Archive for Older Children

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.

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: Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff

Pictures of Hollis Woods cover

Staying with books for the younger set for another week, here is a quietly beautiful book by prolific children’s author Patricia Reilly Giff.  While many kids probably know her work because of her popular series like Polk Street School and Zigzag Kids, Pictures of Hollis Woods is a standalone story that will have a deep impact on thoughtful readers.

While some booktalks are easy to write because there’s an obvious cliffhanger to use as a hook, booktalking more subtle books can be both more challenging and more rewarding.  In this booktalk I’m spending more time talking about the characters rather than what is going to happen to them (because it’s pretty obvious what will happen to them, but the point of reading the book is watching how their relationship develops).


Hollis Woods is about to move into her fourth home … no, make that her fifth.  They all start to look the same after a while.  Hollis never stays in one place for too long; she always runs away eventually.  Even from the nice families, like the Regans.  Hollis always does something wrong, and always ends up running away.  Ever since she was found in the woods with a note saying “name her Hollis Woods,” she’s never had a real home.

But this time, things look like they might be different.  She’s about to move in with an old lady named Josie, a retired art teacher who wears rings on eight of her fingers, who carves sculptures out of tree branches, and who owns an irritable old cat named Henry.

Josie and Hollis could be a good match.

Booktalk: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Tuck Everlasting cover

Because I’m a young adult librarian, most of my booktalks are written for middle school and high school readers.  All of the feedback I’ve received about this blog and podcast so far has always been from people interested in teen and adult literature.  But then last week I received an email from a lovely librarian named Maura (waves) who was interested in booktalks for 4th-5th grade readers.  So I decided that now was a good time to break out some of the booktalks I’ve written for the younger set, and one of the first booktalks I ever wrote for kids was about the classic novel Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt.

This booktalk opens with an interactive element, which might end up being rewarding or distracting, depending on the class.  I use interaction very infrequently, because there are a couple of risks involved.  There’s the risk of the class getting so derailed by the discussion that it’s hard to wrangle their attention back to the “rehearsed” part of the booktalk afterwards.  There’s the risk of the students getting into conversation mode, and having them try to talk back throughout the presentation.  And on the other hand, there’s also the risk that you might ask these questions and be met with blank stares and the sound of crickets.

That being said, I decided to ask questions at the beginning of this booktalk because I wanted to make sure that everyone in my audience understood the concept of immortality before I started talking about the book.


Can anyone tell me what it means to be immortal?

Who thinks living forever would be a good thing?

Who thinks it would be a bad thing?

When the Tuck family first came into the Treegap forest and found a small spring, they never realized that drinking from it would change their lives – permanently.  They didn’t notice anything different about themselves until months later, when Jesse fell headfirst out of a tall tree and wasn’t hurt.  And when their horse was accidentally shot by a hunter who thought it was a deer, the bullet went right through without leaving a mark.  The years passed, and no one in the family grew any older from the day they first drank from the spring.  By the time they met 10-year-old Winnie Foster, they hadn’t aged in 87 years.

Winnie met the Tuck family because she had decided to run away from home and explore the Treegap Woods – the same woods that contained the magical spring.  When she met the family, she learned their secret as well.  She soon realized that immortality was both a blessing and a curse, and that some secrets are so valuable that they can be dangerous to keep.

Booktalk: The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The False Prince cover

Sometimes I get reading recommendations in the strangest places.  A few months ago, I was listening to an episode of The Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show in which he was interviewing famed CR/YA horror author R.L. Stine.  [FYI, Jeff Rubin will interview anyone or discuss any topic that he finds interesting, which is why by listening to his podcast I’ve learned about such varied topics as Scott’s Pizza Tours, The Alamo Drafthouse, The Star Trek Experience, what it’s like to perform as Mr. Met, the Game of Thrones Cookbook, and (one of my personal favorite episodes), Action Park: The World’s Most Dangerous Waterpark.]  Anyway, during that interview, R.L. Stine mentioned that one of his favorite recent children’s books was The False Prince.  I decided to reserve the book based on his recommendation, and I ended up loving it to pieces.

Sage is a fascinating protagonist — readers will be torn between whether they should be supporting him, questioning him, or wanting to shake some sense into him.  The other characters are drawn with dimension and depth, so that readers will feel varying levels of empathy for everyone, even the bad guys.  The story was exciting, and took several twists and turns that I did NOT see coming (which always earns extra respect from me).  I have several pieces of good news — that The False Prince is available in both hardcover and paperback, that the second book in the trilogy The Runaway King is available now, AND that The False Prince is in the early stages of being turned into a movie!  Visit Jennifer A. Nielsen’s website to learn more about the Ascendance Trilogy and the rest of her books.


Sage is an orphan boy, the son of a barmaid and a failed musician.  He survives by picking pockets, stealing money and food for himself and the other boys at the orphanage.  One day a rich man named Conner comes to the orphanage and buys Sage, and soon Sage finds himself on a wagon with three other boys who are also orphans, and who all look a little bit like him.  The boys don’t know it yet, but Conner plans to take over the throne by making one of these boys impersonate a prince who disappeared several years ago.  He plans to train each of these boys in the same kinds of things that Prince Jaron would know how to do, like horseback riding and swordfighting.  He plans to pick the boy who is the best student and most likely to impersonate Jaron and bring that boy to the castle as the long-lost prince.

But what about the other boys?  The ones who are NOT the best at impersonating Prince Jaron?  Well, Conner plans to kill them.  But the boys don’t know that, either.

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: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw

Several years ago, I found myself in a bind.  A local private school that had never invited me to visit before asked me to come in and address their entire middle school for ten minutes during an assembly.  There was the one part of my brain that said, “Well, my typical presentation lasts about 40 minutes, and it’s most effective if I’m speaking to one or two classes at a time.”  Then there was the other part of my brain that realized that I could give my statistics a huge boost by seeing several hundred students at the same time, and that I COULD hypothetically condense my 40-minute presentation into 10 if I tried hard enough (and cut out a lot of it).

The other big problem was that since I was going to be talking to 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students all at once, I either wanted to talk about crossover books that were definitely in both our children’s and young adult collections or children’s books that were cool and popular enough that younger teens would enjoy them.  Because nothing would be crueler than telling these kids about books from the young adult collection knowing that some of them could check them out right away while others might not be able to for another year depending on which box their parents had checked on their library card applications.

So I scoured the shelves of our children’s room looking for books that fit the bill, and I picked two crossover books plus this Wimpy Kid book.  I then skimmed this book really quickly, created a list of major plot points, and voila!  There was my booktalk.  If I left out any of the plot points on my list, either because of time constraints or because I experienced “deer in the headlights” syndrome, it would be okay.  If I got any of those plot points in the wrong order, it would also be okay.  And if worse came to worst, I could just hold up the book and say, “We have lots of Wimpy Kid books at the library!”  Because that would be okay, too.

So I got to the school, found my way to the auditorium, and was told that I actually had FIVE minutes to speak because there were a lot of other things on the agenda.  And then … well, everything after that was kind of a blur, but I think it went okay in the end.

If you’d like to learn more about The Last Straw and the rest of the Wimpy Kid books, then you can visit Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid website.


Greg Heffley has made an important New Year’s resolution.  This year, he’s resolved to help other people improve … because Greg himself is pretty much perfect!  So now Greg is trying to make his mother chew her potato chips more quietly, trying to stop his father from cheating on his diet, and trying to stop his brother Roderick from being such a horrible person.  Unfortunately, it turns out that other people don’t LIKE being told how to improve themselves, so this resolution doesn’t work out too well.

Greg writes about a lot of things in his diary, from that failed New Year’s resolution to a Valentine’s dance where the kids are told they HAVE to dance because it’s going to count as 20% of their PE grade.  Then there was Greg’s single-handed destruction of the soccer team’s perfect record.  And the time that he got a zero on his geography quiz.  And the time that Greg’s little brother Manny invented a gross new nickname for him and wouldn’t stop using it.  And the time that beautiful Holly Hills couldn’t even get his name right.  And the time that Greg’s father said that he wanted to send Greg to military school …

Actually, there are a LOT of things in this diary that Greg Heffley would rather not remember!  But YOU can read all about them in

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw by Jeff Kinney

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.