Booktalk: Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan

I first started booktalking Killing Mr. Griffin years ago when I was a librarian trainee, and I have an unusual anecdote to share from that time.  I was visiting one of my local schools, and the school librarian told me that I could booktalk any of the books I’d brought EXCEPT for Killing Mr. Griffin.  I was bewildered by this request, especially since the book wasn’t that controversial and because this was a public school (In contrast, I might have expected a parochial school to request that I not booktalk books about controversial subjects like teenage pregnancy).  I asked why they were making that request, and the librarian told me that they’d had “a bad experience” with another public librarian booktalking that book the year before.  To this day, I have no idea what this bad experience was.  Did they have a teacher named Mr. Griffin?  Did the students riot after hearing the other librarian’s booktalk?  I was never told what the problem had been, only that I could not booktalk it at their school.  And for what it’s worth, that was the ONLY time that a school has singled out one title that I was not allowed to share with their students.

A note about the format of this booktalk: back when I first started writing booktalks, I was more likely to encourage interaction in my first few sentences.  I don’t do it as much now because I’m trying to minimize the distraction level in the room, and I learned from booktalks like these that sometimes starting booktalks with a kind of dialogue can derail the booktalk as soon as it starts.  In an ideal situation, I would open the booktalk with my questions about having horrible teachers and some of the students (and some of their teachers) would raise their hands in response, and maybe they’d laugh.  That would happen about nine out of ten times, and that would be fine.  But that tenth time, some of the students would take my question as the signal that it was time to start talking (or even yelling) about their least-favorite teachers, and then I would have to struggle to rein their attention back in.

And finally, I can’t talk about this book without mentioning how the covers of Lois Duncan’s books have evolved over the years.  The covers I’m showing here are just a few of the covers that have been used for this book since its original publication.  It’s the same story each time, but some of the covers are cooler and some of them are so dated that no modern teenager would ever pick it up to read it.  So remember that it’s in your best interest to keep your collection looking current, and that there’s more than one reason to weed and replace the books in your collection.

BOOKTALK:

Did you ever have a teacher who you really hated?  Not just disliked, I mean really couldn’t stand at all?  Well, Mr. Griffin was like that, but worse.  He would humiliate his students in front of the whole class, he gave F’s for late assignments, straight-A students would only get B’s with him, and everyone else failed miserably.  All in all, he was one of the most hated teachers in school.  So it was inevitable that one day the students would rebel against him – and they did.  A group of friends in one of Mr. Griffin’s classes decided one day that they’d had enough.  They decided to kidnap Mr. Griffin, take him up to an abandoned hillside, and leave him there overnight.  If they blindfolded him and disguised their voices, it would be a foolproof plan.  They’d bring him back the next day – they just wanted to scare him, to show him what it felt like to be out of control.  If everything went as planned, Mr. Griffin would be so frightened afterwards that he wouldn’t dare be mean to his students again.

The ringleaders of this group recruited David and Susan to help with their plan.  David and Susan were two of the best students in class, and Mr. Griffin would never suspect them.  The day came to put the plan into action, and everything went smoothly.  Mr. Griffin was knocked out, blindfolded, tied up, and up the mountain before he knew what hit him.  Of course, when he woke up he was furious.  But everyone kept their heads and no one spoke in front of him.  He knew they were his students, of course, but he didn’t know which ones.  So they left him there and drove off.

As the day passed into evening, Susan started having second thoughts.  She found David and told him she was worried about Mr. Griffin.  She said he’d probably been scared enough already, and that they didn’t need to leave him there overnight to prove the point.  She kept pleading, and finally David agreed.  They drove up the mountain to free him, but by the time they got there, things were worse than they could ever have imagined.  Because Mr. Griffin was already dead.

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