Archive for CR/YA Crossover

Booktalk: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Coraline cover

Welcome to my first spooky booktalk selection for October!  Okay, first I’m going to tell you why I love this book to pieces, and why it’s one of my favorite booktalks I’ve ever written.  Then I’m going to tell you why I don’t booktalk it any more.

Let’s start with the love.  Neil Gaiman has a very simple, clear, and poetic writing style that is easy to understand yet often profound.  He’s demonstrated this style with a wide range of writing over the years, for adult audiences (the Sandman graphic novels, The Ocean at the End of the Lane), for children (The Wolves in the Walls) and for a crossover audience of older children and younger teens (The Graveyard Book and Coraline).  And YES, I know he’s written many more books — those are just some of MY favorites, okay?  Anyway, I love Coraline in particular because it’s scary without being bloody or gruesome, but it’s also very creepy in a “deep inside we’re all afraid of dolls and clowns” kind of way.

I mean … buttons instead of eyes?  SHUDDER

I also like this booktalk because I think it covers that creepy atmosphere very nicely (if I do say so myself).  And the use of repetition works particularly well when you’re sharing a story that has a fairy tale kind of quality.  It’s one thing to tell a story to a kindergarten class and see them start to nod their heads and mouth along with the phrases you repeat in a story.  But it’s very different (and very rare) to see the same kind of reaction in a 7th grade class.  I’ve shared this booktalk with middle school classes many times over the years, and on multiple occasions I’ve seen 7th graders mouthing along with my repetitions of the phrase “… but not quite.”

As to why I don’t booktalk it any more … well, some of you have figured that out already.  As I mentioned in my “Are There Any Books That I Shouldn’t Booktalk?” episode, I usually stop booktalking a book when I know that it’s been turned into a movie, especially if it’s a big-budget release that many people have seen.  Because it’s kind of pointless to drum up the whole “You’ll have to read the book if you want to know the ending!” vibe if half of your audience already knows what happens at the end of the story.  That being said, since the movie came out a while ago and it isn’t as fresh in everyone’s minds, I wouldn’t mind working this booktalk back into my repertoire again.  After all, a great book is still a great book.

If you’re a fan of Neil Gaiman’s writing (and you should be), make sure you check out his books for adults, kids, and everyone in between.  And in case you’re wondering if there are any more literary frontiers he hasn’t conquered yet, I should also point out that he’s recently developed a video game called Wayward Manor that is going to be coming out within the next few months.  Jeez, what CAN’T this guy do???


Coraline and her family moved into a very old house.  As Coraline began exploring the grounds, she discovered many interesting things.  She discovered a rose garden that was all overgrown, a tennis court where the net was rotting away, and a dangerous old well that was covered up by planks of wood.  When Coraline explored inside the house, she discovered something else.  There were fourteen doors, but only thirteen of them were open.  The last door was locked.  When Coraline asked her mother about it, she told her that it went nowhere.  She unlocked the door, and showed Coraline the brick wall on the other side.  It really went nowhere.

That night, Coraline’s strange dreams began.  She dreamed that she heard a creaking noise – almost like an old door being opened.  She also dreamed that she saw little black shapes with little red eyes and sharp yellow teeth.

And as the days passed, Coraline’s dreams grew even stranger, like the time she dreamed that she unlocked the door herself, and that instead of a brick wall there was a hallway on the other side, and that the hallway led into a house that looked almost like hers but not quite … and that she walked into a kitchen that was almost like hers but not quite … and that she saw a woman who was almost like her mother but not quite.  Because this woman had skin as white as paper … and long fingers with curved sharp fingernails … and big black buttons instead of eyes.

And this was the worst kind of dream for Coraline to have, because, in fact, she wasn’t dreaming.  This time, Coraline was wide awake.

Booktalk: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls cover

This is a monster story unlike most other stories.  From the title and the cover you might think that A Monster Calls is a horror story, and while there is definitely horror here, there’s more tragedy and anguish.  I can also tell you that I cried at the end of this book, and that there are very few horror stories that have affected me this way.

It’s difficult to describe this book without giving away too much, which also makes it difficult to booktalk (which is why I only described the very beginning of the story).  I can tell you that the book is written by Patrick Ness, from an original idea by the late Siobhan Dowd.  I can tell you that the illustrations by Jim Kay that are seamlessly integrated into the book are ASTOUNDING, and that they make the impact of the story even stronger.  And I can tell you that this is one of the most powerful books for children and teens that I’ve read in the last decade.


Conor keeps having the same nightmare over and over again.  But then one night, he wakes up from that nightmare just after midnight to hear a strange voice calling his name.  He looks out the window and sees the same things he always does … the church on the hill behind his house … the graveyard next to the church … and the huge tree growing in the middle of that graveyard.  But then the moon goes behind a cloud for a moment, and when it reappears, it’s shining on that tree again, only now the tree from the graveyard is right behind his house.  And now that tree isn’t just a tree anymore.  It has transformed into a monster, and it’s staring at Conor through the window, waiting for him to come outside.

Very soon, Conor is going to learn that it’s very hard to wake up from some nightmares … and that some nightmares are more real than others.

Booktalk: The Cavendish Home For Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand

Cavendish Home For Boys and Girls cover

Recently I was on the lookout for “crossover” books (for older children and younger teens) that fit into the scary / dark / creepy category to share with my colleagues to help answer one of our most popular questions from our patrons.  I came up with a list of titles, and as soon as I’d completed the list THIS book came in, and when I read it I realized that it should’ve gone to the top of that list.  (FWIW, Doll Bones by Holly Black also looks like a strong contender for that list, but it just came out so I haven’t read it yet).

The Cavendish Home For Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand is one of the best crossover books I’ve read in years, and it would be a great book to put into the hands of any readers who loved Coraline by Neil Gaiman because it has a similarly dark and creepy feel.  And while the reading level is appropriate for older children and younger teens, the story is so engaging and well-written that it can entice older readers (even grownups!) who enjoy scary stories.  Oh, and while right now the book is only available in hardcover (so you should each get at least one copy for your collections NOW), it’s coming out in paperback in August (so you can order more copies to satisfy more readers!)


Victoria is as close to perfect as a girl can get.   Her hair, her clothes, her manners, her grades, everything has always been perfect.  One of the only things about Victoria that isn’t perfect is her friendship with with a boy named Lawrence, because Lawrence isn’t perfect at all.  Lawrence is quiet, and shy, and awkward, and always going around looking messy with his shirt untucked.  He’s really kind of embarrassing.  He’s definitely not the kind of friend a perfect girl like Victoria should have.  But then one day Lawrence disappears, and nobody seems to care.  It’s almost like the other kids and teachers don’t even remember him.  But Victoria remembers him, and Victoria cares.

As she starts investigating Lawrence’s disappearance, Victoria starts learning about other boys and girls who have gone missing from the same neighborhood.  Victoria finds clues that point her towards a weird house in the neighborhood called the Cavendish Home For Boys and Girls.  The more she investigates the home, the more she learns about how many of the boys and girls who go there come back looking and acting … different than before.

And Victoria also learns that some of the boys and girls who go to the home never come back at all.

Booktalk: Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

When I first became a young adult librarian trainee, Gary Paulsen was required reading.  He’s written many realistic fiction books featuring boy protagonists who have to face tough decisions.  I previously shared my booktalk for The Crossing, but Hatchet is far and away his most popular book.  Part of the reason this book is so popular is that teachers love it, so they assign it to their students year after year.  So librarians, in turn, keep ordering more copies because the demand is so high.  Which explains why I wrote this booktalk in the first place.

Years ago, I was asked by a supervisor to join her in booktalking to some children’s classes that were scheduled to visit our library.  I knew how much effort went into creating each booktalk, so I perused the shelves of our children’s room looking for “crossover” books that I recognized from the young adult collection so that I could booktalk those titles to different grade levels.  I was also specifically looking for books that had multiple copies on the shelf, so that *IF* my booktalks were a hit I could satisfy more readers who wanted to check the books out.  The crossover book I found that had the most copies on the shelf was Hatchet, so that was the first booktalk I wrote to deliver to 6th grade classes.

If you or your readers enjoy Hatchet and are looking for more … well, there’s a LOT more.  In addition to the book itself, there’s also a special 20th anniversary edition.  Then there are the sequels to HatchetThe River, Brian’s Winter, Brian’s Return, and Brian’s Hunt.  But if you STILL want more, then you can also read Paulsen’s nonfiction book called Guts: The True Stories Behind Hatchet and the Brian Books.


Brian Robeson is 13 years old, and his life has just started falling apart.  His parents just got a divorce, and he hates it.  Now he has to go back and forth between his mother and his father and lead two separate lives.  That’s why he’s on a tiny plane on his way to Canada, to spend the summer with his father.  Brian is alone with the pilot, with nothing but the secret to keep him company.

Oh, that’s right – I haven’t told you what the secret is.

The secret is the real reason his parents got divorced, and Brian knows it.  The secret eats away at him, making him angry and upset.  He keeps it locked away inside, where it grows and grows.

Well, very soon something happens that makes Brian forget about the secret and everything else.  The pilot starts getting sick.  He starts feeling faint, and having pains in his chest and up his arm.  By the time Brian realizes he’s having a heart attack, it’s too late.  Soon Brian learns that his bad luck is just beginning.  Now he has to try to land the plane himself and then survive until he gets rescued … if he gets rescued.  His only tool for survival is a hatchet his mother gave him as a going-away present.

Find out how Brian survives with no one to help him – but himself.

Booktalk: Looking for Red by Angela Johnson

I’m a big fan of books by Angela Johnson, and her novels always feature beautiful writing and well-drawn young protagonists.  Looking for Red is one of my favorite books of hers, and I’m also a fan of Bird, which I booktalked on an earlier episode.  BTW, this booktalk is one of the few I’ve written that includes a line from the book itself (the one about the room full of broken glass).


Mike has always loved the ocean, but she loves her brother Red even more.   All of her favorite memories were of the two of them together, whether they were fishing, diving, or cruising up and down the coast.  Mike and Red were inseparable, and that’s why her life has been upside down for the past three months.  Because it was three months ago that Red disappeared.

She still sees him sometimes, leaning against the shed or talking to her in her dreams.  And she’s not the only one who remembers him; his best friend Mark and his girlfriend Mona remember him too.  Everyone has been affected by Red’s disappearance, but no one more than Mike, Mark, and Mona.  Because only these three people know what really happened to Red, and only they will have that memory to carry with them for the rest of their lives.

When someone you love goes away, it’s like walking barefoot in a room full of broken glass.  And these three people will feel that way forever.

Booktalk: Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Some of the best stories for a middle-school audience have been written by Margaret Peterson Haddix, including Running Out of Time and the Shadow Children series beginning with Among the Hidden.

In terms of booktalking technique, one of the main questions is how far to tell the story and how much to give away.  For example, if you’re telling a class about Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, you should tell them that she’s struggling with a secret, but you should NEVER EVER tell the audience what that secret is, because the reader should only learn it when the character is ready to reveal it.  However, since this cover and many other covers of Running Out of Time reveal both an old and a modern-day setting, I think it’s okay to reveal that it isn’t really 1840, even if the protagonist doesn’t realize that at first.


The year is 1840, and Jessie lives with her family in the small village of Clifton, Indiana.  They live a hard life by modern standards – they do all their washing, cooking, and sewing by hand, and a whole family has to live in a tiny log cabin.  Jessie’s father works as a blacksmith, and her mother works as a midwife.  She helps women deliver their babies, and she does a doctor’s job, too, using herbs and natural remedies to heal the sick.  Right now there are a lot of sick people in Clifton, and none of the remedies are working.  Every day, there are more and more empty seats at school, and everyone is getting worried.  Then one day, Jessie’s mother asks for her help.  She tells Jessie that the only way for someone to stop this sickness is for someone to go outside.  And that’s when she tells Jessie the secret – that outside Clifton Indiana it’s still Clifton, Indiana – but it’s not 1840.  In this strange world, people have never seen log cabins or blacksmiths except in photographs.  Now it’s up to Jessie to save her village from the grip of this deadly sickness.  And the only way she can do it is by …

Running Out of Time

Booktalk: Goose Chase by Patrice Kindl

In this episode, we revisit Patrice Kindl (of Owl in Love fame), who put a funny spin on the Goose Girl fairy tale in her novel Goose Chase.  I like to use this book to break things up in my booktalking presentations and make my audience laugh after I’ve finished telling them about a bunch of dark, scary, or sad books.

As always, a first-person booktalk takes a little extra effort, acting ability, and self-confidence.  I find it both challenging and entertaining to look right at my audience and tell them (with a mostly straight face) that I’m as lovely as the dawn!  In some ways, I both love and fear doing first-person booktalks.  Does that make any sense?  Well, surges of adrenaline work both ways, I suppose …


You might think that having your tears turn into diamonds and gold dust fall from your hair would be a good thing.  You’d think that, but you’d be wrong. You might also think that it would be wonderful to have a prince and a king competing for your hand in marriage.  But you know what?  That’s not so great, either.  You know how you want that perfect someone to look into your eyes and see into your heart and realize that the two of you are soulmates and that you’re destined to spend the rest of your lives together?  Yeah, well that’s not gonna happen when you’ve got diamonds and gold falling out of your head!

You know, six months ago my life was a lot easier.  I was a goose girl.  My life was simple, I lived by myself, and I was happy.  And then one day I gave an old beggar woman my last crust of bread.  And in return, she gave me a blessing, which if you ask me is more of a curse.  Oh, and by the way, not only do I have diamonds falling out of my eyes and 24-karat dandruff, but I’m also as lovely as the dawn.  That’s right, I’m a triple threat.  But all my powers aren’t helping me at all right now; in fact, they’re what got me into this mess.  You see, right now I’m locked up in a tower while the prince  and the king wait for me to decide which one of them I’m going to marry.  (Confidentially, my answer is “neither one,” but these guys don’t know how to take no for an answer!)

You know that “happily ever after” stuff?  Don’t believe a word of it!

Booktalk: Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

The story of Life as We Knew It is both thought-provoking and chilling.  It’s especially chilling because, unlike scenarios in books like The Hunger Games in which many changes would need to happen over many years for that future to occur, in this scenario just one thing would need to happen.  A meteor would have to hit the moon hard enough to change its orbit.  This would be an excellent suggestion for readers looking for tales of more dystopian futures, as well as a suggestion for readers who don’t think they like science fiction.  You can go to Pfeffer’s website or this site about the “Life as We Knew It” trilogy to find out how much the world changes in this imaginary future.


Everyone was excited when they heard that a meteor was going to hit the moon.  Of course, the moon had been hit by meteors many times before, but THIS time it was going to be different.  This was going to be something so big that people would be able to see with the naked eye, and it promised to be spectacular.  The night of the meteor, it seemed like everyone in the neighborhood was outside, staring up at the sky and waiting.  The people with telescopes saw the meteor first, but soon enough everyone could see it.  They all saw when it hit the moon.  It was amazing and spectacular, like something out of a movie.  But as Miranda and her family watched, this amazing thing quickly turned frightening.  Because something was wrong with the moon.  It shifted in the sky somehow.  The moon looked too large, or maybe too close.  Nobody knew exactly what this meant, but they went to bed feeling confused and scared.  It wasn’t until the next morning that Miranda and her family got the first clues of just how lucky they were.  Coastal areas all over the world had been wiped out overnight by tsunami waves.  The change in gravity also caused volcanoes all over the world to erupt, killing even more people, and throwing up enough ash and smoke to block out the sun.  And no more sun meant no more plants and no more food.  The entire planet had changed.

Miranda used to have a life filled with simple choices.  But as the days turn into weeks and months, her choices are going to be a lot different.  If she has extra food, should she share it or keep it for herself?  Is it safe to leave the house?  Is it safe to trust other people?  And just how badly does she want to survive?

Booktalk: Wolf Rider by Avi

Avi has written over sixty books, including realistic fiction, humor, mysteries, and historical fiction.  The first recommended reading list I received as part of my training in young adult services included several of his books — Nothing But the Truth and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.  During my career as a young adult librarian I’ve enjoyed many of Avi’s books, especially several titles that combined historical fiction with suspense, like Crispin: The Cross of Lead and Murder at Midnight.  And yet, out of all of Avi’s contributions in the field of children’s and young adult literature, one of my all-time favorites is still Wolf Rider. It’s a story about a boy who has a terrifying mystery dropped in his lap and tries to figure out what he should do next.  This booktalk always keeps the kids in my audience on the edge of their seats!

Oh, I do have one marketing question, though.  Why do some of the covers for this book feature the subtitle “A Tale of Terror” and some don’t?  Because while the picture featured on the cover shown above definitely LOOKS really cool, I think that the whole “Tale of Terror” thing would also be a major selling point.  You see, the first time I booktalked Wolf Rider, this is what it looked like:


The kitchen phone rang three times before Andy picked it up.  “Hello?” he said.  A voice replied, “I just killed someone.”  “What?”  “I just killed someone.”  Well, Andy has no idea who this guy was, but he figured he shouldn’t take any chances – this guy might be telling the truth.  He wrote a note to his friend Paul, who was in the room with him.  The note said, “Guy killed someone.  Go outside phone.  Call cops.  Trace call to this number.  I’ll try to keep him on.”  Paul ran outside to call the police, and Andy stayed on the phone.  The man said his name was Zeke, and that he’d just killed a woman named Nina Klemmer.  He described what she looked like – what she had looked like when she was alive, and what she looked like now that she was dead.  He said there was blood all over the floor, and Nina’s eyes were still open, as if she were looking at him.  Zeke described her car, her clothes, everything about her.  Andy kept asking questions, trying to keep the man on the line.  Finally, the line went dead.

Andy thought it would be simple.  He would just tell the police what he’d learned, they would solve the case and everything would be over.  But it didn’t work out that way, because when Andy told his story, no one believed him.  Not the police, or his teachers, or his father, or even his friends.  The only way Andy is going to solve this is to do it himself.  But who is Nina Klemmer?  Is she just a made-up name, or is she real?  Is she really dead, or is she alive and in danger?  Andy is about to find out that these dangerous questions are going to have some very dangerous answers.

Booktalk: The Crossing by Gary Paulsen

Gary Paulsen is one of the most well-known authors of literature for children and teens.  His most famous novel is Hatchet, about a boy named Brian who survives a plane crash and has to fight to survive.  Paulsen also wrote several sequels to Hatchet, several non-fiction books, and many stand-alone fiction titles.  The Crossing is not as famous as some of Paulsen’s other books, but personally it’s one of my favorites.

A lot of people think that booktalks have to be roller-coasters of suspense with cliffhanger endings.  But The Crossing is one of my favorite examples of a story that is slow, steady, and profound.  And so my booktalk doesn’t have a cliffhanger at all, just hints about that profound ending that is waiting around the corner.  Remember that you choose which books you want to share, and you choose how you’re going to share them.  If you don’t find a cliffhanger that you can use for a hook, see if you can find other ways to capture your audience’s interest, like empathetic characters and memorable plot details.  No offense to Brian, but I can’t picture his character nearly as well as I can picture Manny, a boy who dreams of having so much money that he can afford to throw it away.


Manny is fourteen years old, and he lives on the streets of Juarez, Mexico.  He has to beg for money and food from the American turistas, who are so rich that they can afford to throw money away, just for the sport of watching Mexican children fight for it.  Manny has been fighting for most of his life.  He has never known a day without hunger, and he has never had a home.  But he dreams of crossing the border to America and starting a new life; a life where he will wear new pants and a new shirt with silver snaps and a new belt with a large buckle and new boots, and he’ll have so much money that HE can afford to throw it away.  But first Manny needs to cross the border to America, a border that is so dangerous that hundreds of Mexicans risk arrest and even death to cross it every night.  In order to make the crossing, Manny will need courage, strength … and money.  His situation looks hopeless.

But things are about to change.  Because Manny is about to meet a strange man … an American soldier with ghosts in his past and nothing in his future.  And when Manny and this soldier meet, it will completely change both of their lives.