Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Leepike Ridge by N.D. Wilson

(Persistant images haunted my mind as I read this adventure story. My imagination borrowed continually from an article I looked at way back from the Sept. 2006 issue of National Geographic. Pictures from a cave exploration expedition helped me visualize some of the conditions the main character encounters in this book.)

In some ways Thomas Hammond is lucky. He has been able to grow-up next to a mountain called Leepike Ridge. A river runs right by his house. He has a world of fishing and exploring right below his window, as long as he doesn't get hurt climbing down. His home is unique in that it sits chained on top of a slab of rock. Imagine climbing dozens of nearly vertical stairs to knock on his door. Thomas probably felt he lived on top of the world. He didn't mind the climb but the delivery men with the new refrigerator weren't too happy at the sight of those stairs.

In some other significant ways Tom Hammond is not quite so fortunate. His dad died awhile back and he doesn't appreciate his mom's new boyfriend, especially after he proposes marriage to her. Trying not to throw-up at the thought of her marrying this guy, Tom attempts to work through his anger and takes a walk by himself along the river in the middle of the night. He comes across the foam packing that the refrigerator was packed in and uses it as a float. He lays down on it and pushes off into the water while he mulls over the day's dark events. The ride is comforting and peaceful as the slow moving current gently carries him along. His thoughts quiet down and his attention drifts to the stars in the sky above. He wonders about the fact that there are just as many stars beneath him as are above him... before he slips into a deep slumber.

Asleep, Thomas floats down the river, past the bend marking his farthest exploration. He floats all the way to Nestor's place, where the river dives into the side of the mountain like water being sucked into an intake for a hydroelectric dam. When he realizes what is happening, it's too late. Tom's suddenly on a ride for his life. After Leepike Ridge swallows him he's immediately shot down into subterranean channels, rapids and waterfalls. The terrific force of water he battles finally ejects him into a large pool within a totally dark cavern. Despite severe bleeding from a head wound, Tom survives, still clutching the piece of foam. He gradually washes up on some gravel, unconscious.

When he wakes up he doesn't recognize the putrid stench emanating from something laying next him. A corpse a few days old lays there welcoming Tom to his new home.

Soon, the town newspaper reports: "Mountain Rivers Claim Another Victim!" Apparently Thomas was seen being pulled down by the river current into the side of the mountain that night. Who reported the information?

How were these witnesses, who may have been trespassing on Nestor's land, come to be at this exact same place exactly at the moment in time Tom disappeared into Leepike Ridge?

Did these witnesses do all they could to rescue Thomas?

Even after many discouraging days with no news of Tom's whereabouts, his mom doesn't believe he's dead, but what evidence can she cling to? What reason could she possibly point to for hope?

If you like survival stories with a twist of mystery thrown in, then you'll enjoy Leepike Ridge, by N.D. Wilson.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

All about Sleep from A to Zzzz by Elaine Scott

This story came out of London England in 2005: "Girl who woke up on a crane." On Saturday, June 25, 2005 a fifteen-year-old girl was discovered asleep on a concrete counter-weight on a narrow metal beam on top of a 130ft. crane. The firemen didn't immediately want to wake her. How come? Carefully, they put a safety harness around her and used the girl's cell phone to inform her parents where they found her. The firemen later discovered why she had climbed the crane. She didn't climb the crane to hurt herself. She didn't climb the crane to protest something. She didn't climb it to paint a graffetti message. When the rescue team contacted her parents they learned that she was a frequent sleepwalker! Experts from a London sleep center remarked that this was an unusual case, but they weren't surprised. The sleep experts had come across sleep walkers in the past who have driven cars, ridden horses and even attempted to fly helicopters.

Contrary to what most people think, sleepwalking doesn't occur when a person dreams. Sleepwalking occurs in a non-dreaming sleep state. Sleepwalkers usually have their eyes open. Sleepwalking doesn't indicate a severe psychological problem and usually occurs most frequently in children between 5-12 years old, but can continue beyond the middle school years.

What do you think would have happened if the firemen had immediately tried to wake the girl? What do you think should be done with a person found sleepwalking? (Don't wake them, gently steer them back to bed.)

This story and many others are found in the book, All about Sleep from A to Zzzz, by Elaine Scott. It's a quick fun read about things most of us don't realize about sleep.

Do you have any sleepwalking stories?

I'm sure some of you have experienced a hypnic jerk. This happens when your body jerks as you are about to fall asleep. By the way this is our body's reaction to protect itself. Our body confuses the sensation of falling asleep with the sensation of actually falling down(p.24).

I found the most fascinating section of the book to be about sleep paralysis. At a certain stage of sleep our bodies actually freeze or lock up. This is a good thing because this is when we are actively dreaming. Imagine what would happen if you started acting out some of your dreams!

Finally, you'd probably be surprised to find out that 15 minutes of extra sleep everynight can improve your grades in school. A study done in Minnesota showed that A students sleep 15 minutes more than B students. B students sleep 11 more minutes than C students. C students sleep 10 more minutes than D students.

There's a lot more I'd like to share with you about how sleep deprivation is used as torture, the meanings behind dreams, and my own theories about how sleep paralysis might explain why some people think they have been abducted by aliens.

(Take a look at Nova's Science Now story on sleep.)

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Reminder by Rune Michaels

How many of you like a mystery that is both suspenseful and a little bit creepy? If so, let me introduce you to the book, The Reminder, by Rune Michaels.

Daze (she preferred this over Daisy) sometimes cursed her ears; in her opinion they were badly designed. Ears should come with a lid or door just like our eyes and mouth do. To her, it wasn’t fair we couldn’t automatically snap our ears shut if we didn’t want to hear something.

Daze probably wished for a way to close down her nightmares too. Is it possible that nightmares subconsciously signal that something is very wrong in our conscious lives? It may have been a dream, but Daze thought she had actually heard a voice. The voice was familiar, but time made it seem so distant. You probably wouldn’t blame her if she had screamed. At night, many of us have trouble distinguishing between what is real from what we are dreaming.

You probably wouldn't blame her if you knew that she had screamed because this was the first time since the funeral that Daze thought she heard her dead mother’s voice.

She still had her dad. He's a robotic engineer. But, he is strangely absent, preoccupied, these days. He works himself almost non-stop behind a closed door in his university office. Yet, when she catches him at home all he wants to do is relive how things used to be. You probably wouldn't blame him either if you knew that he often played home movies to himself in secret so he could see and hear his late departed wife.

Was the explanation that simple, or was this what Daze really wanted to believe? The home movies, that explained everything-why she had nightmares, why she heard her dead mother's voice. In her mind, this was a logical and obvious explanation-at least the first time Daze heard the voice.

Daze heard her dead mother’s voice a second time, but not at night, and not at home. This time the voice came from behind a door labeled “Keep Out!” Daze just froze there, baffled, shocked, and probably a little scared, in front of the door that led into her dad's lab office door. Whenever she asked about the sign that said, Keep Out, he always replied, “It’s for your own protection.”

How could she explain her dead mother’s voice a second time? What kind of twisted secret hid behind that door? Why did her dad keep her out? Her mind raced. She remembered something strange from the funeral. Maybe there was a reason why he didn’t let her say goodbye to her mom at the funeral. He always had logical explanations: “It was a closed casket,” he reminded her, but what if there was another reason Daze wasn't allowed to say her goodbyes?

Before you think it's just Daze’s father hiding something, be careful. You might also want to examine Daze's behavior lately.

Explain this: Daze often gave overly specific details to her classmates at school about how her mother died. Daze could even move them to tears. Her tale even included a description of how beautiful her mom looked in the casket. Hold on, do you remember? Daze didn’t get to say her final goodbye at the funeral. The casket was closed.

Memories can be powerful things. They can also tangle-up children and adults in puzzling ways, especially memories that are difficult to relive.

What is Daze's father working on behind the door that says "Keep Out!"? What is Daze hiding? And, was the voice Daze heard really her mother's? Find out in this story of a family trying to repair itself after a difficult loss in, The Reminder, by Rune Michaels.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Recommended Books 2008

Time for a change. I'll be taking the the recommended/quick pick list for 2008-2009 off and will be replacing it with books I did book talks from this past year. You can use this post to refer back last year's quick pick list:

Recommended books/series:

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Inkheart series by Cornelia Funke

Books of Ember series by Jeanne DuPrau

Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull

Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan

Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy

Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins

Maximum Ride series by James Patterson

Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz

Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer

I. Q series by Roland Smith

Alfred Kropp by Rick Yancey

The Trap by John Smelcer

Liberation of Gabriel King by K.L. Going

Wizard of Earth Sea by Ursula Leguin

Listening for Lions by Gloria Whelan

Artemis Fowl the Graphic Novel

Young Adult Picks

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
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