Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Bystander by James Preller

Besides reading, I love to listen to funny storytellers. Some of my favorite storytellers include Bill Cosby and Kevin Kling. Kevin Kling told a story on public radio recently that I would like to share with you. [share selected audio clip]

The Kling brothers go searching for Jeffrey because he tattles on them and it's time for payback, but when the Kling brothers find him, do they know what to do next?

While in their grasp Jeffrey says, "No, no, don't take me into the woods."

Then the Kling brothers respond, "We are taking you into the woods!"

Jeffrey says, "No, no, don't tie me to the picnic table."

The Kling brothers reply, "We are tying you to a picnic table!"

Jeffrey says, "No, no, don't pour peaches on my head."

The Kling brothers call out, "Somebody go back to camp and get some peaches!"

Jeffrey doesn't realize that what he is doing is instructing the Kling brothers step- by-step on how to terrorize him.

(Why was Jeffrey so specific? What can you infer, or conclude, about Jeffrey? Was he a former bully, bystander or victim?)

Unlike the Kling brothers, the bully in the book, Bystander, by James Preller, definitely knows what he's doing. Griffen tells the new kids he draws into his dark world to call him Griff. What takes most of his unsuspecting new recruits weeks to discover is that Griff is a liar, bully, and a thief. We are also introduced to Eric Hayes, the new kid in town. Eric has just moved with his mom and younger brother from Ohio to Bellport, Long Island, and doesn't know anyone. He definitely doesn't know whom to avoid.

The book begins with Eric shooting buckets outside, alone, on the middle school cement basketball courts when he notices a boy running away from the school all covered in red glop. To Eric there is something strange about the whole scene. The boy looks like he is running for his life, but there isn't anyone chasing him. From a distance the red glop looks like red paint. Or, is it blood?

Then the narrator tells us that the boy headed in Eric's direction:

"You okay?" asked Eric.

The boy came to a halt and stared at Eric. He looked distrustful, a dog that had been hit by too many rolled-up newspapers.

Eric stepped forward, gestured to the boy's shirt. "Is that blood?"

There was a flash of something else there, just a fleeting something in the boy's eyes: hatred. Hot, dark hatred.

"No, no.," the boy said.

Then Eric smelled it, a familiar whiff, and he knew. Ketchup. The boy was covered with ketchup.

Then, in the very next chapter Griff introduces himself to Eric. Griff takes care of Eric, the new kid. Eric immediately gains buddies, recognition and a place with Griff's boys at the lunch table. Friendship with Griff has its benefits, but unknown to Eric, Griff is responsible for what happened to ketchup boy. What will Eric do if Griff comes calling for Eric to join in on the fun? What will Eric do if Griff finds ketchup boy alone, and offers to give a live demonstration to show Eric how it's done?

Does Eric have the courage to do the right thing or will he join in the fun with Griff? Or, will Eric fall in with a long line of bystanders instead and just watch?

The following words by Martin Luther King Jr. haunt the chapters that follow:

"In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Killer Pizza by Greg Taylor

Do you like Hawaiian? How about Chicago style? Maybe it's the Cowboy at Papa Murphy's?

What's your favorite pizza?

There sure are some strange combinations of pizza toppings out there, too. I love chicken and pineapple on thin crust! When you add those sweet glistening lego sized rectangles of tropical gold, the taste completely morphs into something spectacular! However, some of you may think adding pineapple morphs the taste into something horrible.

[Show picture of a gargoyle] Can anyone identify what's in the picture?

Gargoyles and pizza? What a strange combination. I'm not suggesting gargoyles on pizza. What I am trying to foreshadow has to do with something that morphs or transforms into a horrible combination in the book, Killer Pizza, by Greg Taylor.

In, Killer Pizza, by Greg Taylor, we find Toby McGill working at a new pizza shop named Killer Pizza on opening day. It's Toby's first job. He's thrilled. He's a little nervous, too. Toby's dream is to be a chef someday and any gig he can get working with food can't be all bad. Toby is also a little nervous because he has a lot to learn. From making pizza to answering the phone the proper way, Toby is a rookie and rookies don't get much respect.

The opening day of the new Killer Pizza franchise didn't go as planned. Toby's training didn't prepare him for the huge rush of orders. You can imagine the number of mistakes Toby and the other rookies made that day as they answered the phone and tried to remember what went into menu items such as the Creature Double Feature (two medium sized pizzas), or a Monstrosity (extra large with everything), or a side order like Vampire Stakes (pointed garlic sticks with red dipping sauce). Toby and the others barely survived their first shift. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be their last. Surprising for a first day on the job, Toby and the other rookies somehow impressed their boss Harvey. However, Harvey wasn't necessarily impressed with their pizza making skills. He had hired Toby and the others for another reason-gargoyles. Well, something like gargoyles. For now, there is no other way to explain them.

You see, the real reason Harvey hired Toby and the others had something to do with what happened to Chelsea Travers a few days earlier.

"Run! Don't look back! Just run!!!"

Chelsea Travers, a fifteen year-old girl, by herself in the dark, barefoot, with trees preventing the moonlight from penetrating to the forest floor to help guide her, ran for her life.

"Help! Someone, please...HELP ME!"

As Chelsea's nervous system reacted by infusing a much needed adrenaline burst to her muscles, her conscience also kicked into overdrive. What had she been thinking, walking home alone in the woods that night?

"What is this thing chasing me, anyway?!"

Chelsea was terrified. She got a glimpse of it. There were bursts of snarls like from an animal. But, "what kind of animal ran on two legs?" As her heart pounded, her lungs screaming, the terror slackened for a split second as she spotted a road up ahead that could lead to safety. Then Chelsea tripped, twisting her ankle. Hope never seemed so far away. As she picked herself up she experienced a "searing flash of pain" that exploded in the back of her thigh.

"Chelsea whirled to defend herself. Her eyes widened when she saw what was standing...towering over her." Her head felt like it was spinning. "She felt like she'd been injected with some kind of sedative. As much as she urged herself to fight, to run, to do something to get away from the silent, bizarre creature that had bitten her, all Chelsea could do was sink to both knees. She was going fast and she knew it. The creature stepped toward Chelsea, its foot filling her fuzzy-and quickly fading-field of vision." The last thing she saw was the creature's bare feet walking up to her, and strangely, in her final confusing moments as she lay paralyzed on the damp forest floor, she noticed what was on one of the creature's deformed feet-a toe ring!

What happened to Chelsea Travers was unknown to Toby McGill, but Toby's boss Harvey knew something. Harvey knew that the creature that bit Chelsea Travers was like the one he had hanging lifelessly on a hook, wrapped in plastic, and locked securely in Killer Pizza's basement freezer. Harvey also knew one more thing that Toby didn't-that Toby was more than just a good pizza maker. Toby had what it took to deal with whatever it was that attacked Chelsea Travers that night.

What was the creature that bit Chelsea Travers? Why did it have on a toe ring? What skills does Toby possess besides tossing pizza dough into the air? And, what makes Harvey so sure the creature hanging on the hook in the freezer is really dead?

If you like R.L. Stine and/or American Chillers, if you like books about monsters, then I would like to recommend, Killer Pizza, by Greg Taylor.
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