Saturday, July 31, 2010

Fight Back: H.S. Booktalk 1

When we're first introduced to Jace, a sixteen-year-old boy, he's split in two ways, just like the title of this novel, Split. First of all, Jace is split physically: his dad has physically assaulted him badly, just as his dad been doing to his mother for years now. Secondly, Jace has split from home, and he's looking for his older brother, Christian, who has made himself really, really hard to find. Christian left home years ago, because he was getting assaulted and could not stand the fact that their mother would not seek help: wouldn't tell the authorities, and wouldn't leave. Both Jace and Christian know that it's a matter of time before their mother gets killed by their father, who is actually a judge. A smart, respected judge - cunning enough to have been getting away with this for years. Jace plans to bust his mother out of her private hell, hopefully with Christian's help. But unfortunately, and complicatedly, Jace has a fight on two fronts. The other fight is with himself. He's got his own inner demons, which is why he lost the love of his girlfriend, Lauren, and why he's afraid to get involved with a new girl with whom he works. There are clues that Jace will have to fight hard to avoid becoming like his worst enemy: his father. On a personal note, although this sounds like a grim book, it's an amazing read. I could not put it down, and I highly recommend it: Split by Swati Avasthi.

Split by Swati Avasthi. Grades 9 up. 288 p. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2010.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

For Wimpy Kid Addicts: Booktalk 3

If I were a third grader, and my grades were decent, and my parents owned a candy store with really good candy,  I would be floating on air. But Justin isn't. Yes, his parents own the candy store, and his grades are fine, and he's only been in trouble a few times, but he worries - a lot. His friends call him Justin Case, and Case is not his real last name [no one can pronounce his last name: it's really long]. Justin is a good-hearted kid, the kind you would want for a friend, but he tends to get all worked up about stuff, and that shows in his diary entries. When he gets all worked about things, funny situations evolve. For example, all the kids had to come up with a classroom slogan at the start of the school year. Justin worked himself up into a state about this, and the slogan he came up with was so crazy that the class clowns loved it, but the teacher did not. They also started calling him by his slogan, which was not good. One of Justin's challenges is sports. He tries at sports, and his parents make him play sports, but he's not really good. He is really, really worried about not being able to climb the gym hanging rope. He doesn't want to look stupid, weak, or lazy. He's in a knot about it -- haha, bad pun, sorry. See how Justin handles this one [or doesn't] in Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters by Rachel Vail.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

For Wimpy Kid Addicts: Booktalk 2

The next Wimpy Kid-inspired book you’d like is Big Nate: In a Class by Himself by Lincoln Peirce. Nate is a fairly average sixth grader, but he’s sure that he’s destined for greatness. What kind of greatness? He has no clue. He’s not stellar at sports, his older sister is Miss Perfect compared to him, and his grades are … not great. However, he does get a very important fortune cookie fortune which tells him, “Today you will surpass all others.” Finally! He is destined for greatness, right? Could his greatness be shown in eating a huge pile of slimy school cafeteria green beans and then causing a massive disaster involving the principal? Um…no. Could his greatness be shown in writing only poems about Cheez Doodles in his poetry portfolio? His English teacher failed to see his greatness in those. Could his greatness be shown in the accident involving his gym shorts and a bunch of towels? Nah, that just ended in humiliation. To find out how Nate did surpass all others, read Big Nate: In a Class by Himself by Lincoln Peirce.

Monday, July 26, 2010

For Wimpy Kid Addicts: Booktalk 1

It’s hard to duplicate the success of the Wimpy Kid books. Everyone’s read them, and pretty much everyone loves them. Well, if you’ve read them, and you want more, I have good news and bad news for you. First, the bad news: the next Wimpy Kid book is not due out until November 2010. Next, the good news. There are some books which are a little reminiscent of Wimpy Kid, but in different ways.
The first one I want to talk to you about is called My Life as a Book by Janet Tashjian. [Show your readers the cover.] Just looking at the cover gives you a clue about the main character, Derek. Derek is a smart kid who loves to draw and hates to read. He’s been labeled a reluctant reader, and his mother basically bribes him with chocolate chips per page and threatens him. His dad, who is an illustrator by trade, is a little more sympathetic, but only a little. It’s summertime, and Derek has been procrastinating, nosing around the house, hanging out with his dog and his friends, and … oh, I almost forgot the worst part – Learning Camp. Yes, it is as bad as it is sounds. You’ll have to read about it for all the gory details.
Anyhow, you may be thinking: oh, this is the typical book about the boy who learns to love to read. No, this is not that book. This is a much, much better book. It’s funny, but it’s also more than that. Derek becomes really interested in finding out about a girl who drowned. He found this newspaper that his mom had been hanging on to, and every time he asked his mom about the drowned girl, it’s as if he hit a secret nerve. Who was this drowned girl? Derek may not like to read, but he’s got other talents, including getting his way, being a cool but nice kid, and being a good researcher and sleuth. Once you find out what he’s researching and why, you won’t be able to stop reading. My Life as a Book by Janet Tashjian was a great summer read.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Strange Journey: Booktalk 3

If you’ve read any of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, you’ll know that the author, Rick Riordan, tells a great story. In his new series, The Kane Chronicles, he once again sets us on a strange journey. The Red Pyramid features two new main characters, Carter and Sadie, who are brother and sister but who haven’t lived together for years. In fact, the last time they lived together, a birthday cake exploded at a party, and their parents decided they’d live apart - in separate countries. It’s a long story.
Carter and Sadie have an odd, complicated family history of which they know very little when the story begins. Their father is a brilliant Egyptologist who moves around a lot and seems paranoid. At one point, their father seemed to attack the world famous Rosetta Stone, which really backfired, and released some ticked off Egyptian gods. Do not tick off an Egyptian god. They are extremely vengeful, whether they’re male, or female, or…animal. Of course, now that their father is gone, Carter and Sadie have to fight back, and they gain some interesting allies along the way. One of their allies is a cat named Muffin [awww!] and a basketball-playing baboon named Khufu who only eats food ending in the letter O. Strange friends? Don’t get me started about their enemies, who are even weirder. The Red Pyramid is one strange, funny, and mesmerizing journey.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Strange Journey: Booktalk 2

I want to introduce you to a young slave in America in the year 1776: the time of the Revolutionary War. Her name is Isabel, an African-American girl who can read and write, but she wisely keeps this fact to herself. Isabel is 13 years, and she has a sister who is 5 years old, named Ruth. Ruth has special needs, and Isabel sees it as her job to watch out for Ruth and to protect Ruth. Ruth and Isabel are basically all alone in the world. Their mother, also a slave, died of smallpox. Their father, brought over to this country from Africa, is also dead. So the two girls are completely alone.
At one point, Isabel and Ruth had a fair owner who promised them their freedom. Unfortunately, that fair master died, and they changed hands – remember, they’re considered “property,” and got an unfair master who sold them to even worse masters. Basically, they went from the frying pan into the fire, to use a saying. The Locktons, who own them now, are pretty unkind, especially Mrs. Lockton. Before I tell you about Mrs. Lockton, I need to explain that the Locktons are Loyalists – they are on the side of the British, and they don’t want the American colonists to win the war. Back to Mrs. Lockton. She’s such a cruel master that she punishes Isabel inhumanely: she has Isabel branded with the letter “I” on her face. The pain is excruciating, and Isabel almost dies. Nowadays, we consider that a form of torture, and it’s illegal. But in those days, masters could do whatever they chose with their slaves. Luckily, Isabel survives. And also luckily for Isabel, she meets another slave, named Curzon, who becomes her best friend. He recruits her to spy for the Americans. This means spying on her masters, the cruel Locktons. But Mrs. Lockton isn’t done with Isabel. She plans to sell what Isabel holds most near and dear to her heart: Ruth, Isabel’s sister. What would you do if someone sold or tried to sell your sibling? What could you do?
Much of Isabel’s journey has to deal with courage, strength, and survival. If you’re interested in early America, and you want a great read, check out Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Strange Journey: Booktalk 1

[Booktalkers: before you booktalk this, you may want to consider flagging some of Lynne Rae Perkins' cool drawings in this to show your audience. I consider this title appropriate for both middle school and high school.]
When we first meet Ry, he's taking the train to camp. The train stops, and the conductor allows a 40-minute break, so Ry gets off the train. Before he knows it, the train is moving off...without him. Oh, and one other thing. While he _was_ on the train, he opened a letter which he didn't expect to have such disastrous news. It said, "Do not come to camp. There is no camp." So, the logical thing for Ry to do now is to go home, right? Not so easy. Events start conspiring against Ry's homecoming. In fact, the same things starts happening to his grandfather -- who falls down a huge sinkhole -- and to his parents, who are thousands of miles away, on a sailboat. One of the chapters in this fabulous book is called, "When the Rug is Pulled Out, the Earth, too, You Have to Move Your Feet to Keep from Falling." You have to move your feet to keep from falling. And that's what Ry does. This is a wonderful, crazy, fast-paced adventure with intriguing characters. Check out As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth by Lynne Rae Perkins.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Cool Brainiacs: Booktalk 3

Not all brainiacs are math and science geniuses. Sometimes a brainiac is just a smart person who thinks of a brilliant solution to a problem - a solution which no one else has thought of. Mama Miti was that kind of brainiac. She was born and partially raised in Kenya -- in Africa, and during her lifetime, she started to see Kenya getting sick: poverty, scarce drinking water, not enough food, lack of jobs, and the growing disappearance of nature. It scared her, and it saddened her, too. People had been trying to think of solutions, but nothing was working. Mama Miti had an idea: get the local people in villages and tribes to plant more trees, even if it just meant starting with one tree. One tree? You'd be amazed what good things can come from a tree. It can be shelter from the burning sun, it can provide food, it can protect watersheds, and it can protect animals. A tree is a starting point for many good things. The tree movement she started was called the Green Belt movement. It has helped many people and villages in Africa. She had an elegantly simple idea. So, remember: a brainiac can use her brain to help thousands of people, just as Mama Miti did, in this fabulous book called Mama Miti by Donna Jo Napoli.

[Booktalkers: Much of this I got from Mama Miti's [a.k.a. Wangari Maathai] memoir called Unbowed: A Memoir, available in many libraries. If you're booktalking to high schoolers or adults, you might consider using Unbowed.]

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Cool Brainiacs: Booktalk 2

Have you ever been insulted and called a blockhead? It's not fun, especially when you're actually smart. I want to introduce you to another Leonardo -- Leonardo of Pisa, also known as Leonardo Fibonacci. This Leonardo loved numbers that he thought about them all the time. In class, he was so smart that he'd finish his work early, start daydreaming about math riddles of his own inventions, and tick the teacher off! Many of the world's brightest minds were often daydreamers, so Leonardo Fibonacci fit that pattern perfectly! When Leonardo was grown up, he wrote a book about Hindu-Arabic numerals [basically, the number system we all use today], and he threw in some math riddles. One of the math riddles was about how fast rabbits can multiply. Now, if you've ever had a pair of male and female rabbits, they can have a lot of babies over the course of a year. You can get stuck with a lot of rabbit families, whether you want them or not. Leonardo discovered that in nature, whether we're talking about rabbits or shells or flowers, there is a magical numerical code which comes up time and time again. He found one of nature's most important codes! Today we call this code the Fibonacci sequence, after Leonardo. If you want to find out more about this amazing code, read Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci by Joseph D'Agnese.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cool Brainiacs: Booktalk 1

[Booktalker: Before you booktalk, put a tab or bookmark the page with the Wright Brothers.]
Leonardo da Vinci -- let's call him Leo -- was one of the greatest minds of all time. He was interested in absolutely everything. He lived hundreds of years ago in Italy, and he loved to take notes: all kinds of notes - notes on inventions, designs, and ideas. You know what's so cool about his notes? He used mirror writing - in order to read the notes, you have to hold them up to a mirror! If you check this book out, get a mirror ready, because there's some mirror writing to decipher. Back to Leo -- he was way, way ahead of his time. Many of his "inventions" only existed in his notes - they never got made into real life prototypes until thousands of years later [showcase page with Wright brothers and Leo's "ornithopter"]. If we look at this picture of the Wright brothers in 1903, and this picture of Leo's "ornithopter," 400 years before that, we see that Leo thought of it first! [Turn the page to the hang gliders]. Leo even thought of hang gliders and drew them up as designs, long before the first successful hang glider was successfully flown. His mind was amazing. His designs were brilliant. This is a fun, fascinating book: Neo Leo: The Ageless Ideas of Leonardo da Vinci by Gene Barretta.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Amazing Rats: Booktalks 1-3

[The three titles I’m booktalking are Walter: The Story of a Rat by Barbara Wersba; Oh, Rats! The Story of Rats and People by Albert Marrin; and The Year of the Rat by Grace Lin.]

[For Walter: The Story of a Rat, since you’re doing first person narration, slip on costume mouse/rat ears if you have them, or costume mouse whiskers, if you have them. Hold the book up so they can see the cover]

My name is Walter. I’m a rat, not a mouse. I see all of you looking at me with horror and contempt! A rat! In the library! You humans are so vain. I’m not so very different from you. I’m clean, I’m quiet, and I can even read and write. I’m trustworthy and honest, for the most part. And I don’t trust you all, either. Well, there’s one of you I trust. See, I live by myself in the house of a famous children’s author. I read her books – especially the ones she herself has written – quietly at night. I like them so much that I even wrote her a letter. This is what I wrote: My name is Walter. I live here, too. To my great surprise, my friend the author wrote me a letter back. It had only two words: I know.
What else did she know about me? Find out in my unusual story: Walter: The Story of a Rat by Barbara Wersba.

[Take your whiskers off. Or leave them on. Your call. Hold up your next book, Oh, Rats! The Story of Rats and People by Albert Marrin.]

Walter was a special rat. But rats and people really do have a lot in common. Like us, rats are mammals, they’re smart, they have good memories, and they are survivors. Did you know that a rat can get flushed down a toilet and live? It can even squeeze through a pipe the size of a quarter! Everything about a rat is built for survival: its body, its jaws, its senses. Rats can and will eat anything, and a lot of it! If a rat were the size of your average adult, it would eat 16 pounds of food a day! Rats are uncannily bright, too. They can figure out how to get through mazes with record speed. So if you want to figure our more about what you have in common with rats, I urge you to check out Oh, Rats! The Story of Rats and People by Albert Marrin.

[Hold up your next title, The Year of the Rat by Grace Lin.]

Okay, so the rat is pretty amazing. The rat is often disliked in America, but he’s liked in China. In this book, Pacy [also called Grace] and her family are celebrating the Chinese New Year, the year of the rat. They’re having a great time, eating wonderful food and enjoying themselves, and Pacy’s dad explains to her that in Chinese culture, the rat is seen as charming and smart. Well, what does that have to do with Pacy? She finds out that her best friend Melody is moving – far away. This is devastating news to Pacy. She is heartbroken. She’s afraid she’ll be all alone at school, and it terrifies her. Yet the year of the rat also symbolizes a fresh start, a new beginning. Without her best friend, Pacy’s year could be exhilarating or terrifying – or maybe both. If you’ve ever experienced the loss of a friend, try reading The Year of the Rat by Grace Lin.

[Optional three-book wrap up.] So, as you can see, rats are complex, intelligent animals with a long history. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re pretty amazing!