The Book Reviews – Website

August 30, 2009


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Author: Paul Fleischman

Page Length: 137

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW: Breakout, on the surface, is a story about a young girl stuck in a major traffic jam on the freeway of Los Angeles. The traffic jam is symbolic of Del’s search for identity and purpose. As a 17 year old girl, Del has faked her death and has run away from her latest foster home. Stuck on the highway, she meets a number of individuals whom she has conversations with. Over the course of several hours, Del changes her name, her voice, her background, and the facts about her life as she speaks with the others stranded on the freeway. Del has no clear sense of identity, hence the motivation for her to strike out on her own path.

Flash forward 8 years to Del’s one woman stage show about a traffic jam. Del is now Elena Franco performing a host of monologues about a traffic jam. Both “traffic jam stories” are slightly similar, yet reveal that as Del has aged 8 years, her recollections of the Los Angeles traffic jam are more positive and accepting. With her success on the stage as Elena Franco, Del has found her identity and place in the world.

Those who enjoy theater and monologues will find this story a great resource. There are some precious nuggets in these pages. As far as a basic story for pleasure reading, this book would not appeal to the masses. It may be too confusing for a struggling reader to understand and follow.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: monologue, drama, script, setting, flash-back, flash-forward, humor, voice


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

November 2, 2008

Middle Row

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Middle Row

Author: Sylvia Olsen

Page Length: 100

Reading Level: 2.4

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Raedawn (a Native American) and Vince (a white American) are dating in a town where racial tensions run high. Neither family totally embraces the couple’s bond.

When a fellow classmate, Dune, turns up missing from school, not many people are motivated to find out the truth about this boy’s disappearance. As Vince, Raedawn, and her Uncle Dave dig deeper into the disappearance of Dune, they stumble across a marijuana operation in the backwoods country. Upon their discovery, all three are chased out of the woods by gun shots and dogs. The “detectives” turn to the police to report what they have seen. As a result, Dune and his mother Ocean are forced from their hiding place in the woods to a farmhouse basement.

When Uncle Dave, who used to date Ocean, comes face to face with Ocean and Dune, it hits him that Dune is his son. Uncle Dave and Ocean make amends for their past actions, and the story closes with Uncle Dave accepting Dune into his “family”. A celebration of Dune commences at the Reservation.

REVIEW: This book was a simple story about how in the midst of racial tensions, family can transcend hatred and bigotry. The character of Dune is an outcast of mixed race, yet finally discovers his true family in his long-lost father. I enjoyed this book, however I wished that the character of Dune had some more dialogue. The lack of dialogue used by the author for Dune was probably for effect, but it would have been nice to know a little bit more about this character. 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: simile (page 41), characterization of Raedawn (page 71)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: “beach bastards” (page 20), weed operation (page 55), marijuana mentioned (page 56), “damn racist” (page 79), racial tension throughout the book


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

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

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

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