Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Book Review #3- The House Of The Scorpion

File:Emperor scorpion or Imperial scorpion (Pandinus imperator).jpg

     The House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer, is about Matteo "Matt" Alacran, the clone of El Patron, the ruler of a country called Opium. Matt was grown inside a cow from a skin sample from El Patron. He originally lived in a house in a poppy field with Celia, who cooked for the Alacran family, but when he was six, he was discovered by some children who were visiting the Alacrans. They took him to the Alacran house after he cut himself badly on some glass, and the household staff discovered that he was a clone. He was then locked up in a room full of sawdust for six months until Celia found him with the help of Maria, one of the children who found him in the fields, and he was freed. After this, Matt went to live with Celia in an apartment in the Alacrans' house and he was assigned Tam Lin, one of El Patron's bodyguards, to watch over him. Matt lived in the Alacran household for years, feared and hated by everyone except for Maria, Celia, Tam Lin, and El Patron. He thought he was there so that El Patron could be reminded of himself when he was younger, but he later learned that El Patron just wanted him to be used for organ transplants, just like all the other clones. However, when El Patron finally called him to the hospital so that he could take Matt's heart to replace his, Celia revealed that she had fed Matt poison for years so that his heart would be weakened enough so that El Patron would die if he took it. Matt then ran away, escaped into Aztlan, and worked at a plankton factory, where he befriended boys named Chacho, Fidelito, and  Ton-Ton. With the help of Ton-Ton, Matt and his friends escaped from the factory and went to the Convent of Santa Clara, where Maria was living. When he got there, Matt reunited with Maria and learned from her mother,Esperanza, that since El Patron had died, Matt was now considered human. Matt then went back to Opium and learned that at El Patron's funeral, everyone there except a bodyguard who had been warned away by Tam Lin drank from a bottle of wine that El Patron wanted drunk at his funeral. The wine turned out to be poisoned, because El Patron wanted them all with him in the afterlife. Matt then resolved to break down the empire of Opium.

A theme in The House of the Scorpion is, "The truth must be revealed." I saw this theme in the quote, "Matt's education and accomplishments were a sham. It didn't matter how intelligent he was. In the end, the only thing that mattered was how strong his heart was. (p. 216)" This quote shows that Matt had previously thought that El Patron cared for him and wanted him to help run Opium when he grew up, but when he learned that he was just meant to be a heart donor for El Patron, he was able to escape and survive. This theme was also apparent in the quote "'Felicia poisoned Furball,' Maria said. (p. 164)" Maria had believed that Matt poisoned her dog, Furball, but when it was revealed that Felicia had done it, she forgave Matt and thought of him as more humane. Finally, this theme was evident in the quote "But then she said, 'The warehouse full of laudanum is also a myth, I suppose?' (p. 361)" Esperanza, Maria's mother, had wondered how drugs were being distributed in Aztlan, but when she learned that the Keepers were distributing the drugs, she was able to stop them from doing it. These quotes demonstrate that a theme in The House of the Scorpion is, "The truth must be revealed."
     I would recommend The House of the Scorpion to other seventh-grade readers because it is full of excitement. It has a wide variety of believable characters. Also, it contains many motivational messages. All of these things combined make The House of the Scorpion an excellent book. That is why I would recommend it to other seventh-grade readers.

     My favorite character from The House of the Scorpion was Maria Mendoza, daughter of a US senator and a Nobel Peace Prize-winning, anti-slavery mother, and Matt's best friend and eventual love interest. I like Maria because she is a very realistic character. She has many virtues, but she also has many flaws, which can at times be irritating, but also make her extremely believable. Also, she is very enthusiastic and finds beauty in everything. This is why Maria is my favorite character from The House of the Scorpion.

Other books by Nancy Farmer are The Lord of Opium (the sequel to The House of the Scorpion), The Sea of TrollsThe Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, and A Girl Named Disaster.

I got the picture from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emperor_scorpion

More about The House of the Scorpion

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Debate Script

Proposition: Everyone should have to play a sport.

Position: Negative

     I'm Abigail FitzGibbon and I'm debating the negative of the proposition: Everyone should have to play a sport. First, many people dislike playing sports. Second, sports uniforms can be horrible. Third, there are other, better ways to exercise besides playing sports. Fourth, playing a sport often requires that you go on sports trips, which can be unpleasant and unaffordable. This is why everyone should not have to play a sport.

     To start with, there are lots of people who find playing sports loathsome. Some consider sports pointless. Others think that it encourages an unhealthily competitive mindset. Many are not very strong or fast or have little stamina and find the physical exertion needed to ploay a sport unwelcome. There are many sports in which you have to play on a team, and more antisocial people would dislike the interaction with others that being on a team would necessitate. These are all reasons why people hate playing sports.

     Next, many sports require you to wear uniforms, and these uniforms can be appalling for a variety of reasons. Sports uniforms can be in gaudy colors or made out of uncomfortable material. They can be too big, too small, or too revealing. Also, these uniforms can be overly hot or cold, and some are very impractical. If they possess these or other flaws, sports uniforms can be simply awful.

     Also, the main purpose of sports is to help you exercise, but there are better ways to exercise that do not involve playing sports. For example, you could walk, run, hike, bike, or do a variety of other things. Such methods of exercise would not require you to pay money, wear uniforms, do things with a team, or suffer through several other common disadvantages of playing sports. Also, these exercises can be done at any time, but playing a sport can usually only be done at regularly scheduled times. For these reasons, there are much better ways to exercise than by playing sports.

     Finally, playing sports frequently means that you have to go on sports trips, which can be both terrible and impractical. Sports trips usually need you to pay money to go on them, and many families cannot afford to pay this money. However, they may feel obliged to pay if you are on a team, and this could cause a budget crisis. Also, sports trips may be repugnant to those who go on them. You might have to stay in a vile hotel, become sunburned or contract hypothermia due to severe climates, lose precious possessions due to a mishap with luggage, or experience various other nightmarish travesties. As you can see, a sports trip can be a living hell due to many things.

     Everyone should certainly not have to play a sport! If all people had to participate in sports, this could result in mass depression and ennui from those who dislike sports, a veritable plague of irritating uniforms, less use of the many superior ways to exercise, and many terrible sports trips. For the sake of our population's health, wealth and happiness, let playing a sport never be mandatory!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Animal Farm: An Essay

Animal Farm: An Essay


            Animal Farm is a satirical fable by George Orwell.  In this book, animals on a farm rebel against their human masters and start running the farm themselves. Unfortunately, the pigs who become the new leaders of the farm are corrupted by power and become as or more unfair and self-serving than the humans. The story is an allegory of Stalin’s Soviet Union, the communist dictatorship that eventually developed from the destruction of Tsarist Russia. In Animal Farm, the character of Napoleon is a manipulative leader, and the character of Boxer is a blindly trusting follower; both of their behaviors lead to the loss of freedom and equality on Animal Farm.
            Napoleon, who represents Josef Stalin, is one of the pigs who immediately seizes power after The Rebellion and eventually becomes the totalitarian leader of Animal Farm. His manipulation of history and rules leads to the loss of freedom and equality on Animal Farm. Napoleon manipulates history by revising it for his own benefit. Also, he alters the Seven Commandments, which were established before the Rebellion, so that his misdemeanors will be in accord with the principles of Animalism, Animal Farm’s system of thought. In addition, Napoleon lionizes the leader and later outcast, Snowball (who represents Leon Trotsky), as a malevolent figure to keep the other animals in fear, thus making them see Napoleon as a protective figure and their defender against Snowball. As a result of Napoleon’s manipulation, the other animals on Animal Farm believe that he is a good leader and are blinded to the many transgressions he commits.
            Boxer, who represents the Russian working class, is an industrious, somewhat dimwitted horse who is one of Napoleon’s most faithful followers. His blind trust in Napoleon also contributes to the loss of freedom and equality on Animal Farm. Boxer’s repetition of the maxim, “Napoleon is always right,” is one example of his unwavering loyalty. His undaunted faith further reveals itself in his constant determination to work harder, such as his resolution to carry more and more loads of stone for the windmill that the animals build, and his conviction that hard labor is the solution to all the farm’s problems. As a result of Boxer’s blind trust, conditions on Animal Farm continue to steadily deteriorate, as his gullibility leads him time and again to work feverishly against his own interests and those of the other animals.
            In Animal Farm, both Napoleon, the leader, and Boxer, the follower, act in ways that erode the basic liberties of the animals. Napoleon manipulatively uses Boxer’s naiveté to achieve his own selfish ends, demonstrating how power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Orwell’s story shows that communism, while attractive in theory, does not stand up to its’ original ideals in the real world due to human (or, in this case, animal) flaws. The leaders of a communist government often follow closely in the footsteps of the leaders who they have overthrown, as is simply but ingeniously illustrated in Orwell’s quote; “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” On the surface, Animal Farm appears to be a simple fable, but ultimately it seeks to reveal fundamental truths about human nature. 

I got the image from: http://www.irisreading.com/one-book-one-day/day-130-animal-farm-by-george-orwell-speed-reading-it-at-500-wpm/

Monday, February 10, 2014

Pet of the Week

 Pet of the Week

     It was a Friday night in the winter of 2009 as I sat on our worn, black couch, performing an exercise in multitasking. Trust me, it is no small feat to read an old, battered copy of Eragon, eat a bowl of chocolate ice cream, and pet an overly fluffy orange cat simultaneously. However, I was doing quite well, if I do say so myself. Cinderella (who I named when I was six, so do not hold that against me) purred softly as she arched her furry back under my hand. One of my mom's many yoga chant CD's played softly on the stereo, and my mom hummed along as she reclined on our other worn, black couch, reading today's copy of The Sitka Sentinel, our local newspaper. The last cold, sweet, velvety bite of ice cream slid down my throat as I turned the crinkled, dog-eared pages of my book. Idly stroking Cinderella's soft fur, I wondered if my dad was regretting his decision to go for a late-night bike ride in these freezing temperatures yet. Knowing him, it was rather unlikely, and even more improbable that he would admit to it if this were indeed the case. Craning my neck, I peered out the window, looking at the lights from the harbor and the faint silhouette of Mount Edgecumbe in the distance. Our lamps glowed softly, illuminating our dark green carpet, our coffee table, cluttered with books and papers, and our ancient TV in its' wooden cabinet. In short, it was a typical Friday night in the small, rainy, island town of Sitka, Alaska.

     "Hey," said my mom, looking at me over the top of her paper, "do you think that you would want another cat?"

     I thought about it briefly. Just a month ago, we had had two cats, but Prince Charming (again, he was named when I was six) had ventured outside, as he did with some frequency, and never returned. He had never really cared for me, and the feeling had been mutual, so I hadn't really minded his disappearance. We still had Cinderella, but I supposed that another cat might be nice. 

     "Sure," I finally answered. "Why?" I knew that my mom never asked a question without a reason.

     "Well, you know the "Pet of the Week" column that the Sentinel runs every Friday?" 

      "Yeah," I replied. "Pet of the Week" was a column that selected an animal from our local animal shelter that was or would be up for adoption and told you about things like its' personality, age, gender, where it was found or why it was given up, etc. in hopes of getting you to adopt it. It was one of the few parts of the newspaper that I read.

     "Well, this week's pet looks kind of nice. Come see," she told me, beckoning me over. 

     I walked over and examined the column. At the top was a picture of a small kitten, his head cocked quizzically to one side. His eyes glinted in the light from the camera flash, and his dark fur fluffed out around him.

     "It says that he's very friendly, and playful. Haven't you always wanted a cat who would play with you?" Mom inquired.

     "Uh-huh." Our first cat, Nikita, hated my guts. She belonged to my mom before I was born, and always resented that I took up so much of Mom's attention. Then we adopted Prince Charming and Cinderella. Prince Charming was usually too busy eating to play, and Cinderella, though affectionate, was not one for even the slightest physical exertion.  Therefore, we'd never had a playful cat.

     "If you want, we could go over to the shelter tomorrow and see about adopting him," my mom suggested.

     "Really!?" I exclaimed. (Perhaps, to the reader, this seems like the patently obvious conclusion to be drawn from the previous statements, but we all have our little flaws. I'm slow to catch on to things sometimes. Deal with it.)

     "Sure!" she responded. "Of course, we'd need to call the shelter, and we'd want to see him before deciding, and he's a little too young for adoption now, so we'd have to wait a month or two, but we could totally do it!" 

     "Wow! Thanks, Mom!"  I marvelled.

     "You're welcome," my mom said. She grinned.

       The following day, we drove to the shelter in my mom's tiny, ancient, battered car, affectionately nicknamed "the Snowflake," because it was rumored to have once been white back in the days of yore. The thick carpet of moss on the car's hood swayed gently in the breeze as I leaned back in my sheepskin-covered seat, which was rather threadbare and on its' last legs of fluffiness. The faint smell of something that I didn't want to think about wafted out of the glove compartment as the shrill noise of bagpiping, of all things, came from the stereo. I cranked down one of the windows in a futile attempt to air out the car, straining against my tattered seatbelt to see if we were there yet. After an eight-year-old's eternity, the car pulled up to the shelter, wheels crunching on the gravel driveway. As soon as the car came to a complete stop, I unbuckled my seatbelts, jumped out, and sprinted up to the front door. 

     "Hey, slow down!" my mom laughed, stepping out of the car and walking toward me.

     "Sorry," I said sheepishly, bouncing on the balls of my feet. "Can we go in?"

     "Of course!" Mom pushed open the door and stepped inside, with me following.

     We looked down a long, tile-floored hallway, lined with doors on both sides. The fluorescent lights emitted a low, constant hum. The only mar on the professional, pristine appearance of the place was the strong odor of wet fur.

     A tall, brunette woman appeared from around the corner. "Can I help you?" she asked.

     "We're here to see the Pet of the Week, Ms. Buckmaster," my mom answered.

     "Our cats are kept right down here," the alleged Ms. Buckmaster informed us, starting down the hall.

     My mom followed, and I was just about to do so when a poster in one of the windows caught my eye. It showed a tiny gray kitten wearing an oversized pair of glasses crouching by a computer keyboard, eyes focused on the computer's mouse. I leaned down to read the caption at the bottom.

     "Abigail!" my mom called.

     "Coming!" I hurried down the hall. Mom was holding a door open, and I stepped inside. I was met by a small, seething metropolis of cats, playing, napping, and eating busily on a fur-covered gray carpet. A lone "cat tree" stood in one corner, and a fishy smell permeated the air. 

     My attention was immediately caught by the two smallest, fluffiest kittens that I had ever seen, one black and one orange. "Mom, can we get these two?" I asked excitedly, dropping to my knees and holding out a hand to the orange one. I was already thinking of names for them. Peanut Butter and Jelly? Blackberry and Carrot? Halloween and...

     "Sorry, hon," my mom apologized, breaking into my reverie, "but those two are already scheduled for adoption."

     "Aww, man," I grumbled.

     "Well, it's hardly surprising," my mom pointed out. "I mean, look at how tiny they are! Plus, that little orange one is female, and orange female cats are really rare."

     "Oh, well," I sighed.

     "Besides, we're here to look at the Pet of the Week, remember?" Mom reminded me.

     "Sorry, I just got sidetracked. They're just so cute..." I rhapsodized.

     "Aren't they?" she agreed.

     "Yeah. Can I pet one?'

     "Of course!"

     I picked up the little orange one. "Mom, this one can fit in the palm of my hand!"

     "Wow!" my mom exclaimed. She dropped to her knees and was immediately swarmed by cats.

     "Why do they all like you so much?" I asked, slightly envious.

     "I think that they can smell the salmon that I had for lunch," she laughed.

     "Which cat is the Pet of the Week, anyway?" I inquired.

     "That black one over there," Mom answered, nodding her head toward a small, furry shape lurking in the back.

     On hands and knees, I approached him. The tiny black kitten looked up with an inquisitive meow. His enormous ears stuck out from his head, and his large yellow eyes stared at me. I carefully held my hand out for him to sniff. After a few seconds of deliberation, he seemed to decide that I was trustworthy, rubbing my hand with his head. Carefully, I ran my hand along his back. He let out a deep, rumbling, slightly wheezy purr as his huge golden eyes looked up at mine.

     "So, what do you think? Should we get him?" I heard Mom ask.

     I smiled. "Definitely."

     Later, driving home in the car, my mind swam with happy, fuzzy thoughts. 

     My mom said something that I didn't quite hear.

     "Sorry, what?" I asked.

     "I said, what are you going to name your new cat?" she repeated, sounding amused.

     Dozens of names flitted through my mind and were quickly discarded. Then, suddenly, I seized on the perfect name. I felt a warm glow of satisfaction. "His name is Lucky!"

     Two months later, Mom and I brought Lucky home. Today, he still lives with us, happily sleeping in the sun, eating poisonous plants, playing with our other cat, Midnight, further wrecking our already dilapidated furniture, and other miscellaneous cattish activities. Despite frequent misdemeanors, though, Lucky (like Felix) is indeed a wonderful, wonderful cat. Every time I look at him, I am glad that he is mine. While I do not speak Feline (I have so far been unsuccessful in my attempts to take a correspondence course in it), I hope that he is as happy to be living with me as I am to be living with him. When I adopted Lucky, I gained a lifelong friend.