TODAY   |  July 01, 2010

Authors unearth ‘Jaguar Stones’

Jon and Pamela Voelkel, the husband-and-wife writing team behind “The Jaguar Stones, Book One: Middleworld,” field questions from kids in Al Roker’s book club.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

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 .

Miss HATTIE POTURALSKI: Hi .

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.