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June 5, 2010

Peter and the Starcatchers

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Peter and the Starcatchers

Author: Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Page Length: 451

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Peter is a young boy in an orphanage who’s had the misfortune of being sent by ship to work for the evil King Zarboff – the third of Rundoon. The rumor is that the king often feeds his servants to his snake. Peter and other young boys from the orphanage are placed on an old ship. The ill fated journey begins with a rough and gnarly crew, a small room below deck to sleep in, and supper that has things crawling in it. Peter soon discovers that there’s secret cargo on the ship. Molly, the daughter of a famous man sailing on the accompanying ship, mysteriously appears when Peter tries to get a good look at the cargo. He’s seen men exposed to it act strangely and felt the magical presence for himself. Before long, Molly and Peter must forge an alliance to keep the cargo safe. Black Stache, the meanest pirate to ever roam the seas, and his crew are bearing down upon them. There’s little time to plot their escape and to save the cargo. Will Peter and Molly be able to get away in time? Will they keep the secrets cargo hidden? What hope do they have of getting off the ship and not becoming the next victim to walk the plank? And what happens to young Peter that will someday turn him into the infamous Peter Pan?

REVIEW: This story is fast paced and entertaining. If you’ve ever wondered why Peter never grew up and what made him such a great flyer, then you’ve found the right story. Readers become engrossed in the battle between good and evil. The ship’s on the way to King Zarboff but the magic cargo isn’t to be given to him. Then of course, there’s Black Stache, who’ll stop at nothing to get what he wants – and he wants the magic cargo. Students will be entertained by the plot twists and turns. Students who enjoy fantasy books will like the idea of magic that falls to Earth and must be found and protected by Starcatchers to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Students would benefit from discussing what they know and have read about Peter Pan before reading the story to prepare them to learn the early years of his life. Overall, it is an enjoyable book.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: making predictions, cause and effect, inferences, character analysis and motivations, connecting text to other text, sequence of events, author’s purpose, plot, elements of fantasy

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: pirates, sword fights, giant crocodiles, belittling of others

RELATED BOOKS: Peter and the Shadow Thieves, Peter and the Secret of Rundoon, Peter and the Sword of Mercy, Peter Pan

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Disney’s Peter Pan, Peter Pan (2003), Hook (1991)

There is a movie based on this book currently in production.


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

February 15, 2008

The Slave Dancer

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The Slave Dancer

Author: Paula Fox

Page Length:  138 (including a brief Italian glossary)

Reading Level: 6


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: The Slave Dancer is an emotional and revealing book about the slave trading practices in the South. Set before the Civil War, the book is a graphic depiction of the atrocities of slavery. Jessie, a thirteen year old boy, is growing up in New Orleans with his mother, a seamstress, and a younger sister. During the daytime, Jessie roams about playing his fife. Although he’s been warned by his mother to stay away from the slave market, his fascination often draws him near. Sent out for candles so that his mother can do her work to support the family, Jessie ventures out to his aunt’s house to borrow some. On his way his home is kidnapped and taken aboard a ship. With no hope for escape and no way to get word to his mother, Jessie is doomed to make the fateful voyage with the crew.


The crew (reminiscent of Treasure Island) consists of a hardened group of men. There Jessie learns the harsh realities of sea life. He witnesses violence, whippings, fear, and intimidation. Jessie learns that his ship is to carry slaves and that he has been taken to become “the slave dancer.” Jessie will play his fife to dance the slaves and keep them fit. Horrors continue to unfold as the slaves are secreted to the ship, shackled, and packed in tightly among the holds. The inhumane treatment of the slaves, Jessie’s own sickness at having to witness their suffering and pain, and the crews’ views of superiority are carefully blended by Fox to reveal how bad human behavior can really be. The reader feels for the slaves and wishes they too could free them from their fate. The captain forges in on despite all for he has money in his sights and the people in his way are disposable. The story ends with the pursuit of the slave ship by American ships, lives hanging in the balance, and a storm raging upon the ship. Who will live and who will die? What will become of the slaves still captive on the boat? Will Jessie ever return home? Fox answers all of these questions and more.


 I would recommend this book for use with students who are mature and able to handle the content. The book is very graphic; one feels sickened and sad when reading it. After I finished reading it, I was even more discouraged at how dark and twisted human nature can be. With an insightful and mature audience, the possibilities with this book would be endless.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: After reading, one could compare the other atrocities committed against people throughout history. Higher level thinking skills could lead to the analysis of: why this happens, why people become commodities who are so easily sacrificed, and how we can prevent this pattern from repeating in the future? 






REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


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