Category Archives: Book Talk Tuesday

Recent Recent Historical Fiction Book Talks

Around this time of year, we have dozens and dozens of kids and parents coming into the library to find books for their genre book reports. Every year they come looking for “realistic fiction,” “adventure fiction,” “historical fiction,” and so on. These are fun questions, and I love reader’s advisory, so I’m excited to go to some of these classes and present some exciting new titles that we have at our library.

In looking at what has recently been published in children’s historical fiction I found that a lot of it focuses on the twentieth century. When I was a kid, I don’t remember this being as common–of course now kids can read historical fiction about my childhood.

So for my historical fiction presentation, I will be showcasing recent books that cover recent history. Of course I will also provide a list of newer titles covering other periods. I think the struggle with kids and these genre assignments is that they tend to see them as one dimensional, not realizing that within each of these genres there are lots of kinds of books. Historical fiction novels can be scary, exciting, funny, dramatic, sad, slow, and everything in between. While showing some recent titles I hope to show this range of emotions.

Moving from the present back, I’ll start with Long Walk to Water about the Lost Boys of Sudan in 1985. It is a dramatic book, and I’ve book-talked it before. I think it is also a good way to show how historical fiction can cover lots of different periods and tones.

A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story It’s 1985, Salva is sitting in his classroom, it seems to be a normal day in the Sudan. Until bombs start to fall. What do you think his teacher’s reaction was? Rather than an orderly evacuation, or even ducking and covering, Salva’s teacher told his students to run, run as fast as they can, and keep running. And that is just what Salva does, along with thousands of other young boys, he runs, and then walks–away from his life, his world, and most of his family. Trying to get to safety and escape the civil war that embroiled his country, Salva finds himself in new kinds of danger walking through the desert, in refuge camps, and leading other young men. To find out Salva’s story, and how boys like him are trying to make a difference in today’s Sudan, read
Long Walk to Water. (I booked talk this book and it was a HUGE hit, the kids were on the edge of their seats, and there was a hold list to get our copies!)

Inside Out and Back Again While Salva escaped on his own, Ha flees Vietnam in 1975 with her mother and brothers as the city of Saigon is invaded by the same Communists who kidnapped or killed her father. In Inside Out and Back Again, Ha tells the story of the eventful year where her life is turned upside down, from waiting for her papaya fruit to ripen in tropical Vietnam, to a town where they have nothing, understand very little of the language, or culture. Told in verse, Ha evokes the experience of countless refugees who fled after the fall of Vietnam. [Here I’ll read the passage about being unable to obey her mom, when her mom tells her to not drink and not pee while escaping] To discover more of what it was like stuffed in an overcrowded boat, waiting for rescue, only to end up in a land where everything is foreign, read Inside Out and Back Again. (This was another hit, I booked talked this to three groups and they all requested this one!)

One Crazy Summer In One Crazy Summer, Delphine and her sisters merely fly across the country, but what they face when they arrive in Oakland, CA in 1968 seems like another world. No one meets them at the airport, and when their mother finally shows up she is not excited at all to see them. She tells them to go out and buy take out when they complain they’re hungry, refuses to let them enter her kitchen, and in the morning tells them to leave the house and not come back until 6 p.m.. Delphine and her sisters find breakfast at a Black Panther hall, and end up staying for the day camp. There they end up learning more about the racial tension in the neighborhood, and the simmering rebellion nearly ready to boil over. While they “came for breakfast, not revolution,” the summer ends up teaching them a lot about themselves, their mother, and the world around them. To find out what happens to Delphine and her sisters during their months with their mother, and what she’s hiding in the kitchen, read One Crazy Summer

The Giant-Slayer Unlike the children in these other books, Laurie’s movements in The Giant Slayer are limited, and the only places she can go are in her imagination. A dire disease is still spreading through the country in 1955, the president of the USA had had it, with crippling results, and so had her neighbor, Dickie. Left paralyzed, Dickie spends all his time in an enormous machine that breathes for him called an iron lung. When Laurie visits Dickie and the other children in the Polio ward, she finds that she can transport them to a fabulous adventure with giants, witches, and all kinds of magic through the power of her stories. But when something happens to Laurie, how will the children find their way out of the story? If you like fantastic stories and adventure, you’ll enjoy being carried away with Laurie and the other children.

Stay tuned for more trips back in time to the first half of the 20th century!

Booktalk Schedule–Fourth Grade

This year I’m hoping to continue my 4th grade booktalk class visits that were so fun and successful last year. I’ve talked with the two teachers I worked with last school year, and one gave me a list of core standards that I could talk about and share books on. I have about 9 topics to cover:

  • Folktales, fables, legends, and myths: What are the differences, where can you find them in the library, what are some awesome books in each areas.
  • Biographies/Autobiographies: Not just the regular requisite 100 pg assignment.
  • Mystery: From sleuths to spooky tales, get a clue here!
  • Historical Fiction: From the distant past to recent history, we’ll talk about what it is and some good books to read.
  • Non-fiction: There are a TON of super awesome non-fiction books out there that are fun to read and fascinating!
  • Fantasy: From talking animals to wizards and everything in between.
  • Science Fiction: cool gizmos and aliens, along with travels through time.
  • Realistic Fiction: Real kids, real fun, and real situations.
  • Fiction: I’m not sure why this is on the list, but sure I can talk about 4th grade fiction.

So here’s to a great school year with lots of awesome book talks!

Booktalking Picture Books

Typically it seems that the books that I booktalk are chapter books or non-fiction titles. But any length of book can be promoted with a booktalk–I know I’ve caught more than one person’s interest with just a few words describing a picture book. Here are a few particularly compelling titles:

Monkey Truck Monkey Truck, Michael Slack. He’s a monkey and a truck, he races around doing adventurous things, rescuing people, and maybe even eating bananas. If your toddler enjoys animals, trucks, and running around, this is the book for you–plus it has sturdy pages!

Shark vs. Train Shark vs. Train, Chris Barton, Tom Lichtenheld. Who here likes sharks? How about trains? In an epic battle between Sharks and Trains, who do you think would win? How would they even fight? Who is stronger? Faster? Smellier? Find out who wins in this crazy match up by reading Shark vs. Train.

When Dinosaurs Came with Everything Elise Broach, David Small. Who here’s ever had to run errands with your parents? It can sometimes be boring. What if every time you went somewhere you got a special treat? And what if that treat was a free DINOSAUR!? Would your parents let you keep them? Where would they stay? What would they eat? Read all about what happens in When Dinosaurs Came with Everything.

It’s the End of the World as We Know it, and I feel fine!

While dystopian novels are all the rage, I’ve always preferred apocalyptic and post apocalyptic novels. There is something about seeing ordinary people face extraordinary circumstances that draws me into the book. I recently read a post that offers a definition of post-apocalyptic versus dystopian novels, that clarifies to some extent the two. Their definition is correct, dystopian refers to a planned society, where in the attempt to achieve some goal people are deprived of certain liberties, or the dark side of a utopia. Post-apocalyptic stories take place after some destruction has taken place. As they point out there is substantial overlap in genres, Hunger Games is a dystopian society within a post apocalyptic world, as is Ship Breaker. My one criticism is that they leave out a distinct genre, apocalyptic fiction–not after the destruction, but during the cataclysm. I would say that Ashes and Ashfall are both apocalyptic as they take place during a destructive event. Here are three books that represent these three forms:

Apocalyptic: Life as We Knew It, Susan Beth Pfeffer Life As We Knew It (Last Survivors, #1) Miranda is an ordinary 16 yr old, dealing with school, boys, and homework–lots of homework about the moon of all things. See it turns out an asteroid is heading to the moon, and all the teachers figure it is a good reason to write more papers! But when the asteroid actually hits the moon, things start to change–the tides are higher, there are unexpected storms, satellites are interrupted and things start to fall apart. Can Miranda and her family stay together, and alive, as everything around them falls apart?

Post-Apocalyptic: Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien Z for Zachariah Z for Zachariah After nuclear war has broken out, it appears that humanity has been destroyed, all that is except Ann. She’s left on the farm, seemingly alone in the whole world. Her parents left to find help, and never returned. In order to survive, she has to keep the farm running all by herself. One day, however, she sees a man approaching her valley. What does he want? Can she trust him? Are they alone in the world?

Dystopian: The Sky Inside, Clare B. Dunkle. The Sky Inside Martin lives in a world where it is all about the latest and greatest product, from food to genetically modified children. Each day they watch the TV to find out what’s next, to enjoy the endless gameshows, and to vote nightly on matters important to society, such as the colors of the president’s drapes. Everything seems fine, until Martin discovers there is going to be a recall, but not of the latest toy, rather they are going to recall his sister and her generation. No one will say what a recall means, by Martin is suspicious and sets out to discover where they are taking his sister and what is really outside of their “perfect” suburb. Can he figure out what is going on in time to save his sister?

Funny Favorites–Booktalks

Readers advisory is huge at my library, and is a constantly developing skill that I and all of the staff are working to perfect. While some kids are always looking for something new, most kids don’t care as much about the date on the book (unless it is the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book) as long as it sounds interesting, has a good cover, and they haven’t read it yet. When kids want funny they could mean a whole range of things, from Captain Underpants to joke books to Bark, George . The most common request is for humorous realistic fiction, which may be because of the Wimpy Kid popularity. Here are three recommendations I make regularly for funny books that are likely to be on the shelf.

Punished! Punished is the story of a young boy who gets in trouble in the library for doing something a lot of kids think they can get away with until WHAM! He wasn’t yelling, or eating, or wearing books as hats in rainstorms. And it wasn’t the librarian who yelled at him–no it was the old man he ran into–quite literally. A mysterious old guy who curses him to only speak in puns until he learns a lesson. This seems fine–people are laughing until he realizes he can’t stop, and people aren’t laughing with him, their laughing at him! Logan has to make this stop–and once he tracks the old man down, he learns he has to complete three tasks to be free. Will he be doomed to pun his life away? Read Punished by David Lubar to find out, and you may just want to not run in the library, just in case.

The second funny book I recommend is Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar, but lately most kids have already read it. It is a classic and most kids LOVE it. Recently I found another great read alike for those Wayside fans. As soon as the copies I order come in, it will be a go to recommendation.

The Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary School Sometimes a class can be crazy, particularly when you and your classmates get into trouble. In the Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary by Candice Fleming, these 4th graders are so naughty that they don’t think they can find a teacher willing to take them on. Just in the nick of time a brave explorer returns to take on the challenge, he’s taught wild monkeys, and visited peoples in far off lands, but can he face this fourth grade class? Join Mr. Jupiter as he takes on this crazy class and has new adventures throughout the year!

Favorite Standby Booktalks

As a librarian, I am always trying to find new books to entice kids to read, something fresh to lure kids into picking up a book. However, I have my favorite books that I pull out to recommend, ones I read as a child, or even that my parents might have read when they were young. While I discard old copies, with dated covers, I gladly plunk down money over and over for new versions, with fresh covers. Today I’m going to tell you two of these books I pull out regularly to recommend for kids who ask for scary stories.

The updated cover is really nice and spooky, but it is only paperback and inexplicably the prebound edition is the 1980's verson.

Vintage 1980s cover

Another classic cover

Ghost stories are perennially popular, and my first recommendation is usually Wait Til Helen Comes, by Mary Downing Hahn, mistress of spooky tales.

When Molly and Micheal’s mother gets married they, along with their new step sister Heather, move into the countryside into an odd old house. Not only is the house way out in the countryside, leaving them stuck with their bratty new stepsister, but it is super creepy–a converted church, with all kinds of surprises, such as a graveyard in the back yard. If that’s not enough, Heather starts talking about her new friend Helen, a ghost. Molly and Micheal are not sure what to make of this, are ghosts real? Maybe in a spooky place like their new house. But the biggest question of all is: if Helen is real, a real ghost, what does she want from Heather, and how far will she go to get it?

Now many of the kids have already read this one, and if they liked it (most kids still really love it) I recommend another spooky classic, by another master of the children’s gothic genre. The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. There are some similarities between these two, and both have had an assortment of different covers. This one actually has more as it is older and a Newbery honor award winner.

We still have this one on the shelf--kids do check it out even with this cover!

We also have this one on the shelf, I'm not sure if it really conveys the mood of the book.
Like in Wait Till Helen Comes, this book features a spooky old house, a new step sister and possible ghostly going guests. When the Stanley children’s father remarries they gain a new step-sister and move into a spooky old house. Amanda, the step-sister, is a 12 yr old who seems mysterious and who claims to have studied witchcraft and have powers. She wants to teach the four children, but when the cupid’s head in the hall is removed the children have to face the fact that these powers might be real or there might be other forces at work. Is Amanda a witch, or is there some other force at work in this spooky house? Read The Headless Cupid to find out!

I’d love other spooky recommendations, whether old or new to share with my ghost loving patrons.

Teen Summer Reading Program Promotion Booktalk

Most of my outreach is for elementary students, mostly because it is easier to get into classes there, but since the sixth graders are just weeks away from graduating, they are practically middle-schoolers. So I’ll be promoting the Teen (12 and up) Summer Reading Club to them, though I’ll be mentioning that if they want they can also sign up and participate for the kids. Most kids don’t want the prizes for the little kids, but will sometimes attend if the program sounds interesting. The theme for teens is You are Here.

I’m squeezing the entire 6th grade from the local school in after an epic day of division meeting to explain the Summer Reading Program, opening the branch, and Kindergarten class visits, and all of this before 3 p.m.. I have about an hour to give an short tour and promote our programs. The hardest part will be what to have the kids do while I’m giving the tour. I’m thinking geography trivia they can try to answer while we quickly give a tour, and then go over the answers when I get back. I found a good quiz here

So after introductions and a discussion of library cards and the library, I’ll divide the group in half and do a tour for one half while the others answer trivia questions. After all the kids do the tour and the quiz/game we’ll go over the answers (with prizes/candy for winners), and ask the kids if they’d like to see the world?

I’m going to do some book talks:
Peak Can you imagine being the youngest kid to climb the tallest mountain on earth? Well, in Peak by Roland Smith one boy leaves his home in New York City, where there are only skyscrapers to climb, and travels all the way around the world to tackle that exact challenge. Adults die trying to climb this mountain every year, it requires a huge amount of endurance, skill, and luck. Do you think you’d want to risk your life to say you are the youngest person to conquer the mountain? See what Peak Marcello does, and if he makes it to the top, by reading Peak.

If you aren’t ready to take on Everest, we have another challenge here at the library for you. This summer you can get your boarding pass and embark on a trip of a lifetime here at the library. Sign up for our Teen Summer Reading program, complete at least six adventures and get a really awesome prize. This year we have a cool metal water bottle, a nice bag, and a book. You can get all your stamps by attending programs at this location or at one of our branches and reading books of your choice and turning in book reviews.

Each activity not only gets you closer to completing your quest and getting the prize (which will be handed out at the end of the summer program), but it also allows you to enter into a weekly raffle. Winners of weekly raffles will get their choice of books, as well as other awesome prizes.

This summer we’re going to learn about different places around the world, what they’d be like to visit, and what life is like for kids who live there. How many of you have eaten food from a different culture or country? Ever wonder if it is really like what people who live in other parts of the world eat? What the World Eats In What the World Eats you can find that out–how people get their food, what they eat, and how much. Each spread shows one family of at least four and the food they eat during one week. I’ll show some of the families profiled and give details.

Next I’ll tell them about our programs, one of which offers kids the chance to try some foods eaten in other parts of the world. Carrot salad, dal, maybe even sushi. Another program will help kids relax after the end of school, with yoga, origami, zentangles. We’ll be learning some dances from Polynesia and eating pineapple. And going on a trip around the world to track after a master criminal, if you are ready to be a world traveler by then. We’ll hand out the final prizes after we track the thief down!

If we have more time I’ll book talk a couple more books, A Step from Heaven A Step from Heaven, by An Na, and Younguncle Comes to Town Younguncle Comes to Town, by Vandana Singh

Younguncle Comes to Town

Younguncle Comes to Town Some of you might be lucky enough to have a really cool relative. Maybe an awesome aunt who plays all the coolest video games, a grandma who plays baseball, or a cousin who may just be a super hero. If you are lucky enough, you might get the chance to hang out with them a lot and hear their cool stories and get into adventures with them.

Sarita and Ravi and their baby sibling are just that lucky. Their father’s brother is coming to live with them. Known just as Younguncle, he joins their family house in northern India, where it is quite common for extended family to live together. After joining their household things start to get interesting for all three of the children, including the baby. Her goal in life is to eat an ENTIRE shirt of her uncle’s, which she almost achieves when a monkey comes and grabs it from her. The whole family is worried when the shirt is missing and the baby is found looking guilty, but the baby is fine, so everything appears normal, until a ghost appears to be haunting the town frighting everyone around. This leads to even further adventures as the dry season in Northern India brings out Younguncle to save the day and have some fun.

In Younguncle Comes to Town, Vandana Singh brings India to life through the exploits of Younguncle as he ranges through town, saving tigers, working with pickpockets, and helping his family out of a variety of situations. If you want to get a glimpse into growing up in a place far from here, check out Sarita and Ravi’s stories of their Younguncle.

Recommended for the Summer Reading Club, One World Many Stories. It would be a good choice for a family read aloud, or for good 3rd grade readers and up.

A Long Walk to Water

This is a book talk for a 6th grade class.

A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story Salva is sitting in school one day when an explosion rocks the classroom. Rather then telling the students not to panic, or evacuating quietly, the teacher tells the students to run, run as fast as they can, and be careful who they trust. It is 1985, and the boys do that, they run, and then walk, as fast as they can. Not sure who to trust or where they can find safety, they embark on a quest that takes them across the desert, to refugee camps in two different countries, facing violence and environmental dangers every step. Their quest lasts years, and many never make it. They are called the Lost Boys.

Nya is also 11, and in 2008 she also spends most of the day walking. Only her trips take her to the water hole to get water, four hours one way, four or more hours back. Hauling water for her whole family is her full time job. The same thing every day, except when the water dries up, and then it might be a longer walk. The dangers Nya faces are less dramatic, but if the water dries or is fouled her and her village all could die.

While this is fiction, it is based on a true story. In A Long Walk to Water, Linda Sue Park moves between the experiences of these two kids, a boy and a girl, in two different times in a country far away. The events that happen to the two are things that real kids just like you experienced and continue to experience. The country is Sudan. Does anyone here know anything about Sudan? Where is it? What is it like? If you don’t know, Sudan is the largest country in Africa. Like many countries around the world unrest and civil war has led to many people fleeing the country in the past century. As fighting dies down, challenges arise over access to education, food and water. To find out how a few brave people, just your age, struggle through violence, and now struggle to live their lives in a part of the world that is completely different from ours, read A Long Walk to Water. And if you want to learn more about the stories of kids living all around the world, come join our Summer Reading Program, One World, Many Stories.

Book Talk Tuesday is hosted by Lemme Library, head on over to check out the other posts:

Earth Day Book Talk

When I do a class visit to share books, I try to find a theme and tie the books together in some way that makes for a flow from one to the next. Transitions are important to hold attention. So while I’ve posted individual book talks for this presentation for the past couple of weeks, here is how they all fit together.

The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with the Chimps I want to start by sharing The Watcher, a picture book biography of Jean Goodall, as it emphasizes the way that even as children we can watch and learn about the world around us.

A Life in the Wild: George Schaller's Struggle to Save the Last Great Beasts After starting with the idea that observing nature is an important way to learn about the world, I’ll share A Life in the Wild, which will allow me to tell students about how wilderness conservation changed when scientists began to observe and study nature.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda Next, I’ll share The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, which is the case study a bunch of kids did of a phenomena they noticed in school.

Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot (Scientists in the Field Series) Featuring another strange creature, I’ll move from Yoda to Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot, which continues the importance of observing the world around us as well as being very interesting.

Hoot (Newbery Honor Book) The next book is also about a rescue attempt, but of who? A runaway boy, a bird living in the ground? In Hoot , there are a number of mysteries to solve.

I’ll conclude with Crunch, which also has mysteries and encourages kids to keep watching the world around them.

Since this is ready, I’m turning my attention to Summer Reading titles, so I can promote our programs and share books at the programs. Stay tuned!