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December 19, 2010

The Boxer

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The Boxer by Kathleen Karr: Book Cover

The Boxer

Author: Kathleen Karr

Page Length: 169

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: It’s the late 1800s and times are hard for John and his family. His father has run off, his mother barely makes enough money to get by, and he’s left trying to support his brothers and sisters. Tired of struggling, John decides to try to win the prize money in a fight – there’s only one catch – fighting is illegal. John winds up in the slammer for six months, but it’s in jail that he truly learns what it means to be a champion. Never giving up his love for boxing and determined to provide well for his family, John Woods overcomes the odds to become a famous boxer.

REVIEW: This was interesting read. John’s warm heart and love for his family above himself is an excellent lesson to promote to teenagers. The theme of perseverance and survival in the book is wonderfully and vividly presented. Readers get a feel for the economic circumstances of the time, the limitations imposed by one’s class, and the determination it takes to prevail during hard times. John never gives up on his dreams, his family, or his ethics. This book is a good read and would likely appeal to boys – with its boxing sequences and blow by blow descriptions.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: historical connections, connecting text to self, connecting text to text, cause and effect, sequence of events, compare and contrast

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: boxing, incarceration, betting

RELATED BOOKS: Fortune’s Fool, Born For Adventure, World’s Apart, Mama Went to Jail for the Vote, The 7th Knot, Gilbert and Sullivan Set Me Free


“Rocky” movies

Boxing paintings –


REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

Guys Write for Guys Read

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Guys Write for Guys Read by Jon Scieszka: Book Cover

Guys Write for Guys Read

Author: Jon Scieszka

Page Length: 272

Reading Level: 6.5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: This is a collection of short stories of over 80 authors’ who write for young teens.  The stories deal with memories from childhood and family experiences, as well as, incidents of events that occurred during puberty.  Many of the stories or of the failures the author’s had while participating in sports.  Several serve as an inspiration as to the value of importance of reading.

REVIEW: Each of the stories is rather short but they have good messages, especially for the reluctant reader.  Many of the authors are widely known in the writing field today for young adult readers.  I especially enjoyed the stories by Gary Paulsen, Richard Peck, Chris Crutcher, Matt Groening, and Jerry Spinelli.  However, that could be because I have enjoyed the books I have read by them.

At the end of each selection, a short bio of the author about where he lived, where he lives now, one peculiar thing about him and a list of some of his writings are listed.

Scieszka compiled these stories especially to inspire boys to read.  The websites listed below are geared towards activities to engage boys in reading. Teachers could use the stories independently for teaching a variety of reading and writing TEKS skills.


AREAS OF TEACHING: Point of View, Writer’s Motive

RELATED BOOKS: Crazy Loco, Haunted Schools, Destination Unexpected, Athletic Shorts, Baseball in April and other Stories, Amazing But True Sports Stories, Visions-19 Short Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults, True Sea Stories


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

November 3, 2008

It’s Not About a Bike

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It’s Not About the Bike

Author: Lance Armstrong with Sally Jenkins   

Page Length: 288

Reading Level: 8

Genre: Non-Fiction, Autobiography        

PLOT SUMMARY: Lance Armstrong tells of his life from childhood to winning his first and second Tour de France titles. Lance grew up in Plano, Texas, with his mother.  He writes of how he became a competitor in triathlons, which eventually drew him into cycling as a sport. On the brink of his career, he is diagnosed with testicular cancer.  He describes the fears of facing cancer and the treatments that follow.  After he is cancer free, he faces the decision whether to go back to the world of cycling competition or to hang out with his friends playing golf, eating Mexican food, and drinking beer and let his wife support him.

REVIEW: It’s Not About the Bike is a well-written book which unlike most autobiographies offers excellent descriptions of the landscape of France, the agony of cancer, the joy of love and parenthood.  Lance Armstrong vividly chronicles the challenges he faced living with a single-parent in prominent Plano, Texas.  He admits he was an angry young man and describes how surviving cancer helped him become more disciplined and appreciative of life.  He shares the joys of falling in love, the reality of being sterile, and the panic of seeing his wife suffering through childbirth.  Lance Armstrong does an excellent job of sharing his life as a world champion cyclist, a son, a husband, a father, a cancer survivor and a human being.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Some profanity

AREAS OF TEACHING: Descriptive writing, Sequence of Events

RELATED BOOKS: Brian’s Song, Every Second Counts, by Lance Armstrong

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Breaking Away (1979), 2 Seconds (1998), 20 Shades of Pink (1976), Brian’s Song

RELATED WEBSITES:’s_Not_About_the_Bike:_My_Journey_Back_to_Life,,…/armstrong_13766___article.html/cancer_lance.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

September 21, 2008

Every Second Counts

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Every Second Counts

Author: Lance Armstrong with Sally Jenkins

Page Length: 246

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Autobiography

PLOT SUMMARY: In the second of two books written by Lance Armstrong with Sally Jenkins, Lance tells of life after having cancer and becoming cancer free.  He shares the training routine he goes through to prepare for the Tour de France.  Then, he guides the reader through his second Tour de France race and the following victories. 

In addition to the training and competitive parts of his life, he tells how he had to come to terms with “life after cancer.”  He had to convince himself he was not going to die and start to live like he wasn’t going to die.  Lance faces issues with friends, competitors, his family and time with his children. He shares how with becoming a celebrity he had to learn how to find balance in his life. On page 57, he expresses how he believes suffering can be a good enhancer to life.

REVIEW: After reading two books by Lance Armstrong, I find that I view him as motivation and inspiration to those who have survived life-changing experiences.  He demonstrates how to fight back and overcome obstacles.  Although I found this book to be inspirational (p. 210-213) and challenging, it was somewhat offensive to me, in the harsh language he uses.

This is a good book to read for cancer victims or those affected by cancer.  Boys would enjoy this more than girls. 

 AREAS FOR TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Cause and Effect

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Rough language quoted by the author

RELATED BOOKS: It’s Not About the Bike, Lance Armstrong: We’re One Man’s Battle Against Fate, Fame, Love, Death, Scandal and a Few Other Rivals on the Road, Lance Armstrong: The Race of His Life, On The Bike With Lance Armstrong, Lance Armstrong, Learning About Resilience from the Life of Lance Armstrong

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: “Breaking Away” (1979), “2 Seconds” (1998), “20 Shades of Pink” (1976)

RELATED WEBSITES:…/every_second_counts_by_lance_armstrong.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Jackie’s Nine

Jackie’s Nine

Author: Sharon Robinson

Page Length: 181

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Non-Fiction           

PLOT SUMMARY: Sharon Robinson wrote the book Jackie’s Nine as a tribute to her dad, Jackie Robinson, the first African-American professional baseball player.  The book is written in nine chapters, each giving tribute to one of the values Jackie Robinson lived by.  Each chapter includes a story from Jackie’s life, and one from Sharon’s life to describe the particular principle. Sharon, also, includes at least one selection about one of her personal heroes who has touched her life in someway.

The values shared begin with courage and end with excellence.  Those values helping to reach that end objective of excellence are:  determination, teamwork, persistence, integrity, citizenship, justice, and commitment.  Some of the celebrities who Sharon shares stories about are Christopher Reeve, Pee Wee Reese, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Michael Jordan,  Roberto Clemente, Muhammad Ali, and Oprah Winfrey.

REVIEW: Sharon Robinson has followed in the footsteps of her dad, mother and brother who have all been inspirations of life to the people of the United States.  Sharon experienced her own particular hardships before she reached the age of 23, losing her brother in a car wreck and her dad just a year later, to a massive heart attack.

She shares how she took control of her life getting her nursing degree, later retiring and joining the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball as Director of Education Programming.  She launched Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life, an educational program using baseball-themed activities as teaching tools around the country.  Breaking Barriers is based on the nine values presented in this book. 

This is a very inspirational and motivational book for young teens to read. The selections are brief but informative.  Authentic pictures of Jackie, Sharon and the celebrities are featured which bring the stories more to life.  This book would serve as a good “teacher read aloud” or the selections could be read individually and used as writing prompts.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Writing prompts, Compare/Contrast, Cause/Effect, and Historical Context

RELATED BOOKS: Promises to Keep, Stealing Home: The Story of Jackie Robinson

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS:The Jackie Robinson Story”, “Brain Pops: A Social Studies Movie about Jackie Robinson”, the Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 12, 2008

Hank Aaron Brave in Every Way

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Hank Aaron Brave in Every Way

Author: Peter Golenbock

Illustrator:  Paul Lee         

Page Length: 32

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Biography 

PLOT SUMMARY:  Hank Aaron was born on February 5, 1934 to two loving parents.  His father had visions for him to play baseball, his mother wanted him to make a difference in the world.  The story is about Hank’s childhood, is beginning in league baseball, and his professional career.

REVIEW:  This is a short, easy to read, nicely illustrated book of Hank Aaron’s life.  I enjoyed it because it presented a different side of an African American family in the early 1900’s.  Although poor, Hank was able to get an education, have hope and pursue dreams.  He did experience some racial ridicule as broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, but his praise and support from the rest of the world completely outweighed the bad.

This is a good book for the reluctant reader who enjoys sports because it is short.  However, there is enough information where a concise report could be written about Hank Aaron’s life.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Main Idea and Supporting Details

RELATED BOOKS: Jackie’s Nine, Shoeless Joe and Black Betsy, Stealing Home: The Story of Jackie Robinson, When Willard Met Babe Ruth


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 6, 2008

Blue Eyes Better

Blue Eyes Better

Author: Ruth Wallace-Brodeur

Page Length: 106

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The Drummond family has suffered a terrible loss. Scott is dead. Tessa and her family will never be the same. Tessa’s tormented by her brother’s death. She feels responsible and she can’t face telling anyone why. Her mother withdraws and cries constantly; she doesn’t seem to care or even notice Tessa anymore. Mom and Scott were always so much alike. Tessa really feels that having blue eyes like Mom’s would have been better. Tessa struggles to go on without her brother and without her mother’s support. Can the Drummond family overcome their grief and move on together, or will Scott’s death be too much for them to bear?

REVIEW: This was a stirring, emotional story. The reader experiences Tessa’s loss and her longing for her mother to notice her. The book really lets the reader feel what it would be like to lose a brother, feel guilty for not saving him, and to have a parent shut themselves away when you needed them most. I would recommend this as a read for anyone who has ever lost a family member – especially a sibling (although the book will appeal more to girls).

AREAS FOR TEACHING: theme, setting, point of view, characters, author’s purpose, generalizations, mood, tone

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: dealing with death, guilt, and depression

RELATED BOOKS: Home by Five, The Godmother Tree, Stories from the Big Chair, Callie’s Way, One April Vacation, Olive’s Ocean


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor



Author: Will Weaver

Page Length: 240

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: It’s 1971 and Billy Baggs is a star pitcher for the farm team. Billy and the farm team are arch rivals against Archer “King” Kenwood and the city team. Both boys have more in common than they realize: a longing for the same girl, controlling fathers, demanding home lives, and a love of baseball. High school baseball is approaching and the coach needs both the boys as future teammates. When the last farm vs. city game of the season erupts in violence, the coach hatches a plan. The boys will have to spend time living each other’s lives. Will King and Billy be able to get along long enough to survive their time together? Can they overcome their differences and come together in time to make the team?

REVIEW: I really enjoyed reading this book! I loved the lessons Weaver teaches about tolerance for one another, how things aren’t always as they seem, being true to yourself, standing up for what you believe in, and more. This book provides many teachable moments worth discussion. Worth the read – but probably better appreciated by students who have lived in both rural and urban settings or who at least understand the differences between the two. I think that many students will be able to identify with Billy, King, and even Suzy.   

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, compare/contrast, cause and effect, summarization, theme, setting, plot, conflict, point of view

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: mild sexual encounter, mild language: pg. 85 “Gina floated on her stomach … as naked as a jaybird,” pg. 87 “keep showing off your titties,” violence (fighting)

RELATED BOOKS: Striking Out, Farm Team, Saturday Night Dirt: A Motor Novel, Full Service, Red Earth, White Earth


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

July 7, 2008

Amazing But True Sports Stories

Amazing But True Sports Stories

Author: Phyllis and Zander Hollander

Page Length: 140

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Nonfiction

REVIEW: 87 true stories about the accomplishments and lives of athletes are contained in this book. Some of the stories are unbelievable, yet very real. The majority of the stories are about baseball players and managers (about 20%), however sports such as football, basketball, and hockey are also highlighted. Each story is a ½ page to 2 pages in length that makes this book enticing to those with a short attention span. Black and white photographs accompany some of the stories. Some of the passages cover teams that have played in Texas.

Here are some highlights: the longest baseball game in history lasted 33 innings over the course of 8 ½ hours (pages 14-16). A baseball game was once called off due to grasshoppers (page 28). The highest scoring baseball game racked up 45 runs (page 45). Tom Dempsey was a successful NFL player given that he only has half of a right foot and a stub for his right hand (page 57). An inspirational football coach in Kansas coached from the confines of his wheelchair (page 65). Wilt Chamberlain, famous basketball player, once scored 100 points in a single game (page 91). 

Other stories in the book include a batboy that was ejected from a game, a baseball player with only one arm, a referee with only one eye, and a golfer who made 3 holes in one in less than 30 minutes!

Many of the stories are about one-time accomplishments or “miracles”, while other stories describe extraordinary individuals who overcome diverse odds. I would recommend this book to any sport lover.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: adjective usage, technical vocabulary (related to sports)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: mention of an “adult magazine” (page 124)

RELATED BOOKS: And Nobody Got Hurt 2!, Baseball in April and Other Stories, National Football League: Behind the Scenes

MOVIE CONNECTIONS:Miracle on Ice” (1981), “The Stratton Story” (1949), “Hoosiers” (1986)


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

May 1, 2008

No More Dead Dogs

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No More Dead Dogs

Author: Gordon Korman

Page Length: 180

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY #1: Wallace is a popular eighth grader with only one fault: he only tells the truth. Unfortunately, some people just aren’t ready to hear the truth. Wallace’s bad luck begins when he writes a review of his English teacher’s favorite book. Wallace hates the book and Mr. Fogelman hates his review. He sentences Wallace to detention until he turns in an acceptable review. Detention is held in the auditorium where drama practice is taking place. The drama club happens to be performing the play of the book (Old Shep, My Pal) Wallace had to review. Wallace begins to make suggestions for the performance and before long everyone is listening to him instead of Mr. Fogelman.

Strange things have begun to happen during rehearsals It seems as if someone is trying to sabotage the play. All eyes are on Wallace, but Wallace suspects his football teammates who are anxiously awaiting his glorious return to practice. After all, Wallace is the hero of the football team whose brilliant play clinched a title game (what everyone forgets is that Wallace sits the bench 80% of the time – he knows he is no football great, but no one else seems to realize it).

Rumors circulate because Parker Schmidt only ever gets part of the facts before he embellishes the story he prints in the paper. The play begins to develop and Wallace finds that he is in no hurry to return to football practice. Trudi, an actress in the play, falls for Wallace and can’t wait to be his girlfriend. Her best friend, Rachel, can’t wait for Wallace’s sabotage of the play to be discovered. He disgusts her and she can’t wait to see him go. The big night is drawing near; the show is sold out, and the play and its cast may be in danger. Can Wallace discover the truth and save the show? Will everyone else learn to see Wallace for who he really is?

REVIEW #1: This book was cute and entertaining. I enjoyed how the chapters switched view points between the characters. Rachel’s letters to Julia Roberts were also a great technique for introducing her feelings about Wallace (the reader figures how she feels before she does). The fact that Wallace Wallace can not tell a lie leads the reader to question truths and lies – what they mean and where the line is drawn. Friendships are restored and Wallace perseveres through being abandoned by his teammates and being a suspect among the drama club. The ending is good and Wallace is an admirable character.

REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY #2: Wallace Wallace (last name same as the first), hero of his school football team, is a chronic truth teller. He is unable to tell a lie which sometimes makes life a little uncomfortable. When his eighth-grade English teacher assigns a book review on Old Shep, My Pal, Wallace follows the assignment to the letter giving his absolute honest opinion; he hated it. Unfortunately for Wallace, Old Shep, My Pal is his teacher’s all time favorite book and Mr. Fogelman can’t understand how anyone could dislike such a classic. Wallace however is sick and tired of reading books where the dog dies in the end and he refuses to change his report to the point of earning detention, which also gets him suspended from the football team.


The book makes the point that sometimes there is a valid reason to rebel. Wallace stands behind his conviction and makes a reasonable argument to his teacher saying he knew the dog was going to die before he even read the book because, “…the dog always dies. Go to the library and pick out a book with an award sticker and a dog on the cover. Trust me, that dog is going down.” He then lists several examples as his classmates begin to chime in, much to the teacher’s distress.


Wallace’s teacher is also directing the school play which is, no surprise, Old Shep, My Pal, and Wallace has to serve his detention by sitting in on play rehearsals.  Wallace never changes his mind as Mr. Fogelman hopes, but he does get involved with the play and ends up making changes to it that include rollerblades, a moped and a rock-and-roll band called The Dead Mangoes. 


What appealed to me about this book, aside from the humor, is that Wallace is never mean or disrespectful. He doesn’t try to change the play out of spite. Rather, he honestly thinks it could be better and the cast members agree with him. He even finally wins over Mr. Fogelman while staying true to himself. He is willing to accept whatever consequence he receives because he believes in himself. I think kids will get the point as well as enjoying the story.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: point of view, organization of text, voice, mood, character traits, plot

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: mild language – Wallace Wallace is referred to as “dumbass, dumbass”

RELATED BOOKS: Swindle, Schooled, Kidnapped, The Climb


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor & Sherry Hall

February 28, 2008

No Problem

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No Problem

Author: Dayle Campbell Gaetz

Page Length: 87

Reading Level: 2.2

Genre: Realistic Fiction


PLOT SUMMARY: Curt is a high school student facing the pressures of academics, work, girls, friendship, and his parents. Curt is a talented baseball pitcher; his father dreams of Curt making it to the big leagues. Having almost made it to the major leagues himself, Curt’s dad puts pressure on him to achieve perfection and dedicate himself completely to the sport. Curt tires of the constant criticism and pressure. His coach notices him tending his arm and offers a bottle of muscle relaxers to take only when he really needs them. Curt’s world begins a downward spiral. Under extreme pressure, he begins to take the pills to sleep or relax. While working his part-time job, he meets and becomes enamored with Leah, a girl who is herself struggling with an issue (an alcoholic father). He falls for Leah but finds himself pursued relentlessly by Rachel, an older, flirtatious girl. Rachel offers Curt a ride home and before he knows it, he has taken his first hit of cocaine. As Curt’s addiction grows, his world falls apart. Coach takes him out the game and he storms off the field. He alienates his parents and his friends. Leah finds about his time with Rachel and his drug habit. Mom and dad are suspicious. A confrontation is coming. A choice has to be made. Will Curt come clean about his drug habits and seek help or will his life spin further out of control?


REVIEW: This story follows the traditional ORCA book format. The sentences are simple, the chapters short, and the subject level is high interest. As a reader, I dislike how briefly such important and vast subjects are touched upon and dismissed.  Even though some students are lower level readers, they can appreciate the depth and emotional dimensions of the issues presented in these books. I wish that they delved a little deeper and really examined the causes and effects of such issues.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: These books would work well for independent reading. In addition, teachers could have students analyze the causes and effects of Curt’s drug use and addiction. Students will likely be able to relate to many of the issues addressed in these novels. 




REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


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