Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

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.

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