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The Nine Pound Hammer

The Nine Pound Hammer

The Nine Pound Hammer

Ray and his sister Sally are on an orphan train in hopes of finding new parents out West. On the train, Ray realizes that Sally would stand a better chance at getting adopted if she didn’t have an older brother – so he jumps off the train to adventure on his own.

Ray has one thing to remind him of the life he used to have, a stone his father gave him. It is a lodestone, a magnetic stone used to make compasses. The stone is acting funny. It seems to be pulling Ray South, so Ray decides to go wherever the lodestone leads.

The stone leads Ray to Cornelius T. Carter’s Mystifying Medicine Show, a sideshow that travels in a steam train from town to town performing tricks and selling medicine oil. The band of performers includes a blind sharpshooter, a snake charmer, a fire-eater, a sword swallower and a strong man. Ray discovers that these performers are more than they first appear. The strong man, Conker, is John Henry’s son. John Henry was a legendary railroad worker who defeated a steam powered hammer, man against machine, in a contest. John Henry won the challenge, but then dropped dead from the effort. His stories are legends like Pecos Bill or Paul Bunyan.

Ray discovers that John Henry’s legend is actually real and that John Henry didn’t just win a competition, he defeated a demonic machine built by a man (the Gog) who was determined to dominate the world with his evil mechanical inventions. Ray finds out his dad helped John Henry beat the evil machine…but that the Gog and his evil machines are back. It is up to Ray and Conker and their friends to do battle again.

This story draws a lot of characters and personality from tales of the American South, African American Folklore and tales from the frontier West. I liked reading about traveling by steam locomotive. It’s hard for us to imagine now, but back in those days there were trains owned by individual people that traveled all over the country – trains decked out like fancy RVs inside.

The story is science fiction meets the frontier meets steampunk. (Steampunk is a story that involves technology before that technology was actually invented. The evil gunius in this story uses robotic creatures that are built with technology not known in the 1800s.) Ray’s adventure is like Harry Potter because there is an ensemble cast of kids that have inherited the fight from a previous generation.

There are no unicorns or dragons or wizards in this magical story, but magic still, a kind of magic that has its roots in African-American history and the American South called hoo doo. People knowledgeable in hoo doo are called conjurers or root doctors. They make potions from herbs, animals, or items owned by a person. Sometimes, the hoo doo knowledge is what we might call a folk remedy. Hoo doo uses a bit of science and a bit of the spiritual unknown to conjure up its magic. Author: Claude Bemis Series: The Clockwork Dark

  • Look Inside The Nine Pound Hammer
  • The Nine Pound Hammer on CD
  • Disney’s John Henry Part One and Two
  • Listen NPR Author Interview with Claude Bemis

There is a really cool book about the song The Ballad of John Henry. The book traces the history of the song and takes a guess at who John Henry really was. This book is called Ain’t Nothing But a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry. Generally, legends are based on at least a tiny bit of truth and this book shows the historical treasure hunt the author went on to track down the bits of truth in the John Henry story.

The video below is the blues artist John Jackson singing the John Henry song. Blues music came out of African-American communites in the South in the 1800s. Songs included spirituals and work songs and chants. A lot of times the songs told a story in a ballad – John Henry is a ballad and work song.

Continue reading Ray and Conker’s story in The Wolf Tree and The White City. Ain’t Nothing But a Man is the story of John Henry – very interesting with outstanding pictures.:
The Wolf Tree The White City Ain't Nuthin But a Man American Tall Tales
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The Doom Machine

The Doom Machine

The Doom Machine

Jack Creedle is minding his own business one morning running his newspaper route when a flying saucer hovers over his town. Finally, something interesting is happening in Vern Hollow. But why did the Skreeps choose to land in tiny Vern Hollow? Skreeps usually invade planets, take everything they want for themselves and enslave the people living there. This time they seem to have something different in mind. They are looking for something all over Vern Hollow and they’ll do just about anything to get it.

Jack’s Uncle Bud, the town auto mechanic, has been acting a little strange, well, more strangely than usual. He’s been busy in his backyard shed tinkering on a special projects he’s built inside an old refrigerator. It turns out crazy Uncle Bud is onto something with this invention. It’s the one thing the Skreeps want. It also might be the very thing needed to save earth from the Skreeps, if Jack and his Uncle Bud and a crew of motley friends (and a couple enemies) can keep them from it. A high flying alien abduction adventure with Jack and his crazy Uncle Bud – two unlikely heroes that run their adventures their own way. Creedles are used to trouble, trouble always find them. This time, the trouble better look out. Author: Mark Teague

  • Play Online Game: The Doom Machine Skreep Attack

More alien adventures with intrepid, brave and funny kids that are not afraid to take on an alien invasion:
The True Meaning of Smekday Mike Stellar Nerves of Steel Starcross Trash Crisis on Earth
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Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel

Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel

Mike Stellar Nerves of Steel

“Michael, there’s something your father and I would like to talk to you about.”

Anything that follows a line like that can never be good. But the next time you get hit with bad news, remember Mike Stellar. NOTHING can compare to what came next for him.

“We’re moving to Mars. Tomorrow.” I heard a thump and looked around. Surprisingly, it had come from me. I had fallen off the sofa.

Moving to Mars was NOT in Mike’s plan and he is not pleased with his Mom and Dad.

“Excuse me if Im not skipping down the hall at the thought of moving to a different planet, Mom.”

Mike can take one box of stuff and the lid has to fit on tight when he’s done. So Mike packs his one box and his bad attitude and boards the shuttle. Well, he also packs a seriously contraband outside communication device so he can keep in contact with his best friend on earth. (Don’t tell.)

On the spaceship Mike does some early morning exploring, like any self respecting kid would do. He stumbles into an area that his parents, and security, act very strangely about. In fact, Mike’s parents act downright guilty. What are they hiding about this space trip? What’s a rebellious, suspicious, smart kid to do? Get to the bottom of it that’s what, and he just might have to break a few more rules while he’s at it. Detention again! Author: K.A. Holt

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The 39 Clues #6: In Too Deep

The 39 Clues #6: In Too Deep

In Too Deep

Dan and Amy Cahill are still hot on the trail of the 39 Clues, clues that could lead them to treasure beyond their wildest dreams…but they have to actually survive the treasure hunt first.

In book six Dan and Amy encounter some members of the animal kingdom that might even be worse than the their rotten Cahill relatives.

Dan and Amy face a funnel-web, a deadly poisonous spider whose fangs are so long, it’s victims have to actually pull the spider out of their skin, the person can’t just shake the spider off.  Yech.

They also have to deal with a Tiapan, the world’s most poisonous snake. The Tiapan is so dangerous there are no known survivors before an antivenom was developed. In fact, the scientist who tried to capture the first Tiapan in order to research how to make the See full size imageantivenom, was himself bitten…and died! And if that isn’t enough, Amy barely escapes being thrown to sharks. These animal encounters have all been arranged by some of those nasty Cahill relatives who are determined to take Dan and Amy out of the race, even if that means killing them.

So, the stakes are still high and getting higher. The players are getting even more tricky to figure out. Cahill cousin Hamilton Holt helps Dan and Amy out again – could he actually turn into a real ally? Cousin Alistair…is he a good guy or not? And what about that nanny Nellie? She’s a licensed pilot? Who knew that? And what other secrets is she hiding?

This one keeps the action rolling and emotions running high. When Amy finds out that the fire that killed their parents was not accidental she and Dan make a serious recommittment to the race for the clues. They don’t want just revenge, they want justice. Patrick Carman Series: The 39 Clues

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Newbery Medal

Newbery Medal

When You Reach Me

The Newbery Medal is awarded every year by the American Library Association to the most distinguished American children’s book published the previous year.

The 2010 Newbery Medal Winner is When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.

The 2010 Newbery Medal Honor Books are The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate & Claudette Colvin.

Previous year’s Newbery Medal Winners are:

2009 2008 2007 2006
The Graveyard Book Good Masters Sweet Ladies The Higher Power of Lucky Criss Cross
2005 2004 2003 2002
Kira Kira Good The Tale of Despereaux Crispin the Cross of Lead A Single Shard
2001 2000 1999 1998
A Year Down Yonder Bud Not Buddy Holes Out of the Dust
1997 1996 1995 1994
The View from Saturday The Midwife's Apprentice Walk Two Moons The Giver
1993 1992 1991 1990
Missing May Shiloh Maniac Magee Number the Stars

Full List of all Newbery Medal Winners and Honor Books Since 1922

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