The Book Reviews – Website

January 17, 2009

Around the World in 80 Days

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Around the World in Eighty Days

Author: Jules Verne

Page Length: 237  

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Phileas Fogg is a wealthy man who lives in London and belongs to the elite Reform Club.  One evening at the club, Mr. Fogg makes a wager with several of the members that he can travel around the world in eighty days.  He begins his trip, almost immediately with his employee, Passepartout.

Fogg plans to complete the trip by train and ship.  The two men travel to Suez, Bombay, miss a train and buy an elephant to get through India.  While in India, they rescue a Parsee woman from human sacrifice.  Along the way, Passepartout becomes acquainted with Mr. Fix, a detective from London who suspects that Mr. Fogg has robbed a bank.  Eventually, Mr. Fix joins the trio and completes the trip with them through Hong Kong, Shanhai, the United States and across the Atlantic. 

The trip has many bumps in the road, but Mr. Fogg thinks he will arrive within the time frame to collect his wagers.  However, in the end, he realizes he arrives forty-five minutes late… or does he?

REVIEW:  Because the book was written in 1874, I would recommend it for reading as a class novel rather than independent reading for the teenager of the 21st century.  The teacher would be able to incorporate instruction of vocabulary, descriptive writing, character development, and world geography in the reading. 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Cause/Effect, Characters, Vocabulary, Descriptive Writing, World Geography, Sequence of Events, Setting

RELATED BOOKS: Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

MOVIE & TV CONNECTIONS: Around the World in Eighty Days (1956, 2004), Around the World in Eighty Days-TV Mini-Series (1989)



REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


July 7, 2008

Fair Weather

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Fair Weather

Author: Richard Peck

Page Length: 139

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Rosie (a 14 year old girl), Lottie (her older sister), and Buster Beckett (her mischievous little brother) have never been away from the family farm. Plucking chickens and tending the garden is an average day for these three until a letter from Aunt Euterpe arrives. This isn’t just any letter – it contains tickets for the train and a promise to attend the World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago World’s Fair).

Buster, Lottie, and Rosie finds themselves in a whole new world. They can experience sights and sounds they have never seen nor heard of before. Lottie has fallen in love, and Rosie knows that she will never be the same. Will they all find their places in Chicago society? Can the Beckett children find a way to fit in and make Aunt Euterpe happy or will their country ways be too much for her? Will Lottie forget all about her true love once she’s seen what Chicago has to offer? Will anyone ever be the same after meeting Wild Bill Cody and seeing what the world has to offer?

REVIEW: Peck delivers again in Fair Weather. His characters are excellently developed. The reader experiences emotions with the characters and truly feels their wonder and excitement at the greatness of the Chicago World’s Fair. Readers learn about the travel, customs, manner of speech, and fashions of the time. Readers also learn about the many events and historical contexts behind the attractions at the fair.

The story has both humorous and heart-warming attributes. The characters remain true and are attuned to the need of family. I liked his other two books about Grandma Dowdel better, but this one was still an interesting read.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: informative text, textual support, historical context, audience and purpose, sequence of events

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: poverty, mourning- none of any consequence

RELATED BOOKS: A Long Way from Chicago, Strays Like Us, A Year Down Yonder, The River Between Us, The Teacher’s Funeral, Stories My Grandmother Would Love: Featuring Eleven “Miss Lillie” Stories About Life on the Farm in the 1930s

RELATED MOVIES: Classic Chicago World’s Fair Films, Historic Chicago’s World Fair 1933-1934


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

June 2, 2008

A Family Apart

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A Family Apart

Author: Joan Lowry Nixon

Page Length: 162

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: It is the 1850’s and Frances Mary Kelly and her five brothers and sisters live in New York. Her father died in the past year and her mother is struggling to survive and support her six children. All of the children do their part around the house. Mike and Danny go downtown to shine shoes, and Mary Frances goes to work with her mother. The family struggles to survive; Mary Frances travels the streets without even a pair of shoes. Mike, the oldest brother, is caught stealing and a difficult decision is made. Mother sacrifices everything to save Mike and to provide for the rest of her children. She puts them on the Orphan Train to Missouri.

The children are devastated; they miss their home and their mother. As the train chugs closer to Missouri they each fear for their safety and what fate awaits them. Will they find a home? How will their new “parents” treat them? Will they be able to stay together? What will life in pro-slavery Missouri be like?

REVIEW: Nixon does an excellent job of bringing historical fiction to life. The reader can feel the struggles of the family and their love. Nixon portrays the anger and shock the children feel at their mother’s actions vividly. Historically, the mannerisms of the people, the tensions of slavery in the states, and the roles of women at the time are accurate. Hardships appear but the Kelly children persevere and May Frances begins to understand how much her mother truly loved them to have made the greatest sacrifice of all.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: summarization, theme, setting, characters, point of view, conflict, sequence, cause and effect (mother’s actions), author’s purpose

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: issue of being put up for adoption

RELATED BOOKS: Anne of Green Gables, Jane Eyre, Pollyanna, The Thief Lord, Oliver Twist

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS:  Bruce Springsteen – Songs to the Orphan, Annie, Heidi, Anne of Green Gables (movie and mini-series)


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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