Saturday, December 7, 2013

Book talk: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

Hold up your right hand. [Wait for kids to do this.]

As a 14-year-old silversmith apprentice, this hand is your most important tool. Yes, you'll be working with other tools, but your hand needs to be strong, flexible, and capable of delicate, little movements, like carving or engraving. You live in Boston around the time of the Revolutionary War, and your hand   insures your job, your right to live under your master's roof, and your future. That hand is your whole life.

Put your hand down. I have some bad news. You spilled burning hot silver on your hand - it wasn't your fault, but it is your problem. Your hand doesn't work right anymore, and you can't be a silversmith in this town with one working hand.

Parents? I forgot to mention. You don't have any. You're an orphan, and now you've got nowhere to go…

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. Winner: Newbery Award, 1944. Published 1943. 320 pages. Booktalk to upper elementary, middle school.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book talk: The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang (2011 Cybils Award)

Having a bedroom all to yourself is the best thing in the world. I'm Lucy Wu, and I've been waiting for my older sister, Regina, to move out for some time now. Finally: the room is mine…all mine! I'm about to start sixth grade, and things are looking good for me: I'm getting better and better at basketball (my favorite sport) and I have a great best friend, Madison, who plays it with me. And no, as you can see, I am not tall. This school year is going to be the best ever. I'll update you in a few days… [quick exit and return]

No way. I mean it. No way. So I go out with my family and relatives to this amazing Chinese restaurant: normally, I'd have a great time, but I want to mention two things. I'm getting criticized by certain people (cough, cough, Regina!) for not appreciating Chinese culture and food and then later I get the real catastrophe - I'll be sharing my room with my grandma's sister, Yi Po, who is coming here from China and speaks no English. Yeah: sharing MY room. Did I mention that my command of Chinese is not very good? This is terrible. I have to share a room with someone I can't communicate with! Maybe I'll put up a wall…..

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang. 312 p. Scholastic: 2011. Booktalk to intermediate grades and middle school. 2011 Cybils Award for Middle Grade Fiction.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Book talk: Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis

Timmy Failure runs his own detective agency, is flunking out of school, has a polar bear named Total, and rides his mom's Segway, which he's not ever, ever supposed to do. He's pretty good at keeping his mother in the dark, but the Segway - his Failuremobile - has been stolen, which means there will be pain and suffering on Timmy's part. A guy's gotta have wheels.

Come to think of it, there are two other females associated with pain and suffering: the first is Molly Moskins. She's in his class, and she smells like a tangerine. She's got a crush on Timmy, and he wants nothing to do with her. 

But she's nothing compared to the evil one. The evil one is so evil that Timmy doesn't even want you to see her picture. He blocks out her head with a black square. I'm not even going to say her real name. You can call her the evil one, or Weevil Bun. Take your pick. She runs her own detective agency, and she's so good at school that she actually tutors other kids. But you know what? Timmy has her detective log. The Holy Grail. Ahhh....revenge....

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis. 294 p. 2013: Candlewick. Booktalk to grades 3-7.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Book talk: Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole

Have you ever felt as if you were being watched?

Our protagonist – whose name we don’t know – is a young girl who works on a farm during the time of the Civil War. She feeds the cow and the chickens, and she does daily farm chores: cleaning, gathering food, helping her family.

She has a busy but quiet life. She sees Confederate soldiers riding by on their horses one day: the war is going on, but she and her family have food and their health and one another.

But she’s being watched. When she’s alone in the shed, she can feel an eye trained on her. Whose eye is this? Who would hide behind picked corn stalks? And why is this person in her family’s shed?

There are no words in this book, but this is a powerful story called Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole.

Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole. Unpaged, wordless. Scholastic: New York, 2012. Booktalk to K-3. Would work especially well for students learning about the Civil War. 2012 New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books Selection; 2012 Parents' Choice Award for Picture Books Winner.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Book talk: Hello! Hello! by Matthew Cordell (2012 New York Times Notable Children's Book)

[For this booktalk, enlist the help of another person – adult or child (doesn’t matter) who holds a handheld electronic device and ignores you as you say “Hello! Hello!” You’ll also need a copy of this book.]

[You approach the other person who is engrossed with his/her device.] Hello! Hello! [You sigh, loudly.]

Okay, I’ll try again. [Walk away from the person, and then come back.]

Hello! Hello! [Sigh.] Fine, I’ll go outside.

[Show pp. 13-14]. Hello, leaf.

[Show pp. 15-16] Hello, bug.

Gee, there’s a lot going on out here. I should probably go outside more often. This stuff seems pretty interactive, and you don't even have to plug it in.

[Show pp. 21-22] Hello, horse! [Turn page, quickly] Oh my gosh! The horse said hello back to me! What is going on? [Turn a few more pages..] Gee, they all know hello…

Hello! Hello! By Matthew Cordell. Unpaged. 2012: Hyperion. Booktalk to pre-K through 2nd. Good readaloud. 2012 New York Times Notable Children’s Book.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Book talk: A Game for Swallows by Zeina Abirachad

Most of you have been at home alone while you waited for your parents to return home, right? It’s a fairly typical teen experience. But what if you had no way of contacting your parents when they were gone? What if you worried they’d get hit by sniper fire when returning home? In this graphic novel, Zeina drew us a map of how tricky it was to avoid the sniper near their apartment. 
Avoiding the sniper in A Game for Swallows

And what if the block and the area you lived in got bombed so regularly that all your neighbors would come join you in the foyer of your apartment because it was considered the safest spot? Imagine living with all your neighbors in a tiny room for hours and hours and even days. It’s a hard way to live, but Zeina and her little brother have grown up with this. They live in Beirut, Lebanon, during a time of civil war, a civil war which dragged on from 1975-1990. They know of people who have disappeared and were never seen again. But there’s humor in this novel: her neighbors – virtually family since they live in close quarters – are protective, loving, and quirky. If your world shrank to one room, would you be able to laugh?

A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return by Zeina Abirached. Graphic novel. 188 p. Booktalk to middle school, high school.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Book talk: The Hypnotists by Gordon Korman

If 12-year-old Jackson Opus sat next to you in class, you'd think he was pretty average. He's okay at school - but not great, he's okay at basketball - but not great, he has a best friend and normal parents, and he has really cool eyes that change color sometimes. Hey, we all have quirks. But something weird has been going on with Jackson: he's been having these brief visions in which he sees himself from another person's eyes. Immediately after these brief visions, the person acts unexpectedly: the bus driver lets all hell break loose to speed (like a maniac) Jackson to Jackson's destination on time, and the basketball player on the opposing team misses shots that he never, ever would've missed normally. Sounds like mind control? It was! But Jackson wasn't doing it on purpose! He was just inwardly wishing for these people to do his bidding. It wasn't as if he was actively trying to control them. It's scary, but it sounds like fun, doesn't it? You could get your teacher to change your test grade, and you could get your parents to buy you that computer you've always wanted. But this novel is called The Hypnotists -- plural. Other hypnotists? You mean there are other people who can do this? So why is one of them particularly interested in Jackson? 

The Hypnotists by Gordon Korman. 232 p. Scholastic: 2013. Booktalk to intermediate grades (3rd-5th) and middle school.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Book talk: 45 Pounds (More or Less) by K. A. Barson

It is hard to lose weight, especially when you love lasagna, you don’t like to work out, your mother is super thin and only eats salads, and you have a part-time job selling hot pretzels. So what’s your motivation going to be? Being able to shop in “regular” clothing stores? Attracting the glance of a cute boy? Wearing a nice dress to an important family wedding? Or just…not being the target of mean girls’ comments?

For Ann it’s all of the above. She desperately wants to lose 45 pounds for her aunt Jackie’s wedding in which she’ll be the bridesmaid. And yes, she has done Weight Watchers in the past. It works, but it’s not her style.

So Ann watches an infomercial and orders this diet plan which includes supplements which make her shaky. Not good. Luckily, Ann’s smart enough to know that you don’t take those things. But calorie restriction is so….painful. Let’s not even talk about exercise. The tape that came with her diet plan is ridiculously impossible. Thank God no one is watching her attempt to do it. No…people are only watching when you accidentally get drunk at a party and puke all over the shoes of the cute boy whom you like and who surprisingly seems to like you back. And it gets posted all over Facebook. There’s no motivation like humiliation, you know?

45 Pounds (More or Less) by K. A. Barson. 264 p. Viking: 2013. Booktalk to 7th - 12th grades.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Book talk: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

[In an effort not to reveal their romance or any spoilers, I limited myself to the earliest part of plot.]

It really, really irritates me when people read over my shoulder, especially if I’m on a bus or a train, because then it’s harder to get rid of them. Park takes the bus to school every day, and he’s sort of considered a cool kid, but he’s also sort of an independent. You know how high school is.  A decidedly not cool girl -- Eleanor (even her name is uncool) --  has been sitting next to Park on the bus – every single day: to school and back home – and he just figured out that she’s been surreptitiously reading his comics while he’s reading them: that’s brazen. 
 Eleanor’s the kind of girl you’d feel sorry for if she wasn’t always sitting right next to you in closed quarters. She dresses really, really oddly (a giant men’s shirt with seashells all over it?!), seems to have no friends, and is already a bully target. Park feels as if he should say something to her – in fact, he’s always felt that way about her, which is odd and unexplainable because he’s never felt that way about anyone, ever – and he wants to say something to her, but he’s gone so long now without speaking to her that he doesn’t know what to do. Something is up with him, you know. And something must be up with her, as well, or she’d sit next to someone else. For now, he makes sure she can see the books and he turns the pages a little more slowly.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. St. Martin's Griffin, 2013. 336 p. Booktalk to high school; has crossover appeal for adults, as well.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Book talk: Stuck by Oliver Jeffers (Virginia Readers' Choice, 2013-2014)

Flying a kite is so much fun, until your kite gets stuck in a tree, and trees never want to give up their treasures. Nope. Trees will hold on to your stuff. They will attempt to keep your beloved things. Don’t mess with the trees. I just had a talk with a boy named Floyd.

Floyd had a really cool red kite, and it all started when his kite got stuck in a tree. He tried pulling and swinging, but the kite would not come unstuck.

It’s the worst feeling, isn’t it? So Floyd had an idea. He threw his favorite shoe into the tree to knock loose his kite, and GUESS WHAT? His shoe got stuck too!

Would you like to guess what happened to Floyd’s other shoe? [Take a few answers.] Yep, the tree held on to the other shoe.

The tree held on to other objects hurled up by Floyd as well. I can’t tell you all the objects, because we don’t have all day.

I’m not lying to you when I say that a whale was involved with all of this, too.

Poor Floyd. Has he met his match in the form of a tree? Will he ever get his poor kite back?

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers. Unpaged. Philomel: 2011. Virginia Readers’ Choice (Primary grades), 2013-2014. Booktalk to PK-3.

Book talk: Stardines Swim High Across the Sky: And Other Poems by Jack Prelutsky

You know how scientists keep finding new species? The poet Jack Prelutsky has found new species too – hybrid imaginary creatures who act crazy and may even honk at you while getting stuck to trees. 
My personal favorites are the slobsters. Trust me, do not take one of them to a restaurant, because you’ll regret it: “Slobsters are slovenly, / slobsters are crude, / slobsters love mashing / And smushing their food.” Their utter lack of manners will really embarrass you, unless you yourself have no manners at all, and then you’re probably a slobster yourself.
The sobcats can be just as tough as the slobsters to hang out with, because the sobcats just sit around weeping and weeping for no reason whatsoever. “That miserable sobcat’s / been moaning for years, / Sitting alone, / Weeping copious tears.” They just like being miserable. No, I don’t understand it either. I do like the blankets they’re hiding under, though. Maybe it’s comfy under there.
You know who has an even tougher time of it than the sobcats? The chormorants! They look like these real birds – called cormorants – but because they just do chores all day, day after day, -- they’re called chormorants. These birds are serious and never joke around. I just wish they’d clean my house, because I live with some slobsters.
Stardines will also introduce you to creatures such as the tattlesnake, the gloose, and the wedgehogs. Watch out for the panteaters, too.
Stardines Swim High Across the Sky: And Other Poems by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Carin Berger. Unpaged. Greenwillow Books, 2012. Booktalk to grades 2-6.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Book talk: Shiver Me Timbers: Pirate Poems by Douglas Florian and Robert Neubecker

Pirates are good at being nasty, smelly, and rude. It takes a lot of work, and they take it very seriously. If you’re a pirate, there are strict dress and behavior codes you must follow: “Pirates wear patches. / Pirates have hooks. / They all play with matches. / And give dirty looks.” How are your dirty looks? Have you been practising them? These pirate poems will get you back up to speed with all of that, trust me.

If you’re a pirate, you have to do a really great evil grin, too. You have to get your pirate language memorized, as well: a rotten pirate is a “scurvy dog,” and a villainous person is a “scallywag.” Are you getting this? Say “aye,” if you are! My favorite poem in this book of pirate poetry is “The Pirates’ Code of Conduct.” “Don’t take a bath. / Avoid all math. / It’s best to yell / And blessed to smell. / Act rash and rude. Dash down yer food…”

Speaking of food, the poem, “Pirates’ Meal” will let you know exactly what your weekly meals will consist of. Can you guess what the main food group is? No, it’s not McDonalds. It’s much, much worse.

Shiver Me Timbers: Pirate Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian, pirates by Robert Neubecker. Unpaged. Beach Lane Books, 2012. Booktalk to grades 1-5.

Book talk: Cat Talk by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest

Wouldn't you love to get the inside scoop on a cat's life, told from the perspective of the cat himself?
That's what this wonderful book of poetry does. I love all these cats, but I have three favorites.

Lily tells us she was born in a big red barn, with cows, horses, and sweet-smelling hay. Lily has a secret that she'll only share with you: her best friend is a mouse! [Show picture of Lily.]

Sylvie is the boss. I mean, THE BOSS. You don't mess with the boss. "I am the boss cat. / I twitch my tail to prove it. / I boss the dogs. / I boss my people." There are three things which Sylvie loves, and if you read her poem, you'll know not to mess with them. You don't want to get in trouble with the boss! [Show picture of Sylvie.]

Eddie is cat with a job!"I greet people at the office door. / I sleep on the copy machine. / I run to the phone when it rings." And when Eddie is tired, he closes his eyes and pretends that you aren't there at all. He's really good at living in an office and not letting the chaos get to him.

There are other cats I didn't have time to tell you about. Read their poems in Cat Talk by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest.

Cat Talk by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest, illustrated by Barry Moser. Unpaged. Katherine Tegen Books, 2013. Booktalk to grades K-3.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Book talk: Stay: The True Story of Ten Dogs by Michaela Muntean

A circus stuntman is not supposed to fall off a high wire. Unfortunately, this happened to Luciano Anastasini, but luckily he was not killed. He had been a great circus stunt man and acrobat, but in his fall, he broke so many bones that it took four operation to put him back together. No more stunts. He was too damaged.

So what would he do with his life? He wasn't go to quit the circus: it had always been his whole life.

Luciano had an idea involving other performers: dogs! But where would he get these dogs? He thought and he thought. After all, Luciano was getting a second chance, and he'd choose dogs who needed a second chance, too.

And so many dogs did. Dogs who misbehaved, dogs who had too much energy, and dogs who had been given away by their owners. There were so many dogs who just couldn't find a good home with owners who appreciated their faults and flaws.

My favorites of the ten are Penny and Stick. Poor Penny was adorable, but owners kept returning her, saying she ran in circles and ran into walls and furniture. Stick was a cute stray who was so thin that you could see all his ribs. He was desperate for a good meal.

Luciano figured out Penny's vision problems: she was cross-eyed, but if he trained her properly, she knew where to jump and how to land. Pretty soon, Penny could jump correctly through hoops, amazing audiences. And Stick, with food and love, could be trained to walk on his back legs! The audiences loved all of Luciano's dogs, and each dog had a special skill and a special look. They were great performers, and they always did their best for Luciano. Luciano's ten dogs -- some of whom had been declared untrainable and unloveable -- loved him with all their hearts.

Stay: The True Story of Ten Dogs by Michaela Muntean; photographs by K.C. Bailey and Stephen Kazmierski. Unpaged. Scholastic: 2012. Booktalk to grades 2-6.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Book talk: The Princess and the Pig by Jonathan Emmett

In fairy tales, there are good queens and bad queens. 

In this fairy tale, the queen is completely stupid. {Show page 4}. When looking at her new baby girl, stupid queen holds her by the edge of the tower. Mistake #1. Then she decides her new baby girl needs a diaper change, so she leaves her alone to get a nanny to do it. Mistake #2. Then she doesn’t even notice when her own daughter falls off the edge of a very, very high tower. Mistake #3. Poor baby. Stupid, stupid queen.

Luckily, a poor farmer with a soft cart of straw was below. In his cart he had a little pink pig which no one would buy. Down comes baby, hits the cart, and up goes the pig, landing in the baby’s cradle. I know, it’s a fairy tale. But it really happened.

So now we have a stupid queen with a pig in her baby’s cradle, and a poor farmer with a princess baby in his straw cart. A recipe for disaster, right? But who do you think is the better parent…the stupid queen or the poor farmer? If you guessed the poor farmer, you’re right. That princess baby probably got a good set of parents instead of an idiot royal pair.

Wait until you see how the pig acts when she gets older [show example page/s]…what a disaster!

The Princess and the Pig by Jonathan Emmett, illustrated by Poly Bernatene. Unpaged. Walker and Company, 2011. Booktalk to K-2.

Book talk: That is NOT a Good Idea! by Mo Willems

[Start this book talk by asking the children if they can repeat the refrain, "That is not a good idea!" when you prompt them (with a hand gesture, etc.)]

A hungry fox would love nothing more than to eat a plump, delicious-looking goose for his supper. Yum.....goose!

If you were a goose, and a fox came up to you and asked you to go for a stroll with him, what would you think? [Now have them repeat, "That is not a good idea!"]

And if this hungry-looking fox then asked you to walk with him into the deep dark woods, what would you think? [Repeat refrain.]

And if this fox asked you to visit his nearby kitchen? [Repeat refrain.]

And if this fox asked you to help him get a really big pot of boiling hot water ready? [Have kids repeat refrain.]

[Sigh and wipe your forehead in relief.] Luckily, you all make one collectively smart goose. But do you think the goose in this story is as smart as you? Dumber? Smarter? Can she outfox the fox?

That is NOT a Good Idea! by  Mo Willems.Unpaged. Balzer + Bray, 2013. Booktalk to pre-K through 2. Great read-aloud.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Book talk: I Am So Strong by Mario Ramos

The big bad wolf had a very high opinion of himself. He thought he was the fiercest, scariest, strongest creature in the woods.
 After all, he is the bad bad wolf, right?

So he strolled through the forest demanding that others tell him how strong he was. 

On the way, he met a very small rabbit, Little Red Riding Hood, 
the three little pigs, and the seven dwarves. I have this nagging feeling I'm forgetting someone, though. Each one told him how strong he was, probably because none wants to get eaten by the big bad wolf.

Oh, shoot. There was one other encounter which may have changed things - really, really changed things. But who is bigger and badder than the big bad wolf?

I Am So Strong by Mario Ramos. Unpaged. 2011: Gecko Press. Booktalk to K-2.

Book talk: The Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz

What do pigs have in common with the martial arts? Have you ever seen a pig practice karate or jujitsu? No?! 
Well, you've heard the classic story of the three pigs and the big bad wolf, right? You've never heard the funny martial arts version? What a shame. It's called The Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz.

The three little pigs were fed up with the wolf and his threats, so each one enrolled in a different form of martial arts: Pig 1 took aikido, Pig 2 took jujitsu, and Pig 3 took karate. Although these were determined pigs, not all of them actually stuck to and practiced their martial arts skills, though. You have to practice this stuff. There's no getting around it, seriously.

Luckily, one of the pigs practiced, but I can't tell you which one. And I can't tell you what happened when this pig got called "bacon" to his or her face. You don't mess with a ninja pig, and I don't care if you are the big bad wolf.

The Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz, illustrated by Dan Santat. Unpaged. 2012. Booktalk to K-2.

Book talk: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

Morris Lessmore is a quiet man who is writing down his life story when a horrible storm scatters all its words and forces him to wander, lost and dazed. Things get even weirder: he then sees a lady being pulled through the air by a squadron of flying books.

So you're thinking 2 things right now: what an odd story, and can the flying book lady help Morris?

She threw him a lifeline -- in the form of a book -- and this book led Morris to a nesting place of many, many books. A nesting place of books? [Show p. {16}]. That looks suspiciously like a really cool library to me.

Does this mean Morris Lessmore is finally home? What else do those flying books do? Where can I find a cool library like that one?

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce, illustrated by Joe Bluhm. Unpaged. 2012: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. Booktalk to K-2.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Book talk: Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton (Virginia Readers' Choice, 2013-2014)

It takes a lot of energy to be on your best behavior, doesn’t it?

[Show cover.] George is a dog, and his owner Harry has left him all alone in the house.

[Act this out briefly]. “Will you be good, George?” Harry asked him.

[Switching characters.] “Yes, I’ll be very good,” said George.

[Back to your booktalking self.] But you know, all dogs have their weaknesses, just as people do. One of George’s weaknesses is cake [show page 5]. Who can resist cake? What will George do? [Invite brief guesses, and then flip the page.]

Oh, no, George! George, you are positively shoveling that whole cake right into your mouth!

Well, at least George has that temptation out of his way. He probably won’t need to eat for a while, right? So it should be smooth sailing until his owner Harry gets home, right?

[Flip the page to George encountering the cat.] Did I remember to tell you that George loves playing with cat? What dog can resist playing with cat? What will George do? [Invite brief guesses and then flip the page.]

Oh, no, George! You are creating such a scene, and Harry isn’t even back yet!

It is so hard to be good, isn’t it?

Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton. Unpaged. Candlewick Press, 2012. VRC, 2013-2014. Booktalk to K-2.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Book talk: Choker by Elizabeth Woods (Virginia Readers' Choice, 2013-2014)

What would you do if the best friend you ever had – whom you hadn’t seen in years – showed up in your bedroom, sitting on your bed, and asked you if she could stay with you (unbeknownst to any parents) to escape an abusive home situation?

If you were Cara, you’d let her stay. Zoe was Cara’s best friend when they were younger, and now Cara’s a teenager who struggles with the social situation at her high school. Cara doesn’t have any real friends at school, and she just got the nickname “Choker” from an embarrassing incident in which she almost choked to death on a carrot in the school cafeteria. The cool kids witnessed it, and they won’t let Cara forget it.

So Zoe hides out in Cara’s bedroom while Cara’s at school, and Cara’s parents are too busy with their important legal careers even to notice. At first it’s fun – like a slumber party that never ends – but Zoe’s strange and difficult moods – and her disappearances - get harder and harder for Cara to handle. Cara has told Zoe about the mean popular kids and knows that Zoe hates them. Zoe might be strange, but she’s loyal to Cara, and perhaps too loyal.

But something nags at Cara. One of the girls in the popular crowd is found dead and another goes missing. Does Zoe have anything to do with this?

Choker by Elizabeth Woods. 233 pages. Booktalk to high school. Virginia Readers’ Choice, 2013-2014.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Book talk: The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

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 and wonderful journey.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Book talk: The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School (Virginia Readers' Choice, 2013-2014)

[For this booktalk, you’ll be acting out one scene from the story. You’ll need a whistle or a baseball hat (something coach-like) and a ball – a soccer ball or anything comparable – and a little paper gingerbread man, missing part of his foot.]

Hi, I’m the coach of the elementary school just down the road, and kids lose stuff in gym class all the time. Just today I found the oddest thing in the world stuck to a soccer ball. I was just bouncing this soccer ball and all of a sudden it started making noises. I looked down, and guess what?

There was a cookie stuck to my soccer ball! And it spoke to me!

“I’m the gingerbread man, and I’m trying to find / the children who made me, but left me behind.”

What kind of children would leave behind a gingerbread man?

So, being the good coach that I am, I advised him to run after the kids, but the story keeps getting weirder and weirder.

The poor little gingerbread man had lost his toe! So he looked for it and finally found it, and he went off limping to the nurse’s office. Gee…I hope he’s okay. I felt sorry for the poor little fellow. Hey, have you seen him lately? I wonder where he is now?

The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School by Laura Murray, illustrated by Mike Lowery. Unpaged. 2011: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. Virginia Readers’ Choice, 2013-2014. Booktalk to primary grades.

Book talk: Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature (Virginia Readers' Choice, 2013-2014)

Before I tell you the title of this book, I want you to think about all the shapes you see out in nature. What’s one shape that you see in plants and flowers, in animals, in the water, and in weather patterns? [Give the kids time to guess.]

If you guessed a circle, you’re very close. The answer is a spiral. A spiral is a shape that curls around a center point.

[Show the first pages with the snake, woodchuck, and mouse.] In this picture we see a chipmunk, a woodchuck, a snake, and a mouse – all curled up into spirals. They’re sleeping or hibernating. [Turn page.] Fitting into a spiral helps them conserve precious body heat and fit into tiny, hidden spaces.

Spirals are also great at protecting what’s inside. [Show page with hedgehog and millipede.] If a hedgehog feels threatened, it rolls up into a tight spiral, so all you see is a ball of quills. Tiny millipedes use the same tactic: rolling up into a spiral, they’ve got an armored external shell as defense.

[Show page with rose, daisy, and sunflower.] The petals, leaves, and seed heads of many flowers grow in spirals – the spiral shape makes the best possible use of space and sunlight: pretty wise!

You can see spirals in whirlpools, in tornados, and in galaxies. [Show page with spiral galaxy.] There are also spirals inside you: 3-D spirals called helixes in your genetic makeup, your DNA. Read more about the cool, smart spiral in Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman.

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman, pictures by Beth Krommes. Unpaged. 2011: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children. Virginia Readers’ Choice, 2013-2014 (primary grades).

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Book talk: A Zeal of Zebras (Virginia Readers' Choice, 2013-2014)

The English language has some craziness to it, especially when you’re talking about groups of animals as one unit.  For example, you can say “a pride of lions,” but not “a pride of pandas.” When you’re using “pride” as a collective noun, it only applies to lions. This is an alphabet book about those weird collective nouns.

If you have a group of parrots, you can say “a pandemonium of parrots” instead of “a group of parrots.” Isn’t that crazy? Pandemonium usually means chaos or disorder, but if you attach “of parrots” after it, it just means parrots in a group considered to be one unit. Say it with me: “a pandemonium of parrots.”

My next favorite collective noun is “a quiver of cobras.” These are king cobras in this picture here, and as many as 30 to 40 baby cobras are born in a nest made of vegetation gathered by their mother. Obviously, you should never, ever, ever step into a quiver of cobras. Big mistake.

My final favorite example is “a troubling of goldfish.” It should be a “troubling of tarantulas” or something, but it’s not.
Actually goldfish are quite social and like living with other fish. I learned from this book that goldfish have been known to interact with any fish belonging to their species: that’s quite social, actually. They like having friends.

A Zeal of Zebras will also tell you about an unkindness of ravens, a galaxy of starfish, and an embarrassment of pandas.

A Zeal of Zebras: An Alphabet of Collective Nouns by Woop Studios. Unpaged. 2011: Chronicle Books. Virginia Readers’ Choice (primary grades), 2013-2014. This book would also work well for intermediate grades.