Summer of Kings




Title: Summer of Kings Author: Han Nolan
Illustrator: n/a 
Publisher: Florida:  Harcourt Publishers

Genre: Historical Fiction Level: Upper Number of pages: 334 Pub. Date: 2006

Summary :

It’s 1963; Esther Young is a young girl who just wants a little excitement in her life. So when King Roy Johnson, a suspected black murder comes to live with her family she decides she’s going to love him. Through King Roy, Esther is introduced to a world where not everything is as fair as she originally thought. She starts reading about Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. to learn more about peaceful protest. At the same time King Roy joins a Black Muslim group who are for action now. In the end Esther convinces her family that they should go to the March on Washington and King Roy dies for the murder the reader doesn’t know if he committed or not.

Critique :

This book is set in the time period of the Civil Rights Movement, 1963. This piece is a historically researched story with imaginary characters.  Many of the attributes of this story are historically accurate. One example of this is that Esther and her family go to the March on Washington and hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I have a Dream speech.


I think that this story is relatable for almost everybody. This story talks a lot about growing up and finding something that you believe in.  Esther and King Roy both struggle with who they are and how their lives are going. I think that of all of the books I’ve read so far, Esther is the most relatable character for me. She really loves her family, wants to make the world a better place and struggles with feeling like she isn’t growing up fast enough. I have felt all of these feelings myself. Another thing that really struck me is that the author never tells us is King Roy actually killed anybody. I believe that by leaving it open to interpretation, it allows the reader to decide if King Roy is a good or bad character.


Have the students watch the “I have a dream speech”. After they have finished watching it, have them discuss in small groups how Mr. Kings ideas relate to what Esther believes and what she reads about in the book.


Captain Underpants

Captain Underpants

Title: Captain Underpants and the Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space (and the Subsequent Assault of the Equally Evil Lunchroom Zombie Nerds)  Author: Dav Pilkey 
Illustrator: Dav Pilkey Publisher: New York, Scholastic

Genre: Realistic Fiction- Humor Level: Intermediate Number of pages: 144 Pub. Date: 1999


The crazy George and Harold are back in this story, along with everyone’s favorite, almost superhero Captain Underpants. As the title of the book suggests Evil aliens from outer space invade and disguise themselves as lunch ladies. While disguised they turn all the students, except for George and Harold, into zombie nerds. This trouble forces them try and fight back, with the help of the principle turned super hero Captain Underpants. While fighting, Captain Underpants drinks a liquid that gives him super strength, making him like a real super hero.


This story would be considered realistic fiction, but just barley. It would be classified as a humorous story because of all of the crazy shenanigans that happens through out the book. Furthermore, the use of regular elementary school boys as the main characters in a normal elementary school also as sense of realism in the book.


I think that Captain Underpants is hilarious. I laughed when the boys warn that some of the sections of the book are going to be violent. The violence usually involved hitting with a pan or other silly nonsense. Also the flip-o-rama part of the book was fun and made the book more interactive. I could see this book being very popular with young boys who are into super heroes but also enjoy a little bit of mischief. After reading the third in the Captain Underpants series, I want to go back and read the rest of the series, including the first two that I read when I was in elementary school.


After: Students can create a short book trailer for this book. This trailer can be 1 minute and 30 seconds long and try to get readers hooked on reading this book.

Maniac Magee

maniac magee

Title: Maniac Magee Author: Jerry Spinelli
Illustrator: n/a
Publisher: New York, Little, Brown and Company

Genre: Realistic Fiction Level: Upper  Number of pages: 184 Pub. Date: 1990


Jeffery Lionel “Maniac” Magee loses his parents when he is three-years old, and goes to live with his aunt and uncle. However, after awhile Jeffery get’s fed up with his aunt and uncle and runs away. When he reaches the town Two Mills, Jeffery meets Amanda Beale, a young black girl, and borrows a book from her. The story continues to follow Jeffery and his adventures in Two Mills, how he gets the name Maniac, and how he crosses the unofficial lines between the white and black community. Eventually, Jeffery learns what family really means.


Maniac Magee is a realistic fiction story. I believe it can be classified as both a “Becoming one’s own person “ story and a “Living in a Diverse World” story. Like other Becoming one’s own person stories, it talks about the role of the extend family and the importance of friendship. Without Amanda’s friendship and her family taking him in Jeffery would never of had a real home. However, this story also discusses racial diversity like other Living in a Diverse World stories. Jeffery is able to see beyond a person’s race but other characters aren’t allowing for growth of different characters in the story.


I believe this story is a good book to read when discussing the issue of race. Jeffery doesn’t seem to understand why people are called black and white, no matter how hard he looks he always sees some kind of color, like mocha or peach. Furthermore, Jeffery crosses the line in the town of Two Mills, living with both a black family and a white family.

I really like this book but it definitely had some depressing sections.  When Grayson passed away, I almost threw the book across the room because I was so upset with what happened. I think this emotional reaction to what happened in the book talks to how powerful this book is. Another part of the book that really struck me is that none of the adults in the book made Jeffery go to school. Even though this book depicts a time period where segregation was still okay, I can’t imagine parents being comfortable with a young boy not going to school. Also Jeffery tries to keep others in school so I wonder why he doesn’t go himself, he obviously loves to read. I believe this part of the book is the least realistic and makes you wonder about its classification.


Before: Teacher could divide the room and tell all the kids that they couldn’t cross the line no matter what. Only one student would be allowed to cross (this will be the classes Maniac). Each side of the class would learn a different lesson. At the end of the day the class can discuss what they learned and how it felt to be separated. Then they can understand what kind of town Jeffery Magee lives in and can refer back to those feelings while reading the book.



City of Orphans


Title: City of Orphans Author: AVI  
Illustrator: Gregg Ruth
Publisher: New York, Scholastic

Genre: History  Level: Upper  Number of pages: 350 Pub. Date: 2011

Summary (Use your own words; 3-4 sentences; setting, characters, plot, conflict, resolution):

Living in New York City in 1893, Maks meets an orphaned girl named Willa when running away from the Pug Ugly gang. Willa moves in with Maks and his family while they try to prove his sister, Emma, innocent of stealing a watch. Together, Maks and Willa defeat the Pug Ugly Gang and discover who really stole the watch.


The setting is the historical New York City in the year 1893. This piece is a historically researched story with imaginary characters.  Many of the attributes of this story are historically accurate. For example, the Pug Ugly Gang was a real gang in the late 19th century and Maks is a Newsboy, like many young children in that time period.  Another great part of this book is suggested materials for further reading or watching. This could be used to broaden children’s knowledge of the time period.


This book wasn’t at all what I was expecting. It was very sad, and even though the ending is technically happy, a lot of issues that are discussed never get settled. For example even though Maks and Willa are able to save Emma, they still live in poverty, and have a tough life.  The brutal honesty about the late 19th century is surprising to me. One part of the book that particularly stands out to me is when Mr. Donck is explaining New York City.

“‘There are more wretched children on these streets than any other species, My Lord,’ he suddenly shouts ‘ the question before the heavenly court today is this: Do You wish any children to survive in this miserable city, this- this city of orphans?’” (P.154)

I believe that this part of the book really describes the horrors of the time period. The imagery of the children suffering on the streets with parents either dead or too naive to help them is shocking and you wonder, like Mr. Donck, if it wouldn’t be nicer to just let the children die so that they can be out of their misery.


After: Once the students have finished reading City of Orphans, they will watch “The Newsies”. This movie is set in New York City in 1899, six years after City of Orphans. This movie shows more of the life of the newboys like Maks. It talks about the Newsboys Strike of 1899. After watching the movie, students can write a one and a half page paper talking about the similarities and differences in both the newsboys and how New York City is depicted.

Charlotte’s Web



Title: Charlotte’s Web Author: E.B.White 
Illustrator: Garth Williams
Publisher: New York:  Harper & Row Publishers, Inc.

Genre: Modern Fantasy Level: middle/intermediate Number of pages: 184 Pub. Date: 1952

Summary : A young girl named Fern saves a pig named Wilbur.  He lives on Zuckerman’s Farm where he meets Charlotte a grey spider.  Charlotte befriends Wilber and creates a plan to save him by writing in her web.  Wilber is awarded a special medal at the fair and his life is saved.  Charlotte dies alone but 3 of her children live on in the barn as Wilber’s friends.

Critique The setting is realistic; the barn is a real place.  The characters, particularly Fern and Charlotte, grow and change over the course of the narrative.  This story falls into “becoming one’s own person” category of realistic fiction.  There are elements of fantasy in this story.  The animals in Zuckerman’s barn can talk to each other and Fern can hear them; the author continually makes this fantastic element believable.


The part of this book that I reacted to the most was when Charlotte dies. Particularly when EB White tells us that “ No one was with her [Charlotte] when she died” (171). This part speaks to the humanity in all of us. Charlotte is a human character who is a true friend to Wilbur. Because of these characteristics it makes it more relatable for the reader.  This humanity makes Charlotte’s Web a great story but it also makes it that much more upsetting when Charlotte passes away. I feel like everybody can relate to losing someone, or something close to you. For me Charlotte’s death reminds me of losing my cat, Spike. However, I know for some students it will remind them of losing a grandparent, parent or friend. I think this book does a good job of bringing up the idea of life and death in a way that allows for conversation.


Before:  Students will predict what they think the story is going to be about based on the art of the cover.

During: Students can pick one scene from the book and do a small picture book without staples of what happened in the scene

After: Students will be given fake spider webs and a piece of black paper and asked to make a web describing the book. For example: the teacher’s web could say heart warming.

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