Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

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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