Thursday, July 20, 2017

Back to School: Historical Fiction Resources for the Classroom

The end of summer is looming – depending on where you live, school may be starting in only a couple of weeks. If you'd like to find some new historical fiction resources for your classroom or home school use, check out these sources.

Confessions of a Teaching Junkie has some great resources in her Hooray for Historical Fiction! post. She lists books on the Civil War, Immigration to the US, World War II, and the 1960s/Civil Rights. She also provides guidelines on using Mentor texts and classroom activities.

Scholastic has a post by Tarry Lindquist on Why and How I Teach With Historical Fiction: Why one teacher uses historical fiction in the classroom, tips for choosing good historical fiction, and strategies for helping students differentiate between fact and fiction.

The Curriculum Corner offers a download of Historical Fiction Resources. Some of these sound really interesting, with lessons on Comparing Fact and Fiction, Visualizing the Time Period, comparing books, comparing the past to today, and thinking about how characters in the story might present themselves in modern social media. The package also offers journal response pages, a comic strip template, book club celebration ideas, and much more.

Share My Lesson has thousands of items under the Historical Fiction heading, including general lessons for reading/understanding/writing historical fiction, and lesson plans for specific books. You can find my lesson plans for The Well of Sacrifice (pre-Columbian Mayan times), The Eyes of Pharaoh, and The Genie's Gift here as well. As a bonus, all of the lessons here are free!

Teachers Pay Teachers offers a variety of lesson plans when searching for historical fiction. Prices vary from free to over $20. A teacher has provided an extensive, chapter by chapter guide to my novel, The Well of Sacrifice, for $14, or you can get lesson plans I've provided for free. The site also has, for free, A CCSS-Aligned Guide for The Eyes of Pharaoh, my middle grade novel set in ancient Egypt, and a Teaching Guide for The Genie's Gift, a middle grade historical fantasy set in the time of the Ottoman Empire.

Teacher Vision has over 150 items tagged as Historical Fiction, including many book discussion guides.

If you are interested in getting classroom sets of The Eyes of Pharaoh or The Genie's Gift at a discount, contact the publisher, Spellbound River Press, or order direct through Ingram.

Chris Eboch is the author of over 40 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Her writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Noah’s Flood and the Archaeological Discoveries. by Elizabeth. W, C. Junner

It has been an unusually wet year in Québec. So wet it got me thinking Noah's Flood would be an appropriate theme for this blog.
In their book, Noah’s Flood, William Ryan and Walter Pitman illustrate ‘the new scientific discoveries about the event that changed history’ with fascinating accounts of Henry C. Rawlinson and George Smith and their tremendous contribution to historical data.
Henry Creswicke Rawlinson, aged 17, volunteered as a cadet to the East India Company in1827. On the four month voyage by clipper ship from England to India, young Rawlinson enjoyed much stimulating discourse with the Governor of Bombay. The Governor aroused a passion for Persia’s history, religion and ancient languages in Henry. From his new friend Henry also obtained a detailed account of the studies on ancient Hindu history and religious texts written in archaic Sanskrit made by the English High Court judge, Sir William Jones, while he was serving in Calcutta.
The oldest of these texts, the Rig-Veda, depicted the history of Manu, an Aryan. Manu was warned a deluge would cover the earth and that therefore he should prepare a ship which would carry him, his family, and livestock to safety on a high mountain. During his intensive studies Sir William noted a link in some common words and in syntax between Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, Welsh, early German, and Persian.
Rawlinson was struck by the similarity between the age-old Hindu text and the Biblical account in Genesis of a great flood and of one man building a huge ship three storeys high in which he housed two of every species. But what really excited Henry was the judge’s discovery of the link in all those ancient tongues – did they have a common wellspring? What treasures from the earliest history of man might lie buried beneath the desert sands?
 Fresh from studying the classics, Henry easily became fluent in Persian, Arabic, and Hindustani. He took a post with the First Grenadier Guards Regiment which was stationed in Bombay and in March, 1835, as an officer with the company, he was sent to Kermanshah, Persia, to act as military advisor to the Shah’s brother.While in Kermanshah he visited Persepolis and strolled amidst the tombs of the ancient kings. Seized by the thought one of them could be that of King Darius l, the Great, Rawlinson hired a Kurdish boy as a guide to help him find it. 
The lad led him to the great Behistun Rock, the first time anyone from the western world had even heard about the rock’s existence, let alone seen the great vertical slab. Here, in ancient cuneiform script, was the proclamation of Darius the Great. One can only imagine the electric thrill which shot through young Henry as he viewed the writing in the massive rock.
Desperate to examine and copy the script into his notebook, and then to interpret it, Henry had himself lowered down the sheer face by a daring means of ropes and ladders. Though an experienced climber, he nearly lost his life at one point. However, over the course of two years he interpreted enough of the inscriptions on the rock to send his findings to the Royal Asiatic Society in London where he was acclaimed as the first person to crack the cuneiform code.

In that same autumn of 1835, Charles Darwin finished five weeks of observing the Galapagos Finches. His observations on these, and his assertion that man and animal shared a common ancestry electrified  Victorian society; he shocked the  religious Victorians and delighted the scientists.  Rawlinson’s discovery of the Behistun Rock and Darwin’s theories were both major talking points. Which was truth, the  Biblical story or evolution from amoeba?
In 1840, the levees along the banks of the Tigris collapsed under torrential rain. The resultant flood buried the streets of Baghdad under a layer of mud several feet thick, and houses and walls crumbled under the rushing waters. Around this time a young English adventurer, Austen Henry Layard, visited Kermanshah, saw the Behistun Rock, the as-yet undeciphered Babylonian and Elamite scripts, and Rawlinson’s translations.
Fired by the desire to recover ruins of antiquity himself, Layard returned to Mosul a year or so later and with thirty Bedouin labourers uncovered the city of Nimrud, the second ruling capital of Assyria. They unearthed huge sculptured slabs and frescoes, but perhaps the most breathtaking find for Layard were two immense winged bulls with human heads – the guardians of the city gates. However, his poor awestruck workers fled in terror at sight of the monstrous beasts, as did the crowd of onlookers!

Great were the ancient treasures Layard unearthed and shipped back to England. When he had finished his dig at Nimrud, he returned to Mosul, still filled with the desire to seek the ancient cities buried in the sand. In particular, he wanted to investigate Kuyunjik but he needed caution, since the site was an Islamic shrine and cemetery.
He was rewarded. At the north gate the diggers uncovered a pair of winged creatures that dwarfed even the gigantic bulls of Nimrud.  After coming on the limestone slabs of a great palace, with Rawlinson’s help translating, Layard learned he had discovered the fabled Nineveh of Sennacherib. They
found the royal library of King Assurbanipal, the floor of which was littered with clay tablets, many broken but a good number still intact. Rawlinson could not decipher the script, so he turned the task over to his protégé, the gifted linguist George Smith, who determined the writing was  Akkadian, a Semitic tongue.
The fragments George Smith assembled with painstaking care revealed a heathen hand had, two and a half thousand years earlier, recounted the story of Noah almost exactly as given in Genesis  Obsessed by the scriptures since he could read, this was treasure beyond George's wildest dreams. The history of modern man!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Taking the Present Out of the Past

By Suzanne Morgan Williams

This spring, thanks to a grant from Nevada Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, I had the opportunity to interview a number of historians and cultural experts for my work-in-progress. It’s historical novel set in the 1600s in Massachusetts. Creating that world, where people’s knowledge and belief systems are so different from our own, feels a bit like writing fantasy or sci-fi. I’m building a lot of the world from the ground up. Yes, I can identify the trees, animals, and the weather. I’m pretty sure anger was still ugly and that people wanted to be loved. But how did they feel about themselves? Did they expect the same things we do? I’m convinced their views on heaven, hell, and this earth in between were very, very different.

I asked one historian what pitfalls I might face in developing my teen girl protagonist. He almost slapped his palm to his face and said, “Just don’t make her a spunky red-headed girl.” Then he talked to me about “presentism.” His premise was that people in the past, and particularly in the early colonial era, really didn’t want the same things that we do; that their main concerns were far removed from ours. (Although I’ll postulate that their emotional reactions were undoubtedly similar.) I’ve had a similar discussion with a writer friend who is active in educating other writers and illustrators about different perspectives in our diverse world. As a Muslim woman, she objects to Muslim girl characters being given motives by non-Muslim writers that she believes are not true to their cultural and religious background. We have to be careful – not everyone is just like us.

Of course, when an author creates a fictional character, we are in charge of their wants and fears, their motives and reactions. But for me, in writing a historical novel that children will use to augment their take on history, I need to keep the milieu of that time and place authentic. I don’t know if I’ve ever been quite as challenged by that as I am now. I’m trying to create characters living 450 years ago – before we knew about infectious diseases, electricity, or believed in equal rights. It was the time when religion was so closely tied to politics and class that dividing the three, in our modern way, is almost impossible and not very useful. The afterlife was not just a promise but also a threat. Writings from that era seem distressingly black and white. But I’m sure life itself was as messy and nuanced as it is today. How to capture that?

The easy part of excising “presentism” from my writing, is finding metaphors that can’t work – “An electric current ran up my arm,” for example. Electricity had yet to be “discovered.” The harder part is making the characters relatable to today’s readers while staying true to the history and without making them seem stilted or ignorant. They were people of their times as are we. If I can get that message across, that they had their own struggles and found ways to deal with them, then I’ve succeeded. Wish me luck.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

BOOK A TRIP by Mary Louise Sanchez

Summertime is traditionally the time people like to travel. When I was younger, my family was inclined to travel close to home—usually someplace where we had relatives who would put us up for a few days or a week; and because we didn't have the financial means to travel far. When I got married, our travels still took us to places where we had family. In fact, I physically had never been east of Nebraska until I was in my 40s. Then, when our son and daughter-in-law moved to Philadelphia, we saw parts of the United States we had only read about. That was when the travel bug hit my husband and me hard.

But, I didn't realize I had really been bitten by the travel bug at a much younger age, as a young reader.  I was a good reader as a young child, but didn't have access to a large library. However, there were two books I read in third grade that greatly impacted my desire to explore the world beyond my small borders. One book was Heidi. In the story, I was transported to the Alp Mountains where Heidi traipsed the mountain side with the goats and the goat herder, Peter.

In the 1980s my husband and I got hooked watching Rick Steves and his European travel shows. We decided that we needed to travel beyond our borders and we even had some experience maneuvering subways by then.  What fun we had planning our month long trip to France, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain. When we got to Switzerland, we traveled to the Jungfrau region where my vision of the Heidi experience came alive. Although the mountains we saw were only 4,000 feet high (Colorado has many over 14,000 feet), they looked like mountains children draw with pointed peaks. I swear, the cows and goats stood lopsided on the sides of the mountains too—just as I had imagined the goats feeding on the mountain side in Heidi!

The other book that fed my travel bug in third grade was a Row, Peterson and Company  reader called If I Were Going. In the book, we readers followed Alice and Jerry's neighbors, the Sanders, as they traveled to Europe on a steam ship. One of their destinations was Spain where they roamed the narrow streets lined with white roofed houses and orange trees. Their child guide took the Sanders to a guitar shop.
When my husband and I were in Seville, we roamed the Jewish quarter where the roofs were white and we searched for and found a guitar shop, just like one Mr. and Mrs. Sanders may have visited on their trip to Spain.  Thankfully, vintage books are available for purchase on the internet and I can now venture around the world with Mr. and Mrs. Sanders just as I remember in third grade.

As a teacher/librarian in the elementary school, I developed family reading programs each year. One of those programs was called BOOK A TRIP. I introduced the program by showing the kids my own passport, my lightly packed suitcase, and books that inspired my visits to the various countries we had visited.

My clerk and I gathered fiction and non-fiction books from the library that dealt with countries around the world and made a database of them. We also put a dot with a symbol by the book barcodes so we could put the books in the appropriate continent bins when the books were checked in. Students who joined the program had laminated passports posted on the library wall, with the student's picture and a page for each continent. When the students met the requirements for each continent, they received a continent stamp on that page of the passport. Our culminating activity was a family celebration where we served desserts from around the world.

So many of our school children do not have  opportunities to venture beyond their own neighborhoods, let alone to see the world. We need to give them resources to look into lives and places different from their own.
We also need to show children where these places are in relationship to where the children live. I often introduced stories with a globe, showing the children where we lived and where we were going to in the story.  One could even flag countries with books that have that setting.

We never know the impact we have on students or the books that will touch their lives, so we need to passionate about inspiring our students to discover their world. When my husband and I travel now, we try to take a children's book with that country's setting to give to a local child. Granted, the book is in English, but I believe the child is excited is see their own country in a story.

Simple techniques, like I've presented, can open the world for children and promote peaceful co-existence. As Mark Twain said, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

What places in the world have you/or your students traveled to in a story? Where would you/they like to go? What story settings in the world would meet curricular needs?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Sara K Joiner: Environment and History

While I was researching After the Ashes, I learned about the impact environmental disasters can have on people and geography. Sometimes these disasters happen without warning, such as the volcanic eruption and tsunamis that resulted from Krakatoa's eruption. Other times, these disasters take time for their effects to have an impact.

There are a number of great books that use environmental disasters as a key element of the plot.

Andrea White's novel Radiant Girl is set in Pripyat near the Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union when nuclear facility melts down in 1986. Katya, the main character, is looking forward to the opening of a new amusement park when disaster strikes in the middle of the night. People she knows and cares for are killed in the initial explosion, and her entire world is turned upside down when the government moves her family from their comfortable home in Pripyat to an apartment in Odessa.

The Last Girls of Pompeii by Kathryn Lasky is set in the ancient Roman city in the year 79. Main character Julia has a disability and relies on her slave Mitka for help, comfort and friendship. When Mount Vesuvius erupts and shatters their world, the two girls have only themselves to rely on if they want to survive.

In The Killing Sea by Richard Lewis, white American Sarah and Indonesian Ruslan are forced to work together after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Both have been impacted by the disaster, and both need to reach help. Along the way they learn they have more in common than they realized.

Jame Richards' Three Rivers Rising, a novel in verse, is set during the 1889 Johnstown Flood in Pennsylvania. Main character Celestia loves a boy from the wrong side of the tracks which leads to her being disowned by her family. Taking shelter with the boy's family, she is living in Johnstown when the dam breaks and millions of cubic feet of water coming rushing into town.

When it comes to talking about environmental disasters that have shaken the world, you also need to look at nonfiction to learn about the causes and effects of these catastrophes. Dangerous Planet: Natural Disasters That Changed History by Bryn Barnard does just that. Readers learn about the Great Fire of London, the blizzard that led to the creation of the New York Subway, and deforestation that changed the course of Ethiopia's history.

The effects of the environment on history are far-reaching and impact us in ways we can never imagine. Thankfully, through historical fiction, we can place ourselves right at the center of those historic events.

Sara K Joiner is the author of After the Ashes. She is also a public librarian.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

History from a Dog's-Eye view

Any story with a dog is usually a hit for me, but what about a story told by a dog? That's a home run in my book, so I was thrilled when I found the Dog Chronicles, a series of middle readers by Alison Hart and illustrated by Michael Montgomery, published by Peachtree.

These books focus on exciting and often lesser known history that will pique the interest of readers 7-10 years of age. You can also find free teacher's guides at the link above. The following excerpts are from the Peachtree website:

Murphy: Gold Rush Dog

"Join Murphy as he finds a home with Sally and Mama, who have recently arrived in gold-rush era Alaska to seek a new life."

“Equal parts heart-wrenching and -warming…its message of the value of love over greed is as subtle as it is powerful. An adventure-filled tale set within a fascinating period of history.” ―Kirkus Reviews

You can find another great gold rush read in Jasper and the Riddle of Riley's Mine.

Finder: Coal Mine Dog

"When Thomas’s family needs money, he and his dog, Finder, are forced to go to work in the coal mines."

“Well-told and entertaining.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“Suspenseful.” ―Horn Book Guide

Darling: Mercy Dog of World War I

"When the British military asks families to volunteer their dogs to help the war effort, Darling’s family sends her off to be trained."

“While never shying away from the tragedies of battle, Darling’s story focuses on bravery, sacrifice and devotion….Wartime adventure with plenty of heart.” ―Kirkus Reviews

For more good dog stories, see Elizabeth Junner McLaughlin's post Dogs at War

Leo: Dog of the Sea

I missed the history of the spice trade when I was young. Considering how it changed the world, I was thrilled to find this reader.

"A hardened old sea dog joins Magellan on his journey to the Spice Islands in this action-packed and heartwarming story."

“Frank history, attention to factual detail, and vivid adventures make this a standout.” —Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

Michele Hathaway is a writer and freelance editor. She has an M. A. in Social Anthropology and has worked in libraries in California, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania. She writes stories set in culturally diverse, historical and contemporary periods.

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Books and Websites on Ancient Egypt for Classroom Use, by Chris Eboch

A mystery in ancient Egypt for middle grade readers, teachers and homeschool
I love ancient Egypt, as you might guess by my middle grade mystery, The Eyes of Pharaoh. Here are some books that teachers could use in the classroom or parents could use for homeschool lessons. These are primarily nonfiction and folktales, but pair them with some historical fiction for a great series of lessons on ancient Egypt. (Get CCSS lesson plans for The Eyes of Pharaoh here.)

The Curse of the Pharaohs: My Adventures with Mummies, by Zahi Hawass – written by an Egyptian archaeologists who is the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. The book discusses ancient and modern ideas of mummy curses. While Dr. Hawass sometimes feels the tug of ancient magic, he does a good job of refuting the idea of a curse. He shares many personal stories from his years as an archaeologist. His passion and enthusiasm for archaeology shine through.

Your Travel Guide to Ancient Egypt, Nancy Day – A fun overview of life in ancient Egypt, written as a guidebook for the history traveler. This helps bring the past to life for kids on a more personal level.

Understanding Egyptian Myths, by Sheri Doyle – this book shares some myths from ancient Egypt in story form, along with background information to help them make sense. Readers may be surprised to find an ancient Egyptian version of Cinderella, as well as the classic fable of “The Lion and the Mouse.”

Spend the Day in Ancient Egypt: projects and activities that bring the past to life, by Linda Honan, illustrated by Ellen Kosmer – though addressed directly to children, teachers will find lots of great classroom projects, including games, jewelry, masks, clothing, statues, and recipes. Most projects have simple and inexpensive materials.

Pyramid, by David Macaulay – a bit dry, but lots of detailed information on how pyramids were made. In particular, budding engineers will enjoy learning how ancient Egyptians determined true North, moved massive stone blocks, and achieved other great engineering feats.

Tutankhamen and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, by Zahi Hawass; photographs by Kenneth Garrett – Looking at life and death in ancient Egypt via the famous young Pharaoh. Friendly, enthusiastic writing and nice photos in a large format.

Egyptian Myths, retold by Jacqueline Morley; illustrated by Giovanni Caselli. These stories of good and evil would work well for reading aloud. Teachers could discuss the themes with students, and compare some stories to similar tales from other cultures.

How Would You Survive As an Ancient Egyptian? by Jacqueline Morley; illustrated by John James; created & designed by David Salariya – Information is broken up into tiny bites. Each double-page spread has a topic, such as In the Workshop, Women in Society, or Entertainment. Each spread has a short overview and dozens of small illustrations with additional information. For kids who like to collect facts, but don’t like big blocks of text, this is perfect.

Valley of the Golden Mummies, by Zahi Hawass. This coffee table book is not exactly typical classroom material, but the public library might have a copy. Kids will likely enjoy browsing the extensive full-color photographs, which include dig sites and close-ups of many paintings and artifacts. The language of the text is more appropriate for high school students or adults.

Websites: – Dr. Hawass shares news about archaeology, protecting antiquities, and great discoveries in Egypt. - The British Museum’s ancient Egypt site – Information on daily life, gods and goddesses, pharaohs, mummification, pyramids, and more. –NOVA will let you wander through if you follow an excavation.

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Chris Eboch’s novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Her writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting

Learn more at or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog. Get CCSS lesson plans for teachers or homeschool for The Eyes of PharaohThe Well of Sacrifice, and The Genie’s Gift at her website.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Boy in MI6, by Elizabeth Junner McLaughlin

  "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent." On March 5th, 1946 Sir Winston Churchill made his immortal statement at Westminster College and woke the western world to an awareness of the hidden but deadly battles between the proponents of Communism in the east and the supporters of Democracy in the west after the recent hard-won freedom from the quest for world dominance by the Nazis and Imperial Japan. The freedom of speech, action, and movement enjoyed in the west was still endangered by Joseph Stalin and his Kremlin henchmen.

     While the free world had ceased from open warfare, it was now entrenched in the equally deadly Cold War, made all the more dangerous because it was so clandestine
            When Mikhail Gorbachev appeared on the Russian scene he set in motion a transparency of government unknown since the murders and overthrow of the Romanovs. Under what he termed 'Glasnost' Russia became much more open to the west. The Berlin Wall fell in November, 1989, and with the dissolution of the Soviet States, it appeared that the West’s worries about megalomaniacs bent on seizing total power and world government were over. 

But are they?  Anthony Horowitz' Alex Rider series would have it otherwise. The series' protagonist, Alex Rider, finds himself embroiled in one hair-raising adventure after another, depending on whatever is the current threat to freedom. This series of action books has been remarkably successful in coaxing reluctant readers to keep asking for more.

 When the police turn up on your doorstep at three in the morning, it is never good news. The first ring of the doorbell woke up fourteen-year-old Alex Rider; as soon as he heard the policemen speaking in 'funeral voices' to Jack, the American girl who lived with them and cooked for Alex when his uncle was away, he knew Ian Rider was dead.

Ian - he hated the word uncle - had raised Alex since he was a few weeks old, after his parents had been killed in a plane crash. He was a quiet man, who dressed beautifully, never smoked, and enjoyed good food and wine. Superbly fit himself, he made sure Alex was proficient in as many athletic pursuits as possible. Ian enrolled Alex in karate classes, took him on skiing, climbing and boating holidays in exotic locations. In short, he was the uncle any boy would have delighted in. Yet always the man remained an enigma to Alex. He had no girlfriends; he didn't seem to have any friends at all, and Alex had never been inside Ian's room, not even when he was away, since the door was kept locked at all times.

The police said Ian wasn't wearing a seat-belt when he was involved in a head-on collision at a roundabout. Alex knew this couldn't possibly be true; his uncle was ultra-particular about safety, and had a thing about seat-belts. In any case, it is impossible to have a head-on at a roundabout unless someone is going the wrong way…

Ian had worked for the Royal & General bank as Overseas Finance Manager, and was away on bank business more often than he was home. Sometimes he returned with injuries and bruises, for which he always had a plausible explanation.
     At the funeral Crawley, the bank’s Personnel Officer, pointed out Alan Blunt. ”That’s the Bank Chairman,” he told Alex. Grey hair, grey eyes, grey clothes, everything about the man was grey. Alex disliked him on sight. Later as Blunt strode to his car when the funeral was over, Alex spotted the chauffeur carried a gun inside his jacket. Catching Blunt's eye on him, Alex realized the Chairman knew he had seen his driver's gun.
        Alex and Jack elected to walk home after the funeral. As they turned into their street, he saw there was a removal van outside Ian's house; it had the name STRYKER & SON painted on the side. That was all Alex had time to note before the van shot off. Inside the house, Alex saw that a letter which had previously been on the hall table was now lying on the floor. While Jack went to the kitchen, Alex hastened upstairs to check on Ian's room. The door had been unlocked. Going in, Alex found the room empty – desk drawers, shelves, clothes cupboards – everything of Ian Rider was gone, as if he had never existed.
     Sure there was something fishy about Ian's death, Alex tracked down Stryker's and found it was a breaker's yard. There he found Ian's car, riddled with bullet holes along the driver's side. Alex crawled inside to check for any clues but he was spotted and had a narrow escape from his own death right there.

            Summoned to Blunt's office to hear the details of Ian's will, Alex discovered the bank was only a front for the office of Britain's secret service, MI6. Alan Blunt was the Chief Executive of the Special Operations division, and Ian Rider had been one of their best men. He was gunned down by a Russian assassin, Yassen Gregorovich, who had been hired by one Herold Sayle. A genius in computer technology, a multi-billionaire, and friends with the Prime Minister, Sayle had developed a state-of-the-art computer, Stormbreaker, which he planned to distribute to every British school. The computers were to be activated at the precise moment the Prime Minister activates the one donated to the Science Museum. However, Mr. Sayle was not quite the philanthropist he appeared to be; and just before he was murdered Ian Rider had been close to uncovering Sayle's real purpose in delivering the Stormbreakers.   

      Blunt and his deputy,Mrs. Jones, coerce Alex to help M16 in their efforts to defeat Sayle. 
     At first Alex was quite keen, since he thought he would be given weapons like James Bond. Even Blunt considered him too young for lethal weapons, but at Mrs. Jones’ insistence, he did have Alex equipped with 'Bond-type toys' before he was despatched to a boarding school in Cornwall. This was where MI6 believed Sayle had his headquarters.
     To say any more would be to spoil the story! Suffice to say there is lots of action, suspense, and danger for Alex. 

The second book in the series, Point Blanc, sees our hero off to the Alps. Alex had exposed a drug dealer who was touting merchandise at his school. Unfortunately, in doing so he caused some damage to the brand new police conference centre. To keep him out of jail, MI6 stepped in with a new assignment – attend a school for the troubled sons of multimillionaires. This school was run by a South African scientist at a remote location in the French Alps. Apparently, when the boys returned on their first vacation from the school they were models of good behaviour. Two of the fathers had died in mysterious accidents after trying to investigate the too-sudden turnaround in their sons’ behaviour. One was an American Electronics multimillionaire, and the other a Russian General, ex-KGB and one of the most powerful men in the world. Alex was told find out what is being done to turn rebellious, unruly boys into childish versions of the Stepford Wives.

Skeleton Key is the name given a fictional island off Cuba and the setting for the third book in the series. The story begins with General Alexei Sarov purchasing uranium, then sending the men who delivered it to their deaths.
Meanwhile, in London, Alex was despatched to Wimbledon in the guise of a ball boy, taxed with finding out about suspected match fixing. In self-defence, he kills a Chinese Triad gang member, so for his own safety MI6 send him to Skeleton Key with two CIA agents, who are to pose as his parents. The agents are most unhappy at having Alex thrust upon them, and refuse to give him any indication why they are on Skeleton Key, even when he has saved the life of one agent.
Eventually Alex suspects Sarov is preparing to launch a nuclear bomb and they are hunting for evidence and information. Grudgingly, the agents admit both CIA and MI6 know that Sarov and his minion, Conrad, are enemies of freedom who seek the return of communism and one world government. They were well aware Sarov has the makings of a huge nuclear bomb. In the end, after many twists and turns, all the adults who had been with him having been killed Alex is the only one left, who can foil their evil intentions. 

The fourth book, Eagle Strike, is set in the French Riviera where Alex was on vacation with Sabina
and her parents, who had a holiday home there. She was the girl he met while a ball boy at Wimbledon. Alex encounters Yassen Gregorovich, the assassin who killed Ian Rider. So when the holiday house explodes, supposedly due to a gas leak, Alex suspects Gregorovich. He later meets a photographer who tells him Sabina’s father was investigating a mad pop star, Cray, and that Gregorovich is working for Cray. Alex called M16 to alert them, but for once Alan Blunt is not interested in recruiting his help. For some strange reason – political expediency, he said – Blunt is unwilling to touch Cray.  Then Gregorovich is himself killed by Cray. While he lies dying, he tells Alex that his father, John Rider, was also an assassin. Alex must have shown disbelief for Gregorovich says if he doesn’t believe him, Alex should search for something called Scorpia. To do this, he will have to go to Venice. In the meantime, Alex and Sabina have to stop Cray somehow.

In the fifth book, aptly named Scorpia, Alex lucks in to a school trip to Italy, and of course, Venice. This is his chance to find out the truth about his parents. This time, the evil antagonist is a woman, a beautiful and very wealthy American widow who hates America and Britain and is out to totally destroy both. One unintentionally funny episode is when the tiger skin rug reveals itself to be a real, live, and hungry Siberian Tiger which is intent on using Alex as an hors d’oeuvre.
Was his father truly an assassin? If he was, what did that make him? Alex is worried and confused, but all the more determined, come hell or high water (he is in Venice) to find out.
To conclude this blog I asked a young reader for his comments on the series. Here's what he wrote in reply:

'I found the books to be action-packed, easy reading page turners. Alex Rider is a likeable character, and the books have interesting story lines. However I found that after the first three books the beginnings became too repetitive. 
Alex was constantly saying that he wanted to quit being an agent, yet time after time he would somehow be convinced to go on another mission. I didn't like the fact that whenever the main character got into a very dangerous situation I knew that he was always going to make it out alive. I found that because Alex was basically the only character that was constantly in the story I knew nothing too terrible would happen to him.
I have nine of the books, and honestly I got bored because the series was too long. It would have been better if it ended at five or six books. But I do recommend the books.'



Just one more cover! Last I read, #17 was on the way, at readers' requests.