Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman

Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman

Like many of my favorite stories, this one begins in the middle of the action. Something tragic has happened to cause Ryan and his best friend Sarah to be split apart. Their parents probably will never allow them to see each other again. Something terrible has happened to Ryan, but we don’t know what exactly is wrong. And, what about Sarah? Is she okay?

Finally strong enough to do what he loves best, which is to write, we read in Ryan’s journal entry that this is the first time since being in the hospital that he hasn’t been awakened by the sound of shuffling feet, the dry chalk-dust smell of his nurse’s skin, and the soft shaking of his shoulder.

He reflects over the events that have transpired by writing in his journal. He has to. He doesn’t know how to deal with what happened in any other way.

When Ryan looks back at what they started, he writes that he can see them, all the warning signs.

He imagines Sarah wouldn't call them "warning signs." She would probably call them "invitations." She was the adventurous one. She could even be outrageous. One of her favorite things to do was to take her video camera and interview complete strangers off the street and possibly the occasional hitchhiker that wandered into their dusty old town.

He writes in his journal:

“I miss her.

I blame her.

I’m scared for her.”

“It ‘s not like she tricked me into anything.

I went along willingly.

I was the one who put my life on the line.”

It all seemed innocent enough at first. What could anyone else expect; they were bored. There was nothing to do in their hole-in-the-wall town of theirs. Its only claim to fame was a deserted gold mine nearby. The town wasn’t always called Skeleton Creek. Before 1959 it was called Linkford, a bland, respectable, safe name for a town. Sarah and Ryan decided to find out why the town’s name was changed. They picked up a lead at the local library, but Gladys Morgan, the town librarian, warned them that she would not help them any further. There were secrets buried in Skeleton Creek that were meant to stay that way.

Somehow they figured the mystery about the town’s name involved the deserted gold mine in the forest and the broken down dredge machine that was used to swallow up the earth in order to shake out bits of gold. According to an account they uncovered, Ryan and Sarah learn that a worker at the mine years ago accidently got his leg pulled into the gears of the dredge machine. No one else was working at the time to hear his cries for help. His leg was mangled into an unrecognizable limb. He later died and was buried nearby.

In chapter one Ryan doesn’t reveal what happened to himself and why he has been in the hospital. All we know is that he's extremely nervous, like someone is watching him.

We catch Ryan at the end of chapter one at a moment of decision. Will he decide to watch the video that Sarah emailed to him without her parents permission? Maybe knowing more will make him less nervous.

Apparently Sarah brought her video camera the night of the incident, but as Ryan discovers, the video won’t make him feel any better.

To watch the video that Sarah emailed Ryan go to:

If you like a mystery that is part horror, part suspense, then I'd like to recommend, Skeleton Creek, by Patrick Carman.

(There is a password required to get in. You’ll have to read the book to obtain the passwords for all of Sarah’s videos that reveal answers to why Ryan is so nervous and that perhaps reveal the mystery about Skeleton Creek. -Okay, here's one password to try out: houseofusher)

Also, check out the following:

Interview with author Patrick Carman about his new book, Skeleton Creek: goto interview.

Scholastic's Skeleton Creek Webpage.

No Limits : The Will to Succeed by Michael Phelps

No Limits : The Will to Succeed

By Michael Phelps with Alan Abrahamson

Eight gold medals, eight life chapters. Michael Phelps' book uses his 8 gold medal events at the Beijing Olympics as an outline for his life story so far. Each chapter gives a backstory about each event providing Phelps fans with a transparent look at his personal struggles and triumphs behind the scenes.

Most of us are familiar with Michael Phelps. We know that when he’s training he eats a lot, about 10,000 calories a day. An average breakfast for him might include rice pudding, some eggs, a side of bacon, an omelet, then a stack of banana chocolate-chip pancakes. If he’s really hungry, he’ll throw-in some cheese fries. Now that’s the “Breakfast of Champions!”

Most of us are familiar with the story of how water got into his goggles during the 200 Butterfly event at Beijing. We also know he barely won by a fingernail in the 100 Butterfly. But, as you can imagine, there was tremendous preparation behind all the glitz and glamour involved with winning 8 gold medals. In his book, Michael Phelps shares with us a more in-depth look at his career and the factors that have made it so successful.

One reason for Michael’s success is his coach, Bob Bowman. I like the story about the time Michael was 14 and he broke the record in the 200 Butterfly for 16 year olds. His mom decided to put a huge congratulations banner trimmed in red, white and blue across their front lawn to celebrate Michael’s accomplishment. But when Bob saw the banner he immediately tore it down. Michael’s mom was furious. How dare he do such a thing? Why did he do it? Here’s what he said to her:

“What are you going to do when he wins nationals? …Are you going to buy him a car? If he sets a world record, what, a house? You can’t get excited about every step. There are so many steps. We’re on, like, step 200 of 3,000. How are we going to keep going?”

Coach Bowman’s statement and reaction may seem a little harsh, but shows how much he pictured Michael accomplishing. Back when Michael was 14, his coach could already envision far bigger prizes on the horizon.

Another reason to explain his success is the fact that Michael Phelps is just outright tenacious. He reminds me of Tiger Woods. Does Tiger Woods like to win, or is it that he hates to lose? I think Michael Phelps is like that too.

One more-Michael Phelps is built to swim. Unlike most swimmers, he’s faster the second half of the swim instead of the first half. He finishes stronger than he starts. This is almost unheard of. When his competitors have worn themselves out trying to get out ahead of him, Phelps just turns it on. Also, the way Michael’s body is framed enables him to be fast. He has the ideal swimmer’s body. He is about 6’ 4” tall but has the wingspan of someone who is 6’8.” His hands and feet are huge for his size. However, his legs are the length of someone who is 4 inches shorter. So, he has a large torso that enables him to plane on top of the water, sort of like a surf-board.

One of the things I became impressed with while reading the book was Michael’s commitment to his goals. You can sense the agony of training so hard, such as swimming 55 miles a week. To keep himself going you can understand why he has to visualize himself breaking world records, winning gold medals.

After taking time off for a few months, Michael announced last week that he has begun training again with his sights set on the 2012 London Olympics. We probably can’t relate to the effort required to rededicate himself to the sport,coming off the longest break of his career. Not many of us can probably imagine the mental preparation and physical suffering he has to go through to get back to his gold medal winning form. But we can probably count on the fact that he has set his goals already. Phelps has said that he won’t try to race 8 events in the next Olympics, but he hasn’t completely revealed what his goals are either. Here’s what he has said so far:

“Obviously, this is the last four years on my career. I don’t want to come back and swim these four years and not be satisfied with how it went. I still have my goals and I want to make sure I reach my goals and accomplish my goals.”

Watching the Olympics is inspiring. Reading Michael Phelps book, No Limits is also inspiring. If you need any motivation to set new goals, to raise your standards, to set your sights higher then I'd highly recommend this book to you. May we all have the determination to stay focused on our goals like Michael Phelps.

DO NOT OPEN by John Farndon

DO NOT OPEN: An encyclopedia of the world’s best-kept secrets

By John Farndon

Secrets. Can you keep a secret? Sometimes no matter how hard we try to keep secrets, they seem to find a way of getting out. This book of secrets I’m sharing with you today contains information about some of the most famous mysteries in history. Some of the secrets revealed include:

Magic Tricks, Air Force One, Nostradamus, Cheyenne Mountain, Anastasia: the Lost Princess, the Enigma Code, Roswell and more.

If you like books like Ripley’s Believe it or Not, then I would recommend, DO NOT OPEN, by John Farndon.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

Take a look at the movie trailer:

Seize the Story by Victoria Hanley

I would like to play "Name That Story" with you. I'll describe a basic story plot and then you try to guess the name of the story, if you can. The story might be familiar to you in the form of a movie, novel, or fairy tale. Let's start:

#1 The hero needs to make a journey. Companions are chosen to go with. Many dangers await the hero and his/her companions on the way. They are tested beyond their limits and face ordeals that seem impossible. In the end our hero triumphs.

#2 The hero is thrown into an unknown world. The hero explores an unfamiliar world and never completely feels comfortable in it. A sinister force rises up in the way of the character's path and complicates things. The sinister force almost takes over, but the hero narrowly escapes. There's no place like home, and at the end the hero returns back to his/her familiar surroundings.

#3 The hero comes under the spell or influence of a dark or supernatural power. The threat of this power appears to be held in check, but then the dark power becomes more oppressive and puts the hero through a living nightmare. The hero eventually sees the light and becomes transformed.

I didn't list all of the plot structures most successful movies and novels follow, but a number of stories familiar to you will fit into one of these basic plots I described in "Name That Story."

Stories follow accepted patterns. Think about the Harry Potter series. Some key plot elements found in Harry Potter also exist in other stories, such elements as: a mistreated orphan, a rags-to-riches experience for the hero, a gift or mark that sets the hero apart from others, the theme of an ugly duckling that discovers he is a swan. I bet you have read other books that have some of these same features.

Looking at the basic plot structures that most all stories follow is just one of the many illuminating sections on writing fiction in the book, Seize the Story, by Victoria Hanley.

Her book is for teens who want to write fiction and maybe even want to become an author someday. This is one of the best books I've seen on the subject. I know there are a few of you who like creative writing, if so, this book is for you.

Remember, Christopher Paolini, the author of Eragon, Eldest, and Brsinger, was just a teenager when he finished writing Eragon, his first book in the Inheritance Trilogy which came to the attention of another famous writer you may know named Carl Hiassen.
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