Archive for Middle School

Booktalk: The Kidney Hypothetical, Or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days by Lisa Yee

Kidney Hypothetical cover

The Kidney Hypothetical, Or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days has a couple of important things going for it.  It’s a funny (although bittersweet) story, it’s got a smart and sarcastic male protagonist, and it has one of my favorite titles since Josh Lieb’s I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President.  Which, now that I think of it, is also funny and also has a smart and sarcastic male protagonist …

Visit Lisa Yee’s website to learn more about her books for kids and teens!

BOOKTALK:

Higgs Boson Bing had an amazing life.  He was an excellent student, he was going to go to Harvard like his father and grandfather before him, and his girlfriend was one of the most beautiful and popular girls in school.  And then that beautiful and popular girl asked him, “If I needed a kidney, would you give me one?”  Okay, she didn’t REALLY need a kidney.  It was just one of those hypothetical questions.  A “what if”? question.

Now, I’m going to give all of you a free piece of advice.  If your boyfriend or girlfriend ever asks you a question like this, what you SHOULD say is, “Of course, Honey!”  And then everything will be fine.  But Higgs Boson Bing didn’t say “Of course” because he really wanted to think about his answer.  WOULD he give up a kidney for her?  Wouldn’t that put his own life at risk?  Couldn’t she get a kidney from somebody else instead?

Well, this was definitely the WRONG answer.  His girlfriend was angry and upset and embarrassed.  And it certainly didn’t help that she complained to all her friends and told them what he said … and they told their friends … and they told everybody else … and very soon after that Higgs Boson Bing didn’t have a girlfriend any more.  And as an added bonus, everyone in school thought he was a jerk.

Unfortunately for him, giving the wrong answer to that hypothetical question was just the beginning of his bad luck.  And losing his girlfriend was just the first sign that his amazing life was totally going to fall apart.

Booktalk: Popular: A Memoir by Maya Van Wagenen

Popular cover

Since most of the YA books I read are fiction and many of those are dark and depressing, I’m always on the lookout for nonfiction titles and for books that are sweet and uplifting at their core.  Popular: A Memoir by Maya Van Wagenen succeeds on both counts!

BOOKTALK:

This is the true story of a girl who tried to do something brave.  She tried to come out of her shell and become popular.  In order to transform herself, she used a book called Betty Cornell’s Teen-Age Popularity Guide.  Betty Cornell wrote that book in 1951, and Maya’s father had bought a copy of that book at a thrift store before Maya was born.

Maya decided to see if advice that was over 60 years old would still work today, and if it could help her transform into something she definitely wasn’t.  Because up until now Maya had been quiet and shy, she only had a few friends, and she hated talking to strangers.  But when she was in 8th grade Maya used this book to learn how to use Vaseline instead of makeup on her eyes, how to brush her hair 100 times before she went to sleep at night, how to close her pores with ice cubes, how to wear pearls, how to stand tall, how to talk to strangers, and how to transform herself into a whole new person.

 

 

 

 

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!

BOOKTALK:

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: Nil by Lynne Matson

Nil cover

Nil by Lynne Matson is a suspenseful book that blends adventure, romance, and the challenge of survival.  I’m a big fan of books that open with someone being dropped into a strange environment and being forced to adapt to this strange new place and learn its rules in order to survive.  That’s why I would recommend this book to any readers who enjoyed House of Stairs by William Sleator or The Maze Runner by James Dashner.

BOOKTALK:

Charley went to Target to return a couple of skirts she’d bought the day before.  She parked her car in the lot, got out, and started walking towards the store.  But then she suddenly saw the air start shimmering in front of her.  It was like a wall of wavy glass, and that shimmering wall was moving towards her. Suddenly Charley felt a blinding, burning heat all over her body.  She tried to scream, but it was so hot that she couldn’t get enough air into her lungs.  Within seconds, she felt hot, and then she felt cold, and then she felt nothing.

Charley woke up somewhere, but she had no idea where she was.  She was lying in a huge field that was filled with red rocks as far as she could see.  The sun was shining down overhead, strong and hot.  Target was gone, the parking lot was gone, her car was gone … and her clothes were gone.  Charley was naked and alone, and she had no idea where she was or how she got there.

Charley is going to learn that she’s on an island called Nil, and it’s a place that doesn’t appear on normal maps.  She’s going to learn that there’s food and water on the island, so she’s not going to die … at least, not right away.  She’s going to learn that she’s not alone on the island, but that being around other people won’t always mean she’s safe.  She’s also going to learn that there are rules on this island, and one of those rules is that she has 365 days to escape, or else she’ll die.

The clock has already started ticking … but Charley just can’t hear it yet.

Booktalk: Crazy by Linda Vigen Phillips

Crazy cover

Crazy by Linda Vigen Phillips was one of my favorite teen books of 2014, and there are several facets of this book that make it unique.  It’s a poem-format novel, it’s historical fiction, and it tackles family problems in general and mental illness specifically.  Laura is a great protagonist, and readers will feel for her as she tries to deal with the normal hurdles of her teenage life while wondering if the mental illness in her family will prove to be the biggest hurdle of all.

BOOKTALK:

The year is 1963.  My name is Laura, I’m 15 years old, and I’m an artist like my mother.

My world is filled with plenty of good things, like my friends, Mrs. Grant my art teacher, Dennis Martin with his deep blue eyes and his gorgeous smile, American Bandstand on TV, and my Beach Boys records.

Unfortunately, my world is filled with lousy things, too.  Like how whenever I get embarrassed I get these big red splotches all over my neck and I can’t stop sweating.  Like the way I thought that Dennis Martin was going to ask me to take a ride in his new car, except he didn’t and now my friends think I’m a lost cause.  Like the way I think I might be going crazy.

I told you that I’m an artist like my mother.  That’s only partially true … or maybe it’s not true at all.  You see, my mother used to be a painter back when she was my age.  But then she stopped.  I still look at her paintings on the walls sometimes, and I wonder why she doesn’t do it anymore.  I wonder if the part of her brain that made the paintings is the same part that doesn’t always work the right way … and which seems to be getting worse.  I wonder if creating those paintings was a symptom of what was going wrong inside her head.  And I wonder if me being an artist like my mother means that I’ll go crazy, too.

 

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!

BOOKTALK:

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.

Booktalk: Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens

Faking Normal

Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens is a great teen novel about the power of secrets.  At first it reminded me mostly of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson because of its focus on a girl who’s hiding a secret and the stress is ruining her life.  But the more I read, the more it reminded me of Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.  It made me think of that book because the focus expands to include a boy and a girl who would not normally have even spoken to each other, but who end up forming a very powerful bond.  I think what I’m saying here is that you should DEFINITELY be able to find a big audience for this book!

BOOKTALK:

Alexi has a secret that’s eating her alive.  The secret makes it hard for her to trust people, or even talk to them.  The secret makes her curl up and hide on the floor of her closet when she comes home.  The secret makes her scratch herself until she bleeds.  But the whole point of a secret is that nobody else knows.  She can’t tell anyone.

One of the only things that can distract Alexi from the secret in her head is Bodee Lennox, a boy in her school who’s always been quiet and weird.  His nickname is the Kool-Aid Kid because of the way he colors his hair.  That was the most famous thing about him … until now.  But everything has changed for Bodee, because now he’s famous for a different reason.  Because his father just killed his mother.

Alexi has a secret that’s trapped deep inside of her.  Bodee’s home life was a secret until now … but that secret has been revealed to the world, and now everyone knows how terrible things were at home.

In a perfect world, Alexi and Bodee would never have hung out together.  They would never have spoken to each other.  And they definitely would never have become friends.  But this isn’t a perfect world, and Alexi and Bodee are both damaged goods.  Alexi and Bodee are going to need each other’s strength and support to deal with the secrets that have the power to destroy their lives.

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:

PICTURE BOOKS

Quest by Aaron Becker

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

Sparky! by Jenny Offill and Chris Appelhans

CHILDREN’S CHAPTER BOOKS

Furious Jones and the Assassin’s Secret by Tim Kehoe

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

TEEN BOOKS

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 it Went Down by Kekla Magoon

How it Went Down Cover

How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon is a great choice for fans of realistic fiction as well as reluctant readers.  But what really makes it unique is how it’s all about perspective — it’s told from different points of view, and different characters disagree about larger philosophical issues (like what kind of person Tariq was) but also about what each of them saw with their own eyes.  This would be a great choice for a teen book discussion, because it would definitely inspire conversation!  Or, hey, how about as a companion piece to 12 Angry Men?

BTW, my next “in depth” episode isn’t ready yet, so I’ve moved it ahead to next week.  That’s because December is usually when I talk about my favorite children’s and young adult books of the year, and I’ve been so busy with reading YA stuff lately that I need to catch up with some more children’s titles.  So tune in for that next week!

BOOKTALK:

Tariq is a young black teenager who might or might not have been a good person.  He might or might not have wanted to be in a gang.  He might or might not have had a gun in his hand.  But he was shot in front of a bodega in his neighborhood, and now he’s definitely dead.  That’s the one thing that everyone CAN agree on.

Lots of people had their own opinions about Tariq — friends, neighbors, family members, and strangers.  Everyone had their own opinions about what kind of person Tariq was, about whether or not he set the events in motion that led to his own death, and even about what they saw just before and just after he was shot.  The problem is that many of those people, even the ones who were out on the street at the same time and who saw what happened, don’t agree with each other.

Finding the truth about Tariq might be harder than you think.

Booktalk: Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling by Lucy Frank

Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling cover

I’ve been a fan of Lucy Frank’s writing ever since I read her YA novels I Am an Artichoke and Will You Be My Brussels Sprout? back in my librarian trainee days. Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling is also an excellent book, told in a unique writing style (as a poem-format novel, with poems in each girl’s voice on different sides of the page) and with powerful themes of friendship and overcoming odds.

This would be a great choice for books about death and grief as well as survivor stories (because yes, this story includes a range of possibilities).  Do you know teens who finished The Fault in Our Stars and are looking for more books that will make them contemplate their own mortality?   Share this book with them!

BOOKTALK:

Francesca was sick for a long time, but she didn’t know it.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  She knew that something was wrong, and that some days she felt so sick that she didn’t want to move, or walk, or get out of bed.  But she just figured that she ate the wrong thing … or maybe she was imagining it … or maybe it was real, but if she just ignored it, it would go away.  Well, ignoring it didn’t work.  And one of the most romantic nights of her life quickly turned into one of the most EMBARASSING nights of her life when she got so sick that she wound up in the hospital.  Where she got a roommate named Shannon who’d been sick for a VERY long time.

Shannon tells her what it’s like to live when your body is full of steroids and painkillers.  What it’s like to live with a chronic disease that isn’t fatal … unless, of course, you die from it.  What it’s like to live when everybody you know is either lying to you or feeling sorry for you.

Francesca and Shannon are two girls lying next to each other in a hospital room.  Two girls separated by a thin curtain that hangs between them.  Two girls staring at the ceiling.