The Book Reviews – Website

August 30, 2009

Journey to Jo’Burg A South African Story

Filed under: J — thebookreviews @ 7:58 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Journey to Jo’Burg: A South African Story

Author: Beverley Naidoo

Page Length: 80

Reading Level: 5.5

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Thirteen year old Naledi and her younger brother Tiro live in a village in South Africa. Times are hard in their village and their mother must live and work at home in order to provide for the family. When their baby sister takes ill with a terrible fever, they know that they must act fast. Too many young children have been dying in their village. Desperate to save their little sister, Naledi and Tiro set off on the journey to Johannesburg to find their mother and bring her home to care for their sister. Will they be able to make the journey in time?

REVIEW: This book is small in size and rather plainly written – making it great for higher elementary and secondary classrooms. The book deals with the issues of slavery, discrimination, and starvation. The reader learns of the hardships the mother must endure as she works away from her own children and is “enslaved” to the white people she works for. They begin to see how much their own people need decent food and living conditions and how desperately in need of change their world is. I would definitely use this book in the classroom. The story moves quickly and the issues are very worthy of discussion and response from students.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause and effect, historical connections, connecting text to self

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: the issue of servitude and substandard living conditions

RELATED BOOKS: The Other Side of Truth, No Turning Back, Out of Bounds

MUSIC CONNECTIONS: John Lennon – Imagine, Tracy Chapman – Across the Lines

RELATED WEBSITES:’burg&rating=3&search_type=related

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor


December 12, 2008

Heat Hazard Droughts

Heat Hazard Droughts 

Author: Claire Watts

Page Length: 48

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Non-Fiction

REVIEW: Heat Hazard Droughts is a fact-filled book about the weather phenomenon of the same name. It is a part of the “Turbulent Planet” series that highlights various occurrences in nature from an “engaging science text” format. From vivid pictures of starvation, drought, and relief efforts to historical accounts of the U.S. Dust Bowl and Great Fire of London, this book makes a great companion to any required science textbook. In addition to pictures and facts, the book contains defined vocabulary at the bottom of every page, predictive questions, tips on how to save water, and actual written accounts of human experiences during a drought.

This book really got me to think about how much water I waste as an individual. When you read about people forced to drink contaminated water to survive, it makes you stop and think. I learned that we as humans add to the increase in droughts because of the way we use the land (ie. farming too much in a single area for too long a period and stripping away too many trees). Also, I learned about the relief efforts of the Red Cross and UNICEF. The topics of climate change and global warming were also mentioned.

Many students may not be able to relate to the topic of drought. However, this book would be a good way for them to learn about a new topic. The book concludes with suggestions for further books to read on the topic as well as how to search for “drought” on the Internet. A glossary and index are also provided at the back.

I would definitely recommend this book to students, especially to those that struggle with an interest in science and nature.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: vocabulary, predictions, fact vs. opinion, text to self, text to world, historical context, reading a map, literature connections, Text to text with The Grapes of Wrath

RELATED BOOKS: Wild Weather: Drought by Catherine Chambers, Dust to Earth: Drought and Depression in the 1930s by Michael Cooper, Droughts of the Future by Paul Stein, and other books in the “Turbulent Planet” series

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “The Grapes of Wrath” (1940), “The 20th Century with Mike Wallace: El Nino” (1996)


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

July 29, 2008

Far North

Far North

Author: Will Hobbs

Page Length: 216

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Gabe, a teenager from Texas, has moved to Canada’s Northwest Territories to attend boarding school and to be closer to his father. His roommate is a teenager named Raymond, a native “Dene” to the Northwest Territories – Nahanni Country. Even though both boys share the same birth date, Gabe and Raymond are very different. Raymond finds it difficult to transition into his new school. He eventually quits and takes a plane ride back home. However, unbeknownst to him, Gabe is on the same Cessna plane yet for a different reason. Gabe is along for a scenic tour. Also along for the ride are Clint, the pilot, and Johnny Raven, Raymond’s great-uncle. Johnny Raven is riding back from a hospital stay.

Things quickly turn bad. Upon a water-landing, the engine fails to start again. Everyone but the pilot is able to escape. The plane and Clint, tumble to their demise. The boys and Johnny Raven spend the next several months surviving on their own. Many survival skills the boys learn from Johnny Raven who is accustomed to living off the land. Johnny, Raymond, and Gabe erect structures to sleep in, start fires from crude materials, hunt rabbits, beavers, and moose and avoid winter bears. Temperatures out in the Northwest Territories during the winter months drop as low as – 60 degrees Celsius. Johnny, Gabe, and Raymond feel this cold chill their bones. The only things that matter now are food, water, and movement. Raymond and Gabe convince Johnny that instead of waiting the winter out, they should trek towards Nahanni Butte (village of Johnny).

Johnny Raven eventually passes away in the wilderness and Gabe and Raymond ceremoniously cremate him. The boys trek on towards the Nahanni Butte. After several near-death experiences (escaping bears, falling through freezing water, avoiding wolverines) Raymond and Gabe reach civilization.

The story ends with a ceremony commemorating Johnny Raven’s life with the families of Raymond and Gabe in attendance.

REVIEW: I enjoyed this book very much. As one who has mountain climbed in freezing temperatures and has camped out with only the bear necessities, I understand what these characters have gone through to some extent. The realistic depictions of survival in sub zero conditions, is vivid and awesome. The theme of life and death is apparent all throughout the book.

The interactions between Raymond and Gabe seem a little childish, but not overdone. The book, at 216 pages in length, is representative of the many months that the boys were out on their own in the harsh conditions of the Northwest Territories. The author, in his note at the end, states that some of the elements of the story are based on real life experiences and history.

Even focusing on just one chapter of this book, one can feel the rush of emotion and conflict the boys encounter. This is a story that truly depicts what it means to survive.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: reading a map (map located at front of book), foreshadowing (Chapter 1), setting, writing good endings to chapters, simile (pages 55, 68, 77, 97, 113, & 177), sequence of events (Chapter 10), Native American stories (Chapter 12), letter writing containing theme of dying on the inside vs. outside (Chapter 14)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: animal clubbing (page 116), death of a human (page 119), ceremonial act of human cremation (Chapter 13)

RELATED BOOKS: Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, Dangerous River: Adventures on the Nahanni, Downriver, Julie of the Wolves, & The Talking Earth


RELATED WEBSITES: (awesome site about Dene culture, Northwest Territories, survival techniques, student activities, and teacher tips)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Create a free website or blog at