Module 7: Bodies From the Ash: Life and Death in Ancient Pompeii

20 07 2010

Book Cover

Summary: This book chronicles the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79 and the destruction of the towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii. The author provides a timeline of the eruption as well as the excavation process of the sites and describes both in an easy to understand manner. This book also includes a number of photographs of the excavation process and the remains as they are today.

Citation: Deem, J. M. (2005) Bodies From the Ash: Life and Death in Ancient Pompeii. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

My Impressions: I enjoyed this book. It was full of great factual information that is easy for a middle schooler or above to understand and increase their knowledge. I visited Pompeii when I was in 8th grade and I recognize some of the photographs in the books as ruins and skeletons I saw. I particularly enjoyed the section in this book in which the author highlights the discoveries at five different sites and the remains that were found there. This section makes the book more personal, the reader is able to get a little bit into the lives and houses of the people the explosion affected.


“Deem explains how scientists have used these molds and other evidence to piece together the life styles and final moments of some of the victims, and conveys these heart-wrenching tales. Dramatic photographs of the casts capture the horror of this event and help readers to envision day-to-day life in this civilization. With incredibly engrossing images and narrative, this is a powerful and poignant piece of nonfiction.” –Jodi Kearns, School Library Journal review excerpt

“The excavations and body preservation techniques are explained in detail; everyday life in the city and the later tourist activity centered in Pompeii are also highlighted. But the jewels here are the numerous black-and-white (and some color) photographs, especially those featuring the plaster casts and skeletons of people in their death throes. The horizontal format, with pages looking as though they were partially bordered in marble, makes an attractive setting for the art. Excellent for browsers as well as researchers.” –Ilene Cooper, Booklist review excerpt

Library Use Suggestion: This would be a great book to go along with a book talk on ancient civilizations or natural disasters.


Module 6: Pink and Say

13 07 2010

Book Cover

Summary: This is the story of a black boy and a white boy fighting for the Union army during the Civil War. Pink finds Say wounded and left for dead from a battle and both boys make their way to Pink’s home to recover under the care of his mom. However all their lives are put in danger when marauding Confederates come to the house.

Citation: Polacco, Patricia. (1994) Pink and Say. New York: Philomel Books

My Impressions: I love the way the book was told, not just as a story, but as family history as told by the main character’s great-great-grandaughter. The pictures are vivid and bold, as the wounded boys travel the entire ground is red with bits of grass, as though the land itself is bleeding. The story itself is very moving and both characters are realistic.


“The figure of Pink’s mother borders on the sentimental, but the boys’ relationship is beautifully drawn. Throughout the story there are heartbreaking images of people torn from a loving embrace. Pictures on the title and copyright pages show the parallel partings as each boy leaves his family to go to war.” –Hazel Rochman, Booklist Online review excerpt

“Say, 15, had never seen a black person up close until Pink, also a young Union soldier, saves his life. During his brief stay in Pink’s home, the wounded boy comes to understand his friend’s unconquerable vision of freedom. A memorable family reminiscence with evocative paintings.” —School Library Journal review

Library Use Suggestion: This would be a great book to teach children a little bit about the Civil War. It could even be of use to older children, to help them gain perspective on what the war meant for people. Children could discuss what they think the war meant to people on both sides and why those people were willing to die for what they believed in.

Module 6: Fever, 1793

13 07 2010

Book Cover

Summary: Mattie Cook is a fourteen-year-old growing up in nation’s capitol of Philadelphia, Pa., at the end of the eighteenth century. She works with her mother, grandfather, and their cook Eliza at their coffeshop and wants nothing more than to stop being treated like a child. However, disaster strikes the Cook family and all of Philadelphia when yellow fever breaks out, creating the one of the worst epidemics in U.S. history. Mattie must fight for her own survival and that of her family’s as they wait the frost to come and the fever to break.

Citation: Anderson, Laurie Halse. (2000) Fever, 1793. New York: Simon & Schuster.

My Impressions: I’ve read and enjoyed Halse’s book Speak an was eager to see how she would transition to historical fiction. I am happy to say she did it well and with ease. Not only does Mattie’s character and her surroundings seem historically accurate, Mattie’s character and voice are crafted so that a teenage girl today could relate to her. When I first began this book I wondered how Anderson could take an outbreak of disease and make it seem interesting for 243 pages, but I had no trouble staying interested in the book.


“Anderson tells a good story and certainly proves you can learn a lot about history in good fiction. An appended section gives more background.” –Stephanie Zvirin, Booklist Online review

“Extremely well researched, Anderson’s novel paints a vivid picture of the seedy waterfront, the devastation the disease wreaks on a once thriving city, and the bitterness of neighbor toward neighbor as those suspected of infection are physically cast aside. However, these larger scale views take precedence over the kind of intimate scenes that Anderson crafted so masterfully in Speak. Scenes of historical significance, such as George Washington returning to Philadelphia, then the nation’s capital, to signify the end of the epidemic are delivered with more impact than scenes of great personal significance to Mattie.” —Publisher’s Weekly review excerpt

Library Use Suggestions: A great use of this book would be to compare Mattie’s life in 1793 to a fourteen-year-old today. Are different things expected from Maggie as a woman or a young woman than today? How did doctors and other people deal with sickness and disease?

Module 5: Ender’s Game

12 07 2010

Book Cover

Summary: At some point in Earth’s future aliens that resemble giant bugs, a.k.a. Buggers, have attacked Earth twice and Earth is in fear of a third attack to finish humans off. Though he is only six military commanders believe that  Ender Wiggins is the answer to Earth’s survival and the destruction of the Buggers. For five years he is trained and tested to see if he has what it takes to command the fleets of starships. Ender must prove that he has what it takes to survive his constant hardships and save the earth.

Citation: Card, Orson Scott. (1991) Ender’s Game. New York: Tor.

My Impressions: I had no trouble breezing through this book, but I might have breezed a little too quickly because I definitely missed some key points in the scientific explanations. Despite that I was able to understand the book. Although I enjoy and read quite a bit of fantasy, I don’t often read science fiction so I don’t have a lot to compare Ender’s Game with, but I thought the book was interesting and different. At the same time it was a little unnerving to see how Ender’s freedom and childhood is stripped from him and how he is a pawn, albeit an important pawn, but a pawn nonetheless. While the book was definitely good, I was a little depressed by the end because I didn’t feel like Ender ever truly found happiness. However, I know that Ender’s Game is the beginning of a series so perhaps in one of the later books he truly finds happiness.


“Card has taken the venerable conceits of a superman and an interstellar war against aliens, and, with superb characterization, pacing, and language, has combined them into a seamless story of compelling power.” –Roland Green, Booklist Online review

“Now, in this novel, Card fulfills his early promise…and more.”–Ben Bova

Library Use Suggestion: In the book Colonel Graff suggests that the perpetuation of the war between the buggers and humans is because there is no way for the two species to communicate. This could open a conversation about communication barriers and how to breach them. How deaf people communicate with people who don’t know sign language and how people who speak different languages communicate could be discussed.

Module 5: Gregor the Overlander

11 07 2010

Book Cover

Summary: While 11-year-old Gregor is watching his 2-year-old sister Boots she opens a vent and falls in. Gregor goes after her only to discover the vent is a chute that carries them miles below the earth’s surface into the Underland. Here he discovers a world he never knew, a world filled with giant cockroaches, bats, rats, and people with translucent skin. He also discovers that he has to fulfill a prophecy that was made hundreds of years ago when then first humans came to dwell below the earth, a prophecy that could mean his death, and could mean the rescue of his father who has been trapped in the Underland for over two years.

Citation: Collins, Suzanne. (2003) Gregor the Overlander. New York: Scholastic Press.

My Impressions: I’ve read Suzanne Collins Hunger Games series which I loved and was eager to read more of her work. Although I enjoyed the book, it took me a while to get over the giant cockroaches (gross, gross, gross!!!). It wasn’t until I got toward the middle of the book that I really started to get into the story. It was then that I felt I understood the characters and that the world that Gregor had fallen into came alive for me. However, by the end of the book I was into the story enough that I was ready to read the sequel.


“Rich in suspense and brimming with adventure, Suzanne Collin’s debut marked a thrilling new talent, and introduced a character no young reader will ever forget.” – review

“Collins creates a fascinating, vivid, highly original world and a superb story to go along with it, and Gregor is endearing as a caring, responsible big brother who rises triumphantly to every challenge. This is sure to be a solid hit with young fantasy fans.” –Ed Sullivan, Booklist Online review

Library Use Suggestion: Gregor, like Alice in Wonderland and the Pensive children, finds his way into another world through a portal in his world. Children could come up with their own world, describing who or what inhabits it, and what portal would exist between our world and the one they made up.

Module 5: Speak

7 07 2010

Book Cover

Summary: Melinda doesn’t have it easy. Not only is she starting ninth grade, but everyone in the school hates her for calling the cops at a end of summer party. Ever since the party she has had to deal with an overwhelming depression due to a horrible event that happened that night which she is unable to speak even to herself. Melinda must learn how to find happiness in her life and move past what has happened to her. She must learn how to find hope and how to find her voice again.

Citation: Anderson, Laurie Halse. (2006). Speak. New York: Penguin.

My Impressions: I had a little trouble getting into this book at first. Not only did Melinda seem a little too insightful, but until I knew why she was depressed I wasn’t able to connect with her too well. However, as Melinda’s story was revealed I wasn’t able to put the book down. It was great watching her work through her depression, to find hope and her voice, and very realistic. I think many young people will be able to connect with this book.


“This is a compelling book with sharp, crisp writing that draws readers in, engulfing them in the story.” –School Library Journal

“An uncannily funny book even as it plumbs the darkness, Speak will hold readers from the first word to the last.” –Horn Book

Library Use Suggestion: This would be a good book to use when talking about rape and depression. Both are more common than we like to believe, particularly among adolescents. Through the main character Melinda the reader can learn how to deal with both subjects. This can open up conversation to talk with students about how to deal with emotional problems and sexual abuse such as who to reach to and what to do if it happens to them or a friend.

Module 4: Hatchet

29 06 2010

Book Cover

Summary: Fourteen-year-old Brian is going to visit his father for the first time since his parents divorce. But when his plane crashes in the Canadian wilderness Brian is left with the clothes on his back and a hatchet, a last minute present from his mother, attached to his belt. Brian must learn how to survive, make his own shelter, find his own food, while hoping for rescue.

Citation: Paulsen, Gary. (1987) Hatchet. New York: Simon Pulse.

My Impressions: Although I don’t read many survival stories, and when I do I prefer true stories, I enjoyed this book. Brian is a smart, resourceful boy and manages to survive 54 days by his own wits. I particularly like that Brian does not find the survival pack until the day he is found. Before that he had been forced to stop thinking like a city kid, to change the way he views world around him. Had he had the survival pack from the beginning he would have never learned how create fire using only a stone and his hatchet, he would have never had to create a fish trap, a bow and arrow, or a spear, and he would have never had to capture his own food. The reader can see Brian grow as a person, so that by the end of the book the boy consumed with the Secret and his parent’s divorce is much more mature and thoughtful. Anyone who enjoys a good adventure story can enjoy this book.


“Readers may wince as Paulsen’s drama unfolds: as night blends into gray false dawn, the grip of the pacing never falters. Brian learns that while smiling at the humor of a funny mistake, he could find himself looking at death; learns that the driving influence in nature is to eat; learns to be full of tough hope. After a tornado ravages his campsite—destroying every fragment of his microcosm of civilization—he’s back to square one, with nothing left but the hatchet and what he learned about himself. Classic action-adventure fiction.” –Phyllis Wilson, Booklist Online Review excerpt

Library Use Suggestion: Brian is left in the wilderness with only the clothes on his back and a hatchet. Children could imagine an climate or ecosystem in which they were stranded and come up with their own survival kit.