Booktalk: The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

Boy in the Black Suit cover

Jason Reynolds was already a published author when he skyrocketed to YA fame with his 2014 novel When I Was the Greatest.  With 2015’s The Boy in the Black Suit, he once again takes a sensitive, realistic, and powerful look at the life of a troubled teenage boy in an urban setting.  Give this book to any teens you know who could appreciate a realistic fiction story about death, grief, identity, families, and friendship.

BOOKTALK:

After Matt’s mother passed away, his life went in some unexpected directions.  Unfortunately, most of those directions were bad.  Many of the kids and teachers at his school stopped talking to him or avoided him, almost like his mother’s cancer was contagious.  Then his father started drinking again, and life at home got even worse.  Matt felt like he was more alone than he’d ever been before.

Then Matt got a new job to help pay the bills, and that job saved his life.  Which is a little weird, because his new job was all about death.  You see, Matt’s new job was working at a funeral parlor, helping people who had just lost loved ones of their own.  He started wearing a black suit every day to school, and that got him even more weird looks than before.  But even though Matt had been feeling so depressed because of his mom, his dad, and his friends, working at the funeral parlor and attending the funerals of strangers starts to reopen his heart in ways he never expected.

Booktalk: Invincible by Amy Reed

Invincible cover

Are you and your teens looking for #sicklit books?  Are you looking for books that are filled with happiness and sadness and sickness and romance and dashed hopes?  Would you like to read one of my top tearjerker contenders of 2015?  Well, check out Invincible by Amy Reed, and get ready to be crushed by ALL THE FEELS.

Seriously, though.  This book made me cry so much that it was embarrassing.

Enjoy!!!

BOOKTALK:

Evie knows that her days are numbered.  She has to deal with the cold hard fact that she’s living in the cancer ward, that she’s NEVER going to get better, and that she’s nearing the end of her life.  She’s growing apart from the people she used to know, and the girl she used to be.  As each day passes, she’s pulling further and further away from her friends, her boyfriend, and even her family.  Because she isn’t that pretty, popular, loving girl anymore.  She’s not the Evie that they used to know.  Now she’s a different girl altogether, a girl who hangs out with other sick kids like Caleb and Stella in the cancer ward.  Now she’s a girl who’s waiting to die, or a girl who’s waiting to see which of her friends die first.

But here’s the thing — Evie doesn’t die after all.  She gets better.  On the one hand that seems like the best news in the world.  But on the other hand … it isn’t.  Because Evie already spent a huge part of her life saying goodbye to everyone who used to be important to her.  The more time passes, Evie is going to realize that she’s not the same person she used to be.  And that living can be even harder than dying.

Evie gets her life back.  But what kind of life is she going to have?  And what kind of person is she going to be?

Booktalk: The Nerdy Nummies Cookbook by Rosanna Pansino

Nerdy Nummies Cookbook cover

I’m always on the lookout for nonfiction books that I can share with teens, and I’m ESPECIALLY on the lookout for “show and tell” format books that I can use to engage my audience no matter what their reading / attention level.  I found this book in my library’s adult collection, but I instantly knew that it would be a big hit with teens.

When presenting this booktalk to a class, I would first make sure that I’d marked the pages I wanted to show with sticky notes or page markers, and then I would show each picture to the class while I talked.  When booktalking a title like this I’d recommend marking pictures that look interesting to you, and then seeing if you can find something interesting to point out about each one.  If I’m addressing a large class but trying to show everyone a page in a particular book, I usually end up trying to find something to say to fill the silence while I walk from one side of the room to the other.

The Nerdy Nummies Cookbook is based on Rosanna Pansino’s very popular YouTube channel, so you can engage your audience even more by directing them to the videos for fun recipes that they can watch online.

BOOKTALK:

Maybe you’re a nerd.  Maybe you’re a geek.  Maybe you’re into fantasy, science fiction, math, science, outer space, gaming, and more!

This unique cookbook is based on Nerdy Nummies, the internet’s most popular baking show.  You’ll learn how to make basic recipes like apple pie, pound cake, red velvet cake, brownies, cookies, and royal icing.  And then you’ll learn how to adapt those recipes to make very unusual, cool, and photogenic treats that you’ll just HAVE to show off!

You can use this book to learn how to make recipes like:

Chemistry Lab Cake

Periodic Table of Cupcakes

Moon Cake

Earth Cake

Unicorn Poop Cookies (because OF COURSE unicorn poop is made of rainbows!)

Loch Ness Cupcakes

Robot Brownie Pops

Zombie Brain Cake

Video Game Controller Cookies

Wi Fi Cheesecake

Smart Cookies

Comic Book Cookies

Nerd Bird Cupcakes
You can let your imagination and your taste buds run wild with this one-of-a-kind cookbook!

My Favorite CR & YA Books of 2015

Baba Yagas Assistant coverThe Truth About Jellyfish coverDumplin cover

 

Hi again, patient listeners!  My apologies for the delay in this episode, but I was sick for over a week and it took a while for my voice to come out of “Marlene Dietrich mode” and get back to normal.

Here are the books I recommended in this episode:

CHILDREN’S BOOKS

Imaginary Fred by Eoin Colfer

Robo-Sauce by Adam Rubin

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola

Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France by Mara Rockliff

Took: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

YOUNG ADULT BOOKS

The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks  [booktalk HERE]

Placebo Junkies by JC Carleson [booktalk HERE]

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

Elena Vanishing: A Memoir by Elena Dunkle and Clare B. Dunkle

Booktalk: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places cover

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven is a poignant and heartfelt story that made me cry every time I read it.  Give this book to any of your teens who are looking for realistic fiction about real-life problems, for books that give an honest portrayal of death and grief, and for books about friendship and love.

BOOKTALK:

Finch and Violet have known about each other for a while, but they don’t really KNOW each other.  They both go to the same school, but that’s about all they have in common.  Violet is a beautiful, popular girl.  Everyone knows her and everyone likes her.  Finch, on the other hand, isn’t popular at all.  He only has a few friends, and everyone else just thinks that he’s weird and he’s a loner.

In fact, one of the weird things that Finch does is go to the bell tower at school, climb to the top, and hang out on the ledge.  He never jumps, he just THINKS about jumping.  He hangs out by himself on the ledge of the bell tower, and he thinks about ending his own life.  He thinks about what it would be like to die, and to escape this life that makes him so unhappy.

And that’s why when Violet climbs the steps of the bell tower and steps out on the ledge, Finch happens to be just a few feet away.  Because he was already there.  Now, Finch has been up on the ledge several times before, and no one’s ever tried to stop him.  Maybe it’s because he’s weird, or unpopular, or forgettable.  But Violet is none of those things.  When she goes out on the ledge, people notice right away.  When Violet’s friends come over to see what’s wrong, Finch decides to save her, or at least to save her reputation.  He tells people that the reason Violet came up to the ledge of the bell tower was to try to save him.  Even though they both know that’s not true.

Up until now, Finch and Violet didn’t know each other, they had nothing in common, and they definitely weren’t friends.  But ever since they met on that ledge and actually spoke to each other, things started to change between them.  As the days turn into weeks and months and they get to know each other better, they’ll realize that they have more in common than they ever imagined.

Boooktalk: Faceless by Alyssa Sheinmel

Faceless cover

I must confess that when I first picked up a copy of Faceless by Alyssa Sheinmel and read what it was about, I moved it to the bottom of my reading pile.  I honestly didn’t know when (if ever) I would be able to emotionally handle the story of a girl whose face is burned away in a freak accident.  I mean, I like #sicklit as much as the next person, but the whole concept just seemed too gruesome for me.

When I did read it, though, I discovered that the story was moving and painful without being overly explicit.  It focused more on Maisie’s identity, who she thinks she is, who she wants to be, and who she CAN be.  This is sure to be a hit with #sicklit fans and teens who enjoy survivor stories.  I think that it would also make a great topic for a book discussion, because this is a book about characters who go through different emotional struggles and make sometimes questionable decisions along the way.

BOOKTALK:

When Maisie wakes up in the hospital, she doesn’t remember what happened to her.  She doesn’t understand why she can’t move, or why her body feels different.  All she knows is, based on how much her mother has been crying and the look on her father’s face, whatever happened to her must have been REALLY bad.

This is the story of a girl who used to have a normal, happy life.  She was a good student, she was a runner, and she had a wonderful boyfriend who asked her to the junior prom.

This is the story of a girl who went out for a run one morning, and on the way back home she was injured in a freak accident when an electrical wire fell on her during a storm.

This is the story of a girl whose body was so badly damaged by that accident that she will need a face transplant to replace the part of her that was burned away.

This is the story of a girl who realizes that her life will never be normal again.

Booktalk: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Darkest Part of the Forest cover

I’ve been a fan of fantasy books since I was a kid.  While I admit a certain fondness for high fantasy stories featuring princesses, castles, and unicorns, I have a special place in my heart for the stories where fantasy and reality blur.  Because (of course) those kinds of stories were more likely to really happen to me!

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black is an awesome fantasy story set in modern day featuring some characters that feel like they just stepped out of a fairy tale and others who feel like your childhood friends or the kid you used to be.  And because I always like books that cross genres because then I can use different hooks to appeal to different readers, I should also mention that this story blends fantasy with adventure and suspense AND it also features numerous romantic angles!

BOOKTALK:

The town of Fairfold seems like a modern place that fits into the 21st century.  But the town has very old roots, and those roots are filled with magic.  Most of the magic is invisible, but there’s one magical thing in the town that you CAN see.

That magical thing is a boy — a very unusual boy.  And tourists will come from miles around just to see him.  This boy has horns on his head and pointed ears, but other than that he looks human.  The boy is lying in a glass coffin in the woods.  It’s a very special coffin, because it can’t be opened and it can’t be broken.  The boy appears to be asleep … at least, no one’s ever seen him open his eyes.  And there’s one more unusual thing about the magical boy.  Even though he’s been there for as long as anyone can remember, he never gets any older.

Hazel and her brother Ben grew up in the town of Fairfold, so they both spent a lot of time hanging out in the woods and visiting the magical boy.  Like generations of kids before them, they’ve spent time talking to him and wishing he would wake up.  Hazel and Ben have seen pictures of the magical boy from years ago.  And in every picture he looked EXACTLY the same.

Hazel and Ben don’t know it yet, but the town of Fairfold is about to go through some major changes.  And one of those changes is that the magical boy is going to wake up.

Booktalk: Placebo Junkies by J.C. Carleson

Placebo Junkies cover

Placebo Junkies by J.C. Carleson is … mind expanding?  Yes.  Mind-altering?  Yes.  It’s also one of my favorite YA books of the year.  It’s hard to describe without giving too much away, but the best I can tell you for now is that it seems like realistic fiction but then again it might not be, depending on whose point of view and whose reality you’re talking about.  Seriously, though, this is a book you’ll want to read and then read again to see what you might have missed the first time around.

BOOKTALK:

May cause vomiting.  May cause depression.  May cause death.

That’s what it says on the labels of the pills that Audie takes.  You see, Audie is part of a group of people who volunteer again and again for pharmaceutical trials and medical procedures.  They don’t have “real” jobs, but instead they go from place to place signing up for different pills and procedures so that they can make enough money to get by.  Sometimes they get the real medicine, and sometimes they get placebos.  They never know if the medicine they’re taking is real or fake.  Sometimes they have no idea until they start throwing up, or rashes appear on their bodies, or their hair starts falling out.  It’s not the safest way to make money, but being a human guinea pig is easier than working … at least it usually is.

Now, the problem with going through all these procedures and taking all these pills is that sometimes things start happening to your body and your mind … and you don’t know why.  If you start having blackouts and losing your memory, is it because of the pills you took on Monday, or that injection you got on Tuesday?  Or are you having blackouts for another reason that has nothing to do with medical tests?

Audie and her friend Charlotte each have their own reasons for wanting to earn extra money.  Charlotte wants extra money so she can afford to move away and start over in a new place.  And Audie wants extra money so that she can plan a surprise for her boyfriend’s birthday.  But to earn that money, they’re going to have to sign up for even more medical tests than before.  And with every new test, they put themselves at an even greater risk.

May cause vomiting.  May cause depression.  May cause death.

Booktalk: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

The Rest of Us Just Live Here cover

So, how many of you are getting tired of hearing about Patrick Ness?  Yeah, me neither.  I love his books to pieces, as evidenced by the booktalks I’ve already writtten about his earlier books A Monster Calls and More Than This.  But with The Rest of Us Just Live Here, he writes a new kind of story altogether, a story about ridiculous but awesome YA novels and what must be going on behind the scenes.

This was a challenging story to booktalk, and I probably would share this with classes that I feel have a longer attention span because they’ll need to absorb the premise of the book in order to appreciate the payoff.  That being said, I would definitely recommend this book to teen audiences as well as adults.  It’s a great story overall, but it will be especially appreciated by fans of YA lit in all its ridiculousness / awesomeness.

BOOKTALK:

Many of you have probably read young adult novels where an ordinary teenager becomes the hero of the story.  It starts out as the story of an ordinary teenager who lives in an ordinary town, but then something EXTRAORDINARY happens.  Maybe there’s an alien invasion.  Maybe people start turning into vampires or zombies.  Maybe the ancient gods are having a battle that affects modern-day earth.  But this ordinary teenager somehow manages to save the day.  Maybe it’s because he’s really smart.  Maybe it’s because her hobby was studying vampires, and that made her extra-prepared for vampire attacks.  Maybe it’s because he’s related to those ancient gods, or because he’s an alien himself.  For whatever reason, this ordinary teenager in an ordinary town turns out to be The Chosen One and manages to save the day.

Now, if you want to read a book about a teenager who turns out to be The Chosen One and saves the day, you go right ahead.  But THIS is not that book.

So far, we’ve taken our camera and zoomed in on this one kid who’s heroically fighting against the vampires … or gods, or aliens, or whatever.  But now let’s take that camera and zoom out until we can see the whole town.  What’s everyone else doing?  How are the rest of the people in the town reacting to what’s going on?  Do they even KNOW what’s going on?  Are they getting bitten by vampires, or blasted by ray guns, or are they just trying to go on with their ordinary lives while this life-or-death battle takes place just a few blocks away?

If you and your friends are ordinary teenagers in an ordinary town where disaster strikes but none of you are The Chosen One, what happens to you?  Can your life also be important even if you’re not the hero?  This book tells THAT story!

Welcome, New Readers and Listeners!

Hi, Everyone.

I recently discovered that Be a Better Booktalker was listed as a resource on New York City’s DOE website in conjunction with their NYC Reads 365 program.

DOE Header

This is, of course, EXTREMELY awesome, and I appreciate the shout-out!

If you’re here for the first time to learn about booktalking, then welcome to the site!  I developed Be a Better Booktalker several years ago as a weekly podcast, and on this blog you can find information about booktalking, the text of each booktalk I share, and audio of each episode.  Most episodes are simply the booktalks themselves, which are just a few minutes long.  I occasionally record longer “in-depth” episodes in which I discuss different topics at length, including how to write and record booktalks, public speaking tips, favorite books of the year, and genre guides.

To listen to the audio episodes, just scroll down to the bottom of each entry and you’ll see the audio player embedded there.  And to search for books by topic, grade level, and more, check out the “Categories” list in the left-hand column.

Thanks for visiting the site, and if you’d like to learn even more about booktalking, here are a few more resources you can also check out:

Book Talks by the Library Lady

Nancy Keane’s Booktalks — Quick and Simple

Scholastic Booktalks and Discussion Guides

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