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January 1, 2011

The House of Dies Drear

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The House of Dies Drear


Author: Virginia Hamilton


Page Length: 279


Reading Level: 6


Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: At first Thomas isn’t too thrilled about moving away again. He likes being near his grandmother; but, when his dad begins dropping hints about the mysterious new house he has in mind, Thomas’s interest is piqued. Soon he learns of the legend of Dies Drear. Drear was a landowner known for helping slaves along the route to freedom through the Underground Railroad. Drear and two of the three slaves he had been hiding were found murdered. Thomas learns of the great past of the house, its secret tunnels, and its mysterious secretive caretaker. Thomas’s new home is thought to be haunted. Strange things begin to happen. Vandalism occurs. And, Thomas is caught up in a plot to find the culprits and preserve the legend of Dies Drear and the great history the house represents before it falls into the hands of the wrong people.

REVIEW: This book is an excellent look at slavery issues, the Underground Railroad, and prejudice and hatred among the uneducated. Historically, the author does a great job of giving young adults an understanding of the abolitionist era. The story is action packed and full of mysterious events that will keep the reader guessing and turning the page to find out the resolution to the story.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  sequence of events, cause and effect, character traits, making predictions, analogies, historical context, context clues

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: issues of prejudice, vandalism, bigotry

RELATED BOOKS: M.C. Higgins, the Great, Second Cousins, Bluish, Zeely, The Planet of Junior Brown

SLAVERY RELATED BOOKS: 47, Dear Austin, The Land, Nightjohn, Kip: His Story, Bull Run, To Be A Slave, Harriet Tubman Conductor of the Underground Railroad

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Gone With the Wind (1939)


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


December 8, 2008

The Wave of the Sea Wolf

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The Wave of the Sea Wolf

Author: David Wisniewski

Page Length: 28

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The Tlingit people were Native Americans who lived upon the land. The young Tlingit princess, Kchokeen, who was admired for her beauty and intelligence, went out seeking fresh berries. Her mother warned to stay away from the mouth of the bay where Gonakadet, the Sea-Wolf, has drowned many before. Kchokeen does not take the canoe to mouth of the bay, but she ends up there looking for berries. An unfortunate accident happens and Kchokeen meets the Sea-Wolf. Will he spare her life or will she be his next victim?

REVIEW: This book has wonderful illustrations and an excellent story line. It seems typical of the average Native American tale. It’s a short read and a good look at Native American beliefs – reliance upon the land – and understanding of the cycle when Kchokeen’s father says “I refused, for animals cannot be hunted without mercy and reverence.” The book also shows the conflicts between Native Americans and explorers/ traders. Good story – great ending – probably geared more towards an elementary audience, but a great short introduction to Native American literature.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, cause and effect, plot, author’s purpose, dialogue, origins of legends, connecting text to self, connecting text to text (history)

RELATED BOOKS: Golem, Rain Player, The Warrior and the Wise Man, The Secret Knowledge of Grown Ups, Tough Cookie, Sumo Mouse

RELATED MOVIES: “Pocahontas”


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

December 5, 2008

Dear Austin

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Dear Austin

Author: Elvira Woodruff

Page Length: 137

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Dear Austin is a story written in letters from one brother to another. 11 year old Levi is in Pennsylvania under the watchful eye of Miss Amelia until his healthy enough and old enough to travel. Levi’s adventures with his friends, taking those awful dance lessons, and witnessing the prejudice in his town are detailed. One day, Jupiter’s sister disappears. Everyone fears that she has been taken by slave traders. Jupiter and Levi embark upon a journey to save her before it’s too late. Undeterred by the dangers that lie ahead, they are determined to bring her back. Will they be able to find her or will they become victims themselves?

REVIEW: This book was an excellent look at what life might have been like for a young boy during the 1850’s. The language and habits of the townspeople are what one would expect from a rural setting. The author handles the topic of slavery well. The reader experiences first hand the prejudice and racist feelings of a lady in town; Woodruff also introduces the reader to what it would have been like standing on the auction block. The story is moving and the ending realistic. This book is a great tool for teaching about slavery and the Underground Railroad in general without examining the depth of the atrocities that took place.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, cause and effect, internal conflict, external conflict, foreshadowing, elements of plot, author’s purpose, connecting text to historical text, context clues

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: slave auction, racist remarks and treatment

RELATED BOOKS: Dear Levi, The Orphan of Ellis Island, The Mummy Maker, Children of the Longhouse, Night John

RELATED MOVIES: “Night John,” “Spartacus,” “North and South: The Collection”


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

August 23, 2008

Harriet Tubman Conductor of the Underground Railroad

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Harriet Tubman Conductor of the Underground Railroad

Author:  Ann Petry

Page Length: 242

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Biography 

PLOT SUMMARY: This is the story of Harriet Tubman who was the daughter of Ben and “Old Rit” Ross, slaves in Maryland in the early 1800’s.  Harriet was hired out by her master at the young age of six to help with housework and care for a baby.  She was not good at this and eventually returned to her master.  As Harriet aged, she was a strong woman and worked well in the fields.  She enjoyed this work more than the domestic chores she had performed when she was younger.

Although her master was good to her parents and family, Harriet longed for freedom.  She married John Tubman, a free man, and wanted him to move North with her so that she could also be free.  John was happy in Maryland and did not want to move.  Harriet was befriended by a free woman who gave her information as how to travel North through the Underground Railroad.  By 1849, Harriet had made the trip North and was living in Pennsylvania. 

Harriet worked to save money so that she could return to Maryland and help other slaves move north.  She had to be very careful, because of the Fugitive Slave Laws and eventually had to move as far North as Canada.  Harriet dedicated her life to working as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad.  She helped more than 300 slaves move northward and became a spokesman for the fight for freedom.  She was known by her people as “Moses” for leading so many out of the bondage of the South.

 REVIEW: This is the third book I have read about the life of Harriet Tubman.  I enjoyed this book the most as it gave a more personal view of the struggles that Harriet experienced in her fight for freedom.  Ann Petry created a realistic setting of the road traveled on the Underground Railroad.  This is a good book for studying pre-Civil War slavery.  The reader is given a realistic view of the life of a slave.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Sequence, Setting and Character

RELATED BOOKS: Frederick Douglas, Passage to Freedom, Many Thousand Gone, Harriet and the Promised Land


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

May 28, 2008

Sojourner Truth Ain’t I a Woman?

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Sojourner Truth Ain’t I a Woman?

Author: Patrick C. McKissack & Frederick McKissack

Page Length: 182  

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Biography

PLOT SUMMARY: Sojourner Truth was actually born and named Isabella Van Wagner.  She was born in 1797 and lived as a slave for the first 28 years of her life.  Isabella had a large physique and worked hard for her masters. However, she hated slavery and became an abolitionist, activist, feminist, and preacher.  The book chronicles her life as a slave, then, tells of her first experience with the law, as she helps her son be freed. The story not only tells of Isabella’s life and why she changes her name to Sojourner Truth, but gives a history of slavery, and profiles leading figures in the abolitionist movement.

REVIEW: Although this book was full of great information and historical pictures, I thought it was rather boring.  I think the authors try to write in a different style, by giving the history of slavery and other people, but it seemed to take away the focus of Sojourner’s efforts.  There is a quote from a powerful speech she made at a religious conference on page 113-115.  It was given the name “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech; and, opened the issues of racism and sexism in the early 1800”s. 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Compare/Contrast, Sequence of Events, Historical Context

RELATED BOOKS: Frederick Douglas Fights for Freedom, Wanted: Dead or Alive, The Story of Harriet Tubman


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

May 16, 2008

Wanted Dead or Alive The True Story of Harriet Tubman

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Wanted Dead or Alive The True Story of Harriet Tubman

Author: Ann McGovern

Page Length: 60

Reading Level: 4.5

Genre: Biography


PLOT SUMMARY: The story of Harriet Tubman began in 1820 when she was born on a plantation in Maryland to the Negro slaves, known as Ben and Old Rit.  At only the age of 7, Harriet was sold to another slave owner to take care of a baby.  When the baby cried, Harriet’s mistress beat her with a rawhide whip.  When Harriet found the opportunity, she ran away.  However, being so young and fragile, she soon returned to her owner who took her back to her original master. 


Although she was young, she knew she did not want to live as a captive slave all of her life. When she heard others talk of the Underground Railroad and freedom in the northern states and Canada, she knew she would one day be free herself. 


Harriet grew and became stronger.  She worked in the fields on the plantation.  She met a free man, John Tubman and they were married.  However, Harriet had the desire to be free and John was not willing to move north with her, so she left him after four years of marriage.


Harriet did make it to the north, but was not satisfied with just being free herself.  She longed to help her family and other black slaves find their freedom.  For the remainder of her life, Harriet helped black people get their freedom.


REVIEW: This book would be good to use as an introduction to slaveryand the conditions of the south prior to the Civil War.  It is a quick read and would be a good book for a lower level reading student who is required to read a book dealing with slavery, the Civil War, or Civil Rights.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: Sequence of Events


RELATED BOOKS: The Story of George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglas




REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


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