Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Going Solo by Roald Dahl (Booktalk)

[This booktalk is for designated for a high school audience.]

Did you read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or James and the Giant Peach when you were younger? Those were written by Roald Dahl, a brilliant writer and a fascinating man. He was also a British fighter pilot in World War II, and he had many near-death experiences in the war, including a very serious plane crash very close to enemy territory, one so bad that doctors thought he'd never see again. Luckily, they were wrong. He recovered, but while he was blind he had a huge crush on the nurse who helped him. You have to read it just for that part. It's both sweet and hilarious.

No one can write about scary, surreal, or bizarre experiences with the same dry humor as Roald Dahl. Before the war started, Dahl was employed by an oil company and he was sent to work in East Africa, part of the British empire at the time. He met so many eccentric characters there: people who exercised naked on a ship; a man who thrived on catching deadly snakes while calling them sweet names (he loved the snakes and wasn't cruel to them); a lady who wouldn't touch food with her hands at all, ever. He knew he'd ever encounter such types ever again, and he never did. There's something very strange and wonderful about being in a far away country, one very different from your home country.

I loved the postcards, telegrams, and photographs included which document his time in Africa and his time spent in the war. "One gasps at the waste of life"(83), he tells us. Yet Dahl survived, and he left this wonderful biography for us.

Going Solo by Roald Dahl. 210 pages. 1986. Booktalk to high school, adult. Great read-aloud.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier (Booktalk)

The Night Gardener is a monster you need to be aware of. As far as I know, he lives in only one location: near an old mansion in England that has a huge, dark, mysterious tree. This tree grows dangerously close to the house. A frightened family lives in the house, and they have two young Irish servants, children who left Ireland because of a huge famine.

These Irish children - Molly and Kip - went from one horrifying situation (famine) to another one (the night gardener and the spooky house). In fact, the night gardener WATCHES you when you sleep at night. The night gardener works only at night. He waters his tree with what looks like silvery water. He and the tree have some eerie connection: and the tree has a secret hole in a locked room which can give you what your heart most desires.

But I can't tell you what price you'll pay if you get it.

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier. 350 p. Amulet Books, 2014. Booktalk to grades 5-9. Great read aloud.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (Booktalk)

[Start by showing the map of Beechwood Island found on the opening pages.] Imagine your relatives had their own private island. This is Beechwood Island, where the wealthy and beautiful Sinclair clan go on vacation each summer. Cadence, also called Cadie, lives in Windemere [show on map] with her mom and their dogs. Her cousin Mirren lives in Cuddledown; her cousin Johnny and friend Gat live in Red Gate.

Cadie's family's island, Beechwood, off coast of Massachusetts
Their grandfather lives in the big house, Clairmont. They have multiple beaches, a family dock, boats, and paid staff. The four older kids - Cadie, Mirren, Johnny, and Gat - are about the same age, older teens. They're called the Liars. You'll find out why. They're nice kids.

But something is really wrong. When the story opens, Cadie tells us she is almost 18. Let me quote her. "I own a well-used library card and not much else...I used to be blonde, but now my hair is black. I used to be strong, but now I am weak. I used to be pretty, but now I look sick. It is true I suffer migraines since my accident"(4). What accident? And if she's one of the liars, is she lying now?

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Delacorte Press: 2014. 225 p. Booktalk to high school. Also has crossover appeal for adults.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Impossible Knife of Memory (Booktalk)

Hayley's high school experience is a piece of cake compared to her real job, living with her father. He's a veteran who barely survived his tours of duty in the Middle East. His PTSD-related flashbacks involve ambushed foot patrols, gruesome IED explosions, and suicide bombers living in ghost villages.

"You take care of him more than he takes care of you," her boyfriend Finn remarks.

So Hayley has some PTSD of her own. This is what it takes to be her:
- the ability to spend a lot of time on the road while Dad drives a big rig
- knowledge of how to keep the evil stepmom away
- the talent to keep drugs, alcohol, and firearms away from an often suicidal man
- stalling techniques to keep anyone from  coming home with her, ever
- signature-forging on school forms

These are skills most high schoolers don't need to perfect in order to keep a parent alive. 

The Impossible Knife of Memory
 by Laurie Halse Anderson. 391 pages. 2014: Speak (Penguin). Booktalk to high school (use discretion).

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin (Booktalk)

Rose isn't like everybody else. When she gets upset, she may blurt out, "Two, three, five, seven, eleven, thirteen!" She loves prime numbers: they make her feel safe.

It's easy to upset Rose, who has Asperger's. She's smart, and her brain works differently than many people's brains. She needs a lot of order and routine in her life to feel safe. It drives Rose crazy when people break rules, laws, or routines. When she would ride to school every day on the bus, she would catch every single little thing the bus rider did wrong! Obviously, this drove the bus driver nuts, and she asked that Rose _stop_ riding the bus. No one likes a backseat driver.

There's a bright spot in Rose's life: her dog, Rain. Rose's dad found Rain in the rain and let Rose have her. But Rose's dad has some problems: his temper; his annoyance with Rose; his carelessness. Here's something sad: he let Rain outside during a massive storm and Rain did not return.

Rose is determined to get Rain back, even if she has to call and visit every animal shelter for miles around. But will her father sabotage her again?

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin. 240 pages. Feiwel & Friends, 2014. Booktalk to grades 3-8.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King (Booktalk)

Glory O'Brien, age 17, has not been having a glorious life so far. Her mother killed herself years ago; her dad has eaten his grief and went from an original 120 pounds to 240. He won't get rid of the oven that his wife used to kill herself with, either. He won't go into his wife's photography darkroom or even discuss her. Glory doesn't have many friends, and she often actively dislikes her "best" friend, Ellie. Glory is happy to be graduating from high school in a few days: she wants to get away from all that is trivial and tedious. Why bother having anyone sign her yearbook? There's no point.

The only thing Glory likes is taking photographs; that was about all her mom liked, too, it seems. So when Ellie - often the holder of illogical and harebrained ideas - suggests that the two girls drink the remains of a dead bat, Glory decides to comply. What's the harm? Ellie had joked that the dead bat was God. Ellie is just plain weird.

Here's the good news: neither girl gets sick from drinking dead bat remains. But there's bad news, and it's literally "the future": the future that you and I will inhabit, if we live long enough. Both girls start seeing visions of it, and it's no place that women would want to live in.

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King. 307 p. 2014. Little, Brown. Booktalk to upper high school: contains mature themes.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee (Booktalk)

Ophelia isn't supposed to walk through the museum alone. It's got hundreds and hundreds and rooms: it's huge and chilly and she doesn't know her way around. But her father works there now, and she's curious.

She walks into a little gallery. It's a got a rope blocking it, but she goes under the rope. There are no museum guards in there, and it's very still and quiet.

The room has an empty, peculiar smell. She goes through a closed door, which leads into another little room. It has a faded mural of mountains and a blue sea and a boy with a sword. Above this scene is painted the phrase, "The Marvelous Boy."

If you look closely enough at the painted mural, you'll see a tiny door: it's part of the blue sea in the painting. There's a tiny keyhole there, and Ophelia looks through it.

There is a large blue-green eye looking back at her!

Museums are full of dead things from the past, but this one has a live boy concealed in an obscure room.

And he doesn't know his own name.

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee. 228 p. Knopf: 2014. Booktalk to grades 4-8.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters by Oliver Jeffers (Booktalk)

There has been a big secret which your parents and teachers have kept from you, but it just got leaked in this book. Did you know that each letter of the alphabet has a secret history, a secret tale? You thought the alphabet was boring: HA! Nope. But to keep you and all the other students of the world in line, they kept the secrets from you. I only have time to leak three of these stories.

Bob and Bernard are not buddies.
The letter B is all about battles and burning and Bernard and Bob. B is actually kind of an angry letter. Bernard and Bob cannot stand one another. They live on opposite sides of a bridge and have been battling each other for years. Bob burned the bridge and cannot get back!

H is sort of a scary, haunted letter. Helen lived in half a house. The other half of the house fell into the sea during a hurricane. Oh my gosh, I cannot bear to tell you what happened to Helen. It's too horrible.

O is full of wonder.
Owl and octopus
Out in the ocean there is an owl who lives on the back of an octopus. They search for a problem, solve it, and move on...

Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters by Oliver Jeffers. 2014: Philomel Books. Booktalk to K-3. Would make a great read-aloud or starting point for creative writing.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill (Booktalk)

Bo's dads are goldminers (and blacksmiths) who came to Alaska in the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush: an exciting time. That time is past, and many miners have left, but Bo's dads are still there. Wait? Dads? Yes, Bo has two: her mother didn't want her, and she literally handed baby Bo to a man and left. That man, Arvid, didn't have the heart to give Bo up to an orphanage. His best friend, Jack, helped Arvid raise Bo. It's normal for towns in early 1900s Alaska to be mostly men: they're all miners, and life can be tough.

Bo is older now, and I want to share my favorite facts about her. She can swear (bad words!) in both an Eskimo language and in Swedish. It's possible she has no idea what the words mean. She helps cook for the miners and she really loves biscuits. Her favorite Eskimo dish, though, is caribou bone marrow and caribou fat. Yum.

You have to be tough and resourceful if you live in Alaska. You also have to be fast on your feet. One day, when Bo was outside (it was summer), she inadvertently startled a grizzly bear. The bear started to run after her. Bo did what she had been told and dropped to the ground, totally flat. That's not exactly running, though, is it?

If you like adventure, animals, outdoor life, and interesting weather, you'll love a historical fiction novel called Bo at Ballard Creek.

Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill. 278 pages. 2013: Henry Holt and Company. Booktalk to grades 3-8. Scott O'Dell Historical Fiction Award, 2014.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett (Booktalk)

[When starting this booktalk, don't show the cover, and don't reveal the title. Just have the book open to page 11, pictured below. You will have the students examine the picture without talking for at least 45 seconds.]

I want you to take a close look at this picture. I will give you plenty of time. I want you to think of at least five facts you can deduce from this picture. They can be facts about the plot - what is happening, or facts about what the book means.

Page 11
[Allow quiet time to examine picture. When they're done, let them discuss their deductions: the boys are digging a hole; they missed the first jewel; the dog knows about the jewel; one boy seems to be consoling the other boy; etc.]

You did a good job of picking apart this cool illustration. Did you know that this book [show cover now] has puzzled a lot of people - including adults? Even your teachers might disagree with each other about what this picture book, seemingly simple, means! I've read this picture book several times and I'm still thinking about it!

You must read Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and decide for yourself what this story is really about.

Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen. Unpaged. Candlewick, 2014. Booktalk to 1st - 5th. Also great for classroom read-alouds. Caldecott Honor. E. B. White Read Aloud Award. Irma Black Award.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (Booktalk)

What if your twin brother was your best friend in the whole world? And what if he stopped being your best friend?

Josh and Jordan (called JB) are twins who both love basketball. And they love each other, until things start going downhill in their friendship. Josh lost a bet with JB and JB cut off a lot of Josh's beloved dreadlocks. The results were freaking looking.

They used to eat lunch together -- actually, they ate all their meals together -- until JB got a girlfriend named Alexis. Now he eats lunch with her. Josh saw JB kissing Alexis in the school library. Fun. JB barely speaks to Josh. Josh is feeling increasingly isolated and alone.

The anger is growing. Josh messes up in a big game, sees JB wink at Alexis, and feels a surge of resentment - so much so that he hurls the ball unreasonably hard at JB who then starts bleeding and has to go to the hospital. Bad drama. Josh's mom is furious and chews Josh out. She asks Josh: you going to get mad at your brother every time he has a girlfriend? "You're twins, not the same person."

Will Josh ever get his best friend back?

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. 237 p. HMH Books for Young Readers. Newbery Medal, 2015. Booktalk to grades 5-9.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steven Sheinkin (Booktalk)

Imagine you are in the Navy, and it is your job to handle explosives: big explosives, lots of them, and quickly. You load them onto the Navy's ships, and you have had no real training in safety measures. Scary job, huh? If those explosives and munitions explode, you are dead. There is zero room for error.

Page 35 in The Port Chicago 50.
That was the job of some African-American Navy men in World War II. They got the lousy jobs in segregated units, and this had been a sad, ongoing fact in our country's history. It was unfair and prejudiced, yet many black men still wanted to serve their country, even if meant digging ditches, carrying explosives, working in the kitchen, and cleaning bathrooms and kitchens. They did not get the more "glamorous" jobs given to white men, and the only factor was their skin color.

But let's get back to the explosives at the Port Chicago base. I have some bad news: want to guess what it is? The explosives did blow up, killing 320 men, injuring almost 400 men, destroying the pier and the ships in the area.

The devastation was unbelievable and tragic. Lives were lost and ruined. Obviously, many of the men killed were the African Americans who handled the explosives. All the witnesses died.

Have you heard the expression "to add insult to injury"? What does it mean? {Let a student explain.} The surviving men were being asked to do exactly the same work in a different location: handling and loading ammunition - highly explosive - onto ships. I don't blame them for not wanting to do it, but the Navy did, and it accused them of mutiny, a deeply serious charge. Read all about their fight in The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steven Sheinkin. Booktalk to grades 5-12. National Book Award finalist.

Monday, February 9, 2015

El Deafo by Cece Bell (Newbery Honor 2015) Booktalk

When Cece was four years old, she got very sick with meningitis. Although she recovered from it, her hearing did not. She was deaf. At first her own family and doctor missed the signs, but once they figured it out, she got tested. She would have to wear hearing aids [show kids the Phonic Ear picture].

Problem solved - right? Wrong. Hearing is complicated - it's not just a question of making things louder. Hearing aids don't solve every problem for the deaf: there still may be sounds which a deaf person cannot hear. Some words sound muffled, even if they're "loud" enough. Cece would have to learn new strategies: how to lip read and how to guess from context what people might be saying to her.

But her Phonic Ear made her feel self-conscious and different. Imagine feeling as if people were always staring at you. Imagine that your teacher has to wear a microphone which sends sound to your hearing device. It's both a blessing and a curse.

And you know what Cece can do that no other student in her class can do? She can hear the teacher outside of class - away from the students - because the teacher keeps forgetting to turn her microphone of. She can hear her teacher in the restroom, in the teacher's lounge, you name it.

Being deaf can make friendships tricky, too. One of Cece's friends treats her like a slow-witted person. And the cute boy (on whom Cece has a crush) wants Cece to "spy" on her teacher and share that information. Read the Newbery Honor winner titled El Deafo by Cece Bell.

El Deafo by Cece Bell. 233 pages. Newbery Honor 2015. Amulet Books, 2014. Booktalk to grades 3-8.