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.
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