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



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


Eight Keys

Author: Suzanne LaFleur
Reading Range: 3.8 (AR BookFinder)
Interest Range: 4-8 (AR BookFinder)
Plot: Elisa is starting her first year of middle school and already things are not going right. Her locker partner does not like her and starts to bully her. She falls behind in her homework. A new baby moves into her house making it harder for her. She is not getting along with her best friend, Franklin. She discovers a key that opens a door in the upper part of her uncle’s workshop. There she discovers a gift left for her by her dead father. More keys come and open more doors for her allowing her to learn more about her dead parents. The more she learns about her parents leads to her learning more about herself. She does a bad thing that may cause her to lose her friendship with Franklin. Can she repair what she broke?
Review: Elisa has lost both of her parents before she even started school. She lost more then most people have but she discovers she still has a lot left. It was interesting reading the clues her father left for her and the rooms he left. It shows how much love that her parents had for her. She gets to have a connection to her parents that she did not have before. With her going to middle school, it showed her going out of her comfort zone and preparing her to learn about her parents. Learning about her past helped her with her present. She was able to grow strong enough to confront her bully. The girl who is her bully, Amanda, makes her feel uncomfortable because she seems so much older then her and cooler. Elisa is a tomboy. She starts to accept those differences about her and it helps her relationship with Franklin. She was pulling away from Franklin because she felt so babyish with him. I recommend this book to just about any age.
Additional Info:
Main Characters:
Elisa-She is starting middle and already she feels she does not fit in. Amanda starts to bully her. She has to get used to the new baby in the house. She comes to love the new baby.
Franklin-He is Elisa’s best friend. They have been friends since they were small.
Uncle Hugh-He is her father’s brother. He took her in after her father died. He is a carpenter.
Aunt Bessie-She is Uncle Hugh’s wife. She offers Elisa a lot of advice.
Amanda-She is Elisa’s locker partner. She does not like Elisa and she bullies her.
Caroline-She was Amanda’s friend. She stops liking her after she starts bullying Elisa. She becomes Elisa’s friend.

Theme: Coming of age, Empowerment, Family, Identity crisis

Bibliographic Info:

LaFleur, S. (2011) Eight Keys. New York: Wendy Lamb Books

Tagline: Eight secrets. Each will unlock the past.

Is Blubber still imporant?

I am writing a paper on bullying in my tween literature class. One of the books I am using is “Blubber” by Judy Blume. I liked the book but one of the images that struck with me is at the end of the book. Throughout the book there are different targets of bullying and the last scene involved the children on the bus picking a new target to pick on. The narrator is matter of fact when she describes this scene. I had a problem with that image because at first it seemed like the author was saying bullying is a part of going to school. That it will not change and remain the same. I did not like that ending.

I was doing research for another project and I came across Judy Blume’s website. She wrote about her reasoning for writing “Blubber.” Her daughter had a bullying incident at her school and she was angry because she felt the teacher was not aware of what was happening her class. Her daughter’s  had their own version of “Wendy” who was controlling and manipulating the class. After reading that article, it changed the way I looked at the book. I started to notice how often adults were absent allowing Wendy to take control of the class. The students were not supervised that well during lunch. They were not supervised when they went to the bathroom. They were not supervised on the bus. The teachers did not seem to know what was going on with their students.

I think about the ending now and I think that Judy Blume is criticizing the adults surrounding the child characters. They are not stepping in when they should be. The reason the bullying continues is that the adults supervising them are not doing anything to try and stop it. I think she wrote this book for children but also for parents and teachers to make them aware of what was happening in their classrooms. To make them aware of how cruel kids can be. I think that teachers have to let their students know what is acceptable and unacceptable in their classrooms.

I think that “Blubber” is still important but as a warning of allowing a bullying culture to develop in a classroom. Bullying can become acceptable because the teachers allowed it to happen. I am a teacher now and I understand that it is hard to know everything that is going on in a classroom. But you do things to minimize the chance of bullying happening. You also let your students know what is acceptable and unacceptable. You try to do things to build community in your classroom and try to build empathy in them. This is hard to do but it helps your students.

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