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.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Book talk: Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton

[For this booktalk, I used two props: a net and a small plush red bird. ]

[Holding the net and pretending to "net" the bird.] How easy is it to catch a bird? How quick on your feet do you have to be? Do you think you could catch a bird with a net?

[Picking up book.] Shh! We have a plan! We're going to catch that bird!

[Show picture]. Almost!

[Turn the page.] Okay, so that did NOT go well.

But remember, we have a plan.

And now we have a BOAT. You just cannot fail with a boat and a net, you know?

[Ask kids to predict what will happen with the boat.]

Yep...man in the water!

Fine! Time for a new plan!

Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton. Candlewick, 2014. Booktalk to PreK-2nd grade. Also, good introduction to the concept of the refrain.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Book talk: The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

Imagine you are going to ride the longest train in the world -- the Boundless: she's seven miles long and holds over six thousand passengers. Think about it: seven miles long. There are entire cities shorter than that! Anyhow, some people claim the Boundless is too big, and there's one creepy fact you should know: she carries her dead founder's coffin in a locked and guarded room. Creepy, huh?

Will is our young hero, and he needs to get into that locked coffin room. His family used to be poor, but thanks to the Boundless and its creator, they are now rich. Life is good.

Did I just say Will's life was good? Strike that. At one point, he got off the Boundless, went into the woods, and barely made it back to the departing train -- he got on the caboose on the very end. So why is that a problem? First of all, the Boundless is seven miles long, and it's not easy to travel between cars. Many of them are locked, and there are different classes of passengers on the train: the rich are at the front, the middle class are somewhere in the middle, and the poor are crammed together in over-crowded cars at the end. Will's dad is at the front, and Will is at the very back.

Will stinks, and there are men on board trying to kill him. He stinks because he doused himself with the urine -- that's pee -- of a supposed sasquatch, a huge, monstrous, ape-like creature. That stuff stinks. The men trying to kill him stink as well, only not literally. What kind of a crazy train is this? Read Kenneth Oppel's The Boundless to find out.

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel. Simon & Schuster, 2014. Booktalk to grades 5-9.

Monday, August 25, 2014

You Can't Make Me: Funny, Subversive Picture Books

Any toddler or preschooler who hasn't gotten his or her way can be creatively subversive and funny, too, if you're not on the receiving end.

Maybe you do need a bath.
Mo Willems' picture books featuring the Pigeon are both hilarious and true: hilarious because the pigeon is subversive by nature, and true because he's basically an intelligent, strong-willed preschooler. The Pigeon Needs a Bath!, one of Mo Willems' newer ones, has snarky flies (even they think the Pigeon reeks), zesty Pigeon diatribes and excuses, and a satisfying ending.


Meet the next level of the will to power. Achilles, a young crocodile, would really like to eat a child. We know that this is a bad idea, but he sticks to it anyways.

Achilles really is pretty cute.
His parents bring him all kinds of edible treats, but his ingratitude grows, as does his desire to eat a child. Sure enough, Achilles does encounter a child. Will we be grossed out? Find out in Sylviane Donnio's I'd Really Like to Eat a Child. (Yes, it's completely appropriate. Duh.)



Ever been interrupted by a young child? Repeatedly? You'll appreciate Peter Catalanotto's Ivan the Terrier in which Ivan repeatedly interrupts the narrator's fairy tale with his hyperactive barking.

Ivan the Terrier by Peter Catalanotto
Exhausted, the poor narrator keeps switching to a different tale, only to get interrupted again by barking. But Ivan, like a young child, will get tired (eventually). Young children will delight in finding Ivan in pictures where he is barely visible.

That appliance looks unreliable!
Fix this Mess by Tedd Arnold begins with my own dream come true: a Remote Operating Basic Utility Gizmo ("cleans your house!" according to the box) -- R.O.B.U.G, super cute and looks portable. Looks are deceptive. Every time ROBUG's owner asks him to "fix this mess," ROBUG only makes the mess worse, while relocating the mess to a different location in the house. Sounds exactly like someone I know.