Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Hero by Mike Lupica

Just after a plane piloted by Capt. Chesly Sullenberger took off from LaGaurdia Airport in New York City on a cold January afternoon in 2009, a number of 6-12 pound projectiles slammed into the plane unexpectedly. These objects tore into the engines and the plane quickly lost thrust. The 6-12 pound projectiles turned out to be a flock of Canadian geese. Without engine power the lives of all 155 passengers on board flight 1549 were in jeopardy. However, due to Capt. Sully’s quick thinking under pressure, all 155 passengers were saved, although they got a little wet. Capt. Sully had saved the day by performing an emergency landing in the Hudson River. The heroic feat will always be referred to as the “miracle on the Hudson.”

In the book, Hero, by Mike Lupica, we learn that fourteen-year-old Zach Harriman’s dad loved to fly. His dad was such a good pilot that he looked forward to bad weather. Bad weather brought out the top form in a good pilot, his dad said. When Capt. Sully had landed the Airbus 320 in the Hudson River that day, Zach’s dad admitted he was a little jealous. He wished he had been the lucky one to make the heroic landing instead of Sully.

"With great power comes great responsibility." Do you remember this line from the Spiderman movie? Zach's dad was his hero. Little did Zach know then, his dad in fact had great power-just not enough to save his own life.

Zach thought about his dad as he walked along the shores of Long Island; he probably wished he had brought with his 1879 Morgan Silver Dollar, a gift from his dad years ago. If he had the coin now he’d probably squeeze it for good luck. He needed luck. He was looking for answers and didn't have much time. He couldn't make himself believe a plane piloted by his dad could ever crash. As he walked by himself around the crash site, how could he prevent the memories of his father from floating to the surface? Why did he come here, the place where his dad’s life met its tragic end? Did he expect his dad to just reappear out of nothing? Would the pain of losing his father ever go away?

Zach traveled to the crash site by himself without permission. As he scanned the area the possibility of finding answers did not look promising. All that remained at the crash site was scorched earth and a hole in the ground. As he kicked the dirt he noticed a flash of light. He lost his breath. He knelt down. There it was, an 1879 Morgan Silver Dollar just like his own. It was similar to the one he kept in his bedroom back at his family’s apartment in New York City. Zach spit on his hand to clean the coin. There was no question in his mind. This was his dad’s good luck charm. His dad had given himself a silver dollar at the same time he had given one to his son on his 8th birthday.

Zach squeezed the coin.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” said a voice behind him.

It wasn’t Zach’s dad. An old man stood near Zach, smiling. He had white hair, a white beard, and wore a bomber jacket. He had been expecting Zach. Behind his smile, the old man held secrets too many for Zach to carry back home to his apartment. Zach wasn't ready yet. Remember, with great power comes great responsibility. Zach would have to be told the enormity of the situation gradually. There were secrets his dad had never told him. Secrets about a magic that passed down from this father to his son.

Mystery, magic, and action all converge to interrupt Zach's charmed life forever. Sometimes you don't choose to be a hero. Sometimes the job chooses you. Find out how in the book, Hero, by Mike Lupica.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift's "Chocolate Pilot" by Michael O. Tunnell

Candy Bomber by Michael O. Tunnell

Sixty-two years ago the United States and its allies pulled off one of the world’s greatest rescue-relief missions in history, but nearly started World War 3 in the process. Today we know it as the Berlin Airlift. Back then it was known by some as Operation Vittles-a desperate attempt to feed and supply two million men, women and children for an uncertain length of time. From June of 1948 to May of 1949, C-54 Skymaster cargo planes landed every three minutes at airports in West Berlin to unload food and coal to a destitute city caged-in from the rest of the free world. It was if an iron curtain had descended.

[Play newsreel audio]

After Hitler’s defeat in World War 2, Germany and its despoiled capitol city were divided into Eastern and Western zones by the allies. West Berlin was occupied by the U.S., Britain, and France. East Berlin was controlled by the Russians. The Russians, or Soviets, thought they could wrestle away our control over West Berlin by siege. Thus, their plot began, and so blocked anyone and everything from entering the city by land. The Soviets decided they would starve the city into submission. They were confident the blockade would create a situation so dire that the people of West Berlin would beg the United States and its friends to leave. What the Soviets didn’t count on was the German people’s resolve, their resiliency, and their love for freedom.

Another thing the Russians didn’t count on was a secret operation, originally unknown to both sides, that would make a huge impact on this cold war front. It all began with three little packages, filled with hope, dropped by handkerchief parachutes, by a farm boy born in Utah who would forever be known as the “Chocolate Pilot.”

As the airplanes droned overhead, an off-duty pilot by the name of Lt. Gail Halvorsen observed a crowd of kids peering through the barbed wire fence that bordered Templehoff Central Airport in West Berlin. They looked with curiosity as one plane after another landed on the makeshift runway. The Lieutenant intended to film the planes in action with his 8mm home movie camera, but his attention shifted to the kids at the fence.

“Guten Tag. Wie geht’s?” (Hello, how are you?) he asked them.

With one glance he could tell the disheveled looking kids did not have enough to eat. Yet, not one of them begged for anything. Instead they wanted to know more about the planes and the airlift. The children told him they could get by with very little as long as the allies didn't abandon West Berlin. Their concern made the Lieutenant realize that even the children of Berlin considered their freedom more important than food.

As he turned to his jeep, Lt. Halvorsen hesitated. He really had nothing to give them. All he had in his pockets were two sticks of Doublemint chewing gum. He broke them in half, and expected the worst. Would they trample and fight each other for the sticks of gum?

Not one of them made a fuss.

“The lucky four that had plucked the half sticks from his fingers kept the gum, but they ripped the wrappers into strips, passing them around so everyone could breath in the sweet, minty smell.”

What happened next you could say was irresponsible, impulsive, and definitely inspirational. Could an airlift pilot conceivably provide a candy surprise for every hungry boy and girl in West Berlin? Probably not, but Lt. Halvorsen decided to go for it. He would break the rules of the airlift to become the candy bomber. The next day, as the Chocolate Pilot approached the runway in his C-54 cargo plane, he wiggled his wings so the kids at the barbed wire fence would know it was him. Then, he dropped the special payload: three packages floated down by handkerchief parachutes. After the special delivery reached the ground the kids cheered “with both arms waving above their heads and every jaw working on a prize.”

How long could Lt. Halvorsen keep his little operation a secret? If his superiors found out would it really mean a court martial for him and his crew? He'd find out soon enough. A German newspaper reporter happened to take a picture of the Candy Bomber’s plane, the tail number clearly visible in the photo. Would Operation Little Vittles be grounded just when West Berlin needed this kind of encouragement the most?

Read about a man who gave hope to an entire city in one of the darkest moments in the Cold War in the book, The Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift’s Chocolate Pilot,” by Michael O. Tunnell.

For more information check-out the following:

NPR-'Uncle Wiggly Wings' and Berlin's Candy Bomber

The Candy Bombers by Andrei Cherny

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Black Friday. It’s one of the craziest days of the year. It used to be just known as the Friday-after-Thanksgiving, but now it’s the day we expect some poor soul to get trampled to death by a frenzied mob converging on a storefront at exactly 5:00AM, all in the quest to grab the last Tickle Me Elmo. I cringe to think that the big-box stores count on such animal behavior from us in order to make their year-end profit margin.

Once in a while a book comes along that reminds us we can step outside a world that has such low expectations of us. A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park, is a book that makes you think about your potential to exceed low expectations and to make a difference. I won’t lie to you. It’s a story about war. It’s a book about tragedy. It's also a story of hope and perseverance.

The story takes place in Sudan. Sudan is the largest country in Africa, but it is known for the numerous evils that have descended on it. There is war. There is racism. There is religious intolerance. There is genocide-some might call it the hidden holocaust.

The book begins with the story of a boy named Salva. In the opening chapters we quickly experience what it means to run for your life. You will learn that Salva is one of the Lost Boys. The Lost Boys were given this name from a reference to the lost boys in the book, Peter Pan. Instead of Neverland, many of the Lost Boys of Sudan found refuge in the United States. Some even located in Minnesota.

The other main character in the book is a girl named Nya. She toils everyday just to provide water for her family. She has to walk miles to the nearest pond to carry water back and forth. All her life consists of is obtaining the most basic element of human survival, something many of us easily take for granted.

Salva’s story starts in 1985. Nya’s begins in 2008. Their stories are separated by time but intertwined by location. One of the characters is based on an actual person, the other is fictional. As you read you might be tempted to jump ahead to see how the author weaves their two stories together.

In the video below, Linda Sue Park introduces her new book and you can also meet the actual person that inspired it:

I encourage all of you to read Linda Sue Park's new book, not only because it is an inspiring story of survival, but because we need to. Many of us don’t know what has happened in Sudan, and there seems to be too many converging evils upon this land for us to simply ignore. Her book also serves to remind us all what we take for granted, what deserves our thanksgiving, and what treasure is really worth seeking.

For more information about the Lost Boys, Sudan, and the work of Salva Dut, check the following websites:
Water for Sudan
Video of Linda Sue Park and Salva Dut at
Lost Boys of Chicago Lost Boys Documentary Film
U. of M. Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies
Following the Lost Boys on Minnesota MPR Midmorning (2-23-2006)
Lost Boys Art

If this book sounds interesting, then you might like:

Home of the Brave, by Katherine Applegate

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman by Ben H. Winters

The entire sixth-period Music Fundamentals class was divided into three rock-n-roll bands. They would represent the sixties, eighties, and nineties eras. Why skip the nineteen-seventies? “Don’t Ask,” Tenny Boyer would tell you.

The Music Fundamentals teacher, Ms. Finkleman, gave the excited class just a few minutes to name their bands. The sixties band, Band Number One, debated between Barf Hammer or Barf Machine.

A member of Band Number Two, the eighties band, suggested the name Floccinaucinihilipilification since it is one of the longest words in the English dictionary. (How do you fit that on a T-shirt?)

A girl named Haley suggested the name Ms. Pinkbottom, since that was the name of her recently deceased dog. Can you believe someone then had the nerve to suggest, M43, the number of the actual bus that hit her dog?

As Band Number Two floundered, the normally comatose brain of Tenny Boyer lit up like flashing Christmas tree lights. Ignoring his stiff band room chair and the buzz of excitement around him, Tenny considered how names of classic rock bands feel like the music they play, like Metallica. It dawned on him that some band names are just like little stories, such as the Grateful Dead. All of a sudden, a girl in the class named Bethesda shook Tenny Boyer from his reverie. He smiled and said, “The Careless Errors.” “How about the Careless Errors?”

Everyone in Band Number Three stopped, turned, and looked at Bethesda. She would make the final decision about the name, not Tenny. He wasn't the one responsible for the best thing that ever happened to sixth period Music Fundamentals. This was all due to Bethesda Fielding and her discovery about Ms. Finkleman, aka, Little Miss Mystery.

What did Bethesda unearth that could possibly scare the quiet Ms. Finkelman to change her entire curriculum from English folk ballads of the sixteenth century to the raucous rhythms of Bon Jovi? How could a goody-goody like Bethesda delve so low as to blackmail the meekest teacher at Mary Todd Lincoln Middle School? Surely the rock-n-roll project will act as a conduit to finally ignite Tenny Boyer to like school. But, will the Careless Errors unfortunately live up to their name?

Find out in a school story that mixes in both humor and mystery with a twist you may not expect in the book, The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman, by Ben H. Winters.

(This book may be a good fit for a class read-aloud.)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Here There Be Monsters by HP Newquist

[Show Slide Show-pics from book and other sources]

In his poem, the Kraken, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote:[pic1]

Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep,
The Kraken sleepeth:

Kraken! Were they just creatures conjured up in tales told by ancient mariners or would there be monsters hidden in the murky ocean depths from our reach even today? [pic1]

"Kraken!" a sailor screams. Perhaps you remember this scene from the movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: [video 1]

The Kraken, or as you may have guessed, the giant squid [pic3], has been one of the most mysterious and feared creatures of the deep. Scientists have been in a search for the concealed giant for hundreds of years, but only recently have they seen one alive. Most amazing to me is how little evidence scientists have collected so far about this reclusive cephalopod. Here’s how the author of the book, Here There be Monsters, puts it: [pic4]

“Humans have been to the moon six times and retrieved more than two thousand rocks. The moon is 250,000 miles away from earth. Yet scientists have collected only about two dozen specimens of the colossal squid, a creature that lives less than one mile under the ocean. It is odd that we have more specimens from a place that is a quarter of a million miles away than we do of one of the biggest creatures on the earth, even though it lives right here in our oceans.” (p.47)

Believe it or not, the first picture of a live giant squid was taken only five years ago. [pic5] Before the 2005 picture, giant squid were only observed as dead specimens that washed ashore about every 50-100 years. Scientists were lucky to get even one specimen to investigate in a lifetime. The belly of a whale, in the meantime, provided key information for scientists to continue their study. For example, the mouths of giant squid, which look like giant bird beaks, have been found undigested in the stomachs of sperm whales for years.[pic6] The skin of a sperm whale often shows battle scars from their encounters with the kraken. [pic7] The intensity of the struggle is clearly displayed in this image. Notice the scars from the razor sharp suckers of the squid’s tentacles.

If you take another look at a sperm whale’s skin you’ll also notice gashes that are longer and straighter. [pic9] Can you fathom a creature that could lash a sperm whale like this? The clandestine creature that scored these marks into the skin of a sperm whale was photographed and filmed for the first time just two years ago. Could these marks suggest a different species of squid, one even larger and more lethal than the giant squid?


Consider yourself invited to one of the greatest mysteries of the natural world. [pic 9] Stare down the eye of the legendary kraken in the book, Here There be Monsters, by HP Newquist, if you dare.

You might also like the graphic novel, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and, Tentacles by Roland Smith:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Dead Boys by Royce Buckingham

“There is a 5th dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination.” It is an area which we find ourselves in the book, The Dead Boys, by Royce Buckingham.

Teddy Matthews, like any typical 12-year-old would, hates to be the new kid in town, especially in the middle of nowhere named Richland, Washington. He suspects his new hometown in the desert crawls with scorpions and hides rattlesnakes in every hole. His mom facetiously remarks that it’s the black widow spiders that actually get into houses that he should really worry about. She playfully winks at Teddy and encourages him to make the best of it. She calmly reassures him that there will be plenty of new kids to meet. On that point Teddy Matthews doesn’t need to worry. They were already looking for him.

As Teddy canvasses his new neighborhood, he discovers a dirt trail that leads him and his bike to Leslie Groves Park. A park is a good place to meet someone new. He runs into a boy named Albert. Albert is friendly enough, but he acts like a gopher constantly sensing trouble. Trouble soon arrives in the form of Henry Mulligan. Apparently, Henry Mulligan would like nothing more than to bully Albert and his new sidekick. Suddenly, a strange survival instinct kicks in and Albert commands Teddy to hop on his bike. Albert quickly concocts a plan to distract the bully by jumping into the river and then to swim for his escape while Teddy bikes towards town. They agree to meet up in town at the bookstore after Henry Mulligan is safely behind them. Yet, when Teddy arrives in town, no one seems to know about a bookstore. There hasn’t been a bookstore in Richland for at least ten years. When there's no sign of Albert, Teddy decides to take a chance and bikes back to the park to look for him. When he gets there, Leslie Groves Park isn’t the same. The bike trail is paved. Modern playground equipment has been installed. A brick building for bathrooms sits in the middle of the park where barely a blade of grass poked out of the sand just a few hours before. Did Teddy imagine the whole incident with Albert and the bully? He can't find Albert or Henry, but Teddy Matthews doesn't need to worry about that, the boys of Richland have found him.

Behind Teddy’s house, an unnaturally large Sycamore tree presides over the neighborhood like it gives the orders in these parts . Surprisingly, the tree looks in perfect health yet is surrounded by desert sand and dry weeds. One glance at it and you’d swear it has sucked out the life of everything around. Despite its healthy appearance the tree is thirsty, and it’s been a long ten years since the last time.

A thousand leaves, like a thousand hands, turn slightly to greet their new 12-year-old neighbor as he parks his bike, bewildered, and unsure of what he has just seen or not seen in the park. Teddy Matthews definitely needs to worry. The tree... is thirsty once again.

“You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension, a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas.” You’ve just crossed over into the book, The Dead Boys, by Royce Buckingham.

-(Intro and conclusion are from the classic TV show, The Twilight Zone, created by Rod Serling.)

If The Dead Boys sounds interesting to you, then you might also like, Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising, by Jason Henderson. If you are looking for a vampire story with a ton of action with a little less Bella and Edward, this might be worth a look.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

Tommy isn’t a stalker. He just needs to know the truth about Dwight.

Secrecy he must have.

Can you blame Tommy? The fact is, Dwight can go berserk at any moment. One time Miss Toner, the phy-ed teacher, sent Dwight to the equipment room to grab the dodge balls. Dwight didn’t come back. Luckily for Tommy, Miss Toner didn’t send him to search for Dwight. She sent Lance instead. When the one man search party named Lance found him, Dwight banged on the equipment door and screamed, “Squirrels! Come save me!” Undaunted, Lance easily opened the door that baffled Dwight. Dwight thought the door opened from the other direction. Cries for attention you think Dwight does.

Tommy isn’t a spy, he just needs to know the truth about Dwight. Collects evidence he does. Tommy discovered some crumpled notes that once belonged to Dwight. They look like referrals. I think you need to hear what they say. [read detention slips, pp. 76-77]

Can you believe it? Dwight wears an origami finger puppet at school! It obviously gets him in trouble with Mr. Howell. The puppet resembles Yoda from Star Wars. Dwight does a terrible impression of Yoda’s voice, but whenever Origami Yoda speaks Tommy’s classmates listen. Origami Yoda amazes them with incredibly sage advice on how to deal with their middle school issues. Origami Yoda offers this suggestion to a boy with a popularity problem: “Cheetos for everyone you must buy.” Well, everyone knows Dwight is completely nuts, but Origami Yoda, have the force he must. Tommy is incredulous that everyone treats them as two separate people or entities. Don't they know they are one in the same? You could say,"Fools rush in," or, “Rush in fools do,” but no matter how you say it, Origami Yoda would find a way to turn it into some golden nugget of wisdom.

Tommy isn't a stalker, spy or private eye. Tommy just wants to know the truth about a boy named Dwight. Tommy wonders how someone as crazy as Dwight is able to beguile all his friends. How can they think Origami Yoda is real? How can someone as loony as Dwight offer helpful advice to others when he can’t even help himself? ...Or can he?

Find out we must.

If you like funny school stories with a little Star Wars thrown in, then I would recommend, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, by Tom Angleberger. Read this book you should.

To create your own Origami Yoda take a look at Tom Angleberger's demo on You Tube.

Origami Yoda made me think about the book Flipped, by Wendelin Van Draanen. I'm not sure how it did. If you can explain this to me, please let me know.......

Monday, September 13, 2010

Bulu by Dick Houston

BULU : African Wonder Dog by Dick Houston

Book talk Part 1:

Our family dog is a Shih Tzu. If you know Shih Tzus then you know they are notorious for their fearless and independent ways. They act so tough it's as if they could take on a Great Dane. It’s no wonder Shih Tzus look and act like little lions. They were bred to live in Chinese palaces, little lions to inhabit the halls of emperors.

This summer I read in a local newspaper about a Shih Tzu that was on the loose. The normally fearless Shih Tzu named Gizmo had run away from home because it was averse to one thing: fireworks. On a balmy July night, Gizmo got spooked and tore off for the next county. He didn’t return. Gizmo’s family, friends, and neighbors looked everywhere. They called the humane society. They posted pictures. They waited.

Three weeks passed and then a telephone call renewed their hopes. The family rushed to a place just a few miles northwest of our school. The atrophied dog didn’t look like Gizmo. It had pokers sticking out, his ribs protruded like hoops, and one eye looked punctured. Behind the matted coat laced with sand burrs was Gizmo, but how had he survived? What dangers had he encountered? If Gizmo could tell us, his story would surely be a harrowing tale of adventure and survival.

To imagine what Gizmo experienced makes me think about a book called, BULU: African Wonder Dog, by Dick Houston.

Part 2:

Anna and Steve Tolan were warned not to have a pet in the African bush. They were forewarned that this would only lead to heartache. Pets are hardly ever seen in the African bush for a domesticated animal is an easy meal for a leopard, lion or crocodile. Yet, Steve and Anna heard about a farmer that had a litter of puppies for sale. They couldn’t resist a look.

Many people could probably tell you not to buy the last of the litter, and sure enough there was something odd about the part-terrier with a single spot on his back. The farmer told Steve and Anna that the dog was independent, unresponsive to people. However, to Steve there was something strangely familiar about this dog. He said, “You know, there’s a world of difference between personality and character. My mother always told me that still waters run deep.” This puppy had character. Like a little lion he was practically fearless.

[show pics on p. 5, 15]

The dog they named Bulu wasn’t dumb or unfriendly. In fact, Bulu would prove to do things that would seem impossible for most dogs. However, Bulu's life would be lived in world of constant danger. For example, Steve and Anna learned that Bulu’s mother had recently been killed by a croc. A visitor at the farm had thrown a stick into the river. The dog of course couldn’t resist and jumped into the water to fetch it back. As the dog swam back to shore with the stick in its mouth a croc pulled the dog under and spun into a death roll. You might wonder, as Steve and Anna did, if Bulu would face a similar fate one day?

If you like stories about dogs then I would like to recommend, Bulu: African Wonder Dog, by Dick Houston. It is the rare combination of a true story that reads like a suspense novel.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Super Human by Michael Carroll

All hail... Gilgamesh! [class repeats the name after "all hail....."]

Ancient Mesopotamian texts written 4000 years ago in cuneiform script suggest that Gilgamesh did not walk the earth as a mere mortal. These ancient tablets claim he reigned supreme as half-god, half-man. Stories of his super-human strength and how he used it to vanquish his enemies are legend. In the eyes of Gilgamesh, might always made right.


In the book, Superhuman, by Michael Carroll, the reader is asked to imagine what would happen if a super-human like Gilgamesh could be transported over 4000 years into the present. Why anyone would want to do this is another question.


Members of a cult called the Helotry of the Fifth King believe the stories of Gilgamesh were based on the true life of Krodin, an ancient ruler of Mesopotamia. The Helotry think it has now discovered a way to bring the ancient ruler they have worshipped as a god over millenia into the present by manipulating an energy field to cause a rip in time.

All hail...Krodin!

The Helotry-of-the-Fifth-King plans to bring Krodin into the present to establish a new world order. Warped as it may sound, the Helotry believe Krodin’s superhuman brand of strength and cruelty will restore peace and order to our present world. To carry out their plot, they've engineered a flu virus to disable the entire adult population of earth from standing in the way. Vaccinated from the pandemic, the members of the Helotry plan to put the second phase of their operation into motion-to take over a nuclear power plant.

However, like a super-cell of unexpected tornadoes, the Helotry don't count on a race of super-human teenaged heroes that have lived in relative anonymity until now. Although their fledgling powers are not yet under control, the teenage super-humans pack enough punch to distract the Helotry's attention, at least for a little while.


Unknown to these super-human teenagers, a young boy very much like themselves sits locked-up in the strongest fortified prison in the world. If let out, he could easily take the form of pure energy. The Helotry desperately seeks his special power.

Who will find the boy first? Why does the Helotry need him? What will happen if the kids cannot stop Krodin from traveling into the present?

If you like fast paced action oriented stories, if you normally prefer graphic novels (although this isn’ t one), if you like super-heroes, then you might want to take a look at, Super Human by Michael Carroll.

You might also like:

Beowulf, by Gareth Hinds

Friday, August 20, 2010

Billionaire's Curse by Richard Newsome

[Insert pictures for slideshow or picture book to introduce, The Billionaire’s Curse, by Richard Newsome.]

Page One: [Australian Alps] Gerald Wilkins is more than happy to ditch middle school for holiday break. His family has planned to vacation at a ski resort in the Australian Alps. His snowboard might just alleviate the abysmal embarrassment Gerald suffered at the hand of his history teacher, Mr. Atkinson. Why did Mr. Atkinson have to display in front of the whole class a portrait Gerald drew of the girl he had a crush on in the front row? Let's skip the revulsion she felt for Gerald now.

Page Two: [England] The distraction Gerald Wilkins hoped to receive from his vacation soon vanished, however. Gerald’s mom and dad informed him that their plans had changed. There had been a phone call. A great aunt had died. A great aunt Gerald had never met. Too bad, so sad, Gerald thought. Clearly the news hadn’t sunk in. There would be no ski trip. They were to leave Australia immediately for the funeral in England!

Page Three: [Tear drop]In the apparent shock of events, Gerald’s mom held a handkerchief to her nose and tears rained down, smearing make-up down her cheeks. She blurted out, “I can’t believe she’s dead!” She sobbed: “Isn’t it just…..wonderful!” Her tears were tears of joy.

Page Four: [Airbus A380] Gerald and his mom and dad flew on an Airbus A380. The plane known for its size and luxury made Gerald feel disconcerted; something wasn’t quite right. How could his parents afford a flight on such a plane? Also, wasn’t it a bit odd that they were the only passengers aboard except for a butler and flight crew?

Page Five: [Andy Warhol] As they disembarked, a tall thin man dressed in black with chalky white skin and silvery hair grabbed Gerald’s arm with a vise-like grip. Undetected, the man pulled Gerald into the darkness underneath the plane. Gerald noticed he smelled like bleach and wore sunglasses even though it was night. As Gerald struggled to get free the man with the chalky white skin calmly spoke as if he knew Gerald’s great aunt, but hinted that she had been unable to help him with something. Before Gerald wriggled free, the man said, “I think you may be of enormous help to me.”

Page Six: [Bill Gates] Gerald’s aunt was the heiress to the multi-billion dollar Archer family estate and invested wisely to amass an even larger fortune. To gain favor with her rich aunt, Gerald’s mother had named Gerald after her. Geraldine Archer, like a Bill Gates, had committed a large portion of her fortune to altruistic causes, giving billions to charity, but a fortune of 20 billion pounds still remained. Like the rest of the Archer family, Gerald’s mom looked forward to the funeral with great anticipation. The reading of the will would commence immediately after the service.

Page Seven: [Letter with a seal] The family, friends, and servants of Geraldine Archer all received a letter with the Archer family seal. All were instructed to wait until after the executor had read the will before they tore into their individual envelopes.

Page Eight: [Koh-i-Noor diamond] One tiny detail-just before or just after the death of Geraldine Wilkins, I can’t tell you for certain, in a securely guarded chamber in a British Museum, the near priceless Noor Jehan Diamond was stolen.

Who will receive Geraldine Archer’s fortune? How is the theft of one of the world’s most priceless diamonds connected with the death of Gerald’s aunt? Who is the thin man dressed in black and what does he want from Gerald? Money and fame have a way of making those who possess them into their prisoners. And, like sparkling diamonds, they could easily distract Gerald's attention away from what is really going on. For example, did anyone question how Geraldine Archer died? If you like mystery and adventure, then I would like to recommend, The Billionaire's Curse, by Richard Newsome.

You might also be interested in:

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan and the 39 Clues Series.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Pablo Picasso is considered one of the world’s great art masters. He is known for a style of painting called cubism. A cubist painting looks like a canvas that has been cut up into pieces and then reassembled so that each piece appears to crash into the others in bizarre angles. Time, space and reality receive a distorted or bent look in a cubist painting. Maybe the intent of cubism is to shock our senses so we are forced to view reality from another perspective. Take a look at one of Picasso’s famous paintings titled Guernica: This painting doesn’t draw us in by how life-like the art is, but shouts at us with mishaped figures of agony. Look at the cut-out shape of the screaming horse. Notice the one dimensional person flailing his arms? I can almost imagine myself pressing a volume button to turn off the shrieks of pain.

Did you notice the eye? The eye especially disturbs me for some reason. The eye watches over everything. Like a video camera, it seems to record and capture all the horror and suffering of the scene below. Nothing escapes the eye’s gaze. I’m not surprised that the eye in the painting flashed to my mind as I encountered an equally unsettling orb in the book called, Incarceron, by Catherine Fisher.

The Eye of Incarceron had studied Finn almost his entire life. Was the mind behind the eye merely artificial or was it alive? Could it prove to be more than a technological tool to monitor all inmates such as Finn? You could say Incarceron served as a high security prison of sorts, like an Alcatraz perhaps. Yet, to say Incarceron was merely a prison, doesn’t adequately describe the experience. Similar to a cubist painting, Incarceron seemed to defy space, time, and reality. How can a normal prison conceivably hold a billion prisoners and possibly guard them only with an electronic eye?

Over the years a cherished myth passed down from inmate to inmate. The myth told of a prisoner named Sapphique, the only one who had successfully escaped Incarceron. Like an inmate on Alcatraz, Finn desperately lived by the thread of hope that someday he too would again live free under the stars above.

Finn wasn’t extraordinarily tough or clever, but he had managed to survive the violence and horrors of confinement within Incarceron’s acrid chambers. Most inmates left Finn alone, not for the fact he was young, but because of his convulsions. Many of the inmates considered Finn special because of his disorder, like he was some kind of prophet or seer. Some even thought Finn had convulsions because Sapphique revealed the secrets of escape in those tormented episodes when his body shaked, flailed, and betrayed him. For these reasons his fellow inmates also kept a close eye on Finn. He just might be their ticket out.

Finn believed he hadn’t always been a prisoner of Incarceron, but that was impossible. Everyone currently alive in Incarceron had been born inside. Finn firmly believed he was different, the only one in the immense dungeon to have once lived free under the sky. Even those close to him doubted his claim, but Finn had proof. Unlike any other inmate, Finn’s arm bore the mark of an eagle clearly in the form of a red tattoo.

What did the tattoo symbolize? Did Finn really have visions that could lead the way out of Incarceron? If the Eye could see and record everything, how can Finn and the other inmates possibly escape? Is the prison like a Picasso painting, with so many distorted twists and turns that there is no way out? Will Finn and the others regret their attempt to defy the Eye of Incarceron?

If you like a hard edged fantasy adventure take a look at, Incarceron, by Catherine Fisher.

Recommended for 8th grade and up.

You also might like:

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer or Compound by S.A. Bodeen

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve

A book about a memory, a secret, an apprentice, and a spot.

Some might call it De Ja Vu. One moment you're exploring a strange underground tunnel leading to a mysterious vault and in the next your fingers inexplicably twitch as if they know the code that will unlock the impenetrable door. 2519364085, 2519364085-a number flashes like a strobe light in your mind, but you don't know why. This scares you. You start to shake. Your every fiber wants to run away from what your mind can see--memories from a time before you were born.

Like a baby Moses, you were found in a basket floating in a marsh. The tag said Fever, a peculiar name chosen by the mother who abandoned you. A thoughtful man by the name of Dr. Crumb took you into his home, but does the truth about your real identity frighten you from asking him the questions you've buried inside?

For Dr. Crumb your abilities make you quite valuable, yet he is forced to give you up for reasons you cannot even guess. As you walk to the home of your new employer you wonder why the eyes of everyone stare at you. Fever Crumb, don't you realize your mark isn't hidden any longer since you decided your hair was silly and shaved it off!

A spot like a leopard's is the reason for your trouble. Scriven were their name and their spots gave them away. Genetically engineered, they were a new breed of human. A madman by the name of Creech, hunted them down like an exterminator. He never described it as genocide. He always called it rock n' roll!

Did his trigger finger twitch as you walked by with your covered head?

"Who are you?" he asked.

Did he see your spot?

Then, like a fatal blow he asked:

"What... are you?"

There's no time for answers for an apprentice named Fever Crumb. Because of a memory, a secret, and a spot, she'd better run.

If you like dystopian page turners, then I would definitely recommend a thrilling ride called, Fever Crumb, by Philip Reeve.

If this sounds interesting, you may also like the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and The Roar by Emma Clayton

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Mysterious Messages by Gary Blackwood

Sir John Trevanion fought for the King in the English Civil War in the 1600's. The roundheads, the forces that fought for Parliament, caught Sir John, threw him in prison, and set his day of execution. As Sir John waited for his death sentence, his guards let him receive an innocent looking message from a friend written on a piece of parchment. The note said:

Worthie Sir John: Hope, that is the best comfort of the afflicted, cannot much, I fear me, help you now. That I would saye to you, is this only: if ever I may be able to requite that I do owe you, stand not upon asking me. Tis not much I can do: but what I can do, bee you verie sure I wille. I knowe that, if deathe comes, if ordinary men fear it, it frights not you, accounting it for a high honour, to have such a rewarde of your loyalty. Pray yet that you may be spared this soe bitter, cup. I fear not that you will grudge any sufferings; onlie if bie submission you can turn them away, tis the part of a wise man. Tell me, an if you can, to do for you anthinge that you wolde have done. The general goes back on Wednesday. Restine your servant to command. R.T.

After receiving the note from his mysterious friend R.T., Sir John Trevanion asked if he could go to the chapel to pray. Maybe he could convince his guards to honor his last wish. They listened and brought him into the chapel to pray. After much time had passed, the guards finally forced open the doors only to discover that Sir John had disappeared. If his captors had been more clever they would have realized that the note sent to Sir John by R.T. actually contained instructions on how to escape. The note Sir John received was a cryptogram: a secret message written using a code or cipher.

Can you solve the secret message? Hint: Every third letter after a punctuation mark will reveal the secret message.

In this book the author reveals the history of codes and ciphers used to communicate secret messages for reasons involving both love and war. Check out, Mysterious Messages, by Gary Blackwood, before it disappears.....

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Almost Astronauts by Tanya Lee Stone

The Winter Olympic Games never fail to inspire. You have about 2500 athletes all vying to win 258 possible medals in 86 events. Maybe 1 out of 10 participants will win a medal. Almost all of the athletes will fail to achieve their goal. So why do they do it?

These athletes devote the prime of their lives to one brief moment in time every four years. They pour out their hearts as they train to reach their physical limits. "One more, one more, one more," they chant as they lift more weight, add more reps, and perfect their technique. Imagine the dedication necessary to match their Olympic dreams.

Some will not even qualify for the finals of their event. Some will be unlucky. Some will experience injury, and some will suffer possible embarrassment. I think of Lindsey Jacobellis who had the lead in the snowboard cross event in the 2006 Winter Olympics and impulsively decided to pop an unnecessary ollie grab with her snowboard as she was sure to win with only 140ft to go. She came down off balance, wiped out and lost the gold medal. She later admitted she was just trying to have fun.

There's so much sacrifice. The odds are stacked against them. There's no guarantee their hard work will pay-off. And, in Lindsey Jacobellis's case, when you take your eyes off the prize even for a split second the slightest miscue can spell disaster. So why do they do it?

Commitment and passion can only be understood by those who dare to dream.

Today's book is about 13 who dared to dream. These 13 individuals all wanted to be astronauts, not olympic atheletes. Most of us recognize names such as John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom. These men were part of the original Mercury 7. The Mercury Space Program's mission was to put the first man into space. Not all the guys who applied had the right stuff, however. According to NASA at the time, neither did women.

The Mercury program conducted a battery of tests that would prove if an astronaut had the right stuff. For example, astronauts were put into the MASTIF. The MASTIF, or multiple-axis space test inertia facility, was a gyroscope as big as a house. This was used to give an astronaut the experience of sitting inside a space ship that had lost control. [p.33]

Could you do the Dilbert Dunker test? This was the water survival test the astronauts had to pass. [p. 48] The Dilbert Dunker was a capsule that would speed into a pool and then flip upside down as it entered the water. Rescue divers waited above in case you couldn't get out.

How about the isolation tank? [p.22] One way to measure if someone could survive the stresses of space was to put the astronaut in isolation for a long period of time.

"Picture this: You are surrounded by complete and utter darkness, pitch black. All you can hear is your heart beating, your breath as you inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. You are floating in a tank of water the exact same temperature as your body. Where does your body end and the water begin?" [How long can you go just counting your breaths?]

At first this might seem peaceful, but think about how much silence a person can actually take without going crazy. Some subjects start hallucinating after awhile. They might hear voices, smell smoke, or start to cry because of a sad childhood memory. One subject actually lasted nine hours and forty minutes in the isolation tank.

Surprisingly, NASA never tested the Mercury 7 men in the isolation tank. Did NASA suspect that men couldn't last very long in complete isolation? Yet, thirteen women were secretly tested in the tank. One of the first women to be tested was Jerrie Cobb. Jerrie Cobb impressed NASA scientists with her ability to equal or surpass what the Mercury 7 men could do. She was the one that lasted 9 hours in the isolation tank. She proved that women could endure the stresses of space as well as or better than men. Unfortunately, NASA didn't take their test accomplishments seriously.

The Mercury 13 knew their chances were slim. They knew most NASA officials were against women joining the Mercury Space Program. They knew they shouldn't have gotten their hopes up, but they took the tests anyway.

Why did they do it? The odds were stacked against them. Why did they risk disappointment and embarrassment?

Commitment and passion can only be understood by those who dare to dream.

Read the fascinating and relatively unknown story of thirteen women who dared to dream in Tanya Lee Stone's book: Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Vintage Snowmobiles by Jon D. Bertolino

Vintage Snowmobiles: The Golden Years 1968-1982

Ever broken a bogie? Ever lose your recoil? Ever seen machine parts scattered on the ground like a trail of bread crumbs?

If so, then you must be familiar with the world of vintage snowmobiles.

This is a great book for those who love old snowmobiles. A couple of my favorites are in this book. Back when I was a middle school student, our family had the candy-apple red Northway 340. The Northway could climb, it could pull, but boy was it slow. The Northway was ideal for pulling your fish house off the lake, but when you had it wide open the Northway could throw you off like a wild horse.

Then there was the Yamaha Enticer 250. I loved that machine. It only went about 60mph, but it was great on trails. If you ever got stuck in deep snow, the machine was light enough even for a middle school student to lift back onto the trail. Great vintage snowmobiles like these are sometimes cheap to buy, but expensive to run.

Take a look at the past in this great book about vintage snowmobiles by Jon D. Bertolino. And remember, oil is sometimes cheaper than parts!

Friday, January 29, 2010

They Never Came Back by Caroline B. Cooney

There are some things in life that are too-good-to-be-true. Have you ever been on the Internet when suddenly a pop-up announces that you have just won an incredible prize or dream vacation worth thousands of dollars? "Just Click Here!," reads the pop-up. I bet for a split second some of you have been tempted to click your mouse to get that pot of gold. Schemes like this one are often too-good-to-be-true. Some get-rich-quick-schemes can also be more complicated than they first seem. Some can even lead to jail.

Have you heard of a man by the name of Bernie Madoff? At one time he was one of the most prominent and powerful people on Wall Street. Last June, Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison because he was found guilty of a scheme that promised his clients their pot of gold. Movie stars, charitable organizations, and regular hard working folks all trusted Bernie Madoff. When times were tough, when other investments on Wall Street didn't pay-off big, Bernie's clients still made a ton of money, or at least that's what he told them. What really happened behind the scenes could have been called the world's largest Ponzi Scheme. As Madoff got richer he hid the fact his clients got poorer, and to keep this a secret, as they say, he robbed Peter to pay Paul.

To his clients, an investment with Bernie was a sure thing. They faithfully sent Bernie their money, and he automatically sent investment statements back to them by mail. His clients were pleased with each statement they received. Why would any of them stop after reading how much money they made with Bernie? Why would they question a sure thing? Who would want to spoil such good news?

You know what he didn't tell them. He had spent their money. Oh, there were some clients that wanted their money back. That was okay. Bernie either had enough on hand or he could find new investors and use their money to pay back what he owed to others. This kind of operation is called a Ponzi Scheme. Bernie even turned away new investors at times, just to make his operation look legit. Madoff probably could have kept the Ponzi Scheme going on indefinitely except the economy tanked. When too many of his clients wanted out, Bernie Madoff was exposed. He couldn't pay back all the money he had spent or lost-approximately 65 billion dollars worth. Had he known he'd be caught, Madoff probably would have skipped the country.

In Caroline Cooney's new book, They Never Came Back, a husband and wife are guilty of mishandling their clients' money, but they don't meet the same fate as Bernie Madoff. The couple decided to flee the country just before the FBI, IRS, SEC, and NASD could get their hands on them. They arranged to leave the country separately to make their trail more difficult to follow, but in their haste, the couple made a slight miscalculation in their masterful escape plan. They had left their ten-year-old daughter behind.

Murielle led a life on the fast track for a ten-year-old. Piano, dance, horseback riding, gymnastics, French, swimming and more were on her weekly schedule. Murielle was almost as busy as her parents. "Her parents skipped meals, ate in front of their computers or went to restaurants. Sometimes they weren't home until long after Murielle was fast asleep. Sometimes they left in the morning before Murielle was awake." (p. 84) Murielle's parents led their lives on the financial fast track, but their daughter's needs were taken care of, even if she had to eat supper with the housekeeper instead of with her mom and dad.

But, as news reports flashed on CNN about her parents, the fugitives, all Murielle could think about was when, not if, her parents would come back to get her. Maybe if Murielle could have monitored her parents the way they had meticulously managed the flow of stolen money into their secret bank accounts, perhaps she might also be seated in first class on a flight to Europe at her mom or dad's side.

Murielle should have been suspicious when her mom said they would soon go on a family vacation to England. They hardly ever went on family vacations, and if they did, her parents would spend all their time on business. This family trip would be different, her mom promised. Murielle couldn't wait. I guess her parents couldn't wait either. Some things in life are too-good-to-be-true.

Well, the FBI, IRS, SEC, and NASD didn't forget about Murielle. As the agents questioned her she grew more tense. She knew the agents were clever. She also knew what they didn't. She couldn't tell them where her parents were because she didn't know, but inside her backpack was a cell phone and a clip of money. Her mother's orders were to keep them hidden until the time was right. Murielle didn't tell the agents anything-instead she threw-up. Eventually the cell phone, the money, and even Murielle disappear. Murielle never made the call; the right time never came.

Five years later, in a place called Greenwich Village, a boy named Tommy takes a picture with a cell phone. Tommy forwards the picture to his parents. All he can think is that a miracle has occurred. A girl with an amazing resemblance to his cousin, the one who disappeared from his life five years earlier, is sitting right in front of him in the school cafeteria. When Tommy's parents see the girl in person, they begin to cry. They obviously see the amazing resemblance, too. But remember, some things in life may be too-good-to-be-true.

If you like mysteries, and you can tell this is a great mystery by the number of questions that need to be answered, then I would like to recommend Caroline Cooney's new book, They Never Came Back.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose

[Set-up room for a RE-ENACTMENT of March 2, 1955, Montgomery, Alabama, in the vicinity of Bibb and Commerce Streets: chairs=bus seats, student volunteers=bus driver, black girl in the 11th grade, friends, white woman in her forties, two policemen, riders black and white. Narrate the scene as students take their places.]

There were basically two separate worlds in Montgomery back in 1955. One was white, one black. A divisive hatred lived on for decades in the South after the Civil War. If you went to a sporting event you might be surprised to see some white folks not stand up for the Star Spangled Banner, but they would for Dixie, a song often played in the South since the Civil War. If a black man looked at a white woman directly in the eye, the black man would be in big trouble. Whites and blacks had separate bathrooms, schools, restaurants, and movie theaters. The system of laws that divide whites and blacks is known as segregation. These laws also had another name-Jim Crow. Jim Crow laws even applied to those that rode the city bus everyday.

The front four rows on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, were reserved for whites only. Even if the front seats were open, black riders could not occupy them. If the reserved seats were full, the bus driver would yell to the back of the bus for black riders to give up their seats for additional white riders. For years the city ordinance stated clearly that no rider had to give up a seat unless there was another seat available. In reality the ordinance didn't matter. Bus drivers would still yell: "I need that seat!" To ride a city bus, blacks would enter and pay the fare, and then, unless there were no whites on board, they had to reenter the bus through the back door. Black riders had to stand if the back of the bus filled-up even though seats were available up front. Laws in the South that divided people by race basically gave permission for one race to rule over the other as bullies.

On March 2nd, 1955, an 11th grade girl and her high school friends stepped up to the driver, paid their fare, and proceded straight down the aisle. They took their seats in the same row behind the reserved section. No whites were on board, yet. Gradually the bus filled up with more riders. Many eventually had to stand. A white woman stood by the girl. The woman expected the girl to give up her seat despite the fact that the seat was behind the reserved section.

The bus driver noticed the awkward situation and barked to the girl and her friends: "I need those seats."

Her friends got up, but she didn't. The white woman wouldn't sit down until all the seats in that row were unoccupied by blacks.

The girl didn't plan for this to happen. The girl just decided she wasn't going to take it anymore. Why should she give up her seat just because she was black? The girl knew the rule-she didn't have to give up her seat if all the seats on the bus were full.

The bus driver barked again: "Why are you still sittin there?" "Gimme that seat!" He then alerted the authorities.

At the intersection of Bibb and Commerce Streets, a squad car waited. Two Montgomery policemen climbed aboard. Everyone held their breath.

"Aren't you going to get up?," one said.

"No sir," the girl replied.

"Get up!," he commanded.

"It's my constitutional right to sit here."

The two policemen grabbed an arm each and pulled the girl straight up out of her seat. School books and papers flew everywhere. She went limp. She didn't fight back; she was too smart for that. One of the policemen kicked her.

The girl repeatedly cried out as she was pulled out of the bus: "It's my constitutional right! It's my constitutional right! It's my constit......."

The ride to the police station would be far worse. Insults, accusations, and threats were hurled at the girl by the policemen. They even pretended to take her directly to prison instead of the police station.

Why had she acted so impulsively? What would her parents think? What would the kids at school think? Did she do the right thing? There would be consequences. According to police the girl violated segregation laws, disturbed the peace and assaulted two policemen. (They claimed that the girl scratched and kicked them.)

After bail was posted she was released from jail. The 11th grader returned to her school, but a hero's welcome did not greet her. She was shunned, not celebrated. She should have been treated as a civil rights pioneer, but instead was treated as an outcast by some of her classmates.

Who was she? Who was this girl that stood before bullies that tried to force her out of the bus seat? Her lawyer remarked that this girl had more courage than any other person involved in the movement. Who was this girl that gave another young woman, almost a year later, the courage to do the same thing on a different Montgomery city bus? The young woman is still reverred, but not the girl.

Before Martin Luther King Jr. became the face of the Civil Rights movement, almost a year before Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus, there was a teenage girl named Claudette Colvin. She was the girl. Like the unknown source to a mighty river, Claudette Colvin was the unknown source of inspiraton that helped lead the way for Rosa Parks and others in the city of Montgomery to stand up for their rights. Discover more about a story that will no longer exist as just a footnote in Civil Rights history, in, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, by Phillip Hoose.

Check out the video on Claudette Colvin and the book written by Phillip Hoose.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

I haven't said too much about the Percy Jackson series on BCBOOKTalk. The books sell themselves. Lightning Thief has been one of the most checked out books in our library since the beginning of last year. For those of you that haven't read it yet, I thought I should mention the movie that is coming out in February. I always recommend reading the book first, and maybe the movie trailer might convince you to quick check it out before the movie premiers on Feb. 12th.

Go to: to see the preview.
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