is when Annie’s new brother, Joey, is born. Here he is lying on a blue sheet in the birthing center and not moving. I was shocked and did not know what would happen next. Fortunately, with a few puffs of oxygen, the baby begins to breathe normal.


In terms of more change, Max (Annie’s running partner) joins a school team. Also, girls begin to feel attracted toward him. Annie is not fazed by this and desires Max to be her running partner for a little while longer. She wants to hold on to her present friendship with him, still knowing that change is inevitable.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: This story is a simple one about adolescent change. I would use this book to talk about theme and poetic devices. On page 106, I was amused by the section titled, “Forbidden Words”. Mr. Welling, posted a list of words on the board that students are not to use: very, like, ya know?, uh, well, stuff, and yeah. I found this funny because I had come up with a similar list myself in my classroom. I believe I would add the words “stuff” and “cuz” to the list. On page 120, a “Treasure of Words” list is shown. Mr. Welling lists words such as thrilling, sensational, and exhilarating. These are to replace the forbidden words in class.




REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton


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