Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

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.
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