book review

The Danger Box

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“The Danger Box” by Blue Balliett is a wonderfully fun and quirky mystery by the author of “Chasing Vermeer” and ” The Wright 3″. The Danger Box is her fourth novel where she leaves the art scene of her previous three books behind and plants us firmly in the rural town of Three Oaks Michigan. There we find Zoomy, a sweet, legally blind 12 year old boy, living with his grandparents. Zoomy is a boy who notices everything. When his head gets too full of things it makes him nervous and he starts tapping and twitching to relieve his brain.  His grandmother after noticing this tendancy, bought him some notebooks and encouraged him to write his thoughts down. Now every time he observes something it gets placed on a list, written with a purple pen inside his notebooks.

Everything is fine in Zoomy’s world until the day that his no-good father Buckeye rolls into town in a stolen truck and a box to hide.

Buckeye’s secret box changes life for Zoomy but maybe not in the way you might think. Inside the box is a notebook filled with clues that leads Zoomy to the library for further investigation. There he meets the first friend of his life Lorrol ,pronounced Laurel. Both Lorrol and Zoomy love problem solving and together they work on solving a bunch of mysteries that have surfaced since the box with the notebook has come to town. Linking  history, science, and mysterious secrets that could change the world, The Danger Box is a real gem of a read.

Inside the pages of this great read are messages about fmilies coming in all shapes and sizes, kids doing amazing things, misfits finding their place, and the charm of a small town community. Blue Balliett weaves together a fast paced mystery using real facts, ( the object Zoomy finds is actually still missing in real life today), and places such as Three Oaks, Michigan.

Using codes, cryptic newspaper stories, and guessing games this story had us playing along with Zoomy and Lorrol as they uncovered the secrets of “the Danger Box”.

Won’t You Play Too? Want to learn more about author Blue Balliet ? She has one of the best author websites I’ve ever seen. Head on over to her site to learn more about the real places she sets her stories in plus a myriad of other activities to do.

Something to Do Book Review:

There are so many fun adventures to take with this book. First let’s make our own Danger Box.

Danger Box: Click on the link to find instructions to make a danger box and notebooks.

The Danger Box

Writing  in  Code

On page 38 of The Danger Box, the second Gas’s Gazette posts asks if we can write our names in code. Pulling out our crayons and markers we had a very fun time writing not only our names but messages as well in cryptic code. Can you figure out what I wrote in this message? Use the code breaker in the Second Gas’s Gazette to figure it out.

Can you make up your own secret code. Try it and share it with your family and friends. Send messages back and forth, it’s so much fun. My eldest daughter made up her own symbol based language called Felfish.

Publish Your Own Cryptic Gazette

The quotes used in Gas’s Gazette actually come from Darwin’s notebooks and letters. Using these to write Gazette posts in a “guess who” fashion is such a fun idea. Make your own gazette using a biography and or journal you’ve read about a person you admire. Using quotes create “guess who” Gazette posts and see if your readers can guess who you’re talking about. This is actually a very fun way to get to know about a lot of different people from different walks of life and fields of study.

~Spoiler Alert~

If you haven’t read the book yet, this will clue you in as to who created the still missing journal. Who could it be?

photo by stella magazine

Though Charles Darwin is known for his controversies, to me he is known for his incredible contributions to the biological sciences. In dealing with this book and it’s topic matter I focused on this perspective with my children. There are a lot of skills that can be gleaned from his observations, research, and sample studies. I was very surprised to find out in my research about Charles Darwin that he was actually conducting research all over the world and corresponded constantly with his research teams. 2000 people corresponded details to him about their findings on plant and animal life in the region they lived in. Along with his letters there were also many boxes through out the years sent to England to make a global biological composite of the plant and animal life of Earth. For Darwin’s personal research team he included many of his own family members. He was a very animated and personal man and I was really surprised to discover that. By reading through some of his letters I could gather a clear personality about him. The Darwin Correspondence Project has all of his correspondence and is available online.

Here is a short excerpt from one of his field journals.

When Sedgwick returns we will look over your specimens & I will send you our joint report—f4 they seem quite large enough!— I myself caught an Octopus at Weymouth this summer & observed the change of color whenever I opened the tin box in which I put it, but not in such great perfection as you seem to have done— The fact is not new, but any fresh observations will be highly important— Quere if a serpentine rock be not the produce of volcanic baking of a chloritic slate? The rock of St Paul may not be an exception to the usual character of the Islds. of the Atlantic.f5 I have got the description of the plates to the Dict. Classique & will send it where you direct. Your account of the Tropical forest is delightful, I can’t help envying you— So far from being disappointed with the Box—I think you have done wonders—as I know you do not confine yourself to collecting, but are careful to describe— Most of the plants are very desirable to me. Avoid sending scraps. Make the specimens as perfect as you can, rootflowers &leaves & you can’t do wrong. In large ferns & leaves fold them back upon themselves on one side of the specimen & they will get into a proper sized paper. Don’t trouble yourself to stitch them—for the really travel better without it— and a single label per month to

[DIAGRAM HERE] this side is folded back at the edges

those of the same place is enough except you have plenty of spare time or spare hands to write more. L. Jenyns does not know what to make of your land Planariæ. Do you mistake for such the curious Genus, “Oncidium” allied to ye slug, of which a fig. is given in Lin. Transact.f6 & are not the marine species also mollusca, perhaps Doris & other genera— Specimens & observations upon these wd. be highly interesting. If you could get hold of Cuvier’s Anatomie des Mollusques,f7 you wd. find it very useful but I fear it is out of print— I will tell your Brother to enquire at Truttels.f8 Watkins has received your letter— And now for the Box— Lowe underpacks Darwinoverpacks — The latter is in fault on the right side. You need not make quite so great a parade of tow & paper for the geologc. specimens, as they travel very well provided they be each wrapped up German fashion & closely stowed—but above all things don’t put tow round any thing before you have first wrapped it up in a piece of thin paper— It is impossible to clear away the fibres of the tow from some of your specimens without injuring them— An excellent crab has lost all its legs, & an Echinus 1⁄2 its spines by this error. I don’t think however than any other specimens besides these 2 have been at all injured. Another caution I wd give is to place the number on the specimen always inside & never outside the cover. The moisture & friction have rubbed off one or two—& I can’t replace them. I shall thoroughly dry the different perishable commodities & then put them in pasteboard boxes with camphor & paste over the edges, & place them in my study or some very dry place. The heavy material I shall send to my lecture room, so soon as it is again habitable—for at present we are all in confusion—building a large Museum & lecture room & private rooms adjoining mine,f9 for Clark & Cumming— I must now leave off for the Senate house & put this bye till I can find a few more minutes to conclude it.— Excerpt taken from the Darwin Correspondence Project

As you can see they had some problems transporting their specimens all the way back to England. Pretend you are a scientist and answer the following questions:

  • If you were all the way down in South America in the 19th century, how would you send specimens back to England?
  • What part of the plant would you send?
  • What packing materials would you use?
  • Is it better to send live animal specimens or dead animal specimens?
  • If you wanted to know about something happening in another place on the planet how would go about finding the answers?
  • How would you go about finding helpers to research for you?
  • If you could investigate and explore any place on earth, where would you go and who would you take with you?
  • What things would you bring along on the trip?
  • Now look around you, right where you live? Write about the plants you find and discover, the birds that live in your yard, the types of bodies of water that exist around you. There is so much to discover.
This is a photo of Darwin’s actual library and study back in England.









2 thoughts on “The Danger Box

  1. If you have not done so already, check out Balliett’s website at Lots of wonderful material about the real world locales of her books. Nice review.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing her site with us. It is one of the best author sites I’ve seen. I’ve placed the link in the original post. I’ll add it to our Facebook Fan Page and give it a little tweet as well.

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