Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Look Out! Titanic Books Ahead!

16 x 65 = ?

You might consider this the most tragic multiplication problem anyone has ever had to solve. Of course members of the crew knew the answer. They knew there were not enough lifeboats to save everyone on board the ship that cold April night on the North Atlantic.

It has been 99 years, 7 months, and 21 days since the Titanic was lost. On April 15th, 2012, the 100th Anniversary of this tragedy will be acknowledged around the world. The legends, the mysteries, the quest to find her, are just a few of the reasons we are still fascinated with her a century later.

“The Titanic had been built to be the largest, safest ship in the world. It was as long as four city blocks and as tall as an eleven-story building.” [show pic] Many declared the ship unsinkable. It even had a double skin in case the outer layer was ever pierced by anything resembling something like a small iceberg. So why did it happen? Why did the unsinkable ship meet with such a tragic end?

16 x 65 =

The original plan for the Titanic called for 48 lifeboats. This number was later trimmed to 32. Since no one could imagine any circumstance that would cause the massive ship to sink, the number was later reduced to 16. [show pic] Fewer lifeboats meant additional space for more luxury suites in 1st class. [show pic] Just one 1st class ticket on the Titanic could bring in over $100,000, in today’s dollars. One of the men responsible for placing monetary concerns over safety was Bruce Ismay. He was the managing director of the White Star Line-the company that owned the Titanic.

[use masking tape to show outline of a lifeboat, 30ft. by 9ft] [ask for volunteers to sit inside the lifeboat]

Bruce Ismay probably tried to block the answer to 16 x 65 from his mind the night the Titanic sank. After hitting the iceberg, the Captain had given the order: "Women and Children First!" Yet, Ismay somehow found a seat in one of the few lifeboats available. While the ship’s musicians bravely played on, sacrificing their lives to comfort the souls of those left behind, Ismay deliberately sat facing away from the sinking ship. As lifeboats were ordered to row away from the Titanic, wives and children watched in horror as their husbands and fathers clung to life. Ismay refused to watch as the struggle over life and death played out behind him.

16 = number of lifeboats available.

65 = number of people each lifeboat could hold.

16 x 65 = 1,040

1040 was the total number of people all 16 wooden lifeboats* were certified to carry, but there were over 2,000 people on the ship. This is why 16 x 65 is so tragic. The answer to 16 x 65 equaled certain death for at least half of those on board, if not more.

After hearing news that icebergs were in the vicinity some of the survivors later claimed that Bruce Ismay had ordered the Captain to go faster. Some believe that Ismay was more concerned with showing off the Titanic’s speed than with protecting the lives of those onboard. In 2010, a granddaughter of one of the crew members even claimed that Ismay was the one that told the Captain not to slow the Titanic after it hit the iceberg. If the Titanic had stopped immediately after the collision she might have stayed afloat much longer. This would have saved many more lives.

The more you learn about the sinking of the Titanic the more you might be surprised by how many things had to go wrong in order for this tragedy to occur. Could a simple pair of binoculars avoided the disaster completely? Could more lives been saved if someone on a nearby ship stayed awake a little longer? Ironically, the waters of the North Atlantic were so calm the night of April 14, 1912, that this factor alone may have led to an unstoppable chain of events.

16 x 65 = 1040, but did you know only 726 people survived.

Why weren’t the lifeboats filled to capacity? Why were some of the lifeboats actually ordered to row away from the Titanic instead of staying to rescue more lives? And, what about Bruce Ismay? Should we really hold him responsible for what happened that night?

If you like dramatic stories of survival, if you would like to try to puzzle out for yourself who or what was really to blame, then I would start with: Iceberg Right Ahead! By Stephanie McPherson, and, Titanic Sinks! By Barry Deneberg. Both books will convince you that it really was a night to remember.

*There were also 4 collapsable lifeboats onboard as well, but the total number of lifeboats still fell far short of what was needed.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt

My family usually gets upset with me every December. They love to watch the same holiday movies year after year: “Elf,” “Home Alone,” “Christmas Vacation,” “White Christmas,” “Miracle on 34th Street” and so on. They tell me I hate to watch movies. I just don’t like watching movies more than once. Of course I end up watching them anyway, and occasionally I’ll even observe something I’ve never noticed the first 20 times.

I don't like to admit it, but I don't like to read the same book more than once either. I’m not proud of this, but it’s true. I’m not proud of it because I want to be like some of the best readers in our school. The ones that like to read the same book more than once. In my opinion, they know one of secrets to becoming a really good reader.

Well, it doesn’t happen often, but I have a new book to place on my to-read-again pile. This book is also my favorite of 2011. It's called, Okay for Now, by Gary Schmidt.

This book has an unforgettable character by the name of Doug Swieteck. You may remember him from the book, The Wednesday Wars. In The Wednesday Wars Doug created a list of 410 ways to get a teacher to hate you. In, Okay for Now, Doug doesn’t even have to try in order to get people to dislike him. After his family moves to Marysville, NY, Doug immediately makes a bad first impression on almost everyone. Even neighborhood dogs too lazy to bark know he doesn’t belong.

It didn’t help that Doug was the only new 8th grader to show up at open house night. It also didn’t help that Principal Peattie always talked in the third person. Principal Peattie would say things like: “Tell Principal Peattie your name.” or “Principal Peattie is sure we’ll get along fine.” or “Look at Principle Peattie in the eye [when he is talking to you].” After listening to Principal Peattie go through the school bathroom rules someone else decided to talk in third person. Like a knee jerk, Doug blurted out:

“Doug Swieteck has a question…suppose Doug Swieteck has to go to the bathroom more than three times?”

Principle Peattie set his [copy of the rules] down on the desk in front of him.

‘Then Doug Swieteck would need to see the nurse,” said Principal Peattie.

“How’s that going to help?” Doug said.

Every kid in the classroom laughed. Every one.

Principal Peattie did not laugh.

Word spreads fast in a small town. Word spreads even faster in a junior high school. Doug was a marked man. Even the girl that Doug started to like called him a “skinny thug."

You’d think the public library would be the one place in Marysville that Doug would be treated okay, but even the librarian casts a suspicious glance at him, like he doesn't belong. But, as he walked up the staircase to the second floor the librarian might have witnessed Doug making the greatest discovery of his life. At the top of the staircase was a glass box with a huge book with pages longer than a baseball bat. Inside only one page plate was being displayed- the image of a bird called the Arctic Tern. Doug thinks this is the most terrifying painting he has ever seen, and the most beautiful.

As he leaned closer, the glass fogged up and immediately something inside of Doug took over. He held his hand as if he had a pencil in it. Then his hand automatically traced the image of the bird on the glass, but saving for last, the round and terrifying eye.

The moment Doug looked at the Arctic Tern his life transformed. What happened may never change how other people look at him, but this moment will change the way Doug sees himself. Doug Swieteck discovered something he could do better than most. And, in a way, this was the first book he could really read and never get tired of.

What happened to Doug? Why is he so fixated on an image of a bird behind a glass case? Why does he think the eye is so terrifying? And, why was this one of the few books that Doug can read better than most? These are just a few of the many questions you will want answers to about a character named Doug Swieteck.

If you like unforgettable characters, if you are not afraid of a book that might make you want to read it again, and if you like stories that have a little more staying power, then Okay for Now, by Gary Schmidt, is the book for you.

(Teachers, if you are looking for a vehicle to teach inferences, this would be a great book for you too.)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Here Lies Linc by Delia Ray

You may need a lot of imagination for this, but back when I was a 6th grader, my social studies teacher had us go on a field trip to a cemetery. She took us to Kinkaid Cemetery, the one named after Alexander Kinkaid and the person the town of Alexandria, MN, happens to be named after. The field trip was part of our Minnesota history unit, and if I remember right, the assignment was to take some chalk and paper so we could rub an etching of the year of the oldest gravestone we could find.

If we had taken our assignment more seriously we probably would have noticed some of the symbols chiseled on the gravestones and monuments as well. It’s not uncommon to see symbolism on gravestones, but if you’re like me, you probably have never really thought about what the symbols mean. Here are a few examples: [show pics]

Thistle – sorrow, or the crown of thorns


Upside Down Torch-a life extinguished

Wreath – victory over death

Sunflower- devotion

In this week's book, a boy named Linc, which is short for Lincoln, has ridden his bike in the local cemetery for years and has often noticed the symbols carved on the gravestones. He frequents this place so often because his house is right next door to Oakland Cemetery located in Iowa City, IA. Although he acts like the cemetery is his backyard, Linc has always shied away from one monument in particular: the monument known as the Black Angel.

Oakland Cemetery is an actual place in Iowa City, and the Black Angel can be found there. On the night of Halloween, kids will go to the cemetery and dare each other to kiss her. According to local legend you might be struck dead if you do. Who knows what would happen if you kissed her on the night of a full moon.

Well, Linc is worried he might just find out. His teacher, Mr. Oliver, has assigned the Adopt-A-Grave Project in 7th grade history. Each student has to do an etching of a gravestone of their choice and investigate the history of the person who is buried there. Maybe to prove something to himself, or someone else, Linc chooses the Black Angel. [gather around the Black Angel]

(Thanks Mrs. Lange for making the Black Angel!)

The Black Angel wasn’t always black. The bronze memorial gradually darkened over time, maybe as a result of a curse placed upon it. One of the stories about the curse involved three college students. Not only did they kiss the Black Angel, they even sawed off three of her fingers. (Did they happen to play their prank on the night of a full moon?) As the story goes, each of them later experienced a horrible accident. One lost a hand at a sawmill he was working at that year. Another had a stroke on his 21st birthday and was left with a paralyzed arm. The third one thought he got away unscathed but on the day of his graduation he happened to nick his hand with a pocketknife. The cut got infected. When the doctors at the university couldn’t stop the infection gangrene set in. The only solution was to amputate. Did you notice a pattern?

As Linc studies the information about the deceased family on the angel memorial the mystery only deepens when he notices what appears to be an inscription written below in another language. In order to read it better Linc pours some flour over it. As he blows the excess flour away a strange text is revealed:

STRASTTEBE OCEKAVA (“Suffering awaits you.”)

Is it a warning, or is this the curse of the Black Angel?

Linc also notices that there is no date of death for one of the people on the memorial. It says that Theresa Feldvert was born in 1836 but there is no date of death. What happened to her? Where was she buried if not in Oakland Cemetery?

The more Linc finds out the more he begins to worry. Does suffering await only those who damage the monument? Or, was the message meant for anyone who dared to dig too deeply into the mystery of Theresa Feldvert? Wasn't the story of the Black Angel just meant to keep kids out of the cemetery, or is the curse for real? If it is what could happen to Linc?

If you like books about graveyards, if you like a good mystery, then check out Here Lies Linc, by Delia Ray.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Icefall by Matthew Kirby

Author Rick Riordan recently announced that he has signed a deal with Disney Publishing Worldwide to write a new series that will involve Norse mythology. “The Norse gods are so wild,” Riordan told the Associated Press. “They have this wild, barbaric energy you don't associate with the Greeks.” He said this series was in the works even before he wrote the Lightning Thief and the rest of the Percy Jackson series. The bad news is that we will have to wait until the year 2015 to see how he brings Norse gods such as Thor and Odin to fit in with today's world.

Riordan's announcement makes me think the book, Icefall, by Matthew Kirby couldn't have come at a better time. Despite the fact our school is in Minnesota, I do not know much about Norse mythology or much about the history of the ancient Vikings for that matter. Reading Icefall has made me much more curious about both.

For example: did you know the word berserk comes from the name for a type of viking warrior called a berserker? Today we could call someone that goes into an uncontrolled rage as going berserk. For a viking berserker, this wild rage was part of a trance like state necessary to prepare for battle. Berserkers in fact were said to have worn a wolf pelt and to have fought with the ferocity and strength equal to that of a bear. Berserkers were even known to bite their shields, maybe as a way to calm themselves down from their insane battle rage. An old Norse poem describes Odin's men like this:

I'll ask of the berserks, you tasters of blood,
Those intrepid heroes, how are they treated,
Those who wade out into battle,
Wolf-skinned they are called...
In battle they bear bloody shields.

In the book, Icefall, we are introduced to a berserker named Hake. Hake is sent by the King not to terrify but to protect the royal family from a war-mongering chieftain named Gunnlaug. Gunnlaug would like nothing more than to capture the king's son and his two daughters to hold as ransom. Gunnlaug knows that if he can discover the fjord in which they are hiding he can then exchange the son and one of the daughters for valuable territory. However, the King's older daughter named Asa is an entirely different matter. Like a Helen of Troy, a war could be simply fought over her beauty alone. If he finds them, Gunnlaug will probably force Asa to be his wife. However, what no one knows is that Asa's heart is secretly in love with her personal bodyguard named Per. Because of this secret, she might fear her father as much as she fears being captured by Gunnlaug. The king would never permit a royal marriage to a bodyguard.

Asa's sister, Solvieg, eventually figures out her sister's secret, but something more terrifying and mysterious captures her attention. Someone has poisoned the berserkers' food. Who will protect the king's family and servants if they die? Could one of the servants or bodyguards have done this or is it possible something more sinister is at work? Perhaps their hiding place may even be cursed by a nearby runestone?

According to legend the undead sometimes inhabited the grave of a fallen warrior. Could the undead, called haugbui (corpse giants), rise from the grave like "wisps of smoke" and float through the walls into their hide-out? Or, is someone secretly hiding in the forest like a wolf, waiting for their prey to slowly weaken until the calculated moment? Could any of these possibilities be part of Gunnlaug's master plan?

Find out in a book that is a combination of adventure, mystery, romance and even a bit of Norse mythology smashed in. Matthew Kirby's new book has it all.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading by Tommy Greenwald

This may surprise you, but I sometimes have trouble connecting with books that I’m reading. Occasionally I will invoke the one-hundred page rule. If a book doesn’t grab me by page one-hundred, I will often let it go. I hate making such a decision because I often will miss out on an exciting ending.

The one-hundred page rule brings me to a book I heard about this past summer called Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading. Never mind page one-hundred, for this book I almost stopped at the title! Why would I want to read a book with a title like this? I wasn't sure if I even should share this book with you, but let's see why I got past page one-hundred...

Our unlikely protagonist is Charlie Joe Jackson. He proudly states he will stop at nothing to get out of reading. He even gives us twenty-five tips on how to cope with, or avoid, the reading trap. For example:


For Charlie Joe, reading is the enemy and he seems to have quite a following. Here are a few kids that would agree; maybe you'll recognize someone you know: [Show YouTube) Why does Charlie Joe hate reading so much? Part of the answer involves a strange convergence involving his dad, Mark Twain, Roald Dahl, and Matt Christopher.


So far in his life, Charlie Joe has only read one book all the way through. He recommends all of us to read at least one book in case anyone ever asks us what our favorite book is. Charlie Joe’s one book is the Giving Tree, which is interesting because in this story the tree is doing all the giving and the boy is doing all the taking. Surprisingly, it’s the one book Charlie Joe hasn’t asked his friend Timmy to read for him. Timmy and Charlie Joe have what you might call “an arrangement.” Charlie Joe goes to the ala carte line and gives Timmy an ice cream sandwich. Timmy reads for Charlie the books he refuses to read.


Charlie Joe Jackson will stop at nothing to get out of reading, even if it means losing the love of his life, Hannah Spivero. So what if his most recent plan to not read involved arranging a date between Hannah and a friend of his named Jake Katz. So what if they started to like each other. How long could it last? What was the average life span of a middle school romance anyway? Nine days? Nothing to worry about. Right?

But, there will be plenty for Charlie Joe Jackson to worry about if his parents, the principal and his favorite teacher Ms. Fellman discover the latest plan he’s hatched to not read. It involves Hannah, Jake and the final school project.

If you liked Diary of a Wimpy Kid, if you liked Origami Yoda or Darth Paper Strikes Back, then you will want to take a look at Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading. Even high schoolers who don't like to read will read this book all the way through.

BC Booktalk on Prezi

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Can you imagine yourself in this worst-case scenario?: You are off exploring a remote canyon in Utah. You've climbed up into a narrow passage between two huge rock walls. You brace yourself on a boulder wedged between them but suddenly it gives way. As you plummet, the boulder gives chase. As you crash to the bottom, the rock instantly pins your right arm. With no one within earshot how will you extricate yourself free? As each hour, as each day, passes by, you're left with only one option. A dull knife.

[Show pic of Aron Ralston]

Does anyone know who this is? The worse-case scenario I described actually happened to Aron Ralston in 2003. In 2010 the movie "127 Hours" came out. The movie portrayed the gruesome decision Aron Ralston had to make in order to save his life. Amputating your right arm with a dull knife would definitely be a worst-case scenario in my book. It's highly unlikely any of us would ever face a situation like his, but these are the type of scenarios presented in a new book called, Survive-O-Pedia.

How about this worst-case scenario: You're in an elevator when suddenly the cable snaps. Some think that the best way to survive a plummeting elevator is to jump at the perfect moment. Works in the cartoons, right? If you could possibly time your jump correctly you would still only succeed in smashing yourself into the ceiling and then rebounding back into the ground. According to Survive-O-pedia, your best bet is to lie flat on the floor, thus distributing the force of impact more evenly to your body, but be sure to cover your head to protect yourself from flying debris.

I don't know if a recommendation like this would really help your odds at surviving, but I know you'll still enjoy learning about Survive-O-pedias recommendations for 70 of the worst scenarios you could ever imagine. But, please, don't try these at home. Ever.

(Thanks to Patchwork of Books for bringing this book to our attention.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Elephant Talk by Ann Downer & Trouble-Maker by Andrew Clements

One of the best new non-fiction books of the year is Elephant Talk by Ann Downer. Even though they have been studied for many years, there are still questions to answer about these great beasts. For example, scientists are still trying to figure out how elephants communicate. For years researchers wondered how elephants separated across vast distances can find each other so easily, or how elephants in zoos can communicate through a wall without being heard by their keepers.

The answer to these mysteries is infra-sound: low frequency sounds undetectable to the human ear. These sound waves are sometimes felt, but not heard.

Another example of new research involves young male elephants. When old enough, young male elephants are eventually kicked out of the herd by the matriarch--the highest ranking female in the herd. It was once thought that the young male elephants would just go off on their own, but researchers have found that they form their own bachelor herds. What I found interesting about this is that the young bulls will often misbehave and act out aggressively when older bulls are not present. They might attack other animals or even strike at humans. This aggressive behavior might explain why elephants sometimes get into trouble.

In the book, Trouble-Maker, by Andrew Clements, we find Clayton Hensley basically acting like a young bull elephant. (Could his behavior possibly be compared to another animal as well?) On this particular day he is ordered to leave the sixth grade art room and report directly to the principal's office. Clay decides to take his sweet time instead. His trip includes an unscheduled stop to the bathroom and then a long detour past the music room where his best friend Hank is counting down the minutes until lunch. When Clay stops outside the music classroom, he makes a face and scratches his armpits like a monkey. When Hank breaks down laughing he of course gets yelled at by Mrs. Norris the music teacher. So easy. So predictable.

As planned, Clay doesn't arrive in the office until just before passing time. As he carefully positions himself by the office window, "the perfect spot to see everyone--and be seen," he makes sure to hold out the taped up folder he was carrying. The picture inside could make him a legend, maybe as big a legend as his older brother Mitch. Years ago, Mitch also terrorized these same hallways and no one ever messed with him.

As he waits for the bell, Clay feels confident that everything to this point has gone well. He's ready for phase two. The moment everyone in his art class passes by the office window they will certainly notice him and will definitely recognize the folder he's holding. I can imagine Clay smiling. He knows his classmates will blab about him to the whole school.

This was going to be big, bigger than Hank and him flicking cheese cubes during lunch. Bigger than all the fights he'd ever been in. He already averaged four trips to the principal's office every month, but this could top it all. Clay was sure this would earn his brother's respect. Mitch would be proud. Mitch was a legend. Nobody could compare with him, except maybe his little brother.

But, unknown to Clay, his days as a wild young bully are over. No one will believe it, maybe not even Clay himself, that by the same time next week kids who used to quake at the site of him will show no fear.

How did Clay's master plan backfire? What could possibly topple a bully like him? Did Principal Kelling finally get the best of Clay? Or, did someone with a lot more influence succeed in changing a wild young bull that didn't want to be tamed?

Find out in the book, Trouble-Maker, by Andrew Clements.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Maze Runner Trilogy by James Dashner

Some of you probably think it would be weird not to be on Facebook. It’s a great way to connect with friends and family, right? Yet, have you ever thought about the following?

1. With social media sites like Facebook, appearances can often be deceiving.
2. Social media can make your friends’ lives look way different than they really are.
3. For some, Facebook is just a way to keep the daily dramas going.
4. There’s more to life than checking your Facebook every day.
5. Facebook is like living in a fishbowl, or another world.

Social media make the world seem like it is shrinking. Having so many online friends might make you feel good, but it also might make you feel like you are constantly on stage or constantly being watched.

Inside the book, the Maze Runner, by James Dashner, everyone knows they are being watched, and they definitely experience the world closing in on them. Each of them has been forced to live in the strange world known as The Maze. Every night, like clockwork, sets of gigantic doors close off The Maze from another space called the Glade. The Glade is the only safe zone within the world of the Maze. As the doors close it makes a reader wonder if they were built to prevent someone from getting out, or to prevent something from getting in.

If you lived there, the sights and smells would remind you of a farm. Inside the Glade, dozens of boys ranging from ages 12 to 18 grow their own food, raise their own animals and try to meet all their daily needs for survival. Yet, before the gigantic doors automatically close, a different group of boys called runners need to race back to the Glade. A runner's job is to explore the maze during the day. Their mission: to find a way out. If a runner does not make it back in time certain death at the hands of the grievers awaits. The grievers, half machine, half beast, roam the maze at night while the boys sleep, safely sealed inside the Glade like important investments within a secret vault.

The boys call those that put them in the maze the creators, although there are no real memories of them. Their memories were wiped clean before arrival, with only a first name to carry into their new life. On schedule, a new boy arrives in the Glade every month. The current newbie is named Thomas. However, something has changed. Thomas is different than the rest.

Although he feels drugged and is confused about his new surroundings, Thomas doesn’t drown himself in hopelessness. Unlike many of the boys that need more time to come to grips with the harsh world of the Glade, Thomas has a strange confidence about him. He doesn’t tell anyone, but he feels like he’s been to this world before. Somehow he knows he's supposed to be a runner.

Do the other boys notice what’s different about Thomas? Will they give him the job of runner? Will they tell Thomas what it's like to be stung by a griever? Will Thomas find a way out of the maze?

Sorry, none of these questions matter right now. Someone else has just arrived. A girl. And she has something written on her arm:

“WICKED is good.”

Before you think you know what this means, just remember......appearances can often be deceiving.

(Check out the YouTube Book Trailer for The Maze Runner, but first know that it is a little intense. Spoiler Alert: The screaming you see at the end has something to do with an encounter with a griever.)

*Important Notes!: The Maze Runner came out in 2009. The 2nd book in the series is called the Scorch Trials, and the 3rd installment, the Death Cure, comes out this fall. The Maze Runner has been nominated for the 2011-2012 Maud Hart Lovelace Book Award. This is Minnesota’s Award for best Children’s book.

(Some of the comments about Facebook are from: Article on Facebook by Jessica Bakeman, Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 1, 2011)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

Did you know Albert Einstein said there isn't anything in the universe that can go faster than the speed of light? This summer scientists in Hong Kong claim to have proven Einstein correc. They have confirmed that there isn't anything that can break the universe's ultimate traffic law.This is an amazing claim, but for some it might also be devastating.

If these scientists are correct, it might dash the dreams of those who would like to imagine space travel as possible some day. Yet, Einstein also suggested that space is warped, bent or curved. This is important because it means that there might be other ways to think about time travel. Some claim that if space is curved then it is possible that there are time travel tunnels or portals. (Take a look at one explanation by National Geographic.)

In the book, The Emerald Atlas, by John Stephens, a golden-haired countess and her army of living dead are searching for a time travel portal. The countess's soulless henchmen with their ear splitting screams do her bidding as they hunt for a space-time portal called the Emerald Atlas. Legend had it that the atlas was lost forever in an underground city destroyed by an earthquake. If found, the magical book would give its owner extraordinary power over the world and could change the way events play out in history as desired. Inside the atlas are blank pages, but in the right hands it could send someone to any place or time.

The Emerald Atlas and who desires it is unknown to three siblings as they travel by train to an orphanage that will most likely kick them out eventually, just like all the rest did. As they wait to reach their destination the three pass their time by thinking of last names. Through the years they've come up with thousands of possibilities. All they know for certain is their last initial, the letter P. Pullman, Packard, Pickford, Pike, Paganelli, Page, Pershing, Pickles, and Penguin are all on their list. Penguin is one of their favorites to imagine.

Little do they realize that they will soon meet a man that knows their last name, knows who their parents are, and knows if their parents are really alive. But, will he tell them? Kate, Michael, and Emma also do not know that a bigger problem awaits them in the form of a dusty green book lying in the basement of their new home.

If you like books with time travel and more than one mystery to unravel, then I would like to recommend, The Emerald Atlas, by John Stephens.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (2011 Printz Award Winner)

Apocalyptic fiction is a genre that involves a setting in which the world has been brought to the brink of total devastation by a global catastrophe. A post-apocalyptic fiction novel involves such a world later struggling to rebuild itself with each individual clawing onto anything to survive. This is the type of world we find ourselves in the book, Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi.

Both adults and children along the American Gulf Coast are left to scavenge off the remnants of a once prosperous industrialized nation. Nailer is one such child, fending for himself even though he has a father. He works on a scavenging crew that gets paid for pulling copper inside of stranded ships along the coast of what once was Louisiana. Nailer is valuable to his crew because of his size. He’s able to fit inside the ductwork that often contains copper wire. However, there’s a problem he can’t ignore forever. He’s growing, and soon won’t be able to fit inside the ductwork. Without a job how will he survive?

One day, he and a friend find a different type of boat stranded nearby. It’s loaded with fine china, silver and putrefied food. There’s enough loot to hit a Lucky Strike. A Lucky Strike would mean a free ride for the rest of his life, without worry, never hungry again. As they deliberate what to take out first before anyone else tries to make a claim, they discover an even more valuable find. Gold! Gold rings worn on the fingers of a corpse to be exact.

In one of the bedroom cabins was:

“a beautiful girl, dead in a mangle, staring at him with wide black eyes. Nailer sucked in his breath. Even bruised and dead, she was pretty, pinned under the pile of her bed and the weight of all the stuff that had crushed her.”

Nailer reached for his knife, but where should he make the cut? You can’t cut through bone, so the best place was the joint. As he pressed his blade into the girl’s flesh, those dark black eyes came to life.

If you like a dystopian page turner, if you like books such as the Hunger Games, then I would recommend, Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi. (YA-recommended by BCBT for 8th grade and higher.)

I think a comparison study between the Hunger Games by Collins and Ship Breaker by Bacigalupi would be a valuable exercise in looking at key characteristics of contemporary YA literature. There would be the dark settings to compare. There would be a female protagonist to compare with a male protagonist. However, something more incisive could be a comparison of difficult choices both protagonists are forced to make in each story.

Do you agree with Meghan Cox Gurdon's article that YA literature is getting too dark? Read: Darkness Too Visible (printed in the Wall Street Journal). Also checkout: The Danger, Values of Dark Teen Lit at NPR.

How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg

How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg; Illustrated by Kevin O’Malley

Have you ever been happy to go to the doctor? Grateful may be a more appropriate word. We should all be grateful for the advanced medical treatments available to us today compared to what were considered the best medical techniques in the past. Not that long ago, visiting the doctor was like going to a little shop of horrors. For example:

Leeching was a common treatment for what ailed you as recently as the 1800’s. Some of us use leeches today as bait for catching walleyes, but in the past they were seen as way to suck out the bad blood. To cure someone of sickness meant draining out the poison contained in the blood. [volunteer-plastic leech-ketchup packet] The procedure called for a doctor to smear blood in the area he wanted the leech to take hold. Of course a good doctor back then knew better than to put a leech on someone’s face. That would leave a disfiguring scar. Also, a good doctor knew better than to attach a leech on the eyelid. Doing so would result in permanent discoloration.

Best practice in leeching called for the doctor to let the leech drink its full then wait for it to fall off on its own. If he tried to pull it off the leech’s jaw could get stuck in the skin and bleeding would nearly be unstoppable. This was especially dangerous for children. About fifteen to twenty leeches was the recommended treatment for an adult, three to six for kids under five. By now you can guess that the cure was often worse than the disease.

Bloodletting was another horrible practice. Bloodletting was slightly different-it basically skipped using the leech but had the same purpose in mind. Bloodletting was used to treat George Washington, the father of our country. In his later years he woke up one morning finding it difficult to breath. His doctors decided the best treatment called for taking a sharp double-edged knife to cut open a vein deep in his arm so he could bleed for awhile. All this did was to make matters worse.

To find out what happened next, and to learn how other famous people of the past met their awful end, I encourage you to read, How They Croaked: the Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous, by Georgia Bragg.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Haunted Houses by Robert D. San Souci

Haunted Houses by Robert D. San Souci; Illustrated by Kelly Murphy & Antoine Revoy

Setting is a crucial element to any successful story in the horror genre. In, Haunted Houses, by Robert D. San Souci, the author wraps his work of short stories around a typical setting, the haunted house. Haunted houses can be more diverse than one might think. Maybe thoughts of a haunted house at an amusement park or carnival come to mind. Perhaps a scary mansion does too. But, have you ever thought a dog house could be scary? You might if you learned that it was the origin of what you were hearing at night and the howl issuing forth was from a dog that died almost a year ago. What might even be scarier would be the nightmare that followed, one in which the playful dog you once knew now appears with glowing eyes along with a disturbing split personality. Haunted houses, even haunted dog houses, have a way of enveloping the main character like invisible hands suffocating any way of escape. I suppose that is what makes haunted houses as the setting in horror stories so fascinating. The author successfully pulls the reader into his collection of scary stories just like a house with a mind of its own might: with its victims realizing too late what is about to happen. Reader, heed this warning well.

I think it would be fascinating to use Haunted Houses by Robert D. San Souci to study different protagonists in horror stories. This comparison study would include such things as what point in the story does the main character realize he/she is in trouble. I’m also fascinated by the process of the haunted setting enveloping the protagonist. There seems to be a gradual process in which the outside world is closed off from the protagonist almost to the point of no return.

Also, I would include a study of foreshadowing using the stories from this book. San Souci does a nice job of giving little clues as to what is about to happen in most of them. As students read these stories, I would have them list all the foreshadowing clues they could find. In a few of his stories the clues made the ending somewhat predictable but still satisfying. In the short story, Webs, we might know what’s coming because the words “wriggled and jiggled” get repeated often, but the reader is still satisfied with a creepy payoff in the way this phrase is used in the last line. I might have students indicate when they knew what was going to happen and why. I might have them discuss if the foreshadowing made the story more/less effective.

Friday, June 17, 2011 ?

To my surprise, I keep stumbling into outcroppings of youngsters that have seen the Harry Potter movies but haven't read the Harry Potter books. With all the hullabaloo over the last movie installment coming out this summer, you'd think there would be renewed interest about this major marketing brand in book form. You'd think so.

Would the phenomena of movie fans not reading the books have anything to do with the mysterious emergence of If any of you out there can help me solve the mystery as to what J.K. Rowling is up to, please let me know.

Take a look at:

Friday, May 20, 2011

Reading Rockets Interview w/ Lawrence Yep

Ever daydream about being a writer? Author Lawrence Yep includes daydreaming as part of his job description. In this Reading Rockets Interview you will discover what books he preferred when he was in school, what motivated him to pursue a career as a children's author, and how someone's personal life doesn't need to resemble a shipwreck in order to write believable stories.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Summer Reading List

Thanks for suggesting the summer reading list Isaac!

If you are in need of book recommendations, please look through BCBookTalk archives located in the right column. Otherwise, here are a few suggestions off the top, but it is certainly not an exhaustive list. At the bottom are some other resources you may also be interested in.

Tried and True Middle School Fiction:

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia Wrede
Define Normal by Peters
Gregor the Overlander series by Collins
Heart of a Samurai by Preus
Hero by Lupica
Leapike Ridge by N.D. Wilson
Penny Dreadful by Snyder
Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone
Saving Zasha by Barrow
Septimus Heap series by Sage
Maze Runner by Dashner
Stolen Children by Kehret
Wednesday Wars by Schmidt
The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by Berlin
Listen by Tolan

The following lists include titles that I'll be considering for booktalks in the fall:

New Non-fiction:

Ghosts in the Fog by Seiple
Many Faces of George Washington by McClafferty
Surviving the Angel of Death by Kor
Tom Thumb by George Sullivan
How They Croaked by Bragg

New Middle School Fiction:

Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Choldenko
Bloodlines series by Sherman
Darth Paper Strikes Back by Angleberger
Sidekicks by Santat
The Ascension by Carroll
The Last Martin by Friesen
The Throne of Fire by Riordan
True by Hannigan
Relic Master Book One: The Dark City, by Catherine Fisher
Okay for Now, by Gary Schmidt
The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens
The Luck of the Buttons by Anne Ylvisaker

New YA Fiction (8th grade and up):

Death Cloud by Lane
Divergent by Roth
Phantoms in the Snow by Duble
This Dark Endeavor by Oppel
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

If you are a student at CLMS you are welcome to email me ( for a summer reading recommendation. In a pinch you could also give Book Seer a try, but this program doesn't always match readers with books as well as your humble BCBT librarian. Another resource you could try is the Database of Award Winning Children's Literature (DAWCL).

Mr. S.

P.S. Don't forget to check into Big Noodle Books. Our school gets part of the profit when you buy from Big Noodle Books.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Will Weaver visits CLMS!

CLMS recently had the honor of hosting a visit from award winning author Will Weaver. A short interview with Mr. Weaver and pictures from his visit are posted below.


1. What do you find rewarding as a writer?

A: The act of creation, that is, making something (a novel or a story) out of nothing. It's what artists of all kinds really do. And after that, getting to interact with people/kids who have read my writing.

>2. What boundaries or limits do you set for yourself when writing for a particular audience?

A: Very thoughtful question.... Hmmmm, I need to think about that a sec. Okay, I've thought about it, ha. Writing a particular story or novel is itself a process of setting boundaries and establishing limits. I decide to have my novel take place during three months of a summer (FULL SERVICE), or a winter (THE SURVIVORS, forthcoming sequel to MEMORY BOY). Same goes for student writing in school. If you're doing a research paper on, say, the Civil War, we need to narrow our topic. How about one battle on one afternoon with the 1st Minnesota regiment? See what I mean about narrowing the topic? It's nearly always best to write in more detail about less, rather than more generally about a broad topic.

>3. Have you ever dealt with rejection from a publisher? How do you face challenges like rejection?

A: Yes. Just recently a publisher turned down a novel I thought was really good. So now I have to consider that they're seeing something that I'm not. I could just get mad about the rejection, but that doesn't help. I have to go back and try to see the novel through their eyes. And maybe I'll find that revisions are needed.

>4. What projects do you have in mind for the future?

A: I have in mind a young adult novel that's a combination of Lois Lowry's THE GIVER and Shirley Jackson's story "The Lottery." Won't say any more than that. Writers are also readers, and we sometimes use other writers' work as a "platform" -- as a basis for new stories of our very own. Literature is a lot about that kind of continuity.

>5. Can you give us a teaser about Survivors, the sequel to Memory Boy? You didn't tell us what happens to Emily the goat, but is there anything you can give us?

A: The Newell family has to survive a winter in a small cabin in the woods, and–-surprise--it's Sarah who really steps up and becomes important to the family's survival.
>6. What are your thoughts about e-readers?

A: Is changing rapidly from print/paper books to e-technologies, but I have no problem with that. Content (the stories, the lessons of literature) is more valuable than in what form it is read. Really, I think good and exciting things are happening with e-books and e-reading.

>7. Finally, how does it feel to be dubbed by some of our students as the "Justin Bieber of Books?"

A: Whoa, I'm still in shock over that! Now if I could only sing like Bieber... And thanks to everyone at CLMS for a great visit.

To read more about Will Weaver go

BCBT gives a big shout out to: Cortney Walbridge, Tara Lindahl, Carla Lydon, and the East Central Regional Library System for making Mr. Weaver's visit possible for our students!

BCBT would also like to thank Denise Lange for all the displays and her special touch with everything. Thanks for your contributions to a special afternoon with Will Weaver.

Finally, BCBT would like to thank the students in CLMS B.O.B. for all their contributions to a successful author visit! Good job, you guys!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Memory Boy by Will Weaver

The Scream, an expressionist painting by the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, rivets our attention to a trembling human form in extreme distress. As you gaze over it with your eyes, you may wonder what makes the alien-like form howl with fright. Surprisingly however, another element in the painting occasionally receives more attention. Those that view the painting today might want focus their attention on the reddish swirls in the background.

Scientists speculate that the unusually vivid background in The Scream may reveal a connection to one of the most powerful volcanic eruptions in recorded history-the eruption of Krakatoa.

In the late 1800's, ash from Krakatoa swirled around the globe possibly at the same time Edvard Munch finished The Scream. This would explain the vivid red swirls. Ash particles from the destructive Krakatoa eruption could have ironically resulted in some of the most magnificent sunsets ever witnessed on earth.

Considering other more recent cataclysmic events in the form of tsunamis, earthquakes, mega oil spills, not to mention a potential cataclysm in the form of a caldera of molten lava 1500 square miles in size lurking just 5 miles below Yellowstone Park, we may just consider the setting in the story, Memory Boy, by Will Weaver, more than plausible.

The story takes place in Minnesota, but the event that triggers all the action begins as a massive volcanic eruption in the Cascade Mountain Range on the West Coast. The volcanic event is more than 50 times the scale of the 1980 Mt. St. Helen’s eruption. As ash spews over most of the country, a teenager named Miles Newell eventually catches on that his carefree life will soon be over. Under a blanket of volcanic ash, the bread basket of the world slowly dies. The national crisis gets so severe, that instead of pulling together, people start living like it is survival of the strongest. Even in Miles neighborhood mild mannered people begin to act towards each other like a bad remake of the novel, The Lord of the Flies. With violence on the rise, and Mile’s family’s mansion a likely target for looters, the Newell family decides to make a run for it to the Brainerd Lakes Area. A safe, quiet, tranquil cabin awaits them. There’s only one problem-fuel has been rationed and there is no way for the family to get there by any gas-powered vehicle.

Will Miles figure out a way to help his family escape? Will the Newell family reach their beloved lake cabin before the chaos spilling into the suburbs of Minneapolis makes their way impassible? And, if they can reach their destination, how will the Newell family survive without fuel, electricity and any basic knowledge on how to live off the land? If you like a hard edged dystopian page turner, I would recommend Memory Boy, by Will Weaver.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy

“One man’s mission to promote school at a time.”

These words come from the subtitle of a book called, Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson. In the book Mortenson tells of how Afghan villagers nurse him back to health after his failed attempt to climb K2, the second highest mountain in the world. To return the generosity shown him, Mortenson makes a pledge to build a school for the village. Since then, he has made his life’s mission to build schools in a country where two thirds of the population cannot read. In addition, Mortenson has been an advocate for providing girls in Afghanistan with the opportunity to go to school in a country that traditionally has closed off education to women.

Mortenson has sold about 4 million copies of his book so far. The powerful story convinced President Obama to donate $100,000 dollars of his Nobel Peace Prize to a charity associated with Mortenson. Three Cups of Tea has even been made required reading for U.S. military personal assigned to serve in Afghanistan. The campaign to build schools fits in well with overall U.S. military strategy to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. Only one problem-CBS’s 60 Minutes revealed that parts of Mortenson’s story aren't true. Now there are even questions about how the money donated by President Obama and many others has been used for other purposes besides the construction of schools. As questions about Mortenson’s integrity surface, I can imagine the Taliban snickering under a rock somewhere. Winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people is challenging enough already for our military and only made more difficult when we can't back up our words with deeds. If you had to dodge bombs, bullets and corruption on a daily basis, would you welcome an American soldier into your village just because he called you “rafiq” (friend)?

In the book, Words in the Dust, a girl named Zulaikha has to dodge something more terrifying than bullets. Her stomach feels twisted. She can't make her body stop shaking. In front of her, a group of boys stands in her way, ready to hurl rocks and insults at her face. Rocks or insults, which would hurt the most? Zulaika did the only thing she could think of-she ran. Just when she thought she was safe a loud roar stopped her like a brick wall. A gigantic tan humvee turned the corner.

“On top was a big gun with a barrel like a cannon. What looked liked a very tall man was really the top half of a soldier standing straight up through the roof of the vehicle behind the gun.”

Zulaika didn’t know that the American soldier was in her village to propose the idea of a school, one that would even allow girls to attend. All Zulaika knew at that moment was the fear that an American soldier had seen her face. Women in Afghanistan traditionally wear a chador, a head covering held closed in the front, but Zulaika had left her face exposed. As she raced back to her home, the soldier reported back to his commanding officer what he had seen. Little did Zulaika know then that the soldiers would later offer her one of the most precious gifts she could possibly imagine.

Will a school be built in Zulaika's village? Will she get permission from her father to attend? Why was an American soldier ready to offer a gift more precious than gold right after a group of boys wanted to hurl rocks and insults at her face?

If you would like to gain a better appreciation of what life is like for a girl living in present day Afghanistan, then I would recommend, Words in the Dust, by Trent Reedy. He is a former soldier and now a teacher in Iowa. His book is much more than a tale of culture clash. Reedy's book encourages us to consider that American soldiers are sincerely trying to make a difference in the Afghan people's lives, despite the cultural forces that are dead set against anything good coming out of a difficult situation.

Words in the Dust reminded me of the book, The Breadwinner, by Deborah Ellis. Both works are invaluable to anyone wanting to have a glimpse of what life is like in war torn Afghanistan.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Saving Zasha by Randi Barrow

Just when you thought terrorism couldn't get any worse, disturbing news came out of Iraq last year about another Al Qaeda plot. The terrorist group was reported to have hatched a plan to sew bombs inside of dogs. After the bombs were surgically implanted, the dogs were placed in kennels and delivered to a Bagdad airport. The dogs were supposed to be loaded on a plane destined for the United States. Thankfully the terrorists' plot failed. The plot was exposed when the dogs were found dead in their kennels. They died because the terrorists didn't stitch them up properly.

Using dogs in warfare is not so unusual. Dogs have been at the side of soldiers throughout history. They also have been a source of comfort as well. It seems that Al Qaeda thought they could use our soldiers' love for dogs to their advantage. Take a look at the following preview put out by the Military Channel called "No Dog Left Behind."

In World War 2, dogs were used for many purposes. Some were trained to sniff out the enemy. Some were even strapped with bombs and trained to go under enemy tanks. You know what happened when the bombs exploded.

In the book, Saving Zasha, by Randi Barrow, we find ourselves in Russia at the conclusion of World War 2. The war so devastated this country that it left an indelible scar on both the soul and land of these beleaguered people. Major cities like Leningrad were destroyed. Vast agricultural areas ended up as scorched earth. It is estimated that 20 million people died in Russia alone during World War 2. With so much destruction, even man's best friend was not spared.

Despite the fact that nearly every dog was wiped out by the war, German Shepherds on the loose were still shot in the streets of Leningrad by the Russian people; they so despised the Germans for what they did to their country that they would shoot the dogs on sight. It's possible some Russians thought it was the patriotic thing to do.

In Randi Barrow's fictional story, we are introduced to a boy named Mikhail. He's glad the war is over, but he's disheartened by the fact that his father hasn't returned home from the war. Mikhail clings to the belief that his father will come back, even if the rest of his family doesn't hold out much hope.

One day, Mikhail and his brother discover someone in the woods near their farm. The man isn't their father. The man doesn't appear to be a soldier either, but he's wounded and near death. But what really shocks the boys is the man's traveling companion. The stranger has the most beautiful German Shepherd the boys have ever seen. When the man later dies of his wounds, Mikhail and his family have a decision to make about a German Shepherd named Zasha. Will the family do the patriotic thing and turn Zasha into the authorities? But, if they do, Zasha will certainly be shot on sight. Shouldn't they save a beautiful creature that somehow had survived such a horrible war? What will happen to Mikhail and his family if they can't keep Zasha a secret from their neighbors?

Find out in, Saving Zasha, by Randi Barrow.

Listen to an excerpt - click here.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus

Chi! Chi! Chi! Le! Le! Le! Viva Chile!

Chi! Chi! Chi! Le! Le! Le! Los Mineros De Chile!

Do you remember the chant heard round the world when the 33 Chilean miners were rescued? For me it still conjures up memories of hope and excitement. Only a few months ago 700,000 tons of rock collapsed on the miners during their shift in a copper mine deep below the surface. The miners were trapped for over two months, but we forget that for the first 17 days they had no contact with the outside world. At the time, did they believe they would ever get out? What hope did they cling onto through their ordeal? How did they live with barely any food or water? Today we still call their survival a miracle.

In the book, Heart of a Samurai, by Margi Preus, we enter the year 1841 off the coast of Japan. In their boat battered by a severe storm, a crew of fishermen hopelessly drift away from their beloved homeland. With no way to contact the outside world, without enough food or freshwater, they begin their eighth day “huddled together, prepared to die.” As they consider their final moments, the fishermen begin to share hopes and dreams they once had for their lives. Denzo, the oldest, told of his wish to buy his own boat. Another told of his wish to marry a girl back in the village. After all his elders had spoken, fourteen-year-old Manjiro blurted out:

“I had hoped to become a samurai.”

The whole crew laughed. Manjiro’s wish was impossible, what a dreamer! Everyone one of them was a mere fisherman. Their forebears had been fishermen. Their sons would have been fishermen. There was no conceivable way a boy like Manjiro could rise to the rank of samurai. They teased him that as a samurai he would just look for poor fishermen to beat up. Manjiro ignored them. He knew he would not be that kind of samurai. He would show more forbearance than to slice a poor fisherman in half for no reason. Manjiro remembered how his father had told him of Bushido, the samurai code of honor. He learned that samurai studied more than just the art of how to kill people with a sword.

Manjiro’s daring words broke the forlorn mood of the men temporarily, but only forestalled the inevitable. One of them would have to shake Manjiro from his reverie gently. The best outcome the crew could hope for was for their dead bodies to be washed back ashore to their beloved homeland. Japanese fishermen were forbidden to navigate this far from the coast. No one from home would rescue them this far from shore. If the improbable happened and they were rescued by outsiders, they would never be permitted back home again. Such a rescue would taint them. They would be considered contaminated. Japan in 1841 was a closed country; no foreign devils from the outside world were permitted to poison Japanese ground.

As he wondered what loomed ahead, Manjiro looked at the pink light that rimmed the eastern horizon. It looked like “the light from another world, spilling through a slightly open door.” Was this a sign that he would have to look for hope in another direction, away from the home he loved? Would the pink light lead miraculously to another life for him and his countrymen?

Find out how the heart of a samurai leads Manjiro on a high seas adventure that will later make him known as the boy who discovered America. Learn how a dream so resilient would not be easily extinguished by any circumstance. Admire the character of a young man who faced overwhelming odds in his attempt to return to the home he loved. If you like adventure and a book that is based on a true story, then I'd like to recommend, Heart of a Samurai, by Margi Preus.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Wildfire Run by Dee Garretson

After reading the book, Wildfire Run, by Dee Garretson, I began to think how the story might make a terrific action/adventure movie. As I thought this over I imagined myself in the role of casting director for: WILDFIRE RUN, the movie. Who would I choose for leading roles in Wildfire Run? Hmmm...let's take a look...

First, I would pick Callan McAuliffe for the part of Luke Brockett, the President's son. McAuliffe starred in the movie, Flipped, based on the book by Wendelin Van Draanen, and will star in the upcoming 2011 movie, I am Number Four, based on the book by Pittacus Lore.

In Wildfire Run, we learn that Luke may be slightly spoiled and stubbornly independent, but he's also a little vulnerable. Being the son of the President of the United States has its perks, but also complicates normal things in life like friendship. It's not easy to form genuine friendships when you're treated like royalty. It's also not easy when you can't completely relax because of a fear that someone wants to kill or kidnap you because of your powerful father.

Then there is Callie Lansa, a girl that used to be Luke's best friend. For this role I would probably select either Hailee Steinfeld who plays Mattie in the movie remake of True Grit, or Eliza Bennett, who played the role of Meggie in the movie, Inkheart, based on the book of the same name by Cornelia Funke.

When they were younger Callie and Luke played together on the Brockett's ranch in Colorado. Callie isn't impressed with how pampered Luke has become, now that he's the President's son. She probably grinned as she remembered how she teased him after he fell off his horse. Callie probably frowned as she remembered how the Secret Service agents partly blamed her for Luke's fall. Callie Lansa is the intelligent, plucky girl who isn't afraid to tease our young protagonist even if he is the President's son.

Speaking of Secret Service Agents, we need someone to play the role of Adam, the primary agent assigned to Luke. Adam's character needs to be played by someone who can be all business when he needs to be, but has a softer side to help a boy cope with the fishbowl of attention he has been forced to live in as the President's son. I imagine Ben Affleck in the role of Luke's guide and handler.

Although not in the book, I would offer a cameo role to Katie Couric from CBS News. She will calmly announce to viewers that a major earthquake has struck the heart of the nation. We will learn that the epicenter of the quake originated from the New Madrid Seismic Zone in the state of Missouri with tremors felt across the country. Like all responsible news anchors Katie will look directly into the camera and brace us for what happens next: aftershocks, floods, and fire will follow. Fires result due to broken gas lines, fallen power lines, and various other sources. Various other sources-this is where we find ourselves in the book Wildfire Run.

Due to the tremors, a fire accidently spreads from an untended campfire in Catoctin Mountain Park near the heavily guarded private retreat reserved for U.S. Presidents-Camp David. Dry conditions fuel the fire immediately. Deer and even the few bear that live in the park flee the area. In the animals' desperate attempt to escape they will act confused and behave erratically. Some of these animals may encounter a huge man-made wall meant to protect the President. Even if the animals could crawl or jump over, they would be stopped immediately by an electric fence designed to kill intruders instantly.

The Secret Service's job is to be ready for unexpected situations like these, but could they really have expected a forest fire triggered by shock waves from an earthquake hundreds of miles away to force the immediate evacuation of Camp David? Will the world's best security system unintentionally threaten the lives of those that it was designed to protect? And, how could the Secret Service agents have anticipated the erratic behavior of the President's son when he and his former best friend decide to exacerbate the situation by not doing what they are told?

Find out the answers to these questions in a thrilling adventure story called, Wildfire Run, by Dee Garretson. (Who would you cast in the leading roles?)
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