Saturday, August 15, 2015

Saturday Shout-Out: Last Survivors series (Pfeffer)

AUTHOR: Susan Pfeffer
PUBLISHER: HMH Books for Young Readers
GENRE: post-apocalypse (fiction)

I just love this series! It has been consistently popular with my students since I first moved up to a middle school library in 2009. It's incredibly easy to booktalk, especially when you talk about plausible it all seems. If your middle or high school library does not have at least the first two books, you really need to look into them.

THE GIST: What would happen if an asteroid hit the moon and pushed it closer to the earth? Yes, the moon would be larger in the sky (in this story, six times larger), but what about gravity, particularly the moon's effect on ocean tides?

Massive tsunamis wipe out coastal cities. Power outages. Earthquakes and volcanoes due to shifts in tectonic plates. Volcanic ash blocks out the sun, causing long, frigid winters. Plants cease to grow due to lack of sunlight. Livestock gets sick and dies because the animals have nothing to eat. Food shortages ensue, both for meat and vegetables/fruits.

Of course, none of this happens right away. That's what makes this story so frighteningly real. No book has ever made me want to stock up on canned goods quite as much as this one. Don't believe it could happen? Check out this one-minute video from Smithsonian Magazine Online (don't worry, kids, the video does emphasize that all this is very unlikely):

"What would happen if a big asteroid hit the moon?"

The first two books are parallel novels, so either one can be read first. Miranda's story is Life As We Knew It, and it is written in diary format. Miranda lives in Pennsylvania with her mother and two brothers when the moon catastrophe occurs. She is much luckier than Alex in The Dead and the Gone because her mother is incredible resourceful and there with her throughout the story.

Book #2, The Dead and the Gone features Alex, a 17-year old boy living with his mother and two younger sisters in New York. His story occurs simultaneously with Miranda's, both beginning with asteroid hitting the moon. Unlike Miranda, Alex and his sisters are completely sans parents right from the beginning. Their parents are not at home when the giant tsunamis happen and are presumed dead.

Book #3, This World We Live In, brings Miranda and Alex together. There is romance in this one. I have not read it yet but plan to one day.

Book #4, The Shade of the Moon, is about Johnny, Miranda's little brother. It's been four years since the moon was hit, and Miranda and Alex are married in this one. Compared to the other three books, Goodreads ratings for this last in the series are extremely low (3.19 as of today). I do not have this one in my library yet, but I plan to order it this year. Though I have not read it, I have heard that The Shade of the Moon is more mature and darker than the first three books.

TIPS FOR BOOKTALKING The Last Survivors series:

  • I ask the students to imagine the moon has been hit with an asteroid and pushed closer to the earth. It is now six times larger in the sky. What do think will happen? Will anything on earth change? I usually have someone who mentions the moon's gravity or ocean tides. If they are quiet or completely off-track, I ask them about ocean tides and maybe do a short discussion of how the moon's gravity affects ocean tides. This usually gets them going, but if not, then I ask about tectonic plates and what happens when they shift.
  • Take a photo of your fridge and/or pantry at home and project the photos on a screen or TV. Ask students how long they think it would take before I ran out of food completely. Keep in mind that without electric power, the food in the refrigerator would go bad quickly. What would I do if I could not go to the store to buy more? What if all the stores were out of food, too? What if I couldn't grow a garden because winters are extremely long and lack proper sunlight? Ask students to picture what is in their pantry at home right now. How long would it be before all of it ran out? 
  • Combine this book with other post-apocalyptic stories. I like to play the song "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons as a prelude to a post-apocalyptic book talk. If you do this, be sure to show the lyrics:


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