Tag Archives: summary

The Crazy Horse Electric Game

by Chris Crutcher, 1987

Classification:  YA Fiction

Genre:  Realistic/Issues

Age Level:  14+

Subjects:  accident & aftermath, disappointment, friendship, family

Reader’s annotation:  When a near-drowning leaves him crippled, star athlete Willie Weaver is forced to confront a life much different from the one he thought he was supposed to live.

Main characters:  Willie Weaver—a gifted athlete and the formidable pitcher on his town’s baseball team
Big Will—Willie’s father who is deeply proud of his athletic son and who has always related to Willie through sports
Sandy Weaver—Willie’s mother who blames herself for the loss of baby Missy to SIDS
Johnny Rivers—Willie’s best friend who enjoys telling longwinded jokes that end in cheesy puns
Jenny Blackburn—Willie’s longtime best friend and new girlfriend, a star athlete in her own right who particularly excels in basketball

Summary: A near-drowning leaves star athlete Willie Weaver damaged, a devastating blow for the Weaver family who never healed from the death of baby Missy.  Willie is bewildered by his sudden handicap.  With his best friend/girlfriend drifting away and his father increasingly frustrated, Willie senses the need for a new environment in which he can sort out his new identity.  He boards a bus and ends up in Oakland where he finds an unlikely savior in a pimp named Lacey who sets Willie up at a school offering “One More Last Chance.” Can Willie, and the family and friends he’s left behind, ever recover from the tragedy?

Controversial Content: Racism

Also by Chris Crutcher:  Running Loose, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, Stotan!

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Stotan!

by Chris Crutcher, 1986

Classification:  YA Fiction

Genre:  Realistic/Issues

Age Level:  14+

Subjects:  Friendship, teams, high school

Reader’s annotation:  Four high school swimmers volunteer for a grueling week of training in preparation for their final season as a team.

Main characters:  Walter Dupree (narrator), has older parents who are not much involved in his life
Nortie Wheeler, works with young kids at a daycare
Jeff Hawkins, formerly with the Marine reserves
Lionel “Lion” Serbousek, an orphan who lives alone in a run-down apartment
Max Il Song, swim coach, Korean
Elaine, also a swimmer, friend of the team
Devnee, Walker’s girlfriend
Marty O’Brian, a schoolmate who promotes a local newsletter called “Aryan Press”
Gail Stevens, school administrator

Summary:  Frost High School swimming coach Max Il Song devises a challenge for his four man team:  Stotan Week, in which each athlete will strive to become a cross between a Stoic and a Spartan.  Together, best friends and teammates Walker, Nortie, Jeff and Lion push themselves past their known limits and find not only a higher level of athletic performance but also a deeper understanding of life and friendship.

Controversial content:  Racism, violence, child abuse.

Also by Chris Crutcher:  Running Loose, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

 

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Running Loose

by Chris Crutcher, 1983

Classification:  YA Fiction

Genre:  Realistic/Issues

Age Level:  14+

Subjects:  Sportsmanship, love, death and friendship

Reader’s annotation:  In this coming of age story set in a small Idaho town, Louie Banks learns how lives are set by fleeting moments and seemingly simple decisions.

Main characters: Louie Banks, a football player

Carter, another football player, Louie’s best friend & role model

Coach Lednecky, the football coach who believes in winning no matter the cost

Boomer Cowans, a fellow football player who has no problem playing dirty

Becky Sanders, Louie’s long-time crush

Summary: Louie is a student athlete at Trout High School, a small town school with a student body of less than 125 students.  He is devoted to football until Coach Lednecky asks the team to carry out an illegal move that will injure Washington, the rival’s team best player who happens to be African American.  When Boomer follows through with the coach’s orders, Louie doesn’t hesitate to unmask Coach Lednecky, challenging the older man’s leadership and hinting at the deeper issue of racism.  But Louie’s concerns fall on deaf ears and win him no love with the rest of the team.  Convinced he did the right thing, Louie accepts the consequences of his actions.  In fact, when he’s kicked off the team, Louie manages just fine without football because he has Becky, a beautiful cheerleader and loyal friend, and a part-time job cleaning up at the Buckhorn, a local bar.  But when Louie’s life takes a tragic turn he must confront the reality that his actions have effects that he could never anticipate.

Controversial content: Underage drinking, sexuality, verbal and physical violence, strong language

Also by Chris Crutcher:  Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

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Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

by Chris Crutcher, 1993

Classification:  YA Fiction

Genre: Realistic/Issues

Age Level: 13+

Subjects:  Competition/High school sports, friendship, high school, freedom of speech/expression

Reader’s Annotation:  When his best friend suddenly stops speaking, Eric “Moby” Calhoune knows something terrible is going on and he is determined to help her through it.

Main characters:    Eric Calhoune, narrator, earned the nickname “Moby” because prior to joining the swim team he was overweight
Sarah Byrnes, terribly scarred from a childhood accident, Eric’s best friend, suddenly stops speaking and is a patient at the hospital
Sandy Calhoune, Eric’s mother who works as a writer for the local newspaper
Carver Middleton, Sandy’s boyfriend
Virgil Byrnes, Sarah’s sinister, overbearing father
Mr. Mautz, school administrator
Ms. Lemry, English teacher and swim coach
Dale Thornton, middle school bully with whom Sarah Byrnes forged a tentative friendship
Steve Ellerby, a fellow swimmer and friend of Eric’s, father is a preacher
Mark Brittan, a swimmer and model student, Christian
Jody Mueller, Mark’s girlfriend who breaks things off to pursue Eric

Summary:  Sarah Byrnes refuses to speak but her best friend Eric Calhoune still knows how to communicate with her.  To get to the bottom of the mystery that has become his friend, Eric seeks the insight of former school bully Dale Thornton and discovers a shocking secret.  Meanwhile, during Ms. Lemry’s Contemporary American Thought class, yet more secrets are uncovered, this time about Eric’s swimming rival, the seemingly perfect Mark Brittan.  As the revelations pile up, the time to take action draws near, but with an unsympathetic school administrator and two different but equally determined fathers standing in the way, can anyone get the help they need?

Controversial content:  Abortion, suicide, child abuse, fundamentalism

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Battle Bullying with Books

Starting Young

Last week, my daughter told me about a troubling recess incident at her school:  apparently, a game of “Lego City Police” devolved into the playground version of police brutality.  Teachers were alerted and intervened but not before one of my daughter’s kindergarten classmates was punched and scratched by another kid.

In her responses to my “casual” questions, my daughter revealed that the boy who was punched/scratched is not well liked among his peers.  She says the other boys don’t like him because he doesn’t brush his teeth.  The only girl police officer in the game, my daughter backed away when the punching started and didn’t know what to do.  The boy who did the punching/scratching has often been sent to the principal’s office but my daughter thinks he is silly and says funny things in class.

Wow.  All this just in time for No Name Calling Week.

Bullying Statistics

Some parents may feel it is an overreaction on my part to be concerned that the Lego City Police incident could be a precursor to bullying.  However, the statistics are alarming:  160,000 students per day skip school in fear of attack or bullying; out of 37 studied shootings, 66% of them were led by individuals who felt bullied; and 20% of high school students say they’ve considered suicide within the past twelve months, mentioning the triggers as bullying, teasing, and social rejection.  (These figures are borrowed from a library colleague; I didn’t ask for her sources).

The messages sent to my daughter and her classmates about this incident matter.  The time to address these issues is now, and the time to lay the foundation for the prevention of future bullying is now.

Don’t just read.  Discuss what you read.

My way of addressing issues typically involves books and I am familiar with the skepticism toward my approach:  can books really change the world?  Can reading really change lives?

Jenny Betz, Education Manager for GLSEN, suggested a different spin on these questions yesterday in “Battle Bullying with Books,” a webinar sponsored by Booklist.  Betz says that perhaps not the books themselves but the conversations around those books are what truly have the power to change lives.

One of my favorite aspects of teaching is listening to young people talk about issues of importance to them.  With civil discourse eroding before our eyes and disturbingly venomous speech flying around, it feels increasingly important to teach youth how to engage in respectful conversation with others.  I think using literature to open up dialogue is a great place to start.

Alone, the act of reading will not teach a child how to recognize and understand his emotions, will not create empathy.    But coupled with discussion, reading can help foster sensitivity and healthy relationships.

The thing to remember with discussion is that being “right” isn’t the point.  It’s more important to understanding what the other person is saying.  We adults are so eager to impart wisdom to young people that sometimes we talk too much.  We want young people to listen to us, but we often fail to reciprocate and truly listen to them.

All It Takes is One

In the past decade, innumerable titles have been published that deal with the subject of bullying for kids of all ages.  Last year author Mitali Perkins compiled a list of great titles for young adults (ages 12+).  For emergent readers (ages 5-8) the recent Benny and Penny in the Toy Breaker by Geoffrey Hayes is a good one and the upcoming The Three Bully Goats by Leslie Kimmelman seems promising.  James Howe, author of Bunnicula, published The Misfits in 2001  for middle grade readers.  Loosely based on his daughter’s experience at the hands of middle school bullies, The Misfits is the book that launched No Name Calling Week.

My personal favorite is One by Kathryn Otoshi, published in 2008 by KO Kids Books.   This profound picture book is accessible for very young children but has an elegant, Zen flair that makes it appealing for tweens and teens as well.  Every preschool and elementary school library needs a copy of this book, and it would make a terrific teacher gift as well.  (Coincidentally, I had given my daughter’s teacher a copy of One earlier this month.  She read it to the class this week and the kids’ response to it was very encouraging.)

Summary:   Generally, Blue feels happy and life is good.  Except when Red gets mad and takes it out on Blue.  Those are the times when Blue feels, well, blue.  And Red sometimes makes Orange, Purple, Green, and Yellow feel blue too.  Red is a bully but the other colors don’t quite know what to do about it until One comes along and teaches an important lesson—that everyone counts!

Counting by ones may seem like a slow process—one book, one teacher, one kid, one parent—but we never know which one moment can be a turning point.  I, for one, don’t want to allow a single opportunity to slip by.

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Speech Team Memories & Bitter Melon

The first place trophy that came as such a surprise. (No, it doesn't live on my bookshelf anymore. I dug it out of a box in the garage specifically so I could post this photo.)

Many of my best memories of high school come from experiences on speech team.  There are the crystal clear memories:  scanning elimination lists, late-night dinners at Denny’s, my shock at winning my first ever tournament, and an incident mid-round involving my best friend/duo interpretation partner and a pair of pantyhose.  There are also the fuzzier images:  the judge with the pig tie, the record store near UC Berkley, the always cold classrooms.

Some years later, when I was a teacher, I chaperoned the speech team on a weekend invitational tournament.  That experience was not nearly as fun but my respect and admiration for my coach and moderator increased exponentially (Kristi Balleweg and Eileen DeBruno are forever my heroes!).

All these memories came back to me in a rush when I read Bitter Melon by Cara Chow.  The main character, Frances Ching, attends an all-girls prep school and joins the speech team at her teacher’s encouragement.  A former “speechie” herself, the author does an excellent job describing how it feels to enter an unfamiliar classroom, select a seat, size up the judge, psych out the competition.  Chow gets the roller coaster of nervousness and confidence just right.   And the trophy!  The brassy, hollow treasure that means both everything and nothing.

But Bitter Melon offers up more than just a glimpse into the geeky world of high school speech and debate.  The novel is as good as any Amy Tan book for its exploration of mother/daughter relationships and themes of loyalty to self and family.

Because the story is set in the 1989-1990 school year, there’s no internet or texting for these teens.  Frances and her peers pass notes on paper and share corded wall phones with their parents.  They also use AquaNet and the President Bush they refer to isn’t W.  The only period detail Chow is missing is the DJ spinning “My Prerogative” or “Straight Up” at one of the dances.  This is a great read for present day teens or for a child of the 80s.  Looking forward to more from this debut author!

Bitter Melon 

By Cara Chow

EgmontUSA, 2010

Classification:  YA Fiction

Genre:  Realistic

Age Level:   12+

Subjects: Mothers & daughters, Chinese Americans, high school, academics, speech & debate

Characters:

Fei Ting “Frances” Ching—hard-working, loyal daughter; a self-conscious loner

Gracie—a strict Chinese mom who wants her daughter to succeed in life

Theresa—Frances’ classmate, also Chinese

Nellie—Theresa’s mom and Gracie’s best friend

Ms. Taylor—a young, new teacher at Frances & Theresa’s school

Derek Collins—a boy Frances first meets at an SAT prep class who later turns out to be her biggest competition at speech tournaments

Summary:  Gracie Ching wants her only daughter, Frances, to attend UC Berkley and then go on to medical school.  Gracie works long hours at a low-paying job to afford tuition at a private girls school and she has Frances’ entire academic future planned out.  Now in her senior year, Frances has grown tired of her mother’s unrelenting pressure so when she accidentally enrolls in speech instead of AP Calculus, she doesn’t bother to change classes.  In fact, Frances kind of likes speech.  And her teacher, Ms. Taylor assures her she’s good at it.  At Ms. Taylor’s encouragement and with help on the homefront from fellow overachiever Theresa, Frances begins to find her own voice.  But will Gracie listen to what her daughter has to say?

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Someone Like You

By Sarah Dessen
Classification: YA Literature
Genre: Realistic fiction, chick lit
Age Level: 13+
Subjects: Friendship, mothers and daughters, self-discovery, teen pregnancy

Reader’s Annotation:  In her first serious relationship and with her best friend pregnant, Halley needs to grow up quickly.

Summary:  When Halley’s best friend Scarlett finds herself pregnant in the weeks following her boyfriend’s tragic death, Halley suddenly finds herself needing to be strong for the friend she used to lean on.  And Halley needs to learn her own strength quickly, since her shady boyfriend Macon is pressuring her to have sex with him and encouraging Halley in behavior that strains the already tense relationship she has with her mother.  Balancing family, school and her social life, Halley learns for the first time how tough it can be to reconcile who she is with who she wants to be.

Notes:  The emotional depth of the characters is what makes this simple story shine.  Halley is a very accessible and believable heroine.  Content to be aware of—underage drinking, drug use.
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