Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate (Booktalk)

It's really embarrassing when your imaginary friend keeps showing up without warning. Oh, wait, it's worse when you're in fifth grade and you HAVE an imaginary friend, as Jackson does. Jackson's imaginary friend is Crenshaw, a very, very large black and white cat with definite opinions about everything.

Creshaw tends to show up especially when things are not going well for Jackson. He first appeared in first grade, when Jackson's dad was struggling with a a disease called multiple sclerosis. And later on, closer to the present time, he starts showing up when their family has lost all their money. I like Crenshaw. He leaves little gifts and signs, things that only Jackson likes. Like purple jellybeans. Jackson really likes those.

But Crenshaw is freaking me out a little. You know what he keeps telling Jackson? "You need to tell the truth to the person who matters the most of all." Tell the truth. And who is the person who matters the most of all? And will Crenshaw every vanish, or is he with Jackson for life?

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate. 245 pages. Feiwel and Friends, 2015. Booktalk to grades 3-8, depending on students' reading levels. Great read-aloud.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Goodbye, Stranger by Rebecca Stead Booktalk

Bridge is a middle school girl who got hit by a car which she was younger and she almost died. That's her on the cover with a friend of hers. She's fine now, and she has two best friends whom she loves and trusts: Tab and Em. Tab is very headstrong and opinionated: she's a bit of a tomboy, and she loves history and politics. You'd never catch Tab putting on makeup or showing an interest in it. Emily is more traditionally "girly" and the boys notice her; she's good at sports and knows more of the "popular" kids. Emily also has a boyfriend but doesn't want to call it that.

When you look at the three girls' personalities, they're actually fairly different, but they get along well and support one another loyally. Yet something changes when someone - we don't know who - gets Em's boyfriend's phone and finds a personal photo of Emily. This person forwards the photo to someone who then forwards the photo, and so on and so on. It's not a naked photo, but it's not a photo that Emily wants "out there." You'll have to read the novel to see the description of the photo!

So who did this? Can we trust Em's boyfriend? And more importantly, will Em survive the mean words and harsh words headed her way? And will her two best friends understand what she is going through? Will they stand by her? And who is this mysterious stranger alluded to in the title, "Goodbye, Stranger?" Read and find out.

Goodbye, Stranger by Rebecca Stead. 304 pages. Wendy Lamb Books, 2015. Booktalk to middle school and high school. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Going Solo by Roald Dahl (Booktalk)

[This booktalk is for designated for a high school audience.]

Did you read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or James and the Giant Peach when you were younger? Those were written by Roald Dahl, a brilliant writer and a fascinating man. He was also a British fighter pilot in World War II, and he had many near-death experiences in the war, including a very serious plane crash very close to enemy territory, one so bad that doctors thought he'd never see again. Luckily, they were wrong. He recovered, but while he was blind he had a huge crush on the nurse who helped him. You have to read it just for that part. It's both sweet and hilarious.

No one can write about scary, surreal, or bizarre experiences with the same dry humor as Roald Dahl. Before the war started, Dahl was employed by an oil company and he was sent to work in East Africa, part of the British empire at the time. He met so many eccentric characters there: people who exercised naked on a ship; a man who thrived on catching deadly snakes while calling them sweet names (he loved the snakes and wasn't cruel to them); a lady who wouldn't touch food with her hands at all, ever. He knew he'd ever encounter such types ever again, and he never did. There's something very strange and wonderful about being in a far away country, one very different from your home country.

I loved the postcards, telegrams, and photographs included which document his time in Africa and his time spent in the war. "One gasps at the waste of life"(83), he tells us. Yet Dahl survived, and he left this wonderful biography for us.

Going Solo by Roald Dahl. 210 pages. 1986. Booktalk to high school, adult. Great read-aloud.

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.