Archive for Literature

The Cure for Dreaming

Written by Cat Winters

If I said this is Dracula meets Susan B. Anthony, would it sound weird? Maybe, but Cat Winters makes it work. There is enough of Bram Stoker’s opus to pique the reader’s interest without giving away the entire story or being overly graphic. There is enough of women’s rights without being preachy. All the while, the author weaves in hypnotism and the power of words.

In 1900 Portland, Oregon, Olivia Mead turns seventeen only to have her father panic about her independence and strong mind. She attends a show by a hypnotist, Henri Reverie and becomes his main subject, unwittingly allowing him to turn her into a board that gets walked on. Her father decides Henri can make Olivia a more demure, subservient woman. The result is she sees monsters and can’t fight back, even in the face of real danger. She attributes this in part to her love of Dracula, but maybe there really are monsters. Meanwhile, the father of her suitor writes an editorial about why women don’t need the right to vote. Olivia anonymously submits a letter to the editor refuting all his claims. When the letter gets published, a firestorm results. Her own father thinks a man wrote the letter because it was too well written. Everything goes from bad to worse as Olivia and Henri get to know each other and plot to work things out. In the end, Olivia’s father pushes so hard, she is forced to find her voice (literally) and declare her independence.

Sixth grade readers will learn about Bram Stoker, life in 1900, women’s rights, and mesmerism.

  • Cure for DreamingTitle: The Cure for Dreaming
  • Author: Cat Winters
  • Publisher: Amulet Books/Abrams, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
  • Grade Level: 6 up
  • Genre: Fiction, women’s suffrage, Dracula, hypnotism
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-1216-6


The Stepsister’s Tale

Written by Tracy Barrett

Sixth graders and above will love this quirky re-take on the familiar story of Cinderella. Looking beyond the unambiguous version where Cinderella was the good little servant and the stepsisters were malevolent, Barrett wonders what might have happened if all the characters were well-developed. Maybe Cinderella was a spoiled brat who told lies to elicit sympathy. Maybe the family was destitute after years of trying to live without the men who had promised to take care of them. (High-born women, in fact, weren’t allowed to do men’s work.) Maybe the prince was also spoiled and not even worthy of further thought.

Young Jane Montjoy is doing her best to keep her family together. Mamma is ineffectual and Maude is much younger than she is. Both Jane and Maude work very hard making butter and cheese and taking care of the house. They share with the people who live in the forest. One day, Mamma goes to market and comes back with a new husband and a new stepsister. The man does not live long. He was in debt and his daughter has no skills. A harsh winter nearly kills them all, until Jane has the good sense to ask the forest people for help. When the prince tries to marry Ella, adventure ensues.

The many details the author uses to explain away Cinderella’s story make this extra delightful and also very funny. It’s the humor which will make many boys enjoy this book. The pumpkin coach and the glass slippers are items Ella’s father spoils her with before his death. Ella doesn’t even think the coach looks like a pumpkin. The beautiful dress was Ella’s mother’s, which hasn’t been touched in years. Ella plays in the ashes in order to be close to where the heat was. Of course, some details remain unexplainable. Fairies?

As I said, the characters are well-developed, making this great for extending literacy skills and comprehension. There is a lot in this book about not taking things at face value and putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Wonderful new book worth a look.

  • Stepsisters TaleTitle: The Stepsister’s Tale
  • Author: Tracy Barrett
  • Publisher: Harlequin Teen, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 272 pages
  • Genre: Retold fairy tale
  • ISBN: 978-0-373-21121-0
  • Extras: Discussion questions to keep the thinking going


The Enchanted Attic: Dueling with the Three Musketeers

Written by L.L. Samson

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A mysterious fire threatens a boarding school.  Heroic young people rescue the gruff and intimidating headmistress.  There is a secret passageway.  All this is in chapter one of an adventure story that combines classic literature with a modern mystery.  Linus and Ophelia are teen-agers who have been left with their elderly aunt and uncle who own a bookstore while their scientist parents are on a tropical island carrying out their research.  It is a miserably hot summer, the stuffy and academic narrator tells us.  Bartholomew Inkster cannot tell this story without injecting bits of literary devices, Linus and Ophelia’s history along with background on the literary works they explore.  Linus has discovered writings from an ancestor who tells how to bring literary characters to life.  In this episode, they bring D’Artagnan and the evil Lady DeWinter to life while trying to solve a real life mystery of who wants to destroy their best friend Walter’s school.  But D’Artagnan and Milady are more of a headache than a solution.  And Bartholomew keeps putting in his two cents.

Written with humor and a respect for the classics, Bartholomew manages to entertain and provide descriptions of literary devices.  The story could be a way to develop a guide for writing.  Because the voice is so strong – think a snarky Lemony Snicket – and the characters are so eccentric, this would make a good class read aloud for sixth graders.  Even better let them read it to a book buddy as a literacy activity.  The students could make several lists, any one of them would be a good reading worksheet: the literary devices, story details from The Three Musketeers, even the instructions on how to make literary characters come to life.  There is a great book trailer for the first book in the series on the author’s website:  With the commercially-made book trailer as a model, students could make their own trailer for this installment.  There is a lot of action, and the story problem is maintained throughout.  Not everything seems logical, and the real life villain escapes.  We never do meet the three Musketeers as promised on the cover.  Still the adventure is a lot of fun.

  • MusketeersTITLE: The Enchanted Attic: Dueling with the Three Musketeers
  • AUTHOR: L. L. Samson
  • PUBLISHER: Zonderkidz, 2013
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • FORMAT: Paperback, 166 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-310-72799-6
  • GENRE: Adventure
  • LEXILE: 1130, Reading level 6.2

Poetry Rocks! Contemporary American Poetry

Written by Sheila Griffin Llanas

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Poetry inspires dread in the most intrepid of students. If reading literature is seen as a slog through heavy tomes, then reading poetry is walking the path wearing leaden shoes. Enslow’s Poetry Rocks! series works to tame that fear with books that describe both poet and poetry in simple, easy-to-understand language.

What gives such value to the book (and the series) is the chapter organization. Each chapter begins with a short biographical sketch that helps to place the work in the context of the poet’s life and answer the question why: why did the poet choose those particular topics and themes. Even poets who were contemporaneous didn’t write about the same subjects. We see that it is the life experiences that dictate the choice of topics.

One representative poem is subject to a detailed analysis: summary and explication, poetic techniques and themes. Middle school and high school students will benefit immensely from this reading of the techniques of literary analysis in a non-threatening manner. Armed with that knowledge they can work their way to an understanding of the poem, rather than putting away the book, frustrated at their lack of understanding of writing that is different from the prose works they are used to.

Each poet’s style is given its own analysis, creating easy reading activities and discussion points. The reader can discuss how one poet’s style is similar to, and differs from, another’s.  A few more poems are included (the number varies from poet to poet) and the discussion paragraph points to further questions to be considered. The chapter ends with a listing of the poet’s major works and a final paragraph on related poets, which helps to understand the poet’s cultural milieu.

The eleven contemporary American poets included in the book are Theodore Roethke, Elizabeth Bishop, William Stafford, Robert Lowell, Gwendolyn Brooks, Richard Wilbur, Allen Ginsburg, W.S. Merwin, Sylvia Plath, Billy Collins and Louise Gluck.

Chapter notes, a glossary, further reading suggestions and links to poetry sites comprise the back matter. “A poem is not the end but the beginning of an excursion.” This book is a good start to an excursion into the world of poetry.

  • Poetry RocksTitle: Poetry Rocks! Contemporary American Poetry
  • Author: Sheila Griffin Llanas
  • Publisher: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 2011
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Paperback:  160 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-59845-380-5
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Literature