Archive for Older Children

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: 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: The Music of Dolphins by Karen Hesse

The Music of Dolphins cover

This week we’re going to have a change of pace, because I haven’t posted a booktalk of a children’s book in a while and because I’ve been so busy reading lately that I haven’t had a chance to write a new booktalk this week.  So off to the archives we go!

The Music of Dolphins by Karen Hesse is a beautiful book in an unusual format. At the beginning of the book, Mila is a wild child who relates to dolphins better than to humans.  But as the book progresses and Mila starts interacting with people, we see her language skills develop along with her mind and her writing style starts to evolve.  This is a poignant and remarkable story, and kids will keep thinking about this book long after they’ve finished it.


Mila is famous all over the world, and she’s only a teenager.  She was rescued by dolphins after her plane crashed when she was four years old, and she spent over ten years of her life with them.  Now she’s been rescued again – this time, by people that look like her.  The difference is, this time she didn’t want to be rescued.

The doctors work with Mila, teaching her to speak and to play music.  She learns very quickly; soon she can play computer games, figure out puzzles, and play music on the recorder.  She learns a lot about what it means to be human; she learns through books, through radio, and through television.  But too often she feels like she’s trapped in a net of humans.

Will Mila ever think of the land as her home, or will the pull of the ocean be too strong?

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: Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Zita the Spacegirl cover

I’d never read Zita the Spacegirl before this week, but I’ve been hearing good things about it for a while.  I was trying to familiarize myself with the books on our summer reading lists, and Zita was an easy choice for me!  It’s a graphic novel, it’s a quick read, and it reminds me both of The Wizard of Oz and Kibuishi’s Amulet graphic novel series.  Check out Ben Hatke’s website for more information about Zita the Spacegirl as well as his other books.


Joseph told her not to push the red button.  The button was part of a device that they found inside a meteor which had fallen from outer space and landed in a field.  Joseph told her not to push the red button, but Zita was feeling curious, and she didn’t think it would do any harm.  So she pushed that red button, and after a moment a bright light suddenly appeared before them.  But this wasn’t exactly a light — it was really more of a doorway.  And through that doorway came something that Zita and Joseph had never seen before.  They couldn’t even see the whole creature.  All they could see were its long dark tentacles … just before those tentacles grabbed Joseph and pulled him through to the other side.

Joseph has been pulled into another world, a place filled with creatures more strange and astounding than he or Zita could ever have imagined.  When Zita follows Joseph into that world, she will meet many of these creatures, and she’ll have to try to figure out which ones she can trust.  She’ll have to figure out who’s good, who’s evil, and who’s somewhere in between.  She’ll also have to figure out who can help her find and rescue Joseph, and who can help both of them get back home to planet Earth.

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: Ick! Yuck! Eew! Our Gross American History by Lois Miner Huey

Ick Yuck Eew cover

It’s always hard for me to find a nonfiction book that I like enough to booktalk, so when I do find one I tend to latch on to it and share it with lots of classes.  Ick! Yuck! Eew! Our Gross American History is a great oversized book with lots of cool and gruesome pictures, so while I wrote this as a standard booktalk, you could also make it a “show and tell” booktalk by showing pictures from the book while you talk.  If you’d like to find more books that can make history come alive for young readers, make sure you check out Lois Miner Huey’s website!


Let’s just imagine that you used a time machine to go back into early American history.  Let’s say that you wanted to visit the 1600s, the 1700s, and the early 1800s.  You’d definitely learn a lot about American history and the way that people lived back then.  You’d ALSO learn that America was pretty gross … and that it smelled REALLY bad.

For example, when people had to go to the bathroom … well, there was no such thing as a bathroom, because they didn’t have indoor toilets.  So instead they used chamber pots that they kept in their bedrooms.  And when it was time to empty those chamber pots … that’s right … they threw the contents out the window!  Which means that most of it landed in the street but some of it landed on the people walking below.

Also, there was no such thing as a refrigerator, so a lot of times food rotted and went bad.  But you ate it anyway, because it was either that or go hungry.

There was no such thing as deodorant, so people smelled bad all the time.  You could wear a lot of perfume to try to cover it up … but then you’d just smell like body odor plus perfume.

There are many more topics in this book that you can and should learn about.  Just … not while you’re eating, or even THINKING about eating.  You can learn all about such topics as smallpox, leeches, terrible teeth problems, and all kinds of tiny creatures that would just LOVE to live on you and in you in …

Ick!  Yuck!  Eew!  Our Gross American History by Lois Miner Huey