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Video: Authors unearth ‘Jaguar Stones’

  1. Transcript of: Authors unearth ‘Jaguar Stones’

    AL ROKER reporting: And this morning on AL'S BOOK CLUB FOR KIDS , " Middleworld ," book one in the Jaguar Stones trilogy. Fourteen-year-old Max Murphy is furious when his archaeologist parents cancel their summer vacation to go on a dig in the Mayan ruins. Well, things go from bad to worse when Max is summoned to Central America only to discover his parents have vanished. With the help of new friends, Max fights through haunted temples, saving the world along the way. Jon and Pamela Voelkel wrote " Middleworld ." And with some help from Scholastic Book Clubs , we've got our kids critics with us, Sabrina Fernandez , Spencer Karl-Otto , we've got Ava Thornton and Miles Nouzi . How you guys doing?

    All: Good!

    ROKER: And joining us live over Skype is our guest critic, Hattie Poturalski from Gilbert , Arizona . Hey, Hattie .


    ROKER: All right. This is a new thing we're starting, we're bringing you, our viewer, to join our kids club , our kids club critics. Good to see you guys.

    Miss SABRINA FERNANDEZ: Good to see you, too.

    ROKER: And great to see you guys.

    Ms. PAMELA VOELKEL: Good morning.

    Mr. JON VOELKEL: It's great to be here.

    ROKER: So tell -- how did you guys come up with the idea, Jon and Pamela , of creating this book? I mean, because it really is terrific.

    Mr. VOELKEL: Well, you know, I grew up in South America , and I had a lot of wild experiences traveling through the jungle. And a lot of the experiences that Max has in the book are some of the things that I went through when I was a kid .

    ROKER: Really?

    Mr. VOELKEL: And one of the things I really remember most is going to some ancient ruins, and I think my fascination with the Maya came out of that experience.

    ROKER: And, Pamela , how did you enjoy going along for the ride here?

    Ms. VOELKEL: Well, yeah, I didn't know anything about the Maya until we started writing the book. And then we've made several trips down to Central America now with our own children. And I find the more you find out about the Maya , the more you want to know.

    ROKER: Well, I know our book club critics want to as well. Sabrina Fernandez , 10 years old, what's your question for our authors?

    Miss FERNANDEZ: This question is for Jon. On the back of the book you describe that you had a plane crash in the jungle. Can you tell us about that?

    Mr. VOELKEL: Sure. Well, fortunately nobody was hurt. It was a small twin-engine plane and they were trying to land in a -- in just a clearing in the -- in the rain forest , and they missed the field and they went plowing through the trees. Trees going everywhere, finally hit a big tree , the plane spun around. They kind of had to patch the plane up. They took off and left us there for two weeks and then finally came back for us.

    ROKER: Wow. Can you imagine that, Sabrina ?

    Miss FERNANDEZ: Did that help with the contributions for the book?

    Mr. VOELKEL: Absolutely. Particularly surviving for two weeks in the rain forest were a lot of the things that Max found himself alone in the rain forest doing. So that definitely helped.

    ROKER: Sabrina a born journalist, asking the follow-up question. Very nice. Eleven-year-old Spencer . Spencer , what's your question?

    Mr. SPENCER KARL-OTTO: Well, my question is for both of you guys. There's a wall inside of the temple that is made out of human skulls. Can you tell us about that?

    Ms. VOELKEL: Yeah. There's actually a wall at Chichen Itza ...

    Mr. VOELKEL: Yeah.

    Ms. VOELKEL: ...isn't there, that's made of skulls, and that's where -- that was -- that's where that came from. But skulls are very common in Maya art .

    ROKER: Wow. All right. Now let's go on to Skype . We've got Hattie Poturalski from Gilbert , Arizona . Hattie , good morning.

    Miss POTURALSKI: Good morning.

    ROKER: What's your question for our authors?

    Miss POTURALSKI: Are any of the characters in the book based on real people?

    Mr. VOELKEL: Well, they are.

    Ms. VOELKEL: Oh, good question.

    Mr. VOELKEL: And the funny thing is, because Max himself, a lot of people think he's a bit nasty at the beginning, the reality is he's based on me as a child.

    ROKER: Ah. Were you a nasty child? Mr. VOELKEL; And -- well, probably worse than Max was. But I hope, just like Max gets better, so I hope I did as well.

    Ms. VOELKEL: Yeah.

    ROKER: All right. Hattie , thank you so much for your question. How'd you enjoy the book?

    Ms. POTURALSKI: It was awesome.

    ROKER: All right. We're going to get your -- we're going to get our club -- kids club critics review in just a second. Eleven-year-old Ava , how you doing?

    Miss AVA THORNTON: Good.

    ROKER: Yeah? So what's your question for our authors?

    Miss THORNTON: On the last page there is a to be continued page and I wanted to know if you knew the ending of the book before you wrote it, or did the ending unfold as you wrote it?

    Ms. VOELKEL: We know the ending of book three, not only the ending of book one and book two, but book three, it's written, the ending of book three. We know exactly where we're going with this story. And it just gets more exciting, I have to tell you.

    ROKER: All right. And let's go -- Miles Nouzi . Miles , how you doing?

    Mr. MILES NOUZI: Hello. I just wanted to know, how -- just how -- wait a second.

    ROKER: OK.

    Mr. NOUZI: How accurate is the -- is the history of this book? How accurate is it? Is it fiction?

    Mr. VOELKEL: That's a great question. The Jaguar Stones themselves are really the only fictional part. All the information about the Maya and what takes place in the rain forest is absolutely up to the minute . We have a professor at Harvard who checks through all the facts to make sure that we're communicating the right things.

    ROKER: And it's so obvious. And we want to get -- our kid critics rated this book on a scale of one to five, " Middleworld " gets four stars. All right. Thanks to everybody.

    Ms. VOELKEL: Yay! That's good.

    ROKER: And if you're between the ages of nine to 12, go to todayshow.com, tell us what you're reading this summer. You could be selected as our next guest critic. Next book, "Dark Life" by Kat Falls. So grab a book and read along.

    Offscreen Voice: "Dark Life."

    ROKER: And we'll be back with more of TODAY after your local news and weather. Congratulations, guys.

TODAY books
updated 5/27/2010 9:45:56 AM ET 2010-05-27T13:45:56

“Middleworld,” the first book in “The Jaguar Stones” trilogy, is set against a background of haunted temples, family secrets, ritual sacrifice and adolescent angst, as pampered, pizza-eating Boston teenager Max Murphy fights to survive in the teeming jungle and save the modern world from the Ancient Maya Lords of Death. An excerpt.

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Lola gave Max the flashlight and took the candle. She led him through a doorway into a passage that quickly became a narrow staircase, zigzagging steeply to and fro, up and up and up. Every so often an ice-cold drip from the ceiling would land on his neck in the darkness, making him jump every time.

“It’s just water, don’t make such a fuss,” said Lola.

The steps were wet and slippery, but when Max put a hand on the wall to steady himself, his fingers sank into a spongy, putrid-smelling fungus. He slipped over in surprise and, as he got back to his feet, something cold and squelchy landed on his head.

“Ew! Ew! Ew!” he cried.

“It’s just water, Hoop!”

Max ran a hand through his hair and heard something drop to the ground. A huge white centipede, maybe six inches long, like a slug on legs, glistened in the beam of his flashlight.

“Look at this!” he called to Lola. “It wasn’t just ...”

But the centipede had scurried into the shadows.

Max pulled his T-shirt over his head like a hood until the staircase ended and they emerged into a large, roughly hewn room. The ceiling was so low they had to crouch, and the floor was cracked and uneven. On the far side of the room was a doorway, and carved above it was a ghoulish face contorted in agony.

“Is it this way?” asked Max, making for the doorway.

“Stop!” yelled Lola, pulling him back. “Don’t go in there.”

Now that Max looked more closely, he saw that the murky interior was scattered with skulls and bones. He sensed that something lurked in there, something dead yet alive, something that was trying to lure him in. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a movement and he leapt back in fear, but it was just a centipede wriggling out of an eye socket in the nearest skull.

“You’re very jumpy, Hoop. Are you sure you want to do this?”

“Just show me the way out.”

“Up here.” Lola was standing under a dark square in one corner of the ceiling, pointing up at a narrow shaft that shot up into blackness. “It’s not difficult,” she said. “There are footholds, but it’s too tight to climb with the backpacks. I’ll go up first with the flashlight and let down the rope. You tie on the backpacks, then use the rope to help you get up. Okay?”

Bossy, bossy, bossy, he thought. “Just hurry,” he said.

Max pressed himself into the corner and watched the glow of the flashlight recede.

He shivered.

Was it fear making his blood run cold? Or was the temperature dropping?

Max held the candle under his chin for heat.

It was so cold he could see his breath.

He exhaled slowly, watching how the crystals hung in the air and sparkled in the candlelight. He exhaled again, harder this time. To his horror, a cloud of white breath shot out like spray from a fire extinguisher and — No, no, no! — put out the flame.

He couldn’t believe it.

He’d blown out the candle.

How could he have been so stupid?

The icy darkness crowded in on him.

The blackness was suffocating, like a blanket of evil.

What was that scratching noise?

Fingernails? Centipedes? The presence in the bone room?

His heart beat faster and faster. He stamped his feet to keep warm and to frighten away anything that might be thinking of scurrying around his feet.

“Hurry, Lola!” he called. “The candle’s gone out!”

By the time the end of the rope dropped down, a light frost had formed on his head and shoulders. His damp clothes were freezing against his skin. Fumbling with cold, he tied on the backpacks.

He looked up at the distant circle of light that was Lola’s face. Focusing only on her, refusing to think about the darkness that clutched at his feet like invisible fingers, he began to climb. It was hard going and his wounded hand throbbed, but his fear was greater than his pain. He was aware of nothing but the need to maintain upward motion.

Eventually, he reached the room above. He threw himself on the stone floor, breathing heavily, while Lola pulled up the backpacks.

“I told you it was creepy in here,” she said.

She relit the candle, and Max looked around. This room was smaller than the one below and empty apart from something in one corner, something that reflected candlelight in its shiny, gelatinous skin, something gently pulsating with the pump of a million heartbeats....

Max jumped to his feet. “It’s a monster! It’s alive!”

“Frog spawn,” said Lola. “I should have warned you.”

A dark chill was rising out of the shaft and spreading like dry ice. The room was starting to fill with a clammy, foul-smelling fog.

“Let’s keep moving.” Lola coughed.

“Me first,” said Max, grabbing the rope and tying it around him.

The shaft was shorter this time, and he soon arrived at the top.

A wave of heat engulfed him. It was like entering an oven.

His cold, wet clothes dried instantly in a haze of steam.

Nervously, he shone the flashlight around, wondering what could follow giant centipedes and throbbing frog spawn, but his light found no life-forms of any kind. Apart from the heat, this level was almost pleasant. It had the smallest floor area, but a high ceiling made it less claustrophobic, and all four walls were painted with colorful murals.

While he waited for Lola to tie on the backpacks, Max looked closer at the paintings. Mostly they were life-size figures of Maya warriors, monsters, and bizarre animal people with crocodile heads and lobster claws. They were so freaky, it took Max a moment to register the most disturbing thing of all.

This room had no door.

They were at the top and there was no way out.

Excerpted from "Middleworld" by Jon and Pamela Voelkel. Copyright (c) 2007, reprinted with permission from Egmont USA.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive


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