The Book Reviews – Website

December 19, 2010

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick: Book Cover

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Author: Brian Selznick

Page Length: 525

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Hugo Cabret is a 12 year old orphan who is an accomplished thief and one who is skilled at fixing clocks and other machines. Hugo lives and “works” in a train station during the 1930’s in Paris, France. Before this, a museum fire killed Hugo’s father and Hugo’s subsequent guardian deserts him. As a result, Hugo becomes a recluse and manages to lead a quiet life. However, the discovery of an automated machine and a notebook fascinate Hugo as they may provide clues about his father.

This fascination leads Hugo into a world of trouble as he must open up about his secret life and risk being taken into custody by officials. Little does Hugo know that much of what he has been hiding will provide insight into not only his life but the past life of a local toy maker.

REVIEW: This was a very creative story to read. Half of the book’s tale is told using black and white illustrations. The pictures do not just accompany the text, they actually add detail to the written story.

Upon encountering each picture, readers are encouraged to spend time with each illustration. The author goes beyond just a tale of an orphan trying to find out the secrets behind an old machine, by delving into the topic of the early silent picture/movie industry.

The author, after much research, has taken the known facts about the real-life filmmaker of Georges Melies (as represented in the character of the toy maker) and imagined his personality.

The art of early cinema and the adventure of secret discoveries come together in this great book that will appeal to many readers. It is a nice blend of graphic novel, art work, and film slides.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: imagery, setting, historical influence

RELATED BOOKS: Before Hollywood: From Shadow Play to the Silver Screen by Paul Clee

ART CONNECTIONS: There are 284 pages of original drawings by the author, Brian Selznick, in The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

The book also contains drawings/sketches by Georges Melies (pages 284-297) as well as other works by Brian Selznick that were inspired by the works of Georges Melies.

For a complete listing of all film still and illustration credits, refer to page 531 of The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: For a complete listing of films mentioned in the book as well as films that were influential in the creation of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, refer to page 532 of the book.

Sources report that a film studio is looking into adapting the book into a movie for a 2011 release.

RELATED WEBSITES: (official website for the book) (type “Melies” into the search engine for links to Georges Meiles’ life story) (lessons and activities that relate to the book)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton


August 30, 2009


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Author: Eric Walters

Page Length: 101

Reading Level: 2.9

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Michael “The Moose” is a rising star on his football team. After winning the Division 2 championship game, Michael is ecstatic. However his joy is overshadowed by the fact that his coach, Coach Reeves, has decided to retire. Reeve’s replacement is a hot-shot, smooth-talker named Coach Barnes. Coach Barnes has new plans for his team and high aspirations at success at the Division 1 level.

In a matter of months, the school’s football facilities are totally renovated and the boys are placed under personal fitness guidance from a trainer named Tony. However, Tony not only provides the boys suggestions on how to improve their workouts on the new equipment, he persuades many of them to begin taking steroids.

Michael eventually begins to notice the effects of his steroids use (ie. acne, mood-swings, violence at home). The steroid usage at the school comes to a peak when Coach Reeves suddenly appears to explain that Coach Barnes and Tony have been taken into custody for their role in steroid usage/sales. Coach Reeves re-assumes the role of head coach and begins to repair the physical and emotional damage of his football team. Michael regrets his involvement in the steroid usage, while Coach Reeves expresses his faith that Michael will get beyond this dark chapter in his life.

REVIEW: I enjoyed this book. The comparisons between Coach Reeves and Coach Barnes are quite evident. The subject matter of steroids may be a little much for some, however there are several real world examples of sports players engaging in such illegal activity both at the professional level and amateur level. One such sport, Major League Baseball, has been in the news on countless occasions.  

I have found that many male students enjoy this book simply for the fact that it is about football. The addition of the steroids topic, brings the action and interest to another level. A discussion on the negative effects of steroids might prove beneficial. This book may even supplement a lesson in a health class.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause and effect, characterization, voice, dialogue

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: The topic of steroid usage – especially in a high school setting may be inappropriate for some.

RELATED BOOKS: No Problem by Gaetz

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Any Given Sunday” (1999)


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Freaky Green Eyes

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Freaky Green Eyes

Author: Joyce Carol Oates

Page Length: 341

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Franky (Francesca) Pierson struggles to determine what she really believes about life and her parents. What she knows is this: her mother has distanced herself, her father has a nasty temper, her father believes in perfect appearances, and life doesn’t always have a happy ending. Freaky, a new nickname Franky earns in a treacherous situation that she narrowly escapes, has to learn to open her eyes and really see for herself what is going on instead of letting others tell her how to think and feel. When Franky’s mother disappears, Freaky realizes just how dark and twisted her world has become.

REVIEW: I think that every young woman (and even young man) should read this book. It teaches all about domestic abuse and controlling behaviors. It would lend to an excellent discussion of what is and is not love. The book also makes an excellent point about how we must learn to see the world for ourselves and to evaluate the actions of those around us rather than just accepting their words or false fronts. Franky has to learn to act courageously despite the circumstances. In the beginning of the book, Freaky also narrowly escapes being raped because she ends up at a party and in a situation she should not be in. Great book  – a must read for young girls who need to understand the dangers of certain situations, the need for choosing relationships wisely, and what love does and does not look like.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: comparing text to self, compare and contrast, sequence of events, setting, conflict, resolution

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: “he’s unzipped his pant, he’s fumbling and panting” (page 16), “grabbed a hold of my arm and shook, shook, shook me so hard my teeth rattled in my head” (page 125)

RELATED BOOKS: Rape: A Love Story, Big Mouth, Ugly Girl, Sexy, Mother, Missing, Flew Away, The Gravedigger’s Daughter


REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

November 15, 2008

Bull’s Eye

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Bull’s Eye

Author: Sarah N. Harvey

Page Length: 98

Reading Level: 3.5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: After the death of Emily’s estranged Aunt Donna, a box arrives at Emily’s house. It is at this point that Emily discovers that Donna was actually her mother! In an attempt to struggle with her new emotions, Emily shuns Sandra (the woman who has taken care of her all her life). Sandra never told Emily that she was not her mother.

Emily goes through an identity crisis and run-offs to Vancouver to search for her unknown father. During her journey, Emily discovers that her father, Michael Keene, was a drama teacher at her mother’s (Donna’s) school. Emily also discovers that, while married to another woman, her father impregnated her mother while she was still a high school student. The scandal resulted in the firing of Michael Keene from the school and the birth of Emily. Emily is not able to speak to her father on the trip to Vancouver because, according to his son, Michael Jr., he has passed away.

Upon returning to her home, Emily continues to avoid Sandra. Emily takes out her frustrations in the form of spray-painting her school. This act later gets her into trouble with the police. In order to avoid jail-time, Emily participates in a Diversion program. She must complete volunteer work, attend counseling, and apologize to the student body.

While completing her community service at a children’s after-school program, Emily notices that one of the children, April, has suspicious burns on her body. Emily later reports this observation. Then, after some time, April is allowed to live with Emily and her mom who agree to take the child into foster-care. April asks Emily one day if they are sisters. Emily responds that no matter what happens or where they are, they will always be sisters (104).

REVIEW: I thought the author did a nice job closing the story. The last statement in my plot summary, where April asks Emily if they are sisters (when they really aren’t) and Emily responds that they are indeed sisters, shows that despite the realizations in Emily’s life about her REAL mother – life moves on. The title of “mother” and “sister” and “daughter” are as real as the relationship between people. Biological connections are one thing, but emotional connections are even stronger and more meaningful. Emily realizes this towards the end. The main issue that Emily had with Sandra is the fact that the truth was not revealed to her in the beginning.

Some student may respond to this story as it may relate to their own lives. Families now-a-days are comprised of all sorts of connections. The typical 4-person biological family of the past is not as prevalent as it once was. This book offers a different view-point on traditional standards as well as a little suspense in Emily’s search for her real father.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: simile (page 83), characterization, flashback, sequence of events

RELATED WEBSITES: (family structures, cool graph) (teacher’s guide to the book)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

July 7, 2008



Author: Patricia MacLachlan

Page Length: 83

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Journey and his sister Cat live with their grandparents because their father has left them and their mother has abandoned them. The siblings do hear from their mother periodically but only in the form of envelopes with money. Journey is eleven years old and begins to search for answers to his mother’s disappearance. His grandparents however are hesitant to provide any clues. In the meantime, Journey’s grandfather, a lover of photography, uses his camera as a means to showcase life and the hidden meanings behind it. He is a man of few words and lets his photographs do the talking.

One day, Journey discovers a box of old photographs of he and his mother that are torn up. Journey is told that his mother was the one who tore up the pictures. When his mother unexpectedly calls and is confronted by Journey on this discovery, she states that “they were only pictures”. Journey’s grandfather tries to tell his grandson that his mother never appreciated anything that showcased the past (photographs) and always felt compelled to move forward on new journeys – a woman always on the move.

Later in the story, Cat tells Journey that the reason why their grandfather takes so many photographs is that he wants to give back everything their mother took away from them or denied them – memories of family life.

Towards the end of the story, Journey realizes that after searching through so many pictures of his past, his grandfather was actually the one who took care of him when he was young. His grandparents are his family. They are his love. They are his answers.

REVIEW: This story starts off with a bang! It is fast-paced. However, I was disappointed in that I did not find out what happened to the mother. Perhaps that was intended – leaving the reader to answer the questions for themselves. I believe students who enjoy photography would be interested in this book on the surface level, however I feel the story is shrouded in too much mystery for most students.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: similes (pages 14 & 26), internal dialogue (page 31), symbolism (mama tearing up pictures)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: issue of parental abandonment

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: see first website below

RELATED WEBSITES: (website about parental abandonment in TV, movies, and other media) (discussion questions & simple activity) (questions & activities divided by chapter)

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

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

March 15, 2008

Among the Betrayed

Among the Betrayed

Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix

Page Length: 156

Reading Level: 5/6

Genre: Science Fiction, Mystery, Suspense


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: State Rights! Women Rights! Civil Rights! Well…now there is an idea called Third-Child Rights and only in the world of fiction (for now) in a book titled, Among the Betrayed (book three in a series). In this futuristic story, the government has established a policy in which parents may only have two children due to the shortage of food after recent draughts and famine.


Nina Idi, whose real name is Elodie Luria, is an illegal third-child (shadow child) who has been in hiding from the Population Police all her young life. After she falls for a boy named Jason she unknowingly becomes involved in his profitable plan to expose “exnays” – illegal shadow children trying to pass themselves off as legitimate citizens. However, the Population Police discover that Jason is turning in citizens that are legitimate! Subsequently, they arrest Jason and all those involved – including Nina.


The book begins its plot twist after the arrest. Working for the Population Police in the prison where Nina is held is a double agent. The double agents mission is to discover whether or not Nina was knowingly involved in Jason’s plan. A trio of street smart children – Percy, Matthias, and Alia are placed in the prison to aid this double agents plan. An action-packed adventure then begins when Nina escapes with the other three children to hide out in the woods. Percy, Matthias, and Alia go through a series of tests to confirm Nina’s loyalty to them (as they are illegal shadow children themselves). 


It is at this point in the book, on pages 142-145 that many of the questions in the book are revealed to Nina. Betrayal is a major problem in their world, and this is why secret plans and tests are in place to ensure the safety and protection of many of the illegal shadow children. Among the Betrayed describes a world in which illegal shadow children and their supporters are at odds with the government and the Population Police. Major political figures are in power, secret meetings are held, and public rallies occur in a hopeful effort to establish equality for all.


As the book comes to a close, it gives the reader a hint that the story is not over. Jason is working with a faction of the Population Police, in which the Nina’s friends and colleagues do not support. There is a sequel to this book, Among the Barons.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: Students may identify periods in history that contain similar themes of change and equality as reflected in this book. Page 55 gives the reader a great description of prison conditions during this time.


MOVIE, BOOK, & HISTORICAL CONNECTIONS: I enjoyed this book. It reminded me of the movie, Gattaca, and the book, The Last Book in the Universe. The idea of population control is really not a new concept – Ancient Greece practiced forms of it while current Chinese policy discourages families from having more than one child. One can only hope that the extreme actions that have occurred in this story, do not happen in our future lives.




REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton


March 11, 2008



Author: Caroline B. Cooney

Page Length: 198

Reading Level: 5th

Genre: Realistic Fiction, Mystery 


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: Fatality starts off with a bang! (great for a lesson on leads) Chapter 1 takes us from curiosity to action as Rose Lymond steals a police car in an attempt to take back her diary in which the police have confiscated while the reader is left unaware of the journal’s contents. Does the diary contain details of a brutal murder or a hit-and-run? Is there a list of love interests written down? Are there personal family secrets described in the journal? These are questions that the reader will ask oneself as they continue to read this action-packed book. In spite of these questions, what the reader does know in the beginning is that the police have re-opened a murder investigation, and Roses diary may provide some clues into this case. Could Roses diary provide information for this investigation or does her diary contain something entirely un-related?


Roses character is not the type to commit a crime such as stealing a police car unless there is a good reason. However, no one understands her thinking at this point in the story. Rose refuses to explain her actions, her diary, or her current state of mind. Her parents, the police, and some of her friends become worried and upset. Rose is concealing something very important! The police are certain that Rose is hiding vital information in regards to the brutal murder of Frannie Bailey that may have been committed by Milton Lofft, the father of Angelica, a school friend of Roses.


What the police don’t know is that there is no vital information in Roses journal about the murder of Frannie Bailey. However, her journal does contain information relating to a time when Mr. Lofft ran over an object in the road while Rose and Angelica were in the car. Rose cannot be sure that it was a person that Mr. Lofft ran over, yet she can’t rule it out. Newspapers did report a hit-and-run at about the time of Roses diary entry, yet even this incident is not what is tugging at Roses emotions. What could this event be? It is something even more personal and emotional to Rose than a brutal murder or a hit-and-run.


The emotional climax of the story happens around page 170 when the reader realizes what Rose has been hiding from us all. Her mother cheated on her father while he was away on business, and the result was the birth of Rose. Rose’s father is actually her step-father! When Rose found out about this incident, four years ago, she vowed to keep it hidden from everyone, especially her father.


The story does not end there. Verne, a former family friend of Roses, assumes that Rose has written about him in her diary – written about the time when he killed Frannie Bailey! This assumption causes Verne to attempt to kill Rose on the road in his SUV early on in the story, and it now drives him to kidnap her and possibly end her life! Verne however is caught by a police road block. It is at this time that Rose confesses everything to her supporters, especially her father. Roses father tells her that he already knew about the marital affair, yet still accepts Rose as his own daughter and always will.


This book may prove confusing for some students because it is layered with several plot twists and characters. It is a standard mystery that starts out well and wraps up nicely.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: This book provides good examples of flashback as well as conflict.




REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton


March 8, 2008

When Dad Killed Mom

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When Dad Killed Mom

Author: Julious Lester

Page Length: 199

Reading Level:


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: The title says it all.  Jeremy and Jenna’s mom was shot by their dad. Mom is dead, dad is in jail and two kids are left to try and make some sort of life for themselves in the aftermath. This is a disturbing book as you would imagine. It is well written, but I didn’t enjoy it, much as I didn’t enjoy watching Schindler’s List. That is not to say there is not value and it wasn’t compelling, there is and it was, it is just not the kind of book you read for fun.


The newspaper headline reads “College Shrink Kills Wife.” The story is told from both Jeremy and Jenna’s point of view. They take turns narrating. The mom, who has already been killed when the book starts, tells her story through a diary the son finds. This is obviously a family in trouble but the actions of the father come as a shock to the children. Throughout the book several deep dark family secrets are revealed that shake-up the characters and the reader. We find out that Jenna and her dad don’t have an entirely wholesome father daughter relationship just for an example.


I had to read this book in short segments and follow-up with something lighter. I would have a hard time recommending it to just anyone although, given the title, I think the reader is fairly well prepared for some of the content and tone.




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 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.




REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton


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