Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

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.

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