Book List: The forecast calls for reading

From Jurassic Park to A Brief History of Time, some of the best and most influential books ever written are science-based. Long before students get to Steven Hawking, however, books about science teach them to explore the world around them and inspire a curiosity that lasts a lifetime.

To encourage this spirit of discovery, HMNS provides monthly book lists on various science topics on our web site. Nonfiction and science-based fiction options are provided at three levels: 2nd grade and below; 3rd – 6th grade; and 7th grade and higher. In January, watch out for the weather and explore the science of meteorology. The forecast for our young readers is Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Older kids can discover How Weather Works and ride along with Storm Tracker and Night of the Twisters. Choose a book from this month’s list to get inside nature’s fiercest storm as well as the most peaceful calm – and see what makes it all happen.

Susan, the museum’s Director of Youth Education Sales and a former librabrian, puts these lists together each month. She’ll share her inspirations for each month’s topic here; January’s topic: weather.

Galveston sunrise
Galveston, in calmer times.
Creative Commons License photo credit: millicent_bystander

Many books that feature the weather are nonfiction, but one notable exception is Devil Storm by Theresa Nelson. Although Devil’s Storm is the story of the Galveston hurricane of 1900, it is particularly appropriate for those of us in the Houston-Galveston area that experienced the destruction of Hurricane Ike last September.

Theresa Nelson is another author I am proud to call my friend. The second oldest of 11 children, Theresa grew up in Beaumont. Even as a child she wrote plays for her brothers and sisters—as the playwright she could always give herself the best parts!

During her freshman year at St. Thomas University in Houston, Theresa met Kevin Cooney and says she fell in love with him because he made her laugh. Kevin, an actor, and Theresa have three grown sons and three grandchildren. I first met Theresa fourteen years ago when she visited the middle school where I was the librarian to talk to the students. From the time she walked in the door, I felt that we had known each other forever. I have not seen Theresa for several years, but if she popped in today we would take up exactly where we left off.

Theresa talked to the students about the importance of writing about what you know. She showed them spiral notebooks where she wrote down this and that—words and ideas that would later become parts of a book. Students were just as drawn to Theresa as the teachers were because of her genuine enthusiasm for just about everything.

When she talked about Devil Storm, Theresa told the students that the book is the result of stories her mother told. The Nelson family would vacation on Bolivar Peninsula each year, and inevitably it would rain. Can you imagine trying to entertain 11 children indoors before the days of cable TV and video games? Storytelling was the answer, and so Tom the Tramp entered Theresa’s life.

Devil Storm is the story of the Richard Carroll family, who lived and farmed watermelons on Bolivar Peninsula in 1900. In addition to Richard and Lillie Carroll, the family consisted of Walter, 13, Alice, 9 and baby Emily, 1. Another brother, William, died of “the summer sickness” just before Emily’s birth.

Moonlight over Rice Lake
Creative Commons License photo credit: Derek Purdy

One summer night, Alice convinced Walter to walk to the Gulf to see the magical moonwater, and their lives changed when they spotted a campfire on the beach. Soon afterwards the children learned that Tom the Tramp had returned.

Tom, a former slave, was rumored to be the son of the pirate Jean Lafitte. He carried a shovel and an old “sackful of secrets”. Tom told the children he had been born in the middle of a “herrycane—Devil storm outa the Gulf,” and he would die when the Devil makes “another herrycane” that will carry everyone off.

As the story progressed you learn about life on Bolivar in 1900. In early September, Richard Carroll – not knowing a storm was coming – took a load of watermelons to Galveston. His plan was to spend the night with relatives before returning to Bolivar the next day. The next morning, however, he learned that until the current storm passed he would be unable to return home.

Lillie and her children were trying to ride out the storm in their house when Tom showed up and warned them “Ain’t nothing’ gonna be alive where we’re standin’ this time tomorrow….” Lillie, however, refused to leave, so Tom headed for High Island, the highest point on Bolivar Peninsula. As he walked through the storm Tom thought of losing his own family, and decided to make another attempt at saving the Carrolls.
Will the Carrolls agree to leave their home? If so, where will a mother, three children and a dog go in the middle of a storm?

Trolley Stop at Pier 21
Destruction following Hurricane Ike.
Creative Commons License photo credit: P/UL

As I reread Devil Storm, I was reminded of the pictures of the Bolivar Peninsula following Hurricane Ike, and the story had an even bigger impact than the first time I read it. Luckily, as bad as Ike was, the loss of life did not rival the 6,000 lost in the hurricane of 1900.

At the conclusion of the book don’t miss the Author’s Note about the real Tom the Tramp, buried in a family plot in Beaumont with this inscription:


 

TOM THE TRAMP
He alone is great
who by an act heroic
renders a real service

Theresa’s other award-winning books are The 25 Cent Miracle, The Beggars’ Ride, And One For All, Earthshine, The Empress of Elsewhere and Ruby Electric. You will learn more about Theresa at: http://www.theresanelson.net/

Book List: This month, dig into archaeology

From Jurassic Park to A Brief History of Time, some of the best and most influential books ever written are science-based. Long before students get to Steven Hawking, however, books about science teach them to explore the world around them and inspire a curiosity that lasts a lifetime.
 
To encourage this spirit of discovery, HMNS provides monthly book lists on various science topics, from “Leonardo da Vinci” to “Lizards and Snakes” and everything in between on our web site. Nonfiction and science-based fiction options are provided at three levels: 2nd grade and below; 3rd – 6th grade; and 7th grade and higher.

Susan Buck, the museum’s Director of Youth Education Sales and a former librabrian, puts these lists together each month. Starting with December’s list, she’ll share her inspirations for each month’s topic here.

The museum’s December book list features books on archaeology.  When you think of archaeology you generally think of nonfiction, but one of my favorite books on this topic, Kokopelli’s Flute by Will Hobbs is a fantasy book.

In my “former life” I was a middle school librarian, and one of the great joys of that job was the opportunity to meet incredible authors who became friends.  I am proud to list Will Hobbs and his wife Jean among them. 

Several teachers at my school were using Will’s novels in their classrooms, so I invited him to speak to the students.  A former language arts teacher, Will was right at home, and the middle schoolers were immediately drawn to his easy-going style…and they loved his books.

When Kokopelli’s Flute was published, I was fascinated because Will generally writes about outdoor adventures, many of which he had shared with nieces and nephews. 

 My dog Nanny on the right

The cover of the first edition of Kokopelli’s Flute featured a picture of Tepary Jones, the main character, playing a flute.  However, Tep’s golden retriever, Dusty, did not appear on the cover – even through Dusty had a significant role in the book. 

At that time, our family had the most wonderful golden retriever, Nanny, so Nanny “wrote” a book review that I sent to Will.  The gist of the review was that Nanny loved the book, but felt slighted that Dusty, who plays such a significant role in the book, was not featured on the cover.  The next time Will visited my school I took him to my house to be photographed with Nanny.  Ironically, when I began research for this article I discovered that the cover of the paperback edition features both Tep and Dusty.  Authors tell me that they have no input into the covers of their books, but seeing the picture brought back special memories!

The cover of Kokopelli’s Flute,
reproduced here with permission.

In Kokopelli’s Flute, Tepary Jones and his golden retriever Dusty are camping out at the Picture House, an ancient Anasazi cliff dwelling not far from his father’s seed farm in northern New Mexico, to view a total eclipse of the moon when they encounter pothunters. After scaring them away, Tep cannot resist taking the small eagle bone flute the thieves left behind.  Playing the ancient flute is the beginning of a fascinating story, for Tep triggers his gift as a changeling, and each night after dark, he becomes a pack rat.

Tep’s parents are scientists who have taught their son the joys of nature and an appreciation of the history that surrounds them.  It is very easy to like this family who are so devoted to each other.
As readers become involved in the story they suspend disbelief, so the fantasy works—especially when a mysterious stranger arrives at the farm.  Kokopelli’s Flute has a strong environmental message and readers will remember Tep’s and Dusty’s special relationship long after the book is closed.

Will Hobbs is the author of seventeen novels for upper elementary, middle school and young adult readers, as well as two picture book stories. Seven of his novels, Bearstone, Downriver, The Big Wander, Beardance, Far North, The Maze, and Jason’s Gold, were named Best Books for Young Adults by the American Library Association. ALA also named Far North and Downriver to their list of the 100 Best Young Adult Books of the Twentieth Century. Ghost Canoe received the Edgar Allan Poe Award in l998 for Best Young Adult Mystery. Will’s books have won many other awards, including the California Young Reader Medal, the Western Writers of America Spur Award, the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award, the Colorado Book Award, and nominations to state award lists in over thirty states.

Other books by Will Hobbs:  Changes in Latitudes (1988), Bearstone (l989), Downriver (l991), The Big Wander (l992), Beardance (l993), Far North (l996), Ghost Canoe (l997), River Thunder (l997), The Maze (l998), Jason’s Gold (l999), Down the Yukon (2001), Wild Man Island (2002), Jackie’s Wild Seattle (2003), Leaving Protection (2004), Crossing the Wire (2006), Go Big or Go Home (2008), and picture books Beardream (l997), Howling Hill (l998) .

You can get to know Will Hobbs better by reading the questions and answers posted on his Web site.