Author Archives: Morgan B.

February 17, 2010

Book Review: Chasing Vermeer

Posted by at 7:19 am in Reads | Permalink

Chasing_vermeer_130 I didn’t want to read Chasing Vermeer. I was tired; it was late; I was actually in the middle of another book I couldn’t put down; there was television to catch up on. But then I cracked the spine and saw that author Blue Balliett had included a lovely neighborhood map on the opening pages, showing me where the characters’ houses and other sure-to-be-important buildings were located. I studied it. I like when maps are included in books. There are usually hints in them.

And then, the jackpot. I read the opening paragraph. And as I read it, I thought, “This already sounds like my most favorite book ever, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. And if a book sounds and feels like The Westing Game from that first paragraph, there is no way I can put it down.” Off went the t.v., down went my other book, and on went my nightlight. And soon came the story.

Chasing Vermeer is part mystery, part pentomino puzzle, part action, and all smarts. Petra and Calder are two sixth-graders who are suddenly thrown into an adventure they can’t turn down. It involves a painting by Vermeer, a famous Dutch artist who lived in the 1600s. (I’ve seen some of Vermeer’s works at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam so I was doubly interested, but even if you have no clue who Vermeer is, you’ll enjoy the story!) As the two try to solve the mystery by uncovering codes a thief leaves behind in newspapers, I got to play along, too. Even the illustrations in the book offer hints—you just have to look closely enough to spot them!

This riveting book is perfect for kids who like mysteries, puzzles, art, math, codes, chases, Chicago—or any or all of the above. If you’re still not convinced, read this sample excerpt from the book. What do you think? Talk it up in the comments!

— Morgan, Scholastic staffer

February 15, 2010

Writing prompt: I *so* don’t do ____

Posted by at 9:48 am in Writing Prompt | Permalink

Writingprompt_idont When you combine a scary subject (ghosts!) with a wacky, funny plot, you get Barrie Summy's I So Don't Do Mysteries, in which Sherry (short for Sherlock) Holmes Baldwin hangs out with her ghost of a mom and tries to help her solve mysteries. I know, it's a crazy idea
but it works.

So for this writing prompt, try to think of the silliest, wackiest, most out-there idea you can think of for a book or short story. Fill in the prompt below and get writing and don't be afraid to be outrageous. Who knows? Sometimes the craziest ideas are the best ones! 

Prompt: I *so* don't do ____, but one day last week, my long-lost _____ showed up and told me he/she needed my help. Here's what he/she asked me to do: __________.

Show us your prompts in the comments. Happy writing!

Morgan, Scholastic staffer

February 2, 2010

Trivia Tuesday: Answers Revealed!

Posted by at 9:30 am in Reads, Trivia | Permalink

Trivia_tuesday I admit it was a tough quiz if you're not obsessive about Ann M. Martin's The Baby-sitters Club like I am! But still, kudos to the great guesses (and even just the encouraging remarks!) that you offered. Only one can be the winner of Trivia Tuesday, though, so congratulations to:

Drumroll…

Mehreen, who answered all 5 questions correctly!

There was a tough bonus round too, and a big shout-out to the first commenter who answered that one correcty: Jennifer!

Still stuck on the BSC trivia? Here are the answers:

Question 1: In Book #2, Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls, readers meet Charlotte Johanssen for the first time. Charlotte goes on to become the favorite charge of which member of the BSC? Answer: b. Stacey

Question 2:
In #9, The Ghost at Dawn's House, who (or what) is leaving behind the trail of items that Dawn thinks belongs to a ghost? Answer: a. Nicky Pike

Question 3: What is the secret language referred to in #16, Jessi's Secret Language? Answer: c. American Sign Language

Question 4: In #30, Mary Anne and the Great Romance, Mary Anne gains a new stepsister. Who is it? Answer: b. Dawn Schafer

Question 5: In #100, Kristy's Worst Idea, why does Kristy disband the Baby-sitters Club? Answer: a. Kristy starts to think she's a bad baby-sitter after her charge, Jackie Rodowsky, sprains his ankle while she's sitting for him

BONUS QUESTION: Dawn's friends from California started their own baby-sitting club after Dawn told them all about the BSC. What did they name it? Answer: The We <3 Kids Club!

Great job, everyone! And stay tuned for lots of exciting Ann M. Martin posts coming this spring! 

—  Morgan, Scholastic staffer

January 19, 2010

Trivia Tuesday: The Baby-sitters Club!

Posted by at 8:44 am in Trivia | Permalink

Trivia_tuesday I can't possibly be the only one still riding high from our recent announcement about The Baby-sitters Club, so I'm going to keep the ball rolling with some BSC trivia. So put down your Kid Kit, tell Karen to stop complaining about Morbidda Destiny, and let's get started!

Question 1:
In Book #2, Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls, readers meet Charlotte Johanssen for the first time. Charlotte goes on to become the favorite charge of which member of the BSC?
a. Kristy
b. Stacey
c. Mallory

Question 2:

In #9, The Ghost at Dawn's House, who (or what) is leaving behind the trail of items that Dawn thinks belongs to a ghost?
a. Nicky Pike
b. Jamie Newton
c. Jackie Rodowsky

Question 3:
What is the secret language referred to in #16, Jessi's Secret Language?
a. French
b. Pig Latin
c. American Sign Language

Question 4:
In #30, Mary Anne and the Great Romance, Mary Anne gains a new stepsister. Who is it?
a. Karen Brewer
b. Dawn Schafer
c. Becca Ramsey

Question 5:
In #100, Kristy's Worst Idea, why does Kristy disband the Baby-sitters Club?
a. Kristy starts to think she's a bad baby-sitter after her charge, Jackie Rodowsky, sprained his ankle while she was sitting for him
b. Claudia's family announced they were moving out of Stoneybrook, so the club had no place to hold meetings
c. Dawn and Mary Anne decided to move to California with their parents

BONUS QUESTION for all you BSC experts out there!
Dawn's friends from California started their own baby-sitting club after Dawn told them all about the BSC. What did they name it?

Think you know the BSC? Leave your answers in the comments!

—  Morgan, Scholastic staffer

January 12, 2010

Trivia Answers: Wizards of Waverly Place!

Posted by at 7:01 am in Trivia | Permalink

Wizards_of_waverly_placeWell, well, well — looks like a lot of Ink Splot 26 readers are also huge fans of Wizards of Waverly Place (like me!). Last week's quiz was tough, but so many of you pulled out your magic wands and summoned up some serious memory skills by correctly answering all five questions!

But, only one commenter can be first to do so: congratulations to the super-quick superfan grkgrl246, who scored a perfect 5 out of 5 almost as soon as the quiz was posted!

Just in case you're still stuck, here are the answers:

1. All three of the Russo kids have magical powers, but only one of them will keep those powers as an adult. How will it be decided? Answer: #2 - They'll have to compete in a magic competition.

2. Why did Jerry, the Russo dad, have to give up his wizardry powers? Answer: #1 – When he fell in love with a mortal woman, he gave them up to marry her.

3. When does Harper, Alex's best friend, find out Alex and her brothers are wizards? Answer: #1 – At Pop-Con when Harper accuses Alex of being a bad friend. (Special shout-out to commenter Marytonga, who reminded us that Max called it Pop-CORN! Funny!)

4. Perhaps my favorite part of Wizards of Waverly Place is the song that plays during the opening credits. Who sings the song? Answer: #3 - Selena Gomez

5. In Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie, the Russo family goes on a trip to the Caribbean. Alex makes a wish that comes true and causes all sorts of problems for the Russos. What was her wish? Answer: #2 – She wished her parents had never met.

It was fun talking magic trivia with you all, so thanks for playing. Until next time!

— Morgan, Scholastic Staffer

Photo © copyright Disney Channel/Craig Sjodin

December 29, 2009

Trivia Tuesday: Wizards of Waverly Place

Posted by at 5:19 am in Trivia | Permalink

Wizards_of_waverly_place Ok, magic fans, who out there is confident enough in their wizardry knowledge to take a trivia quiz on my favorite kids’ television show, Wizards of Waverly Place?

Airing on Disney Channel, Wizards of Waverly Place follows the Russo family as they live seemingly normal lives in Manhattan. . . except for the fact that all three Russo children have magical powers inherited from their dad! There’s the oldest brother Justin (David Henrie), who takes his wizardry skills very seriously; middle sister Alex (Selena Gomez), who doesn’t take anything seriously; and youngest brother Max (Jake T. Austin), who is seriously bad at magic. And then there’s Alex’s best friend Harper (Jennifer Stone), their parents, Jerry and Theresa, and all the characters who hang out in their sub shop and their school.

And PS, the stars of the show are all big fans of reading. Check out these videos of David Henrie, Selena Gomez, Jake T. Austin and Jennifer Stone talking about why they love books.

Now that you’re caught up, let’s see what you really know about Wizards of Waverly Place!

1. All three of the Russo kids have magical powers, but only one of them will keep those powers as an adult. How will it be decided?

  1. Their parents will choose.
  2. They’ll have to compete in a magic competition.
  3. The official wizardry council will decide for them.

2. Why did Jerry, the Russo dad, have to give up his wizardry powers?

  1. When he fell in love with a mortal woman, he gave them up to marry her.
  2. When he had children, he decided his powers were too dangerous.
  3. He lost a magic competition against his sister.

3. When does Harper, Alex’s best friend, find out Alex and her brothers are wizards?

  1. At Pop-Con when Harper accuses Alex of being a bad friend
  2. At school when Alex turns her art teacher back into a teenager
  3. During a marathon when Alex casts a spell that makes Harper win the race

4. Perhaps my favorite part of Wizards of Waverly Place is the song that plays during the opening credits. Who sings the song?

  1. Taylor Swift
  2. Demi Lovato
  3. Selena Gomez

5. In Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie, the Russo family goes on a trip to the Caribbean. Alex makes a wish that comes true and causes all sorts of problems for the Russos. What was her wish?

  1. She wished Harper had come on the trip with them.
  2. She wished her parents had never met.
  3. She wished for two sisters instead of her two brothers.

Get out those magic wands and cast your answers, readers! Leave a comment with your guesses and we’ll soon see who has magical powers when it comes to trivia. . .

— Morgan, Scholastic Staffer

Photo © copyright Disney Channel/Craig Sjodin

December 18, 2009

Holiday Movie Traditions

Posted by at 7:49 am in Writing Prompt | Permalink

Holidaymovietraditions There are several things I insist on doing every holiday season: visiting the Bryant Park shops (check); stringing festive white lights around the fireplaces in my apartment (check check); listening repeatedly to Mariah Carey's “All I Want For Christmas is You” (check check check, sadly). But most of all, there are certain movies I HAVE to watch at some point during the holidays.
So let's talk about holiday movie traditions!

For my family, the top tradition is. . . drum roll please. . . National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (rated PG-13), which we try to watch all together (and try to not talk over each other as we quote liberally from the movie). But there are other must-sees, too:

  • A Christmas Story (rated PG): usually this is playing (on marathon!) on Christmas Day, and we put it on after opening gifts. A classic!
  • Elf (rated PG): does anyone out there not love this movie? Laugh-out-loud funny.
  • Home Alone (rated PG): I start laughing when Kevin's sister says, “You're what the French call les incompetents” and I don’t stop until the credits roll.

And then, there's one holiday movie I like to watch by myself, preferably curled up on a comfy couch as my holiday lights twinkle throughout the room. It’s my all-time favorite kids' Christmas classic: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (rated TV-G). I had forgotten about this animated movie until one December a few years ago when I caught it on television and remembered – bam! – just how fantastic it is. What can I say, I have a fondness for the Mouse Father and Mouse Mother and all their ker-plunking in the big clock tower.

There are so many other classic holiday movies, of course, and I could keep going (A Christmas Carol! A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie! Miracle on 34th Street!). But it's your turn now! What kinds of holiday movie traditions do you and your family have? What are your favorites?

– Morgan, Scholastic staffer


BONUS WRITING PROMPT: In the book Inkheart, the characters actually go inside the book and interact with the characters there. If you were writing a book where that were possible, what would be the title of that book? Leave your answer in the Comments.

December 7, 2009

Writing Prompt: Ahhh, Winter!

Posted by at 8:15 am in Writing Prompt | Permalink

Writingprompt_winter After a strange summer and a mild autumn here in New York, December has arrived and it's finally starting to feel like winter. For those of you that don't like the cold, I'm sorry. . . but for those of you (like me) who do, then yay! It’s finally winter!

While I find limitless opportunities for inspiration, it seems that the changing of the seasons often makes me pause, reflect, and write a poem or a short story (or in this case, a blog entry!). So let's do a writing prompt to celebrate the arrival of winter. In the comments, fill in the blanks – and hopefully you'll be inspired to expand your comment into a bigger piece of art!

This winter, I plan to ____. And even if the weather turns colder than ____, I'll still do it, because I have ___ to keep me warm!

My take?

This winter, I plan to train for a marathon. And even if the weather turns colder than the frozen lunch I brought from home, I'll still do it, because I have a Snuggie to keep me warm!

— Morgan, Scholastic staffer

Winter photo, Roob/istock

December 3, 2009

Holiday Book Review: Main Street: ‘Tis the Season

Posted by at 8:39 am in Reads | Permalink

Mainstreet3 There's something old-timey about Ann M. Martin's Main Street series, and as I read book 3, 'Tis the Season (you can listen to an excerpt here!), I struggled to put my finger on it. Maybe because it's set in a small, almost retro-feeling town called Camden Falls; maybe because no one seems to use cell phones or even computers. Or maybe it's because the challenges the characters face feel timeless — as if the series could be set in the early 1900's rather than here and now.

Flora and Ruby are the two main characters of Main Street. They are orphan sisters who in book 1 moved into their grandmother Min's house in the idyllic Camden Falls (idyllic only if you enjoy small towns where everyone knows everyone else!). They're supported by a large cast of characters, both young and old, and we readers are given ample glimpses into almost everyone's minds.

In 'Tis the Season, Flora and Ruby are excited about the holiday season and all the magic that Camden Falls has to offer, yet their excitement is tinged with sadness too. It's their first holiday season without their parents, and everything is different; plus, their aunt is coming to town, and she doesn't seem to like spending much time with the girls.
Meanwhile, there are lots of events and parties happening at Needle & Thread, Min's sewing shop in the center of town, so Flora and Ruby (along with their best friends, Olivia and Nikki) are busy helping out.

Both Olivia and Nikki are dealing with their own struggles in 'Tis the Season as well. Olivia's parents, who have both been out of work, are considering moving the family out of Camden Falls, while Nikki's father (though he's not much of one) has left town with a promise to send money back. He doesn't, though, and Nikki is worried about their family's finances, whether her mother will be able to support them, and perhaps most of all, whether she can help make her little sister Mae's Christmas dreams come true. (Her friends, and the town of Camden Falls, come to the rescue!)

If this sounds like a lot for one book to cover, it is! I was impressed with how much action was included in this title. Each chapter is jam-packed with events that help move the story forward. But there are some incredibly touching (yet subtle) moments, too — when Ruby wakes up to the hushed, gray light of the first snowfall of the season; when the girls tag along with their neighbor to visit the elder-care home his sick wife will soon be moving into; and when Min, at the end of the book, reflects back on how her now-bustling house used to be so quiet. Instead, now it's full of life, noise, and energy. 

Any Main Street fans out there? What do you think of book 3 'Tis the Season?

Morgan, Scholastic staffer

November 12, 2009

My Favorite Fictional School Dances

School_dances_130 My first official school dance was the 5th grade Square Dance. (Yes, you read that right. No, I'm not from a farming community.) For weeks in advance, we learned some two-steps during gym class and shyly practiced do-si-do-ing during recess. On the big night, clad in denim skirts, my friends and I French-braided our hair and reapplied our lip gloss in the girls’ bathroom before we braved the dance floor. Despite our nerves, the dance turned out to be pretty awesome. There were specific steps to follow and partners to choose, so everyone felt the same level of moderate humiliation and immense relief. We were in it together.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, school dances are part of life. And whether you’re Team Yay or Team Nay (or Team I’m-Way-Too-Busy-With-Homework-and-Sports-To-Care-About-School-Dances-Anyway), lots of books feature them, and it’s fun to compare the reality versus what authors dream up!

For instance, my Square Dance simply cannot compare to the awesomely magical Yule Ball that Harry Potter and friends get to attend in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. (Come to think of it, not even my fancy senior prom could compare to the show that Hogwarts puts on!) But there are less elaborate, though equally exciting, school dances found in other books, like the Halloween dance that the Baby-sitter’s Club members get to dress up for in Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls, or the annual winter dance Addie and friends attend in Wish Upon a Star (How I Survived Middle School #11).

So what do you all think about school dances — love 'em or hate 'em? And have you ever read about a fictional school dance you wish you could attend?

— Morgan, Scholastic staffer