Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Becky Riordan

Since my recent booktalk about Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan, there have been many requests to get more copies of the book for our library. Whew! I don't normally try to do something sarcastic with a booktalk and there was a possibility that I might have unintentionally persuaded some of you to not read the book. There was no reason to fear. The Maze of Bones book talk turned out to be one of the most successful in generating interest in reading this year. (If this technique works, I'll have to think of some other books you shouldn't read.)

However, before I move on to the next book, I wanted to share with you something interesting that came in my mailbox today. I received a package from San Antonio Texas. Inside was a brand new library copy of the Maze of Bones, sans (without) trading cards. The note inside said:

"Dear Mr. Schoeneck

I have enclosed a library edition of Maze to replace your library's consumer copy.

Happy Holidays,

Becky Riordan"

The postage stamp says San Antonio. The return label says San Antonio. Rick Riordan, the author of Maze of Bones, lives in San Antonio. I'm guessing Becky Riordan is Rick's wife. (How did she find out about my blog?)

Becky, thanks for the gift! Happy Holidays to you as well and let Rick know we regard him as one of our favorite authors here at CLMS .

Becky and Rick, you are welcome anytime. Would you be interested in visiting us here in Lindstrom, MN? It gets a little warmer here in the spring. We're just a few miles outside of MPLS/St. Paul and would be thrilled to have you.

Best Regards.

Mike Schoeneck
Media Specialist
Chisago Lakes Middle School
Lindstrom, MN

Monday, December 15, 2008

Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass

Wendy Mass's new book can be introduced with two words: coincidence and convergence.

1. Coincidence: Have you ever heard of "Nature's Greatest Coincidence?" One of the greatest coincidences in nature is the fact that the sun and the moon appear to be the exact same size from earth. The moon is about 400 times smaller than the sun and the sun is about 400 times as far away from earth than the moon. That's why they look the same size and why the moon can cover up the sun during a solar eclipse. I know many of you probably witnessed the lunar eclipse (when a full moon dips into Earth's shadow) last February, but how many of you have witnessed a solar eclipse? I can only remember one, but I don't recall if the "instant of totality" was achieved. The instant of totality occurs when the moon exactly covers the sun, revealing just a sliver of light around it that sometimes looks like beads. These are called Bailey's Beads. If you are lucky enough to witness a solar eclipse in your lifetime, don't expect another one to occur in the same spot overhead for another 300 years. The next solar eclipse to be somewhat near Minnesota will not happen until 2017, nine years from now. If you desperately want to view one before then, you'll have to become an eclipse chaser. You just missed one. A solar eclipse was witnessed over China a few days before the Olympic Games.

2. Convergence: I mentioned in a previous blog entry about the convergence of the moon, Venus and the Jupiter in the SW Minnesotan sky in early December. In the book, every soul a star, by Wendy Mass, another type of convergence occurs. Three kids who have never seen each other before meet in an isolated part of the United States (which I guess we'll call Middle of Nowhere, USA) because of an event that will not take place at the exact same spot again for 300 years-a solar eclipse. Like caravans of wise men, people from around the world have made plans to converge on this spot for the historic event. Not all of them have come willingly, however.

First, there's Jack. It wasn't his idea to go, but he would either have to spend a couple of weeks with one of his teachers on a dusty hilltop looking up at the sky or go to summer school because of his poor grades. Jack by the way is a lucid dreamer. A lucid dreamer is someone who is aware that they are dreaming while the dream is in progress.

Second, there's Bree. She could be a character in one of the Clique books by Lisi Harrison. Bree is considered the prettiest girl in her school. She wouldn't disagree. She considers her eyes to be just as blue as Cameron Diaz's. She has worked
hard at becoming the most popular girl in the A-clique at her school and she wants to keep it that way. Bree thinks she was switched at birth. Her parents are scientists, but the last thing Bree would want to do is join them in the Middle of Nowhere USA to watch a dumb solar eclipse. What would that do for her image?

And then there's Ally. She is the star-gazer of the bunch. Her parents own Moon Shadow Campground, the one that all the eclipse-chasers are converging on. She wears a small meteorite around her neck that long ago grazed her grandpa's ear when it fell from the sky. She can't imagine a better place to grow up. Middle of Nowhere is a simple place where there are no schools or cliques, where the air is clean and there isn't much for civilization, and where the sky is free from light pollution to see the billions of stars in the Milky Way at night. Nothing could tear her away from Moon Shadow Campground, not in a billion years.

See how a natural coincidence results in an unlikely convergence of three very different personalities in, every soul a star, by Wendy Mass.

Other links:

NASA Solar Eclipse Page
Solar Eclipse in China, Aug. 1, 2008
How to view a solar eclipse.
Future solar eclipses.
Bailey's Beads.
World Wide Telescope

You may already be familiar with Wendy Mass. She is the author of one of last year's hits, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Greatest Football Records by Terri Dougherty

November 4th, 2007 will be a day that I'll never forget. I'm not a "fair-weather" fan. I'm a diehard. I stay with my team through thick and thin, win or lose. Skoal Vikings!

On November 4th, 2007 my neighbor gave me a call. It was Sunday, 9:05am. He asked, "Would you like 2 Vikings tickets on the 50 yard line for today's game at 12:00 o'clock?" At that moment I wanted time to stand still. He was only going to give me about 10 seconds to decide before calling my other neighbor. I had a previous commitment that day, but I tried to put my brain in overdrive sorting through every conceivable possible way I could get out of it.


Time was up. I had to decline and told my neighbor thanks for thinking of me.

And groan, that's not the sad part of story, it gets worst.

On November 4, 2007 one of the greatest moments in NFL history was witnessed in person by thousands filling the seats of the Metrodome.

"On November 4, 2007 Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson set a record that will be difficult to beat. In his first NFL season, Peterson set the single-game rushing record of 296 yards against the San Diego Chargers."

Thinking back about November 4, 2007 almost makes me want to cry.

To learn about more famous and not so famous football records, take a look at: The Greatest Football Records by Terri Dougherty

Other books in this series include books on basketball, baseball, and hockey.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan

The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan is the first book in the new series called 39 Clues.

Honestly, this book has been sitting on my night stand at home since August. Each time I tried to pick it up I thought of a reason why I didn't want to read it. All of us have reasons, good or bad, as to why some books don't interest us.

I would like to share with you some of my reasons why you shouldn't pick up and read this book. You can decide later if you think my reasons are justified.

My list of 11 Reasons why you shouldn't read Maze of Bones: Book One of The 39 Clues:

(Disclaimer: This is not an ORF test, so before you read these outloud (or silently) take a second to realize that I'm intending the tone of this book talk to be sarcastic, ironic or facetious. Whenever someone is using these kinds of tones you have to slow down enough so you can figure out what their true feelings are. Some of their feelings may be sincere, but they may also be pretending as well.)

1. Do you really think anything with trading cards should be on a reading list?
2. Shameless, over-the-top, cereal-box-like marketing schemes just manipulate mindless youngsters.
3. The plastic that holds the cards in has to be utterly ripped apart from the cover of the book. You know that all kids should follow the cardinal rule of librarians: Thou shalt not hurt books.
4. There's advertising on both sides of the book. On the front cover it says: "Read the books, play the game, win the prizes." Again, this is just another example of someone trying to manipulate you poor kids.
5. Prizes? Win $100,000 in prizes? What's next, chocolate bars with lottery tickets inside? If that's what it takes to get kids to read, what will it cost parents to get them to do their homework-Certificates of Gold Deposits? Spare me, and what kid is going to blindly obey an advertisement to win prizes by going to I know you guys won't.
6. President-elect Obama had to meet all the Governors from all 50 states there. Roland Smith had to have part of the setting of his new book I.Q, there. The movie National Treasure had many of its important scenes there. Now this book has to have part of its setting there too. What gives? Why does Independence Hall in Philadelphia have to be thee place for everything?
7. Shouldn't Scholastic throw its millions into marketing the toys, prizes, and websites AFTER the book has caught a following, like it did with the Harry Potter series instead of BEFORE the book has become popular?
8. Seriously, are kids going to appreciate following a story line that seems straight out of the movie, National Treasure? What an original idea to have a team of three following a trail of clues that involve famous founding fathers such as Ben Franklin. Are kids going to be intrigued by Franklin's secret messages or the by fact that someone is on the main character's heels, trying to get ahead of them or possibly kill them? Does it matter that two of them, Grace and William, refused their inheritance of a million dollars each in return for getting a piece of paper with a riddle on it that offers virtually no hope of finding the answer? And then of course there is the predictable conflict with the predictable sinister character. I should probably say, character with an "s" attached. Grace and William happen to belong to a large and greedy family, some of them also decided to forego their million dollar inheritance in order to look for answers to clues that may eventually make the winner the most powerful person on earth. There are no rules and for their greedy relatives anything goes. Being from the same family means nothing, even if two harmless weaklings like William and Grace get in the way and have to be snuffed out. I mean how unrealistic of a plot can you get?
9. Talismans, secret passages, gadgets, narrow escapes, explosions. Come on, who wouldn't be expecting these?
10. Different authors? What gives? How does having different well-known authors write each new installment of the series make any sense? Whatever!

11. My last reason-just because I say so. Rick Riordan... Well, Rick Riordan, the author of the Lightning Thief and the rest of the Percy Jackson series, he may be the exception to this list of reasons not to read Maze of Bones. He's a terrific author and all, and well, I suppose you could give the book a try, but think it over. I know you'll take this adult's opinion seriously before checking it out. Remember, think it over.

By the way, if any of you don't heed my advice and actually read Maze of Bones, the next installment is already out. That no good, dog loving, adventure seeking author named Gordon Korman has already written, One False Note, Book Two of The 39 Clues.

Note to reader: I should probably admit I did open the book this past weekend and I'm already on page 108. I can't seem to put it down, but that doesn't mean I won't find more to complain about later. Remember, think it over.

(I hope you know that I was mostly kidding, but I was put-off at first by all the marketing that went into the book. If you can look past all the commercialism you'll discover that Maze of Bones is truely a fun mystery-adventure story for everyone. M.S.)

11 Planets by David A. Aguilar

Before we begin, I have a code that I would like someone to read: "My Very Exciting Magic Carpet Just Sailed Under Nine Palace Elephants." This replaces an older, outdated, code that went like this: "My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas." Can anyone solve either code?

You've probably noticed recently the convergence of the moon, the planet Venus, and the planet Jupiter in the southwestern sky around suppertime. Jupiter is now starting to pull away and will begin dipping near the horizon soon.

December is a great time to see the stars and planets at night if you can take the cold. However, there is a lunar event in December that I'm not looking forward to. I truly have one superstition that I really believe in. We call it, "moon madness." When there is a full moon, kids at CLMS seem to be at their squirrelliest. What's bad is the fact that this full moon in December will be the closest the moon will be to the earth the entire year. On Friday, December 12th, the moon will only be 221,560 miles from the earth.

I've always been interested in looking at the stars and planets. This week or next I plan to take out my December star map out and look at the night sky. It's a lot easier and more relaxing to look up at the stars in summer. Usually in August, by the campfire, I especially like to watch the Persied Meteor Shower and various satellites that race across the sky. Those of you who share a similar or greater interest in the night sky might appreciate the book 11 Planets: A New View of the Solar System by David A. Aguilar.

For most of my life I have understood our Solar System as having 9 planets. In 2006, Pluto was officially taken off the list. There has been a big debate about this in scientific circles ever since. Now there seems to be a movement gaining acceptance that suggests that our Solar System is composed of 11 planets. Pluto is back in! In addition to Pluto, two other planets have been added that fit the requirement of being called a dwarf planet. One is Ceres, which is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and the other is called Eris which is 10 million miles past Pluto. Eris was discovered in 2005 and its discovery led to the new classification of dwarf planet. Ceres has been known for awhile since being discovered in 1801, but now fits the new category.

The book reveals other things many of us maybe haven't realized or known such as: Venus is the third brightest object in the sky after the sun and moon and sometimes can be seen during the day, currently NASA's robotic rover named Opportunity is working inside a crater on the planet Mars, and something is mentioned about a strange object called Eggland.

I suggest you take a new look at our Solar System by checking out this new National Geographic book, 11 Planets by David A. Aguilar.

Did anyone solve the code? Mercury, Venus, Earth, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Eris.


For info on our local perspective on the stars and to get a star map to use from your backyard at night take a look at Mike Lynch's website.

NASA's Mars Opportunity Robotic Rover

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

Do you know what the following symbol represents?

This symbol represents the "Deathly Hallows," the unification of 3 powerful magical objects. In chapter 21 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, one of the characters is wearing the symbol which brings up the legend of the Deathly Hallows. The triangle represents an invisibility cloak that never fades, the circle represents the Resurrection Stone with which one could communicate with the dead, and the straight line represents the Elder Wand-the most powerful unbeatable magical wand in existence. These objects together are the Deathly Hallows.

In Chapter 21 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the symbol of the Hallows appears and of course Ron and Hermione have heard of them. To them the legend of the Deathly Hallows obviously comes from the bedtime story called the "Tale of the Three Brothers," from the book, 'The Tales of Beedle the Bard,' a book all magical parents read at bedtime to their young children, like a bedtime book muggle parents read from such as Mother Goose or Grimm's Fairy Tales. Harry Potter, since he was raised by Muggles, had never heard of 'Tales of Beedle the Bard.'

In the short story called "Tales of Three Brothers," three brothers start walking over a bridge when they meet the personification of Death-Death takes on a physical form like the Grim Reaper. Death grants each of them a wish in order to trick them. He will grant their wish, but use the wish against them in order to kill them. The first brother asks for an unbeatable wand. The second asks for the ability to bring the dead back to life. The Third asks for an invisbility cloak. Death is later able to take all three of them, but I won't say how.

For most in the magical world, these were considered just bedtime stories, except by three characters in the seventh Harry Potter book who eventually took the story literally, and very seriously. The Tale of the Three Brothers predicts the nature of all three of their deaths.

I don't want to tell you any more-I've probably said too much already. If you want to have some fun back-tracking through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I would recommend, The Tales of Beedle the Bard, by J. K. Rowling, translated by Hermione Granger, with notes from Albus Dumbledore.

*Seven original handwritten copies of this book were published this past summer, six of them going to people that J. K. Rowling felt were important to her and the success of the Harry Potter series. Each book was made unique with a different precious stone inlaid on each book's cover. The seventh one was auctioned off to raise funds for Children's High Level Group, a charity that helps abandoned children. Can you guess how much the winning bid was?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

The best way I can think of telling about this book is by showing you objects that remind me about certain parts of the first few chapters from the book-sort of like using a character bag to describe what items an important character of a book would possess. Here are some significant objects and things from the book Chains:

Seeds-after Isabel says goodbye at her mother's grave, she barely has enough time to take something to remember her former home. She takes a packet full of seeds. She dare not take anything else lest she be severely punished.

The Snake-This how Isabel refers to Mr. Roberts. There is probably no better way to describe him as he cares little for anyone else and is preoccupied with the profit he'll make selling Isabel and her sister Ruth at auction in the city of Newport. Although distasteful to some, auctioning off people as if they were property was still an accepted business practice in Newport in the year 1776.

The Lion-This is how Isabel pictures her father. She remembers him roaring with the strength of a lion when they tried to bust-up his family as if they some kind of farm animals. It took five men to stop him, but as if they pulled out his claws and teeth, her father couldn't stop the men from taking his girls away.

A ship-It took 2 days and 2 nights to go from New Port to New York. Isabel's new masters, Mr. and Mrs. Lockton enjoyed the view above decks while Isabel and her sister Ruth endured the stench below decks, sharing the space with six sheep, a pen of hogs, three families from Scotland and 50 casks of Cod fish labeled with the names Lockhart and Foote.

A walnut trunk or chest-Washington's soldiers greeted the Locktons with suspicion. They considered the Locktons to be Loyalists, Tories, and possibly British spies. The soldiers didn't trust anything that was labeled Lockton and Foote so they searched everything brought ashore except for one walnut trunk belonging to Mrs. Lockton. She protested of course, but the soldiers also didn't want to risk offending a lady's dignity by searching through her clothes.

A pail-Isabel was immediately sent to fetch a pail of water for her new masters the Locktons, but she had no idea where to get some. She was rescued by a boy named Curzon who helped her, but he had another objective on his mind. He approached Isabel to ask her if she would spy on the Locktons for Washington's soldiers.

A hidden compartment in Mrs. Lockton's walnut trunk-Isabel learned of a secret compartment in Mrs. Lockton's walnut chest which was possibly full of money, British money. What was the money for? Would she decide to spy on the Locktons after all?

A chain-why should Isabel help Washington's soldiers? Wouldn't they be using her for their own gain? But why should she be faithful to the Lockons, her new masters that purchased her like she was a piece of property? How could she escape the chains of slavery to obtain the freedom she was promised by her original owner?

If you like historical fiction, I would like to recommend the book, Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson. She also wrote one of my favorite historical fiction books called, Fever 1793.

The book, Fever 1793

Who's Haunting the White House?

Who’s Haunting the White House: The President’s Mansion and the Ghosts Who Live There by Jeff Belanger , Illustrated by Rick Powell

2008 has been a year of noteworthy ghost books. I’m not usually a fan of this genre, but they keep coming at me this year. Over Thanksgiving break I tuned in to a show on the History Channel called The White House Behind Closed Doors, with First Lady Laura Bush as the host. (I just happened to have the ghost book with me-another one of those coincidences.) During the program the First Lady retold a story about a famous overnight guest at the White House at the time of World War 2 that suggests the place is haunted. I’ll get back to this in a bit, but I can say for now that it does confirm something told in the book I read.

In the book, Who’s Haunting the White House, there is an extensive section on Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln. You could say they experienced a “dark cloud” over their lives during their stay at the executive mansion. There was the heavy burden of the Civil War, with all of its death and destruction weighing heavily on the President. And then their son Willie died while they lived there. Mary Todd Lincoln would later claim that after Willie’s death she was regularly visited by her son’s ghost [p.25]. Another strange and dark incident involved the President himself. One day he glanced at a mirror in his office and noticed a double image of himself. The second image looked deathly pale, almost as if he were dead. President Lincoln also remarked to his wife and bodyguard about a dream he had in which he attended his own funeral. Shortly thereafter Lincoln would be assassinated by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre.

After President Lincoln was assassinated, Mary Todd Lincoln sought out the famous “spirit photographer” William Mumler of Boston to bring her some comfort. Mumler made a fake photograph showing a faint image of a tall bearded man in the background apparently meant to be Lincoln’s ghost. (Mumler would frequently hire actors to pose for pictures he later used in his “spirit photographs.” )

To this day the rumor continues that the Lincoln Bedroom in the White House is haunted by the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. When President Reagan was in office, his little dog Rex would walk down the hallway and would stop and bark just at the door of the Lincoln Bedroom, as if sensing something.

Tony Savoy, formerly a White House operations foreman, commented:

“I used to come in early and turn the lights on. When I turned the light on one morning, he was sitting there outside his office with his hands over the top of each other, legs crossed, and was looking straight ahead. He had a gray, charcoal pin-striped suit on, and he had a pair of three-button spats turned over on the side with black shoes on. He was sitting there, and he startled me and I stopped. And when I blinked, he was gone.”

Well, this brings me back to Laura Bush’s story. During World War 2, Winston Churchill who was Prime Minister for Great Britain at the time, was a frequent overnight visitor at the White House. One night, after taking a bath with his ritual cigar in his mouth, he stepped out of the bathroom, naked, to find himself in front of Lincoln leaning on the mantelpiece. Churchill, who was of course startled but known for never being at a loss for words, said:

“Good evening, Mr. President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage.”

Churchill would stay overnight at the White House again, but he would only sleep in the map room in the White House basement, as far away from the Lincoln Bedroom as he could get.

(For more on "Spirit Photographers" see the blog entry about the book: Seer of Shadows by Avi.)

I would also like to recommend the book, Our White House: Looking In Looking Out.

It's a book containing both true and fictional short stories about the Presidents and their families that made the White House their home. Some of my favorite sections include: a true story about Thomas Jefferson and his collection of fossil bones he spread out over the whole floor of the White House East Room, a section on the Presidential pets-including the "First Cow," how FDR made rain miraculously fall from the sky, and of course the part on White House hauntings.

I've got one more for you. I would also like to recommend, Lincoln Shot: A President's Life Remembered by Barry Denenberg.

A biography of Lincoln is presented in newspaper format. The oversize book with pages made to look 140 years old works well as an attempt to take readers back in time. At first glance I bet some readers will think the book is a primary source. Anyone interested in American history and the life of Abraham Lincoln will enjoy this book.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I, Q Book One: Independence Hall by Roland Smith

Independence Hall: Book 1 in the new series I, Q by Roland Smith

I would like to start by describing a few of the major & minor characters from Roland Smith’s new book I, Q. (While I’m describing them, try to identify any genre clues I may have included.)

Quest: he is about 13 years old. He goes by the nickname of Q. Quest is highly intelligent and can do magic.

Angela: she is Q’s stepsister. She was told her real mom died four years ago. A stranger has recently informed her that there may be a 50/50 chance that her mom might still be alive.

Blaze and Roger: Recently married, Blaze is now Angela’s stepmom. Roger is now Quest’s stepdad. They are famous musicians. They are about to start a tour to promote their new band called Match. They try to protect Quest and Angela from the negative aspects of their fame, but the paparazzi are relentless.

Crockett, Croc for short: He is a Blue Heeler/Border Collie mix. He has several missing teeth. One of his eyes is brown, the other is a really weird blue. When you look at it it seems like the blue eye is seeing right through you. Q’s mom swears Croc looks just like a dog she knew 15 years ago, right down to the missing teeth and weird blue eye, but that’s impossible, most dogs don’t live that long, right?

Tyrone Boone, people just call him Boone: He is a thin, tan, wrinkled man with long gray hair braided half-way down his back. He’s so wrinkled that Q thinks he looks like a desert tortoise that’s misplaced his shell. He conveniently appears in the story exactly when the family's coach bus breaks down. Boone likes Ian Fleming novels from the 50’s. Q probably thinks Boone has refused to join the 21st century, content to reminisce about his old glory days. Although Q probably thinks Boone seems out of step with today's world, how does Q explain Boone's wicked cell phone, a Blackberry more advanced than he has ever seen? And why does Boone insist Angela and Q go to Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the place where the Declaration of Independence was signed?

Maybe I have you thinking this book is a mystery. Maybe it sounds like a realistic or historical fiction book with a little adventure thrown in. I’ve probably oversimplified or overgeneralized the characters somewhat, perhaps misleading you a bit, but the element of misdirection is one of the chief characteristics of Spy Thrillers after all. Let me fill you in.

Angela’s mom worked for the Secret Service. She not only served on the team to protect the President, but she also helped the CIA and FBI. She was a counter-terrorism specialist. She was the best in the world at exposing terrorist sleeper cells in the United States until she was declared legally dead.

Boone: he speaks with a Southern drawl, except when he’s on his cell phone. He’s former CIA. He says that he's not entirely sure why, but he knows that at least two Israeli Mossad agents are following Angela and Q. By the way, Boone was the one that told Angela that her mom could possibly be alive.

Can Angela and Q trust Boone? How are the Israeli agents able to track their every move? Do the step-parents know, or even care, what's going on? If Angela's mom is alive, why would she allow her daughter to suffer through such a loss and allow her husband to marry another woman?

Of course there are some elements of other genres in this book, but if you like a spy story with suspense, then I would recommend Roland Smith’s new book to you.

(Spy Thriller characteristics: danger, foreshadowing, erroneous path-the author gives clues to the reader that sometimes lead in a false directions, escape from danger seems impossible, larger issues or enemies at work, crimes are on a larger scale, hero must thwart the plans of a villain, action or inaction must be decided on, etc...)

Note to teachers: I would recommend the study guide on foreshadowing at the I, Q website.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Freedom Riders by Ann Bausum

Before the Presidential Election, there were a few rumors floating around the hallways about now President-Elect Obama. One said that students would have to go to school longer if Obama was elected. Another said African Americans would get all the tax breaks. One more said that he would be impeached if elected. Rumors are a lot like weeds. They spread fast, but don't usually have deep roots or much substance.

Both Democrats and Republicans recognized the significance of Barak Obama being the first African American elected as the 44th President of the United States on the historic night of Nov. 4th, 2008. Many people were interviewed that night to comment on the important moment in our country's history, but one person especially captured my attention. His name is John Lewis.

Both interviewers referred to the sufferings and struggles John Lewis experienced in the early 1960s in the fight to get all African Americans the right to vote. (Today there seems to be a new problem, those who are eligible to vote don't always exercise their right. This year's election was a tremendous exception. High voter turnout was one of the key factors that helped Barak Obama win the election.)

In the book, Freedom Riders, by Ann Bausum, the author traces the story of two men, John Lewis and Jim Zwerg during a tumultuous period of the civil rights movement, as they fought for civil rights and fought against the Jim Crow laws of the southern states. The name Jim Crow came from an unflattering depiction of a black man who would dance on command. Jim Crow was a phrase used to describe laws that prevented blacks from participating equally in the same things whites had a right to do. These laws not only made it difficult for African Americans to vote, but also segregated them from many of the things we take for granted, such as eating in the restaurrant of our choice, sitting in any seat we choose on a bus, sitting anywhere in a movie theater we would like, being able to buy pop (soda) from the same machine as everyone else.

John Lewis and Jim Zwerg tried to do something about it. They were involved in lunch counter sit-ins. They also participated in stand-in demonstrations in which they got in line to buy tickets into a movie theater. When they were denied entrance, they would simply go back in line and do it all over again, creating a major wait for any white person trying to get in. John and Jim were able to achieve some victories as rules about lunch counters and movie theaters changed, but more had to be done. Then the Freedom Rides were organized. They decided to challenge the Jim Crow laws segrating blacks and whites on buses. On one such ride they expected the worst. Some of the Freedom Riders even made out their wills before embarking on their trip into the south. Zwerg, the lone white man in the group had even more to worry about. The mobs of those who attacked the Freedom Rider's bus "with their baseball bats, metal pipes, lengths of rubber hose, pieces of chain, hammers and sticks" would vengefully take out their wrath on the lone white Freedom Rider. When they stepped out of their bus in Birmingham, Alabama, Lewis was knocked unconcious by a wooden crate, but Zwerg suffered far worse. [show pic of Lewis with MLKjr on p.55] As the mob approached, Zwerg bowed his head and prayed. This is how he tells it: "I immediately felt a presence with me...And a calm and a peace came over me that I knew if I lived or if I died, it was okay. It was gonna be all right." Then the mob commenced beating him. [p. 51] So many of the mob focused their attention on Zwerg that many Freedom Riders were able to escape. (Where were the police you might be wondering.)

So, when John Lewis gave his comments on the night of Nov. 4, 2008 (over 47 years after the Freedom Rides) you can understand why he and many others were celebrating Obama's victory with tears of joy. He fought the good fight in bringing our country closer together as one America. I highly recommend this book for those of you who are not familiar with the Civil Rights Movement and like books about American History.

Gold Medal for Weird by Kevin Sylvester

The Olympic Games held in Beijing this past summer were tremendous. Michael Phelps was amazing. So were some of his close finishes. I think in one of the races, it was said that he won by a fingernail. Besides bringing out the best, the Olympics also sometimes brings out the bizarre.

Back in the summer of 2004, I witnessed probably one of the most bizarre incidents in sports that I have ever seen. The summer Olympics were in Athens that year and I was watching the marathon run on TV. A runner from Brazil, Vanderlei de Lima, had the lead with just a few miles to go. As the stadium came in to sight, where the runners would reach the finish line, the Brazilian runner was probably thankful that he was so near to completing the grueling 26 mile race and about to earn the gold medal for his country when all of a sudden a fan from the crowd tackled him. The man was wearing a protest sign. This same man had a year earlier run out into the middle of a grand prix automobile race as well. Before nearby spectators could pry off the man, de Lima had lost his lead but amazingly was still able to win the bronze medal.

Another bizarre event mentioned in the book occurred at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. Jeff Bean from Canada was practicing his ski jump aerials when, while in mid-air, his skis flew off. He continued his twist and spin move in the air and landed on his butt. Afterwards he said the scariest part wasn’t the landing, but when the skis almost hit him as they flew off.

Or, how about when in 1956 U.S. wrestler Charles Vinci weighed himself just minutes before the official weigh-in and discovered he was almost 8 ounces overweight. Can you guess what he did to make his weight (he had already been to the bathroom)? He shaved all the hair off his head and barely qualified.

If you are curious about more bizarre things that have happened at the Olympic Games take a look at, Gold Medal for Weird, by Kevin Sylvester.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Boy in Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

City of Ember, Inkheart, Twilight. These are just a few of the books made into movies recently. There's one more I want to add to your list. This was a book that came out in 2006, but is getting some new interest because of the movie.

The story is about a boy named Bruno. In the beginning of the story we find Bruno and his family living in a mansion in a large city. The mansion is five stories tall and from the top floor, if he steps on something, Bruno can barely peak out the window to his world to view the surrounding city. The house is so big that Bruno claims he hasn’t discovered everything there is to explore in it. Bruno lives in the perfect house, in the perfect city, in the perfect neighborhood with the best friends a boy could have.

Then a day comes when Bruno’s perfect world is ripped away from him. He runs up to his room to find his bags packed. Someone even went into his secret drawer to gather the private treasures it held.

Bruno would probably like to blame all of this misfortune on the Hopeless Case-the name he gives his sister Gretel.

He would probably like to blame his father, for his father’s job is the reason they have to move.

Bruno would like to blame the Fury as well. The Fury is the one that gave his father the promotion, after all.

Bruno’s family moves more than half a day away from their beloved mansion. They occupy a much smaller 3 story house at a place Bruno understands as Out-with. It’s a strange house, with officers coming and going like they own the place. The house servants are peculiar; they only stare at the floor when they are spoken to. And, there aren’t any kids outside in the neighborhood to play with. There isn’t much of a yard to play in, either. Then of course there is the fence, a fence higher than the house extends from the yard out into the distance as far as the eye can see.

On the third floor, Bruno peaks out the window of his new house and observes a strange sight at this place he calls Out-With. On the other side of the fence there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who all seem to be wearing striped pajamas. To Bruno, it must have seemed like his new home was like an outpost at the boundary to a strange new country.

Bruno’s age and his innocense didn't allow him to realize the magnitude of his family’s move and the sinister nature of this place he called Out-with.

For you see, his father’s new job is to be the commandant of this place.

The man that promoted his father, the man he called the Fury, was none other than Adolf Hitler.

And the place Bruno mispronounced as Out-With, was really one of the most horrible places the world has ever seen: Auschwitz, a Jewish concentration camp set up by the Nazi in Poland during World War 2.

The men, women and children wearing the striped pajamas, well, I think you know who they were.

To see the movie trailer check out the official website: Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Team Moon by Catherine Thimmesh

Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh

This week many Americans are witnessing a presidential election that has more historical significance than usual. No matter which party wins, there will be a “famous first” for the winning ticket. Many around the world, will watch TV on Tues. night on the edge of their seats, waiting for election results. Although this will be an important historic event it may not even compare to the drama of another historic television event watched by millions a few decades ago which was probably even more riveting.

On that July night in 1969, many people stopped working and gathered around a TV, many gathered outside of dept. stores huddled around television window displays, and even larger gatherings were organized in such places as Central Park in New York City. They were all watching, all waiting for something that looked like a giant bug or insect make its descent.

The giant insect’s name was “LEM.” Officially it was called the Lunar Module. The astronauts inside shouted back to Mission Control, “Alarm 1202.” Fifty thousand feet above the moon, they had a problem. Alarm 1202 was just a bug in the software, but for 20 seconds hundreds of members of the control team on earth were sweating it out trying to determine what was wrong. The whole ordeal was nothing but a false alarm, but in the mayhem the astronauts decided to descend slower than they had originally planned. With 500 feet left to go, the crew only had 60 seconds worth of fuel left for their descent. Would they have to abort the mission, keeping the astronauts safe? Would they risk losing the astronauts and/or damaging the Lunar Module? Well, you know the rest of the story. “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

You know that the Apollo 11 mission was successful. Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon. You’ve seen the pictures. You know Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins returned safely. They even returned with some moon rocks.

But did you know that there was such a fear that they would bring back deadly moon germs with them that the team had to be quarantined for an entire month with germ free mice just to make sure the world was safe for them to reenter?

Did you know that a windstorm in Australia almost prevented everyone on earth from viewing the historic moment 240,000 miles from earth?

Did you know that on re-entry through the earth’s atmosphere the spacecraft’s exterior would face temperatures as high as 5000 degrees yet the crew would be kept safe because of a special material that dissipated heat that was installed in the form of a honeycomb with 400,000 cells.

The number of cells-400,000 is kind of a coincidence. This just happens to be the number of people it took to land Apollo 11 crew on the moon. Find out about all the stories behind the scenes of Apollo 11 in Team Moon by Catherine Thimmesh.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

First lines. I’m a fan. I always take notice of a novel’s first line.

Can you guess these books from their first lines?

a. “Where's Papa going with that ax?' said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.”
b. "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."
c. "It wasn’t there. Then it was.”

The Graveyard Book’s begins like this:

“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.”

The man named Jack held the blood stained knife while his free hand shook the gate to the cemetery. On the other side of that gate crawled Jack’s prey, crawling on his hands and knees. A figure appeared next to the toddler, like a shimmer or of a faint outline of a person.

The shimmering figure said,

“My baby! He is trying to harm my baby! Protect my Son!”

The child reached for the figure but found nothing but air. “Freshly dead” she was, the ghost of the toddler’s mother.

The man named Jack approached the child when “it seemed as if a swirl of mist had curled around the child, in the moonlight, and that the boy was no longer there: just damp mist and moonlight and swaying grass.”

The man named Jack was puzzled. This graveyard had secrets. It almost seemed as if the shadows were protecting the child.

Jack expected to hear the child cry or at least hear it move. He did not expect the silky smooth voice behind him to say:

“Can I help you?"

Jack was a tall man, but this man was taller. Jack wore dark clothes. This man wore darker clothes. When other people were around Jack, they would find themselves troubled, uncomfortable, and fear would enter their minds. Jack looked up to the man he assumed was the caretaker of the cemetery, and this time he was the one that was troubled.

Jack put his right hand into his coat pocket to hide his knife so it was hidden, but could be ready in an instant.

The caretaker escorted Jack out of the graveyard as Jack walked behind. Jack slowly raised his knife into the air.

The caretaker also puzzled Jack, and during that brief moment of thought Jack realized that somehow the caretaker had already swung open the gate and Jack was standing outside the cemetery.

Jack slipped his knife into its inner sheath, and said, “Good night.”

It's been awhile since I've seen a first chapter from a book present so many questions I wanted to find the answers to, such as: How did that innocent child escape his fate that night? How did the shadows keep them hidden-were they shadows or something else? Why does Jack want him dead? Will Jack be back to pay another visit to the cemetery? Who was the man that even Jack was afraid of? And, of course, how does a toddler without his family survive in a graveyard all alone?

The questions Neil Gaiman, in The Graveyard Book, leaves the reader in chapter 1 are definitely worth finding the answers to.

Here's a review I found helpful: Fuse #8

Friday, October 3, 2008

Take Me Out to the Ballpark: An Illustrated Tour of Baseball Parks Past and Present

This baseball season marks the end of an era. One of the most famous baseball parks of all time has closed its doors. Can you guess which one?

This baseball stadium has been known as "The Stadium," "The House that Ruth Built," and as "The Cathedral." This is the only stadium to witness a perfect game in a World Series. It has hosted more World Series games than any other ballpark. It's one of the few older outdoor stadiums to never have allowed a home run soar out of the park. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Micky Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Roger Maris, Reggie Jackson and many others were immortalized here.

Yankee Stadium, an important fixture of our country's culture, has come to an end. The Bronx Bombers, also known as the Yankees, will be moving to a new stadium next year. It seems sad that this monument to baseball Americana cannot be preserved, and will be left only to host games in our fading memories.

But, you can read more about Yankee Stadium in, Take Me Out to the Ballpark, by Josh Leventhal. It's a terrific book especially for baseball fans who haven't been able to visit many ballparks in person, but still would recognize them from TV.

One of the more impressive stadiums of the modern era is Miller Park on page 78, home of the Milwaukee Brewers. Like a car that has a convertable roof, the roof of this stadium is constructed on the same principle-panels that can move and retract. It only takes about 10 minutes for the roof to cover the field. However, there may be a price to pay for the perfect indoor/outdoor stadium. The roof cost more than 50 million, it sometimes leaks, part of the roof can cast a shadow on the grass, and occasionally the roof gets stuck. Once, it got stuck so bad it took $13 million dollars to fix.

If you enjoy baseball and attending games in person, I highly recommend this book. Who knows, you might even be inspired to make a road trip next summer to Miller Park.

For more info about upcoming changes to MLB stadiums check-out the links below:

-The new Twins Stadium: Target Field.
-Take a look at the final farewell to the Cathedral of Baseball, Yankee Stadium.
-Look at the new Yankee Stadium:
-Mets Shea Stadium gets lost in all the media attention given to Yankee Stadium. The Mets are also moving to a new stadium next year. Take a look at the final ceremony and history of Shea Their new field will be called Citi Field.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Bogus to Bubbly by Scott Westerfeld

Bogus to Bubbly: an Insider's Guide to the World of Uglies by Scott Westerfeld is especially for fans of the Uglies Series.

In this book the author describes how he created the fictional world of, The Uglies. From the invention of gadgets to the formulation of the rules of society, the author gives us a glimpse of how a science fiction writer pulls together ideas from a number of sources to combine them into the cohesive elements of a story that his characters can live, move and interact in.

Setting: If you haven't read the series, you would need to know that the story takes place 300 years in the future and society is divided into the "uglies" and the "pretties." The surgically beautified pretties are separated from the "uglies" who haven't been surgically altered, yet. The "pretties" live in the sanitized, perfectly-ordered, pristine conditions of cities. Outside the orderly world of the city are the remnants of a damaged world, replete with ruins, ecological disasters, and wild places. Basically, jealousy and ugliness are blamed for why so much of the world has been damaged and the only way for the world to recover is to artificially transform everyone into a "pretty."

Characters: The main character in the story is Tally Youngblood. The author says that he needed a name that wouldn't be common today, but might work as a possible name in the future. The word, tally, refers to counting, but it's a word today that isn't used too often and the author liked the sound of it. Westerfeld created her last name from two phrases that are familiar to him: "Young Turk" & "Fresh Blood." The first one implies someone who is an upstart and the other someone that is a newcomer. Both fit the character he had in mind.

Theme: One of the author's intentions is to get us to reflect on our concept of what makes someone beautiful. Westerfeld has a section in the book about the science of beauty. One idea from the past that influenced the author is called the Symmetry Hypothesis. In the first book, Tally and Shay make a morphos mask of themselves by taking an image of one side of their face and folding a copy of it over to the other side of the mask to create a symmetrical match. [show an example] The Symmetry Hypothesis has probably been the most scientific attempt at explaining beauty. Studies have been conducted in which people were asked to look at computer generated photos and then were asked to select the pictures they preferred. The ones they most often selected were the ones that were symmetrical. "Even babies stare longer at symmetrical faces than uneven ones." This principle also operates in the animal world, not with faces but with symmetrical markings instead. According to Westerfeld, symmetry is preferred because it indicates a strong immune system. Being sick at a young age interferes with the growing process slightly, but enough to make our faces appear uneven. All of us get sick, so there isn't anyone who is perfectly symmetrical.

Find out more about how the world of the Uglies was created in, Bogus to Bubbly by Scott Westerfeld.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Eighth Grade Bites by Heather Brewer

Eighth Grade Bites (The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod) by Heather Brewer


"A tree branch slapped John Craig across the face, scraping his skin, but he kept on running and ignored the stabbing of pine needles on his bare feet. He could hear the man's footsteps behind him, echoing his own.

The man was getting closer.

A fallen branch grabbed John's ankle and he fell forward. Time slowed to a crawl as his face neared the leaf-covered ground. Cold air whipped across his skin. His heart drummed in his ears. The man's pace quickened, and just as John's cheek smacked against the earth, the stranger grabbed a fistful of John's hair and pulled his head back. John screeched. 'What do you want from me?' but his attacker didn't answer.

John swung his arms behind him to knock the man down, but his hands were caught effortlessly in the air and bound behind him. John's head jerked back as the man gave his hair a violent tug and growled, 'Where is he?'

Tears coated John's cheeks and he shook his head, refusing to answer.

Something warm and slick ran down John's forehead. Through red-tinted glass, he looked at the forest around them. He screamed for help until his lungs burned, but help wouldn't come.

'Where's the boy? Where's Vlad? [The attacker was looking for a boy named Vladimir Tod.]

John wriggled. the man's face was near his. cold breath beat down on the back of his neck, and something sharp grazed against his skin.

'Tell me or die.'

John opened his mouth to speak, but it was too late for lies. The man bit down. Fangs popped through John's skin, cutting deep into his neck."

As the days pass, Vlad, or should I say Vladimir Tod, an eighth grader at Bathory Junior High becomes more disturbed about the mystery of his favorite eighth grade teacher's whereabouts. Vlad is so concerned that he goes to his teacher's house in the middle of the night. A thought that the police may have missed something crosses his mind. When Vlad reaches the house, to his surprise he discovers a strange symbol carved into the wood across the porch. It looks like this [draw the symbol on the board].

Something moved. Someone's in the house. Vlad goes in.

Is it his missing teacher, or has someone else set a trap, hoping Vlad would come?

Why was that symbol etched onto the porch?

Why didn't Vlad run, why did he have to go inside?

If you like vampire stories, I would recommend The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod by Heather Brewer.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ripley's Believe It or Not! 2009 Edition

Ripley's Believe It or Not! books are always winners in our opinion here at CLMS.

For more information on Ripley's go to

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Minnesota Wild by Lisa Simon

Minnesota Wild Trivia

Who dropped the ceremonial puck for the opening game of the Minnesota Wild in October 11, 2000?
a. Jesse Ventura
b. Norm Coleman
c. Herb Brooks
d. Al Franken

Which of the following names were considered for the team?
a. Minnesota Blue Ox
b. Freeze
c. Northern Lights
d. White Bears
e. Voyageurs

Did the Wild win, lose or tie in their first game?

Which 6' 7" player on the Wild is known as a quiet person off the ice but on the ice he is known for being an enforcer?
a. Marian Gaborik
b. Niklas Backstrom
c. Mikko Koivu
d. Derek Boogard

Which of the following is unlike most teams but true about the Wild hockey team:
a. The team's arena, the Excel Energy Center, has a lighthouse in the image of Split Rock Lighthouse in one corner.
b. The team rotates captains every month.
c. The team song includes the words: "The day they try to take this game is the day the gloves come off." (meaning, Minnesota won't stand to lose another hockey team).

Swords by Ben Boos

Swords, by Ben Boos, is a book rich in illustrations. [look at pp. 9, 48-49, 60-61] For those of you who like to draw, this book can give you some terrific models to follow for drawing ancient weaponry. Besides that, though, I like the information tiles dispersed throughout the book. Here's an example of one describing how wild boar were once hunted in Europe by using a sword:

"Dangerous Game. Some of the animals hunted in the dense European woods were quite dangerous, including the wild boar, a large feral pig. Especially brave hunters of these tusked beasts favored the sword as a weapon of choice. It surely would have been easier to use a bow or a spear, but hunting boars with a sword was considered sporting [like the idea of "fair chase" hunters abide by today]. It must have taken great skill to fight these beasts at such close range while avoiding being gored by their fearsome tusks. Boars were said to have such bloodlust that, once provoked, they would willingly impale themselves up to the hunter's sword hilt just to get in close enough to deal the hunter a deadly blow." p.22.

I'll read that last part again. Can you believe that?

[show son's wooden sword] What is a sword hilt? Do you know what the other parts are called? What part do think is the cruciform? Where do find the tang on a sword? Where do you find the blood groove on some swords? How are swords made?

There are a few mysteries about swords. Old Norse or Viking legends said that if you blew on the blade of a Viking sword an image of a snake would appear. Some Viking swords have been discovered that have parts for which the exact purpose remains a mystery.

You may think this is a quick read, but that depends on how much you get hooked into looking at the detail of all the swords presented in, Swords, by Ben Boos.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

i before e by Judy Parkinson

Subtitle: Old-school ways to remember stuff.

June, is too soon,
July, you should stand by,
August, prepare you must,
September, remember (to stand by),
October, it's all over.

Have you heard this before? I bet people in Louisiana have.

It's an example of a memory technique-it's a mneumonic.

I like the hurricane season poem as a way to remember when it starts, peaks and finally ends. June is too soon, but July you start hearing in the news about hurricanes forming in the Atlantic Ocean. In August weather news will begin to show us possible paths hurricanes might take before reaching landfall. It seems like landfall has been occurring in places like Florida and Louisiana with more frequency and more destruction in recent years. And the season doesn't stop until the end of October.

How about this mneumonic: Do you know which months of the year have 31 days and which ones have less? Take your hands and make two fists. Put your fists side by side. Start with the left knuckle of the left hand and name it January. Look at the valley inbetween and call it February. Keep going until you finish on the right hand. Don't include the thumb knuckles. If you did it right you should have all the months with 31 days designated on your knuckles, and all the rest with less in the valleys.

To be honest, I can never remember how to properly set a table, but here's a helpful mneumonic trick. Think of the words left and right. the word 'left' has 4 letters, and the word 'right' has 5. Tableware with names with 4 letters go on the left, those with 5 on the right. Where should you put a fork, knife and a spoon?

This book has hundreds of mneumonic tricks, some you can even use for school. I think this is a perfect book for you when you need something light to read and only have just a few minutes-like silent reading day on Wed.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Savvy by Ingrid Law

Savvy by Ingrid Law

How many of you know what Pi is? Pi is a special mathematical number that represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference and diameter. It is an irrational number-when represented as a decimal it goes on forever. Believe it or not there are people who compete to see who can remember the most digits in Pi (3.14159 26535 89793 23846 26433 83279 50288 41971 69399 37510 and so on) All I can say is I think it takes some kind of whiz kid or prodigy to keep going on for hours saying the numbers of Pi.

Mibs Beaumont, in the book, Savvy, thinks a lot about the fact some people have special abilities: “…some people can play music better that anyone’s supposed to, or they can recite the numbers of pi on and on. There are those who can run fast and win medals, and others who can talk anyone into buying anything at all. Those things are a special kind of know-how. “ But why does she want to think it’s not so strange that there are kids with phenomenal abilities? Is there something she is afraid of? Is she hiding something from the rest of the kids?

Mibs Beaumont is about to turn thirteen. In her family the number thirteen means more than becoming a teenager. It means she will receive her Savvy-what her family calls the special abilities inherited in their blood-line. What Mibs might not want to admit or let anyone outside of her family know, however, is that these abilities might be a little more unusual and powerful than people should have.

On the day of her birthday she starts having pains in her head, she can’t stand the noise, there are voices, familiar voices.

Of course the family rule was to keep quiet, but will the voices inside drive her crazy? Will she be tempted to misuse her special ability? Guess what Savvy she got.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Seer of Shadows by Avi

Did any of you hear this summer that the body of bigfoot was discovered in the state of Georgia? No, it wasn’t true, even though a police officer was one of those that claimed to have discovered it. (What are incidents like this called?)

How many of you have heard of the legendary magician, Harry Houdini? (Can we say that some of his famous magic tricks were hoaxes also? Why/Why not?)

One thing you may not know about Houdini is that for a period of time after his mother’s death he tried to expose the tricks of others. No, he wasn’t trying to reveal the secrets of his fellow magicians. What he was trying to do was to expose the lies of those who claimed they could communicate with the dead. One of the supposed methods that summoned the dead was called a séance. Those who had lost a loved one sometimes were desperate enough to try this. (Why would they believe it possible?)

Angry with mediums (those claiming they could summon the dead by holding a seance) because trickery was being used to take financial and emotional advantage of people grieving the loss of their loved ones, Houdini made it his mission in life to expose their deceptive practices.

Besides the rise in interest in communicating with the dead during the late 1800’s, a few unscrupulous photographers began to claim that they could capture spirit images of those that had died. The dubious practice of Spirit Photography unfortunately emerged. Spirit Photography was the practice of attempting to capture ghosts on film. Some of these photographers would use methods like double-exposures or other various touch-up techniques to make a ghostly image of someone’s lost loved one to faintly appear in the background of a picture portrait. Like mediums, these photographers also took financial advantage of people wishing to have contact with a departed family member.

Click on the following links to see a few examples of pictures taken by Spirit Photographers from the late 1800s:
Edward Wyllie
William Mumler
Frederick Hudson
There have been many ghost pictures that have been proven to be fakes, but there have also been a few that have stumped the experts even to this day. One such example is the famous picture of Freddy Jackson. If this subject interests you, I would recommend a popular book from last year called Encylopedia Horrifica by Joshua Gee.

In the book, The SEER of Shadows, by Avi, the story begins with 14-year-old Horace Carpetine, an apprentice for a photographer in New York City in the year 1872. Horace has learned the newly established techniques of developing film by washing photographic plates with various chemicals. But, what Horace really wants to do is to be the one taking the pictures instead of doing all the dirty work behind the scenes for his boss. Horace works for Mr. Enoch Middleditch, a mediocre and fairly lazy photographer who doesn’t really put in much effort to drum up business. Since there hasn’t been a steady flow of customers for some time it comes as a surprise to both when a black servant girl named Pegg arrives to inquire if Mr. Middleditch would be willing to bring his photographic equipment to the mansion of her mistress, Mrs. Frederick Von Macht, in order to take a photograph portrait of her. It's unusual for such a prominent citizen to deal with a photographer of Mr. Middleditch's calibre. Also unusual is the timing of this request. Mr. Middleditch and Horace learn that Eleanora, the teenage daughter of Mrs. Frederick Von Macht, has recently died.

Despite the unusual circumstances of the request, Mr. Middleditch is the type of character that doesn't see anything wrong with seizing an opportunity from someone else's misfortune. (Can you guess his scheme?) He slyly informs Horace that this is an opportune time for his apprentice to begin learning the craft of taking pictures. You can imagine Horace is excited about the news, but he detects something isn't quite right.

Well, they arrive at the mansion but Mr. Middleditch instructs Horace to hide a camera inside his shirt. This is not exactly how Horace imagined his first photography lesson would be like, but he has to go along with his boss's wishes. The plan Mr. Middleditch has concocted will have him taking portrait shots of Mrs. Von Macht while giving Horace time to sneak around the mansion to find a painting of Eleanora. Horace only finds one painting of Eleanora but it will be sufficient. Following orders, Horace uses his hidden camera to take a picture of the painting. (Why do you think Mr. Middleditch instructed Horace to take a picture of a painting hanging on a wall?)

Later, back at the shop, Mr. Middleditch develops a print using the double exposure method. In the developing room, as expected, a ghostly image of Eleanora, if ever so faint, appears next to Mrs. Von Macht. Except for a table and candlestick, a space had convienently been left open by Mr. Middleditch when the picture had been taken. Mr. Middleditch complements Horace for completing his part in the scheme, but to Horace there is something even worse than the fraud they have just committed. Imagine Horace’s hands trembling as he holds the final print before his eyes. In his own words he describes the greater horror:

“I took the image and gazed at it, my eyes immediately focusing on the vague face of Eleanora. …What I saw was not the picture I had taken, not the picture Mr. Middleditch had inserted , but a completely different face!” [have a student read]

What Horace was looking at wasn’t the trickery of a clever Spirit Photographer. The photo Horace had taken of the painting that was inserted by Mr. Middleditch to create the double exposure had transformed into a different face. The image looking back at him was the actual face of Eleanora Von Macht, not a painted image.

Without knowing how to tell his boss that the fake image had turned into an apparently real ghost image, Horace just continued to follow along with his boss’s scheme. According to the plan, Mr. Middleditch wanted to create another double exposure with Eleanora’s image on it and sell it to Mrs. Von Macht, but when Horace returned from the cemetary after taking a picture of what he thought was just Eleanora's gravestone, Horace's mind was troubled with the thought that Eleanora's spirit had returned.

Mr. Middleditch wouldn’t need to go to all that effort of creating another double exposure. After Horace took what he thought was just a picture by the gravestone, this [show cover] is the picture that came out of the camera.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Blood on the River by Elisa Carbone

For those of you who like historical fiction I would like to recommend Blood on the River: James Town 1607 by Elisa Carbone.

Blood on the River is based on the true story of James Town from the perspective of a fictional character named Samuel Collier, a boy whose role is to serve Captain John Smith in the year 1607.

How many of you can say that you admire someone? Have you ever thought why you admire them? What is a quality in someone that you admire? Here's a stranger question: Is it okay to admire a quality in a person that's not real-a fictional character?

I have to say I admire the main character in this book. The qualities which I admire in him are his honesty, humility, spirit and his willingness to change. Samuel's path in life has been a series of unfortunate events. In the beginning of the book Samuel has been recently orphaned. His mom just died and Samuel is living alone on the streets of London. One day he looks through a pawn shop window and spots a piece of jewelry that catches his eye. It used to be his mom's. He sees no justice in his world. Even though his mom's jewelry was sold to the shop owner after her death, Sam believes he rightfully should have it, so he steals it.

Sam is immediately tracked down and is found guilty of stealing. (Why do you think it was easy for the police to find him?)

Fortunately he was brought before a merciful judge and narrowly escapes being hanged for his crime. Sam isn't completely safe yet, however. Sam is next put on a ship sailing for the New World and is ordered to be Captain John Smith's servant. Captain John Smith is a good judge of character and sees potential in Sam, even more potential than many of the men sailing along to establish a settlement for the Virginia Company in the New World. The journey would be dangerous of course, but the real fear was that they could end up like the Roanoke Colony that was never heard from again.

Of course Sam has seen danger before, but what he doesn't see is the positive potential in him that Captain John Smith observed in him when they first met. At first Sam is like a stone wall, hard and difficult to crack. (Remember, Sam has been scraping a survival existence for himself on the streets of London and doesn't want to be told what to do.) He's been looking out for himself and also doesn't want to work with any of the other boys on the ship who also serve the men on the ship.

Sam built up a lot of anger inside of him because of his life circumstances. (When you get angry, how does it come out?) He doesn't hide or withdraw from his anger like a lot of people do. Nope. He lets it out. The most common way he lets it out is by fighting and picking on the smaller boys on the ship. It seems that Captain John Smith puts up with Sam's behavior until Sam finally hits a boy named Richard so hard in the face that Sam's knuckles are cut open.

Let's pick up the story more directly from the book...

[Captain Smith grabs him.]

"Stand on one foot," he orders.

[Sam hesitates a moment, thinking this is a stupid order.]

"Stand on one foot!" he shouts.

[It is difficult to balance on the rocking ship, but Sam tries to do it. The ship lurches and Sam stumbles and falls into a barrel.]

"Do it! Captain Smith Orders. [Captain smith Glowers at Sam.]

"Stand on one foot!"

[Sam balances on one foot for a split second but then Captain Smith shoves him.]

[Sam fumes with anger. And then Captain smith stands over him.] "Does it work, Samuel?" he demands. "Can you stand on one foot when a storm rocks the ship? Can you keep your footing when I shove you?"

[Sam is bewildered but especially angry. Of course he cannot balance on one leg in a storm.]

Captain Smith says, "In London it might have worked for you, this standing on your own, treating [others] as if they don't matter. In Virginia, it will not work, do you understand me? The wilderness is like a ship in a storm. We will need one another to survive." "This colony will need to stand on many legs if we are not to be toppled over in the Virginia wilderness."

What do you think Captain Smith was trying to teach Sam?

Does it seem like Captain Smith is worried about something else besides Sam's behavior? What do you think it is?

For further investigation go to: Virtual Jamestown

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bizarre Buildings by Paul Cattermole with Ian Westwell

Bizarre Buildings by Paul Cattermole with Ian Westwell is a collection of pictures of unusual architecture around the world. As artists in the 20th century broke the boundaries of convention, this book seems to show how architects are not only breaking the rules, but defying the laws of gravity in the 21st century. Some of the designs you'll see in this book seem to hover, fly, and even burst out of the vertical and horizontal dimensions that we are used to seeing.

Here are some of my favorites from the book:

The Twisting Torso High-Rise Apartment Tower in Malmo Sweden. The tower is 623 feet high. It has nine five story blocks. The blocks twist as they rise.

BurJ Al Arab Hotel in Dubai. This is the tallest hotel in the world. It is designed to look like a sailing ship. It claims to be the world's only 7-star luxury hotel. Its 590 foot atrium is largely covered in 22-carat gold leaf. I wonder how much it costs to stay there for a couple nights.

Selfriges Department Store in Birmingham England. The author descibes the exterior of the store like a reptile's skin. "Its reptilian skin is a glittering array of more than 15,000 anodized aluminum disks bolted to an undulating facade of sprayed concrete rendered over contoured layers of expanded steel mesh."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Great Race by Gary Blackwood

The Great Race: The Amazing Round-The-World Auto Race of 1908 is a non-fiction book by Gary Blackwood, the author of the well-known books, The Shakespeare Stealer and The Year of the Hangman.

Imagine Spring Break is approaching but your parents have taken you out of school a few days early. Yes! You've taken an airplane to New York City and now you're taking in the sights when all of a sudden they interupt everything for a surprise announcement. They have decided that for the rest of the vacation they're taking you on a non-stop coast to coast trip in a SUV from New York City to San Francisco.

It will be a tough trip, but it's doable. But let me change a few of the conditions. Let's imagine it is 1908 instead of 2008. (Before the Model T was even developed.)The car is about the same weight, but everything else is much different. Instead of a 300 horse-power engine you only have a 30. Instead of a windshield you only have a leather screen that comes up to your chin. Instead of getting 20mpg you will be lucky to get 8mpg. I suppose the price of gas will be cheaper, but not when you factor in that there aren't any gas stations on your route-you will have to pay the price of shipping all your gas ahead of you by railroad in order to refuel. What if I take away the repair shops and parts suppliers? How about if I said none of the roads are paved and sometimes railroad tracks will be taken because the roads are in such awful shape? (Can you imagine the shaking?) One more- instead of 3,000 miles coast to coast, you will travel 22,000 miles, from New York to Paris.

In 1907 some newspapers offered a challenge to car racers around the world: a long distance automobile race from New York to Paris (22,000 miles). There was a lot of interest. Some would do it for the money. Some would do it for the fame. Some would do it because no one else had dared to before.

(Public challenges are still sometimes announced even today. For example, John McCain, who is running for President against Barak Obama proposed this summer a $300 million dollar prize be given to the winner of the Clean Car Challenge. He wants to give this prize to anyone who can develop a battery that a car can run on better than any that current technology has to offer.)

Well, news of the 1908 challenge also sparked interest in some of the leading automobile makers at the time. Many of those interested in the race-around-the-world were not as concerned about the prize money as as much as they desired the glory and attention they would receive by winning such a race. Some of the racers didn't think of themselves as heroes or pioneers-just crazy adventurers who wanted to see if they could do it. Some of these adventurers actually thought they could cross the frozen Bering Strait (the body of water that separates Alaska from Russia) by car.

Did they actually cross the Pacific Ocean via the Bering Stait by car? How many racers and cars would actually finish the race? How often did the cars break down, and if they did would the racers help each other? Get the details about the personalities, the drivers, and the mishaps from Gary Blackwood's fascinating re-telling of this true story.

You can also find out more at:

The Greatest Auto Race on Earth

The Great Auto Race

2008 re-enactment (postponed to 2009)

On a similar note, the year 1909, the year after the Great Race, would mark another important year for automobile adventures. Alice Ramsey would become the first woman to cross the continent of North America by car. Learn about her car and the route she took at:

Monday, July 21, 2008

Schooled by Gordon Korman

You know how some kids who move and start a new school in the middle of the year will probably get a student council member or someone the office thinks is responsible to escort the new kid around and help them get situated. In Schooled, by Gordon Korman, Cap Anderson is being shown around Claverage Middle School by Zach Powers, the last person that should have been showing Cap Anderson how things work at C Average Middle School.

C Average, that's what the students call it (just take the L out of Claverage and you get C Average). Zach figures since he is in 8th grade now he's earned the right to be on top of the food chain at C Average. And the new arrival appears to be fresh meat.

It didn't help that when Cap was being shown his locker, he didn't know what a combo was. It didn't help that he didn't know that he was supposed to turn those numbers left-right-left. Zach probably thought he had died and gone to heaven when Cap looked inside it and said, "It's empty."

Astonished, Zach responded, "Of course it's empty. It's your locker. It's empty until you put something in it."

Cap didn't know what to do with a locker. He asked, "What do I have to put in there?"

"How should I know? It's your stuff."

Then Cap did his thing. He said something he may have been taught to say. He said something he truly believed and maybe if it had been the 1960's it might have made sense even to Zach. He said something no other C Average Middle School student would have said in a million years:

"When we lock things away we're really imprisoning ourselves."

Zach's eyes probably popped out. This was too good to be true. He asked Cap what school he'd been to before. Like a sheep to a wolf . . . Cap said he had been homeschooled.

Immediately Zach knew what he had to do. He was going to nominate this dude for 8th grade president without telling him, make his life miserable, and have a whole lot of fun doing it. This was his year!

Or was it? Maybe there was a whole lot more to Capricorn Anderson than Zach or anyone else thought at C Average. Like Cap would say later: "When we judge others, we're really judging ourselves."
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