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Why Prep?
Leon's English Literature Review

For ELA / ESL / EFL Students & Parents
Homeschoolers especially Welcome!



Dear Bibliophiles and Literature Lovers:

Reading can be an interesting way to learn a language, (even if it is your first language).  And so, I hereby present Leon's Literature Review, for any and all who want to read.  NOTE:  This page is mostly for those who've already learned to read; so for children from third grade to high school.  If you have a child still learning to read, I suggest my "Reading Skills" page, which has lots of resources for those still learning to read (linked at the bottom of this page).



I'll try a genre-based approach.  Here are all the genres of literature that I can think of:


            A.  NARRATIVES:

         1.  Historical fiction:

A historical fiction story is set in a real historical place and some of the events actually occurred and some of the characters may have actually existed, but the main plot of the story surely did not occur.

                            Examples that I've read:

                            a.  *Simplified Classics!*

Reading Level:  5th-6th grade (give or take)

My Review

As a child in the 5th or 6th grade, I thoroughly enjoyed all of the books below.
NOTE:  I read the simplified versions as a child.  I do not know if the original versions would be as interesting to read.  But, the simplified versions were fascinating to me as a child.
NOTE2:  I read the Great Illustrated Classics.
- David Copperfield (simplified version)
- Oliver Twist (simplified version)
- Mutiny on Board the M.S. Bounty (simplified version)
- Moby Dick (simplified version)
- Treasure Island (simplified version)
- Tom Sawyer (simplified version)
- Huckleberry Finn (simplified version)
- Robinson Crusoe (simplified version)
- Around the World in 80 Days (simplified version
- and many more

I get zero money for this ad.  I'm just placing it here because I absolutely loved reading the Great Illustrated Classics when I was a child.  I would spend my own money to buy them and read them.  I'd stay up late under the covers with a flashlight, because I couldn't put them down.  Click on the link below to see all the titles (and shop).

BTW:  You can put your link on my webpage / website, if it is educational, and I like it.
Learn how to put your link on my website, here.


                            b.  Wilson Rawl's Where The Red Fern Grows

Reading Level:  6th-8th grade (give or take)

My Review

Where the Red Fern Grows is a popular book with young teenagers.  I read it in my teenage years and was deeply touched by the relationship between a boy and his two dogs.  I would highly recommend this book to all dog-lovers around the world.  I was deeply touched by the book as a young reader, and I didn't even have a dog!


                 c.  Rodman Philbrick's FREAK the MIGHTY

Reading Level:  7th-High School

My Review

Freak the Mighty (and I'm not going to tell all about how Freak the Mighty was born, because I don't want to spoil it for you) was in eighth grade.  The story was set in the early 80s when the first desktop computers came out.  Fascinating read!  It was written in the first person, so it reads like a true story, but it is fictional.  From my research, I found out that it was inspired by a true experience from the author's life, though, making it close to being based upon a true story.  It is a heartwarming story full of what I call "real-life" crap that we all have to deal with in one way or another, making the story very relatable to the reader.  It is inspiring.  It will make you laugh and it will make you cry.  I highly recommend it.


Unicorned Pegasus
By Leon of Leon's Planet


                    2.  Fantasy:  (My personal favorite genre)

A fantasy story may be set in a fictional place, and quite generally the characters are beings that do not exist in real life and/or talking animals.  A sub-category of fantasy might include fairy tales (or at least most of them).  The Harry Potter books would be in this category, but I haven't read any, and do NOT plan to.  That's not to say, "Don't read Harry Potter."  No, no, no.  Whatever it takes to get your child (or you) to read, then do it!  But, there are so many other fantasy stories out there besides Harry Potter (and better than Harry Potter, too!).


                            Examples that I've read (aside from fairy tales):

                            a.  Tolkien's The Hobbit

Reading Level:  High School fantasy-lovers

My Review

This was either the first or second novel in the genre of fantasy that I had ever read.  It was so magnificent in my eyes as to inspire me to read many more of the genre.  I have since come to understand that Tolkien's whole Lord of the Rings trilogy is based upon Nordic lore.  Wow!  To think that at one time there were elves and dwarves and giants living in Midgard.  So, maybe we should classify it as historical fiction rather than fantasy?  At one time I had planned to read the whole trilogy but never had the opportunity.

I highly recommend this book.  However, my middle school students say that the rest of the series is "dry" and uninteresting.


                            b.  Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time

Reading Level:  4th-6th Grade

My Review

A Wrinkle in Time was the other book, one of two, that instigated my love of fantasy.  L'Engle's book presents insights into the evils of egalitarianism that even a child could understand.

Unlike in L'Engle's book, we do not have to "tesseract" through space to find societies like the one in A Wrinkle in Time, or to find societies that strive to become like the one in the book.

I highly recommend this book.  

                            c.  C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia

Reading Level: 4th-6th Grade

My Review

I've read the first book of the series:  The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.  The movie that has just come out stays remarkably true to the story in the book.  C.S. Lewis was a writer who thrust Christian themes into almost all of his writings.  The Lion is clearly a Christ archetype.

While the plot was not unique, I did find the medium of the plot, namely fantasy, very appealing.  For any one who loves fantasy (as I do), I would recommend this book.  Note:  You don't have to be a Christian to read this book.  It is fun and exciting no matter what your believe system is!

                 d.  Natalie Babbitt's Tuck Everlasting

Reading Level:  5th-8th grade

My Review

Winnie goes into the forest against her mother's wishes and she discovers a family....  a family with a secret... the secret of living forever.  Winnie is between 10 and 12 years old.  The story is set in 1881 in the Adirondack Mountains.  Very interesting story.  I couldn't stop reading it until I was through; and then I read it to my fifth-graders.



                   3.  Science fiction (Sci-Fi):

Science fiction is probably a subcategory of Fantasy (because it's not real); but I place it in its own category, because it could become real... some day. Science Fiction is possible events/stories that could have happened and may have happened, but are generally assumed not to have happened;  OR, that could happen now or in the future.


                            Examples that I have read:

                            a.  Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Reading Level:  High school or above
Content is meant for:  Adults (and I only say that because I don't think that self-centered high-schoolers can really appreciate the humor, which deals with real-life themes, such as inane politics, silly gov't bureacracy, and in later books of the series, he even deals with religion)  It is VERY satirical.  But, if your high-school student is studying satire in school, this is a VERY good series to read.

My Review

Never had I encountered such a delightful author as I found in Douglas Adams.  He does his research and knows his stuff.  He combines science, satire, linguistics and fantasy into one; And, he does it in such a way that it immediately grabs the reader and keeps the reader wanting to know what will happen next.  After I was done with the first book of the series, I immediately went out and bought the other four.  I read them all as fast as I could in succession.

In the last book, Mr. Adams had to kill off everyone, or the series may never have ended, because people would have clamored for more.  Sorry.  I ruined the ending for you.

For any one who has a sense of humor, appreciates satire (both political and religious), and a good laugh now and then, I would very highly recommend all five books of the series.


                        4.  Contemporary fiction:  make-believe stories set in modern times.

                            Examples that I have read:

                  A.  THE NAME OF THIS BOOK IS SECRET (by Pseudonymous Bosch)

Reading Level:  4th - 8th grade
(but I read it as an adult and absolutely fell in love with this book!)

My Review

The book seems to be set in a time contemporary to its publish date:  2007.  Our two 11-year-old protagonists embark on an adventure of mystery and intrigue.  But, what I REALLY  like is the way the book was written.  After the title page, you see this page (below).

My Review Continues

Of course, curiosity gets the best of you and you just have to turn the page to see why you shouldn't read beyond that page.  The whole book is like that.  It grabs your attention and keeps it and you can't put it down, because you just have to know what happens next.  While the general writing and size of font is consistent of that for a 4th-grader, it contains many high-level vocabulary words that even a sixth-grader might not know.  Like I said, I read it as an adult and fell in love with the book.  Since the main characters are in sixth grade, the plot might appeal to someone of that age level, even if he/she has to look up some of the words in the book.  However, since there are lots of high-level words, it might be better for someone in middle school; unless, of course, you are like me and you are an adult and you just love great literature no matter what reading level it is.



                  B.  Bel Kaufman's Up The Down Staircase

Reading Level:  R-17

My Review

The book was published in 1965 (so it might be considered historical fiction by some), but it is recent enough to be considered contemporary fiction.  The author uses a style of writing referred to as "epistolary", which is to say that the whole book is a compilation of teacher correspondences, school memorandums, and students' notes.  I found the writing style delightful and refreshing in its novelty.  The content was very entertaining.  I laughed.  I wept.  I was sent on a roller coaster ride of emotions.  Every teacher could relate to the book.  I read it as an adult in teacher college.
I recently re-read this book and was surprised at all the foul language!  Parents be warned!  I would recommend this book for those only 17 years or older.
It is set in a New York inner city high school in the mid sixties.  It shows how tough teaching really is.  (And now its even tougher, and I should know.  I was a teacher for 25 years).




            A.  Reference:  literature which gives basic information

                    1.  Lexicons:  books that give the meanings of words (My favorite)

                    2.  Dictionaries:  books that give the pronunciations of words  (My favorite)

                    3.  Almanacs:  books of facts/statistics

                    4.  Atlases:  books of maps

                    5.  Encyclopedias:  books of informative articles on nearly every topic

            B.  Trade book(s):  book(s) which give(s) detailed information on a specific topic

                    Examples that I've read:

                    1.  a book about sharks

                    2.  several books about insects

                    3.  several books about dinosaurs

                    4.  several books about dreams and dream interpretation

            C.  Self-help:  literature designed to help one better one's self

                    Examples that I have read:

                    1.  How to Win Friends and Influence People (by Dale Carnegie)

My Review

This book profoundly changed my life (for the better).  I highly recommend it to all the world.

                    2.  The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People (by Stephen Covey)

My Review

Not bad.  It was helpful.  I'd recommend it.  It was not always entertaining, but it had its moments.  The anecdotes were interesting and insightful.  It is a very practical, no-non-sense type of book.  The problem is at times, it reads like an instruction manual.  

            D.  Inspirational (Secular):  literature that makes you feel better about yourself and help motivate you to improve your life

                    Example:  a book about Self-Esteem

            E.  Inspirational (Spiritual):  See:  "III. Religious/Spiritual: C" (below)

            F.  Poetry:  literature which has rhyme and meter.  Some poems don't have rhyme or meter, but somehow they are included in the category of poetry.  Don't ask me how.

            G.  Essays / Commentaries:  Most essays are in fact commentaries; They comment on something and attempt to convince/persuade the reader to agree.

            H.  Histories:  literature which attempts (sometimes erroneously) to describe the past.

            I.  Documentaries:  literature (and films) which document actual events supposedly without commentary but sometimes with commentary.

            J.  Ethnographies:  literature which focuses upon the culture of certain ethnic groups.

                    1.  Body Language [Author unknown]

My Review

Nowadays, there are literally hundreds of books written on the subject of body language.  The book I read was written in the 1960's.  I read it in the 1980's.  At the time it was very popular and I think that it was a "ground-breaking" book in that it was one of the first pieces of literature on the subject published for the general public.

I found it very interesting; However, I disagreed with some of the assertions therein.  For example, just because someone folds his/her arms during a conversation, does not necessarily mean that the person is "closing" his/her mind to the ideas of his/her interlocutor.  Maybe it is just a comfortable position, or maybe culture dictates that one fold his/her arms.  My father made his children fold their arms in church as a sign of reverence.  We children certainly did not "close" our minds to the words coming at us from behind the pulpit (although we may have, at times, found the sermon boring).  So, I found the book making claims or assertions that were not always correct.  One needs to consider the culture of one's interlocutor,

I would not recommend any book about body language that does not consider the micro and macro cultures of the individual.  As I have read no other books on the subject, I have no recommendation for you. 

            K.  Anthropologies:  literature which focuses upon groups of people deceased or living.




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