Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

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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