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Home  >  Reading Workbooks  >  Middle School
Corralling Reluctant Readers at the Ranch
By Jane Gray, teacher at Clark Middle School, Anchora

These reviews were written by Ranch students at Clark Middle School for a language arts assignment I gave them.

The Ranch was a highly structured, intensive program that allowed students who failed 7th grade to make up two years of work in one so they could go on to high school with their peers. Most students came to the Ranch with a very low reading ability and interest. Books were not considered "cool." Often, they simply had no quiet time in their chaotic lives outside of school to get into a novel and enjoy it!

Jane Gray

Right from the start, I knew I had to make free-choice reading a major component of the language arts curriculum if the students were going to make it through a tough academic year. Students read at least one hour a day and often chose to read more when their other work was done. The reading log was always complete at the end of the week, even when written work wasn't!

Along with assigned pieces of literature, I allowed the students to choose novels from my collection. I have everything from the classics to high interest, low reading level realistic fiction. Once I get to know the kids, I helped to pair them up with a book that I hoped would grab them.

For many, this was the first experience they had in finishing a novel, enjoying it, and recommending it to their friends. All of them increased their reading scores, some dramatically, simply by reading so much on the Ranch. It is not uncommon for them to have read more than 10 books. I knew the program was a success when I heard a kid say, "Gee, I never used to like to read, but now I love it." The best part of my job as a teacher is when I can recommend a book that a student devours!

You can see from the book reviews that they often chose and enjoyed books where the characters are like themselves -- struggling with difficult family situations and working out their problems as best they can.

Book Review of Let the Circle Be Unbroken by Mildred Taylor.
Reviewed by Jennifer Richie, Ranch Team, Clark Middle School
This novel takes place when racism was a huge problem in America. The Logans, a black family, have to worry about losing their land to their white landlords. They have a friend who is on trial for murder with an all-white jury. Their friend is given the death penalty and is to be hung. I rated this book very interesting because something new is always happening. Just when you think you know what's going on, it turns out to be the opposite!

Book Review of Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
Reviewed by Emanuel Insinnia and Josh Kruse, Ranch Team, Clark Middle School
In Freak the Mighty, a boy named Max and a kid named Freak from across the street meet and become friends. Freak is a little short genius of a kid, and Max is tall and a bit on the slow side. Freak and Max join together to become Freak the Mighty and have a lot of adventures as Freak rides on Max's shoulders. Max's dad, who is named Killer Kane because he killed Max's mom, gets out of jail and kidnaps Max against Max's will. Freak comes and rescues Max.
I rated this book very interesting because it is a story you can really get into. It leaves you in suspense and you never want to put it down. Everyone should read it!

Book Review of Stealing Home: The Story of Jackie Robinson
by Barry Denenberg

Reviewed by Jason Manis, Ranch Team, Clark Middle School.
Stealing Home is a biography of one of baseball's greats -- Jackie Robinson. Robinson was a baseball player who played many sports. He wanted to be a pro-football player, but after scouts were sent to watch him play, he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in October, 1945. White players, coaches, and fans were unhappy with the signing of Robinson because he was black. White players were afraid baseball would be dominated by blacks, but before long they started to like him.
I liked this book because you learn about how black players were treated and about the history of baseball.

Book Review of Daphne's Book by Mary Downing Hahn
Reviewed by Dana Shangin, Ranch Team, Clark Middle School
Daphne is a shy quiet student who is teased by other students who call her teacher's pet just because she is a straight A student. Jessica is picked to be Daphne's partner in the "Write a Book Contest," but Jessica doesn't want to be her partner because she is afraid she will be teased also. Jessica finds out that Daphne lives in a dirty house with no heat, no electricity and a crazy grandmother and tells her mom. The girls win the contest, and Jessica's mom finally goes to the police. Daphne moves to Maine to live with relatives, where Jessica visits her.
At first I thought this book would be dull but it is really interesting and sometimes funny.

Book Review of Wolfrider by Avi
Reviewed by Kelly DuFaux, Ranch Team, Clark Middle School.
Wolf Rider is about a twisted man who calls the main character, Andy, and says he killed somebody. So Andy goes to work investigating after he begins receiving a phone call every day. Andy figures out that one of his dad's students at the college is getting stalked by this twisted man, and Andy tries to warn and protect her, but she ignores him! Andy gets head over heels in this mess and ends up getting kidnapped.
I picked this book because I like suspense and action in the books I read. The thought that someone might actually get hurt was very scary.

Book Review of The River by Gary Paulsen
Reviewed by Paul Mastej, Ranch Team, Clark Middle School
In The River, a sequel to Hatchet, Brian is a teen-ager who was once stranded in a forest alone with only a hatchet. Some men who want to teach survival skills want Brian to teach them. Brian agrees and goes into the wilderness with one of these men to survive all over again. They bring nothing but a radio, a briefcase, and two knives.
I enjoyed this book because things happen suddenly and the book is so realistic. I could just see the scenes taking place in my head. It was like a movie, except you get to choose what the characters looked like!

Book Review of What Daddy Did by Neil Shusterman
Reviewed by Jessie deLeon and Maya Jones, Ranch Team, Clark Middle School
What Daddy Did is about a "perfect" family that is as happy as can be until they go on Family Feud, a game show, and get rich. When the mom decides to divorce the dad, he kills her. The kids go back and forth between relatives until their dad gets out of jail. He wants them to come live with him.
This book grabs you and makes you want to keep reading. When I was reading it, I felt like I knew what the family was going through.

Book Review of That was Then, This is Now by S.E. Hinton
Reviewed by Troy Johnson, Ranch Team, Clark Middle School
Bryon and Mark have been best friends since they were kids. Bryon loves to fight and Mark likes to take it easy. But when Bryon falls in love with Cathy it changes his life. When Mark starts to push drugs to younger kids, Bryon has to make a choice of saving their friendship, or throwing it away.
If you are a kid who likes action and surprise like me, then this book is for you.

Book Review of Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind by S. Staples
Reviewed by Lillie Kelly, Ranch Team, Clark Middle School
Shabanu, the main character, has a free spirit and thinks to herself a lot. She is very independent at 11 years of age. Her sister, Phulan, is 13 and about to be married to Hamir. This story takes place in Pakistan which is bordered by India and Iran. Shabanu lives in the desert and her job is to tend the camels.
The big problem in this book is that Hamir, the owner of the land, and Murad, who Shabanu is to marry, fight. Murad has Hamir killed. Phulan then has to marry Murad and Shabanu is told she must marry Rahim, the land owner's brother. Shabanu does not want to marry Rahim and she tries to run away.
I'm like Shabanu in the sense we're independent and don't follow the course our parents built for us; we follow our own. Shabanu was interesting because it's about a world that's very different than the one we know. It was recommended to me by my language arts teacher, Mrs. Gray.

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