Archive for CR/YA Crossover

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:


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


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: How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg

How They Croaked cover

How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg combines two of my favorite qualities.  It’s a collective biography, which has added appeal for readers who are intimidated by the idea of reading “a whole book,” PLUS it has plenty of gross-out appeal!  Frankly, any day that I can ominously ask a group of kids if they’ve had lunch yet is a good day for me.

Collective biographies also have an extra plus in the booktalking department, which is that if you lose your place and forget someone, it’s okay.  I’ve shortened this booktalk since I first wrote it — I also talked about Cleopatra and Mozart in earlier versions of this booktalk, but those were the people most likely to leave my head so they didn’t make the final cut.

While this has been one of the more entertaining books I’ve shared during class visits recently (it’s been circulating more than most of the fiction books I’ve shared!) it’s also been one of the more frustrating ones.  That’s because I’ve had to do lots of stopping and starting as students interrupt me to ask the meanings of words — “guillotine” and “croaked” have been recent stumpers.  And talking about this book has led to more follow-up questions from students and teachers alike who want to know about how other famous people died.  So I’ve definitely learned that this booktalk might take longer than I expect!


How They Croaked is a nonfiction book, which means that all of the stories in here are absolutely true.  And MOST of the stories are pretty gross.  In fact, the introduction to this book begins with a warning that says If you don’t have the guts for gore, don’t read this book!  

Uh … you guys haven’t had lunch yet, right?

Okay, so let me tell you about some of the people you can read about in this book.  Some famous deaths happened from a very direct cause.  For example, Julius Caesar died because he was stabbed dozens of times by the Roman senators.  Marie Antoinette died because her head was cut off with a guillotine during the French Revolution.  Those deaths were pretty straightforward.

Then there were the deaths that could have been prevented if people knew then what we know now.  For example, Galileo used to drink wine instead of water because hundreds of years ago water could be very dangerous to drink.  But it turns out that the wine he was drinking was stored in casks made with lead, so he died of lead poisoning.  Marie Curie was a famous scientist who studied radioactive material, and she died from radiation poisoning.

But one of the WORST examples of a death that could have been prevented was president James Garfield.  He’s one of our least famous presidents, because he was only president for four months before someone shot him in the back while he was standing in a train station.  The first doctor who arrived on the scene tried to find the bullet inside Garfield’s body by sticking his finger into the bullet hole.  Soon, more doctors arrived, and each one poked their fingers into the hole to try to find the bullet, but none of them could find it.

I should probably mention at this point that none of them wore gloves and none of them washed their hands!

Garfield wasn’t expected to live for another day, but in fact he lived for another 80 days, with infection spreading through his body and making him sicker and sicker.  It wasn’t until he died and an autopsy was performed that doctors could see that the bullet wasn’t anywhere near the bullet hole, but it also wasn’t near any vital organs.  So it wasn’t the bullet that killed him — it was infection that did.

If you’d like to learn more about different famous people throughout history — how they lived, how they died, and what happened to their bodies after they were dead, then you should DEFINITELY read —

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg

Booktalk: The Riverman by Aaron Starmer

Riverman cover

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer is a unique story for younger teens or older kids that balances on the border of fantasy and reality, the real world and an imagined one.  That’s just one of the reasons that this book reminded me of Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson — there’s the real/imagined world, but also the profound and powerful friendship between a boy and a girl.

The Riverman will keep readers guessing and hoping until the end of the story to find out what happened.  Some but not all of their questions will be answered, but since this is part of a trilogy, it’s setting up for a much larger tale.  The next book in the series, The Whisper, will be coming out in March!


Fiona and Alistair are very unlikely friends.  Sure, they’ve grown up in the same neighborhood and their families used to hang out together when they were kids.  But now they’re different.  They’ve each grown up in different directions and they have different friends.  And then one day Fiona shows up at Alistair’s house and tells him that she wants him to write her biography.  Alistair thinks it’s a little weird, but still, he’s flattered to be asked.  It means she thinks he’s a good writer and he’s creative.

Fiona starts telling Alistair her life story, and that’s when things go from a little weird to VERY weird.  Fiona tells Alistair that she doesn’t spend all of her time in the real world.  That sometimes she visits a magical place called Aquavania, where all she has to do is wish for something and it comes true.  She can wish for the ability to fly, or for the sky to change colors, or for a magical talking animal to be her friend.  And whenever she visits Aquavania, even if she’s spent days or weeks there, when she comes back home it’s like no time passed at all.  But as wonderful as Aquavania is, it’s also dangerous.  Because there’s a creature there called the Riverman that steals the souls of children.  And when he steals their souls in Aquavania, they vanish in real life.

Little by little, Fiona tells her story to Alistair.  And little by little, Alistair comes to the conclusion that obviously she’s crazy … or she’s lying.  But the more he thinks about it, the more he realizes that something really IS wrong, and that Fiona might be in danger.  Whether it’s happening in the real world or in some imaginary place, SOMETHING is threatening Fiona.  And it will be up to Alistair to try to save her.

My Favorite Children’s and Teen Books of 2014

Brown Girl Dreaming coverGoodreads coverGrasshopper Jungle cover

Here are all of the books I mentioned in this episode:


Quest by Aaron Becker

My Teacher is a Monster! (No I am Not!) by Peter Brown

Sparky! by Jenny Offill and Chris Appelhans


Furious Jones and the Assassin’s Secret by Tim Kehoe

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson


The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Amity by Micol Ostow

Stronger Than You Know by Jolene Perry

Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

BONUS CONTENT — I’ve read SO MANY teen books this year that I couldn’t fit all of them into this episode!  So make sure you check these out, too!

Don’t Look Back by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Oblivion by Sasha Dawn

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

Uninvited by Sophie Jordan

Crazy by Linda Vigen Phillips

Threatened by Eliot Schrefer

Sekret by Lindsay Smith

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang

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!


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.”

Booktalk: The Bat Scientists by Mary Kay Carson

Bat Scientists cover

When you talk to teachers and anyone who values teachers’ opinions, STEM books (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) are all the rage right now.  I picked up The Bat Scientists because I was going to be promoting our middle school summer reading list at local schools, and nonfiction books with show-and-tell potential are always a plus for me.  My booktalk turned out to be a little less structured in person, because I couldn’t start talking about this book without kids raising their hands and asking to see the pictures inside it.  Then they would start yelling out questions which would derail the script I’d planned out.  Which is annoying, yes, but the more you booktalk the more you’ll discover that an overly enthusiastic response is usually better than an unenthusiastic one.

If you’re looking for more nonfiction books (STEM and otherwise) to share with older children and younger teens, make sure to check out Mary Kay Carson’s website!


Let’s start with some true facts about bats.  The smallest bat in the world weighs less than a penny.  The biggest bat in the world weighs more than three pounds.  Bats live on every continent except Antarctica.  And if there’s one thing that bats are very good at, it’s pest control.  In fact, one small brown bat can catch and eat 1,000 insects in one hour.

Now let’s go to some myths about bats that you might think are true, but really aren’t.  The expression “blind as a bat”?  It’s very misleading.  It’s true that bats use sonar, but they also have very good vision.  Most bats do not have rabies.  Bats do NOT get tangled in people’s hair.  And bats do NOT suck humans’ blood like vampires.

Bats are also much more popular than you might imagine.  In fact, in some parts of the world, bats are a tourist attraction and hundreds of people will show up to watch them fly out of their caves at night.  You can learn all about these unusual mammals and the scientists who study them in …

The Bat Scientists by Mary Kay Carson

Booktalk: Heaven by Angela Johnson

Heaven cover

Have I mentioned before how much I love Angela Johnson’s writing?  Hmmmm … yeah, you probably figured it out by the fact that I’ve already shared my booktalks for two of her novels, Bird and Looking For Red.

But Heaven will always hold a special place in my heart and in the hearts of readers who loved these characters and followed them through the novels The First Part Last and Sweet, HereafterHeaven is a great example of a small, delicate story.  There are no cliffhangers here — no pulse-pounding dramatic event to use as a built-in hook for a booktalk.  But dealing with betrayal is a psychological event that will still affect readers very deeply.


Marley is 14 years old, and she lives with her mother, father, and brother in the small town of Heaven, Ohio.  She has a few friends, like Shoogy, Bobby, and Bobby’s daughter, Feather.  Her only other friend is someone she never sees – her Uncle Jack.  Uncle Jack travels all over the country with his dog, Boy.  When he’s in a town that has a Western Union station, Marley is sent to wire money from her parents.  Uncle Jack sends her letters in return, describing all the wonderful things that he and Boy have seen.

Marley’s life is quiet and beautiful … until one day when her mother and father sit her down for a talk.  They say that they should have told her this sooner – but that’s what people who haven’t told the truth always say.

Momma and Pops tell Marley who she really is, and suddenly that quiet, beautiful world is gone.  Now Marley has to live with this cloud of truth hanging over her head.  Momma and Pops – the people she trusted most in the world – have lied to her her whole life.  And everything Marley thought she knew about herself has changed.  One day, Marley will be able to move past these lies, but she will never be the same again.

Booktalk: Furious Jones and the Assassin’s Secret by Tim Kehoe

Furious Jones and the Assassin’s Secret represents a couple of firsts for me.  It’s the first time I’m booktalking a title that hasn’t come out yet (but it’s going to be published in April!)  It’s also the first time I’m booktalking a title by an author who’s also an inventor (check out Tim Kehoe’s website to learn more about him, his books, and his inventions).

But let me tell you about why I picked this book out of a pile of advanced reader copies.  It’s because it had a boy protagonist, a cool cover, and an exciting story.  This would be a good choice to share with any older children and younger teens who are looking for a page-turning thriller.


Furious Jones is about to become an orphan.

His mother is already dead; she was shot three times while standing on the sidewalk in a little town called Galena.  Nobody knows who did it or why.  That was seven months ago.

Tonight his father is going to be killed.  Shot three times, just like his mother.  And just like that, Furious Jones will be an orphan.

Furious Jones is a 12-year-old boy.  He doesn’t have a lot of money, or friends, or power.  But he is determined to find out who killed his parents and why.  His first step will be finding some people he can trust, and his second step will be going to the town of Galena to find out why his mother went there, and what really happened to her.  But he needs to do this very carefully, because his parents’ killers are still out there … and he’s just one of the people whose life is in danger.

Booktalk: The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

City of Ember cover

I was an enormous fan of The City of Ember when it first came out.  This would be a great book to recommend to older children and younger teens who are looking for dystopian fiction books but don’t want a dystopian romance.  You can visit Jeanne DuPrau’s website to learn more about the entire Ember series.


Lina and Doon have lived all their lives in the city of Ember, just like their parents and their grandparents before them.  Now that they’re twelve years old, it’s time for them to leave school and start working.  But when they go to select their assignments, they’re both disappointed.  Lina picks the job of Pipeworks Laborer, which means working deep underground.  Doon picks the job of Messenger, which involves running all over the city.  Because each of them hates the jobs they picked, they decide to switch jobs instead.  Lina is happy because she always wanted to be a messenger.  Doon is happy, too, but for a different reason.  He doesn’t really want to work with pipes every day, but it’s in the Pipeworks that the city generator is located.  Doon has never seen the generator before, but he thinks that if he can see it, maybe he can fix it.

You see, the city has been running well for many years, but recently the power has been failing more and more, for longer periods of time.  And when the power goes out, the lights go out.  And when the lights go out, the entire city is plunged into total darkness.   Because in the city of Ember, it’s always night, and there are no moon or stars.  On top of this, Ember has other problems, too.  The storehouses that used to be filled with all kinds of food and countless light bulbs are almost empty.  Stores that used to be open every day are now open only one or two days a week, with hardly anything left on the shelves.

Lina and Doon are each going to discover clues about the history of Ember.  But it’s only if they put those clues together and use everything they’ve ever learned that they’ll have any chance of saving their city before it’s plunged into darkness forever.

Booktalk: Jane, the Fox & Me by Fanny Britt

Jane the Fox and Me cover

I’ve been a fan of graphic novels for years, but I usually booktalk them like standard fiction books and keep the covers closed.  However, Jane, the Fox & Me by Fanny Britt was a very unique case.   That’s because the book is larger than most, sturdier than most, and the artwork by Isabelle Arsenault is more unique than most.  So I just HAD to highlight the artwork in my booktalk.

When I’m introducing each of the characters at the beginning of the booktalk, I’m pointing to each of their faces on the cover.  When I say, “This is what Helene’s world looks like in real life,” I’m holding the book open to pages 14-15.  These are black and white drawings showing Helene looking unhappy and alone, both inside at school and outside at a bus stop.  And then when I say, “But THIS is what the world looks like whenever she starts reading Jane Eyre,” I’m holding the book open to pages 28-29.  These pages show examples of how the artwork shifts to a more colorful and detailed style, as Jane is hugged by a little girl in one scene and speaks to Mr. Rochester in another.

Oh, and in an entertaining side-note, when I was holding up those pages during a recent class visit, a sharp-eyed seventh grader pointed at the book and shouted, “Hey, I see the fox!”  Because yes, there is a fox in Mr. Rochester’s study that is a visual foreshadowing of the fox that Helene will meet in real life.


This is Helene.  She’s having a really bad year at school.  The girls who were her friends last year have decided that they’re not going to be her friends any more.  They’ve also decided that she’s fat and ugly, and they make fun of her whenever they can.

This is the fox.  Helene will meet him later.

This is Jane, and she’s the main character in a book called Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  When Helene is feeling sad and lonely, she starts reading this book.  And then suddenly, whenever Helene starts reading, her whole world changes.

This is what Helene’s world looks like in real life.  This is the world in which she’s sad and lonely, in which the girls who used to be her friends now make fun of her.

But THIS is what the world looks like whenever she starts reading Jane Eyre.  Now Jane was plain, and poor, and she didn’t have any friends, either.  But still, she found love, and that love changed the direction of her life.

The more Helene reads Jane Eyre, the more her own life is going to change.