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.

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