Fuzzy Mud

I finished another of next year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees a couple of days ago, but I decided to wait a little while to write about it. Why, you ask? Well…I didn’t want to. I was on spring break, and I wanted to do as little as possible during the last few hours until I went back to work. I succeeded, and it was wonderful. Now, though, it’s back to the grind for me, so here we go.

On Sunday, after all of my family Easter festivities were over, I finished reading Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar. This was a quick, interesting read that could lead upper elementary and middle grade readers to think more about the environmental impact of the things around them.

If only they’d walked home on their normal route…

Tamaya Dhilwaddi and Marshall Walsh always walk to and from school together, and they always take the long way around the woods. One day, however, Marshall changes things up. In an effort to avoid Chad Hilligas, a bully who’s been making his life miserable, Marshall decides to walk home by taking shortcut through the woods. Tamaya is not exactly happy about this plan, but her mom won’t allow her to walk home alone, so she follows Marshall.

It doesn’t take long for Tamaya to realize that Marshall doesn’t know where he’s going. What’s more, Chad has caught up with them and is bent on making Marshall his own personal punching bag. In an effort to get Chad away from Marshall, Tamaya scoops up a handful of strange, fuzzy mud and flings it into Chad’s face. She and Marshall then run away, and, a little worse for wear, they eventually make their way home.

After her adventure in the woods, Tamaya notices that her hand is tingly and has what looks like a rash on it. She tries to take care of it herself, but it keeps getting worse. Could it possibly be caused by the fuzzy mud she hurled at Chad? If so, does his face look as bad as her hand does?

When Tamaya discovers that Chad is missing after their encounter in the woods, she becomes determined to find him and get him the help he probably needs. Marshall isn’t as eager to go looking for Chad, but he eventually follows Tamaya into the woods…where they find even more of the fuzzy mud and Chad, who is not doing well at all.

Something weird is going on in these woods, and Tamaya, Marshall, and Chad have–literally–stepped into a big mess. What they uncover could have huge implications for their school, their town, and the entire world.

What exactly is this fuzzy mud? Why is it causing such an odd rash? Is there a cure? What (or who) created the fuzzy mud, and can anything stop it from spreading? You’ll have to figure that out for yourself…

Like I indicated previously, I think this book could start some discussions on the environmental impact of industry and innovation. Most kids probably won’t deal with something as potentially disastrous as what occurs in Fuzzy Mud, but they do need to be aware of how much their lives could be impacted by governments, industries, and decisions made by others. Don’t believe me? Take a good look at the water situation in Flint, Michigan.

Fuzzy Mud also handles a couple of issues beyond the environment and unintended consequences. It addresses bullying and what may be causing a kid to act out. It addresses courage in the face of scary situations. At one point, Tamaya thinks to herself, “If not her, who?” No one else was really even looking for Chad when he was missing, so she did. It wasn’t easy, and she was scared; nevertheless, she persisted. An important lesson, wouldn’t you say?

I encourage you to share this book with readers in upper elementary and middle grades. It’s a fast, fun, intriguing read that’s sure to leave you thinking long after you’ve read it.

For more information on Fuzzy Mud and other books by Louis Sachar, visit this award-winning author’s website.


The Kill Order

While it’s not absolutely vital that you read the entire Maze Runner series (The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials, and The Death Cure) before reading this prequel, it is highly recommended! Like Star Wars, this is a case where knowing what happens later helps people make sense of the horror unfolding before their eyes (and I’m not just talking about Jar Jar Binks).

Way back in January of 2011, I began reading James Dashner’s Maze Runner series. I finished the third book, The Death Cure, in December of that same year. Well, it’s now January of 2013, and I’ve finally finished reading The Kill Order, the prequel to this exciting–and completely terrifying–series. Maybe I’m not remembering just how awful (in a good way) the first three books were, but it seems to me that The Kill Order was much more graphic and intense than its predecessors. This prequel tells readers what happened in the immediate aftermath of the sun flares, and I, for one, was extremely disturbed by the description of events. (I should note that I’m a little paranoid, so it was all too easy for me to imagine these things actually happening…especially when you consider how rapidly the climate is changing.) Like the original Maze Runner trilogy, reading The Kill Order was like watching a car accident. You know it will probably give you nightmares and/or scar you for life, but you just can’t look away from the devastation.

Mark remembers what it was like when the sun flares hit. He remembers wondering if his family was okay, what was happening in other parts of the world, and if he’d make it out alive. He remembers…but he wishes he could forget. As nightmares of the past plague him, Mark lives day-to-day in the post-flare world. He has journeyed from his home in New York City to western North Carolina with a few fellow travelers:  Trina, his best friend; Alec and Lana, former soldiers who’ve been key to the group’s survival; and a few other fellow refugees from what was once the most thriving city in the world. They’ve made some semblance of a life for themselves, but even the decimation of the world they once knew cannot prepare them for the destruction that is to come…

When Mark and his friends first see the Berg in the sky, they think that maybe help is on the way. When people in Hazmat suits start shooting those below with darts, however, it becomes clear that help is the last thing they can expect. As Mark sees those around him struck–and possibly killed–by these mysterious darts, he knows that his only hope is escape…or maybe getting on that Berg to find out what’s really going on. So that’s what he and Alec do, but they never expected to find that the darts that seemingly came from nowhere held a highly contagious virus. What purpose could anyone possibly have for shooting people with a deadly virus? And can Mark and Alec save the friends they left behind?

When the Berg they boarded unexpectedly crashes, Mark and Alec break away from the wreckage and make their way back to their camp. The find their friends, but they’re not exactly prepared for what else they find. The darts shot from the Berg killed many people in their settlement immediately. Some, however, seem to be suffering from the strange virus that was contained in the darts. People are going mad, losing their grip on sanity in a matter of days, hours, minutes. And the virus is spreading. Mark doesn’t know how many of his friends are infected–or if he is infected himself–but he, along with others, become determined to leave behind the closest thing they had to a home and discover just what is going on…and how they could possibly stop it before it claims one of them.

Mark and company encounter unspeakable horrors on their journey, including a cult-like group (most of whom have been infected by the virus and driven mad) that believes that the virus was sent by demons. The group is suspicious of anyone around them, including a little girl, Deedee, who is somehow immune to the virus that has laid waste to nearly everyone else. Mark and his friends take the little girl with them, but that doesn’t stop these people from wanting to harm her–and those who would protect her–for being unaffected by the virus.

Eventually, Mark and Alec get separated from those remaining in their small party:  Trina, Lana, and Deedee. As they try to reunite with their friends–before the dreaded virus claims one of them as its next victim–Mark and Alec find the place that serves as headquarters to the Bergs that wreaked havoc on their former settlement and their friends. It is here they learn more about this virus…and the intent behind its creation. As they learn more and more about this virus–and how it is mutating–they realize that their hope of survival is almost nil…but there is someone who has a small measure of hope. If they can get Deedee to people who’ll know what to do with her immunity, there may be some hope for all of humanity. If they don’t, the virus that is driving everyone insane will spread exponentially, and all of humankind will be lost.

Can Mark and his friends do what needs to be done to possibly save the world? And what will happen if they succeed? What will become of Deedee? Just how important is an immune child in a world ravaged by disease, and what will be done to her in the quest to reverse the damages done? Begin answering these questions and so many more when you read The Kill Order, the thrilling prequel to James Dashner’s Maze Runner trilogy.

Just like the other books in this series, I really liked The Kill Order. Yes, it was extremely dark and the violence was the very definition of graphic, but the book kept me on the edge of my seat (and even managed to induce a couple of nightmares). It definitely made me think about how our current society would react if something similar were to happen. I honestly don’t think we would fare much better.

*Note:  According to School Library Journal, The Kill Order is okay for grades seven and up, but I would add a word of caution to middle school librarians considering this book. Readers who devoured the original trilogy should be fine with the events in this book, but those who are experiencing The Kill Order first may have some issues with the graphic descriptions of violence, insanity, and disease in this book. Some kids (and adults) simply won’t be able to handle this book.

If you’d like more information about James Dashner and all of his books, visit his website or follow him on Twitter. You may also want to check out this creeptastic book trailer for The Kill Order from Random House. Enjoy the madness!