Adam Canfield Watch Your Back

Author: Michael Winerip
Reading Range: 4.8 (AR Finder)
Interest Range: 4-8 (AR Finder)
Plot: Adam Canfield is shoveling snow in a neighbor’s driveway when he is attacked by a group of older teens who steal his money. After this happens, Adam’s parents call the police and the teens are arrested. They are charged with assault. Adam is the editor of his school newspaper called “The Slash.” His co-editor, Jennifer, suggests they have a survey on the bullies at school. He vetoes the idea even through everyone likes. He comes around and decided the paper should have the survey. While this is going on, Adam is taking an advanced science class where they have to come up with a project for the science fair. Adam decides his project will focus on how parents helping their child with their projects give them higher grades. Adam has a lot of other things going on because he gets involved with a group that wants to expose the fact a corruption scheme by a local Realtor developer. Will Adam to solve the various mysteries around him?
Review: After writing the plot, I realized that they were a lot of subplots going on in this story. Another reviewer talked about how the author is spoofing over-scheduled kids. I have to say that both Adam and Jennifer fit that mold. They have sports and activities everyday after school. During school, they are working on the newspaper. I have no idea how they find the time to interview people for articles or much less get their homework. The one subplot that I liked was where Adam was researching how parent help can raise student’s grades. I remember at different fairs that I attended the kids who had parents who helped them were usually the ones that had the best presentations. I had to agree with Adam when he found that to be true. I did enjoy this book. I liked Adam because of how earnest and passionate he is about journalism. He thinks it is important. Even through, it get him into trouble some times he still tries to live up to his ideals. I would recommend this book to older tweens who like stories with complicated plots.
Additional Info:
This is the second book in the Adam Canfield series. I did not realize it until after I read it.
Main Characters:
Adam Canfield-Adam is the editor of “The Slash” which is the school newspaper. He has many activities he is a part of. It is very important to him to follow his journalistic ideals.
Jennifer-Jennifer is his co-editor. She is just as passionate about the paper as he is.
Phoebe-Phoebe is their third grade reporter. She is very interested in nature.
Mrs. Boland-Mrs. Boland is the temporary principal. Adam got the last one fired in the first book.
Mr. Devillio-Mr. Devillio is Adam’s science teacher. He is lazy and not a very good teacher.

Theme: Individual versus society, Knowledge versus ignorance, Power and corruption,

Bibliographic Info:

Winerip, M. (2007). Adam Canfield watch your back! Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.




Author: Jerry Spinellli
Reading Range: 4.3 (AR Finder)
Interest Range: 4-8 (AR Finder)
Plot: This book traces Donald Zinoff’s life from first to sixth grade. Zinoff is a very unusual boy. His first day of school he goes wearing his favorite hat which is a giraffe. He thinks the best job in the world is to be a mailman like his father. Zinoff can be loud and laughs at inappropriate times. His handwriting is terrible and he is bad at sports. Yet, he has a good heart. He tries to do what he thinks is right. Some of his teachers like while others can barely stand him. He is very hyper. He does not have many friends. As the years past, the kids in his class notice how different he is from them. They start to call him a loser because he cannot seem to do anything right. At first, Zinoff does not notice that he is different from the other kids around him. He starts to realize how different he is from them. He tries to fit in but he is not always successful.
Review: What makes someone a loser? To many of the characters in the book, Zinoff is considered a loser. He does not excel at the things that most people consider important. He is not good at school. He is not good at sports. He does not fit in with the other kids. He lives in his head more than he lives in the world.  The thing is that Zinoff has a good heart. He does not give up. Even when others think he is terrible, he keeps going and trying to do the best he can. He sees the world differently then most people. Zinoff is not really a loser. He is just different but at that age many children have a hard time accepting children who are different. Even some adults have a hard time accepting people who are different. He reminds me of a boy I used to know. This boy had trouble because it was hard for him to read social cues. He ended up annoying more of his classmates to the point they snapped at him. He did not understand what he was doing to them. I would recommend this book to just about any grade. I think it is a good book to use to discuss what a loser is and maybe people we think are loser are actually not.
Additional Info:
Main Characters:
Donald Zinoff-Zinoff is different from many of the children in his class. They consider him a loser because of his differences. He tries his best and he has a good heart. He used to throw up until he had a surgery to fix his stomach.
Mr. Zinoff-He is Zinoff’s father. He is a mailman and he loves his son.
Mrs. Zinoff-She is Zinoff’s mother. She gave him stars when he did something good.
Andrew-He was Zinoff’s neighbor until he moved away. They meet again in sixth grade and he is considered a cool kid.

Polly-She is Zinoff’s little sister.

Mr. Yalowitz-He is Zinkoff’s 4th grade teacher. He is one of the teachers who likes Zinoff.

Miss Meeks-She is Zinkoff’s 1st grade teacher. She is one of his favorite teachers.

Mrs. Biswell-She is Zinoff’s 2nd grade teacher. She hates children and especially hates Zinoff. He drives her crazy.

Theme: Individual versus society, Inner versus outer strength, Will to survive

Bibliographic Info:

Spinelli, Jerry. (2003). Loser. New York, NY: Scholastic


Bud, Not Buddy

Author: Christopher Paul Curtis
Reading Range: 5.0 (AR Finder)
Interest Range: 4-8 (AR Finder)
Plot: Bud Caldwell is an orphan during the Great Depression. He is also an African-American living in Michigan.  His mother died when he was five and he never knew his father. The only things he had left from his life with his mother is a suitcase that contains a bag of rocks, a photograph of his mother as a child and fliers that show Herman E. Calloway and his jazz band. Bud thinks that Herman E. Calloway is his father. He is sent to a foster home where the son picks on him. He fights back and is punished by the mother for hurting the son. They tell him they are going to send him back to the home. He decides he does not want to return there. He escapes from the shed that the family puts him in. He gets his suitcase and goes on his way. He tries to find a librarian that was nice to him to get information about what to do. She is married and gone. He ends up in a shantytown where he is treated nicely by the people there. He helps out and does what he can. He wants to hop a train but he is not able to get on the train. He decides after that he is going to find his father. He does find Calloway but he does not like Bud or believe he is his son. Bud has to try to win him over.
Review: Reading the book, even through it is not explicitly stated, there is a hint that African-Americans were treated like second class citizen. It must have been even harder for children like Bud who did not have any family to protect them. It sounded like there were too many children already living at the home where Bud used to live. It seemed like luck of the draw if they were going to get a foster family that would treat them well or not. The family that Bud lived with already looked down on him because he was an orphan. They expected him to be grateful they even took him into their home. They did not stop to consider that Bud lost everything in his life when his mother died. They did not seem to care about him at all and look at him as a bother. When Bud is on his own, there are examples of how hard it was for a child trying to survive on his own. He had to relay on the kindness of adults yet he had to be weary of them. Would they try to hurt him or help him? Bud kept fighting and trying to make a good life for himself even with everything being against him. I would recommend this book to people who like reading historical fiction. I thought it captured that time period well.
Additional Info:
This book won a Newbury Medal in 2000. The author also won a Coretta Scott King Award in 2000.
Main Characters:
Buddy Caldwell-Bud prefers to be called Bud and not Buddy. He is ten years old and an orphan. He is trying to survive and find his father.

Mr. Herman E. Calloway-Calloway is the band leader. Bud believes he is his father. Calloway does not trust Bud and thinks he is trying to pull a scam. He is also sad because he lost his daughter.

Angela Janet Caldwell-Angela is Bud’s mother. She dies before the story even begins but Bud thinks of her often. The lessons she taught him help him to survive.

Deza Malone-Deza is the girl who teaches Bud how to survive in the shantytown. She teaches him the rules. She also gives him his first kiss.

Lefty Lewis-Lefty is the a man who picks Bud up when he is trying to find his father. He takes him to his daughter’s home to fed him and give him new clothes. He takes him to his father.

Miss Grace Thomas-Grace is the “vocal stylist” in Calloway’s band. She takes care of Bud and tries to get Calloway to accept him.

Theme: Desire to escape, Fate and free will, Inner versus outer strength, Injustice

Bibliographic Info:

Curtis, C. P. (1999). Bud, Not Buddy. New York, NY: Delacorte Press



Author: Cynthia Kadohata
Reading Range: 4.8
Interest Range: MG
Plot:  This story is set during the 1950s and it involves the Takeshima family who are Japanese. The story is told through the eyes of the middle child, Katie. Katie is telling the story of her family but also of her sister, Lynn. The girls are very close and shared everything. Lynn taught Katie to call everything kira-kira, which means glittering in Japanese.  Lynn is the beautiful, smart and popular daughter while Katie is the middle child. They have a Japanese grocery store in Iowa that goes broke because there are not enough Asian people to frequent the store. They moves to Chesterfield, Georgia so the mother and father can work in the chicken hatcheries where Uncle Katsuhisa has gotten them jobs. The parents work very hard to provide a minimal existence for their children. After several years of living in Georgia, Lynn becomes ill. At first,Katie’s parents keep telling her it is because her sister is anemic. Katie has to take over more and more responsibilities as her sister gets sicker. She must care for her little brother, Sam, as her parents work more and more to help take care of Lynn.Katie’s parents finally tell her Lynn is dying. The family has to get ready to say goodbye to Lynn.
Review: This story shows the love that two sisters can have for each other. Katie loves her sister. Her sister is the center of their family. She is the one they think is going to go far. She tries to give them hope even when they are struggling. That is what she meant by kira-kira. There are so many wonderful things in this world. She tries to tell Katie how wonderful she is. The Takeshima family struggles with racism and poverty. The parents work at a chicken hatchery where they are treated like slaves. The owner is cruel to his workers. He works them as hard as he can. It becomes harder for the family when Lynn becomes sick. They have to work even more to pay for her medicine. Lynn knew she was dying in the story. She tries to leave something beyond for her family to have hope after she dies. One of the themes of this story is to still have hope even when things are hard and bleak. This is a tough story to read because there are no easy answers. I would recommend this book to kids who like reading sad yet hopeful stories.
Additional Info:
 This book won the Newbury Medal for literature in 2005.
Main Characters:
Katie Takeshima-Katie is the middle daughter. She is the one who tells the story.
Lynn Takeshima-Lynn is the oldest daughter. She is smart and talented. She develops cancer.
Sam Takeshima-Sam is the youngest son.
Kiyoko Takeshima-Kiyoko is Katie, Sam, and Lynn’s mother. She is delicate and nervous but practical.
Masao Takeshima-Masao is the father of Katie, Lynn and Sam. He is a quiet and thoughtful man.
Uncle Katsuhisa-Katsuhisa is Masao’s brother. He helps the family after they lose their grocery store.

Theme:  Coming of age, Death, Everlasting love, Injustice, Love and sacrifice

Bibliographic Info:

Kadohata, Cynthia. (2004). Kira Kira. New York, NY: Aladdin Paperbacks.



Author: R. J. Palacio
Reading Range: 4.8 (AR Finder)
Interest Range: 4-8 (AR Finder)
Plot: Auggie was born with a facial deformity. For that reason, it was thought he would not survive long after birth, but he did. He has never been to school before and he is about to start the fifth grade. He is nervous about going to school for the first time. When people first see Auggie, they either stare at him or look away. Auggie wants to be treated just like everyone else. Many of the students are not sure what to do with him. They mostly ignore him except for the students who are assigned to help him adjust to school-Julian and Jack. Auggie starts to get close to Jack. Jack begins to see how cool he is until one day he makes a cruel comment about how if he had a face like Auggie, he would kill himself. Auggie stays away from Jack until Jack figures out that Auggie heard him. He apologies to Auggie and they become friends, again. Julian starts to bully Jack because of his friendship with Auggie. Can Auggie make it through his first year of school?
Review: Most of the story is told from Auggie’s point of view but other character tell their stories and how Auggie has affected them. The book captures what it is like to be different from other people and to be almost constantly reminded of that difference. That was part of the reason he was kept out of school until now. It was touching to read how Auggie and Jack were able to become friends even after Jack said that thing about him. Jack started to see him as a person. Many of the characters are able to see Auggie as just Auggie. Some of them are not going to be able to. Julian’s view of Auggie does not change in the book. He sees him as a freak and that is all he can see him as. He cannot directly bully Auggie but he can get away with bullying Jack because he is “normal.”  Part of the reason for Julian’s attitude is his mother. His mother thinks that Auggie should not be allowed near “normal” children because of his deformity. In reality, there are a lot of people who feel the way Julian’s mother does. Even through Auggie wins over a lot of people there are still people who are prejudice against him. I would recommend this book to all ages. I loved it.
Additional Info:
Main Characters:
Auggie Pullman-He is starting school for the first time. He has a facial deformity. He loves Star Wars.
Via Pullman-Via is Auggie’s sister. She is starting high school. For the first time, she is not just Auggie’s sister but her own person.
Julian-Julian is a popular boy at school who is assigned to help Auggie when he first starts school. He dislikes Auggie.
Jack Will-Jack is another student who was assigned to help Auggie. He and Auggie become friends. He discovers how cool Auggie is.
Summer Dawson-Summer is the first person to sit with Auggie. She accepts him from the start.
Justin-Justin is Via’s boyfriend. He becomes protective of Auggie and Jack when he meets them.
Isabel Pullman-Isabel is Auggie and Via’s mother. She tries to protect Auggie the best she can.
Nate Pullman-Nate is Auggie and Via’s father.
Miranda: Miranda is Via’s friend. They start to drift away in high school. She loves Auggie ever since he was born.

Theme: Coming of age, Empowerment, Isolation

Bibliographic Info:

Palacio, P. J. (2012). Wonder. New York, NY: Knopf Books for Young Readers



Author: James Preller
Reading Range: 4.2 (AR Finder)
Interest Range: 6 and Up (AR Finder)
Plot: Eric has just moved to a new town. One day he is playing basketball when he sees a boy running past him. It seems the boy is running away from something. After that a group of kids come up and he meets Griffin for the first time. Griffin is very charming. At first, Eric finds himself telling Griffin things that he does not talk about with anyone. Things about his dad and the mental illness his dad suffers from. Then, he starts to learn who the real Griffin is. Griffin likes to use the kids in his group to bully others. He likes to “play” with people. After Eric witnesses Griffin using another student to bully a boy, he starts to avoid Griffin. Griffin notices and he starts to bully Eric. Eric has to figure out how to get Griffin to stop bullying him and to break his hold over the group of boys who hang out with him.
Review:  What is interesting about Eric is he starts to realize his role in allowing Griffin to get away with bullying people. He stands by the first few times not doing anything but he come to know that by doing that he is still taking part in the bullying. He recognizes he is a bystander. That causes him to walk away from Eric and to start questioning him. This book shows how easy it is to fall under the charm of another. Griffin is charming and he knows how to use it. He gets people to things. He gets another boy, Cody, to beat up Eric. After Cody beats Eric up, he starts to question why he did that. Cody notices that Griffin is able to get him to do things that he might not ordinarily do. Most people think bullies bully because they are lacking social skills. That is true of some but some have great social skills. They like causing other people pain and they like the power. Griffin likes having the power to get other boys to do what he wants and he does not get in trouble for that. I would recommend this book to middle school students. I think this is an interesting book about bullying.
Additional Info:
Main Characters:
Eric-Recently, his family moved to a new town. He does not know anyone before he came. He starts hanging around Griffin before he discovers who he really is.
Griffin-He is the bully of the school. He is charming, at first.
David-He is Griffin’s main target. He wants Griffin to accept him so he will do anything to get his attention.
Mary-She becomes Eric’s friend. She knows what Griffin is really like.
Cody-He is Griffin’s main henchman. He follows Griffin’s lead.

Theme: Injustice, Power and corruption

Bibliographic Info:

Preller, J. (2009) Bystander. New York, NY: Feiwel and Friends

Tagline:  A bystander? Or the bully’s next target?


Author: Judy Blume
Reading Range: 3.8 (AR Finder)
Interest Range: 4-8 (AR Finder)
Plot: Linda is the girl in class that everyone makes fun of. They call her Blubber because she is overweight and she presented a report about whales. The story is told from the point of view of Jill. She is one of the girls who is teasing Linda. The main person who is teasing Linda is Wendy. Wendy controls the classroom and all the students follow her. Linda threats Jill after one bullying incident. On Halloween night, Jill and her friend, Tracy Wu, play a prank on their mean neighbor. He catches them and their parents agree to have them clean his lawn to make it for it. While cleaning his lawn, Jill realizes that Linda must have told on her and Tracy to their neighbor. She decides that she needs to get back at Linda. She tells Wendy and they decide that Linda needs to be put on trial by the whole class. They put Linda in a closet during lunch and are about to start the trial when someone reminds them that Linda needs a lawyer to defend her. Jill agrees that in order for it to be right Linda needs a lawyer. Wendy disagrees and says to go on with the trial. Jill lets Linda out of the closet because she disagrees with Wendy. The next day Wendy starts to target Jill for bullying. Jill has to figure out what to do.
Review: I read this book a number of times and I like the fact that Judy Blume is able to capture what it is like to be that age. Kids can be cruel to each other. I think people forget that we need to teach kids how to be kind to each other. At that age, it is very easy to think that anyone who is different is wrong. Linda is an easy target because of her weight and her gray tooth. What I mean by that is they like getting her. For example, a boy shows Jill his hand and there are pins in it. She did not respond because she knows the trick but Linda screams when she sees it. This book is not told from Linda’s view but Jill’s view. Jill does not have a lot of empathy for Linda. There is a scene where Linda, Jill, and Jill’s brother, Kenny, are at a party together. Kenny and Linda are able to talk and get along. Kenny thinks Linda is interesting while Jill can only see her one way.  Honestly, I did not like Jill because she is a mean girl. She may not have been the one leading in the teasing but she took part. I am hoping she started to get it a little when she was teased by Wendy but I am not sure. I would recommend this book to tweens but also to their parents. I think this is good to read to remind adults how cruel kids can be.
Additional Info:
According to the American Library Association (ALA), “Blubber” is a book that has been frequently challenged or banned. It has made the top 100 lists of frequently challenged books from 1990 to 1999 and from 2000 to 2009.  In fact, many of Judy Blume’s books are frequently challenged or banned. The story is told from Jill’s point of view and Jill is not a nice girl. It can seem that bullying is apart of school culture and just sometime to accept from this book. I think that disturbed parents reading it. I think that this book is a warning to adults about what can happen when teachers are not aware of what is happening in their classrooms. While reading this book, I noticed that a lot of the things that happened to Linda might not have happened if the teachers knew what was going on.
Main Characters:

Jill Brenner —She is the main character in the book. She takes part in the bullying of Linda. She starts to get bullied by Wendy when she turns against Wendy.

Wendy —She is in the same class as Linda and Jill. She is the popular girl in class and everyone follows her. She is the one that mainly bullies Linda. She starts to bully Jill when Jill crosses her.

Caroline —She is in the same class as the other girls. Caroline is Wendy’s best friend and her “muscle.” She follows Wendy’s orders.

Linda Fischer —She is the girl who is bullied by the other kids in class. She is called blubber because of her report on whales.

Kenny Brenner — He is Jill’s little brother.

Tracy Wu —She is Jill’s best friend. They are not in the same class. They both get in trouble because of a prank they play on a mean neighbor.

Gordon Brenner —He is Jill and Kenny’s dad.

Ann Brenner —She is Jill and Kenny’s mom. She is trying to quit smoking.

Theme: Injustice, Manipulation, Vulnerability of the meek, Power and corruption

Bibliographic Info:

Blume, J. (1974). Blubber. New York, NY: Bradbury Press


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