Showing posts with label CLA booktalks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label CLA booktalks. Show all posts

Saturday, May 17, 2008

THIRSTY - Booktalk

by M.T. Anderson

My parents are worried about me. I can tell from the way they look at me when they think I’m not looking at them. They’re right to be worried. Right now, I can hear them whispering to each other about me. When my father comes up to my room, I’m a little afraid of what he’s going to say. But for the moment, it’s okay. All he wants is a little father-son bonding ritual. It’s time to teach me to shave. I can handle that. I just couldn’t handle it if they knew what was going on with me, if they knew what I’m turning into.

My father takes me into the bathroom and shows me how to put on the shaving cream and wets the razor with hot water for me. “Now take the razor,” my dad says, “and put in right under your nose.” His fingers grab just below my wrist and guide my hand down. “Okay, you can let go now,” I tell him. He pulls away and the razor slips just a fraction. I say, “Ow.” He’s saying, “There, now you’ve cut yourself.” But I’m noticing the obvious thing. The sweet, tangy smell of my blood. I hit the floor. I know what’s going to happen next. I have to get him out of the room before he notices, too. “Get out, Dad. Could you get out? I want to do this alone.” Dad goes. I can hear my parents talking outside the door. They think I’m overreacting. “It was just a little cut,” my dad says. He doesn’t know. He can’t know. I look into the mirror, and I don’t see myself. I’m not surprised. I guess I’ll have to do the rest of the shave blind. Carefully, I drag the razor down my lip again. More red. I start licking. The shaving cream is not as sweet as it smells. The blood is good and salty. There isn’t much from two wounds. So I take another exploratory scrape with my razor. Without the mirror, this is just a joke. I’m cutting the hell out of my face. And I’m loving it. I’m licking and licking, laughing, and licking some more. I have been so thirsty.

It’s spring now, almost time for the annual Sad Festival of Vampires, almost time for the special rites which will keep the Vampire Lord Tch’muchgar locked safely away for another year. Except I think I really blew it. I think maybe I did something I shouldn’t have done. And I think I’m turning into a vampire.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Returnable Girl - booktalk

Returnable Girl
by Pamela Lowell

When I think back on the times my parents left us alone for a few hours, I don’t remember ever being scared. We never had a doubt that they were coming back soon. Ronnie isn’t so lucky. The first time remembers her mother leaving her, she was five years old. When I was five, my older brothers watched over me. At five, Ronnie was left in charge of her little brother. Whew.

Flash forward eight or so years, and Ronnie isn’t taking care of her little brothers anymore, because her brothers and her mother are all the way across the country, in Alaska. When they packed up and left, there was “no room” for Ronnie, so she was left behind. Ronnie knows that her mother is an alcoholic drug abuser, but she doesn’t care. She desperately wants to be with her mother and brothers. Instead, she’s been shunted from foster home to foster home. Alison is her tenth placement, eleventh if you count the time she stayed with her uncle and aunt. She’s been returned from all those placements, because nobody will put up with a girl as angry as she is. But maybe Alison will be different. Alison has strict rules: no throwing things, no lying, no stealing. But Alison has something else for Ronnie, too: love and understanding. No matter how much trouble Ronnie gets into, Alison is there for her.

Just as Ronnie begins to feel okay about her life, another problem pops up. Cat’s her best friend. Her only friend, really. Cat’s plump, always a little dirty, and definitely a little odd. It’s clear from things she says that she knows a little about messed up families, too. Cat gets Ronnie, and Ronnie gets her. But Ronnie desperately wants to be a part of the in crowd, and Cat is holding her back. When Paige, the most popular girl in eighth grade, starts letting Ronnie hang out with her, Ronnie knows she can’t afford to keep Cat as a friend.

Having to choose between being popular or being a good friend is hard. But that’s not the hardest decision she has to make. Alison wants to adopt her. Alison is rock solid. She doesn’t make promises she can’t keep, and Ronnie knows that Alison would never walk out on her. Alison makes her feel safe. She can’t say the same thing about her mother. She says she won’t drink or do drugs, and then does. She constantly makes excuses for why Ronnie can’t join them. But she’s Ronnie’s mother, and Ronnie loves her and needs her. And now, finally, Ronnie’s mother wants her, too. She says it’s time for Ronnie to come home. They’ll work things out. Should Ronnie let Alison adopt her, or is it time to believe in her mother at last?

My original post on this book can be found here.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Freak - booktalk

I've tried a couple of different endings for this one. This is the one I used at CLA.

by Marcella Pixley

My name is Miriam. My friends call me Shakespeare. My sister calls me an alien. The girls in school call me a freak.

The morning before Artie moved in, I wrote in Clyde. Clyde was my journal. I know most people don’t give their journals names, but most people never had a journal like Clyde. Clyde was much more than a spiral notebook with a torn cover and pages falling out. He was the place I wrote all my poems and problems so one day I could look back and say, It’s all right, Miriam. It all turned out all right anyhow. The day Artie came to stay with my family, this is what I wrote:

Dear Clyde,

It’s so early in the morning the sun hasn’t even woken up. The world is still cast in a gray shadow, but I can’t sleep another moment. Last night I kept on waking to check my alarm clock and count how many seconds were left until today.

Artie’s the one person in this world who really understands me. He’s going to wake up my poetry. He’s going to give me something to really write about. And it all starts today. Today is a scrumptious, serendipitous day. Today is even better than a birthday.

It’s six in the morning. The sun unfolds its rays behind my window blinds like a fan opening up rib by rib. I’m going to use Deborah’s kiwi shampoo for extra shine. I’m going to put perfume under my armpits. From now on, I am going to be ravishing. Six in the morning. 24,000 seconds until Artie comes to stay.

Signing off,
Miriam Fisher, Esquire

When I look back at it now, it’s hard to believe that I thought the day that Artie came would be the beginning of the most wonderful part of my life. Boy, was I wrong. I thought he’d fall in love with me. Instead, he fell in love with my sister Deborah. I thought Artie would be my knight in shining armor. Instead, the watermelon girls in school couldn’t wait to tell me the cruel things he’d said about me. They’d been teasing me for years, but this was the worst it had ever been. They called me names, threw things at me, shoved me, and drew nasty pictures, like the one of me with my arms and legs wrapped around Artie while he puked all over me. How can I believe I’ll ever be able to look back at Clyde and say this year turned out all right? My parents think I’m special and respected because I don’t follow the crowd. They are so wrong. I’m not special, and I’m definitely not respected. I’m just a freak.

Epic - booktalk

Because of time issues, I didn't actually present this booktalk. But here's what I would have said. My original post on this book can be found here.

by Conor Kostick

When I first started playing computer role-playing games, they were all text-based. Now they have graphics, sound, and first-person viewpoints, and I still enjoy them. From the popularity of Runescape at my library, I know I’m not alone. It’s fun to create a character and choose your attributes and then go out to battle enemies and gather treasures. But what if you weren’t playing just for fun? What if everything you did in the game affected your real life?

In Erik’s world, everyone plays the virtual reality game called Epic. And I do mean everyone. They have to play. When they do well in the game, back in the real world Central Allocations, the council that controls the world, gives them the tools and supplies they need to succeed in their real jobs. But most people don’t do well, because the game is stacked against them. It’s almost impossible to get ahead, and it’s really easy to die. And when they die, they don’t get to go back to a saved game. They start all over again at square one in the game. That means back in real life, they get almost nothing from Central Allocations. If they die too often, they don’t have what they need to do their jobs, so they’re sent to do jobs that doom them to an early death. And Erik and his parents keep dying.

His last death is the final straw for Erik. He’s through playing the game by the rules. He’s through playing strategically. His new character will be different from anything he’s ever created before. For one thing, she’ll be female. And instead of maximizing all the typical skills, such as fighting or crafts, and instead of trying to get as much magic and the best weapons he can afford, Erik throws all his attribute points into his character’s physical features. She’s beautiful. In a game where all the players are gray, angular blobs, Cindella the swashbuckler is going to really stand out.

Stand out she does. When Erik plays the game as Cindella, everything is different. For the first time, even computer-controlled characters interact with him. And what they tell him is amazing. It seems that there’s a huge treasure to be found. If Cindella can find it, she’ll be rich. And if she’s rich, so is Erik.

Erik soon realizes that Cindella might just survive long enough to find that treasure. And if she does, he’ll be wealthy enough to mount a challenge against Central Allocations. But are Erik and his team strong and skilled enough to beat them? Central Allocations is made up of the most powerful people/players in Epic. And Central Allocations doesn’t like its power threatened. The council members are prepared to take whatever steps necessary to make sure that Erik and his friends are put in their proper place. In a world where even the merest hint of violence is outlawed, all disputes are supposed to be solved inside the game of Epic and only through tournament combat. But certain members of Central Allocations think rules are for other people. Erik might not know it yet, but his life is in danger, and not just inside the game.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Between a Rock and a Hard Place - booktalk

Between a Rock and a Hard Place
by Aron Ralston

When Aron Ralston went hiking in Blue John Canyon, Utah in late April 2003, he made some really big mistakes. He told nobody where he was going, and he traveled with just a couple of burritos, just over a gallon of water, some chocolate bars, a muffin, the necessary equipment to climb up and down sheer canyon walls, a CD player, headphones, a couple of CDs, batteries, a digital camera, and a mini camcorder. He also had a multipurpose knife that had two pocketknife blades and a pair of pliers. The water and the knife would save his life when he got caught between a rock and a hard place. When someone says they were caught between a rock and a hard place, they usually mean that they have to choose between two options, and that neither of those choices is good. In Aron’s case, he literally did get caught between a rock and a hard place when a 500 pound rock he had just climbed off shifted, fell, and pinned his lower right arm to the canyon wall. Despite all his efforts, he could not shift that rock or chip it away enough to free his hand. He realized that nobody knew where to look for him, and that help would probably take at least six, maybe seven days, to arrive. He also knew his chances of surviving for more than three days were minuscule. He did survive for those three days, and a fourth, and then a fifth. But on the morning of the sixth day, he realized his luck was running out. He was already drinking his own urine. He was suffering from hypothermia and dehydration. He realized he had just two choices left: the rock and the hard place. He could sit there pinned by the rock until he died a slow, agonizing death, or he could amputate his arm and maybe, just maybe, hike out of the canyon. He took out his pocketknife and he began to cut.

SKIN - booktalk

by Adrienne Vrettos
(Except for the last paragraph, this book talk is entirely from the first chapter of the book.)

These are the things you think when you come home to find that your sister has starved herself to death and you have dropped to your knees to revive her:

  1. My sister is flat like a board. There’s fat guys in the locker room with bigger boobs than she has.
  2. When I scream my sister’s name into her face, I can hear my father’s voice in my own.
  3. Where is it you’re supposed to press? In the middle, on the side? Left or right?

I choose middle. I put the heels of my hands, one on top of the other, on Karen’s chest. I can feel her ribs under the thick of her too-small sweater. When I press down, her head rocks a little, hanging huge on her neck. I feel nothing pulse against my hand. I count out, “One and two and three and four and five.” Something cracks under my palm and I yank my hands away, not because I broke her rib, but because she did nothing. I broke her and she didn’t even flinch.

“COME ON!” I scream, I shove my fingers into her mouth and pull it open. Her teeth move against my fingers. I suck in a breath and push it out, into her. Her chest rises. Fake alive. She doesn’t return my breath. “Karen?” I whisper.

I’m telling you this because you didn’t ask. I’ve got it all here, growing like a tumor in my throat. I’m telling you because if I don’t, I will choke on it. Everybody knows what happened, but nobody asks. And Elvis the EMT doesn’t count, because when he asked, he didn’t even listen to me answer because he was listening to my sister’s heart not beat with his stethoscope. I want to tell. It’s mine to tell. Even if you didn’t ask, you have to hear it.

This is my sister’s story. But it’s my story too, because even though I was invisible, I was there, and it happened to me, too. What’s harder, starving yourself to death or watching someone kill herself a little bit every day, knowing you can’t do anything about it?

My review of/thoughts about this book can be found here.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Shark Girl - booktalk

Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham

A day at the beach is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to include sunning yourself on the beach, digging in the sand, scoping out the guys (or girls, as the case may be). It’s supposed to include running into the surf, diving over and through the waves, splashing and swimming with your family and friends. When you leave, you’re supposed to leave with a smile on your face, a good tan, and all your body parts intact. A day at the beach is not supposed to include a shark attack. It’s not supposed to leave you in a coma, with an arm so badly mutilated that it has to be amputated. It’s not supposed to get you on the national news, complete with video documenting the attack, the blood in the water, and the panicked screams of the other beach goers. A day at the beach is not supposed to leave you bitter, angry, and wondering whether your life will ever be worth living again. But that’s where Jane’s visit to the beach leaves her.

Read Forever* and/or Ghost*.

*Note: Because I quoted several of her poems in my original post on this book, I am not including the text of the above poems here. I suspect that the booktalk would work without including the poems. However, since some readers are initially reluctant to try a book in verse, I like to give listeners a taste of the text to show them that it's more accessible than they might think.

Billie Standish Was Here - booktalk

Billie Standish Was Here by Nancy Crocker

I lost so much the summer before sixth grade—my trust in people, my childhood, my innocence. It’s hard to believe that I gained even more. I never had a friend before Lydia Jenkins entered my life. Would we have become such good friends if we hadn’t shared such a horrible secret? I don’t know.

How a person as true and wise and giving as Miss Lydia could have a son as rotten to the core as Curtis baffles me. When you hang around like a shadow, like I do, you know people mainly by what you overhear. That’s how I first knew Curtis. And what I’d heard was that Curtis couldn’t find his ass with both hands. If it was on fire. And he had a map. Wink Sweeney said one time that Curtis was mainly a smart aleck, but without the smart part. But you can be stupid and still be good. Curtis wasn’t. Everyone knew he’d killed a girl in a drunk driving accident when he was in college. He’d been in jail more than once, and he couldn’t hold a job. He’d show up on Miss Lydia’s doorstep, and she kept taking him in. I guess she had no choice. Most of the time when Miss Lydia and I were first becoming friends, Curtis wasn’t around. But when he was, he gave me the creeps. Looking at him made me remember the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, who put on clothes and talked and was a good enough imitator to pass for a human being. Well, Curtis may have been stupid, but he was smart enough to know I’d do anything for his mother. So when he pulled up in his truck that day and told me Miss Lydia needed me to do some shopping for her, I got in. It wasn’t until he passed the store and pulled in behind the school that I really knew something was wrong. I tried to run, I swear I did. But I was eleven, and he was a grown man. I couldn’t get away.

When it was all over and I’d run home, it was Miss Lydia who was there for me. It was Miss Lydia who wiped off the blood and put me in a hot bath and tried to comfort me. And it was Miss Lydia who sat up that night with a shotgun waiting for her son to come home. It was Miss Lydia who pulled the trigger and saw to it that Curtis would never hurt another girl again.

Secrets can divide people or unite them. Our secrets bound us even closer together. We both had something to hide, something we’d never tell another soul. But how to keep a secret wasn’t the only thing I began to learn that day. I learned that love and friendship are powerful things. My life, my story, didn’t end when I was attacked. There was so much more to come. I have a future now. I have Harlan. And it’s all because Miss Lydia was here.

My non-booktalk thoughts on this book can be found here.

Right Behind You by Gail Giles - booktalk

Right Behind You by Gail Giles
5Q 4P J/S

I stared at Billy as he stood there waving his baseball glove in my face, telling me it was a birthday present from his mother. I stared at the happy grin on his face, listened as he taunted me with "You don't even have a mom to give you one." In the background, I could hear my dad and Aunt Jenna arguing. I knew they were arguing about me and who I should live with and where. And suddenly I got madder than I've ever been. It was so unfair. Billy had everything I wanted. A glove. A grin. A mom. I didn't have any of it. But I did have the bucket of gasoline Dad had been making me fill all morning. I still had the cigarette lighter in my pocket. I could take at least one of those things away from him. I grabbed the bucket and sloshed the gasoline all over Billy's glove. It splashed on his arms and shirt and dribbled down his pants, too. Some even spattered up on his face. I don't think Billy even knew what I threw on him. He just called me a bad name and cradled his glove against his chest. By then I had the lighter out. I flicked the wheel and watched the blue spurt of flame spring up. I pitched it at the birthday baseball glove. It was covered in flames in seconds. So was Billy. His screams made my dad come running, but I was frozen in place. By the time Dad reached him and started beating out the flames, by the time Aunt Jenna had called 911, it was too late.

I was nine years old. And I'd just killed a boy.

How do I live with that?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

No Right Turn - booktalk

by Terry Trueman

My father committed suicide. The shot wasn’t that loud, really, just one pop, not even as loud as a big firecracker, but I knew instantly what it was, and I ran downstairs. I saw my father sitting there with the bullet in his head. I called 911. Then I gave CPR to a dead man. Now, three years later, it’s like I died that day, too. I don’t talk to anyone, and nobody talks to me. I go to school and come home, but nothing seems real. Nothing matters. My life is just me and my mom. And that’s fine with me. I thought she was fine with it, too, until she started dating Don, the guy who just moved in down the street. What do we need him around for?

Don has a Corvette. I’m not a gearhead, but this car is sweet, It’s a 1976 model, low to the ground, with high curved fenders and a custom paint job: white on top and blue-green all along the lower section. The windows are tinted, and the tires are big, with bright chrome hubs. It’s sleek, powerful, and man, is it fast. Riding in the Stingray is like being strapped on the back of an oversized cheetah. It feels like it’s taking us for a ride, not the other way around. The rush is incredible: the rumble of the engine, the deep vibration. Soon we’re going over 100 mph. Then Don lets me drive. Let me tell you, it’s nothing like driving my mother’s Honda. When we finally get back to Don’s, I know I have to drive this car again. I have to.

Don’s out of town every Wednesday. If there’s ever a fire, the car’s what Don will save, and he doesn’t want to waste time searching for his keys. So he leaves them in the ignition. I know the code to his garage door. It’s like he’s practically inviting me to take the car for a ride. So I do. Every Wednesday night, that car and I have a date. I take it out to where the streets are straight and quiet, and I floor that pedal. Don installed a nitrous oxide system, so now it has even more horsepower. Geez, that baby flies! Or sometimes I drive around town, because what good is it if you never get to see people turn a little green when they see you behind the wheel of a ‘Vette? That’s how I meet Becka Thorson, the most gorgeous girl in the world. She thinks the car is mine. And she likes me. Or maybe she just likes the ‘Vette. I don’t know. As long as she’s sitting next to me, I don’t really care.

If I get caught, my mother will kill me. Becka won’t trust me. I don’t know what Don will do. But I know what the police will do. They’ll charge me with grand theft auto. But after three years of feeling as dead as my father, I’m finally feeling alive again. It’s worth the risk.

the dead & the gone - booktalk

the dead & the gone
by Susan Beth Pfeffer

The day that life as he knew it ended, Alex Morales didn’t have a clue. As far as he could tell, life went on just as it always did. He worked at the pizza shop, he worried about getting in to college, and his sisters were a pain. Yeah, he heard the sirens and saw the police cars and ambulances flash by, but in New York City, those were nothing new, even if it did seem as though there were more of them than usual. It wasn’t until he got home and the power went out that Alex vaguely remembered hearing something about an asteroid that was going to hit the moon. But nobody had been very excited about it. It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal. But it was. It changed things forever. That day, it was just Alex and Bri and Julie at home. His dad was in Puerto Rico for a funeral. His brother Carlos was with the Marines out in California. His mother had been called in to work at the hospital. He had no idea it would be weeks or months, if ever, before he’d ever see any of them again.

At first, things didn’t seem so bad. Mami had food in the house, and his uncle let him take more from his bodega. The blackouts weren’t a big deal. New Yorkers knew how to manage when the electricity went out for a few hours. But day after day went by with no word from Papi. Mami never came home, and the hospital couldn’t tell them where she was working or why she hadn’t called. As much as he hated the idea, Alex was in charge. Then the food began to run out. They couldn’t even get the news on the radio. The electricity went out for days at a time, and when it did come on, it was just for a couple of hours at best. There was no heat, not even outside, since ash from volcanoes blotted out the sun, pushing the temperature below freezing.

Things are getting desperate. When times get desperate, desperate people do desperate things. Things they never in their wildest dreams imagined they could do or would do. When everyone he loves and needs is dead or gone, when the world is falling apart, how is a seventeen-year-old supposed to take care of himself, let alone his sisters, one a religion-obsessed fifteen-year-old and the other a twelve-year-old spoiled brat? The answer is simple, but terribly, soul-destroyingly hard: he does what he has to do.

Black & White - booktalk

by Paul Volponi

(Note: This book is recommended for mature eighth graders and high school, due to the topic and language.)

On the basketball court, Black and White are an unbeatable team. Off the court, they’re best friends. It doesn’t matter that Marcus is black and Eddie is white. They always have each other’s back. They’re inseparable. They even plan to accept scholarships to the same college, either St. Johns or UConn. Another thing they have in common is that neither has much cash to spare. And that’s a problem, because they need to come up with money for the senior class trip. Their parents can’t pay for it. The boys can’t get jobs, because they have practice every day. And drugs aren’t their thing, so they’re not about to deal. They decide the only thing they can do is pull a couple of stickups. They don’t plan to make a career of it. They’ll stop when they get enough cash.

Of course, nobody’s going to just hand over their cash, so Eddie takes his grandfather’s gun with him. He doesn’t intend to use it, but it’ll certainly help to make them more convincing. And they’re terrified, so anything that makes them look fierce is welcome. Their first victim is a white lady with $92 and a Walkman. Sweet. That’s half the cash they need and a little bonus. Their next victim is an old white man with $129 in bills. Now they’ve got enough for the class trip, so it’s their last stickup. But no…the guys on the team want everyone to wear the latest sneakers, which neither Black nor White own. They’ll have to pull one more job. This time their victim is a middle-aged black man, and this time, everything falls apart. This time, Marcus realizes, too late, that he knows this man from somewhere. This time, White fires the gun. They can see the blood on the back of the man’s head. Panicked, they run as far and as fast as they can. Did they kill the man?

A couple of days later, it’s the Black and White show on the basketball court. By halftime, the team is up 43-18. They’re the stars of the game and everyone is slapping them on the back. Fifteen minutes later, the police are slapping handcuffs on Marcus. Black is under arrest. What about White? At the end of the game, Eddie accepts a basketball scholarship to St. John’s.

When it comes down to friendship, guilt, and innocence, is everything really black and white?

Monday, April 28, 2008


The booktalks I presented at the Connecticut Library Association will be posted here a few at a time over the next two or three days. I will use the CLA booktalks tag to make them easier to find. (It will also bring up booktalks from last year.) I'm hoping that I won't have to type them all in from scratch, but when I try to cut and paste from Word, I'm getting dozens of lines of extra code garbage, and when I try to paste it in from a text file, I can't format it properly once it's here. Once I figure that problem out, I'll be good to go!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

PEAK booktalk

Booktalk for Peak by Roland Smith

As you know from an earlier post, I loved this book. It's a booktalk waiting to happen, so I don't know why it's taken me so long to actually put one on paper. Too many other books to read, too little time to write, I guess! If you've read the book (and if you haven't, what's taking you so long?), you'll see that the climbing sequence is taken directly from the book. See what I mean about the booktalk writing itself?

My fingers were numb. My nose was running. I didn't have a free hand to wipe my nose, or enough rope to rappel about five hundred feet to the ground. I had planned everything out so carefully, except for the weather, and now it was uh-oh time. A gust of wind tried to peel me off the wall. I should have waited until June to make the ascent, but no, moron has to go up in March. "Moron!" I shouted.

Option #1: Finish the climb. Two hundred sixty-four feet up, or about a hundred precarious fingerholds (providing my fingers didn't break off like icicles

Option #2: Climb down. A little over five hundred feet, two hundred fifty fingerholds.

Option #3: Wait for rescue. Scratch that option. No one knew I was on the wall. By morning (providing someone actually looked up and saw me) I would be an icy gargoyle.

Up it is, then.

I timed my moves between vicious blasts of wind. The sleet turned to hail, pelting me like a swarm of frozen hornets. This is it, I told myself. Fifteen more handholds and I've topped it. I reached up for the next seam and encountered a little snag. Well, a big snag, really...My right ear and cheek were frozen to the wall.

To reach the top you must have resolve, muscles, skill, and...a FACE! Mine was anchored to the wall like a bolt, and a portion of it stayed there when I gathered enough resolve to tear it loose. Now I was mad, which was exactly what I needed to finish the climb. Cursing with every vertical lunge, I stopped about four feet below the edge, tempted to tag this monster with the blood running down my neck. Instead, I took the mountain stencil out of my pack, slapped it on the wall, and filled it in with blue spray paint.

And that's when the helicopter came up behind me and nearly blew me off the wall. "You are under arrest!"

Busted. Hey, I'd rather have been climbing a mountain, but there aren't many of those in Manhattan, so I've had to settle for climbing skyscrapers. I had no idea how much trouble that could get me into. They wanted to send me to juvenile detention for three years! I don't know what shocked me more, the idea of a three year prison sentence or the fact that it was my father who rescued me. I hadn't seen Josh since I was about seven. What was he doing here?

See, Josh is a big time mountain climber. He's famous. But all his climbing has left him with no time for me. He's never even sent me a birthday card or answered the letters I've sent. I'm not sure I can remember the last time we talked on the phone. So having him show up at my trial and offer to become my guardian and take me out of the country really blew my mind. I should have felt great about being with my father again, but I had a feeling there was more to this than met the eye.

I was right. My father didn't come get me because he was being a good dad. He came for me because now that he knows I can climb, he wants me to be the youngest kid to ever scale Mount Everest. Now here I am, sitting at Base Camp, wondering what I should do. Things here are really tense. Nobody in the group he's leading wants me here. Josh barely pays attention to me. Instead, he's got an old Buddhist monk training me. A nosy reporter is watching my every move, and so are the Chinese officials, who think we're up to something. Maybe we are. Preparing to climb Mount Everest is grueling. I can barely breathe and I feel sick all the time. Still, it would be cool to be the youngest kid to climb Mount Everest. But I don't I really want to make my father's dream come true?

Friday, April 20, 2007


Here's a book that middle school kids will really enjoy, particularly boys. I really enjoyed reading it, and I'm looking forward to the sequels. The book indicates that there will be four books in the series, but I did an Internet search on the author, and it looks as though there will be seven or eight. At this point, I can only say that that's good news.


As his fifteenth birthday approaches, Will has just one dream: he wants to be chosen as a Battleschool apprentice on Choosing Day. Choosing Day is when the Duke's wards learn their fates. Will they be chosen to apprentice in a craft or guild, or will they be sent to work on a farm as a common laborer? More than anything, Will wants to join the Battleschool and become a knight someday. Will knows little of his family, not even his own last name. The only scraps of knowledge he has are that his mother died in childbirth and that his father died heroically in battle against the evil Lord Morgarath. That must mean his father was a great knight, and Will wants to follow in his footsteps. But knights are big and brawny, and Will is small and scrawny. He knows in his heart that he doesn't have the build to be a knight, but he knows that he is strong and fast, and maybe that will count for something. But it doesn't.

Will can barely swallow his disappointment when his rival, Horace, is chosen for Battleschool and he himself is refused. Even worse, none of the other guild or craft masters will take him on. Only the Ranger speaks up when the Duke asks if any of them will take a second apprentice, and that is only to give the Duke a note. It seems that Will is doomed to a life as a farm laborer. As crushed as he is, Will also can't help wondering about that note the Ranger gave to the Duke. Clearly, it was something about him. Or was it? Will has to know. Years of sneaking about the castle to play tricks and steal pies from the cook have taught Will how to sneak in and around the castle without being spotted by the guards. It's an easy thing for him to scale the wall of the castle and into the Duke's office. It's even easier to sneak over to the desk to find the mysterious piece of paper. He reaches out to grab it...and a hand reaches out to grab his. Terrified, Will looks up and into the eyes of Halt, the Ranger. Where had he come from?

It's a trap, and Will has fallen right into it. But it is also a test, and Will's refusal to lie about what he was doing means he passes that test. Will is to become the Ranger's apprentice. The training is hard, and Halt is not an easy teacher. It isn't Battleschool, but Will soon learns that rangers play just as important a role in keeping the kingdom safe as the knights do, and maybe even more. Rangers are the eyes and ears of the kingdom, gathering intelligence and reporting to the dukes and king. When Lord Morgarath, who fifteen years ago killed the previous king and was only barely defeated, gathers a new army of alien creatures and begins to menace the kingdom again, it's the rangers who know first, and it's Halt, his old apprentice Gilan, and Will who are on the front lines in the battle against him.

Edited to add a link to a very interesting interview with John Flanagan and a link to his web site. Lucky Australians! They're up to Book 6 there, and the seventh book in the series is due out soon. I'm writing this on August 10, 2007, and Book 3, The Icebound Land, has only just been published here in the U.S. Oh, well. Something to look forward to!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

CLA booktalks

If you are here because you are looking for the booktalks I gave at the Connecticut Library Association conference, welcome! Thank you for being interested enough to stop by.

If you look through the rest of this blog, you will see that some of the books I presented were discussed here previously. Those posts are a mixture of booktalk material and review/commentary. I am tagging the actual booktalks
CLA booktalk so that you can find them easily.

You are welcome to use my booktalks, but I would appreciate an attribution. And please, feel free to comment. That's why it's a blog, not a web page!

VM=Very Malignant? (Code Orange booktalk)

Code Orange by Caroline Cooney
3Q 4P J/S

Mitty prides himself on doing as little as he can in school. It’s not that he can’t do the work. It’s just that he doesn’t see the point. So when his advanced biology teacher assigns a term paper on an infectious disease, Mitty has no intention of doing any research for it. He figures he’ll grab a few facts off the Internet, paste them into a document, and he’ll be done. He actually forgets all about the assignment until the week before it’s due. That’s when he gets a punch right in the solar plexus: if he doesn’t get a passing grade on this paper, they’re going to kick him out of the class. Mitty could care less about advanced biology, but he cares a LOT that it’s his only class with Olivia. So he figures he’d better knuckle down and get some work done on the paper. And he means to. Really, he does. But it’s the weekend, so he deserves a day or two of rest, doesn’t he? By the time Mitty decides to get to work, it’s late on Sunday. He’s staying at his family’s place in the boondocks of Connecticut, and he realizes he hasn’t brought a thing with him for research. The library is closed and there isn’t a bookstore for miles around. And he needs books, since his bio teacher is waaay out of touch with the real world and won’t let them use the Internet. Mitty remembers that his mother just brought home a load of old books from an auction where they were selling off stuff from some old doctor’s house. Luckily for Mitty, the doctor had a couple of books on infectious diseases. As he starts to page through one of them, he finds a sealed envelope marked “VM – 1902” tucked between two of the pages. Inside it are a couple of scab-type things. The books are so dusty, Mitty starts to sneeze. One of the scabs crumbles in his fingers, disintegrating into dust.

It isn’t until a day or two later that Mitty realizes what he held in his hands: VM=variola major, otherwise known as smallpox, one of the most infectious diseases ever known to mankind. Millions died in agony from it. When Mitty sneezed, the scab that crumbled almost certainly got into his lungs. What if it contained active virus? What if he’s a walking time bomb, passing smallpox on to everyone he knows, including his parents and Olivia? Should he tell someone? But what if he’s not infected? He’ll look like a fool. What if he is infected and someone else finds out? What if that someone wants to infect thousands of people?

Here There Be Pirates (Red Sea booktalk)

Red Sea by Diane Tullson
4Q 3P J/S (Grades 7-10-ish)

It thrills me to stand on the deck of the ship, look out at the ocean, and see no land in any direction. But there’s a big difference between being on the deck of a huge cruise ship captained by an experienced crew and being out in the middle of the ocean in a small sailboat with nobody but yourself to pilot the ship.

The last thing in the world Libby wanted to do was leave her boyfriend and her best friend behind to sail around the world with her mother and stepfather. Unfortunately, she wasn’t give a choice. Now she's stuck for months on a sailboat with the two people in the world she most wants to get away from. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if it were just Libby and her mom. But no way is she okay with sailing around the world with Duncan. And so she does what teenagers are really good at. She makes her parents pay. She’s as uncooperative as she can possibly be. She insinuates that Duncan can’t keep his hands to himself. She goes ashore alone, knowing it makes her mother crazy. She does whatever she can to make them sorry that they ever brought her along. But it’s not just being on this trip that’s making her miserable. At every port, she emails her boyfriend, Ty. At every port, she eagerly waits for word from him. It never comes.

After three weeks in Djibouti waiting for the right weather to begin their Red Sea passage, Emma, the leader of their traveling group, decides to leave early the next morning. For safety’s sake, the flotilla must stay together. There are pirates in the Red Sea, men who will take anything and everything a ship has, men who won’t hesitate to shoot anyone who gets in their way. Everyone must be ready to leave on Emma’s signal. But Libby isn’t ready to leave. Not when there’s one more chance to check her email, one more chance to make her parents pay. She sneaks ashore early in the morning. By the time she gets back, the rest of the group has gone. There’s no choice now but to sail alone and hope for the best. Her parents are grim, but Libby doesn’t care. That’ll teach them.

It’s dangerous for a sailboat to be in the middle of the ocean completely out of sight of land. Pirates aside, your tiny boat can’t get out of a freighter’s way fast enough to avoid being crushed. Someone always has to be on watch, especially when, like tonight, a bad storm adds to the danger. Duncan wants Libby on watch with her mother. Libby can take being with her mother just so long, though, so she abandons watch and her mother and goes to bed. She’s woken by a loud noise and a change in the boat’s motion. Something is wrong. She tears up the stairs, Duncan just behind her. They reach the deck just in time to see her mother fire a flare directly at what is unmistakably a pirate’s boat. A gunman in the boat aims a gun their way. Tiny bursts of flame erupt from the barrel. The mainsail rips, a cockpit cushion explodes, a thermos disintegrates. Libby can barely think with the panic and the noise, but one thought does go through her mind: “Oh, good. They’re going to miss her.” They don’t. Her mother spins, her arms splayed. A gob of red goo shoots from her leg and she crashes to the ground. Duncan runs towards her. A bullet catches him in the shoulder, and then the top of his head flies off. When Libby opens her eyes again, he’s gone, thrown overboard by the force of the impact.

The pirates take everything they can: almost every bit of food, every scrap of electronics, including their GPS equipment, their batteries, and the go-bag that contains their emergency supplies. What they can’t take, they break. When they finally go, they leave behind a ship with a fouled propeller that can’t use its engines, no way to contact anyone for help, no medical supplies, a badly wounded woman, and one fourteen-year-old girl. For Libby, being alone in the middle of the ocean isn’t at all thrilling. It’s terrifying.

I'd Give My Right Hand... (King of Attolia booktalk)

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
5Q 4P J/S

The King of Attolia is Eugenedes, the former Thief of Eddis. He was once the best thief in the land. But Gen isn’t much of a thief now. The only thing he's stolen recently is the Queen of Attolia's heart. The Queen of Attolia. His wife. The woman who had his right hand cut off. This man, this outsider, is the new and hated King of Attolia.

Costis is proud of being a soldier in Attolia. He's a good soldier, too. Good enough to be promoted to a squadron leader in the Queen's Guard much faster than usual. He is also proud of being Attolian, and fiercely loyal and protective of the queen. It pains him to see her married to a "goat-footed, throne-stealing interloper". This king is a joke! He doesn't look like a king, doesn't walk like a king, doesn't stand like a king...he sits on the throne like he's a printer's apprentice in a wine shop, for heaven's sake! He can’t stand it. In a moment of madness, Costis cocks his fist and throws a punch that lands the king on his back. The king! He punched the king! This is treason! He will surely hang for this.

But he doesn't. To his great shock, instead of insisting on that ultimate penalty, the King makes a deal with the Queen and the Captain of her Guard, Telius. Costis becomes the king's lackey. He has to be the king's sparring partner (and the one-armed king is a terrible sword fighter) and follow him around all day doing nothing. It's a terrible comedown for a squadron leader, and the rest of the guard look at him with both pity and scorn. But a strange thing starts happening. Costis hates the king. But it troubles him to see the way his attendants treat him. They put sand in his food and snakes in his bed. They refuse to dress him properly, so his clothes are mismatched and never quite clean. They even maneuver to sic the hunting dogs on him. This isn't right. He is, after all, the King. It's not until these nasty tricks turn into an attempt to assassinate the king that Costis begins to realize that Gen's stealing days aren't quite over. Little by little, he's stealing Costis's heart and his loyalty. But Costis has one more shock coming to him. He’s learned a lot about Gen, but the one thing he hasn’t learned yet is that he always has something up his sleeve. Never, ever underestimate a thief.

Turner’s writing is so good that she makes Gen’s transformation into an ineffectual king seem quite believable. It’s only when you start thinking about what you absolutely know to be true about Gen that you being to wonder just what’s really going on here. The development of the relationship between Costis and Gen and the slowly revealed depth of the relationship between Gen and his queen are well handled, and when the final pieces of the puzzle are dropped into place and we see what’s really been going on, it is deeply satisfying. You do not need to have read the other two books in this series to be caught up by this one, but if you haven't, you've been missing out!

Edited on 9/29/2007 to add: Shannon Hale interviewed Megan Whalen Turner. It's going to be a three-part interview. (Parts two and three aren't up at the time I'm posting this, but I'm sure you'll find them easily once they are.) I can't wait to find out if Shannon asks the all-important "When is the fourth Gen book coming out?" and what Megan's answer is!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Love, Motorcycles, and Casserole: Honey, Baby, Sweetheart (booktalk)

Honey, Baby, Sweetheart by Deb Caletti
4Q 5P J/S/Adult

As soon as Ruby McQueen sees Travis Becker, she knows that she’s in trouble. She’s always been known as the quiet girl, the good student, the good girl. She knows who Travis is. She knows his reputation as a rich bad boy. But she can’t help herself. When she sees his shiny motorcycle parked on the grass of the mansion he calls home, she knows she shouldn’t walk up the driveway to sneak a peek at it. She’s horribly embarrassed when Travis catches her in the act. Staring back at him, she gets that Something About to Happen feeling. Right away, she knows he’s bad, and that it doesn’t matter. When he invites her to ride with him on his motorcycle, she does. And she becomes a different girl. She’s terrified, but at the same time, she likes the feeling. And she likes the girl she is with Travis. This Ruby isn’t afraid, or at least, she doesn’t let Travis see her fear. He thinks she’s cool, and she’s never been cool before. For the first time in years, Ruby feels strong and confident. But as much as Ruby loves Travis, she has to admit that he’s bad news. He almost kills them by refusing to get off the train tracks when a train is coming. He rides his motorcycle at 100 mph, with her clinging to his back. This guy has a dangerous streak a mile wide. Is that enough reason to break it off? No. As scary as it is, it’s also thrilling. But then one night, Travis takes her to “a family friend’s” house. Nobody is home, but Travis has the key. “I’m feeding the cats,” he tells Ruby. But he doesn’t turn on any lights, and suddenly, Ruby knows. Travis is a thief, and he’s involved her in his illegal activities. That’s too much. She has to break it off now. And she tries, she really does. But how can she walk away when the attraction is so strong? She knows it’s a bad idea, but they’re a couple again. Then Travis involves her in something that hurts people who love and trusted her. She knows she needs to break it off for real this time. But how can she walk away from someone she loves so much? It’s just too hard.

As it turns out, Ruby’s mother has the same problem. Ruby’s parents have been divorced for years, but every time Ruby’s father comes back to town for a visit, her mother loses her head and heart all over again, hoping they’ll get back together. Every time, her father leaves and her mother is depressed for weeks. This has to stop.

Ruby and her mother aren’t the only ones in romantic difficulty. Ruby’s mother is a librarian who runs a book club for senior citizens. She calls them the Casserole Queens (there’s also a Casserole King in the group). Ruby’s mother convinces (well, to be accurate, forces) Ruby to join her in the book club, thinking it will take both their minds off their miserable love lives. It works much better than either would have ever guessed. As the club members start to read their latest book choice, they slowly realize that it’s about a member of their own group. Lillian has recently had a stroke and is living in an old age home that she hates. The book’s author tells of how he was separated from the love of his life after WWII and how he has never forgotten her. He’s waited and hoped for over fifty years to see her again, but he doesn’t know where she is. Now that the Casserole Queens know the story, how can they let Lillian die without being reunited with her long-lost love? They can’t! And so they break her out of the home and go off in search of one true love. Who would ever have guessed that a road trip with a bunch of senior citizens is the perfect cure for a bad case of loving the wrong guy?