Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hang in There: Booktalk 2

Have you ever driven your parents crazy with your whining, especially over summer vacation? That is exactly what eleven-year-old Megan is doing to her parents during their summer break in Vermont. Megan’s parents are both artists, and between nine a.m. and noon, Megan is supposed to be engaged in “creative pursuits,” which means art or writing, and no cell phone, no Internet, no television: you get the picture. Poor Megan: she starts to doodle, and then she rips it up. She’s bored. So her mother, one of those “back to nature” types, suggests that Megan go on a hike. Only problem is: Megan gets lost, and she’s got her innocent little dog Arp [not Arf, it’s Arp] with her. Megan actually managed to get lost on the Appalachian trail, too, which stretches on for miles and miles and miles. During my favorite part, she keeps fantasizing about Oreo cookies which are supposedly in a bag hanging from a nail in one of the trail shelters. Only, there’s an animal much larger than Megan that wants those Oreos, too. Can Nature Girl make it on her own? Nature Girl by Jane Kelley.

Nature Girl by Jane Kelley. 236 p. Random House, 2010. Booktalk to elementary [3rd-5th] and middle school.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Hang in There: Booktalk 1

Most of you have tripped and fallen at some point, right? When our author, Raina Telgemeier, was in sixth grade, she fell and tripped, knocking out her two front teeth. Only, it wasn’t that simple. She hurt the bone above her teeth, and did some pretty serious damage which required multiple surgeries. This caused her to miss a fair amount of school, and she spent a lot of time in pain and unable to eat. But notice the title and the cover: it’s Smile.

In spite of its painful subject matter, Smile is a funny and thoughtful book. Raina has the normal problems of a pre-teenager: at one point, she’s writing a note to her friend about a boy she likes, and her teacher intercepts it, and the whole class finds out who she has a crush on. But there are also times when she’s so worried about her surgeries that she can’t focus on school, and her grades suffer. She gets teased more than most kids do because of her teeth. Yet Raina is a cool, kind-hearted, brave girl, and Smile tells a great story. Smile by Raina Telgemeier.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier. Graphic novel: 213 p. Scholastic, 2010. Booktalk to elementary [3rd-5th] and middle school.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cool, Smart Poetry: Booktalk 3

Poets can get away with stuff that non-poets can’t. For example, only a poet would think about what trees dream about at night. One of my favorite poems in this collection is called “The Oak Trees Are Dreaming” by Patricia Hubbell, and I got to hear her read it on the CD that comes with the book. Hearing her read it made the poem come alive for me. Back to poets getting away with stuff. Only a poet could write an ode to a termite who caused your Cousin May to fall through the floor today. And only a poet could write an obituary for a clam that lived and died 300 million years ago. And only a poet could compare a bear in a zoo to a lost child in the woods. And only a poet could explain to you why everything that lives wants to fly. The great thing about a treasury of poetry like this one is that it has something for everyone. You are guaranteed to find at least a few poems that you really love. The Tree that Time Built: [Poems] Selected by Mary Anne Hoberman and Linda Winston.

The Tree that Time Built: [Poems] Selected by Mary Anne Hoberman and Linda Winston. 209 p., includes index, glossary, and accompanying audio CD. Sourcebooks, Inc, 2009. Booktalk to elementary school [grades 3-5] and to middle school.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Cool, Smart Poetry: Booktalk 2

[Before you booktalk, put bookmarks in your favorite poems in case you want to read a few instead of doing a traditional “booktalk.” These poems are charming.]

Can you imagine a poem about your great-aunt who was a paleontologist famous for finding fossil poo? Or a poem about hugging and kissing a giant dinosaur skeleton in a museum? Or a poem about a prehistoric kid who has a teddy bone instead of a teddy bear? [Show the picture: it’s the poem titled “Teddy Bone.”] Doesn’t he look miserable in his leaky, lumpy bed? He wakes up miserable every morning: so next time you’re whining about going to bed, think about what life was like for prehistoric kids! Can You Dig It And Other Poems by Robert Weinstock features cool, quirky poems with hilarious little details: triceratops on a trapeze; Cro-Magnon men wearing animal tutus; and a T. Rex who accidentally ate his friends!

Can You Dig It and Other Poems: Unearthed by Robert Weinstock. Unpaged [21 poems]. Disney Hyperion Books, 2010. Booktalk to grades 3-6.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cool, Smart Poetry: Booktalk 1

[Before you booktalk, put bookmarks in your favorite poems in case you want to read a few instead of doing a traditional “booktalk.” More charming poems here.]

Did you know that 99% of all species that ever existed are now extinct? 99% -- that’s pretty much all species! So the species that are still sticking around today, like us, are pretty lucky and amazing. [Showcase cover of book]. This book is called Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors by Joyce Sidman and illustrator Beckie Prange. That’s a tricky word – ubiquitous. What does that mean? [Take answers or guesses.] The glossary at the back tells us this: “Something that is (or seems to be) everywhere at the same time.” So basically, ubiquitous means something that’s everywhere – and something we are used to: bacteria, beetles, ants, grass, squirrels, and humans. All of these things have ancient ancestors. Take squirrels, for example.

[If you want, skip the next part, and just read the poem “Tail Tale” and then give your readers a few pre-rehearsed facts from the squirrel info section.]

“Tail Tale” is a cool shaped poem [show the picture]: squirrels have more determination and perserverance than we’ll ever have, and their genetic family is 36 million years old. That’s older than us, good old homo sapiens. In the world of species, we are the new kids on the block. Our everyday world is full of ancient mysteries, and history lives through those ubiquitous plants and animals. Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors by Joyce Sidman.

Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors by Joyce Sidman, ill. by Becky Prange. Unpaged. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2010. Booktalk to intermediate grades [3-5] and middle school.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Your Medical Diagnosis Is ... : Booktalk 3

[Unless you have a t-shirt that says, "Buddha Burger," you don't need any props for this one.]

Excuse me [run hands through your hair, look disheveled and wild-eyed, confused.] Have you seen a talking garden gnome and / or a Mexican-American dwarf clutching an inhaler? The dwarf might have asked you if he could use your cell phone to call his mom. Which way did they go? [Wait for response.] That is _not_ helping me. Why the funny looks? Okay, sorry, I'll slow down, but if you see anything resembling fire giants or a Wizard of Reckoning -- you'll know him when you see him -- tell me immediately. So, I'm Cameron, and I've been diagnosed with mad cow disease. Those last two wusses who booktalked to you got nothing on me. See, their diseases were just physical: blindness and leukemia. Mine is BOTH physically and mentally degenerative: yeah, both my body and my mind are going to hell in handbasket. I won the sickness lottery. But I'm on a quest, too. I'm trying to find Dr. X, who learned to travel through both space and time. I'm trying to fight this dark energy that is attacking both my brain and this world of ours [hence those nasty fire giants]. Yes, I'm crazy but I'm also not. You have to be a little crazy to live in this world, and you have to be even crazier _not_ to search for meaning. So even if I don't find Dr. X, I hope to find out what all this _means_ before I die. Don't look so glum. I'm funny as heck, trust me. So are the gnome and the dwarf, when they're not being pains in the you-know-what. Read Going Bovine by Libby Bray, and don't forget to suspend your disbelief.

Going Bovine by Libby Bray. 480 p. Delacorte Press, 2009. Booktalk this only after reading every single page, seriously. Upper high school, college, adult.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Your Medical Diagnosis Is ... : Booktalk 2

[Once again, you’ll be doing first-person narration. If you have any football stuff, like a helmet, wear it. Or, if you have any books by or about Malcolm X, hold them, cover facing out.]

I don’t look sick, do I? [Long pause.] Yeah, I got you fooled, just like everyone else: my parents, my teachers, my girlfriend, and my brother, who is also my best friend. Before my senior year in high school started, I had my routine physical, along with bloodwork. And I got some very bad news. Yeah, I’m terminal. Terminal, as in - dying. Dead. Gone. Sooner rather than later. It’s a blood disease, and I’m not going to bore you with the gory details. [Put your hand up to your ear as if you missed a comment from the audience.] What’s that? Skip school? Are you kidding? And miss all the drama? Miss being around the hottest girl in school, who actually _chooses_ to hang out with me? Miss being around my ignorant government teacher, who spews propaganda in spite of my efforts to correct him? Miss being on the football team? [Pause, look insulted.] Yes, that’s right, I made the team. Okay, so the coach is a close personal friend of the family. Okay, so the only sport I only have a chance with is cross country. I’m dying: I might as well go all out. You know all those people who say “I’d like to do X before I die?” Well, that’s my own personal homework assignment that I created just for me. There’s something else you need to know. I’m 18, which means I can keep my medical stuff all to my lonesome self. If I want to tell my parents, that’s fine. If I don’t want to tell them, well, heck, that’s perfectly legal, too. So which did I choose? Get the book, lazybones. Don’t give me that look - you’d be difficult, too. I’m under deadline. Deadline by Chris Crutcher.

Deadline by Chris Crutcher. 316 p. Greenwillow Books, 2007. Booktalk to high school, adult.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Your Medical Diagnosis Is ... : Booktalk 1

[You’ll be doing the next three booktalks in first person narration. For this booktalk, you’ll need a pair of dark sunglasses to wear.]

Most of you think dark glasses are pretty cool, right? Well, I don’t wear them to be cool. I wear them as protection from your stares. That’s right -- you. See, I’m slowly going blind. My name’s Natalie, and I’m a regular teenager, except for the fact that I was born with some abnormalities in my eyes, so it’s always been hard for my eyes to adjust to light, which then causes a host of other problems. As a kid, I started tripping, falling, and having serious accidents because my vision was deteriorating. Reading became hard because I couldn’t see the letters, and by the time I was in middle school, I could not see well enough to get from classroom to classroom. It was scary and embarrassing. I had to count and memorize the steps between classes, and even then, things could go wrong. The summer before I started high school, I had my seventh eye surgery operation. It did not make my eyesight any better. And soon after that, just as the doctor hinted, my eyesight started to get worse. Basically, I’m getting ready to go completely blind. I can’t function in Western Allegany, my small public high school, because it just doesn’t have any technology for the blind. So my parents have sent me away to a Baltimore school for the blind, which is where I am now. It’s got an interesting group of teens. I live in dorm with a group of girls, some of whom are cool, and some of whom aren’t. I’m learning Braille and how to get around with a cane, which is harder than you think. When you’re blind, you’re far more vulnerable than sighted people, also -- both physically and emotionally. In spite of all that they’re teaching me here, there’s one thing I can promise you. No one and nothing can prepare you for going blind. This is my story. Blindsided by Priscilla Cummings.

Blindsided by Priscilla Cummings. 226 p. Dutton Children’s Books, 2010. Booktalk to high school, even adult.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Awesome Arctic: Booktalk 3

Even though fourteen-year-old Alika hasn’t been a teenager for long, he’s an accomplished Inuit seal hunter, and he his family live about as close as humans live to the North Pole in 1868. Seal hunting is a way of life to the Inuit people, and Alika and his younger brother, Sulu, have traveled to the edge of a thick ice floe which is attached to land. It’s the time of the long winter darkness, and Alika and Sulu have come by ice sledge led by their dogs. Their lead sledge dog, Jamka, has sniffed out a seal hole, and Alika sees his chance to wait for the seal to pop up to the surface and provide them with the food they so badly need for the long, dark, frigid winter. But Alika is starting to push his luck: it looks as if a gale is coming, and their village of Nunatak is seven miles away. Alika’s ancestors have been living in this neck of the woods for thousands and thousands of years, and all children are taught to hunt, to build iglus, to predict the thickness of ice over water, to fight off polar bear attacks, and to survive sub-zero weather. If they’re not taught this at a young age, they’ll die. Remember: the Arctic is a formidable foe. It has lots of tricks up its sleeve, and it had one trick that Alika did not see coming: ice floes can break away from the land they’ve attached themselves to. They’re like big ice rafts, basically, and Alika watches in horror as he and his young brother and their dogs are suddenly adrift at sea, all alone on an ice floe: Ice Drift by Theodore Taylor.

Ice Drift by Theodore Taylor. 224 p. Harcourt, 2005. Booktalk to intermediate grades, middle school, even early high school.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Awesome Arctic: Booktalk 2

You have to be really, really tough -- physically and mentally -- to want to reach the North Pole, especially if you did it the old-fashioned way [by boat, dog sled, and your own two feet], as African-American explorer Matthew Henson did. Matthew Henson had always been a determined, adventurous young man. When he was only 13 years old, he walked forty miles completely on his own to Baltimore in order to get a job. He discovered that he loved sailing, adventure, and travel. When he met a young naval lieutenant named Robert Edwin Peary in 1887, it would change his life. He traveled with Peary to the jungles of Nicaragua, and later they started traveling to the Arctic. Explorers tend to dream big, and Robert Peary was no exception. He wanted to be the first man to reach the North Pole, and he asked Henson to come along and be his assistant. This began years of their working as a team to reach the pole. Peary was lucky to have such a brave and loyal helper. Henson gave up much of his life and his personal safety to accompany Peary on these long, often fruitless expeditions. During one, Henson had gone ahead. He was fairly close to the Pole, but he was on thin ice, and he and his dogs plunged into the icy water. If Henson had not been pulled out by a native Inuit man who had accompanied them, he would have died. Peary never wanted to give up, because he was in competition with another man, Dr. Frederick Cook, to be the first man to reach the true North Pole. Eventually, Peary was declared the winner, but sadly enough, Matthew Henson did not receive much credit or glory at the time for his help in the victory. Happily, some of that has been rectified today. Read more about this fascinating man, Matthew Henson, in Onward: a Photobiography of African-American Polar Explorer Matthew Henson by Dolores Johnson.

Onward: a Photobiography of African-American Polar Explorer Matthew Henson by Dolores Johnson. 64 p. National Geographic Society, 2006. Booktalk to intermediate, middle school, even high school.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Awesome Arctic: Booktalk 1

Imagine traveling to the North Pole, a land where nothing is permanent except the seabed far below the ice itself. The air is 15 degrees below zero, and it is completely dark six months out of the year. Unlike the South Pole, the North Pole doesn’t have permanent research stations and scientists living there year round. In many ways, the North Pole is trickier, sneakier, and more mysterious than the South Pole. It seems to have more secrets which are harder to uncover. That’s why the New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin visited the North Pole and wrote this book. He’s an environmental reporter and the first Times reporter to file stories directly from the North Pole. It’s pretty amazing what he went through to get there. It can take days in small planes landing on obscure, icy runways. You have to wear huge, bulky clothing and spend a lot of time sitting around waiting. When you get there, during the daylight months, the sun is blinding, the air is frigid, and you can forget about taking showers. You lose all sense of time because it’s perpetual daylight. Only bring pencils, because pens will freeze up, and you won’t be able to write. Revkin explores many of the mysteries of the North Pole: why the magnetic field there is always shifting; how global warming could massively change the North Pole; and why so many explorers have died trying to get to the Pole. I loved The North Pole Was Here by Andrew C. Revkin.

The North Pole Was Here: Puzzles and Perils at the Top of the World by Andrew C. Revkin. 128 p. Kingfisher, 2006. Booktalk to intermediate grades, middle school, even high school.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Fight Back: H.S. Booktalk 3

When you’re the younger brother of an alpha male, you have to fight to maintain your sense of identity, especially when it’s an identity less respected and understood by others in your small town. Although Frankie is smart, quirky, decent looking, and funny, his older brother Steve is much, much cooler; unlike Frankie, Steve is highly respected both by the popular kids at school and by the local “cholos” he hangs out with. Steve’s a varsity athlete who will get a college scholarship, and Frankie likes to blow up anthills [they’re fire ants, relax] with his best friend, Zach, who likes to take out his glass eye and gross out his friends with it. Frankie’s fine with being his own person, until he and his brother have escalating conflicts with John Dalton, a rich, white boy who has it out for both of them, due in large part to the fact that Frankie managed to steal John’s girlfriend out from under his nose [way to go, Frankie!]. Unfortunately, the rivalry with John Dalton has now expanded, and it’s become a racially divided one. Frankie will have to decide at what point fighting back is actually worth it, because anger has a way of erasing your true identity. The Brothers Torres by Coert Voorhoes is thoughtful and laugh-out-loud funny.

The Brothers Torres by Coert Voorhees. 316 p. Hyperion Books [Disney], 2008. Booktalk to high school, adult.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Fight Back: H.S. Booktalk 2

Marena is a teenager in a country, probably our own, ruled by the Zero Tolerance Party, which is the only political party, under which it is perfectly legal to arrest anyone at any time for anything. It is a country now ruled by fear, oppression, and ruthless indoctrination. At Marena’s school, which is actually run much like a prison, Marena and her classmates are forced to read [almost religiously] from a huge red tome called the Commemorator. But Marena is having a hard time being a true believer. Her mother, whose memory she clings to even as it fades, was captured and probably killed by the state for protesting their lack of rights. Marena’s a lot like her mom, and so are her two close friends - Eric and Dex. The three of them have been sneaking off their fenced-in compound to a secret, abandoned, empty old building they found - a place where they can be themselves and dream of resistance. However, there are signs that there is another group of resisters trying to make inroads at their school. Unfortunately, one must be extremely careful in this police state to make zero mistakes: punishment entails [among other things] a brain operation which causes you to lose the ability to read, write, or speak. And Marena, Eric, and Dex have been sloppy. Marena may have trusted someone she thought would never betray her, especially to the authorities. She now runs the risk of becoming just like her mother: one of the “disappeared.” The Silenced by James DeVita is about fighting back against a government which has zero tolerance for basic human rights.

The Silenced by James DeVita. Grades 7 up. 512 p. HarperTeen, 2007.