Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

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.
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