Suzanne Supplee’s superb novel Artichoke’s Heart provided me with a dilemma: how do I booktalk a book that I enjoyed immensely but which probably would only be picked up by a very limited audience? How can I get an entire class interested in the story of a fat girl who needs to lose weight? Part of your goal as a booktalker is to find different ways of appealing to your audience’s interests. Yes, Suzanne Supplee wrote an excellent book with a fantastic narrator who is funny, sarcastic, and smart. But how can I get the boys in the class (as well as the skinny girls) to overcome their “this book isn’t about me” assumptions and give this book a chance? I was so moved by the scene at the beginning of the book in which Rosemary is thinking about her terrible Christmas presents that I knew that this scene should be the main hook of my booktalk. Yes, I’m telling my audience that this story is about a fat girl. But I’m also telling them that it’s about a teenager who is frustrated by her family, and that their cluelessness is demonstrated in the presents they chose to give her for Christmas. And every teenager in my audience can identify with what it feels like to be misunderstood and frustrated by family members.
Some books sell themselves because they have an eye-catching cover, because they’re part of a popular series, or because they’re by a famous author. Some books sell themselves with just a little bit of encouragement from a librarian, teacher, parent, or friend because they tell a story whose one-sentence description would automatically appeal to every single teenager. Like, What would happen if a snowstorm trapped you in your school for a week? just to give an example. The real challenge of booktalking is to take a book that you love to pieces but which might not appeal to everyone in the class, and then you create a powerful booktalk that SHOWS THEM what a fantastic book it is.
Rosemary Goode has just received the worst Christmas present ever. Actually, MOST of her presents were lousy, and she only got one good one. This Christmas, Rosemary got a treadmill, two diet books, tickets to a conference called “Healing the Fat Girl Within,” and a book of Emily Dickinson poems. You can guess which one was the good present. So far she’s read a couple of the poems and she’s been using the treadmill for hanging her wet laundry. Rosemary spent the holidays in sweatpants, not because of a fashion choice, but because she’d outgrown everything else. But Rosemary being fat isn’t a new development; she’s been heavy for years. Ever since the day she wore a new green coat to school in 6th grade, the kids in her class have been calling her an artichoke, and it’s a nickname she absolutely hates. Up until now, food has been one of Rosemary’s only friends. She would eat whenever she was unhappy, and she was unhappy a lot. But now that she’s almost sixteen years old and she’s outgrown all her clothes, Rosemary knows that she has to change her life. She doesn’t want to be glamorous or beautiful; she just wants to be normal. But losing weight is going to have to come naturally, not because her mother or Aunt Mary, or that damn treadmill are trying to guilt her into it. Rosemary is going to start changing the way she eats a little at a time, and as winter turns into spring, losing weight is going to be the first of many changes in her life. And some of those changes are going to surprise her.