Author Interview: John Owens

Confessions of a Bad Teacher: The Shocking Truth from the Front Lines of American Public Education by John Owens (Sourcebooks, 2013)

I’m not lazy. I’m not crazy. I’m great with kids and I love literature. 

970166_462246583856450_431601839_nJohn Owens is an editor, journalist, and photographer. Formerly, he was the Senior Vice President and Editorial Director at Hachette Filipacchi Media, where he oversaw brands including Road & TrackPopular Photography, and Travel Holiday. He has made more than 100 national media appearances, including Good Morning AmericaCBS This Morning, CNN, FOX News, and NPR’s All Things Considered.

For additional information about this book, see this earlier post.

To read my review of John’s insightful book, go here.

Read the article that started it all. 

John left his publishing job at Hachette to become a classroom teacher – in the Bronx. He had heart, and he wanted to help. He learned much about his students, especially the educational needs they were lacking.

But he was going to find that his help wasn’t really required at Latinate Institute (pseudonym), a small public school focused on setting an example for reform. The administration needed teachers simply to push and enforce their “Big Ideas,” as Owens calls it. And when things don’t go according to the Big Plan…the teachers are to blame, and the students are just statistical performance numbers.

Owens gives various documentation to support his claims, including this excerpt from a 2002 report about school reform:

The primary responsibility of schools undertaking comprehensive school reform is creating programs that result in improved student achievement…..grounded in scientifically based research. 

At the end of the day, Owens is espousing what most who have been truly involved in their children’s educational life know: “scientifically based research” is driving all kinds of data about state education systems, school districts, campuses, subgroups and individual students – and that data that schools get back every summer is used to reward and punish teachers. Ironically, this new scientifically based method of education isn’t working – it’s been implemented for years, and yet we as a country are still far behind other countries in terms of education.  Owens points out that studies of charter schools, given more leeway in determining curriculum and length of school days – as well as not being subjected to some of the same regulations as public schools – fare no better in terms of performance than public schools.

It all comes down to really one thing: politicians and moneybags think they know what’s what’s best, yet they really know nothing about education. At all. Teachers, and sometimes even administrators, take the fall. I agree with Owens when he says that our educational system needs “a massive system overhaul”….but that would be too much work, and not a quick fix. All of the reform publicizes to be student-oriented, “students first,” but looking at the entire picture says otherwise: administration first.

You can find John on Facebook. 

Why did you decide to leave your Manhattan publishing job to teach in a public school in the South Bronx? What prompted your need to make a difference?

I love writing, reporting, photographing, communicating—and that has opened a number of doors for me—taken me around the world. However, publishing recently changed dramatically, and a corporate merger took the fun and creativity out of my job. I thought it would be rewarding to help young people build their communication skills. And I heard so much about the desperate need for teachers, and that schools were interested in career changers who weren’t master teachers, but had enthusiasm for their subject matter, real world experience to share, and were eager to work hard to help out.

Why did you write “the article that started it all,” as it’s been dubbed, for Salon.com? What did you think you would accomplish with the article?

I left teaching shell-shocked that NYC and our nation allow such horrible schools to exist. I reeled from how we are willfully neglecting and shortchanging students. When I shared my experiences with friends and colleagues, few believed me. Three pages of rules for how to create a bulletin board?! Tyrannical principals who had no regard for students or teachers?! Since I couldn’t help kids in the classroom, I felt an obligation to bring to light what goes on behind closed school doors.

How did writing the article transform into your book that’s now coming out on August 6th?

Just as I was shocked at the horrible teaching and learning experiences in our schools, I was also amazed by the viral response I got to the article. Teachers from throughout the country told me that they experienced these same conditions and insanity. And so I felt an obligation to try to help the American public understand the truth about teaching. The problem is NOT bad teachers. The problem is billionaires who are trying to treat students like widgets, and impose ridiculous management techniques in schools—so they can make a profit. Too many people who pretend they are education experts put students LAST. I saw firsthand how unfairly teachers are treated, and felt I had to make the public aware that the bad teacher witch hunt is bogus and must stop.

If things had been different – if the school administration was supportive and helpful– would you have stayed?

Absolutely. My plan was to teach until I decided to retire. I felt that I could have fun helping students with a wide variety of creative projects that would help them build real world skills and promising futures.

Do you feel that you failed your students?

I feel that our elected officials are failing an entire generation of students—intentionally. I was surprised that I couldn’t survive in today’s public school – but I hope I am helping to make a difference with my book and advocacy.

 Did you finish your three-year master’s degree at ESC?

That was not possible. I completed the first year. The second and third years were “mentored” teaching. It was required that I have a job as a teacher, with help from my college mentors. If you weren’t teaching you couldn’t continue. Having seen what I did, I realized that it was hopeless for me to try to continue. Once you’ve received a U – Unsatisfactory rating—in NYC schools, you can’t teach there anymore. I went back to publishing because I have a family and a mortgage.

 Can you share a little of your current work with us?

I am now the editor in chief of a chain of 17 community newspapers – Anton Community Newspapers – on Long Island, NY. In this position, I write articles and columns to help improve communities including, of course, public education.

What does your future look like, in terms of educational advocacy?

I am committed to helping get the truth out about what is happening in our schools. I will write/speak/champion wherever and whenever I can. Education leaders from throughout the nation were very kind in endorsing my book. And I am working with activist groups locally, regionally and nationally.

I will be a first-year teacher in Central Texas. I have already experienced the grade fluffing and supporting “social and emotional” needs of students and talk, talk, talk about classroom management in my field blocks and student teaching, as well as an special education system that has no structure or definition, causing IEPs from elementary school to die there, with documented needs and other necessary information not following students beyond 5th grade. What recommendations do you have for me as I embark on this first year?

First, congratulations on your commitment to becoming a teacher. That is wonderful! You deserve a great deal of respect.

Then, hold on to your hat—expect to be challenged in ways you never dreamed of.  I’m sure you realize that teaching is very hard, and that the first few years are difficult for all teachers, regardless of where you teach. Find a teacher to mentor you—and remember, at all times, that teachers make a huge difference in the world. Teaching is rewarding like no other profession.

Over 85% of Texas school districts use an educational curriculum support system, CSCOPE. Most teachers solely rely on CSCOPE for it’s curriculum instead of using it as supplemental curriculum, especially in rural areas, which have expressed that the current dilemma of removing CSCOPE would cause financial strain. What is your take on pre-developed curriculum programs such as this? Do you think it is contributing to the “bad teacher” rap? Is it making it easier for the slackers to make it through teacher prep programs? 

First, I want to make it clear that I did not encounter bad teachers or slackers in my grad program and my teaching. I think that people who go into teaching understand that they are embarking on a very challenging career. I think that the bad teacher rap is totally unfair—it is a way for politicians and deep-pocket businesspeople to break the all-important teacher unions and dismantle the public education system.

Of course there are some bad teachers—just as there are bad doctors, lawyers, etc. But few other groups have been targeted like teachers have.

I am not an expert on educational policy and I’m not familiar with CSCOPE. I think that teachers need and deserve the ability to decide what they need to do in the classroom, with the understanding that there are skills and reasonable standards that must be met.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Thank you for reading! Please spread the word to end the “Bad Teacher Witch Hunt” and to help focus the public on the true obstacles to providing education for our students. Get involved in helping support teachers and students in public schools. Read Diane Ravitch’s blog and become a member of her organization, The Network for Public Education. Join forces with Parents Across America. And speak up so that we can save our precious American public education system before the so-called “reformers” cause irreparable harm.

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Book Review: Confessions of a Bad Teacher

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Confessions of a Bad Teacher: The Shocking Truth from the Front Lines of American Public Education by John Owens (Sourcebooks, 2013)

John Owens is an editor, journalist, and photographer. Formerly, he was the Senior Vice President and Editorial Director at Hachette Filipacchi Media, where he oversaw brands including Road & TrackPopular Photography, and Travel Holiday. He has made more than 100 national media appearances, including Good Morning AmericaCBS This Morning, CNN, FOX News, and NPR’s All Things Considered.

For additional information about this book, see this earlier postYou can find John on Facebook. 

We talk about bad teachers, but too often we mean all teachers. 

I chose this book from a plethora available from publishers on NetGalley. Mainly I scope out fiction, but I singled out this book because it’s about education, and that’s what I do. With the evolving state standardized testing and the commentary I’ve overheard over the years about the backlash of poor performance, I knew this was something I had to read and share for all my fellow teachers out there — especially the new ones like me. I think most Americans can agree that our education system is broken, but those who have the power to change it don’t understand it. There have been many bills passed in the last 15 years that flew with the banner of improving education, but all they did was cripple education – and take away much-needed resources.

The principal and assistant principal were quite clear that Latinate was a model of school reform, and I quickly realized we were there to enforce that idea. 

In John’s school, he…

  • was told to “get together and figure out how to bring [a student] up to speed in [their] “spare time“” by the principal
  • had “observation reports and other alleged evidence that any shortcomings in [his] students’s academics or behavior was solely” his fault
  • had to insure that all of his students received passing marks on each failing assignment for each grading period – absolutely no failing grades on anything
  • was constantly berated for lacking classroom management skills, when conflicting instruction about it was presented by the principal and the hired mentors
  • was expected to teach in the poorest area in the nation, where students didn’t receive any special needs assistance due to budget cuts
  • was blamed for all the happenings in his classroom, due to him being “a bad teacher”
  • reported to the police by the school principal for holding his students 10 minutes after school for deplorable behavior
  • was threatened at every turn to receive a U (Unsatisfactory rating) by the principal (which, for first-year teachers meant he wouldn’t be allowed to teach in NY ever again)

If we are not willing to pay, we will have to leave some children behind. 

really want to discuss this book, with teachers vetted and new, and share the content and commentary I experienced while reading this book. But we’d be here for days, maybe weeks. Once I’d reached the halfway point in this book I realized my highlighting and noting in my e-book had significantly increased, indications of all the vital pieces of this book I wanted to share in this post. Unfortunately there are just too many, so I’ve tried my best to showcase what I found most important about Confessions of a Bad Teacher.

If you are a teacher or a parent of public school children, I urge you to read this book.

If you are a school paraprofessional/administrator (ahem, superintendents) or you sit on the school board, I urge you to read this book. It will shed more light on the workings of your teachers – and might be an eye opener to your high vantage perch.

If you pay public school taxes, volunteer in a school or other community events, take a look at this book. Perhaps you can find a place in the public school system that could utilize your skills as a community member and volunteer.

It seemed quite a lot when I first started (probably because I had to start and stop constantly), but it is well worth the read and provides insight into experiences and similar aspects that teachers all across the country are dealing with in their classrooms, with their principals, on their campus, and in their district. For parents, it will give a whole new meaning and definition to the job and duties of your child’s teacher, and the conflicting dilemmas they are often put in.

Owens doesn’t just spout off the shortcomings and cheating, from students all the way up the ladder to the principal; he provides evidence from various, related  well-publicized studies that have documented the particulars in classrooms and campuses across the country. Most of his students should have qualified and been tested for special education or other learning and behavioral disorders, such as dyslexia and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder). “But dealing with these students as the law required would have meant employing a school nurse and many more special-education teachers.” Our federal government has made it clear over the last 15 years or so that education is not an important concern for our country, with massive budget cuts every legislative session, usually with states following suit. Cutting corners is as old as time, but cutting out necessary positions for students with very strong needs, that is mandated by law they be given the option to receive, shows the absolute devaluation of our children and their education. And often, these are children of poverty. And they are the ones who experience the brunt and hardship of budget cuts.

So, instead of directly addressing the problems of these kids, the administration made the students’ problems the classroom teachers’ problems, pretending that they weren’t really special-education students at all. 

It’s a tough message to hear in today’s tight economy, but high needs schools are called that for a reason, and it’s time we started helping them,  not hurting. 

This book is filled with humor and sarcasm, with stories that I think almost anybody, regardless of your attachment to public education, can probably relate to with the evolution of the teenager over the course of the last few years. Indeed, one thing that struck me absolutely funny yet honestly true was a statement John received in the tonnage of paperwork for his New Teacher Orientation: We must never count on the copier working. So, so true. At least Latinate had the decency to warn him of that often occurring mishap.

Like Ms. P, America is demanding too much from its teachers without giving them the proper support to educate students effectively. 

John describes some things that were handed down during his New Teacher Orientation…and they are still handed down in teacher preparation courses, or in district policy. I experienced some of the same things during the course of my two-year teacher prep courses and field blocks (classroom field experience prior to student teaching). I was told in my middle school block (spring 2012) in a Central Texas consolidated school district that I “must support the social, emotional and academic needs of [my] students” just as Owens was instructed – but I had to go several steps further: I also had to support their physical and psychological needs – and all of this “support” must be documented in each lesson plan, and exactly how this support is provided. For example, if students would be out of their desks and moving around, I would have to include something to this effect in my lesson plan:

According to the NMSA, this lesson addresses student’s physical needs by allowing movement throughout the lesson. This alleviates the discomfort of students experiencing growth spurts and….

The kids, the teachers, and the administrators in the American public school system are awash in a sea of corruption. 

Also in the district that hosted me for my field blocks and student teaching, it was policy that students receive nothing below an 80 for all non-test grades, and nothing below a 70 on test grades. And the kids knew it too! When some found out they received a test grade between the 70-79 range, they immediately asked if they could retake the test for a higher grade – and they did this because the previous school year it was that way. Essentially, the administration gave unlimited number of attempts to have the highest grade possible on all assignments and tests, setting up students for an unrealistic outlook of the real world and life as they will experience it outside of the public education system. Students were sent to ZAP, an ineffective lunch program where students were responsible for getting their lunch and reporting to a designated classroom to complete their assignments, make-up work or corrections. A teacher volunteered her free period to act as a monitor and allow a space for students to complete their work. No administrator or other designated teacher on duty received a list of ZAP students and escorted them to ZAP. Only the student who cared about their work went to ZAP.

The same was the case with John Owens when he taught at Latinate: he could not give students less than a 65, to allow a 10 point range for students to bring up their grade to slightly above the fail line, which had been pushed back to 65 to reflect better passing rates. If he failed a student, he had to “insure that each failing mark for each marking period [was] reversed to a passing mark via makeup work.” In other words, doctor the grades; the grown-up form of cheating on a test. And it’s not just the teachers who must fudge the numbers, principals and administrators do as well, with several documented cases of school districts falsifying standardized test scores over the last several years. Obama’s Race to the Top, “which got underway in early 2010,” passes out rewards to states via federal funding – and the biggest way to do this is set up a measurable system where teachers are directly held accountable for their students’ standardized test scores. This has done nothing to help decrease the cheating epidemic in public education. Our educational system is “massaged, manipulated and invent[s] data [as] part of an even wider systematic failure in education evaluation.”

John discussed the two largest pieces of legislation that have effected education policy: George Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Barrack Obama’s Race to the Top. He explains exactly what NCLB was, how it was structured, and the aims of the act. It is quite a parallel to Obama’s Race to the Top, which he also discusses, but with one very distinct difference: NCLB measured school districts as a representative entity of its students based on their test scores, and Obama’s “Race” has given school districts and principals to fire teachers based solely on their students’ test scores. He talks about how policy makers and district officials are looking for a instantaneous miracles overnight, which we all know is impossible. Yet people keep trying to “fix” education and see immediate results. If not, you’re a bad teacher.

Perhaps the greatest miracle of all would be America recognizing that saving our educational system would be a long-term, big-budget project similar to the way we tend to look at things like wars

Like with John, classroom management was thrown around A LOT in my own teacher-training courses, most notably in my middle school field block. The topic of classroom management was grazed, but never discussed. Just that “it is all about your classroom management.” Your kids need to have routine and know your classroom management style. If you have classroom management, your kids won’t act up because they know what you expect. (I have three younger  brothers who not only push the envelope of my mother’s expectations, but tear it wide open, and have also done that in their classes, a most obvious observation that whoever says this is not truly in touch with the youth of today.) Like John, I’m still confused about classroom management. What exactly does it mean? How do you do it? Where’s the Teacher’s Instructional Manual to Classroom Management? Why isn’t there a rule book for this? Why does something Coach Jones uses in his classroom not work for Ms. Smith’s students?

The nuts and bolts of classroom management and instruction are essential to a teacher’s success, yet from what I could see, the people in teacher training and licensing haven’t’ gotten that message. 

No, indeed they haven’t. This is the number one issue for first-year teachers, because this is an area where teachers are left to their own devices…and often the reason those who had difficult first years leave the teaching field.

The Latinate Institute was “[F]ounded on the noble mission of helping kids who otherwise wouldn’t go to college,” and its primary responsibility was to “improve student achievement.”  Obviously you can see how that worked out, and how much we are failing our students. Owens left his first year teaching not quite half-way through the spring semester to go back into the publishing world because of the lack of support from his principal, and all of the corrupt and inane things he was required to do and ultimately blamed for. The principal and assistant principal were removed from Latinate at the beginning of the following school year by New York Department of Education officials. Owens also shares where his fellow teachers and some of his students ended up as the conclusion of this book. It is quite telling.

Owens gives 10 recommendations to start work on fixing our blatantly broken education system. But those recommendations, which are quite thought-out and excellent, are not going to go anywhere without a national conversation and push for a better education for the children of America.

If you want to help in some way, or want to find out exactly what’s going on in classrooms, Owens lists a few solid groups or individuals who have it figured out that you can partner up with to help, or just become more informed :

*Author’s Note: As a recent graduate, I’ve accepted my first teaching post in a Central Texas school district located in an area that has exploded over the last 10 years and is no longer considered rural as of this year. Based on things I experienced during my field blocks and student teaching, and the experiences John Owens had in his reform school described in this book, it’s a very real fear that I could be fired when my students’ test scores come in next summer. Indeed, both of the same grade-level, subject-level teachers I and my partner replaced were new teachers and are no longer with the district, and most of the teachers in my department from the 2012-2013 school year have left my campus and the district entirely. The fact that my district provides a first-year teacher mentoring program does nothing to ease my jitters of first-year teaching. If you are a veteran teacher, I would love to hear from you about your classroom management and all manner of other things! Email me at girlof1000wonders@gmail.com.

Book Review: Scrapbook of My Revolution

scrapbook_of_revolution_by_goweliang-d5norezScrapbook of My Revolution by Amy Lynn Spitzley (Curiosity Quills Press, 2013)

Genre: YA, dystopian, supernatural, romance

Curriculum Building Ideas:

  • Language Arts: Reader’s Notebook, Literary Circles, Guided Reading Groups, Writer’s Workshop, Sequencing, Plot, Character Map/Analysis, Inferences/Predictions, Connections (Text to Self, Text to Text, Text to World), Graphic Organizers, Persuasive Essay, Reader’s Theatre, KWL Chart, write the first chapter of the next book in the series
  • Social Studies: design an article that would appear in The Hanna Bay Express – follow the attention of the media from the book, paying attention to the audiences of both literary sources; create a propaganda poster or pamphlet; write a bill about Benign Indifference or Malian treatment/rights; stage a debate of Regular vs. Malian; relate the ideas espoused by RAMM to past historical events of similarity, with the outcomes of each event
  • Science: study of evolution; discuss the evolution of Malians

*Author’s Note: This book contains some controversial topics, and is centered around race. I have made some references to past historical figures or events in connection with some things that happen in this book. I do not support these past historical events. I, like the main character Amber, believe in equality for all.

I may as well say it up front. I’m Malian. Yeah, one of the freaks. I’ve got gold skin and the ability to read emotions. It’s great fun, too, believe me. Yeah, right. Anger. Frustration. Desire. Try reading those all day. But I’m not the only one who’s frustrated. We’re all mixed-up and sick of the bad press and attacks and everything else from Regulars. Things are changing, though. I’m getting other Malians in my school together. We might be able to show people that we’re just as human as they are…unless one of my best supporters is really public enemy number one. (Amazon)

Amber is a Michigan teen…but she’s no normal teen. She is Malian – a human with various and unusual skin tone shades, who also possess a supernatural ability. There are four types of Malians: Sensitive, Athletic, Camo, Manipulative. Each type, by definition, is extremely broad:

Sensitive – Any Malian whose skills lie in the mental region.

Athletic – Any Malian whose skills lie in the physical region.

Camo – Any Malian whose skills lie in the ability to camouflage themselves.

Manipulative – Any Malian whose skills lie in the ability to change the environment.

There were tons of ways for each “talent” to manifest itself, and each kid born seemed to have their own way of doing things. The kid down the street…could talk to animals, but technically she was a Sensitive like me.

Amber is unhappy not being a Regular; being different and being an outcast, with no explanation why, is a hard thing for a teen to digest. Even harder when you can read the feelings of your parents, and those feelings contradict their words. She is a Sensitive: she can read the emotions others around her feel. It is frustrating because she just gets the emotion, not the reason for the emotion. Kids at school often abuse this ability. It is very awkward when kids ask what the captain of the basketball team is “thinking” – and he’s thinking he has a crush on the math nerd across the room…who’s a boy. And the math nerd is totally homophobic. What’s a girl to say?

But what’s more is that Amber is golden. Like a walking goddess dusted in gold. She attracts the attention of all the boys in school, who Desire her. Some of them are quite crude. Being a Malian and being a teen Malian is not an easy road, and it has manifested in Amber. She is not one for crowds, given her ability – but it’s hard to run around with her cousin Bree, who is insistent and pushy and slightly manipulative. She does it out of love, but sometimes she just doesn’t know when to let up.

f_0scrapbooking6The book is aligned almost with the beginning of the school year, kicking off with Amber’s birthday, and ending that same time the following year. Her Regular cousin, Bree, gives her a scrapbook to document meaningful things that year. The entire book was laced with newspaper clippings, receipts, notes, fliers and drawings, just the kind of things that Amber would put in the scrapbook Bree gave her for her birthday. After a couple of chapters it hit me like a Mack truck that the book is the scrapbook!

The principal of Amber’s school is of course a Regular, and is fearful of offending her Regular school population….causing her PC-ness to be discriminatory and honestly, racist, toward the Malian population. The previous year, an incident happened downstate at a high school gathering, which caused a riot between Regulars and Malians, dubbed the Grand River Halloween Riot. Jonny Marino, a Malian high school student, was blamed for the riot and expelled from the school. Turns out, a friend of Amber’s knows Marino, who shows up later in the book and causes quite a stir.

Given that back history, Principal Bardha has banned any kind of face or body paint at the upcoming Halloween dance, held every other year. Bree is justifiably infuriated about the principal’s fear and strict line of PC-ness, which is discriminatory to Malians. Bree and Amber both decide to take a stand to this discrimination: Bree dresses as a china doll with pale face paint and rosy red cheeks, and Amber dresses as an Amazon with minimal face paint and a few bands around her arms – which leads to a confrontation with Bardha and a dramatic Golden Goddess model walk that drops jaws. But we learn that other Regulars and Malians also took a stand and defied the principal to stand up for their rights, which is a big component of this book.

After the dance, while with Amber and Bree, a Malian friend is assaulted by a young, Regular boy. The girls all chase him and his friends down the beach, bellowing hollow threats. Bree is insistent that they report the incident to the police…but who would the police believe? It is a very real situation that women everywhere face: who’s going to believe me? It’s a hard thing to face, and it brings to light the very issues Amber and her fellow counterparts face in a world that is not only unaccepting, but fearful.

Everyone was waiting to see what we’d become…including us.

Additionally, a well-supported group, Regulars Against Malian Menace (RAMM), has formed and is very outspoken about their hatred of the Malians, the first generation of which are now Amber’s age. The RAMM leader uses terms like “The Malian Situation,” how Malians need to be “cured,” “eradicating the problem” and Malians being an “afflicted people.” So, the fact that Malians are a new make-up of the population is another hard thing Amber and her counterparts must face. It’s also scary to have someone saying such hateful things…things that the country had seen before with the Native Americans, and settlers nearly effectively eradicated them. And then there was slavery. It’s not hard to imagine how Malian teens feel about their future. and how they see things going down. The leader of the Michigan RAMM base is Abraham Baronson (ironic, no?), who has said the President is handling the situation with “kid gloves,” but the President is now requiring voluntary testing of Malian genetics…I’m not so sure how “voluntary” this movement is, and Amber and other Malians aren’t sure what they’ll find.

You wanna fly a kite?

kite_soaringAnd as always with YA dystopian fiction, there is always a kind of love triangle, one guy stuck with the old and one braving forward with the new. We’ve seen it in the popular series Uglies and Hunger Games. High school friend Cam (a Camo) is very quiet and hides in the shadows, and of course Jonny is an outgoing, outspoken rallying figure for political change for Malians. Cam is the one guy in school who has never overtly ogled Amber with Desire. Jonny is the kind of guy Amber is unsure if she can trust. There’s just something about him. Was he an innocent bystander at the Grand River Halloween party….or did he do something more, as prosecutors claim? There’s something sinister about him that doesn’t meet the eye.

Right before Christmas, an article is published alluding to the building ideas of the RAMM supporters, and the Malians – that both sides are building supporters…and warriors? The reporter states peace is no longer going to reign in the world, but that something akin to a war is brewing. Amber decides to do something before others do it and ruin it. She decides to start a Malian awareness group called Lake Michigan Malian Supporters, LaMMS.

Lambs and rams. Which one seems more gentle? Which one seems more…battering? Which image do you sympathize with – a gentle lamb or a battering ram? I don’t find Spitzley’s use of this a coincidence, although it is intended to be coming from Amber. But LaMMS puts Amber on display for all the world to see – and makes her an easy target. Seems it isn’t the first “incident” of Malian-directed malice by Regulars. With a rash of outbursts, beatings, break-ins (and who know’s what all else going unreported) against Malians, what does this hold for their future?

Even a revolution can start small.

Heads Up: this book does contain “foul” language. This book takes on a lot of controversial topics: evolution, superiority, fear, malice, anger, judgement. The book is divided into two sections, the first Innocence and the second Revolution. Those titles are very indicative of Amber’s attitude toward Jonny Marino.

After reading two pages on my Kindle, I didn’t think I could continue reading due to the smaller-than-normal font, in combination with the font text style. It was really hard on my eyes. But by page two I was into the story. Who cares about your eyes? Besides that, the only other thing that bugged me was the blatant overly conversational style of writing that Spitzley picked for this novel. I understand that this is a technique employed to connect with the YA audience, but I feel like it is catering too much to the kind of teens (like my brothers) who eye roll and mutter under their breath to friends after an adult speaks to them; the kind of kids who exude senses of entitlement. I don’t think that’s a positive. There were many sentences that ended with “you know?” and it just kind of turned me off, and it somewhat alienates non-teen readers.

Amber experiences a lot of growth in such a short time. She has matured past her young age, and her friends are following suit. They are walking a very fine line to promote their cause but not create waves. She realizes mistakes she’s made, and she tries to fix them and not make those same mistakes again. She is a natural leader, and a great role model. She has evolved as a person, used her influence for good, and she’s warmed and strengthened her relationship with her parents. I hope Spitzley’s YA readers see the changes in Amber from beginning to end, and the strong character she has become.

I definitely see a series in progress here. I don’t think this is the end of Amber and LaMMS…or of Jonny Marino.

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic Press, 2007)

Genre: fiction, young adult (YA), fantasy, supernatural, mystery, suspense

Curriculum Building Ideas:

  • Language Arts: Reader’s Notebook, Literary Circles, Guided Reading Groups, Writer’s Workshop, Sequencing, Plot, Character Map/Analysis, Inferences/Predictions, Connections (Text to Self, Text to Text, Text to World), Graphic Organizers, Book vs. Movie (i.e. Venn Diagram, Persuasive Essay), Reader’s Theatre, KWL Chart
  • Social Studies: design an issue of The Daily Prophet or The Quibbler – follow the attention of the media from the book, paying attention to the audiences of both literary sources; create a propoganda poster or pamphlet; studies of various types of government and policies
  • Math: “Design a Map” – based on information provided from the book of where Harry, Hermione and Ron travel

*Author’s Note: There have been numerous reviews of Harry Potter to date, and  Rowling has racked up many awards for her books.  I’m going to try to stay away from writing things that can be easily found in other reviews from years past. Note that I am now nearly 24 years old and this is my first time reading Harry Potter, which was published when I was in elementary school. I remember my mother reading them, and then my middle brother. I was into other genres, and for some reason I had an unfounded stigma toward Harry Potter. I have seen the first four movies; I didn’t really keep up with the latter movies. But I didn’t know what was going on because I missed out on so much that was in the books! I wish that I had read Harry Potter as I was growing up, instead of waiting – I feel that I’ve lost a lot of the magic in waiting, and also in seeing the movies before reading the books.

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Spoilers from Book 6 – Read at Your Own Risk!

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 

The final book of Harry Potter has come! It is bittersweet. I started prepping this post, and then started reading the book. And then I started debating whether or not to even post a review of the book. I was afraid that I was going to give too much away, because there was SO much I wanted to share about the book…and then I finished the book and was in even more of a dilemma. It was a hard decision.

The last book gave readers quite a shock. The title referred to Severus Snape, who had been playing the double agent role for The Order of the Phoenix and Lord Voldemort. He also made an Unbreakable Vow to protect Draco Malfoy…and he killed Dumbledore with the Killing Curse. Was it because Malfoy was there? Because that was Malfoy’s task from Voldemort, and he choked? I surmise we’ll have our answer in this last book.

Where will this leave Harry and the Order? And what about Hogwarts? When I finished Book 6, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I was overwhelmed with questions and anger and fear. And I hurt for Harry, for his loss and the loss of the Wizarding world. Rowling has spun a wonderful series, creating strong, relatable characters – and she also did a miraculous job as an author creating a bond between her readers and the characters she’s created.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part IRowling set us up in the last book to know that Harry plans to leave Hogwarts. Dumbledore gave Harry hope to defeat Voldemort – and the way to do it: Harry will need to find and destroy the remaining Horcruxes that Voldemort has stored his soul within. He knows that there are seven pieces of Voldemort’s soul, and that his current body houses one piece, leaving six remaining. Harry destroyed Riddle’s diary with a basilisk fang in HP and the Chamber of Secrets. Dumbledore destroyed a second Horcrux piece – the Slytherin ring, accounting for his injured and shriveled hand in the last book. But there’s so much more to that story…The third known Horcrux was the locket Dumbledore and Harry set off to destroy in the last book, and it had been stolen – replaced with a replica and a note signed by R.A.B. Who is R.A.B.? Harry needs to find the remaining four, potentially five, Horcruxes.

This book opens during the summer, with Harry grounded at the Dursleys’. A plan has been hatched to safely transport Harry and also the Dursleys, as time is running out on the charm that protects him at the Dursleys. The moment he turns 17 or no longer calls the Durlseys house his home, the charm is broken and Voldemort will come a-knocking. The plan is somehow breached, with all the members of the Order being attacked by Death Eaters throwing around Killing Curses like candy at a hometown parade. Needless to say, the Order suffers some serious loss, with one going missing. However, the Order will suffer more down the line. Get the tissues handy.

This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal. 

Readers learn that once again, the Ministry is keeping Azkaban escapes hush-hush, and other internal problems such as Death Eaters still working within the Ministry and gaining intel. The Daily Prophet is also suspiciously quiet. And a teacher (whom we’ve never heard of before, but who’s apparently been at Hogwarts for years) has strangely resigned…after leaving Hogwarts. I’ll give you three guesses as to what’s happened to her.

DH1_Albus_Dumbledore's_signature_with_Deathly_Hallows_symbolRowling has never left any of her books without action, and this one is definitely jam-packed – and mortally dangerous for Harry. The Ministry has been compromised entirely, Snape is in power at Hogwarts, Dumbledore’s name and memory are being tarnished salaciously…and Muggles are fearing for their lives like never before. The annoying Rita Skeeter has taken full advantage of the situation of the Wizarding world, and published a book The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore, using The History of Magic textbook ‘s author Bathilda Bagshot as a source. It does contain some questionable content, and has Harry heavily questioning his relationship with Dumbledore. This snowballs and leads them onto some interesting discoveries about the past, all while still on the run. They also discover a symbol in the book Dumbledore left Hermione, and also found it on a grave in Godric’s Hollow. It is the same symbol Luna’s father, Xeno Lovegood, Quibbler editor, wore to Bill and Fluer’s wedding…a symbol that Krum identified as Grindelwald’s mark, a mark of very Dark Arts and other sinister sentiments.

Through their journey to find the Horcurxes, Harry, Hermione and Ron traverse the dangers of the Ministry to steal back the Slytherin locket that Voldemort used for a Horcrux. It was quite a nail biter. They take turns wearing the locket, but it holds a great power over the wearer, causing the wearer to act strangely…. and restricts the wearer in certain ways, posing a very strong danger. It’s almost as if Voldemort can see the situation and control the locket.

Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.

They learn that a group of Hogwarts students, including Ginny and Luna, tried to steal the Gryffindor sword from Snape’s new headmaster office. So it’s transported to a “safe” place….but it was a fake! The real sword, which is determined to contain basilisk venom, can destroy the Horcurxes. Like the locket, they now need to find the sword.

The trio learn of items that could make the owner the Conquerer of Death. Harry already has one, one is destroyed, and Voldemort is fiery pursuit after the final object: an old, powerful wand with a bloody past. Given that Harry and Hermione are wanted by the Ministry, and Ron would probably be taken on false charges, they go to the one person who knows the meaning of the symbol: Xeno Lovegood. He relates the long-held belief of The Deathly Hallows, and the three objects. It all stems from a fairy tale of three brothers. Through the strange connection between Harry and Voldemort, he learns that a wandmaker, Gregorovitch, had the Elder Wand, but it was stolen long ago by Grindelwald, but the most recent owner is someone dear to Harry.

Harry becomes consumed by the story of The Deathly Hallows, certain that he is the descendant of the youngest brother. He wants to throw the search for the Horcurxes to the wind, thinking of the Deathly Hallows and the prophecy. He thinks having all the Deathly Hallows will ensure that he can defeat Voldemort. Ron and Hermione quickly need to snap him out of it.

This book is gripping. It reveals so many histories and connections of the past, and true loyalties of many. In this book much weighs on Harry, least of concern to him his life. Harry exudes selflessnes, kindness and quite a bit of logic and reasoning. Dumbledore’s Army has come back full force. All is explained and comes full circle, but it may leave readers with a slight pain in your hearts.

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Who will prevail in the end?

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic Press, 2005)

Genre: fiction, young adult (YA), fantasy, supernatural, mystery, suspense

Curriculum Building Ideas:

  • Language Arts: Reader’s Notebook, Literary Circles, Guided Reading Groups, Writer’s Workshop, Sequencing, Plot, Character Map/Analysis, Inferences/Predictions, Connections (Text to Self, Text to Text, Text to World), Graphic Organizers, Book vs. Movie (i.e. Venn Diagram, Persuasive Essay), Reader’s Theatre, KWL Chart
  • Social Studies: Scale Diagram of Hogwarts, Map of Hogwarts, Timeline of Hogwarts vs. Real World…
  • Math: “Design Hogwarts” – based on information provided from the book, students create floor plans, diagrams or models of what they think Hogwarts looks like; “Potions” – students measure and record ingredients for the science part of this lesson (below)…
  • Science: “Potions” – students use correct measurements of ingredients to predict reactions between chemicals, create a set number of reactions, and record the reaction and observations in their science journals…

*Author’s Note: There have been numerous reviews of Harry Potter to date, and  Rowling has racked up many awards for her books.  I’m going to try and stay away from writing things that can be easily found in other reviews from years past. Note that I am now nearly 24 years old and this is my first time reading Harry Potter, which was published when I was in elementary school. I remember my mother reading them, and then my middle brother. I was into other genres, and for some reason I had an unfounded stigma toward Harry Potter. I have seen the first four movies; I didn’t really keep up with the latter movies. But I didn’t know what was going on because I missed out on so much that was in the books! I wish that I had read Harry Potter as I was growing up, instead of waiting – I feel that I’ve lost a lot of the magic in waiting, and also in seeing the movies before reading the books.

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SPOILERS from BOOK 4 & 5

We already know from previous books that Harry has had a couple throw-downs with Lord Voldemort, and being at Hogwarts is his protection. From the last book we now know he has a very dedicated group of people, The Order of the Phoenix, as well as dedicated friends. The Order is working to ultimately bring down Lord Voldemort and thwart his plans for takeover. Things got very dicey in the last book, and many Death Eaters are now in Azkaban, while others are out. As if Harry didn’t have enough hanging over his head, he hears the eery prophecy when it breaks at the Ministry of Magic. Interestingly enough, Voldemort thinks Harry’s retrieved it. I was sure that’s what this book was going to center around – the great prophecy….

The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches … born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies … and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not … and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives … 

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Snape makes the Unbreakable Vow

Despite having committed, dedicated friends who have his back, Harry has not told Ron or Hermione about the prophecy. Only he and Dumbledore know what the prophecy says, although there is much speculation flying around in The Daily Prophet, which has know quite quickly changed its tune from Harry Potter/Dumbledore hater to Harry is the “Chosen One.” Dumbledore urges Harry to tell Ron and Hermione, but still is reluctant. He does so, but leaves out the part about the prophecy possibly being about Neville, and how Voldemort chose Harry, thinking that’s who the prophecy intended (based on his very limited information). Dumbledore has also returned to school with a blackened, shriveled hand that he continually puts off explaining…as well as an interesting ring that was a Slytherin heirloom. Dumbledore also instructs Harry to carry his Invisibility Cloak with him at all times…

I noticed straight off in this book that Harry is exuding more thought processing than has been shown in previous books, and it’s due largely in part to the fact that Hermione and Ron aren’t as concerned with what Draco Malfoy is doing, where he’s going, and they don’t believe Harry when he admits that he believes Draco to be a Death Eater. And another very odd thing happens: Snape has been given the green light to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts, a post he’s been pining to teach for over 15 years, and rejected each year. He is also firm in his belief that Sirius’ death is Snape’s fault, due to Snape taunting Sirius’ inability to really contribute to the Order, being holed up at 12 Grimmauld Place.

JIM BROADBENT as Professor Horace Slughorn and DANIEL RADCLIFFE as Harry Potter - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Professor Slughorn returns to Hogwarts

Harry is taking private lessons with Dumbledore and learns some interesting history about Lord Voldemort. Through these lessons he learns nothing he really doesn’t already know about Voldemort’s character, but he does learn extremely valuable information regarding Voldemort’s past. Meanwhile, Dumbledore is not getting along well with the new Minister of Magic, who was previously the head of the Auror department at the Ministry. And for good reason to, as we find out. The new Potions Professor, Slughorn, is trying to collect student who have strong connections to powerful or famous wizards into an exclusive club….and Draco is quite trite that he’s not been invited to join and partake of all the activities.

During a Potions class, Harry is assigned a temporary book that has additional notes for potion-making and even some made-up charms, with a scribbling on the back cover that the book belongs to the Half-Blood Prince. There’s no indication who this Prince is, but I immediately thought it was Voldemort – given that he’s always lamented and cursed his Muggle father. Harry, however, thinks that the Half-Blood Prince is his own father, James. Hermione is irritated that Harry follow’s the Half-Blood Prince’s annotations and directions and is suddenly excelling in Potions class – even surpassing Hermione.

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Puzzled over the Half-Blood Prince

However, just as a rift occurred before between Ron and Hermione, another one does…over the same set of circumstances: matters of the heart. Ron and Hermione are secretly crushing on the other, but are at odds about it. Ron is quite mean to Hermione, who avoids being present like Ron’s carrying the Black Plague. And there’s another unsuspected crush going on for Harry, and he’s apt to keep it secret and quiet. And the icing on the cake for the first semester is Katie Bell being cursed by a mysterious necklace that she mysteriously came into possession of and needed to deliver to someone…at Hogwarts. The very same necklace Harry say Draco Malfoy looking at years before in Knockturn Alley. She gets sent to St. Mungo’s.

To show off his fame (by association), Slughorn invites many to a Christmas party. Draco is found trying to sneak in, and an odd moment is exchanged between him and Snape. Harry secretly follows them and overhears a conversation that is quite questionable – and once again brings the matter of Snape’s loyalties and trust to the forefront. This information is of course brushed off by Ron, Mr. Weasley and Remus at Christmas, when a very unexpected and unwelcome visitor (by everyone but Mrs. Weasley) shows up at the Burrow: Percy – with the Minister in tow! The Minister essentially wants Harry to make the Ministry look good, and he wants privileged information of Dumbledore’s comings and goings. He gets quite angry when Harry refuses:

He raised his right fist. There, shining white on the back of his cold hand, were the scars which Dolores Umbridge had forced him to carve into his own flesh: I must not tell lies.

“I don’t remember you rushing to my defense when I was trying to tell everyone Voldemort was back. The Ministry wasn’t so keen to be pals last year.”

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Harry’s homework task – collecting a memory

This is quite a risky move, given the power the Minister of Magic holds and Harry’s shaky past with the Ministry. Even riskier, Harry openly admits that his is “Dumbledore’s man, through and through.” He has definitely declared his allegiance.

Upon the return to Hogwarts, Harry begins religiously hunting for Malfoy on the Maurader’s Map, hoping to catch him up to something…but at times, Harry can’t find Malfoy on the map! How can he be leaving the grounds? Other revelations continue to pop up for the remainder of the book, setting Harry on edge and making him continually wonder and ponder – and possibly jump to conclusions. Dumbledore sets him what seems an impossible task, but it is the final piece of the puzzle explaining how Voldemort came to be what he is  – and the secret to possibly toppling his crudely-built empire of power.

This book will definitely leave you shocked, wondering and questioning just as Harry has always done. It will completely throw readers, and it leaves the fate of Hogwarts up in the air. I said of the last book that it was set apart from the rest of the series because it was setting some big things in motion – and this book has definitely shown a glimpse of that. I expect Rowling to go no-holds-barred for the final book of the series.

If you’ve never read the Harry Potter series, I highly encourage you to do so. It is truly an enjoyable (and easy) read. Check out what Harry, Ron and Hermione will run into in the next book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic Press, 2003)

Genre: fiction, young adult (YA), fantasy, supernatural, mystery, suspense

Curriculum Building Ideas:

  • Language Arts: Reader’s Notebook, Literary Circles, Guided Reading Groups, Writer’s Workshop, Sequencing, Plot, Character Map/Analysis, Inferences/Predictions, Connections (Text to Self, Text to Text, Text to World), Graphic Organizers, Book vs. Movie (i.e. Venn Diagram, Persuasive Essay), Reader’s Theatre, KWL Chart
  • Social Studies: Scale Diagram of Hogwarts, Map of Hogwarts, Timeline of Hogwarts vs. Real World…
  • Math: “Design Hogwarts” – based on information provided from the book, students create floor plans, diagrams or models of what they think Hogwarts looks like; “Potions” – students measure and record ingredients for the science part of this lesson (below)…
  • Science: “Potions” – students use correct measurements of ingredients to predict reactions between chemicals, create a set number of reactions, and record the reaction and observations in their science journals…

*Author’s Note: There have been numerous reviews of Harry Potter to date, and  Rowling has racked up many awards for her books.  I’m going to try and stay away from writing things that can be easily found in other reviews from years past. Note that I am now nearly 24 years old and this is my first time reading Harry Potter, which was published when I was in elementary school. I remember my mother reading them, and then my middle brother. I was into other genres, and for some reason I had an unfounded stigma toward Harry Potter. I have seen the first four movies; I didn’t really keep up with the latter movies. But I didn’t know what was going on because I missed out on so much that was in the books! I wish that I had read Harry Potter as I was growing up, instead of waiting – I feel that I’ve lost a lot of the magic in waiting, and also in seeing the movies before reading the books. Also note that there are spoilers in this review toward the end.

We already know from the first book that Harry is going to encounter a scary, dangerous situation while at Hogwarts – and it is all about him. (Cue Voldemort and his minions.)

Each subsequent book in the series brings additional characters into the life of Harry Potter. And with them come more knowledge, more mystery and more story lines. The fifth book of the series is the most volatile of the series so far. Remember how we thought Ron and Harry’s fight about the Triwizard Tournament was a big deal? That’s chump change compared to what’s going on in this installment of the series.

They want to turn you into someone nobody will believe. Fudge is behind it. 

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Fudge & Lucius Malfoy

Strange things are going on in the wizarding world – most notably, the Ministry of Magic’s rejection that Voldemort is back and on the prowl. They, and along with nearly daily articles in the Daily Prophet, insist Voldemort is dead, that Harry is an attention-seeking prat, AND that Dumbledore is senile! Indeed, the Ministry (namely, Minister Cornelius Fudge) has removed Dumbledore from every board or committee he sits on – even removed him from his position as Chief Warlock on the Wizengamot, The Wizard High Court. And then Dementors show up at Privet Drive, and Harry must use magic to defend himself and protect his cousin, Dudley. (Why he’d want to do that, I can’t imagine!) And…remember that time Dobby sent the cake flying and Harry accidentally blew up his “Aunt” Marge? Well, Cornelius Fudge is none the nice guy this time around. Harry must attend a hearing about his use of underage magic, in front of a Muggle no less! But Harry is not the only person with a wizarding background who lives near Privet Drive….

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The Original Order

Harry is not left to dread the coming day of his hearing. He is swooped up by a group of tight-knit wizards and witches, and taken to a special location: the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. The Order is a collection of witches and wizards assembled to monitor and investigate Lord Voldemort and foil his movements. Dumbledore heads the Order, and Harry learns that his parents, Sirius, Neville’s parents, and many others who died at the hand (or order, rather) of Voldemort. This time around, the Order has taken refuge in Sirius’ childhood home and it is safeguarded by having a Secret-Keeper (none other than Dumbledore himself). Mr. and Mrs. Weasley (and Bill and Charlie) are now members of the Order, with all their children and Hermione already in tow. Percy has had a serious row with his parents, and is cold-stoning them. Members of the Order have various tasks and duties, and it was the negligence of one assigned to be watching Harry on the particular night of August 2nd when the Dementors attacked that got Harry in this ruckus. Along the way, Harry expresses several emotions about Dumbledore and his friends for not revealing the Order sooner, or trusting him with information via owl. He does reconnect with Sirius, albeit Sirius’ grudge of being cooped up. (He is still a wanted man.) Harry learns some surprising information about Sirius’ family that I think will come into play in future books.

Poisonous toadstools don’t change their spots. 

At his hearing, Cornelius Fudge changes the location last-minute, trying to make Harry look bad in arriving late (which he does). Additionally, he has assembled the entire Wizengamot (of which he kicked Dumbledore off) to be present at the hearing. Dumbledore calmly unsettles Fudge, actually bringing him into a fit, over the laws and justification of Harry’s use of magic to ward off the Dementors. Harry impresses many of the Wizengamot that he could do so, but Fudge wants to get the whole thing over with without a proper trial. Dumbledore, of course, calls in a witness to testify on Harry’s behalf. The Council clears Harry of wrong-doing, but there is still a rather bitter, nasty taste left in Harry’s mouth about the whole ordeal, and especially the Ministry under Fudge’s direction.

If Luna was to be believed, the beasts had always been there but invisible; why, then, could Harry suddenly see them, and why could Ron not?

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Harry & Luna Lovegood

Harry, Ron and Hermione return to Hogwarts and readers are introduced to a new character: Luna Lovegood. Luna is a fourth year with Ginny. She’s the quintessential “out-there” person (as perceived by others to be crazy), has an interest in Harry (in terms of his claims of Voldemort’s return), and she can see something no one else but Harry can see. But that’s not the strangest thing about returning to Hogwarts: Hagrid is nowhere to be found, and the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor is none other than the toady woman who sat in at Harry’s hearing, employed by the Ministry of Magic to bring Hogwarts under the Ministry’s thumb. Things are not the same at Hogwarts anymore.

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Delores Umbridge

Although it’s a benefit that Hermione and Ron have been selected as the Gryffindor Prefects, it doesn’t keep Harry from holding his tongue and telling the truth in a very tense and emotional argument between Harry and the new professor, Mrs. Umbridge, who criticizes Dumbledore openly and punishes those who talk out of turn by ignoring them like a five year-old. McGonagall herself tells Harry to watch his step around this woman, who additionally sparked a Red Scare by encouraging students to come forth with names of others who are supporting the idea that the Dark Lord has returned. Harry is indeed in a very tough spot, as some of his friends turn their back on him based on the Daily Prophet‘s writings, and the whole school is abuzz about his doings as well…and he’s too prideful to consult Dumbledore about any of this, as Dumbledore hasn’t sought him out to speak to him or would even look at him during his hearing. But it doesn’t end there. Cornelius Fudge is growing more paranoid by the day, convinced Dumbledore is preparing an army of wizards to go up against the Ministry…which explains Umbridge’s presence at Hogwarts. He’s pushing educational decrees into legislation, limiting the powers of Dumbledore at Hogwarts. But Fudge goes a step further, creating the very same inquisition at Hogwarts that Umbridge presented in her first class. Since she is not going to teach students, Hermione and Ron have cooked up the idea that Harry teach them! And they learn that Fudge has created the very thing he is afraid of…

With Harry’s volatile emotions and his anger with Dumbledore he begins experiencing some strange things that create tumult. A secret of Neville’s is revealed and Hermione finds a way to stick it to not only the horrible Umbridge, but also Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle and change public opinion of Harry and his revelation of the Dark Lord’s return…and in the process they lose the person they value the most.

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Of the series so far this book is set apart. Although Harry’s past at Hogwarts has been checkered with his run-ins with Voldemort and his followers, this one is setting some gargantuan ideas in motion that I think will come to fruition in later books. This book was quite a bit longer and Rowling did some fancy footwork, setting the stage so to speak. If you’ve never read the Harry Potter series, I highly encourage you to do so. It is truly an enjoyable (and easy) read. Check out what Harry, Ron and Hermione will run into in the next book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic Press, 2000)

Genre: fiction, young adult (YA), fantasy, supernatural, mystery, suspense

Curriculum Building Ideas:

  • Language Arts: Reader’s Notebook, Literary Circles, Guided Reading Groups, Writer’s Workshop, Sequencing, Plot, Character Map/Analysis, Inferences/Predictions, Connections (Text to Self, Text to Text, Text to World), Graphic Organizers, Book vs. Movie (i.e. Venn Diagram, Persuasive Essay), Reader’s Theatre, KWL Chart
  • Social Studies: Scale Diagram of Hogwarts, Map of Hogwarts, Timeline of Hogwarts vs. Real World…
  • Math: “Design Hogwarts” – based on information provided from the book, students create floor plans, diagrams or models of what they think Hogwarts looks like; “Potions” – students measure and record ingredients for the science part of this lesson (below)…
  • Science: “Potions” – students use correct measurements of ingredients to predict reactions between chemicals, create a set number of reactions, and record the reaction and observations in their science journals…

*Author’s Note: There have been numerous reviews of Harry Potter to date, and  Rowling has racked up many awards for her books.  I’m going to try and stay away from writing things that can be easily found in other reviews from years past. Note that I am now nearly 24 years old and this is my first time reading Harry Potter, which was published when I was in elementary school. I remember my mother reading them, and then my middle brother. I was into other genres, and for some reason I had an unfounded stigma toward Harry Potter. I have seen the first four movies; I didn’t really keep up with the latter movies. But I didn’t know what was going on because I missed out on so much that was in the books! I wish that I had read Harry Potter as I was growing up, instead of waiting – I feel that I’ve lost a lot of the magic in waiting, and also in seeing the movies before reading the books. Also note that there are spoilers in this review toward the end.

We already know from the first book that Harry is going to encounter a scary, dangerous situation while at Hogwarts – and it is all about him. (Cue Voldemort and his minions.) Each subsequent book in the series brings additional characters into the life of Harry Potter. And with them come more knowledge, more mystery and more story lines.

The fourth book of the series doesn’t start out with Harry. Instead, we get a glimpse of the life of the Riddles – all who mysteriously die in the night of no determined cause. But each had a “look of terror on his or her face” and the long-time gardener overhears a plotting conversation and Harry awakes with his scar hurting. Oh boy.

Difference of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.

Harry is looking forward to the end of his summer and the Quidditch World Cup, between Ireland and Bulgaria. Mr. Weasley has scored the best seats in the house for the Weasley clan and Ron’s two friends. However, Harry takes note of some odd things Ron’s older brother Percy (now working at the Ministry of Magic) says about some peculiarities at the Ministry, as well as some other abnormal things about two heads of Ministry departments, Crouch and Bagman, and the odd disappearance of  Ministry woman in the last known location of You-Know-Who. Although the Quidditch match is quite rousing, something goes horribly wrong…

Death Eaters (Voldemort’s strongest supporters, cloaked and hooded) are storming the place seeking Muggle blood – and Harry, Ron and Hermione are in the wrong place at the wrong time when Voldemort’s Dark Mark is cast into the sky. Ministry officials are overwhelmingly suspicious of Harry, Ron and Hermione, until they find Crouch’s house-elf Winky standing in the spot where the Dark Mark was cast…with Harry’s wand! Crouch immediately dismisses the terrified Winky, but raises the question in everyone’s mind: Why did Crouch send Winky to save him a seat in the Top Box, where the Weasleys, Harry, Hermione, the Malfoys and other Ministry officials were seated, if he wasn’t going to show up for the Quidditch match? Harry knows he has to tell Sirius, still in hiding.

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The Goblet of Fire

Harry and Ron learn before setting off for Hogwarts that there won’t be any Quidditch matches or a Cup to be won – something quite different will be happening this school year. At the feast, Dumbledore explains all: a Triwizard Tournament!

A friendly competition between the three largest European schools of wizardry: Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang in which in the past the death toll mounted so high that the tournament was discontinued. YIKES!

The tournament has been restricted to wizards age seventeen and older so that unprepared wizards are not at risk. It will be judged by the three headmasters of the competing schools, as well as a few other objective judges including Crouch. One representative from each school (Hogwarts, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang) will be selected by the Goblet of Fire to be the “champion” of their school and compete in three tasks. Yet…Harry’s name is chosen as the fourth competitor! And he must compete – it’s the rules! No one believes him that he didn’t submit his name, and it sets a huge rift between Harry and Ron. A lot of anger lies between them, and Hermione is trying to bring them back together. Meanwhile, the whole school is angry at him, taunting him with ridiculous lies from a reporter’s article, flashing POTTER STINKS buttons. Everyone’s turned on Harry, and he’s definitely got the feeling of being and outcast. Sirius and the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, Moody, are on alert: someone put Harry’s name in the Goblet of Fire – because they want him dead!

CONSTANT VIGILENCE!

"Mad-Eye" Moody
“Mad-Eye” Moody

Hogwarts gets a new, but rather old, Professor for Defense Against the Dark Arts. Indeed, “Mad-Eye” Moody is quite qualified: he used to work at the Ministry as an Auror (a Dark wizard catcher). Snape avoids Mad-Eye (as well as Drumstrang’s headmaster). He goes against Ministry restrictions for teaching: he wants students to be prepared for danger, and teaches students how to recognize the three Unforgivable Curses (one of which killed Harry’s parents), and how to combat them. And he also highly embarrasses Malfoy in quite a humorous way. He is obviously Harry’s secret champion, a fresh delight in the quite ugly and nastiness that is Snape.

They get a weird vibe from Durmstrang’s headmaster, Karkaroff. They’re on even higher alert when Karkaroff bursts into the dungeon during a Potions lesson. Harry fiddles and spills things to stay and overhear their conversation, with Karkaroff showing Snape something in great fear, who shushes him. And Harry finds Crouch himself ransacking Snape’s office from his magical map, which he hands over to Moody. If Crouch is so sick, as the Ministry and Percy Weasley are insisting, why is he sneaking into Hogwarts? Things are not adding up….

Hermione helps arrange for Harry to meet Sirius in late November in the Gryffindor common room. And boy does Sirius have a lot to say! He shares some scary information about Karkaroff, connecting him to Voldemort, and perhaps the reason Dumbledore wanted an Auror at Hogwarts…to keep Harry safe. Sirius is very strict in asking Harry to notify him of any strange happenings, which actually happens quite frequently.

Triwizard Tournament
Triwizard Tournament

Harry and Ron do make up; being boys, they leave things unsaid but Harry is more mindful of Ron and his feelings. The gang work together to help Harry complete the last two tasks. Harry gets in the good graces of Beauxbatons champion Fleur, and Karkaroff, is continually unfair in his judging marks for Harry’s tasks.

All the while, Hermione is hellbent on advocating for house-elves, who are basically slaves. But they’re delighted about their work, which Hermione doesn’t understand. Dobby and Mr. Crouch’s formerly employed Winky come to work at Hogwarts, and Winky reveals that Crouch has some rather dark secrets. Winky upholds that she won’t reveal them, and insists that Mr. Bagman is a bad man….but toward the end of the book we find out that Bagman and Crouch are kind of enemies and exactly what kind of secrets Winky has been keeping.

During Voldemort’s powerful time, Crouch was an avid prosecutor of his supporters – he was definitely on a manhunt. Harry gets the full experience of Crouch coldly sending his only child, his only son, to Azkaban without a trial, without an explanation as to how he got swept into the Dark Arts. Some insisted he was at the wrong place at the wrong time, which even Harry has been accused of…and which a young Bagman was also accused of. But his popularity as an England Quidditch player roused sympathy and support, which eliminated his connection with Voldemort. Crouch was none too happy that his peers let Bagman walk free. Indeed, throughout the entire book, play goes back and forth between Bagman and Crouch making readers think one is connected with Voldemort, who we learn some interesting information about. Harry also finds out who some of the other Death Eaters are, and is very surprised to find one of them is a professor at Hogwarts!

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Even Dumbledore was fooled…

During the final task, Harry saves Cedric’s butt a couple of times…and they find that Durmstrang’s champion is not what he seems. Harry is badly hurt, and he and Cedric make a monumental decision as to the outcome of the winning champion. And what they get is not at all what they expected, as Harry comes face to face with Voldemort again. And this time Voldemort’s out for blood – Harry’s – and death.

The ending is QUITE twisted – readers will definitely be thrown for a loop as all comes together and is explained. It is quite a lot, but brings Sirius to Harry’s side…and dually he reveals himself to Mrs. Weasley and Snape. Snape and Sirius unceremoniously agree to disagree over their tangled past at Dumbledore’s urging, and to help Harry and the wizarding world.

You are on the same side now. Time is short, and unless the few of us who know the truth stand united, there is no hope for any of us. 

Dumbledore sends Snape off on a covert task, that will be revealed in a later book. Sirius is sent to rally “the old gang.” Mr. Weasley is called upon to reach out to contacts in the Ministry who won’t turn a blind eye to the fact that Voldemort is back – and many within the Ministry who were cleared so many years ago are indeed still supporting the murderous Dark Lord.

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Durmstrang champion and Hermione

One thing of great note that’s different from the other books so far is that readers get more exposure to Harry’s inner thoughts – he wants to enter the Triwizard Tournament, he wants to cast an Unforgivable Curse on Snape, etc. This is probably due in large part to the volatile amount of anger Harry has, especially toward Ron, and feeling as if everyone at Hogwarts hates him.

Also of important note is the growing crush of Hermione and Ron. Ron is extremely jealous of Hermoine, how she spends her time and who she spends it with. It will be interesting to see if this continues throughout the series or if Hermione decides she’s had enough of Ron’s oafish ways.

No good sittin’ worryin’ abou’ it. What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does. 

Of the series so far, I think I enjoyed this book the most. It was quite a bit longer, but I loved the entire idea wrapped up in this book – Rowling did some thorough planning and dropped hints at just the right times. If you’ve never read the Harry Potter series, I highly encourage you to do so. It is truly an enjoyable (and easy) read.

Check out what Harry, Ron and Hermione will run into in the next book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.