Teen Booktalks
created by Carrie Falk and Joy Stortvedt
Shenandoah Public Library

Author List                                        Title List                         Back to Main Booktalks Page

These booktalks are listed alphabetically by the title of the book.  Click on a letter below to see the titles that begin with that letter. To the side of the title is a listing of the grade or grades that I would booktalk this book to.

U    V    W    X    Y    Z


Ultraviolet by R. J. Anderson   Grades 8-12
306 p., Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Lab, 2011.  9780761374084

Read p. 1-6

Alison Jeffries is used to hiding her differences from the rest of the world.  But there is no hiding the fact that Tori Beaugrand has disappeared, and Alison is the last person to have seen her.  All she remembers is Tori disintegrating in a flash of light while they were fighting.  What really happened that day?  What’s going on with Alison’s mind? Can she get out of the psychiatric hospital?  Should she?  When Alison finally gets her answers, they defy everything she’s known about herself and the world she lives in.


Unchained Memories: reading from the slave narratives  Grades 8-10
159 p., New York: Bulfinch Press, 2002.  0821228420.

 Unchained Memories looks at 8 different aspects of slave life: slave auctions, work, family, living conditions, abuse, special occasions, runaway, and emancipation broken up into chapter headings by using excerpts from interviews with former slaves taken during the 1930’s through the federal writers project.  Interviewers went out and interviewed over 2,000 of the former slaves, only an estimated 2% of the total ex-slave population. Most of the people interviewed were over the age of 80 at the time of the interviews.  Many of the excerpts in this book include a picture of the former slave as well as some background information about that person as gathered by the interviewer.  It is heart wrenching to read what these people remember of the peculiar institution of slavery in their own words.  I am going to share two with you today.  The first is by Jenny Proctor about work life (page 40, background info. on page 42).  End with Arnold Gragston’s stories bout slave runaways on page 125.


Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi  Grades 8-11
376 p., New York: HarperCollins, 2012.  9780062072030 

She grew up in Reverie – a pod protected from all of the dangers of the outside world, like aether storms and cannibals.  He grew up on the outside – with skills and gifts she can’t even imagine.  She thinks he’s a savage, hard and cruel like the world he’s from.  He thinks she’s a Mole, fragile, naïve and weak.  She needs him when she gets thrown out from everything familiar, into a place with a million ways to die.  He needs her to help him find the one person who matters most to him.  Together, they’ll face dangers on every side, discover heartbreaking secrets, and forge an unbreakable bond as they journey together Under the Never Sky.


Unwind by Neal Shusterman  Grades 8-12
New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007.  9781416912040

Imagine this – maybe you’re a troublemaker.  Maybe you’re a ward of the state.  Maybe your family belongs to a certain religion.  Whatever the reason, because you’re between the ages of 13 and 18, your guardian has the right to have you Unwound.  All of your body parts will be split up and used for transplants in other people – people who have passed their 18th birthday.  If you want to keep your body parts, you have only one choice: the same choice facing Connor, Risa and Lev.  You run.  You run and you fight and you hope against hope that you can somehow keep yourself together – keep yourself alive – until you’re 18.  This is a very thought provoking book that will stay with you for a long time.  It has a new sequel out called “UnWholly, with a planned 3rd book of the trilogy in the works.


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Visiting Miss Caples by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel  Grades 7-8
168 p., New York: Puffin Books, 2001.  0142300292.
Scholastic Reading Counts! Lexile 640 Points: 10
Iowa Teen Award Nomination 2003-2004

 Eighth grade is going to be an awesome year. It is finally their year to rule the school and classes will be alright, except for the human services project.  Jenna can’t believe the teachers are going to make them do it.  The social studies teacher has announced that each student will be assigned an elderly shut in to visit each week and to read to that shut in for an hour.  It shouldn’t be any big deal, an hour really isn’t that long, but to be stuck with an old person whom you don’t know at all and who smells funny, well…..  Jenna is assigned to a Miss Caples who hasn’t left her house in years.  The first time Jenna goes to read to Miss Caples she has to let herself in the apartment.  Miss Caples won’t speak to her or even look at her.  This is really going to be a drag.  By the next visit Jenna starts to notice all the pictures on the wall.  She would really like to know who the beautiful girl in all the pictures is, but Miss Caples still isn’t speaking.  Finally Jenna gives up reading altogether since it doesn’t seem to be doing any good.  Instead she starts telling Miss Caples about what is going on in her life at home with her parents getting divorced and at school where her best friend Liv is asking her to do things she doesn’t want to do.  That is when Miss Caples finally opens up and starts to tell Jenna about the people in her pictures and does she ever have a story to tell.


The Voice that Challenged a Nation:  Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights by Russell Freedman.  Grades 8-10
114 p., New York:  Clarion Books, 2004.  0618159762.

 On Easter Sunday April 9, 1939 Marian Anderson the world renowned contralto soloist sang before 75,000 people in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.  It was a symbolic event, an African American singer performing in front of the statue of the president who freed the slaves.  Now, why was she giving a free outdoor concert on a chilly April day?  In the 1930’s and up into the 1960’s blacks and whites were segregated in this country.  Because of her skin color, Marian Anderson was not welcome in many concert halls across this country.  In our nation’s capital she had been banned from the largest concert hall in the city which was owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution.  Several years earlier the DAR had ruled that only white performers could perform in Constitution Hall and they refused to make an exception for Marian Anderson.  Because she needed a large hall to sing in due to the number of people who attended her concerts this put Marian at the center of a nationwide controversy.  To find out about the life of this extraordinary singer and how she brought equal rights to the forefront read The Voice that Challenged a Nation.


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Waiting for Sarah by Bruce McBay & James Heneghan  Grades 8-9
170 p., Custer, WA:  Orca Book Publishers, 2003.  1551432706. 

Mike is angry at the world and nothing anyone does can make him feel better.  His parents and little sister were killed instantly when a drunk driver crossed the median and hit their car head on.  Mike was wearing his seat belt, so his life was spared, but their car was so mangled that his legs were crushed and had to be amputated below the knees.  Now the survivor’s guilt and the reality of being stuck in a wheelchair are eating Mike alive.  He is surly and tries his hardest to run everyone off.  So far he has succeeded pretty well.  Only his aunt Norma and his best friend Robbie stick by him in spite of the anger and insults Mike hurls at them on a regular basis.  Finally Aunt Norma convinces Mike to return to school so he can at least graduate.  Frankly he doesn’t see the point, but it will make her happy and she really has done so much for him since the accident.  School is where Mike meets Sarah the bubbly eighth grader assigned to help him with the history of the school he is writing for the yearbook. Sarah isn’t like anyone else Mike has ever met.  She is the first person to make him feel alive since that horrible accident.  But, what is Sarah trying to tell him?  Mike knows he will spend as long as it takes Waiting for Sarah to confide in him.


Walker’s Crossing by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor  Grade 8
232 p., New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1999.  0689829396.
Scholastic Reading Counts! Lexile: 830 Points: 14

 Ryan Walker has one dream, he wants to be a cowboy on the Saddlebow Ranch.  Ryan already helps out with the daily activities, but he dreams of going on the summer drives up into the mountains.  He could spend the rest of his life on horseback and be happy.  Out with the cattle, Ryan feels at home, he doesn’t feel awkward like he does in school.  The horses and cows don’t make fun of how tall he is.  That’s why when Ryan finds out his older brother Gil and best friend Matt are part of a local militia group called the Mountain Patriots, he decides to join too.  He can now feel a part of a group and even help out defending his home and family.  What Gil says about protecting family sounds good, but when Gil starts talking about keeping America white and shipping all the foreigners out of the country, Ryan starts to question what he’s hearing.  It is all so confusing, especially when someone paints a swastika on the high school gym wall after a basketball game.  What’s right?  Who should Ryan trust?  To find out what Ryan does read Walker’s Crossing.


The Wall and the Wing by Laura Ruby  Grades 6-8
327 p., New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.  9780060752552

“I am the wall and the ground and the air.
I am the wall and the ground and the air.
I am the wall…”

Gurl can’t fly.  Everyone else can, even if it’s only a little, but she’s a leadfoot, ground-bound forever for no reason she knows.  And living in an orphanage run by the demented Mrs. Terwiliger, she knows her future is pretty bleak, until one day she finds a cat and discovers her own talent – she can become invisible, completely camouflaged by the world around her.  She is the Wall.  It’s not long before Mrs. Terwiliger and others want to put her talent to use in some, shall we say, less-than-legal endeavors.  Can a boy with amnesia and a girl who can’t fly outsmart Mrs. Terwiliger, the gangsters, and a bunch of mechanical monkeys to discover who they were, who they are… and who they can be?


The Watcher by James Howe  Grades 6-8
173 p., New York: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, 1997.  9780689801860

The girl is always watching.  She watches the family playing by the beach, a brother and a sister, a mom and a dad.  She watches the lifeguard.  She’s always watching and writing.  They wonder about her, the boy and the girl, the lifeguard – who is she, what is she writing, and why is she always watching and never doing?  But she seems so strange and distant, never saying anything, never even smiling.  They all wonder about her, and she wonders, when her world falls apart, will there be anyone to watch over her?


Watching Alice: Break the Surface by Daniel Parker and Lee Miller  Grades 9-11
202 p., New York: Penguin Group, 2004.  1595140018

Tom Sinclair is starting over.  A new town, new school, and nobody knows about what happened… before.  His goals for his senior year are to stay below the radar and not let anyone close to him.  That way no one gets hurt.  And then Alice happened.  She’s beautiful, amazing, and mysterious, and Tom falls for her, hard.  She seems to understand him like no one else ever could.  And then… she’s gone.  Just like that, Alice Brown is missing, leaving behind more questions than answers.  Tom will do anything to get her back, even publish his journal in hopes that someone somewhere will see a clue that he missed.  Will it be you?  First in a series of four.


The Waters & the Wild by Francesca Lia Block  Grades 7-9
113 p., New York: HarperCollins, 2009.  9780061452444

Read p. 1-2.

Bee has always been strange, out of step with her family, her peers.  It’s not terribly unusual, I mean, she knows a kid who believes he’s an alien and a girl who believes she’s a reincarnated slave.  But the strange things that keep happening to her may be pointing to something completely out of the ordinary – an extraordinary life that will change those she touches forever.


The Weekend Was Murder  by Joan Lowery Nixon  Grades 7-8
New York: Delacorte Press, 1992.  0385305311.
Scholastic Reading Counts! Lexile: 840 Points: 9
Iowa Teen Award Nomination 1994-1995

 Boy was it murder and in this story you will be able to solve it yourself!  Mary Elizabeth works at the Ridley Hotel.  The hotel is having a murder mystery weekend and she has been asked to work it.  An author is coming to write the script of the mystery and then there will be actors to act out the murder mystery.  The guests will then be broken up into teams to try and solve the murder.  Mary Elizabeth is asked to help out and do some acting.  She is asked to pretend to find the body in room 1927.  She does her part, but when she goes back to the room to retrieve a notebook for the author she stumbles across a real body at the scene of the murder.  Now there are two murders to solve!  Mary Elizabeth sets off with the help of her friends and her boyfriend Fran to solve both murders.  Can you solve them?  Good luck!


Wenny Has Wings by Janet Lee Carey
232 p., New York:  Atheneum Books, 2002.  0689842945.

 Will knows he died and came back but he’s not ready to share what happened with anyone else.  It was so happy going through the tunnel toward the light following his little sister Wenny as she headed toward the light person.  But, then Will thought about his parents and he turned around and went back.  He even saw himself lying in the hospital bed while the doctors used electric paddles to revive him.  Now he is stuck in the hospital with a broken leg.  He knows his little sister Wenny is dead and their cat Twinkie has a broken tail.  If only he had moved faster trying to get Wenny out of the way of the speeding truck.  If only he hadn’t needed those weights for the pinewood derby car.  If only Wenny had acted more like a girl and not wanted to tag along.  If only….  Now when his parents come visit they look so sad and don’t really look at him or talk to him.  Will is worried about going home when he gets out of the hospital.  Life is going to be very different without Wenny.  Why did Wenny, who was so full of life, have to die?


What Became of Her by M. E. Kerr  Grades 7-9
244 p., New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2000.  9780060284350

When I went up to Peligro for the first time, I had no idea what was waiting for me there.  Mrs. Rosalind Slaymaster, the richest woman in town with a huge chip on her shoulder, is not what you’d expect from a Texas widow living in a mansion.  Her niece, Julie, was a complete surprise – different from what you’d think of a girl who comes to school every day in a white Hummer.  And as for Peale, well, who would have ever imagined a life-sized leather mannequin with his own wardrobe of tailored suits, passport, and big-screen TV?  I certainly never expected the little decisions I made that school year to have such huge consequences for Mrs. Slaymaster, for Julie, and for myself.  You’ll just have to read my book to find out What Became of Her, and what became of me as well.


What Every Girl (Except Me) Knows by Nora Raleigh Baskins  Grades 7-8
213 p., Boston: Little, Brown, 2001.  0316070211.

 I’ve been keeping a journal now for almost a full year.  Actually, I have three journals.  One is for dreams, one is for important stuff like this, and one is a list.  My list journal is called “Things I Need to Know to be a Woman.”  First I wrote in “woman.”  Then I crossed that out and wrote in “girl.”  Then I crossed that out and wrote in “woman” again.  I still can’t decide.  I’m assuming I’ll turn into a woman someday whether I know anything about being one or not.  I think Amber Whitman already has, because every month she goes to the nurse with a mysterious stomachache.  We learned all about that in health and everyone saw the movie.  So Amber’s not fooling anyone.  But being like a girl (or womanly or girlish or feminine, whatever you want to call it) is something you definitely have to learn.  Girls probably don’t even know they’re learning it. It just gets absorbed in them while they are sleeping.  But one thing for certain is that it has to come from a mother.  And a mother is one thing I don’t have.  Not since I was three years old, too long ago to even remember her.  So I keep a list.

 Gabby hopes this list will help her but she has so much to learn, especially when a new girl named Taylor starts school.  Gabby would really like to be friends with Taylor but it is so awkward going over to other people’s houses especially when they have moms.  Gabby never knows the right thing to do.  If only her dad will get remarried then Gabby will finally have a mom to help her out.


What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones  Grades 8-9
259 p, New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2001.  0689841140.

 My name is Sophie./ This books is about me./ It tells/ the heart-stoppingly riveting story/ of my first love./ And also of my second./ And, okay, my third love, too./ It’s not that I’m boy crazy./ It’s just that even though/ I’m almost fifteen/ I’ve been having sort of a hard time/ trying to figure out the difference/ between love and list./ It’s like/ my mind/ and my body/ and my heart/ just don’t seem to be able to agree/ on anything. 

 What Sophie’s mother doesn’t know is a lot, as Sophie tries to sort out her feelings for Dylan, her artwork, her parents and herself.  It is hard to know where to turn when you feel isolated because your parents are always fighting and you’re Jewish so that makes you different.  How will Sophie ever figure it all out?


When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt  Grades 7-8
227 p., New York: Holt, 1999.  0805061169.
Scholastic Reading Counts! Lexile: 700 Points: 12
Iowa Teen Award Nomination 2002-2003

 They say Zachary Beaver is the fattest boy in the world.  That’s why everyone is lined up in front of the trailer to see Zachary when he and his friend roll into town.  This is the most excitement anyone can expect in the tiny town of Antler, Texas on a hot summer day.  Toby and his friends decide to join the crowd and see what things are all about.  When they get to meet Zachary, they are surprised to find out he has no family.  Toby’s best friend Cal wants to learn more about Zachary, so they keep going back and bugging him.  That’s when they find out that Zachary’s mom wanted to see him baptized before she died.  Unfortunately it never happened.  Toby and Cal decide to take matters into their own hands and help Zachary get baptized.  But how can you baptize the fattest boy in the world without him drowning?  To find out what happens to the three boys during one wild summer, read When Zachary Beaver Came to Town.


White Cat by Holly Black  Grades 9-12
New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010.  9781416963967

I did not expect to find myself there – almost naked on the roof of my dorm.  But it seems I’m sleepwalking again, this time chasing a white cat in my dreams.  The faculty thinks I’m a danger to myself and their insurance policy, so until I can get a doctor to swear I won’t do it again, I have to go home.   Which means I have to get somebody to run my bookie business while I’m off campus.  Which means I get to deal with my family.  Here’s the deal – they’re all Curse Workers, I’m not.  And since curse-working is illegal, they’re also part of one of the biggest crime families on this coast – the Zacharovs.  Lila Zacharov was my best friend growing up.  Until I killed her.  I mean, I don’t remember killing her, but I remember holding the knife, looking down at her, and all that blood…  Actually, I’ve got a lot of memories that are a little fuzzy, and with the sleepwalking – well, maybe I’m being worked.  And if so, then I’ve got to figure out how and why, which means I’ll need to con the criminals who raised me.  Good thing I learned from the best…


White Lilacs by Carolyn Meyer  Grade 6-7
242 p., San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1993.  0152006419.
Scholastic Reading Counts! Lexile: 990 Points: 12

 Are you proud of your community?  What if you overheard someone saying that they wanted to tear down your home and school?  Rose Lee Jefferson loves her town of Freedom.  In Freedom they have their own school, grocery store, two churches and a barber shop.  Freedom is an all black community smack dab in the middle of Dillon, Texas, an all white town.  The white people in Dillon feel that Freedom is an eye sore and want to get rid of it.  One day when Rose Lee is helping her aunt serve tea to some of the rich white ladies of Dillon she overhears the ladies talking about what they need to do to get rid of Freedom.  They want to erect a formal garden in the middle of town where Freedom once stood, and move all the black families out of town to another location.  Imagine how Rose Lee felt.  They were talking about tearing down her home.  Right then and there Rose Lee decides she must do all she can to stop them, but what can one girl do against a whole town?


Whiteout by Ken Follett  Grades 10-12  Adult
374 p., New York: Dutton, 2004.  0525948430.

 Toni Gallo has a great job.  She has been promoted to the director of security at a Scottish medical research firm.  She will do whatever it takes to not jeopardize her position.  It is a very delicate job too.  This research lab handles many deadly viruses and their vaccines.  The facility has a state of the art security and surveillance system.  There should be no way anything or anyone could enter or leave the facility without someone on the security team knowing about it.  Then on Christmas Eve during a spot check of supplies.  Toni finds two doses of a very dangerous experimental drug are missing. It is up to her to find out what happened and track down the person or persons responsible.  She has narrowed it down to one employee of the firm whom she cannot reach or account for his whereabouts.  It is time to make a trip to his house and see what is really going on.  Little does Toni know that while she is tracking down this security breach someone else is planning an attack on the facility.  They want a very dangerous and deadly virus.  How will Toni and the lab be able to handle both of these potentially disastrous situations?


Who Will Tell My Brother by Marlene Carvell  Grades 8-9
150 p., New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 2002.  0786808276.

 Pp 73-74  January 16:  Questioning
The word has gotten out/ The word is spreading that I have/ done the unthinkable/ I have questioned/ I have questioned/ I have questioned why we need this mascot./ They stare at me through the cold, hard eyes/ of those who felt threatened,/ whose pride/ whose tradition/ whose bigotry/ and narrow thought/ is threatened/ I, too, feel threatened/ I have spoken / for those who cannot speak,/ for those who have come before me/ and felt threatened;/ their dignity, their honor, their humanity/ threatened./ I have spoken for my father and for his father/ and for his father who changed his name/ because he, too, felt threatened that he could not succeed,/ could not survive/ unless he left the reservation/ unless he changed his name/ so no one would know who he was/ And so I have questioned why./ Why does our school need the face of an Indian/ hanging on a wall, stitched on a shirt, emblazoned on a hat?/ Why do we need that face to know who we are?

 Evan has done the unthinkable he has questioned why his high school must have an Indian mascot.  He has gone to the school board to lodge his complaint but they just stonewall his request.  His classmates aren’t sure what to do with him.  Should they ignore him or make fun of him because of his desire to remove their school mascot.  Evan feels like an outsider in his own school.  Others just don’t understand his point of view and because they don’t understand they are hateful and hurtful in the things they say and do.  Is it really worth fighting for what you believe when you are ostracized like this?


Woodsong by Gary Paulsen Grades 8 – 10
132 p., New York: Bradbury Press, 1990.  0027702219.

 All of us have read at least one of Gary Paulsen’s adventure and survival stories, but have you ever wondered where he gets his material for them?  In Woodsong, Gary Paulsen gives us a glimpse into his life with his dogs.  He starts out the book when he has just gotten them and has no idea what to do with a dogsled team.  And he takes us through their learning experiences and trials all the way to the Iditarod in Alaska.  Let me share just one of his stories about the extraordinary dogs that he has had the privilege to work with.  Read pp. 22-24 the story about Columbia and the bone wars.  Start with, “Columbia had a sense of humor and I saw it.”  Then end with, “The Columbia walked away.”


Worlds Afire by Paul B. Janeczko Grades 8-9
92 p., Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2004.  0763922354.

 “On Thursday, July 6, 1944, as the afternoon performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Hartford, Connecticut, had just begun, fire broke out in the southwest corner of the big top.  The fire was fast and angry, killing 167 people – mostly women and children- in a matter of minutes and injuring about 500 others. 

Although the police determined that the fire was caused ‘by the carelessness of an unidentified smoker and patron who threw a lighted cigarette to the ground,’ the real cause of the fire is still in doubt.  A man did confess to setting the fire.  However, his mental state calls his version into question.”  From the Note in Worlds Afire

 Remember that the year is 1944 and many of the fathers are overseas fighting in World War II. The circus was something for these families to look forward to during this bleak time.  These poems give voice to those who’s lives were forever changed by the circus fire that day.  Read about the excitement leading up to the circus, find out about the fear, panic and pain during the fire and the grief and loss felt in its aftermath as those 167 people lost their lives and the more than 500 other who were injured or had their lives altered forever.


Wrestling Sturbridge by Rich Wallace  Grades 8-9
135 p., New York: Knopf, 1996. 0679879033.

 Have you ever felt stuck, like no matter how hard you try you are going to live in this place forever and end up doing the same thing your parents have done?  That’s how it feels living in Sturbridge, Pennsylvania. In Sturbridge, wrestling is the sport everyone lives for.  They always have one of the best wrestling teams in the state.  This year is Ben’s senior year and his last chance to really make a name for himself before he follows the path of everyone else in town and ends up working at the cinderblock factory.  Ben is wrestling at 135 lbs, but so is his best friend Al, who happens to be the best wrestler in the state at that weight.  Will Ben ever get his chance to shine, or will he be stuck in Al’s shadow forever?  Can their friendship survive this test, and is there really life after wrestling?  To find out what happens, read Wrestling Sturbridge.


The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett  Grades 7-8
318 p., New York: Scholastic Press, 2006.  0439693675.

It’s an act of murder.  The Robie house is about to be dismantled and pieces of it sent to four different museums around the world.  What makes this particular house so special?  Well, it was built in 1910 by Frank Lloyd Wright, who is arguably the most famous architect of the 20th century.  The Robie house is considered one of the best examples of his prairie style architecture and Wright himself stepped in to save the house from demolition twice during his 70 year career.  But, now the University of Chicago can no longer afford to maintain it and is having it dismantled in a month’s time.  Calder, Petra and Tommy feel it would be murder to chop up this unique and historic house.  They want to save it, but how?  There have been lots of strange things happening around the house, but are they just coincidences, or are these things the pieces they need to save the house?  What will Calder, Petra and Tommy do?  Are they The Wright 3 for the job?


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A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck  Grades 8-9
130 p., New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2000.  0803725183.
Scholastic Reading Counts! Lexile: 610 Points: 9

 During the Great Depression Mary Alice is sent to live with her Grandma Dowdel in a small backwater town in Illinois.  Mary Alice dreads living with her strange grandma who is trigger happy.  How is Mary Alice going to survive high school with Grandma?  During Halloween it is everyone’s favorite pastime to knock down people’s outhouses.  Now Grandma knows the boys will probably go after her outhouse so she decides to lay a trap.  She boils some vile smelling glue on the stove and gets some picture wire, a hammer and a railroad spike.  After dark, Grandma and Mary Alice go down to the cobhouse by the privy and lay the trap.  Grandma drives the spike into the ground by the cobhouse and strings the picture wire from the spike to a vine and then they find a couple of crates so they can sit and wait.  Sure enough, the boys start sneaking toward the privy.  The leader trips over the wire and goes sprawling on the concrete walk.  He has no sooner fallen down then Grandma turns the pan of glue over his head.  He starts screaming which panicked all the other boys who ran into the cobhouse trying to get away from Grandma.  Needless to say, Grandma’s outhouse was the only one left standing after Halloween.  That is just one of the many things that happens to Mary Alice in her Year Down Yonder.


The Year of Secret Assignments* by Jaclyn Moriarty  Grades 8-9
340 p., New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2004.  0439498813. 

Lydia, Emily and Cassie are the best of friends.  They share pretty much everything from secrets to dreams.  They skip classes together.  Most importantly they skip maths to go to the movies every Thursday afternoon.  They also give each other secret assignments to complete.  Most are fun and some are downright silly.  Lydia and Emily have even tried to share Cassie’s pain when her father dies from leukemia.  Although no matter what they do Cassie gets quieter and quieter and starts to withdraw from many of the things they do as a group.

Then their English teacher gives the class an assignment.  They are going to practice their writing skills by participating in the Ashbury (private high school all three girls attend) – Brookfield (public high school down the road) pen pal project.  All three girls write first and then wait to see who will write back.  Lydia gets a letter from Seb a guy who is an artistic soccer buff and has trouble not getting into fights.  Emily hears from Charlie who is really nice, but seems to spend a lot of time in the school office.  He’s also really into working on cars.  Cassie gets a letter from Matthew Dunlop who must be a crazed psychopath.  The girls find out that Matthew doesn’t exist.  Is he a figment of Cassie’s imagination?  What is going on?  It is up to Lydia and Seb and Emily and Charlie to figure it out.  Let the Year of Secret Assignments begin!


Year of the Hangman by Gary Blackwood  Grades 7-8
261 p., New York: Dutton Children’s Books, 2002.  0525469214.

 The year is 1777 and the colonists have lost their little rebellion and are firmly under British control.  This is of little concern to Creighton Brown in spite of the fact that his father was killed in the fighting with the colonists.  Creighton is happy to go about his life in England drinking and playing cards at the local taverns with his friends.  His mother is at her wits end.  Creighton won’t listen to a thing she says and he is working on running up a debt he can’t pay off. Then one night on his way home from an especially expensive evening at the tavern Creighton is kidnapped right off his front porch.  He is put on board a boat bound for the colonies.  All he is told is that he is being sent to live with his uncle Colonel Gower who is stationed with the British Army in Charlestown, South Carolina.  Creighton can’t believe this is happening to him.  How could his family do this to him?  Now he will be living in the uncivilized colonies with those barbaric Americans.  What else could possibly be worse?  Well, Creighton finds out when his ship is attacked by pirates. Only, are they really pirates, or to they have a more sinister motive?


Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy  Grades 7-9
227 p., Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2006.  9780761452775. 

This is the fictionalized story of Syvia Perlmutter the author’s aunt.  In the fall of 1939 Syvia is 4 ½ years old.  That is when her family is moved from their comfortable home in the city of Lodz, Poland to the Lodz ghetto by the Nazis.  160,000 Jewish men, women and children walked into the ghetto and on May 1, 1940 it was sealed off by a barbed wire fence.  The Jews were then isolated from the rest of the world.  At first it isn’t so bad for Syvia. She has friends and they play together with their dolls.  There may not be much food and all the grown ups are worried but at least they still have each other.  Then one by one Syvia’s friends disappear, other family members also disappear.  The Nazis are taking them away.  Then the news comes, the Nazis want to take all the children out of the ghetto.  They say they are taking them to a nice place, but Syvia’s father doesn’t believe it.  When the soldiers are close to their apartment he takes Syvia out to the cemetery and digs a hole behind a large tombstone to hide her.  It is like being buried alive and Syvia can’t help but scream.  She is so scared.  Somehow with the help of her father she manages to escape the soldiers, but now she has to stay hidden.  If the soldiers see her, she will be killed.  When the Lodz ghetto is finally liberated by the Russians in January of 1945, Syvia is almost 10 years old.  She is one of 12 children who survived in the ghetto along with only about 800 adults.  To read about Syvia’s terrifying story, check out Yellow Star.


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Zach’s Lie by Roland Smith  Grades 6-7
211 p., New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 2001.  0786806176.

 “If you take the “V” out of lives, what do you get?”  Right now that is all Jack Osborn’s life is, it is one big lie.  Ever since the masked men entered their house that night and threatened the entire family, Jack’s life has been turned upside down.  Nothing will ever be the same again.  For their protection his mom, sister and Jack are now in the Federal Witness Protection Program.  Now Jack has a new name, Zack, new eye color, new hair cut and a new looking mom and sister.  They sure don’t look anything like the mom and sister he remembered.  They are headed to a new town.  So, he will have to start a new school and find new friends.  His mom will even start a new business.  He’s not sure if he’ll ever see his dad again and to make matters worse he can’t talk to anyone about what has happened.  Now he and his family are in the town of Elko, Nevada and Zach Granger from Portland, Oregon is about to start school.  Hope no one asks too many questions or tries to get too close.  What is Zach going to tell them?  He has no past.  He can’t slip up or it could put his whole family in danger.  The men who are after them are pure evil.  But, the worst part is having to live this horrible lie.

Alternative Booktalk:
Zach’s Lie by Roland Smith  Grades 6-8
211 p., New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 2001.  9780786806171

Jack – I mean Zach – is living a lie.  Ever since those men in masks broke into his house, he’s had to change his name, move to the middle of nowhere, Nevada, and start over.  At first, it’s really hard to fit in, and Zach makes enemies before he makes friends.  With a little help from an unusual school custodian and a girl who sees him for who he really is, Zach begins to feel at home in his new life.  However, those peaceful feelings are too good to last, and soon Zach finds himself on a wild ride, making choices to try and protect everyone he cares about.  Just what is the cost of Zach’s lie?  Carrie and I both really enjoyed this exciting book.


Zee’s Way by Kristin Butcher  Grades 8-9
104 p.,  Custer, WA: Orca Soundings, 2004.  155143279X.

It all started when the old warehouse that they used as a hang out was torn down.  A strip mall was built in its place which was kinda cool until the shop owners saw our group.  Yeah, maybe we looked a little rough with the tattoos and the black leather and dyed hair, but did they have to treat us so badly and run us off?  Now the police drive by regularly and check on the mall.  We hang out across the street and heckle the shop owners.  There’s nothing better to do.  And it really hurts the way the shop owners treat us like common criminals.  This is why Zee sneaks out one night and paints his feeling on the wall of the mall.  He is very angry when it is painted over.  He decides to graffiti the wall again and this time the hardware store owner paints over everything except the door Zee drew in the middle.  So, the next night Zee feels he has to go back and fix his picture.  Right as he finishes, the hardware story owner steps out and catches him.  He even knows Zee’s name.  Now what is Zee going to do?  What if they tell his dad?


Zen and the Art of Faking It by Jordan Sonnenblick  Grades 7-8
264 p., New York:  Scholastic Press, 2007.  9780439837071.

San Lee is not excited to be starting yet another new school, especially this time in nowheresville, Pennsylvania.  He decides to blend into the background of the 8th grade until he sees the cute girl named Woody in social studies.  She is something special and he’s going to have to create a persona that will grab her attention.  Jock is too much work.  Can’t be a skater, it’s too cold here.  Prep?  Nope, too expensive.  Goth?  Mom would kill him and it requires makeup and is too expensive.  That is out too.  Then by accident San stumbles across the perfect identity.  In social studies they are studying eastern religions which San already learned last year in Houston.  So, he knows all the answers and everyone starts calling him Buddha boy.  Now it is time to head to the library and do some research to really become the expert on Zen everyone in his class thinks he is.  What could possibly go wrong with this fool


Zipped by Laura & Tom McNeal  Grades 8-9
283 p., New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.  0372814914.

 The bet is on.  Mick and his best friend Reece are at the park giving Mick’s dog Foolish some quality Frisbee time, when two beautiful college babes walk into the park, put their stuff on a blanket and prepare to sunbathe.  Reece says he’s going over there to talk to them but when he is almost to the blanket veers off and gets a drink from the water fountain.  When he gets back to Mick he says, “You won’t believe who it is.”  The two college girls turn out to be none other than the two brainy beauty queens who graduated from their high school two years earlier.  So, feeling brave Mick asks Reece what would he pay if Mick went over and talked to those girls.  The goal is to get Myra and Pam to talk to Mick for five minutes and for Mick to get one of their phone numbers.  $5.00 for the five minute minimum conversation and $20.00 for a phone number too.  Mick knows the key is not to think about it too much or he’ll never be able to approach them.  What is he gong to say to keep them talking for five minutes?  He’s only a lowly high school sophomore.  When he gets up to them he asks Myra, “Do you know Alexander Selkirk?”  Man, what a loaded question that is.


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Copyright Notice
The booktalks and lists are for educational purpose only.  They may be copied or adapted by any individual wishing to use them for booktalking.  They may not be copied in whole or reprinted on another website or in a book without the written permission of the creator.  To contact Carrie Falk, please e-mail
shencirc@qwestoffice.net.  To contact Joy Stortvedt, please e-mail libraryq@qwestoffice.net.