Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Brainstorm 50: Mystery series for K-12

Several new-ish popular mystery series for K-12.

Lower grade series

Sherlock Sam series by A.J. Low
Sherlock Sam is a little kid in Singapore, who with his robot Watson solves crimes. Our students can readily identify with the Singaporian sleuth, and many have been to Singapore so they can picture the locations mentioned in the books. The author's name is actually a mashup of the names of a husband/wife team who live in Singapore. Currently there are 8 books in the series.

Activity tie-ins:
  • Geography/Map activity: Students can trace Sherlock Sam's adventures on a map of Singapore.
  • Asian literature: If you're looking for a book by Asian authors, that has Asian main characters or Asian settings, this fits all three of those.
  • Singapore study: Reading these you can pick up on a bit of Singaporian culture. Have students compare and contrast their normal life with Sherlock Sam's normal life. What's the same? What's different?
Middle Grade series

Platypus Police Squad series by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
The Platypus Police Squad keeps the streets safe in Kalamazoo. I've never read another mystery series for kids that sounds so much like Dragnet or Law and Order. They take crime fighting seriously, but the crimes they fight are things like illegal sales of synthetic fish, sabotage of amusement parks, and other fictional crime situations in a town populated entirely by animals. Krosoczka is also a gifted artist, so the books are peppered with great illustrations of the animals throughout. There are currently 3 books in this series, with a 4th scheduled to come out next year.

Activity tie-ins:
  • Observation skills: Using the clues and the pictures, can students solve the mystery before the two detectives?
  • Interpersonal skills: The platypuses in the police squad often have to deal with differences of opinion and conflicts. It's a good opportunity to talk about how to handle differences and conflicts in healthy ways.
  • Animals + Mystery=Win: Numerous kids pick this up for the animals on the cover, but end up enjoying the mystery elements. It's a great pick for fans of both.
  • "Safe" Mystery: These books do a great job of making completely ridiculous and impossible things seem like serious crimes, like synthetic fish dealing instead of drug dealing, making this a good pick for parents looking for a safe read for kids.

Shakespeare Mysteries series by Deron R. Hicks
Miles Letterford started a highly successful publishing company, still in the hands of the Letterford family to this day. Colophon Letterford's father is the CEO of that company as the eldest in line, but his position has become a bit shaky after some weird accidents have hit the company recently. The family (heavily persuaded by cousin Treemont) has given her father until Christmas Eve to make three successful deals or he will have to step down as CEO. But Colophon's ancestor Miles Letterford didn't just leave the family a company, he also left them a mystery that supposedly leads to family treasure. And the key is supposedly the portrait of Miles that hangs in the family house. Colophon always just thought Miles an egotistical crazy man for insisting the family keep his portrait up, but on Thanksgiving she learns from her adult cousin Julian that it may hold the key to a treasure. Colophon starts putting her head together with cousin Julian on solving the treasure mystery and she puts her brother Case in charge of trying to help her Dad save the company (since Colophon suspect Treemont of sabotaging the latest deals). What follows is a high octane adventure with nary a dull moment, plenty of twists and turns, and this continues in book 2. One of the best new mystery adventure series out there in my opinion is written realistically enough it could feasibly happen! Picture a National Treasure movie that is believable and plausible, and have the treasure revolve around Shakespeare's writings. That's this series.

Activity Tie-ins:
  • Current events: After this book was published, someone in Europe really did find a Shakespeare folio. Have students research the real story and compare it to this one.
  • Shakespeare: If you're looking for a way to make studying Shakespeare just a bit more exciting, this might be just the ticket.
  • History: Colophon and Julian's research skills come in super handy to solve the family mystery. Have students brainstorm real life situations where knowing history can be helpful, and/or have students look further into one of the areas of history mentioned in this book that piqued their interest.
  • Exciting Read: The covers of these kind of undersell the story, so I usually have to convince kids that these will be exciting. But once they read the first one, they are usually scrambling for the second. If you're looking for a high interest read to hook readers, this is a good one.

Young Adult/Adult series

Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley
Flavia de Luce is a precocious 11-year-old in a small village in post-WWII Britain. She has a penchant for poisons and chemistry in general, and in order to satisfy her poison fascination in a less criminal fashion, she decides to help solve crimes that happen around her village. Of course, the police don't always appreciate her help (as is true for most private detectives). This series has won several awards, and has been quite popular since added to our library. The books are written for an adult audience but are clean enough for teens. There are currently 8 books in this series.

Activity tie-ins: 
  • Post-WWII Britain: Just after the war is a time period largely ignored in fiction. It is an interesting look at Britain as it recovered from the trauma of WWII.
  • Chemistry: Flavia always shares interesting little tidbits of chemistry in her books, and it is a powerful reminder that chemists have knowledge they can either use for great good or deadly purposes.
  • Psychology/Sociology: If you want a fun assignment for your psychology or sociology class, have them analyze Flavia and her family dynamics. Her father is disconnected, her mother disappeared in an adventure years ago, and her older sisters live to torment her, and the family butler is suffering from PTSD. They are quite interesting to say the least. 

Landry Park series by Bethany Hagen
What if Brontë's Shirley was set in a futuristic dystopian US? You might get something a little like this delicious work. Though it is a dystopia (primarily why this is constantly checked out), a mystery features prominently in both books (the series is complete at 2 books). In the first book, the mystery of who is responsible for the physical assault of a gentry young lady features prominently, and in the second book, a serial killer is threatening any hopes of a future peace resolution.

After the Last War against the Eastern forces, society in the US was arranged around wealth and influence levels. The highest families were called the gentry and ruled the land, then came the working middle class, and then the poor servants. But there's a level below the servants reserved for those who did not help during the Last War, the Rootless. They have no rights, and are relegated to the worst jobs in society, taking care of the nuclear waste from the revolutionary power units developed by Jacob Landry during the Last War. Those power units saved the world from an environmental cataclysm, and Landry has become a name that dominates the heights of gentry circles. Madeline Landry is next in line to inherit Landry Park and the power that entails. Her father and mother are grooming her for the task of taking over Landry Park and producing heirs. That all sounds wonderful, but Madeline would rather be going to university than hunting a husband through the season's balls. But she has little choice in the matter. So it is off to the balls and dinners she goes. This season proves more interesting than most though. It starts with the mysterious assault of Cara Westhoff. A Rootless is blamed and the gentry led by Alexander Landry go on the hunt, but Madeline can tell that Cara is hiding something and firmly believes that the Rootless are being persecuted for a crime they did not commit. As she explores this incident and the injustice being meted out to the Rootless, she starts to see the engrained injustices in society towards the Rootless and starts to question everything Landry Park stands for. The same night of Cara's incident, David Dana, the most eligible bachelor in the US arrives in town. Madeline is sure that David will be just like all the other arrogant and mindless gentry men, but he proves to be a puzzle. A puzzle that gets under Madeline's skin. He seems to share her revolutionary and unpopular assessment of the Rootless' plight, and it sometimes appears as if David might care for her, but then he goes and accompanies Cara on her debut night (a common prelude to engagement). One day, Madeline is out for a walk when she sees David in an unusual outfit and starts following him. Cara happens to see and joins Madeline in the tail. And David leads them both straight to the Rootless leaders for a meeting about a revolution. Madeline and Cara are quickly caught spying, and the horrors of the Rootless' situation are brought more painfully clear. Madeline wants to do something, she knows she should, but how much is she willing to sacrifice for these people? Is she wiling to give up her position and her home? The same question is one that David must wrestle with as he heads off to join the military., I think you'll just have to read it to find out more.

Activity tie-ins:
  • Current Events: Ask students who they think the current "Rootless" are in the world.
  • Voice for the Voiceless: Madeline Landry wants to help the Rootless, but she has to weigh the costs. If you were in her shoes, what would you do? How much would you be willing to suffer or give up for a stranger? (This can easily be tied in with biblical themes too.)
  • Energy Sources: Madeline's world was turned upside down by an energy crisis. Research some of the alternative energy sources currently being explored. What would be their pros and cons?
  • Dystopia/Mystery/Regency Combo: All I have to usually do to sell this book to the teen girls at our school is tell them it is a dystopia in which a girl helps fight for the rights of a group of people and she goes to balls. It's hard not to get hooked in a book that features both a tense dystopia situation and a puzzling mystery and has Regency England elements. Of course, some of the guys will roll their eyes at the romance elements, but it is still a solid story. And it stands out with unique elements in a sea of dystopias available.

Sherlock Holmes graphic novels adapted from the original by Arthur Conan Doyle by Ian Edgington, ill. by I.N.J. Culbard
Holmes is always popular, but even more so after the recent BBC series. So when you combine already popular Sherlock Holmes stories with the irresistible graphic novel format, you have books that are constantly checked out. There are 4 of these adaptations available.

Activity Tie-ins:
  • Reluctant readers: Students who never check out anything to read will check out graphic novels (and don't tell them, but the reading level of most graphic novels is just as high as most print books). It is a great way to get reluctant readers actually reading!
  • ESL: Graphic novels are also great for second language learners because the pictures help with decoding if vocabulary words are confusing. They are also generally smaller in page numbers and not as daunting for those reading a new language.
  • Compare/contrast: Edgington did a pretty good job staying faithful to the original Doyle story, but there are inevitably some differences that allow compare/contrast activities and opportunities to ask readers why they think Edgington chose to make the changes he did.
  • Quick Mystery Read: If you're looking for a quick read, graphic novels tend to read quite fast. I see many students pick up graphic novels and read them in one sitting in the library at lunch or after school. Of course, many take them home to read and reread too.

Drew Farthering mysteries by Juliana Deering
Drew Farthering is a young British man in 1930s England with a talent for solving crimes, which he discovers by accident when some people close to him are killed on his estate. Deering manages to pull off a mystery that feels much like the classic series of this time period (Marple, Poirot, Campion, Lord Peter Wimsey, etc.) but also deftly and lightly mixes in elements of Christian faith. And she writes some very good mysteries. She's fooled me in every single one. There are currently 3 books in this series with a 4th to be released next year.

Activity Tie-ins:
  • British Mysteries: Farthering and his friends frequently mention the newly released mysteries from Christie and Sayers and others they are reading. This series is bursting with suggestions of several classic series to read. It'll make fans of those new to British mysteries.
  • Observation Skills: See if you can pick up on all the clues and solve the mystery before Drew. I'll warn you, Deering writes some very subtle and convincing red herrings into her books.
  • 1930s England: If you're studying 1930s England, this book does a good job of helping you understand the culture of that time, including a good dose of Gilbert & Sullivan in book 3.
  • Respectful Romantic Relationship: Drew and his fiancé do a fantastic job of having a relationship that is clean and respectful. It is one of the things I loved about this series. They're a great example.
  • Christie-ish Book for Those Who've Read all of Christie: The problem with being a fan of the old classic British mystery series is that the authors are dead and gone, and the series are finished (well, except for fan fic and authors who get hired by the estates to continue the series...). This book does an excellent job of replicating the feel of those classic mysteries for those craving more.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Brainstorm 49: Stand alone mysteries for K-12

I don't know if you've noticed, but stand alone mystery books are a rare breed. Usually, when an author takes all the effort to create a diverting detective character, they like for the detective to get the chance to crack several mysteries. The next Brainstorm will look at some of those fun mystery series, but for today, here's some stand alone mystery books for K-12.

Picture Book Resources

Hermelin: the Detective Mouse by Mini Grey
Hermelin is a mouse. He's a mouse with a talent for typing and noticing details, which makes him a perfect candidate to solve several missing item mysteries that have happened in his apartment complex. The people he's helped are very appreciative, but are they really ready to meet their tiny hero?
For now this is a stand alone, but I would not be at all surprised if this ends up being a series. Hermelin is cute, and the ending sets him up with a partner for future adventures. Warning: This book is not the best choice for a read aloud. It is set up as a feast for the eyes, and has many disparate text boxes. It's lots of fun to look at and read by yourself.

Activity Tie-ins:
  • Center: If you're a teacher who likes centers and has students old enough to read to themselves, this book would make a great center with some directional questions.
  • Observation skills: Those who are paying close attention may be able to figure out the mysteries just as fast as Hermelin. Challenge readers to really look at the pictures closely and see if they can figure out what happened to the missing items.
  • Prediction: Savvy readers will probably be able to predict how the people will react when they finally meet Hermelin, but will they predict the solution to that problem?

The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base
I've mentioned this picture book before, so I'll just remind you of it. It's my favorite mystery picture book. Also a good choice for poetry units, as the entire book is written in rhyming quatrains.

Chapter Books

Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
Emily's family is moving again. Her family's quest to live in all 50 States is starting to get a little old. It's the reason Emily usually tries not to make friends in new places. But her new neighbor James is another puzzle enthusiast and the same age, and before Emily realizes it, she's made a friend. She's not too used to this friend thing, and she might struggle with knowing how to be a good friend. Especially when she has to choose between taking time for her friendship or pursuing the next step in what she's sure is Mr. Griswold's next game. Emily's one constant in her past few moves has been her participation in Book Scavenger, a game created by Mr. Griswold where people hide books, solve puzzles to find books, of course read books, and move up the Book Scavenger sleuthing scale. When Emily and James stumble on a strange copy of Edgar Allan Poe's Gold Bug, she's sure it is part of Mr. Griswold's new game he was about to announce when he was mugged the day her family moved to San Francisco. Is she just imagining the puzzles? Will her obsession with the game cost her her friendship with James and him a swatch of hair in his cipher contest at school? Who else is after The Gold Bug and how far are they willing to go to get it?
Fans of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library and Westing Game are sure to love this. Not only because Emily mentions both books, but because of the ciphers and puzzles and the great big scavenger hunt/mystery involved in the story.

Activity Tie-ins:
  • Critical thinking: Mysteries are a great way to give readers some critical thinking exercise. 
  • Puzzles: There's several ciphers and puzzles mentioned in the book that can give readers further mental exercise. If they really like the concept, Bertman has actually created a real Book Scavenger game where people can hide and find books. Check out
  • TCKs: Emily is someone third culture kids can readily identify with. The way she tries to protect herself from further emotional pain from leaving people she cares about, is a common pitfall and can hopefully help TCKs not fall into the same trap.
  • Friendships take work!: This is a great book to demonstrate that friendships take work on both sides, and can segue into conversations about how to make and keep friends, how to work out differences with others in healthy ways, and the importance of forgiveness.
  • Poe's Gold Bug: This tale of Poe is central to the plot line, so if you want to get kids curious about the poem prior to looking at it, this could be a good way to generate interest.
Peeled by Joan Bauer

Hildy Biddle wants the truth, but the truth is hard to find in the little apple valley of Banesville. Strange things are supposedly going on in the old Ludlow house, a house with a history for dark happenings and unsolved mysteries. Suddenly, more and more people are reporting ghost sightings at the old Ludlow place, painted signs warning about danger keep popping up, and a dead man is found on the property. Fear starts to grip Banesville and property values around the Ludlow place start to plummet. Kids are scared to go outside at recess, and the town starts getting strange visitors that want a glimpse of the haunted Ludlow house. The town's newspaper, The Bee, is making sure citizens are up to date on every single detail...but Hildy Biddle is a reporter herself. She has been interviewing many of the people at the heart of this issue for her own articles in the high school's newspaper, The Core, and she starts to feel like The Bee is exaggerating or even fabricating details for some reason. Why does The Bee want the people to live in fear, and why does its editor threaten to sue the high school for the questions Hildy and the rest of The Core staff are raising?
Things get pretty tense and serious, but with the advice of veteran newspaper man Baker Polton and the encouragement of Ms Minska, cafe owner and WWII survivor, Hildy and her friends decide to fight for their town by searching for the truth that will conquer the fear and lies.

Activity Tie-ins:
  • Filtering Media: In today's media saturated world, this book provides a very important lesson of evaluating media sources and not taking them at face value. It's a great opportunity to give students practical ways to evaluate their news sources, and warn them about the dangers of hype. This could easily be tied in with a lesson on how commercials and graphic design are created in ways to affect us in certain ways. A great non-fiction companion for this is Go: a Kidd's guide to graphic design by Chip Kidd.
  • Writing, the Power of Words, & Bias: The plot also demonstrates the incredible power written words can have over people. Writers have a great weight of responsibility on their shoulders. This book demonstrates how the written word can be used both for good or evil, and how bias can drastically change the way "facts" are presented.
  • Anyone can make a difference: Hildy and her friends are teenagers. Most people would dismiss them from being able to help save the town. Just the small act of printing facts has a profound effect on their town. Have students brainstorm small ways they can make a difference in the world.
  • Critical Thinking: Can students figure out what is going on in town before the characters? Who do they trust? Why? Or who do they not trust? Why?
  • A "Spooky" (Not Really) Read: This is another good pick for those students who crave "spooky" stories that turn out to have a non-spooky conclusion.
Other Stand Alone Mysteries...

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
A modern classic! And a Newbery winner. What do you mean you haven't read this yet?!

One Came Home by Amy Timberlake
It's a combination of mystery and western with flavors of True Grit and Little House on the Prairie and an interesting side plot involving passenger pigeons back before they were endangered. This one won both a Newbery Honor and Edgar Award.

Love among the Walnuts by Jean Ferris
A bunch of lovable misfits trapped in a tricky, not-so-lovable plot make this lesser-known book both mysterious and sweet all at the same time.

A Victorian England darker humor mystery with seven young ladies out to figure out who murdered their headmistress (all the while keeping her death hushed up). This one is not for everyone, but those who like Arsenic and Old Lace should appreciate it (and even find little tips of the hat to that story).

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Brainstorm 48: Books for dark & stormy nights (or afternoons)

It's currently the middle of the rainy season here in Thailand. That means we get daily thunderstorms with torrential rain. The past four evenings the sun has set amidst lightning and thunder. It is currently noon, and the thunder and lightning is at it again (and the rain is trying to flood out any after school events). So inspired by the weather and October's arrival, here are several books great for dark and stormy nights (or mornings, or afternoons) for K-12

Picture Book Resources

I Will Surprise My Friend by Mo Willems
Gerald and Piggie watch Squirrel surprise his friend and decide it would be fun to do the same thing. So they agree to meet at the big rock and surprise each other, but thanks to some great comedic timing Gerald doesn't see Piggie and Piggie doesn't see Gerald. Gerald starts imagining all the horrible things that must be happening for Piggie to be missing. Piggie thinks that Gerald must have got hungry and gone to get lunch. Both decide to get up from their hiding spot to go find/save the other and in the process give each other quite a fright.
From the premise of this book, it should totally not work. You shouldn't be able to plan to scare each other at a designated time and location, but thanks to Willems' impeccable comedic timing, it totally does work and hilarity ensues.

Activity Tie-ins:
  • Predictions: This would be a fun book to have children try to predict how it will turn out.
  • Psychology: Psych classes can pick apart why people get startled, why Elephant and Piggie's plan shouldn't have worked and why it actually did.
  • Writing: Willems' employs a brilliant twist in what seems to be a stupid plot. Discuss why it worked, and have students try to write something similar.
  • Pranks vs Surprises: Sometimes surprises are fun, and some times they seem mean. Have students debate what makes the difference? Where is the line? (You can tie this then into discussions of class community and how to keep trust between each other.)
  • Stats or Charts/Graphs: There tends to be a correlation between whether or not a person likes surprises and whether they are an introvert or extrovert. Poll the class on both questions, and look at the results in statistics. Is there a correlation in the class?

The Skunk by Mac Barnett, ill. by Patrick McDonnell
A man finds himself followed hither and yon by a skunk. After finally shaking this striped-tailed tail, the man's curiosity starts to get the better of him and positions are reversed.
The illustrations in this are fantastic, and make the story as much as the words. And it features a critter that doesn't appear in picture books as a main character all that much. 

Activity Tie-ins:
  • Creative Writing: It is not revealed exactly what the skunk is up to, so readers can extend the story and fill in the gaps.
  • Debate or Persuasive Writing: You could have a fun debate or persuasive writing exercise asking students whether the skunk was up to something good or evil, what evidence can they use to back them up? Students could also debate whether the man was foolish or smart to tail the skunk in return. Was he smart or did he put himself in danger? Was this story funny or scary? 
  • Stranger Danger: This could be a good chance to talk to students about what to do when followed or approached by a stranger.
Graphic Novel-ish Resource

Curse of the Were-Wiener by Ursula Vernon
This third book in the Dragonbreath series finds Wendell is bitten by a were-weiner from Transylvania during school lunch. Danny and Wendell must destroy the alpha wurst with the help of a sentient potato salad (that made an appearance in bk 1 of the series) and its rat minions before Wendell and other school mates are completely transformed and in the thrall of the alpha wurst.

Activity Tie-ins:
  • "Scary" (but not really) Stories: There's this group of readers out there who says they want a scary story to read, but not too scary. This is probably the least scary were-creature story you can find. In fact it's really rather funny. There's no blood or gore, and everyone ends up ok.
  • Reluctant Readers or those in need of Hi-Lo books: The Dragonbreath series is great for students who "don't like to read" or are struggling readers. The book is almost a graphic novel, but has some pages of just text. The combination of lots of illustrations and large font also make this a very quick read. And the funny adventures of Danny the dragon and his friend Wendell the iguana appeal to a wide age range.
  • Story Tropes: Vernon picks fun at several typical horror story tropes in this book. Have students see if they can identify them, and discuss why authors do things like this.
  • Humorous Stories: Students (and adults) crave funny stories. This is a great book if you need to laugh in the midst of those thunderstorms.
Fiction Resources

The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell
Sand wakes up to find he's been sleeping in a fireplace. And the fireplace is in the middle of the castle destroyed ages ago in an earthquake that's now surrounded by a hedge of thorns. But as Sand explores his strange new surroundings, he starts to realize that whatever cracked the keep and rent a huge tear in the earth couldn't have been just an earthquake because that's not all that's wrong in the castle. There isn't a single thing that hasn't been broken or destroyed in the entire place from bedding and books torn to pieces to tables and anvils shredded in halves. Also, there isn't a single living thing in the castle. The plants (except for the pesky impenetrable thorn hedge) are all dried up, there isn't a mouse or even a fly making a peep. Sand thinks he's all alone with no way out. Until he can figure out the mysteries of how he got in and how he can get out, Sand decides to fix up some things to make his situation livable. He starts with basics like bedding, a spoon, and something to draw water from the well with. As he moves on strange things start happening in the castle, giving Sand clues as to why he is there and what happened in the past.

Activity Tie-ins:
  • Fairy Tales Compare/Contrast: This book is somewhat a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. There are plenty of unique elements and Haskell has definitely made this story her own, but if you look for the Sleeping Beauty-ish parallels you can find them (minus mushy parts, so this is also a good fairy tale option for boys). A good addition to a fairy tale unit. Have students compare and contrast this story with another version of Sleeping Beauty.
  • Mystery/Almost Spooky Tales: There's a big mystery as to what is going on in this story. How did Sand end up in the castle, and why is everything broken? There are elements that have the potential to be spooky, but really don't end up scary at all. A good pick for a mystery unit. See if students can figure out what is going on before Sand. And you can also discuss how Haskell kept you interested without revealing the mystery too soon.
  • Bitterness & Forgiveness: There's a fantastic message about the dangers of bitterness and importance of forgiveness in this story. Great conversation starter.
  • Angels in Bible vs Angels in pop arts: Some angels factor into this story, and provide a good opportunity to compare how angels appear in popular art, literature, etc. and how they are described in the Bible.

Storm Thief by Chris Wooding
Storm Thief is a steam punk dystopia world kept in dystopia by a Chaos Engine (think improbability machine from Hitchhiker but make it non-humorous) that at random times releases probability storms across the island city. The city was evidently created by an ancient people that had amazing technology, but the knowledge of that technology has been lost and the city is pretty much in the Industrial Revolution/Poland pre official WWII (there are ghetto areas of the city) with some unique technology all their own. The probability storms can do anything from rearrange the city streets to give people 3 eyes or change the color of their hair. Also thrown into the mix of issues for the citizens to deal with are things called Revenants which basically turn people into zombies. The two main characters are thieves by necessity and happen on something that changes their lives and ultimately the lives of everyone else on the island. 
Note: There is a fair amount of violence in this, though nothing exceptionally gory. I personally wouldn't hand it to elementary students, but most teenagers should be fine unless they are very sensitive to violence.

Activity Tie-ins:
  • Ethics: The main characters of this book steal out of "necessity" though even they differ on what that means. A great discussion starter for an ethics class. Is there a time when stealing is ok? If so, what is the line?
  • World Building: This book reminded me of several other book settings or historical settings but managed to come off as fairly unique and it's own story. Ask students to brainstorm some of the possible influences/inspirations Chris Wooding drew on for this setting.
  • Zombie Stories That Aren't Too Scary: For the reader who wants a zombie story, but doesn't want blood and guts and gore everywhere, this is a good (and fairly rare) option.
  • Responsive Writing: The Chaos Engine frequently wreaks havoc in the world and people of this story. Have students imagine how they would feel knowing at any moment any part of their world could change. Would there be certain parts they'd wish they could keep the Chaos Engine away from, or parts they'd welcome it to change?
  • Dystopia World Face-off: This book provides a dystopia setting that is pretty scary to think about living in. Have students compare and contrast this with other dystopia worlds and establish a ranking system of most livable to least livable. In other words, which one would you like to live in the least?

There's lots of other great story night reads out there. You could always grab a Poe, and I love Dickens Our Mutual Friend that has fantastic story crafting and a complex mystery (but it does take quite a few nights to read). And of course, Snoopy frequently crafts stories about dark and stormy nights in Peanuts comics. The next couple of Brainstorms will look at some stand-alone mystery books and mystery series recommendations.