Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker

There aren’t many people in the world that can call themselves forensic anthropologists. Most of us are familiar with the word forensics from TV shows like CSI Miami. CSI agents gather evidence from a crime scene and use science to solve mysteries that lead to arrests. A forensic anthropologist uses his or her knowledge of the human skeleton to solve mysteries involving skeletal remains that have partially decomposed or have been rendered unrecognizable to the untrained eye. Forensic anthropologists often assist with solving crimes that involve human remains, but they are also invaluable to archaeological excavations.

One such archaeological excavation has been taking place in Jamestown, Virginia. Jamestown is known as the first permanent English Settlement in what we call the United States today. Jamestown was established in 1607, but until recently, the original site of the James Fort was believed to have washed away because of the James River. The Jamestown Rediscovery Project hit pay-dirt in the 1990s when they found evidence of the original fort, remains of houses, and the graves of many of the early settlers to Jamestown.

Many of the graves rediscovered contained mysteries for forensic anthropologists to solve. They were mysteries only the skeletons of those who were buried could answer. Questions such as: Who were these early settlers? What was life like for them at Jamestown? And, how did they die?

A highly unusual grave discovered was found to be the skeleton of male teenager.

Forensic anthropologists carefully uncovered possible evidence suggesting how the teenaged boy died.

The trauma of an arrow hitting the boy in leg in the area of his femur may have been the incident that brought on his death. On further investigation, forensic scientists believe this may have been a blessing. The young man was probably living a life in agony before he was shot. Forensic anthropologists took a look at his teeth and determined that he had been suffering from an infection that started from a broken abscessed tooth and then the infection had spread. Without modern dentistry and medicines, a fairly routine problem today was fatal back then in 1607.

Using the techniques of facial reconstruction this may resemble what the boy looked like before he died.

For more information about the Jamestown Rediscovery Project go to:

Virtual Jamestown

For a fiction connection, take a look at Blood on the River by Elisa Carbone

Check out other popular titles by Sally M. Walker such as:

Secret Subway by Martin W. Sandler

Do you know what a pneumatic tube is? Banks use them. Hospitals use them. Mechanics use them too. [show air compressor and tools] Pneumatics is a type of technology that uses pressurized air or gas to make something move.

There was an inventor named Alfred Beach who took the idea of a pneumatic tube to a much grander scale. Alfred Beach thought a pneumatic tube could be used to transport people underground. Beach successfully demonstrated that he could transport mail from one building to another using the force of air pressure to propel a large cylinder through a tube. This gave him an idea. To solve the incredible traffic-jams of New York City, Beach thought he could solve New York City’s traffic jams by constructing a tube large enough to fit a subway car under the city’s streets. There was only one thing stopping him-a man named William Marcy Tweed.

Most people called him Boss. Boss Tweed was the most powerful person in New York City in the late 1800’s. Anything important that happened in New York City had to go through him first. “He was about six feet tall and, for most of his adult life, weighed over 320 pounds. He had a large bald head and sported a red beard. What struck most people on first meeting him were his bright blue eyes, which seemed to twinkle when he found something amusing. But when he was angry these same eyes turned to cold steel, as they did on the occasion when he actually stared down a person holding a knife to his huge stomach, causing the man to drop the weapon and flee.” There were more than a few that wanted to see Boss Tweed dead and out of the way.

Alfred Beach was also determined to find some way to take Tweed out of the picture. Beach was upset that Boss Tweed stood in the way of his dream. Beach couldn’t just simply ignore the power of Boss Tweed either. Tweed was the leader of a group of corrupt politicians known as Tammany Hall. They rigged elections, accepted bribes, and stole money from public projects. They were like their own little mafia organization.

In contrast, Alfred Beach was a man of honesty and integrity. He wouldn’t use violence or bribery to get his way. His principles wouldn’t allow him to play by the same rules Tweed used. But, Beach was faced with the reality of how things worked in New York City in the late 1800s. If he wanted to build his dream, his subway, he would have to pay Boss Tweed a large amount of money on the side to get permission to start construction.

To Beach he only had one alternative. He decided to build the subway in secret with his own money. The Secret Subway, known to Beach as the Beach Pneumatic Transit, went ahead without Tweed’s permission.

Beach and his men began the project like soldiers digging an escape tunnel in a prison camp. It would take coordination and stealth. Beach’s men would have to be sworn to secrecy. Thousands of tons of dirt would have to be removed and hauled out without anyone noticing. The noise itself would have to be muffled so as not to tip off someone walking a few feet above on the streets of downtown Manhattan.

You'll have to read the Secret Subway by Martin W. Sandler to find out if Boss Tweed eventually discovered what Beach was up to and what happened to the dream of having pneumatic subways instead of the types of subway systems we have today.

Monday, September 14, 2009

101 Things You Need to Know (and some you don't!)

I know what you're thinking. You see a book called, 101 Things You Need to Know, and what happens? Your survival instinct sets in. Your skin gets clammy. Tiny beads of sweat start to form. The memory of a waiting room flashes into your consciousness. A voice deep inside you speaks, "Quick, run while you can." You swear it looks just like a book that would be sitting at your dentist's office before having a tooth pulled. You sense this is a book you don't want to get to know. But wait, before your brain leaves the room, here are a few reasons why you just might want to take a closer look:

Reason #1 - It's Disgusting!

Did you know a cockroach can live a week without its head? If you’re lucky enough to catch one, try chopping its head off and watch it continue to live for a few days afterwards. What passes for a brain in a cockroach isn’t centered in the head but is spread out through its whole body. Cockroaches don’t breath through their mouths. They have tiny holes throughout their body that they can use to breath in oxygen. Cutting off the head doesn’t cause them to bleed uncontrollably because they do not have blood pressure the way we do. (So why do these almost indestructible creatures finally die after about a week?)

Reason #2 - Miracle Mike

Chickens have been known to run around for a few moments after their heads are cut off. However, the world record was 18 months set by a chicken named Miracle Mike. (How did Miracle Mike survive that long?)

Reason #3 - I dare you.

How about this one? Did you know that just about everyone sneezes with their eyes closed? Some people believe that if you sneeze with your eyes open that your eyes will pop out. (Is this true? - There's only one way to find out.) Closing the eyes when sneezing is a reflex, but it is still a mystery why this reflex happens.

Reason #4 - Because it's funny when it's someone else.

There are many reports about people that can’t stop hiccupping. Some people have been known to hiccup non-stop for years. What is your favorite cure for the hiccups? Try one of the cures mentioned in the book such as: Thinking about pineapples, make yourself sneeze, pull your tongue, or eat sugar. Keep this in mind-none of these cures worked for Charles Osborne. Osborne unfortunately hiccupped for 68 years without stopping from 1922 to 1990.

Example #5 - Separate yourselves from those of lesser intelligence.

Finally, here’s one that maybe worth knowing. There may be an explanation why we have to deal with numbers that are based on a system of 12 instead of 10. (Which is easier?) We have 12 inches in a foot, 24 hour day, 60 seconds in an minute, etc.. The ancient Babylonians (where Iraq is today) used a system of counting with their fingers. They noticed that they had a built-in hand held calculator. Take your thumb and use it to count the three sections each of our fingers divide into. You should get 12. A long time ago the French tried to divide time into sections of 10, but the idea never caught on.

Okay, the Miracle Mike example may have gone too far, but don't write this book off so easily. Have a talk with your brain, stay in the room, and turn a page or two. (How many of you did I lose when I mentioned the word dentist?)

Friday, September 11, 2009

If the Witness Lied by Caroline B. Cooney

She was supposed to be the leader. Now guilt rules her world. She thought she could run away from the pain, but she can't break the dark hold a memory has on her mind.

As a girl named Madison sits in a parked car outside a shopping mall, she stares down a memory through a curved glass window. The family inside the mall really doesn't belong to her, but she needs to pretend. While she sits, Madison looks out the window and notices a familiar vehicle parked nearby. One look at it makes her shudder. It looks exactly like the one she remembers. So desperate to know, she walks up to it and opens the door just to be sure. To Madison's relief, it isn't the same vehicle, but she is disturbed by one significant detail. She squeezes the parking brake slowly. It takes more force to disengage than she expects. Does anyone else know about this?

Madison thought she could escape the pain of a broken home by finding a new family. She was the oldest. She was supposed to be the leader, not the one to run away. Can she get past the guilt that blinds? Will she reveal a clue that could save her own family, her real family?

Then there’s Madison's sister, Smithy. She also left home. Somehow she had the wherewithal to enroll herself into a private boarding school for girls. Like forgotten papers in a desk, Smithy filed away the memories of her hometown, her best friends, and the members of her own family. It was almost like she pretended amnesia. What made her want to start a brand new life with no trace of her real family to explain?

Then there is Jack, the only one with enough courage to stay home. Someone besides his aunt had to keep an eye on little brother. Jack had his own sacrifices to make and secrets to keep. He quit the football team, and then stashed something in the attic above the garage. He would do whatever was necessary to protect his brother.

Tristan, the youngest, is only a little boy. Tristen’s third birthday is fast approaching and he loves playing with anything that has buttons. Who could ever be afraid of a three-year-old like him? You might if you knew that most people in town consider Tristan the reason for his parents’ deaths. According to a witness, Tristan released the parking brake in the family Jeep that rolled over his father's body.

All the evidence points to one little boy. But, what if the witness lied? Find out who the real killer is in Caroline Cooney's intriguing mystery, If the Witness Lied.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

You will find below a book talk from last year that will introduce you to the book, Hunger Games, if you are not familiar with it already. Hunger games is book one in a new trilogy written by Suzanne Collins. The second book, Catching Fire, was just released a few days ago.

[Recommended for 8th grade and up]

Hunger Games is about a society in the future, but the story is based on the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, and somewhat on the Roman gladiator games. In Greek myth, King Minos of Crete punished the City of Athens for killing his son by requiring a tribute (a sign of submission and form of punishment) of seven teenage boys and seven teenage girls to be thrown into the Labyrinth to fight for their lives against the Minotaur (a beast that was half man and half bull).

In the Hunger Games, the government of Panem has recovered from a type of civil war, but has decided to keep the twelve conquered rebel regions in submission by requiring a tribute from each of them as a sign of submission and as a continual form of punishment for defying the central government. Each district has to send a teenage boy and a girl to the annual Hunger Games. The Games are like a reality style game show, but much worse. The people in the capitol prepare as much fanfare for this event as might a country hosting an Olympic games. More technology and advanced media coverage are devoted to the Hunger Games than any other event. Every single household watches the two-three week event day and night. Those in the Capitol watch simply for the Game’s entertainment value and some even get emotional as they remember where they were, what they did, and how they felt in remembering specific details about the games when it’s all over. But, the residents in most of the twelve districts watch in pure horror, as eventually they see one and then both of their teenage representatives cut down in the flower of their youth. Only one district will win and will be showered with food and privileges. That’s right, only one winner is allowed, only one survivor.

No one ever bets on District 12. There hasn’t been a winner from this district in 30 years. Before the games, every young person in a district has to appear for Reaping Day. Reaping Day is like a lottery. Two names will be picked, one girl, one boy. The name chosen from the girls’ lot is Primrose Everdeen. A wisp of frailty begins to ascend the podium. The crowd sorrowfully mutters because it’s just plain wrong that one so young and weak, a twelve-year-old, is allowed to be chosen. The murmuring continues until a different girl speaks up and says, “I volunteer as tribute.” The Hunger Games Rules do allow this, to allow someone to volunteer to take another’s place. In some districts this happens because they think they have someone that can win. In District Twelve, the Reaping Day lottery is regarded much differently. To them it’s like winning a ticket to the next life.

The voice that spoke up wasn’t thinking about winning. She was thinking of saving her younger sister. Primrose’s sister, Katniss, took the podium, took her sister’s place in the Hunger Games.

A boy named Peeta Mellark, the baker’s son is chosen as the other tribute from District 12. There’s no applause for either Katniss or Peeta, only silence. The silence of the crowd isn’t directed at them, however. The silence is the only way for the crowd to show its protest to the government. Then the unexpected happens. When Katniss stepped up to take her sister’s place the crowd takes notice and shows how they admired her decision. “At first one, then another, then almost every member of the crowd touches the three middle fingers of their left hand to their lips and holds it out to [Katniss]. It is an old and rarely used gesture of [their] district, occasionally seen at funerals. It means thanks, it means admiration, it means good-bye to someone you love.

Could you survive on your own, in an outdoor arena, with 23 other tributes out to make sure you don’t live to see another day with thousands of cameras watching and listening to your every move?
Related Posts with Thumbnails