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.] 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.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Book talk: What's Your Favorite Animal? by Eric Carle and Friends

Eric Carle's Fiffi
Think of your favorite authors: they all have favorite animals, just as you do. Remember The Very Hungry Caterpillar author, Eric Carle? He had a cat named Fiffi who loved string beans. Eric could play fetch with her, throwing the string beans! At one point, Fiffi picked up a string bean, walked into a closet, put the string bean in his shoe, and fell asleep, curled around the shoe!

His eye reminds me of the Pigeon's eye!
Remember how funny Mo Willems' Pigeon books are? Mo Willems is just as funny. [Read his favorite animal out loud.] Where is that animal in this picture? [Wait for responses.] Right: it's in the stomach of the snake!

[Show Leopard by Lucy Cousins but cover up her name.] One of the authors loves leopards. Does this illustration style look familiar to you? [Wait.] This author loves red, yellow, and outlining in black. Right: it's the author of the Maisy books -- Lucy Cousins.

Have you read This is Not My Hat or I Want My Hat Back? Jon Klassen has a great, sly sense of humor. I'm not going to tell you his favorite animal, but try to guess it before you read this book. There is a great list of author biographies in the back: you get to see what the authors looked like as children and learn more about them.

What's Your Favorite Animal? by Eric Carle, Nick Bruel, Susan Jeffers, Steven Kellog, Jon Klassen, Tom Lichtenheld, Peter McCarthy, Chris Raschka, Peter Sis, Lane Smith, Erin Stead, Rosemary Wells, Mo Willems. Unpaged. 2014: Henry Holt and Company. Booktalk to K-2.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Book talk: The 13 Clocks by James Thurber

[You'll begin this booktalk by showing the bleak picture of the castle, shown in some editions on the front pastedown endpaper.]

Would you want to live here?
Would you like to live in this castle? [Wait for responses.] Why not? Right, it's creepy. It's cold, gloomy, dark, lonely, and time has stopped there. Not a fun place to live. The only thing I like about this castle is that it has a hidden door which leads to a secret stairway which opens in on a room called the oak room. But it's really, really dark in there, and by "there," I mean everywhere in the castle. Even creepier, you sometimes hear laughter in the dark. It's this evil creature called the Todal. I'll tell you more about him in a minute.

The Duke is the creepy seated man.
The Duke is what's wrong with this castle. He's an evil, whiny, vicious, lying man with cold hands and a cold heart. He has been cruel to animals, and cruel to people, as well. His niece, Saralinda, is beautiful but kind of spaced out. I can't tell you why. The Duke stopped time and all the clocks in the castle are stuck on ten to five. It's called being stuck in Then. It's always Then, and never Now. That must be incredibly boring and kind of sad.

There are other characters you'll meet, but I did promise to tell you about the Todal. He looks like a blob of glup; he smells of old, unopened rooms; and he makes a sound like rabbits screaming. The Todal is waiting for the Duke to fail.

When the castle gets a human visitor -- his name is Xingu -- we find out he has several secrets about him, and he seems kind and good. But can he bring about the Duke's downfall? Or, even worse, the Todal's?

The 13 Clocks by James Thurber. 124 pages. 1950/reprint: The New York Review Children's Collection. Booktalk to intermediate grades, middle school.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Book talk: The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes

It's summer time, and your second grade year will start soon. I want you to imagine that you're on a family trip, stopping in Minnesota to see a statue of the Jolly Green Giant. Obviously, this statue is really, really tall and really, really green. You're wearing a new baseball cap that you love. It's a windy day, and you're on the lookout platform of the statue.

Goodbye, new baseball cap!
Your cap suddenly blows away in the wind! Without thinking, you step over the guardrail and REACH as far as you possibly can. You fall to the far pavement below.

The next thing you remember is waking up in a hospital. Your parents are with you, and so is your three-year-old sister, Sal.

You have a head injury, but the doctor says you'll be okay. "You fell exactly the right way to protect yourself," he says.

But you're still worried that you won't be smart enough for the school year.

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes. 229 p. 2013: Greenwillow Books. Booktalk to 2nd - 4th, and also to advanced 1st grade readers and reluctant/basic level 5th graders.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Book talk: King Jack and the Dragon by Peter Bentley and Helen Oxenbury

If you're like King Jack, you have everything you need to make a castle: a big cardboard box; an old sheet and some sticks; a couple of trash bags and a couple of bricks; and an old blanket.

Now you have to protect your castle against dragon attack. You also have to protect your castle against wild beasts.

But what if your other trusty warriors leave you? Will it be hard to fight dragons all alone? It might be scary to be in your castle in the utter darkness...

King Jack and the Dragon by Peter Bentley and Helen Oxenbury. 2011: Dial Books for Young Readers. 2013 Kate Greenaway medal nominee. Booktalk to PK-2.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Book talk: Fix This Mess! by Tedd Arnold

Isn't Robug adorable?
Robug and Jake

He came in a box. Robug stands for Remote Operating Basic Utility Gizmo. He's basically a vacuuming robot.

Jake is kind of slob, and he was thrilled to get Robug. With a robot like Robug, don't you think your house would be spotlessly clean in a matter of minutes?

Not a hard mess to fix

Jake took Robug over to a messy zone. "Fix this mess," he told Robug.

[Do a robot voice.] "I will fix this mess!" said Robug.

 But the situation got much, much worse. [Show example of the mess just being moved to a different location.] Do you call that "fixing" a mess? I don't.

Thanks a lot, Robug!
What is going on here? Do you all know what the word "chaos" means? It's complete and utter havoc and disruption. Robug has turned this house into a chaos zone! Poor Jake....

Fix This Mess! by Tedd Arnold. Unpaged. Holiday House, 2014. Booktalk to preschool-1st. Good for beginning readers.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Book talk: Buddy and the Bunnies in Don't Play with Your Food! by Bob Shea

If you're a monster, you have to be tough. Buddy the monster is tough, and he can threaten anyone or anything -- including you, so watch out. He saw some little bunnies playing checkers, so naturally he threatened to eat them. Bunnies make such a tasty snack, don't you think?

However, Buddy the monster loves cupcakes, and that's what the bunnies were making, so he ate their cupcakes instead. Did I mention that he played hide-and-seek with the bunnies? He'll eat them later. Yeah, later...

 But first they have to go swimming...

One must nap before eating bunnies...

You know the expression, "Don't play with your food?" Is Buddy playing with his food? [Get input from the kids.] What?! He's not going to eat the bunnies? Are you sure? Well, what kind of a monster doesn't eat bunnies?!?

Buddy and the Bunnies in Don't Play with Your Food by Bob Shea. Unpaged. 2014: Hyperion. Booktalk to K-2.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Book talk: Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld (Virginia Readers' Choice, 2014-2015)

[As preparation, make a sign of various English punctuation marks and hold it up at the beginning of your booktalk.]

If you were a punctuation mark, which one would you be? A question mark? A comma? A pair of quotation marks? Some of you are clearly exclamation marks, so let me introduce you to a member of your tribe.

[Show opening pages.] At first, our poor exclamation mark did not fit in, poor guy, except when he was lying down and sleeping. When he was awake, he really stood out, and he felt confused and deflated, like a kid with no friends.

But one day he got questioned over and over and over again by question mark. [Bring in some of your favorite questions of hers: "Do you think a snail could go around the world?"; "Am I boring?"; Who's taller, you or me?"]

He got so frustrated with question mark that he yelled STOP! which is SO exclamation marky of him. Exclamation marks are gold-medal winners in yelling, joy, pain, frustration, and all those emotions that take a lot of energy. They can laugh and cry better than the rest of us. Anyhow, question mark LOVED it when he yelled stop. I think those two make natural friends, you know?

Have you now decided which punctuation mark you are?

Exclamation mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld. Unpaged. Scholastic Press: 2013. Virginia Readers' Choice, 2014-2015. Booktalk to K-3. This would be a great booktalk for students doing a grammar unit, as well.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Book talk: Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

It's a bummer when your mom goes out of town: annoying stuff happens, such as running out of milk when you normally don't, and your dad has to leave you to go get some. This is exactly what brings about a run-in with space aliens, you know? I'm serious. They're out there, waiting. This is part of what dad said he encountered:

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman
1). Space aliens who want to re-decorate our earth, replacing trees with pink flamingos.
2). Pirates who have never heard of walking a plank. Duh!
3). A time-traveling stegosaurus who wears goggles and owns a time machine cardboard box.
4). Dinosaurs who love cereal, but they eat theirs dry.
5). Vampires with a lisp, called wumpires. Check out their accents.
6). Three dwarves with flowerpots on their heads who do a little dance.

Where are the Galactic Police when you need them?

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman. 128 p. HarperCollins: 2013. Booktalk to intermediate grades, reluctant readers in middle school.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Book talk: The Mystery of Meerkat Hill: A Precious Ramotswe Mystery for Young Readers

What would you do if you were lying in bed at night and a tiny meerkat came up to your face and sniffed your cheek? [Show p. 87].

Kosi checks out Precious
No, don't scream. What is a meerkat? They're small mammals in the mongoose family, and they live in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, in southern Africa. Meerkats are adorable.

So I already told you part of the end of The Mystery of Meerkat Hill, but it wasn't a spoiler. The hero of this story - the girl whose cheek was sniffed - is Precious Ramotswe. She's kind and smart and lives in Botswana. Precious has a great eye for detail. Detectives are all about the details.

One day she goes to her new friends' house. She can tell from their tiny, modest home that they're poor, but she doesn't say anything to make them feel bad. She's just not like that. They tell her one good thing  and one bad thing. First the good: they have a tame meerkat named Kosi, which means "chief." The bad: they have one family cow, and she is missing. When you're poor and you don't own much at all, it's really painful to lose your cow. It's like losing all your money.

Remember how I told you that Precious has a great eye for detail? There's a specific detail she's looking for, and it involves a meerkat and a cow.

The Mystery of Meerkat Hill: A Precious Ramotswe Mystery for Young Readers by Alexander McCall Smith. 90 pages. 2012: Anchor Books. Booktalk to intermediate grades.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Book talk: Peck, Peck, Peck by Lucy Cousins

What's that tapping noise? [Stand in front of a table and tap on it behind your back or get someone else to make tapping noises for you.] Is that a bird? Is there a bird in this library?

It's two woodpeckers! They are beautiful, aren't they? We all know that woodpeckers peck on wood: whether it be trees or the outside of your house. The father woodpecker is teaching his young one to peck holes. Wow! They can really make a lot of noise.

[Display to kids some of your favorite pages.] Uh oh. These are some serious holes they are making. These guys mean business.

What's that you're saying? This book has a lot of holes in it? Agghhhh! I'm going to have to have a talk with this young woodpecker. See what else he does in Peck, Peck, Peck by Lucy Cousins.

Peck, Peck, Peck by Lucy Cousins. Unpaged. 2013: Candlewick. Booktalk to PK-2.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Book talk: Caps for Sale

I hate losing things. We all lose things. You might lose your hat, or your favorite book, or your lunch. You know what's worse, though? It's worse when someone steals your hat, or your favorite book, or your lunch. No one likes a thief.

[Show first page.] This is a peddler. A peddler is someone who sells things, often by just walking around. What do you think this peddler is peddling? Right, caps. Or you could say hats. How do you think he keeps them balanced on his head? A lot of practice, I bet. He's got a checkered cap, gray caps, brown caps, blue caps, and red ones.

"Caps for sale! Caps for sale!" he cries as he walks around. But alas, no one wants any caps. What's a poor peddler to do? I think taking a nap would be a good idea. Look...he's sleeping...for a long time.

[Flip quickly to the picture of him awake, caps missing.] Hey?!!!! Where are his  caps? Did you guys steal them? Well, then, who did? Who on earth would steal caps right off a peddler's head?

Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina. 1940/1968: HarperCollins. Unpaged. Children's classic. Booktalk to K-2.

Booktalk: After by Amy Efaw (Virginia Readers' Choice)

Some teens manage to get straight A’s and perform at a consistently high level playing varsity sports: they’re perfect, right? If you knew her before, Devon, a 15-year-old girl, would fit that category. She’s a good kid who works hard both at school and at soccer, where she has the potential to be Division I. That’s Devon before.

Devon after gave birth to a baby girl and left that baby in a trash can to die. It’s horrible and cruel, obviously. But here’s the mystery. When the police got to her, she did not seem to understand that she had been pregnant or given birth. How could a girl not know that she’s pregnant? Devon is facing a bunch of criminal charges, including attempted murder.

What in her physical, daily world actually happened to Devon? And what happened inside her mind? How did she get from a fairly normal “before” to a deeply deluded “after”? After by Amy Efaw.

After by Amy Efaw. 350 p. Viking: 2009. Because of the controversial subject matter, booktalk with discretion. High school, college.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Book talk: Little Nelly's Big Book by Pippa Goodhart

[For this booktalk, you might want to have a prop: an elephant puppet or a stuffed elephant toy. If you don't have one, just use a picture of Little Nelly from the book.]

[Pointing to your elephant prop.] This is Little Nelly. She is huge and gray. She has a long trunk, big ears, and she loves to read!

She has this great book, and she is learning a lot about herself from this book. The book says: Mice can be gray. Mice have big ears. Mice have skinny tails.

She's a mouse, right? [Hear children's protests.] She's an elephant, you say? An elephant?! Well, don't tell her that! She is convinced that she is a mouse!

Plus, her book has some other very interesting info!

It says mice have holes in the wall where they live. Makes sense, right?

So Little Nelly crammed part of her huge, massive head into part of a tiny hole in the wall, and she interrupted a little mouse family: some of whom were watching t.v.!

Can a huge elephant live with a tiny mouse family? Will she step on them? Will Little Nelly ever find out that she's NOT a mouse?

Little Nelly's Big Book by Pippa Goodhart, ill. by Andy Rowland. Unpaged. 2012: Bloomsbury. Booktalk to kindergarten-2nd grade.

Book talk: Sharkopedia: The Complete Guide to Everything Shark

Sharks are awesome and are often misunderstood. Time for a true/false quiz to see how well you know your sharks.

Question 1: Bullhead sharks are known for their sluggishness/laziness during the day.
Answer: True [page 142]. They are slow and tend to stay in one place. They like shallow waters.

Question 2: Sharks bite surfers because from underwater, surfboards look like sea lions or seals or sea turtles, and those are some of sharks' favorite foods (for some shark species).
Answer: True. [Page 179]

Question 3: Sharks have only been on this planet for the last 5,000 years, so they're sort of a new animal.
Answer: False [page 54]. Sharks -- as they look now -- have been around for the last 120 million years, and prehistoric sharks existed 400 million years ago!

Question 4: There are nearly 500 kinds of sharks in the world, and of these, only about a dozen are responsible for a few unprovoked bites.
Answer: True. [Page 172].

Question 5: Nurse sharks are all white and have a little nurse-hat-shaped head.
Answer: Hahaha! False! You fell for that one? They look nothing like a nurse: [show page 36 to the kids].

If you want more cool information and photos about sharks, I highly recommend Sharkopedia: The Complete Guide to Everything Shark.

Booktalk to intermediate grades, middle school.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Book talk: Again! by Emily Gravett

Who would want to hear the same story every single night? Little dragon. Little dragon loves his book about Cedric the red dragon who has never, ever been to bed.

Guess who does NOT love little dragon's book? Little dragon's mother! It's a long book, and she gets more and more tired reading it. It goes on and on and on.

A sleepy dragon mother -- if she's smart -- will take a long story and make it shorter. And shorter [display pages]. Uh oh, I think she's falling asleep!

But what happens to little dragon when you make his favorite story shorter? He gets mad. What happens when dragons get mad?

Do you really want to know?

Again! by Emily Gravett. Unpaged. 2011: Simon & Schuster. Booktalk to PK-2. 2013 Kate Greenaway Medal nomination.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Book talk: Ungifted by Gordon Korman

Like a lot of us, Donovan isn't stupid, but he's not an academic genius, either. Actually, I'm wrong. Donovan is kind of stupid. He hit a statue pretty hard, and part of it rolled off and destroyed much of his school's gym, causing thousands and thousands of dollars worth of damage. Luckily, no one was hurt or killed. But the principal was mad. Very, very mad. And mad people can get distracted and put names on the wrong list because they're too busy being mad to pay attention. Instead of putting Donovan's name on some bad student list, the principal put Donovan's name on a list of kids recommended for the gifted school: the Academy of Scholastic Distinction. The geniuses. And Donovan's no genius.

So what does Donovan do? He certainly doesn't want to bring it to the principal's attention. It would actually be funny if he could just pass his classes there, but they're really, really hard. He's in over his head. The smart kids' math classes are way, way harder than anything he can handle. In fact, the only thing he can do at the genius school is drive the robot the other kids assembled. As one well-versed in video games, he's pretty good at that. He really likes the smart kids and they seem to like him. In spite of himself, Donovan loves his new school.

But how is Donovan going to stay at a school where he can't pass his classes and even his teachers suspect he's there by mistake?

Ungifted by Gordon Korman. 280 pages. 2012: Balzer + Bray. Booktalk to intermediate grades (3-6) and middle school.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Book talk: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

"We all fight our own private wars." Ari -- real name Angel Aristotle Mendoza -- said this, and he's right. We all fight our own private wars. But what kind of a private war can a teenager fight? Ari is fighting his family, for one. His dad, a former Marine, was traumatized by something in the Vietnam war and is a complete mystery to Ari. Ari's brother is in jail, and there's no trace of him -- no pictures, no mementos, nothing -- of him in the house. Ari's siblings are much older than he is, and so he considers himself a "pseudo only child." A loner by nature, Ari is often uncomfortable or unhappy with himself, and his journals speak to this. Ari doesn't want your friendship, your help, or your opinion. He's more likely to get into a fight than seek out a friend.

That's why his only friend -- Dante Quintana -- sought him out. Dante noticed a clueless Ari trying to teach himself how to swim at the local pool and offered to teach him how. That's the only reason Ari can swim. Dante knows how to put up with Ari's moods, his sullen silences, and his negativity.

But back to Ari's private war. Ari admits he's always had bad dreams. He's never really felt at home in his own skin, and now that he's growing up, he feels as if he's inhabiting the body of a stranger. But a person at war with himself can still surprise himself and others, too. Ari did something so crazy and so heroic and so amazingly cool that he woke up in a hospital, with a lot of serious physical damage. But he's still at war with himself.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. Printz Award, 2013. 359 p. 2012: Simon & Schuster. Booktalk to high school.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Book talk: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

High school is hard, but if you're Arnold Spirit -- "Junior," to everyone -- you're the only Native American at a high school full of mostly white kids. Smart, beautiful white kids who have money and nice clothes and cars and parents with jobs.

Junior is poor. Junior was born with a big head and should've died at birth because he had problems with his brain. He has a lisp, a stutter, ugly clothes, an alcoholic dad, and a best friend - Rowdy - who will not speak to him. Junior lives on a reservation -- called "the rez" -- and he knows that being poor and Indian really, really sucks. Forgive my language. I'm just quoting him.

From the time he was born, Junior has had to struggle for his survival. Everything he has, he has had to fight for, whether literally or physically fist-fight for. On the first day of high school on the rez, Junior picked up a textbook. When he saw the name inside, he realized the textbook was over 30 years old. That's what the Indian kids get: not even second-best. The dregs. It angered Junior so much that he threw the textbook, and it hit his teacher right in the face, resulting in a suspension for Junior.

Every cloud has a silver lining -- sometimes even for Indians -- and the teacher convinced Junior to attend a better school, named Rearden, twenty-two miles away from the reservation. You know how poor Junior is? He often has to hitchhike those 22 miles to and from school. A few times he walked the whole way, and he got blisters. It was awful. You try being the only Indian in a school full of whites. See how long YOU last.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. 230 p.
2008 Boston Globe Horn Book Award for Fiction. 2010 Young Readers' Choice Award.
Booktalk to high school.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Book talk: Jane, the Fox, and Me

This is Helene. She has a defeated, hunted look about her. Her shoulders are often slumped.

The best part of Helene's day is reading Jane Eyre which she loves. She gets lost in it, and she loves Jane Eyre's strength and resilience.

The worst part of Helene's day is being around Genevieve, a snob and a bully. Genevieve and her friends write mean things on the walls about Helene's weight. They lie and say that Helene smells. They used to be nice to Helene.

But there are hints that things may change for Helene.
 She makes a brief -- but amazing -- connection with a shy fox, and there's a girl with equally bright eyes who rescues Helene from a lonely, harsh experience. Jane, the Fox, and Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault.

Jane, the Fox, and Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault. Graphic novel. 2012: Groundwood books. 101 pages. Booktalk to upper elementary, middle school.