The Book Reviews – Website

January 1, 2011

What Athletes Are Made Of

What Athletes Are Made Of

Author and Illustrator: Hanoch Piven and Sarah Thompson

Page Length: 34

Reading Level: 5.1

Genre: Biography

Career Connection: Professional Athletes

SUMMARY & REVIEW: This book is for the sports lover written by a sports lover.

We learn that Muhammad Ali had a “big mouth”, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar coached high school on an Apache reservation, Babe Ruth had a huge appetite, Jesse Owens proved Hitler wrong, Tiger Woods considers himself a “Cablinasian”, David Beckham once wore pink nail polish to match his girlfriends, and Pele played with a soccer ball made of a sock stuffed with newspapers. These are just a few facts that packed into this creative book filled with 23 mini-biographies of athletes. Each biography is 5-10 sentences long.

The first page provides the reader an introduction to why athletes and sports games are enjoyable to watch and respected. The author begins each mini biography with the following line:

“Athletes are made of…”

At the end of each biography, the author provides the reader with a “Did You Know” fact relating to either the athlete or his/her sport.

At the end of the book, a “Post-Game Recap” with statistics and career highlights of all the athletes is featured.  

The following athletes are highlighted in this book: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Andre Agassi, Muhammad Ali, Lance Armstrong, David Beckham, Joe DiMaggio, Jeff Gordon, Wayne Gretzky, Mia Hamm, Michael Jordan, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Diego Maradona, Joe Namath, Martina Navratilova, Jesse Owens, Pele, Babe Ruth, Michael Schumacher, Annika Sorenstam, Jim Thorpe, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, and Tiger Woods.

The sports represented in this book include basketball, tennis, boxing, cycling, soccer, baseball, racing, track and field, football, golf, pentathlon, and decathlon.

This is a very creative book. It not only provides the reader a clear and concise biography of each athlete, each individual is illustrated using traditional drawings as well as objects. For example, Tiger Woods’ eye brows are illustrated using “nails”. Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s legs are illustrated using “rulers”. Lance Armstrong’s mouth is illustrated using a “rubber band”.

The only criticism I have with this book is that the majority of the athletes students may not recognize. This book may not be engaging for students if left to read on their own. However, providing insight into unfamiliar athletes provides the teacher and student an opportunity for new learning. The addition of mini-biographies will help students engage with the book as compared to other lengthier biographies. Students will most likely recognize Lance Armstrong, Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, and Tiger Woods.

Students with a passion for art will enjoy this book. This would be a great book to share with art teachers.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: art, biography, compare/contrast


RELATED BOOKS: What Presidents Are Made Of by Hanoch Piven, Xtreme Sports Fast Track by Joe Layden, Amazing But True Sports Stories by Hollander

ART CONNECTIONS: (art work website of the author)


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

June 5, 2010


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Author: Mal Peet

Page Length: 225

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Paul Faustino begins his interview with the World Cup soccer goalkeeper, El Gato, hoping to learn the secrets of his techniques and skills he used in helping his team capture the championship. What he got, however, is the life story of El Gato that began in the rainforest where his father worked as a logger. 

As a child, El Gato was tall and clumsy and the other children made fun of him when he played soccer in the town square.  He sought refuge deep in the jungle, and came upon a cleared meadow with a soccer goal in it.  There, over the next two years, he visited the meadow regularly and took instruction from a ghostly creature he called “the keeper.” 

At the age of 15, El Gato had to quit school and join his father working in the logging camp.  At the close of the first week, he learned many of the men hung around for a “not so friendly” game of soccer.  When the goal for the Camp team was empty, El Gato took his place as the starting keeper. It was there that El Gato was discovered.  His skills and knowledge of goalkeeping were put to use, and he made a name for himself around the camp.

When a scout from a professional team came to watch, El Gato was offered a contract to play professionally.  So, at the age of 15 he left home and began training and playing soccer as a profession.  He played for several years, and missed winning the World Cup at the age of 26.  He came back four years later, and single handedly led his team to be the World Cup Champions.

Faustino questions El Gato’s sanity as he describes the mythical mentor who lives in the forest.  At the conclusion, Faustino is convinced that El Gato acquired his skills from the man described by the famous athlete whose spirit he reveres.

REVIEW: This book reminded me of the baseball story, Field of Dreams, in that ghostly players from the past speak to the main characters.  The story has a lot of descriptions of fast action soccer play as well as fantasy in the events that are in the forest.  Because the soccer play is such a major part of the book, I would suggest it for reading by those who know the game.

Both of my daughters played the position of goalkeeper when they played soccer, so I enjoyed reading the “Keeper’s” techniques of instruction, in addition to the play-by-play descriptions of the games.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Theme, Character, Sequence of Events, and Cause/Effect

RELATED BOOKS: Tangerine, Shots on Goal, Soccer Shots

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Field of Dreams (1989), Bend it Like Beckham (2002)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

The Book Thief

The Book Thief

Author: Markus Zusak

Page Length: 550

Reading Level: 9

Genre: Historical Fiction (Holocaust)

PLOT SUMMARY: The Book Thief begins in Nazi Germany in 1939 where Leisel Meminger’s mother is sent to the concentration camp “Dachau” for being a communist. Leisel loses her brother to the winter elements – her first experience with Death. Leisel’s second experience with Death is the demise of her mother. Death narrates this story. Devastation is prevalent throughout Germany. Upon burial of her brother, Leisel steals a book, The Grave Digger’s Manual, despite the fact that she could not read. Leisel is sent to live with foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann on Himmel Street in Molching. Rosa is known for her constant cursing and aloof behavior. Hans is known for his caring, mild mannered attitude, and accordion playing. Leisel takes immediate liking to Hans when he plays the accordion. While fraught with nightmares over the death of Leisel’s mother, Hans sits by Leisel’s side throughout the night. Eventually Hans teaches her to read. This is Leisel’s first realization of the power of words used as a distraction and as a comfort.

Over time, Leisel makes several friends. Rudy is a young man who is around her age and is constantly asking her for a kiss to which she refuses. Max is a Jewish man who is hidden from the Nazis in the Hubermann’s basement. Max writes books for Leisel using the painted-over pages of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. When Max becomes deathly ill, Leisel reads to him – another example of the power of words used to distract or comfort. A third friend is the mayor’s wife who allows Leisel to use her library to read books. Leisel sneaks into the mayor’s wife’s house to steal one book at a time. The war is getting closer and closer to Himmel street, so the Germans are looking for basements with adequate size to use as bomb shelters. Fortunately, the Hubermann’s basement was too small so Max could continue to hide in their basement. Leisel would visit Max everyday in the basement reading to him and describing the weather and daily events to him. Death is everywhere and it makes comments upon all the souls “he” has to carry. During one of the air-raids in which citizens of Himmel Street had to go to the bomb shelter, a neighbor’s basement, Leisel begins to read from her book to calm herself. She finds that by reading aloud, the others are also comforted and distracted from their fears. One day, Hans Hubermann whom Leisel has come to deeply love tries to give a Jewish person a piece of bread during the Nazi’s parade of Jews. Hans is badly beaten and then fears that he will be sent to a concentration camp and that their house will be searched. Max, the Jewish person hiding in their basement, has to leave the home on Himmel Street for fear of capture and punishment of the Hubermanns for helping a Jewish person. Hans was not captured but was forced to join the Nazi military. Leisel’s friend and Rudy’s father, Alex Steiner, was also forced to join the military because he would not allow one of his sons to join the military. Leisel, who is distraught by the absence of her father, loss of her brother, loss of Rudy, and loss of Max, begins to write her life’s story in her basement. Does Leisel survive? Do Max, Hans, Alex Steiner, Rudy and Rosa survive? Does Rudy ever get his kiss? Why were the stolen books so important to the book thief after all? Why is Death afraid of humans?         

REVIEW: The Book Thief is an excellent story which is told from the perspective of Death, the narrator, in war-torn Germany. Markus Zusak transports the reader back to this era with well developed characters and settings in which one can almost empathize with the fears and devastation of the times. Zusak’s writing is so vivid that one can almost feel Leisel’s emotions for the loss of her mother and brother, feel Leisel’s love for Hans, feel what life is like in the basement for Max, feel the suspense when the book thief steals a book, feel the daily experiences on Himmel Street, and feel the fear of the Nazis. This book is definitely a page turner. One realizes that words have the power to uplift, to comfort, to manipulate, and to destroy humankind.  After reading The Book Thief, one can not help but examine one’s own values. What would one do if one was a non- Jewish person in Germany during “Hitler’s Germany”? Would one deny joining the Nazi Party knowing that one would not get work to provide for one’s family? Most importantly, would one hide a Jewish person or Jewish family risking one’s own family’s life? These are powerful questions evoked by reading The Book Thief.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: main idea and supporting details, theme, setting, characters, point of view, conflict, plot, compare/contrast, cause/effect, sequence of events, inference, conclusions, generalizations, predictions, voice, mood, tone,  5 steps of the writing process, narration, irony

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Holocaust and Death. One must consider the sensitivity of the student who is reading the book due to the subject matter.

RELATED BOOKS:  The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Schindler’s List by Thomas Kineally, Anne Frank: A Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, Those Who Save Us by Jeanna Blum, Night by Elie Wiesel, Number the Stars Lois Lowry, The Giver by Lois Lowry, Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi, The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen. Books by the same author: I Am the Messenger, Getting the Girl, Fighting Ruben Wolfe.

MOVIE & MEDIA CONNECTIONS: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2009), Valkyrie (2008), Schindler’s List (2004), The Book Thief (expected release 2010), The Book Thief (book video by Jon Haller 2006), Elie Wiesel Goes Home (1985), Anne Frank- The Whole Story (2001), Holocaust (1978), The Devil’s Arithmetic (1999)


REVIEWED BY: Tammy Leitzel

August 30, 2009

Home of the Braves

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Home of the Braves

Author: David Klass

Page Length: 355

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Joe Brickman is a senior and the captain of the less than stellar Lawndale soccer team. But, he’s hoping for a transformation this year on the soccer field and in his friendship with Kristine. Suddenly, the school social structure is in an uproar. The new student, who looks like an ad for a modeling magazine, is a Brazilian soccer player who becomes known as the “phenom.” Soccer becomes the in sport at school and the football players have issues. Violence breaks out and the soccer stars are threatened by the football team. Ed McBean has been marked and he refuses to bow. When some members of the team take matters to far, Ed’s life is in danger. Ed is tired of being the victim; he becomes angry and withdraws. Joe’s afraid that all out war or a violent outbreak at school is brewing. Can he stand tall and stop it all before it gets out of hand, or is he stuck with the cycle of violence that existed when his own father was in high school?

REVIEW: This is another good book about the dangers of bullying. The fear of violence and the damage done to the people involved is well presented. Students will be able to identify with and analyze the actions of the characters. Joe is an excellent character to study – he doesn’t let his father define him, he overcomes the past cycle of violence, and he isn’t afraid to stand up for his friend. The book also presents interesting points for discussion about how the administration at Joe’s school handled the hazing and violent incidents – whether or not that was effective and what could be done differently or more effectively. 

Joe also develops from a character with substandard academic performance to one who finally does apply for college and who finds a program that builds on his strengths. 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause and effect, sequence of events, question the test, compare and contrast text to self and world, character analysis, bubble map – descriptive adjectives

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: student is wrapped completely in athletic tape and stuff in a dark equipment closet (222-223), fighting, brawl at the community meeting, degrading and inciting remarks made by bullies

RELATED BOOKS: You Don’t Know Me, Dark Angel, You Don’t Know Me, Buddha Boy, Crash

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Mighty Ducks, Heathers, Chicken Little, Ice Princess, Sky High


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

May 16, 2008



Author: Edward Bloor     

Page Length: 312

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY: Paul Fisher and his family have just moved from Houston to Florida where his dad will work for the city and work intently on helping Eric obtain a football scholarship at one of Florida’s Division 1 universities. Eric is Paul’s older brother, a place kicker and  bully to Paul and his friends. Paul’s mother is a concerned parent who shuttles Paul to his activities.

Paul is 13, legally blind, and wears bottle-thick glasses to enable him to see. His family told him his eyes were injured because he stared at the solar eclipse for an hour and a half the summer he turned 5.  Paul does not remember this event, but knows by looking at family pictures, that he did not wear glasses prior to that summer.

Paul played soccer at his old school and looks forward to trying out for the team at his new school.  However, on page 27, the school asks for an IEP because of his visual impairment.  After practicing with the team, Paul is sure that he will make starting goalkeeper, but when his coach learns that he has an IEP, he informs Paul that he cannot play on the team, because of school insurance issues.  Although this is quite upsetting and unfair, after talking with the coach, Paul’s dad accepts the fact that Paul can only be the team manager.

Through a series of events, Paul transfers to the nearby school in Tangerine, where he is allowed to play soccer because his mother did not report to the school that he had an IEP.  Paul makes friends quickly with the Latino, lower socio-economic soccer players.  The team is co-ed and although Paul isn’t a starter, he gets to play in most games.  On page 170, Paul describes how wonderful the feeling is to be a member of the team.

While Paul’s life at Tangerine is going good, life in Lake Windsor (the community Paul lives in) is not so good.  The school has fallen into a sinkhole, termites are invading houses, a boy is struck by lightening, and homes are being robbed.  The football team is winning, but Eric is not getting all the recognition he wants.

REVIEW: The plot is clearly about Paul and his family but Bloor does a great job of including several subplots that keep the reader intrigued.  The book covers not only family and peer relationships but community and civic affairs also. 

Throughout the book, Paul has reminders of events that may have been related to his visual loss.  Through his accomplishments at his new school, Paul gains confidence and courage to make his family face up to the secrets they have kept from him.

I think all students would enjoy this book because of the various subplots and characters in the book.  The book shows how a student with disabilities can excel and overcome obstacles.

I would consider using this as a class novel.  It is well written and very enjoyable. There is a reader chat section at the end of the book.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Summarization, Theme, Characters, Cause/Effect, Compare/Contrast, Conclusions, Generalizations, Predictions

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: The book contains violence, crime, and death but it is presented in good context.

RELATED BOOKS: Letters from the Inside, Blue Willow, The Moves Make the Man


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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