Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

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
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