Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier (Booktalk)

The Night Gardener is a monster you need to be aware of. As far as I know, he lives in only one location: near an old mansion in England that has a huge, dark, mysterious tree. This tree grows dangerously close to the house. A frightened family lives in the house, and they have two young Irish servants, children who left Ireland because of a huge famine.

These Irish children - Molly and Kip - went from one horrifying situation (famine) to another one (the night gardener and the spooky house). In fact, the night gardener WATCHES you when you sleep at night. The night gardener works only at night. He waters his tree with what looks like silvery water. He and the tree have some eerie connection: and the tree has a secret hole in a locked room which can give you what your heart most desires.

But I can't tell you what price you'll pay if you get it.

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier. 350 p. Amulet Books, 2014. Booktalk to grades 5-9. Great read aloud.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (Booktalk)

[Start by showing the map of Beechwood Island found on the opening pages.] Imagine your relatives had their own private island. This is Beechwood Island, where the wealthy and beautiful Sinclair clan go on vacation each summer. Cadence, also called Cadie, lives in Windemere [show on map] with her mom and their dogs. Her cousin Mirren lives in Cuddledown; her cousin Johnny and friend Gat live in Red Gate.

Cadie's family's island, Beechwood, off coast of Massachusetts
Their grandfather lives in the big house, Clairmont. They have multiple beaches, a family dock, boats, and paid staff. The four older kids - Cadie, Mirren, Johnny, and Gat - are about the same age, older teens. They're called the Liars. You'll find out why. They're nice kids.

But something is really wrong. When the story opens, Cadie tells us she is almost 18. Let me quote her. "I own a well-used library card and not much else...I used to be blonde, but now my hair is black. I used to be strong, but now I am weak. I used to be pretty, but now I look sick. It is true I suffer migraines since my accident"(4). What accident? And if she's one of the liars, is she lying now?

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Delacorte Press: 2014. 225 p. Booktalk to high school. Also has crossover appeal for adults.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Impossible Knife of Memory (Booktalk)

Hayley's high school experience is a piece of cake compared to her real job, living with her father. He's a veteran who barely survived his tours of duty in the Middle East. His PTSD-related flashbacks involve ambushed foot patrols, gruesome IED explosions, and suicide bombers living in ghost villages.

"You take care of him more than he takes care of you," her boyfriend Finn remarks.

So Hayley has some PTSD of her own. This is what it takes to be her:
- the ability to spend a lot of time on the road while Dad drives a big rig
- knowledge of how to keep the evil stepmom away
- the talent to keep drugs, alcohol, and firearms away from an often suicidal man
- stalling techniques to keep anyone from  coming home with her, ever
- signature-forging on school forms

These are skills most high schoolers don't need to perfect in order to keep a parent alive. 

The Impossible Knife of Memory
 by Laurie Halse Anderson. 391 pages. 2014: Speak (Penguin). Booktalk to high school (use discretion).

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin (Booktalk)

Rose isn't like everybody else. When she gets upset, she may blurt out, "Two, three, five, seven, eleven, thirteen!" She loves prime numbers: they make her feel safe.

It's easy to upset Rose, who has Asperger's. She's smart, and her brain works differently than many people's brains. She needs a lot of order and routine in her life to feel safe. It drives Rose crazy when people break rules, laws, or routines. When she would ride to school every day on the bus, she would catch every single little thing the bus rider did wrong! Obviously, this drove the bus driver nuts, and she asked that Rose _stop_ riding the bus. No one likes a backseat driver.

There's a bright spot in Rose's life: her dog, Rain. Rose's dad found Rain in the rain and let Rose have her. But Rose's dad has some problems: his temper; his annoyance with Rose; his carelessness. Here's something sad: he let Rain outside during a massive storm and Rain did not return.

Rose is determined to get Rain back, even if she has to call and visit every animal shelter for miles around. But will her father sabotage her again?

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin. 240 pages. Feiwel & Friends, 2014. Booktalk to grades 3-8.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King (Booktalk)

Glory O'Brien, age 17, has not been having a glorious life so far. Her mother killed herself years ago; her dad has eaten his grief and went from an original 120 pounds to 240. He won't get rid of the oven that his wife used to kill herself with, either. He won't go into his wife's photography darkroom or even discuss her. Glory doesn't have many friends, and she often actively dislikes her "best" friend, Ellie. Glory is happy to be graduating from high school in a few days: she wants to get away from all that is trivial and tedious. Why bother having anyone sign her yearbook? There's no point.

The only thing Glory likes is taking photographs; that was about all her mom liked, too, it seems. So when Ellie - often the holder of illogical and harebrained ideas - suggests that the two girls drink the remains of a dead bat, Glory decides to comply. What's the harm? Ellie had joked that the dead bat was God. Ellie is just plain weird.

Here's the good news: neither girl gets sick from drinking dead bat remains. But there's bad news, and it's literally "the future": the future that you and I will inhabit, if we live long enough. Both girls start seeing visions of it, and it's no place that women would want to live in.

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King. 307 p. 2014. Little, Brown. Booktalk to upper high school: contains mature themes.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee (Booktalk)

Ophelia isn't supposed to walk through the museum alone. It's got hundreds and hundreds and rooms: it's huge and chilly and she doesn't know her way around. But her father works there now, and she's curious.

She walks into a little gallery. It's a got a rope blocking it, but she goes under the rope. There are no museum guards in there, and it's very still and quiet.

The room has an empty, peculiar smell. She goes through a closed door, which leads into another little room. It has a faded mural of mountains and a blue sea and a boy with a sword. Above this scene is painted the phrase, "The Marvelous Boy."

If you look closely enough at the painted mural, you'll see a tiny door: it's part of the blue sea in the painting. There's a tiny keyhole there, and Ophelia looks through it.

There is a large blue-green eye looking back at her!

Museums are full of dead things from the past, but this one has a live boy concealed in an obscure room.

And he doesn't know his own name.

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee. 228 p. Knopf: 2014. Booktalk to grades 4-8.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters by Oliver Jeffers (Booktalk)

There has been a big secret which your parents and teachers have kept from you, but it just got leaked in this book. Did you know that each letter of the alphabet has a secret history, a secret tale? You thought the alphabet was boring: HA! Nope. But to keep you and all the other students of the world in line, they kept the secrets from you. I only have time to leak three of these stories.

Bob and Bernard are not buddies.
The letter B is all about battles and burning and Bernard and Bob. B is actually kind of an angry letter. Bernard and Bob cannot stand one another. They live on opposite sides of a bridge and have been battling each other for years. Bob burned the bridge and cannot get back!

H is sort of a scary, haunted letter. Helen lived in half a house. The other half of the house fell into the sea during a hurricane. Oh my gosh, I cannot bear to tell you what happened to Helen. It's too horrible.

O is full of wonder.
Owl and octopus
Out in the ocean there is an owl who lives on the back of an octopus. They search for a problem, solve it, and move on...

Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters by Oliver Jeffers. 2014: Philomel Books. Booktalk to K-3. Would make a great read-aloud or starting point for creative writing.