Booktalk: The Fall by Bethany Griffin

The Fall cover

This retelling of “The Fall of the House of Usher” is brought to us by Bethany Griffin, also known as the author of the YA novels Masque of the Red Death and Dance of the Red Death.  Although all of these novels are inspired by Edgar Alan Poe stories, the Red Death novels take Poe’s original story and extrapolate a dystopian future society, while The Fall is more of a traditional retelling.

In Poe’s original story we see the action from the perspective of an outsider who is coming to visit the cursed family, someone who’s coming in at the end of the story as the house is about to collapse.  But The Fall lets you imagine the fear and despair of what it would have been like if you’d spent your entire childhood growing up in that dark, creepy house with a curse hanging over your head.

The tagline on the cover is “Madness is in the very air she breathes,” which will give readers a good sense of the chilling, atmospheric story contained inside.

BOOKTALK:

Madeleine Usher is eighteen years old, and she’s just been been buried alive.  But that’s not where the story begins.

The story started generations ago, when the Usher family was cursed.  Ever since then, all of the Ushers died young, usually after being driven to madness.  Sometimes after trying to leave the house.  The house seemed to have a mind of its own … almost as if it didn’t want them to leave.  Madeleine’s parents sent her twin brother away to try to save him, which left Madeleine even more alone than before.  Now both of her parents are dead, because they couldn’t escape the curse, either.  The only Ushers that are left are Madeleine and her brother, and the curse might die with them.

Madeleine knows the house better than anyone.  She knows its moods and its secrets.  She has peered into its darkest and dustiest corners.  She knows that the house wants to protect her, but she also knows that it might kill her.

Madeleine Usher is eighteen years old, and she’s just been been buried alive.  That’s not where the story begins … but it might be where it ends.

Booktalk: The Nethergrim by Matthew Jobin

Nethergrim cover

When I first picked up The Nethergrim by Matthew Jobin, I didn’t know what to expect.  I knew that it was a fantasy book, the cover looked ominous, and the tagline “when magic sleeps, evil awakens” sounded promising.

What I found was that this was an exciting story with three different teenage protagonists who were all empathetic and interesting for different reasons, and there were lots and lots of MONSTERS.  There were the typical physically scary monsters of the supernatural strength / pointy teeth variety but then there were also many aspects of the story that were psychologically scary, as well.  And of course, the closer our protagonists get to the Nethergrim’s lair, the scarier it gets!

This would be a great book to give to fans of the stories it echoes — The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and the Narnia series. But it would also be a great book to give to teens who don’t think they like fantasy but are willing to be swept up into an exciting and suspenseful story.  This is the first book of a planned series, so get in now on the ground floor!

BOOKTALK:

Edmund, Katherine, and Tom are all fourteen years old, they all live in the small village of Moorvale, and they’re all teased for being different from the typical kids their age.  Each of them has dreams of having different lives, but little hope of ever achieving those dreams.

But then some strange things start happening in their village.  First, animals start disappearing.  Soon after that, children start disappearing.  The last time something like this happened was years and years ago, when an ancient and evil creature called the Nethergrim was still around.  It was killed by a knight and a wizard who joined forces and raised an army of men to defeat it.  Everyone has heard the songs and the stories, so it MUST be true.

Except … maybe the songs and the stories were wrong.  Maybe the Nethergrim isn’t dead after all.  Maybe it was only sleeping all this time, and now it’s waking up.

Edmund has a very personal reason for wanting to find and destroy the Nethergrim.  His younger brother is one of the children who disappeared.  Edmund is very interested in magic and has read lots of magic books, which is why he has a theory that those missing children aren’t dead after all.  Or at least they’re not dead … YET.  There might still be time to save them, IF Edmund and his friends can find the Nethergrim’s lair before it’s too late.

Booktalk: The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang

The Shadow Hero cover

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang is a great choice both for reluctant readers and for grownups who need to be convinced about the value of graphic novels.

In my booktalk, I mainly promote the connection between Hank and his mother.  But there’s a lot more going on in this story.  There’s the historic setting.  It’s a great choice for educators looking to get some diversity on their shelves.  It’s a book about superheroes and what it means to be a superhero.  Hank has a romantic interest in a woman who might be one of The Bad Guys (isn’t that ALWAYS the way?)  And it’s also laugh-out-loud funny at times.  Share this one with the teens in your life, and with the librarians, teachers, and parents who are looking for great books to share with the teens in their lives.

Note — there is one point that I’m not 100% clear on, and that’s the exact time frame for this story.  I’ve seen it referred to in reviews as taking place in the 1930’s or 1940’s.  The story does span a number of years, but since this character is based on one who originally appeared in a 1940’s comic book I chose to say the 1940’s … but I could be wrong.  In any case, feel free to adjust as necessary!

BOOKTALK:

It’s the 1940’s in Chinatown, and Hank just wants to live a normal life and work in his parents’ grocery store.  But his mother wants him to be a superhero instead, and she won’t take no for an answer.

The problem started when his mother was rescued by a superhero.  You see, her life was in danger because a bank robber was holding a gun to her head.  And then a superhero called the Anchor of Justice flew in to help, and he saved her life.  She was so impressed by this that she decided that her son should be a superhero, too!

This is the story of Hank, also known as the Green Turtle.  It’s the story of a boy who wants to be just like his father, living a quiet, ordinary life.  It’s the story of a boy who doesn’t realize how much strength he really has, and how much potential he has to be much MORE than ordinary.  It’s the story of a boy who becomes a superhero … even if it isn’t his idea.

Booktalk: Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Since Youve Been Gone cover

I’m not usually a chick lit kind of reader, but I do like books about friendship and books about unravelling mysteries so that’s why I originally picked up Since You’ve been Gone.  When I started reading it, I was pleased to discover that this is a sweet and life-affirming book about the power of friendship and what happens when a wallflower is brave enough to step away from the wall for the first time.

Check out Morgan Matson’s website for more information about this book and her other summer-themed reads for teens!

BOOKTALK:

Sloane and Emily were best friends, and they had their whole summer planned out.  They were going to get a summer job together, and travel, and hang out, and have fun.  But then Sloane and her family disappeared, and Emily had no idea what to do.  Sloane was always the one with the plan.  She was the one with the big ideas, and she was the one who was brave enough to try new things.  Emily was just “Sloane’s friend,” and where Sloane went, Emily followed.

And then Emily gets a letter from Sloane, and the envelope contains one piece of paper — a list of thirteen things that Emily would never normally do.  Some of them seem pretty tame, like “apple picking at night” or “sleep under the stars.”  But others are a little more daring, like “kiss a stranger” or are things she would never do in a million years, like “go skinny dipping.”

Now that Sloane is gone, Emily has no sense of direction … except for that list.  Now that Sloane is gone, Emily has the whole summer free to herself.  She doesn’t have anything ELSE to do.  Maybe doing the things on that list will help her figure out what happened to Sloane.  Maybe doing the things on that list will transform Emily’s summer into something new, brave, and completely unexpected.

Snapshots From Class Visit Season

Class Visiting the School Library

Class visit season is typically filled with highs and lows.  Here are a few of my recent peaks and valleys.  I can’t promise that you’ll laugh or cry, but you might recognize yourself or your students in some of these stories!

p.s. – Make sure you visit the Cybils Awards website by October 15th to vote for your favorite CR and YA books of the year!

 

 

Stay Tuned for Our Discussion of The Maze Runner on Cinefantastique!

I recently recorded a discussion of the new movie The Maze Runner, based on the bestselling YA novel by James Dashner.  We had a great discussion about this boy-oriented action-packed dystopian story, and our star ratings turned out in a way that no one would have expected!

Maze Runner movie still

Our discussion will be appearing on the Cinefantastique website and on iTunes very soon!

 

 

Booktalk: The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

The White Darkness cover

The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean has one of the most unusual premises of any young adult book I’ve ever read.  A girl, who is in love with a long-dead explorer, ends up going to the same part of the world where he died and risks following him to the same fate.  There’s danger, drama, and adventure on the outside while on the inside there’s an ongoing conversation between two people, one living and one dead.

There are times that I read books that have won the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature and I think, hmmm … I can see why they thought that was a great book, but I would find it hard to recommend to most teenagers I know and I definitely couldn’t booktalk it to an entire class!  But The White Darkness has enough appeal and enough unique layers that as soon as I finished reading it I knew that I wanted to share it with a larger audience.

BOOKTALK:

Sym has always had trouble fitting in.  She doesn’t have many friends, and a lot of kids in school make fun of her.  Her father didn’t like her very much either, but he’s dead now, so that doesn’t really matter anymore.  Her mom is okay, but Sym actually gets along better with Uncle Victor, who isn’t really her uncle but more a friend of the family.  But Uncle Victor is the only one who really understands just how much she loves the Antarctic.  How much she dreams of following in the footsteps of the brave explorers who went on doomed expeditions to the South Pole, many of whom lost their lives surrounded by miles of ice and snow.

In fact, while Sym has never had a boyfriend, there is one man who she loves more than anything in the world, and that man is Titus Oates.  As in, the late Titus Oates.  You see, Titus is one of those explorers who never came back from the Antarctic alive.  But Sym has read so many books, seen so many videos, and learned so much about Titus’ life that she feels like she knows him.  She even has long conversations with him inside her head.  But that’s not a secret Sym tells anyone — not even Uncle Victor.

Now Sym’s life stays pretty much the same until the day that Uncle Victor offers to take her and her mother to Paris for the weekend.  Sym thinks this is a great plan, even though the plan keeps changing.  First her mother’s passport went missing, so she was unable to go with them.  Then the weekend trip to Paris turned into several weeks in Antarctica.  Since Sym has always wanted to go there, she’s delighted.  But it’s when they reach the end of the world that Sym’s dream turns into a nightmare.

Sym is going to learn some very painful truths … about Antarctica, about Uncle Victor, and about herself.  She will find herself in incredible danger while surrounded by miles of ice and snow in every direction.  And her only hope of survival will be to rely on everything she’s ever learned about the Antarctic, her intuition, and the voice of a long-dead explorer that only she can hear.

Hey, Guys! I’m Going to Be a Cybils Judge!

Cybils JudgeOkay, so it has now been officially announced that I’m going to be one of the Cybils judges this year — I’m going to be a first round judge in the category of young adult fiction.  I usually read a lot of YA fiction, but this year I’m already reading a TON because I’m on a “best teen books of the year” committee for my library system.  And so I volunteered, and so I was accepted, and now I see that our goal is … “to read until our eyes bleed”???  Well, THAT sounds like a challenge!

If you’d like to learn more about the children’s and young adult bloggers’ literary awards known as the Cybils, please visit their website.

And wish me luck!!!

 

 

 

Booktalk: Dog Shaming by Pascal Lemire

Dog Shaming cover

I first heard about Dog Shaming on a reluctant readers booklist.  I was already familiar with the idea of embarrassed owners putting signs on their dogs from the hilarious Dog Shaming blog, so I ordered several copies of the book for my library.  Today was the first time I ever booktalked it, and the 7th graders who came to visit were delighted with this book and checked out my copies right away!

The most important thing about booktalking this book is that your audience needs to see the book while you’re talking about it (so yes, it’s not ideal for an audio podcast, but such is life).  I marked off the pages I wanted to talk about beforehand — see my sticky notes in the picture above — and then I showed the class the pictures as I talked about the book. You should all get copies of this book and share your own favorite pictures!

BOOKTALK:

In 2012, Pascal Lemire had several dogs who were sometimes destructive.  One night she and her fiancee Mike were at home when they heard a weird chewing noise coming from under the bed,  When they went to investigate, they discovered that their dog Beau had been chewing on Mike’s underwear.  Some of it was in pieces and some of it was gone because the dog had eaten it.  Mike made a sign that said “I am an underwear eating jerk,” put it next to the dog and the half-eaten underwear, and took a picture of it.  Pascal posted the picture to her blog, and within 24 hours the post had nearly a thousand comments.  The Dog Shaming blog took off after that.

Here are examples of some of the many dog shaming pictures that readers have shared with Pascal, and you can look at these pictures and decide for yourself if you think these dogs are ashamed or not!

  • I knocked over the fish food so I could eat it.
  • My family went to Disney without me, so I ate my bed.
  • I have a high heel fetish.
  • I occasionally enjoy a battery with a side of remote.
  • I DESTROYED this couch.
  • I like to “paint” like my mom when she’s gone.  Wish I hadn’t gone with blue …
  • I refuse to eat my food out of my bowl.  I stand in front of the bowl and cry until my mom puts some on the floor for me to eat.  I am spoiled and I am not ashamed!
  • I got chocolate and tried to eat the hand that wanted to save me.
  • Irene,  I’m sorry I ate your flash drive (again).  Who knew that was homework?
  • I bit the landscaper and now have a record!
  • I ate nine red velvet cupcakes.  Including the paper.  They were delicious.

You can see these and many more dogs who embarrassed their owners in …

Dog Shaming by Pascal Lemire

Booktalk: How They Choked: Failures, Flops, and Flaws of the Awfully Famous

How They Choked cover

If you’re looking for nonfiction books that will entice older kids and younger teens, How They Choked by Georgia Bragg is an excellent choice.  Since it’s a collective biography, readers will have the option to read it all the way through or to jump back and forth between chapters to read about the people who interest them the most.  And if this is the kind of book that your kids and teens will like, make sure you also check out Bragg’s earlier book How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous!

BOOKTALK:

This is is an unusual book that covers different famous people throughout history who made some pretty big mistakes, including …

  • Marco Polo, who lied a LOT about where he’d been and what he’d seen
  • Queen Isabella of Spain, who started the Spanish Inquisition
  • Montezuma, who thought that the mysterious visitor named Hernan Cortes was actually a god
  • Anne Boleyn, who thought it would be a REALLY GOOD IDEA to marry King Henry VIII
  • and General Custer, who thought it would be a REALLY GOOD IDEA to lead several hundred soldiers in an attack against several thousand Indians.

Every person in this book made bad decisions.  Some of those bad decisions affected or ended the life of one person.  But many of those bad decisions affected the lives of hundreds or thousands of other people.  All of the stories in this book are true, and they’ll all help you understand why these people were “awfully famous.”

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