Books in the Middle: Reading for Middle School

Our focus is on books middle school students might like to read and topics pertaining to books for these students, and we are giving recommendations. Teachers, librarians and middle school students are the contributors to this blog. If you would like to listen to booktalks of some of these books, please check out this site and enjoy!

Body Snatchers….Literally! July 26, 2013

imgresWho would have thought counterfeiters would want Lincoln’s body? His dead body that is. What would they stand to gain by robbing Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield, IL in 1876? Turns out, a lot. A lot of money, real and fake. Did you know that during the Civil War, half of all money in circulation was fake? Some people were really good at making counterfeit money, and others not so good. So the government, realizing if people couldn’t trust the money in their pockets, there would be no economy, created the Secret Service. Yes, the Secret Service was first created to root out counterfeiters, or coney men, as they were known.

Turns out, good counterfeiters were hard to come by. A man named “Big Jim” (an alias I’m sure you figured out!) was very good at keeping his hands clean by finding good engravers and having them make the fake money, then giving it to others who passed it around. You needed good engravers because the longer the fake money was in circulation, the more real money you could make. If you don’t know how this could be possible, read the book, it explains it really well.

So who was the best engraver around? A guy named Ben Boyd. But the Secret Service guys do their job and they nab him and put him away for 10 years! This means Big Jim is without his best engraver. It also means he’ll try just about anything to get him back. And in this case, anything includes…you guessed it, grabbing Lincoln’s corpse and holding it for ransom!

Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin is a fast paced look at the world of counterfeit money and how desperate times called for desperate measures.

Great read and recommended for grades 6th and up.


Spies…Everywhere! July 9, 2013

I had no idea. Seriously, none, till I read Bomb: The Race to Build – And Steal – The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin just how many spies wereimgres running around during World War II. It was crazy! Americans were spying on Germans, British were spying for Russians, Russians were trying to spy on everyone, and what cracked me up is most of the spying happened between allies!

This all started when it was discovered by a German physicist that a uranium atom could be split. It wasn’t thought possible at the time. That any atom could be split. And when it split, it gave off energy. So what if a bunch of uranium was put in a situation where it was splitting all over the place – that could produce a lot of energy. Energy could equal a bomb. Soon it was a race. The Germans and the rest of the world were engaged in a massive world war. One that if either side got a serious bomb, could change the course of humanity.  The Germans were limited in the resources available to them as well as not many scientists (many had fled before the war began), lack of a material they needed from Norway – heavy water – and the sabotage of the plant that produced it, as well as the fact that physicists stopped publishing their findings, meant Germany had several handicaps.

The United States created a special program lead by Robert Oppenheimer in the desolate area of Los Alamos, New Mexico. Here scientists from all across the country were recruited to help figure out how to take the fact that uranium atoms could split and produce energy and make bombs out of it all before the Germans. For years these people labored to create something with the massive power of destruction, all before “the other guys.” In the process though, many secrets from the United States made it to the Soviet Union.

The amount of spying and who was doing it is staggering. Truly amazing. There were many Americans who spied for the Soviet Union for years. All the clandestine things you think of happening when people spy – really did!

This is a fabulous look at, and explanation of, how humanity harnessed an awesome power and the people who were responsible for creating it.

Recommended for 7th grade and up.