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.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill (Booktalk)

Bo's dads are goldminers (and blacksmiths) who came to Alaska in the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush: an exciting time. That time is past, and many miners have left, but Bo's dads are still there. Wait? Dads? Yes, Bo has two: her mother didn't want her, and she literally handed baby Bo to a man and left. That man, Arvid, didn't have the heart to give Bo up to an orphanage. His best friend, Jack, helped Arvid raise Bo. It's normal for towns in early 1900s Alaska to be mostly men: they're all miners, and life can be tough.

Bo is older now, and I want to share my favorite facts about her. She can swear (bad words!) in both an Eskimo language and in Swedish. It's possible she has no idea what the words mean. She helps cook for the miners and she really loves biscuits. Her favorite Eskimo dish, though, is caribou bone marrow and caribou fat. Yum.

You have to be tough and resourceful if you live in Alaska. You also have to be fast on your feet. One day, when Bo was outside (it was summer), she inadvertently startled a grizzly bear. The bear started to run after her. Bo did what she had been told and dropped to the ground, totally flat. That's not exactly running, though, is it?

If you like adventure, animals, outdoor life, and interesting weather, you'll love a historical fiction novel called Bo at Ballard Creek.

Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill. 278 pages. 2013: Henry Holt and Company. Booktalk to grades 3-8. Scott O'Dell Historical Fiction Award, 2014.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett (Booktalk)

[When starting this booktalk, don't show the cover, and don't reveal the title. Just have the book open to page 11, pictured below. You will have the students examine the picture without talking for at least 45 seconds.]

I want you to take a close look at this picture. I will give you plenty of time. I want you to think of at least five facts you can deduce from this picture. They can be facts about the plot - what is happening, or facts about what the book means.

Page 11
[Allow quiet time to examine picture. When they're done, let them discuss their deductions: the boys are digging a hole; they missed the first jewel; the dog knows about the jewel; one boy seems to be consoling the other boy; etc.]

You did a good job of picking apart this cool illustration. Did you know that this book [show cover now] has puzzled a lot of people - including adults? Even your teachers might disagree with each other about what this picture book, seemingly simple, means! I've read this picture book several times and I'm still thinking about it!

You must read Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and decide for yourself what this story is really about.

Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen. Unpaged. Candlewick, 2014. Booktalk to 1st - 5th. Also great for classroom read-alouds. Caldecott Honor. E. B. White Read Aloud Award. Irma Black Award.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (Booktalk)

What if your twin brother was your best friend in the whole world? And what if he stopped being your best friend?

Josh and Jordan (called JB) are twins who both love basketball. And they love each other, until things start going downhill in their friendship. Josh lost a bet with JB and JB cut off a lot of Josh's beloved dreadlocks. The results were freaking looking.

They used to eat lunch together -- actually, they ate all their meals together -- until JB got a girlfriend named Alexis. Now he eats lunch with her. Josh saw JB kissing Alexis in the school library. Fun. JB barely speaks to Josh. Josh is feeling increasingly isolated and alone.

The anger is growing. Josh messes up in a big game, sees JB wink at Alexis, and feels a surge of resentment - so much so that he hurls the ball unreasonably hard at JB who then starts bleeding and has to go to the hospital. Bad drama. Josh's mom is furious and chews Josh out. She asks Josh: you going to get mad at your brother every time he has a girlfriend? "You're twins, not the same person."

Will Josh ever get his best friend back?

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. 237 p. HMH Books for Young Readers. Newbery Medal, 2015. Booktalk to grades 5-9.


Friday, February 20, 2015

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steven Sheinkin (Booktalk)

Imagine you are in the Navy, and it is your job to handle explosives: big explosives, lots of them, and quickly. You load them onto the Navy's ships, and you have had no real training in safety measures. Scary job, huh? If those explosives and munitions explode, you are dead. There is zero room for error.

Page 35 in The Port Chicago 50.
That was the job of some African-American Navy men in World War II. They got the lousy jobs in segregated units, and this had been a sad, ongoing fact in our country's history. It was unfair and prejudiced, yet many black men still wanted to serve their country, even if meant digging ditches, carrying explosives, working in the kitchen, and cleaning bathrooms and kitchens. They did not get the more "glamorous" jobs given to white men, and the only factor was their skin color.

But let's get back to the explosives at the Port Chicago base. I have some bad news: want to guess what it is? The explosives did blow up, killing 320 men, injuring almost 400 men, destroying the pier and the ships in the area.

The devastation was unbelievable and tragic. Lives were lost and ruined. Obviously, many of the men killed were the African Americans who handled the explosives. All the witnesses died.

Have you heard the expression "to add insult to injury"? What does it mean? {Let a student explain.} The surviving men were being asked to do exactly the same work in a different location: handling and loading ammunition - highly explosive - onto ships. I don't blame them for not wanting to do it, but the Navy did, and it accused them of mutiny, a deeply serious charge. Read all about their fight in The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steven Sheinkin. Booktalk to grades 5-12. National Book Award finalist.

Monday, February 9, 2015

El Deafo by Cece Bell (Newbery Honor 2015) Booktalk

When Cece was four years old, she got very sick with meningitis. Although she recovered from it, her hearing did not. She was deaf. At first her own family and doctor missed the signs, but once they figured it out, she got tested. She would have to wear hearing aids [show kids the Phonic Ear picture].

Problem solved - right? Wrong. Hearing is complicated - it's not just a question of making things louder. Hearing aids don't solve every problem for the deaf: there still may be sounds which a deaf person cannot hear. Some words sound muffled, even if they're "loud" enough. Cece would have to learn new strategies: how to lip read and how to guess from context what people might be saying to her.

But her Phonic Ear made her feel self-conscious and different. Imagine feeling as if people were always staring at you. Imagine that your teacher has to wear a microphone which sends sound to your hearing device. It's both a blessing and a curse.

And you know what Cece can do that no other student in her class can do? She can hear the teacher outside of class - away from the students - because the teacher keeps forgetting to turn her microphone of. She can hear her teacher in the restroom, in the teacher's lounge, you name it.

Being deaf can make friendships tricky, too. One of Cece's friends treats her like a slow-witted person. And the cute boy (on whom Cece has a crush) wants Cece to "spy" on her teacher and share that information. Read the Newbery Honor winner titled El Deafo by Cece Bell.

El Deafo by Cece Bell. 233 pages. Newbery Honor 2015. Amulet Books, 2014. Booktalk to grades 3-8. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Book talk: Waiting is Not Easy! by Mo Willems

Guess what! Piggie has a surprise for Gerald, her best friend, the elephant. I can tell you three things about this surprise. One: It is big. Two: it is pretty. Three: they can share it. What do you think it is? [Entertain guesses about what it might be.]

But I have bad news. Gerald will have to wait. If you've read other Elephant & Piggie books, you know that Gerald has a tendency to panic. And he doesn't like to wait. And he doesn't like to be disappointed either. Poor Gerald, he's a nervous wreck a lot of the time.

He starts to groan. [Show first groans on pages 20-21]. Wow: that is a huge GROAN. Piggie is almost collapsing under that GROAN!

Without giving anything away, I can tell you that he GROANS again. That GROAN bubble is almost totally crushing poor Piggie. [Show second groan on pages 30-31]. Oh boy, he is really freaking out.

Waiting is Not Easy! by Mo Willems
Bad things come in threes, right? I have to show you the third and worst GROAN! YIKES! I only see Piggie's legs!!!

Can Gerald wait? Or will he explode? What on earth are they waiting for?

Waiting is Not Easy! by Mo Willems. 57 p. 2014: Hyperion. Booktalk to Pre-K through 2nd. Great for reluctant readers.