The Book Reviews – Website

January 1, 2011

The Hoopster

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The Hoopster

 

Author: Alan Lawrence Sitomer

 

Page Length: 218

 

Reading Level: 6

 

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Andre seems to have everything – an uncanny ability to shoot baskets, a great job at a magazine, and an awesome girlfriend. Andre is assigned the job of writing an article on racism. He begins to notice it everywhere he goes, even in his cousin Cedric’s skits. One night, Andre’s article gets written and he becomes a local celebrity; but, fame comes with a price. Race tensions are high in Andre’s town and his article is getting as much hate mail as fan mail. Andre’s own life is threatened. Will he ever reach his dreams of becoming a famous writer in the midst of so much hatred? What will reaching for his dreams cost him in the end?

REVIEW: This book has a decent story line and was actually able to include basketball without being totally focused on just the sport. As the matter of fact, this athlete has dreams of being a writer. He dates a Hispanic girl, his best friend is white, and he learns that his own father once changed his fate because of racist hatred. Faced with this knowledge and facing his own hate crime, Andre must decide if he too will enter into the cycle of violence or if he can follow a different path. Andre suffers tremendously because his views are outside the norm. The actions of the supremacist group leaves Andre emotionally and physically battered; yet, through it all, Andre prevails and continues to believe in himself and believe that he can change the racist views of the world.

This book had a basic plot and an easy story line to follow. This book would work well as a classroom read for students with a lower reading level.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  character traits, cause and effect, author’s purpose, sequence of events, imagery, elements of plot, stereotypes

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: racist remarks, hate crime –  Andre is physically assaulted with the intent to permanently maim him, his father tells of a white man relieving himself on his boots and of being hit over the head with a bottle

RELATED BOOKS: Hip-Hop High School, Paulsen’s Nightjohn, Draper’s The Battle of Jericho, To Kill a Mockingbird, Richard Peck’s The River Between Us

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Dead Poets Society (1989), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.thebookjam.com/main/content/resources

http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/contributor.jsp?id=3791

http://www.corndancer.com/tunes/tunes_main.html

http://www.thehoopsterbook.com/sections/aboutthebook.htm

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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December 19, 2010

In the Woods

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In the Woods by Robin Stevenson: Book Cover

In the Woods

Author: Robin Stevenson

Page Length: 124

 

Reading Level: 3.2 

 

Genre: Fiction

 

Career Connections: Social Worker      

PLOT SUMMARY: When Cameron gets a strange call from his twin sister, Katie, to ride to the park on his bike, he feels his all-star sister is hiding something. As Cameron circles the park in pouring rain, he hears a small cry in the woods.  He gets off his bike and follows the sound—discovering a baby wrapped on the forest floor.  Trying not to panic, he wraps the baby in the blankets and his jacket to protect it from the rain.  Luckily, a woman stops on the side of the road and rushes them to the hospital. After being questioned by the police, Cameron goes home and he questions Katie about the baby, but she completely denies knowing anything about it. 

At school the next day, Cameron confides his secret to Audrey, a girl with whom he is working on a school project. Audrey urges him to find out who the mother is, because Audrey herself is adopted and would like to know who her birthmother is. 

That afternoon, Cameron approaches Katie, again.  She does admit the baby is hers, but still wants to keep it from her mother.  Later, Cameron finds Katie in the bathroom having complications from the birth.  He convinces her to go to the hospital and tell her mother.

REVIEW: This book is an excellent high interest low level story for the reluctant reader.  Cameron’s character is nicely developed as he demonstrates gentleness and responsibility with the baby, his sister, Audrey, and his mother. These are traits young teens often try to hide.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Mild profanity

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

RELATED BOOKS: Hanging on to Max, November Blues, and Saving Grace

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.orcabook.com

www.robinstevenson.com

www.pbs.org/ttc/lessonplans_teenpreg.html 

MUSIC, MOVIE, AND ART CONNECTIONS: Where the Heart Is (2000), Juno (2007)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 30, 2009

Anastasia Krupnik

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Anastasia Krupnik

Author: Lois Lowry

Page Length: 113  

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Anastasia is the 10 year old daughter of her father, a professor, and her mother, an artist.  Anastasia loves to take notes and make lists in her sacred green journal.  Presently, she is keeping a list of the things she hates and the things she loves.  Some of the things she loves are writing poems, her fish (Frank), her room, and Mounds candy bars.  Some of the things she hates are her English teacher, pumpkin pie, liver, and boys.

As her tenth year passes, Anastasia realizes she doesn’t hate all boys when she develops a crush on Washburn Cummings.  She then establishes hate for her parents when they tell her they are going to have a baby.  Her lists grow and become interchangeable as she comes to many conclusions on first impressions. She changes her thoughts as time passes.

REVIEW: Anastasia is a cute girl with a delightful outlook on life.  She forms opinions quickly, but they are easily changed when events occur in her daily life.  I would recommend the book and the series that follows to middle school and junior high girls.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Character, Sequence of Events, Point of View

RELATED BOOKS: Anastasia Again!, Anastasia, Ask Your Analyst, Anastasia at Your Service, Anastasia Has the Answers, Anastasia on Her Own, Anastasia’s Chosen Career, Anastasia, Absolutely 

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Enchanted (2007), Annie (1982), Parent Trap (2004)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.litplans.com/authors/Lois_Lowry.html

www.literatureplace.com/bookfolios/bookfolio.asp?BookfolioID=12

 REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

June 2, 2008

How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found

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How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found

Author: Sara Nickerson

Page Length: 281

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Margaret and Sophie are being raised by a single mother who hasn’t been the same since their father died. One day, Margaret’s mother breaks from the ordinary trip to the Laundromat and takes them across the river o the ferry. They arrive at a strange two story house where Margaret’s mother hammers a for sale sign into the ground. Margaret becomes intrigued by the mysterious appearance of the property seemingly in her mother’s possession and the figure she thinks she saw from an upstairs window.

When Margaret finds a sealed package on the property that her mother had returned to sender she sneaks it home. Her discovery inside the package leads Margaret to her destiny (at least according to her new best friend at school). Margaret and Sophie conspire to keep their mother from finding out – that Margaret is going back to the house alone. Margaret’s adventures unfold and so does an unusual and interesting story. Margaret discovers family she nothing about and a shocking secret – her father died by drowning but was a championship swimmer. Mr. Librarian and Boyd (a boy who lives next door to the big house and avidly reads mysterious comic books about the house and the Ratt man who lives there) join in the excitement and Margaret comes face to face with the mystery of the Drowning Ghost and the Rat Man. The Ratt man is closing in… Will she be able to save Sophie in time and solve the mystery of her father’s death?

REVIEW: This story was entertaining in a strange way. The plot has a wonderful element of mystery; yet, the fantasy angle of a man turning into rat seems a little farfetched. Nickerson creates the ideal librarian in the quirky Mr. Librarian who places nothing in the library but the unpublished manuscripts brought to him. The withdrawal of the mother after losing a spouse and becoming a single parent is also handled well. The reader can feel for the children and what they are missing. A great teaching point here is the impact of one life on others. Sibling relationships are explored as Sophie and Margaret both aggravate and ultimately love and support each other.

Students who like reading comic books and graphic novels will enjoy the short comic book type scenes and the relationship of the comic book to the events taking place in the story. In one scene, Boyd and Margaret are chased through the forest by something; after narrowly escaping, a new issue of the comic book turns up on the front porch at Boyd’s house. Margaret and Boyd have become characters in the story. The story is suspenseful and quirky with a good ending a great message.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: theme, setting, cause and effect, sequence, bias, inferences, internal conflict, character motivation, irony

RELATED BOOKS: Harry Potter, The Wind in the Willows

RELATED MOVIES: Television series – The Ghost Whisperer

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.kidsreads.com/reviews/0060297719.asp

http://nancykeane.com/booktalks/nickerson_how.htm

http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=387957

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

April 29, 2008

Chasing Redbird

Chasing Redbird

Author: Sharon Creech

Page Length: 5

Reading Level: 261

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: In the country-side of Kentucky resides Zinny Taylor, sister to too many siblings to count on one hand. She has a problem. Zinny has not found her voice. She has yet to discover the person she is. In a large family, including her Uncle Nate and Aunt Jessie, Zinny sets out on a trail to find herself.

Zinny is the oddball of the family. She collects countless items, is as quiet as a mouse, and always seems to be passed over by the boys. Even more depressing, Zinny feels responsible for the deaths of not only her cousin Rose, but Roses’ mother, Zinny’s Aunt Jessie. Beyond all of this, Zinny wants to be known for something more significant (page 52).

After Aunt Jessie passes away, Uncle Nate begins his own quest to chase his “redbird” sweetheart (Aunt Jessie had red hair). To put it less colorfully, Uncle Nate is so devastated by his wife’s death that he has delusions of her flying through the fields. He in turn chases after “her”.

One day, at the library, Zinny discovers a map detailing an old 20 mile Indian trail that leads from her house to the next town over, Chocton. The map fascinates her, and Zinny makes a decision to clear away all the brush in her backyard field. Zinny’s parents allow her to camp out in the field as she does her work for 10 days at a time. She is excited as this project gives her the opportunity to do something on her own away from the chaos of her family. On the trail, Zinny gets confronted by strange men, chased up a tree by a bear, and even pursued by her friend Jake (who is attracted to her). Zinny even discovers, on the trail, the reason for Uncle Nate’s strange behavior – Uncle Nate has been hiding all of Rose and Aunt Jessie’s possessions in a cabin nearby. The cabin symbolizes his locked up emotions and his grief.

Towards the end of the novel, Uncle Nate expresses to Zinny that she is not at fault for the deaths of Rose and Aunt Jessie. In addition, Zinny completes her trail project and is recognized for it. We also see a glimmer of hope that she will have her first boyfriend (Jake).

REVIEW: This was a simple tale about the search for self and one’s individuality (Zinny). Also, it is a story about how people grieve differently (ie. Zinny vs. Uncle Nate). The map at the beginning of the book was helpful as I read. Students that come from families with several brothers and sisters might relate well to this story.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: symbolism (trail, discovery, & chase, spaghetti & life), simile (page 16), figurative language (page 156), foreshadowing (page 27)

MUSIC CONNECTIONS: “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” by Don Raye & Hughie Prince

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.webenglishteacher.com/creech.html (if you scroll down, you’ll see links for Chasing Redbird)

http://edhelper.com/books/Chasing_Redbird.htm

http://www.multcolib.org/talk/guides-chasing.html

http://www.kyrene.org/schools/brisas/sunda/lit_units/chasing/chasing.pdf

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

April 15, 2008

Our Only May Amelia

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Our Only May Amelia

Author: Jennifer L. Holm

Page Length: 251

Reading Level: 6.5

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: May Amelia Jackson is a twelve year old girl growing up in Washington in 1899. Life as a pioneer in a homestead near the river is both adventurous and dangerous. May Amelia isn’t a typical young woman for her time; she is a free spirit who is anxious to explore and experience life as her seven brothers do. May Amelia constantly tests the boundaries and perceptions of a “proper young lady.” May’s mother is pregnant; May hopes desperately for a baby sister. May’s mother falls ill, and May must care for the baby. One brother disappears and is feared to have been shanghaied, another brother takes ill with scarlett fever, and a murderer is on the loose. May takes action, and were May goes mishap and adventure are sure to follow.

REVIEW: The book is fast paced and enjoyable. May’s adventures are sure to entertain both male and female students alike (as May is often more like one of the boys). Holm brilliantly weaves realistic elements of pioneer life into the story; the reader witnesses ethnic clashes, daily life during the time, the limits of medicine, gender roles, and even the realities of life at sea.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Connecting text to self, Making historical connections (US History and pioneer life), Sequencing (events of the story, events of May’s childhood), Cause and effect (short life span during the time, May’s unladylike behavior)

TEKS:

– Produce summaries of texts by identifying main ideas and their supporting

details. 10.7.F

– Analyze relevance of setting and time frame to text’s meaning; 10.11.B

– Describe and analyze the development of plot and identify conflicts and how

they are addressed and resolved 10.11.C

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES:

Pages 174-181 deal with the death of a baby and the subsequent depression that follows

Pages 100-105 Grandmother Patience (a mean and cruel woman) belittles May Amelia

RELATED BOOKS:

Growing Up in Pioneer America by Judith Josephson

If You Were A Pioneer on the Prairie by Anna Kamma

Pioneer Sisters by Laura Ingalls Wilder

MTH: Twister on Tuesday (set in Pioneer Kansas) by Mary Pope Osbourne

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS:

Oklahoma, Old Yeller, Little House on the Prairie

http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/content/2279/ (Kennedy Center Unit)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.jenniferholm.com/02_mybooks/01_overview.html

http://www.kidsreads.com/reviews/0060278226.asp

http://nancykeane.com/booktalks/holm_our.htm

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

April 2, 2008

Cut

Cut

Author: Patricia McCormick

Page Length: 148

Reading Level: 6

REVIEW: As Patricia McCormick writes her first novel, she delves into the serious subject matter of behavior disorders of young adults.  The setting is Sea Pines, a private treatment center for girls with various “issues” including eating disorders, substance abuse, and other behavioral problems.   

The story is told by Callie, a 15 year old girl who ran track at her high school but is now a “guest” a Sea Pines for cutting herself.  McCormick does a great job of putting the reader inside Callie’s head as she relates her thoughts about the center and the girls in her group.  She addresses her thoughts with such vivid detail that I could actually feel Callie’s desperation.  

When I began the book, I immediately visualized the movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.  Like the Big Indian in the movie, Callie refuses to talk in her group sessions, in her private therapy, to her roommate, or family.  However, to the reader, she describes the strict regiment that she and the other guests are required to follow.  

Rather than male residents in “the Cuckoo’s Nest”, the “guests” are all teen-age girls at Sea Pines.  McCormick does an amazing job of describing each of the girls’ personalities and behaviors as Callie perceives them in her mind. 

Much of the book is addressed by Callie to her psychiatrist through her thoughts during their sessions.  Eventually Callie begins to talk.  First, she talks to her therapist, then in group sessions, working through the causes of her self-abusive acts of cutting.  

This is the best young adult novel I have read.  It is short but from the opening page, I was compelled to continue reading page after page.  The subject matter is sensitive but well written.  It addresses the realities of life that the teens of the 21st century must endure.  Family issues are the reason for Callie’s “cutting” and eventual placement in the residential facility. 

I would suggest the book to anyone who works with teens, is a parent to a teen or teen’s themselves.   

RELATED WEBSITES: 

www.pattymccormick.com 

www.pattymccormick.com/index.php?mode=objectlist§ion_id=113&object_id=148 

www.powells.com/biblio/9780439324595 

www.allreaders.com/Topics/info_27813.asp 

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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