Streams of Babel

Streams of Babel
by Carol Plum Ucci

Publishing Information: Harcourt: Orlando, Fla., 2008
ISBN: 9780152165567 / 9780547258737 (PB)
: 432 p.

Ages: 12 & Up

Summary: Whatever you do, don’t drink the water. When Cora Holman’s mother dies, she assumes the inevitable: that her mother overdosed from the morphine she’d been taking for years. So she’s shocked to learn that her mother and a neighbor both died of a brain aneurysm the same night.  When Cora and other neighborhood teens become ill with a mysterious flu, and government-type strangers arrive in her small town, they all fear the unthinkable—a terrorist attack. Meanwhile, a world away in Pakistan, a 16-year-old computer genius named Shahzad is working as a virtual spy. He’s alarmed to see a lot of chatter about a substance called Red Vinegar that will, as he reads, “lead to many deaths in Colony One.” Can Shahzad sift through the babble of the chat rooms, find the location of the attack, and warn the victims in time? And if so, at what cost to him?  (courtesy of book jacket flap)

Book Talk: Cora is a loner. She has been since her mother returned from her international journalism job, addicted to morphine, and hating to be around her “brat.” But she is concerned when her mother becomes so ill that she starts bleeding out of her nose, eyes, and ears. When the paramedics arrive, she is dead.  Along with the medics is a neighbor, Mr. Steckerman, an ex-FBI director who is now the regional supervisor for the USIC, the United States Intelligence Coalition. There had been a water scare a few months back about chemicals in the system but it had been checked and come out with flying colors. So why was he here? She tried to think and answer questions but all she wanted was to be alone. She had diarrhea all day and a killer headache. When they left she crawled into bed shivering with chills and fever. The next day there is another death in the neighborhood. Same symptoms, same cause of death: a brain aneurysm. But there was something more. Their tissues were like cooked noodles and the sinuses like jello. And like Cora, her two sons and a friend are all exhibiting the sickness that killed their mothers. 

Meanwhile in Pakistan, a young 16-year-old computer whiz is spying for the Americans through his family internet café. He has picked up chatter that says “They will anoint the waters with Red Vinegar—rivers will run red in Colony One.” Shahzad believes Colony One is in America but the USIC has not acted on it. They believe the Dark Continent mentioned in another chat room is Africa. But  in America, two funerals are taking place. There are so many cars that people have to park all along the street. The hard part is avoiding the huge water puddle that has somehow sprung up in front of Cora’s house.

Subject Headings and Themes:

Biological warfare

Communicable Diseases





Awards & Reviews:
Maryland's Black-eyed Susan Award Nominees, 2010

Booklist, April 15, 2008, p. 41
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June 1, 2008
Horn Book, May 1, 2008
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2008 (Starred Review)
School Library Journal, July 1, 2008, p. 106
VOYA: Voice of Youth Advocates, April 1, 2008

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. What symptoms did Mrs. Eberman have that were similar to Cora’s mother? Do you think it was the flu? Why or why not? Is there any evidence to support your opinion?
  2. What role does Shahzad have in the story? How do you think he will interact with the teenagers in New Jersey?
  3. What does Omar0324 say to indicate a connection to the incidents in New Jersey?
  4. Why doesn’t the USIC arrest the known terrorists? What is it they don’t know that is imperative to have?
  5. What is Red Vinegar? Why is it so dangerous?
  6. After the 9/11 attack, Americans were told to be on the lookout for suspicious people. Many people regarded it as racial profiling, targeting specific people as a whole. Dobbins never reported what he saw because of this concern. Discuss the pros and cons of this way of dealing with terrorism. What other groups of people are targeted with racial profiling? What if everyone in your town was targeted because one person committed a crime? 
  7. Shahzad was old enough to work in Pakistan as a government spy but he was not allowed to do the same job in America. This may be considered a double standard. Explain how Shahzad feels about this. What do you think?
  8. The boys obtained information from breaking and entering, which is against the law. A court of law is not supposed to use information obtained in this way. Do you think the end justifies the means? Why is the rule of law so important in our society? Discuss what can happen when the rule of law is dismissed or amended for what is considered a good cause.
  9. Shazhad’s father told him America is the land where the rights of the individual take precedence over the needs of the whole. Do you believe that’s true? Why or why not?
  10. Shahzad’s father believes America is the land of the tired and the poor. The terrorists believe America is the land of the rich and haughty. Who is correct: his father or the terrorists? Is each right from their own perspective?
  11. Cora’s mother said that in a civil war, when one tries to feed the poor, they often end up devoured by the hands they try to feed. Explain this statement. What parts of the world are in this situation? 
  12. Rain writes an essay entitled “What it means to be an American.” How is her view different from Owen’s?

Debate – The War on Terror. Has any progress been made?

Debate – Racial Profiling

Research acts of racial profiling; such as Holocaust, KKK, gay bashing; Japanese-American internment camps during World War II
History of bioterrorism – Research specific acts of bioterrorism; such as American Indian smallpox blankets; Aztec extinction from smallpox; mustard gas in World War I; bubonic plague; agent orange in Vietnam War; sarin gas attack in Tokyo; anthrax (past and present); Saddam Hussein and the Kurds or terrorist groups and their actions.  

Write an essay on “What it means to be an American.”

Related Websites:
Author’s website:
American Biological Weapon Development:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Emergency Preparedness and Response Site:
Counter-Terrrism Groups by Country:
Glossery of Bioterrorism-related Terms:

How Stuff Works: Biochemical Warfare:
Terroris Group Profiles:

Bifocal by Deborah Ellis & Eric Waters, 2007
The Big Empty
by J.P. Stevens, 2004
Code Orange
by Caroline B. Cooney, 2005
Finding Lubchenko
by Michael Simmons, 2005

The Fire-Us Series by Jennifer Armstron & Nancy Butcher
The Kindling, 2002
The Keepers of the Flame, 2002
The Kiln, 2003
by Jordan Cray, 1997
The Mokey Thief
by Aileen Kilgore Henderson, 1997
The Rise of Lubchencko
by Michael Simmons, 2006 (2007 RITBA Nominee)

Hole in the Sky by Pete Hautman, 2001
Neptune's Children
by Bonnie Dobkin, 2008
by Catherine Stine, 2005
by Carl Deukker,2005

The Scorpion Secret: Dare to Take the Test by M. A. Harvey (2004)
The Terrorist by Caroline B. Cooney (1997)

Anthrax by Janet Decker, 2003

Biological Weapons from the Invention of State-Sponsored Programs to Contemprorary Bioterrorism by Jeanne Guillemin, 2005
Bioterror; Anthrax, Influenza, and the Future of Public Health Security
by R. William Johnstone, 2008
Bioterror: Deadly Invisible Weapons
by Lisa Jo Rudy, 2008

Bioterrorism by Jacqueline Langwith (ed.), 2008
Bioterrorism: Guidelines for Medical and Pubic Health Management
by Donald A. Henderson (ed.), 2002
Bioterrorism: How to Survive the 25 Most Dangerous Biological Weapons
by Pamela Weintraub, 2002
Chemical and Biological Warfare: The Cruelist Weapons
by Laurence Pringle, 2000
Fighting Bioterrorism
by Lisa Yount (ed.), 2004
Germ Warfare
by Amy Romano, 2004

The History of Terrorism by Robert Taylor, 2002
The Nerve Gas Attacks on the Tokyo Subway
by Jamie Poolos, 2003
Protect Yourself Against Bioterrorism
by Philip M. Tierno
Silent Death: The Threat of Chemical and Biological Terrorism
by Kathryn Gay, 2001

Terrorists and Terrorist Groups by Stephen Curry, 2002

Other Books by the Author:
The Body of Christopher Creed, 2000 (2001 RITBA Nominee)
What Happened to Lani Garver, 2003 (2004 RITBA Nominee)
The She, 2003
The Night My Sister Went Missing, 2006 (2008 RITBA Nominee)
Celebrate Diwali, 2008

About the Author:
Carol Plum-Ucci received one of the nation’s top literary honors for her first novel, The Body of Christopher Creed, a suspense story set in the historic woods of Southern New Jersey. The novel received one of four Michael J. Printz Honor Book Awards, sponsored by the American Library Association, recognizing the best literature published for young adults. The novel also was a finalist in the Edgar Allan Poe Awards and was named to the Reader’s International Children’s Choice Awards List. Hyperion released a paperback edition.
What Happened to Lani Garver, Plum-Ucci’s second novel, is story of prejudice, friendship, popularity, tolerance, and individuality. The story raises a most important question: Might angels exist on earth? The novel has been selected as a featured book both in Seventeen Magazine and YM Magazine. It is named to the 2003 Best Books for Young Adults List, sponsored by the American Library Association, and is a 2004 Teen Top Ten nominee. It was nominated for the Michael L. Printz Awards for excellence in Young Adult Literature.
Plum-Ucci’s third novel of The She, was was nominated for BBYA (Best Books for Young Adults, The American Library Association) and received a starred review in Booklist. Her fourth novel, The Night My Sister Went Missing, was named a finalist in the Edgar Allan Poe Awards.
Her fifth novel, Streams of Babel, about terrorists poisoning the water supply in New Jersey, was released in the spring of 2008. It was immediately named a Premiere Selection the Junior Library Guild and is featured in Kirkus Review’s Upcoming Mysteries and Suspense special edition.
Plum-Ucci spent her childhood growing up on the barrier island of Brigantine, New Jersey, where her father was a funeral director. She lived overtop of the funeral home.
“My bedroom was such that if the floor were made of glass, I would have been gazing down into the face of a casket dweller,” she frequently tells audiences. “When people ask me how I became a writer, I say it was in the middle of nights while growing up there.”
Plum-Ucci loves to tell her childhood funeral home antics, which have captivated teenage audiences across America.
She attended the Brigantine Public Schools, Atlantic City Friends School, and Holy Spirit High School, graduating in 1975. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Communication from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana in 1979. She attended Rutgers University and received her Master of Arts degree 2004.
Plum-Ucci worked as Staff Writer and Director of Publications for the Miss America Organization in Atlantic City from 1984 through 1999. She is the third generation of women in her family to contribute to Atlantic City’s well-known fanfare. Her mother, Ellen Plum, was the first woman President, and her paternal grandmother, Ads Plum, was a member of the Hostess Committee.
She retired from corporate employ in June of 1999, “about two days after my advance arrived for The Body of Christopher Creed,” she says. “I loved being part of something historical like Miss America, and I have many great memories of working there. But I’d spent many years trying to become a published novelist, and I wanted to started enjoying that lifestyle as quickly as possible."
Her husband Rick owns the Ucci Piano Service. Together, they love gardening, going to the Margate Beach in the summers, watching Academy Award winning movies, and raising their daughter, Abbey.  (From biography)