Lost in the River of Grass by Ginny Rorby

author’s website                  fan video book review

Summary:  Sarah is new to her school and very left out. During an Everglades field trip, she receives an offer from local boy (Andy) to take her on an airboat ride, so she lies to her teacher to get out of a morning tour and the two teens take off on their own. When the airboat sinks, they are miles from help and must walk until they find it.

Personal Reaction: I think I’ve found my SSYRA winner. Survival story is perfect.  The duck addition to the plot adds heart – I was more worried for “Teapot” getting eaten than the main characters. Surprise character cameos at the end – I loved that book too!

Classroom use: Excellent choice for Florida units (ecosystems, survival, etc.) whether Science, Social Studies or PE. I even think that Home Ec or Food & Nutrition classes could get in on the unit and talk about wild foods (cattails and sawgrass hearts are edible)

Related books: Everglades River of Grass by Douglas; Sawgrass Poems by Asch; A Land Remembered by Smith; Lostman’s River by DeFelice; Welcome to the River of Grass by Yolen; biography of Marjory Stoneman Douglas; guide book to the Everglades like Paddling the Everglades Wilderness Waterway

Realia: bug spray, stuffed duck toy or photo of mallard duck & ducklings; alligator head; photos of Everglades, airboats (or toy model), Burmese pythons (especially this one), backpack, rubber boots, bandana, empty Gatorade bottle; bowl of minnows; cattails and sawgrass

Food for book parties: Spam, pumpkin bread, canned chili, canned fruit, Gatorade, leather belt!

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Wind by Roland Smith (Storm Runners, book 1)

(Book 1 – Wind, book 2 – the Surge, book 3 – Eruption)

Author’s website with link to Storm Runners online game   and  author video/trailer

Summary: Chase is dropped off with a family friend at their Florida “farm” ( with circus animals: elephant, large cats, etc.) while his father travels to nearby St. Petersburg to  help people prepare for Hurricane Emily. Chase and two friends are stranded when the hurricane shifts course and takes aim at his bus ride home.

Personal Reaction: The book is short and keeps the suspense moving with each chapter given a time stamp. Book 1 only runs through the hurricane as it arrives and hovers (the eye of the storm) and the sequels tackle the storm as it departs. I have a real issue with alligators, and this book really gives me the willies because the kids are forced to deal with gators in several ways. I don’t mind making sure kids understand the seriousness of a hurricane, but I hope this doesn’t give younger kids nightmares or make them feel they have to carry a “go-bag” every day.

Points for discussion with children or topics for study: Hurricane safety, natural disaster preparedness; teamwork

Connections to other books? non-fiction about hurricanes or hurricane safety (Florida’s Hurricane History by Barnes, or SAS Urban Survival Handbook for those who want to be Chase); Hurricane Song by Volponi gr 8+, Escaping the Giant Wave by Kehret gr 5+

Realia: flashlights or headlamps, batteries, rain poncho, mylar blanket, GPS unit, satellite phone, Florida hurricane tracking maps, stuffed animals or figurines, power tools, circus flyers, athletic trophies or medals (swimming, track), school bus model, backpack, lightning bolt earring

Food items connected to story: energy bars, coffee & doughnuts

Review based on audiobook format.

Down Sand Mountain by Steve Watkins

I kind of feel bad for not liking this book. It’s always fun to read Florida settings. I didn’t like The Catcher in the Rye either, so maybe I’m just not a connoisseur of classics which star a slow witted main character. Read the reviews on Amazon, especially the 2 star one. The main character is twelve years old. This book has multiple sexual encounters/references that I feel are inappropriate for any middle school audience, and I can’t imagine that high school students would much care to analyze its plot for whatever deep themes it might have.

The Big Nothing by Adrian Fogelin


Date reviewed: 9/30/04           Grades 6-8              IL 9-12          Author’s website

Summary: (Uncorrected proof copy) Related to Crossing Jordan & Anna Casey’s Place in the World. Ben and Cass are dating, Justin feels left out. Jemmie and he become friends and he develops his first crush on her. Older brother Duane enlists and is shipped off to Gulf War; mother and father’s constant squabbles over infidelities leads to father moving out and mother falling into a deep depression. Justin becomes caregiver to mother and anxious about brother’s safety. Piano lessons/practice with Nana Grace and Jemmie is the bright spark in his life.

Personal Reaction: I really liked this book – bi-racial relationship isn’t a bi-racial issue, just typical teenage crush and excellent description of how relationships can become awkward when your friends change in front of your eyes.  Nearly current Gulf War issues dealt with appropriately. Some brother-to-brother language could cause issues if read aloud, but I think you could get away with skipping or substituting the words. Justin deals as best he can with parental problems with each other. I liked Stand Tall by Bauer better on that issue though.

Points for discussion with children or topics for study:  racism; achievement, self-identity; historical treatment of blacks; Revolutionary War and major figures; virtual reality, fantasy fiction, time travel

Connections to other books? Others with bi-racial friendships – The Moves Make the Man by Brooks and Maniac Magee by Spinelli. Most others by Fogelin are good!

Realia: map of Tallahassee or Tall.-to-Atlanta route; soldier’s apparel; personal letters; inflatable lips (Jemmie/Justin and Ben/Cass); basketball; piano or sheet music (jazz); stuffed cat; ratty sneakers

Food items connected to story: ice cream, biscuits, bacon; chicken soup – homemade; burritos (any boxed/instant foods) *homemade stuff from Nana Grace, instant stuff from Justin’s house

A Ballplayer’s Choice by Reed Lengel

Date reviewed: 4/15/04                                 Age/Grade:  YA        IL 9-14

Personal Reaction: I understand that this is a sports book that’s supposed to hold the boys’ attention, but I thought it was too neat or too simplistic (obvious) to be very riveting.

Points for discussion with children:  sports ethics, honesty

Possible classroom uses: Could be used in a unit on ethics, especially sports (pro players in the news as a current events tie in).

Connections to other books? Baseball lovers fiction – Maniac Magee by Spinelli, any of the Baseball Card Adventures series by Gutman. Baseball non-fiction & biographies: All You Can Be: Dream It, Draw It, Become It!     Jackie’s Nine: Jackie Robinson’s Values to Live By

Realia: baseball bat, mitt, ball; Yankees jersey, fake money