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Social Justice Booktalks, a guest post by Cindy Shutts

Two weeks ago, when I was doing my bi-monthly booktalks for a sixth grade class, I was booktalking Because they Marched by Russell Freedman. This book focuses on the fact that it was nearly impossible to register to vote if you were black before the Voters Rights Act. One of the 6th graders asked me, “Are things better now?” I had to stop to think about what to say. I told him, “There has been some improvement, but in fact the Voters Rights Act has been overturned in part recently by the Supreme Court.  I do not know what will happen in the future, but I recommended learning more about the Voters Rights Act.” This conversation inspired me to focus my next booktalk session on social justice.  My resolve to use this topic for my booktalk also grew from waiting for the release of the decision on whether to indict from the grand jury in Ferguson. It was something I could do while I dealt with the helpless feelings of waiting.


My first choice for this booktalk is the classic, One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia. One Crazy Summer tells the story of Delphine and her two sisters when they go visit their mother who left them when they were little. They do not know what to expect and at first their mother is not sure what to do with them. Delphine and her sisters are sent to a summer camp run by the Black Panthers and they realize that the Black Panthers are not exactly like they are portrayed in the media.



I choose to include Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh. This is a non-fiction picture book that I think they will enjoy. I had never heard anything about this case before. I knew about Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, but I was un familiar with the case of Mendez V. Westminster School District. Sylvia Mendez’s parents fought to have her placed in the school closest to her instead of the out of date and decrepit school for Mexican-American children and won.



Black &White: The Confrontation between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Conner by Larry Dane Brimner is another book that I must talk about. It concerns the epic struggle for civil rights in Birmingham between Reverend Shuttlesworth and “Bull” Conner. The Ku Klux Klan was all over Birmingham during the fifties and sixties. “Bull” Conner was a city commissioner and did not believe that there were problems in his city and he thought Shuttlesworth was wasting his time. Conner opposed desegregation and ordered the arrest of many civil rights protestors.


Strike!: The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights is another great title by Larry Dane Brimner. This discusses the Filipino farmer workers who stood up along with Cesar Chavez to get better working conditions and fairer wages.





Of course, I will include Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, this book that just won the National Book Award and is my personal pick to win the Newbery. Jacqueline Woodson’s writing is so powerful when talking about her childhood during the civil rights era that when I read it, I felt transported to her childhood. You see the changes going on in the South when she is living with her grandparents.



The most current book I will talk about is Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth. In this book, Jarett’s mother becomes a foster mother to a teenage boy and his little sister.  I am including it on the list because of the powerful conversation between Jarrett and his mother’s boyfriend when they talk about what to do when a young black man is approached by the police. This is very timely with everything going on in Ferguson and around the country.



Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.


Kearsten LaBrozzi, from the Glendale Public Library, occasionally puts together Booktalks for us here at TLT. I’ve collected all the posts on Booktalking in one place for you.

The 411 On Booktalks
Booktalk It! Developing a Booktalk Program to Network with Schools
More on #3WordBooktalks at Teens Know Best

The Booktalks:
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
Teary Reads
Spy Stories
You’re Never Too Old for Picture Books
Would You Rather?
The Geek Edition
The Books of Summer 
Nontraditional Storytelling Formats

Additional Booktalk Resources
Booktalks Quick and Simple by Nancy Keane
Don’t forget to check out the works of Joni Richards Bodart, who graciously wrote a chapter in the forthcoming The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services for Heather Booth and myself. She has a wide collection of Booktalking titles that you can check out and use, they are an invaluable resource.

Going Back in Time: Middle School-Style – Booktalks by Kearsten LaBrozzi

This month, my middle school book club and I talked historical fiction, naming titles, authors, and six words or phrases to describe the books.  As we shared our past month’s reads, two themes featured prominently: required reading is not always their favorite (e.g., My Brother Sam is Dead and Hound of the Baskervilles) and yes, they, too, read fanfiction!   

Here are just a couple of the books we talked about.

Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves, & Other Female Villains by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple, illustrated by Rebecca Guay.  7th grader Galadriel recommends this collection of “bad girls” throughout history using these words/phrases: innocent or guilty, historical, women, interesting, and Typhoid Mary.  Each woman’s story is told, and then followed with a short comic of the writers, mother and daughter Jane and Heidi, arguing about each woman’s guilt or innocence.  Galadriel found Typhoid Mary’s story the most interesting: a cook who served up peaches and cream with a possiblyunintentional side of typhoid fever, and didn’t seem all that remorseful about the many infections (and several deaths) she caused. 

The Book Thiefby Marcus Zusak. Death, our narrator in The Book Thief, is tired. He’s carried many souls from here to…somewhere else, and doesn’t usually notice the survivors. Sometimes, however, the truly extraordinary make him care. Liesel, a young orphan in Germany in 1939, is one such case. Death checks in with her over the years, as she steals books and cherishes the words inside, and he collects the dead throughout Europe during WWII. Last month 7thgrader Annalise recommended that I read this one (I’d put it off for years, afraid I’d sob through it. I did), and I used these words/phrases to describe it: words, beautiful, World War II, fear, family, and devastating.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Maybe you have a hankering for the detective life, or are more than a little obsessed with Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock. If so, why not try the original Holmes?  In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes and Watson investigate the death of Sir Charles Baskerville. His death appears to have been caused by a very large dog, which family lore claims haunts the Baskerville grounds. But is that just a convenient cover for a more dastardly plot? 8th grader Ayonna, who read the story for class, started out with slow as one of her six words/phrases, but followed with mystery, surprising, murderous, moorland and convicts.

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler.  Octavia E. Butler was a wicked good, award-winning science fiction author, and it shows Kindred.  In it, 26-year-old Dana is swept back and forth in time, from the present day to America’s slave-owning past. In the past, she struggles with life as a slave while trying to ensure that the slave owner, Rufus, survives…as she’s discovered that he’s her ancestor. The words/phrases 7th grader Jordyn used to describe Kindred were scifi, slavery, historical fiction and time-travel.

My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier & Christopher Collier.  Revolutionary War, death, family, taverns, grief, and Lobster Backs (the British); these are the words and phrases 7thgrader Annalise used to describe this story of the Revolutionary War. Tim lives a quiet life with his British-supporting family until 1775, when his beloved older brother leaves the family to fight against the British. In a bout of teen-irreverence, Annalise referred to this required read as “My Bro Sammy Kicked the Bucket.”

Bonus: while I’ve heard a lot about fanfiction from many of my high school teens (I’ve been handing out Rainbow Rowell’s fantastic Fangirllike crazy), I hadn’t realized how many 7th & 8thgraders were reading – and loving – fanfiction! The middle schoolers in my book club recommended I try out Wattpad (http://www.wattpad.com) for both fanfiction and unpublished works. The site also offers a free mobile app, so these kids can read their Hetalia(a manga/anime in which world countries are argumentative and very attractive teens) fanfiction anywhere.

Horrifying Reads for October – recommended by teens! (Kearsten’s Booktalk This!)

This September marked my third year doing a themed book club for 7th & 8th graders at a local K-8.  We meet in their school library during their lunch period, and share the books we’ve read recently.  This year, as we only have about 25 minutes together, we’ve adjusted our sharing style to title, author and six words to describe the book (a suggestion taken from Scholastic’s Booktalk! program.) This month, we shared horror titles (of course!).  Here are some of the creepy books they read, as well as some of their descriptions!

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.  Ten people gather on a small island after receiving a mysterious invitation and are shocked when one of their number is murdered.  But then the others are picked off one by one, all the while knowing that one of themis the killer.  Several teens chimed in about this one, with some insisting that it was more of a mystery, others arguing that it *was* pretty creepy, while still others claimed it was too “predictable.”  Read it and decide for yourself which group was right!

“The Call of Cthulhu” (and other short stories) by H.P. Lovecraft.  Tatiana, an 8th grader, is a self-professed ‘fangirl’ of Lovecraft, a horror and science fiction writer who inspired many modern day horror writers, including Stephen King.  She calls “The Call of Cthulhu” (a story about a huge, evil, sea monster-ish deity) and his other tales “spooky, weird, and unsettling.”

Code Orange by Caroline B. Cooney.  A teen, while researching smallpox for a school report, finds an envelope containing 100-year-old smallpox scabs and fears he may have been infected …and that he may be the only person able to prevent a smallpox outbreak in New York City.  8th grader Heather called this one “intense, scary, and suspenseful.”

Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake. 17-year-old ghost hunter Cas is determined to save ghost Anna from misery and torture in Hell as payback for saving his life, and according to Gillian, this sequel to the awesomely creepy and gross Anna, Dressed in Blood, is equally awesome.  She very gleefully described it as “scary, bloody, and verygory.”

Outbreak: Plagues that Changed History by Bryn Barnard.  7th grader Annalise didn’t like the horror fiction options on her family’s bookcase, so she opted to read about the Black Death, the plague that in the 1300s killed millions — possibly a third of the European population.  The rest of us agreed that by all the accounts we’ve read, the Black Death was a pretty horrific disease!  Find out for yourself how it and other plagues, like yellow fever and cholera, altered history in Barnard’s Outbreak

What are some of your favorite October reads?  Discuss in the comment.

Selling a Book in Just 3 Words (Let the #3wordbooktalk fun begin!)

Reader’s Advisory is an awesome concept in theory, but it assumes that the people sitting behind the Reference desk at a library have a ton of time to chat with patrons about the books they read and why they like them.  The reality is, sometimes we are so busy we can be lucky if we get an uninterrupted minute with them.  My favorite moments are when I walk into the teen area and find an unsuspecting teen – I will pounce.  But again, you have to be able to recommend books on the fly and often in a short amount of time.  Teens are often just as busy as we are.

Sometimes you want to Tweet about a book but you only have 140 characters.  And I don’t know about you but I hate writing long text messages on my phone, the keyboard is itty bitty and prone to typos.  It is totally my phone that does that by the way, not me.  It is always the phone’s fault.

But I have an answer for us all: the 3 word booktalk!  You’ve no doubt heard of the 6 word memoir.  (If you haven’t, check it out because it is lots of fun).

In the Beginning . . .

I have hosted quite a few author panels.  And I have attended many more.  One of the favorite questions authors get asked is to describe their book in only 3 words.  Author Victoria Scott describes her book, The Collector, with these 3 words: “Sexy, Snarky, Demon.”

Author Sherry Woods recently described The Burning Sky with “Cross-Dressing Harry Potter.”

Author Mindy McGinnis recently described Not a Drop to Drink with “Apocalypse, Thirst, Murder.”

And every time – IT WORKS!  I’m all, YES – sign me up for this book.  But I also thought: This is the way to sell a book – the 3 WORD BOOKTALK.  Designed for a texting, tweeting world where friends speak to each in text lingo.  Also designed for the Reference librarian who also has to answer phones, run over to computers and answer those questions, all the while trying to sneak in a few book recommendations in the stacks or at a busy desk.  It works for anyone who loves and wants to share their favorite books.

Let the Games Begin . . .

So here’s what we are going to do this week: Tweet us your #3wordbooktalk (or leave it in the comments) and be entered to win a signed copy of both The Collector and The Liberator by Victoria Scott.  You can enter as many times as you would like with as many books as you would like.  All it takes is 1 Tweet and 3 words.  Quick, easy, fun.  (See what I did there?  Clever).  Technically, anyone can Tweet their #3wordbooktalk and we love to hear all book love, but because of the cost of mailing, 1 U.S. Resident will be selected as our winner by Victoria herself.  Contest runs October 13 through the 19th.

Booktalk This! When You’re Tired of Emo Vamps (by Kearsten)

Burned out on vampire romances? Wish the creatures lurking in the dark were a little more bloodthirsty (or possessing more of a sense of humor)? Me, too!  I spent the week rereading Justin Cronin’s The Passage, an epic, sprawling novel of the build-up to and the aftermath of a completely terrifying vampire-virus apocalypse. Cronin’s vamps are deadly and truly scary, but if you’re looking for a shorter read for older teens (The Passage is a door stop), why not hand over one of these titles featuring vamps that are more interested in more than finding his/her one true love.

Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer by Dustin Higgins and Van Jensen.
He’s a puppet with a past and a score to settle!  In this black and white graphic novel, Pinocchio turned angry and vengeful the day his father, Gepetto, was murdered by evil vampires.  Long gone is that cheerful performer of years past.  In his place is a snarky and dangerous vampire slayer, who doesn’t need anyone to cut and sharpen stakes for him.  Pinocchio grows his own by shouting elaborately funny yet untrue battle taunts and trash talk, and then breaks off his newly grown wooden nose.  Talk about deadly D.I.Y….
Peeps by Scott Westerfeld
Cal Thompson is parasite positive, or a peep for short, but instead of going crazy as most peeps do, he’s maintained his sanity. Unfortunately, the infection passes through saliva, and while Cal isn’t crazy dangerous…all those girls he made out with recently? Not so lucky. But as Cal sets out to hunt down his exes as well as the one who infected him, he begins to realize that something is going very wrong…  This one is good fun, and includes a lot of gross and fascinating information about very real parasites in the world around us. 
I am Legend by Richard MathesonYes, maybe you saw the movie, and yes, Will Smith was pretty awesome in it, but those weird vampire/zombie hybrids? NO. Read this vampire classic about a man fighting to stay alive and sane against hordes of vampires, all while worrying that he may be the last human alive. It’s short and intense and a must for anyone looking for scary vamps.

Life Sucks by Jessica Abel
Dave is the night clerk at a  convenience store, and finds life to be a monotonous bore. Dave is also secretly a vampire, made because his vamp boss (and convenience store owner) needed someone to cover the night shift. The only thing that keeps Dave going through daylight sleeping, blood from a donor bag (gotten from the local blood bank) and his boring job is Rosa, the goth girl he’s crushin’ on. Yes, this vamp is in love, and he’s a little mopey, but Dave feels no romanticism towards his condition, and the story pokes a lot of fun at those overly dramatic, moody vampires of popular culture.
 See also: All Things Buffy and  Vampire Books with Bite 
Also be sure and check out the new title The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Booktalk This! Not your mother’s bedtime storytelling (Nontraditional Books and Stories for Teens)

Though storytelling comes in all forms, I tend to spend the majority of my reading life with fiction told from a 1st or 3rd person point of view, and a “first this happened, and then this, then this…” chronology.

Yes, these stories are often wonderful, but I find that sometimes it’s intriguing to mix things up a bit.  The following books all tell their stories differently, whether by playing with style, point-of-view, or format, but they’re all guaranteed to catch the attention of older teens (and adults)!

The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty


There’s nothing quite so infuriating than a pen pal assignment from a teacher who clearly wishes to go back to the dark ages of letter writing (before the awesomeness that is text messaging).  For Lydia, Cass and Emily, this assignment is also dangerous, as they’re meant to write kids at Brookfield HS, the student body of which is rumored to be full of scary criminals.  But then Charlie, Seb, and Matthew write back.  And through letters, emails, and even meeting transcripts, they experience friendship, grief, secret missions, love, and heartbreak, not to mention a trial about some not-so-harmless school vandalism…

You by Charles Benoit

“You’re surprised at all the blood.” So begins You, a suspense story with a twist: it’s told in 2nd person, meaning that you, the reader, feel as if you’re Kyle Chase, a 10th grader with an “aptitude” for math and a crush on Ashley.  You hate your school, and wish you could go back to eighth grade, to work harder for the better grades needed to get into the school all your friends did.  Instead, you’re stuck at Midlands High, where you end up hanging out with the kind of guys who sneak out at night to smoke, steal beer, and break into your old middle school.  And then, one night, you’re covered in blood and someone is dying.  But how, exactly, did you get there?

What about poetry?  Do you have a group of teens obsessed with Ellen Hopkins’ dark verse novels?  Why not give them family by Micol Ostow?  Ostow took the true story of the Mason Family cult and murders, and told that story from the point of view of a person on the inside.  Mel, a seventeen-year-old self-described “broken” girl, finds solace and companionship in the charismatic Henry.  Through Mel’s eyes, we begin to see the ways in which Henry, as a collector of “broken” people, uses and manipulates his devotees, Mel included, to carry out horrific acts.  This is an unsettling story, but powerful in the way it forces the reader to understand how a person looking for acceptance can be led down a very dark path. 

Dead Inside: Do Not Enter (Notes from the Zombie Apocalypse)

Do you prefer stark images and notes to go with your zombie apocalypses? Dead Inside tells the story of a zombie outbreak and the breakdown of society through “items found in a backpack.”  In reality, this was a huge Internet project, in which people from around the world created content for the book.  You’ll forget soon, though, that this isn’t real as you get caught up in reading increasingly confused and desperate notes scribbled on torn pages, signs, and any available paper, including birthday cards, photos, maps and cardboard.  (You, too, can participate in the project at www.lostzombies.com )


This final book, Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral, has the least amount of text of all the books here…and it’s the most mind-blowing, in my opinion.  Glory Fleming was a brilliant piano “prodigy,” destined for greatness and sold-out performances.  So why has she gone missing?  And what led to her Chopsticks-obsessed breakdown?  Through photographs, drawings, and newspaper clippings, follow the story of a girl who fell in love, and then lost her mind.  Then reread the story, in order to find out what *really* happened.

What are your favorite nontraditional format books?  Share with us in the comments.

Kearsten, Teen Services Librarian from Glendale, Arizona

Book Talk This: The Books of Summer

Summers in public libraries are…chaotic.  Loud, busy, and for librarians, it’s often non-stop action.  And while this is very fun (I get to share so many awesome books with people looking for something to read over the summer), it can be exhausting at times.

It’s those times that make me want to dive into a book, looking for an escape into a different kind of summer, and it is in that spirit that I suggest the following books.  Each offers a change of scene, whether you’re thinking summer love, summer jobs, or summer mysteries.
The Summer I Turned Pretty – Jenny Han

Is this the summer you’re going to fall in love?  Wish you could have two equally appealing options, but would prefer to pass on sci-fi revolutions or supernaturals?  Open up The Summer I Turned Prettyby Jenny Han and fall in love along with Belly, who, like every year since forever, is spending the summer at her mom’s best friend’s beach house.  In years past, Belly played tag-along with her older brother Stephen and his friends, Conrad and Jeremiah, while crushing on Conrad from afar, but now that Belly is turning sixteen, things are a-changin’…

Along for the Ride – Sarah Dessen

Is this the summer before you go away to college?  And you still don’t know what you want to do, or who you really are?  In Sarah Dessen’s Along for the Ride, Auden doesn’t sleep at night.  Initially, it was thanks to her parents’ incessant fighting; now it’s because she’s spending the summer with her dad, while getting to know both her frazzled and exhausted new stepmother and the very colicky baby sister keeping her awake.  On a middle-of-the-night wander, Auden meets Eli, a quietly sad town boy who inspires Auden to make some new friendships, finally learn to ride a bike, and to fall in love.
Project Sweet Life – Bret Hartinger

Does the idea of pretending to work as a lifeguard while you and your friends dream up elaborate money-making schemes appeal to you?  Then try Bret Hartinger’s Project Sweet Life.  15-year-olds Dave, Curtis, and Victor are resentful when their dads collectively decide the boys must all get summer jobs.  In protest, they instead pretend to get hired, create fictional schedules, and then set about finding ways to raise the money they’d otherwise be making.  And while the lies prove to be significantly more difficult than actual jobs, those lies do lead to bank robbers, hidden treasure, and life or death situations.  But are they worth it?
Way to Go – Tom Ryan

If you instead dream of getting a summer job that will help you decide who you are and what you want to do with your life, try Tom Ryan’s Way to Go.  In a small Canadian town in 1994, Danny is struggling.  It’s the summer before his senior year, he and his friends seem to be drifting apart, and Danny is afraid he might be gay.  When his mom suggests he help an old friend who’s starting a new restaurant, he welcomes the opportunity – maybe he just needs to meet an interesting girl he hasn’t known his whole life.  Or maybe, just maybe, Danny will find a place in the world where he’ll be comfortable just being himself. 
Where Things Come Back – John Corey Whaley

Would you like to someday spend the summer trying to write your novel?  So would Cullen, the narrator of John Corey Whaley’s Where Things Come Back.  Cullen Witter wants to be a writer someday, and keeps a journal of conversations heard and possible future book titles (he gets to 89, one of which, Zombie Dinner Party, is my personal favorite).  But when his younger brother Gabriel goes missing, Cullen’s plans are derailed, and he instead spends the summer trying to find out what happened to his brother.  This book is great for those who love John Green, and has an ending that will have you arguing with friends about what really happened.
Bad Kitty – Michelle Jaffe

Would you rather spend your summer solving a murder mystery while hanging out in Vegas with your besties?  Join seventeen-year-old Jasmine, aspiring forensic supersleuth, as she tries to catch a killer, avoid dying, deal with a super snobby cousin, and tries to not fall for the hottie who might be a bad guy.  All while suffering footnotes interjected by those previously mentioned best friends.  This book is the perfect read for sitting by the pool in Vegas (or a friend’s backyard, if you, unlike Jas, haven’t been dragged to Vegas by your dad and annoyingly perfect stepmother). 

What are your favorite books about summer?  Please share with us in the comments.

Booktalk This: The Geek edition

This quote has been circling the internet for a while, and as a life-long nerd and geek, I’ve worked to live up to the sentiment. This is not always easy, and it was especially difficult for me during high school, as I was torn between wanting to both appear “cool” AND to embrace that which I loved.  In remembering that time, I always enjoy discovering books about teens that are able to embrace their inner geeks or nerds and find happiness at the same time!

Would you rather be the nerd finding love? Or find love with a nerd?
If you’d rather embrace your nerdom while finding love, try Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill.  Julia’s thrilled to spend Spring Break on a school-sponsored, no-parents field trip to London, England, and with extra pencils and her pocket Shakespeare, she plans to get the most out of it. Unfortunately, most of her classmates see the trip as a license to party, and she ends up paired with the worst offender of them all, her nemesis, Jason. Can she keep him from getting into too much trouble? And can he help her woo her true love?

If you’re looking to find love with a nerd of your own, try Julia Halpern’s Into the Great Nerd Yonder. Jessie is the odd girl out at the start of sophomore year, when she comes back to school in a new skirt but her two best friends show up as new people: buzz-cuts, neon hair, and punk rock attitudes. Uninterested in joining their punk rebellion, Jessie spends her time sewing, listening to audiobooks (she has GREAT taste), and dips her toes into tabletop gaming. Can she find happiness over 20-sided dice?
Would you rather use your analytical skills to figure out how to avoid getting dumped? Or to fight the man?
As a former child prodigy and current dumpee, Colin is determined to create a theorem that will explain why nineteen Katherines in a row have dumped him, and enable him – and others – to avoid getting dumped in the future. In John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines, Colin and his best friend, Hassan, go on a summer road trip, chase down feral pigs, and find the grave of Franz Ferdinand in a town called Gutshot. Love, graphing, and anagramming will never be this fun again!  
Marcus is a computer genius…and a rule-breaker. So, when San Francisco is rocked by a terrorist attack and the government responds by cranking up their electronic surveillance, Marcus gets caught in the mix. Scared and angry after a brutal interrogation, he fights back as his hacker alter ego, w1n5t0n, against growing governmental control. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow is a scary and intense thrill ride you won’t want to miss!
And finally, do you limit yourself to one realm of nerdom or geekery? Or does it (like my own) span many areas and genres?
If you limit your geekery to one area, you may feel some camaraderie with Maddy, the heroine of both Mari Mancusi’s Gamer Girl AND of Maddy’s favorite online game, Fields of Fantasy. In the game, Maddy is beyond awesome, and her elfin alter-ego is beginning an online friendship/flirtation with another gamer, Sir Leo.   But, outside of the game, Maddy has no friends at her new school.  Can she be as brave as her manga-style gaming avatar and find love in the real world?
If your geekery knows no bounds, check out the wide-range of fun (for older teens) contained in Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, an anthology celebrating all things nerd and geek, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castelucci. Many awesome teen authors contributed, from Cassandra Clare to Scott Westerfeld, and it alternates between short stories and short, funny, how-to comics (my favorite geekdoms are represented in “How to Identify…the Living Dead” and “What to Remember When Going to a Convention”). There’s something here for any form of geekery!
Kearsten is the YA Librarian from the Glendale Public Library in Arizona and our resident Booktalk This column writer.  In short, she rocks.

Booktalk This! The “Would You Rather?” Edition (by Kearsten)


I love a good, on-the-spot booktalk while wandering the stacks with a teen, but when asked for formal booktalks, I always worry about keeping the attention of teens sitting for 30 minutes or more.  My new favorite way to keep those teens involved while introducing them to awesome teen fiction? A booktalk version of “Would You Rather.”

I use PowerPoint to put together my presentation, requiring access to a computer and projector (or a Smartboard) on my visit, but you could do this with the books themselves.  You will also need a way for the teens to participate.  I used colored cardstock scraps – yellow and green – and stapled them together. If you have more time and supplies, attaching your colored ‘flags’ to a wooden stick could be fun, though possibly dangerous (teens do love to hit each other with hand-held objects…). Next, come up with a theme and a pile of books. Finally, you’ll need to pair your books, which is the most fun/challenging part of the whole booktalk!  Here’s a sample of some of the titles I’ll be using for an upcoming middle-school booktalk. Enjoy!

v:* {behavior:url(#default#VML);} o:* {behavior:url(#default#VML);} w:* {behavior:url(#default#VML);} .shape {behavior:url(#default#VML);} Would You Rather: the School Edition! 

 Getting more than a little tired of school? Wish you could transport yourself to a different one? A boarding school perhaps?  One that could teach you skills more exciting than math, science and language arts?  With the end of the school year in sight, yet still maddeningly out of reach, why not take a vacation from this school in book form? But first, some questions . . .

Would you rather: Fight Evil OR BE Evil?

 If you wish your teachers would focus on teaching you to fight evil, try Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society.  The first of three (so far, not including a puzzle book and a prequel).  The Mysterious Benedict Society introduces four truly exceptional kids who take a series of increasingly perplexing texts, meant to weed out the ordinary, the kind of smart, and the average.  Think you could pass the tests?  Would YOU be up to going undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened? (Hint: spell that acronym backwards . . .)

And for those of you who’d prefer taking classes on manipulation, disguises, and computer hacking, why not try Catherine Jinx’s Evil Genius? I mean, if your dad is considered on of THE most important villains of all time, OF COURSE you’re fast-tracked into the Axis Institute of World Domination.  Cadel’s dad is in prison for life, but this computer genius isn’t letting that impact his future in villainy . . . or will he? 

Would you rather: celebrate art? Or steal it?

After surviving a terrorist attack, Jane and her parents move to the suburbs, where Jane must start over in a new school. Luckily for her, she finds her ‘tribe’, and with a bit of convincing, gets them to join her in guerrilla art projects, anonymously creating sculptures around their town with the logo, “Art Saves”. But what happens when adults get fed up with this bizarre ‘graffitt’? Can Jane count on her new friends? Find out in The Plain Janes, a graphic novel by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg.

K., the teen-aged main character in Richard Sala’s graphic novel, Cat Burglar Black, has had a rough life: raised in an orphanage by a woman who forced the children to either steal or go hungry, she’s developed some interesting skills. When K. is invited to enroll in the Bellsong Academy for Girls, she expects to leave that life behind. Unfortunately, the school administrators have a different plan for K. and her three equally gifted classmates…

And this last group (which I will not be including for the middle schoolers, as the content is aimed at older teens), is a bonus:

Are you cross-dressing: for research? Or for stalking purposes?

In Babe in Boyland, by Jody Gehrman, Natalie needs to up the ante for her love column, as her advice STINKS. What better way to find out how a guy thinks than to disguise oneself as a guy and enroll in an all-male boarding school? What could possibly go wrong when your new roommate is the cutest guy you’ve ever seen? And whose sister develops a huge crush on your male alter-ego?!

Have a crush on a superstar athlete? No problem! Japanese-American Mizuki, a pretty amazing athlete herself, manages to get a transfer to a high school in Japan to get closer to HER crush. Her parents are totally cool with her moving to Japan for school, but they might not actually have the whole truth about the genetic makeup of Mizuki’s future classmates. Break out the scissors and boy uniforms…and the laughs, as hijinks ensue in Hana Kimi: For You in Full-Blossom, Vol. 1, by Hisaya Nakajo, the first in a manga series for older teens.