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Sample Book Ideas for Literature-Based Reading Enthusiasts

From the 1998 edition of:
The Handbook for the Young Reader's Choice Award
sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Library Association.

for more information contact
Gale Sherman:
Bette Ammon:

More Sample Book Ideas
A 1998 Young Reader's Choice Award Nominee (Grade 9-12):
In the Middle of the Night
by Robert Cormier

PUBLICATION DETAILS: Cloth: 182p. 1995. $15.95 (ISBN 0-385-32158-9). Delacorte. Paper: $4.99 (ISBN 0-440-22676-4). Dell/Laurel-Leaf.
GENRES: Mystery, contemporary realistic fiction
THEMES: Revenge, hatred, guilt, fires, accidents, survivors, tragedy, brothers and sisters, rebellion, family life, loneliness, obsession, Halloween, phone calls, penance, peer relationships, orphans, theaters
READABILITY: Sixth grade
INTEREST LEVEL: Seventh through twelfth grade


"Once again, Cormier explores the underside of human emotions: hatred, guilt, thirst for revenge. From the first page, readers will be caught up in the story as Denny is dragged closer and closer to apparent doom at the hands of someone too sick for Denny to defend himself against. The ending lacks resolution, leaving Denny with an obsession he might never escape and his father struggling with what is clearly unjustified guilt--exactly the kind of ending Cormier fans have come to expect." Booklist 91(15):1387 April 1, 1995. Jeanne Triner.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 48(9):302 May 1995. Roger Sutton. (Recommended)

The Horn Book Magazine 71(3):335 May/June 1995. Maeve Visser Knox.

"Intersecting plot lines rush together in an exciting climax that reveals the relationships between some key characters....While grim and terrifying in some respects, this is not, in toto, a bleak novel. Its style is reminiscent of Jay Bennett's, with fairly long passages of dialogue that are heavy with foreshadowing. Unresolved details detract only slightly from the power of the prose to address the painful process of maturing and of beginning to understand and accept adult roles....YAs willing to invest some intellectual effort will be amply rewarded by this sophisticated psychological thriller." School Library Journal 41(5):118 May 1995. Joel Shoemaker.

"Like the spider to the fly, few writers can weave a web of intrigue that captures readers as well as Robert Cormier. Superbly written, with characters well developed and a tight, fast moving plot, In the Middle of the Night is what you would expect in a Newbery quality book. Cormier's stories always exist on two levels, and this one is no exception....A must read." Voice of Youth Advocates 18(2):92 June 1995. Gary E. Joseph. (#5-quality, #5-popularity).



Robert Cormier says he went around for thirty years "disguised as a newspaperman." At night his true self was revealed when he pounded out short stories and novels on his old Royal typewriter. A full-time novelist since 1978, Cormier in lives Massachusetts just three miles away from his birthplace. He says he is an excellent example of "write what you know" because that is what he does. As a child, Cormier found his heroes in the library, in books. His writing is greatly influenced by Thomas Wolfe and Ernest Hemingway. Many of Cormier's books have faced controversy. Cormier says "I think it makes some people uncomfortable because I recognize that life isn't always a series of happy endings...My books go against that: the hero doesn't always win, and sometimes you're not sure who the bad guy is."

In the Middle of the Night is based on an event that occurred in 1942 -- the Boston Coconut Grove fire where 490 people died in an overcrowded nightclub. A busboy was accused but later cleared. Cormier speculated about the busboy and his future. How would his child be affected by newspaper articles published each anniversary of the tragedy?


Sixteen-year-old Denny wants a normal life. He wants to get a driver's license and a job; he wants to be able to answer the phone. For years Denny has listened as his father answers middle-of-the night calls near the anniversary of the tragic fire that occurred when his father was a teenage usher. Now, twenty-five years later, Denny defies his parents by answering the phone and is ensnared in a vengeful plot against his father.


Cormier's book are inappropriate to read aloud in their entirety. Like his other books this novel too is multi-leveled and complex, but this book is one his most accessible to less accomplished readers. To hook potential readers, read aloud the nine-page introductory chapter. The suspense will wake students up in the middle of the night.

For a critical analysis of this novel, read "The Sand in the Oyster" by Patty Campbell, The Horn Book Magazine 71(3):365-369 May/June 1995.


Every Halloween underprivileged children are invited to a free show in the old Globe Theater. Lulu and her younger brother looked for their neighbor, Billy, who was struggling to find them seats.

Finally, Billy beckoned us. He had probably used strong-arm tactics, but one way or another he had found us seats three-quarters of the way from the stage, side by side, under the balcony. It's pretty far from the stage, I complained. Lulu gave me her patient look. We all sat down together.... Ten minutes later, Lulu was dead. And the nightmare began. (page 9, hardback edition)
This particular nightmare doesn't happen in The Middle of the Night, but the revenge Lulu exacts does.


Denny is not allowed to answer the telephone and he has never understood why. And, sometimes the phone does ring...and ring and ring. Finally, one day the desire to pick it up is irresistible.

"Hello," he said, his voice hollow in the room. He had never talked on the phone.
"Who's this?" a voice demanded, a harsh voice, angry. "This isn't the murderer. Who is this? Who's speaking?"
"Me," he answered. Did the voice say murderer
"Who's you?" Impatient, still angry.
"Me, Denny." Then adding his last name: "Colbert."
Pause, then. He looked around, guilty about answering the phone, wishing his mother would come in to take over the call.
"Oh, the murder's son!" (page 38, hardback edition)
Denny's mild and quiet father, a murderer? Does this explain the other phone calls that come In The Middle of the Night?


Architecture/Historic Preservation/Theaters:

The tragic accident in this book happened in an old theater named after the historic Globe Theater, famous during Elizabethan times. Shakespeare's Theater by Jacqueline Morley and John James (Peter Bedrick, 1994) can provide some background information.

Most cities and towns have programs to preserve their historic buildings. Renata Von Tscharner and Ronald Lee Fleming's New Providence: A Changing Cityscape (Harcourt, 1987) is a perfect introduction to American architecture. Students can become amateur architectural historians by learning more about the styles depicted here and then creating a photographic (or illustrated) display of buildings in their community that exemplify various styles. New Providence is also available as a set of seven posters with a 32-page teaching guide from Dale Seymour Publications, PO. Box 10888, Palo Alto, CA 94303-0879. Excellent companion books include Jörg Muller's The Changing City (McElderry, 1977) and Architecture by Paula Bryant Pratt (Lucent, 1995).

An applicable Internet site is The National Historic Preservation Program.


This novel is based on a real event that occurred in 1942 -- the Boston Coconut Grove fire where 490 people died in an overcrowded nightclub. Using indexes from the 1940s and the Internet, students can read actual reports of this incident.

Journalism/Current Events/Ethics/Media:

Every year, on the anniversary of the Globe Theater tragedy, local newspapers resurrect the story. For the twenty-fifth anniversary they want new material. A reporter talking to Denny wants the human side of the story, avoiding the sleaze factor. Use this as a springboard for a study of tabloid journalism and media ethics.

Point students toward Internet sites such as: Journalism Ethics from the Journalism Department at San Francisco State University, Centre for Applied Ethics, Media Ethics Resources on The WWW, and Journalistic Resources Page: Links to Journalism.



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