Monday, February 20, 2012

Booktalk Breakdown: Secrets, Lies, and Spies

So when I'm not wandering around the internet, reading young adult books, or indulging in my many random t.v. obsessions, I'm a librarian working with 7-12 grade students at an independent all girls school.  As part of my job, I visit both the 7th and 8th grade classes during their weekly grade-level meetings approximately once every three or four weeks with a booktalk.  As I say in my little bio in the sidebar here, I am a rookie librarian; I finished my graduate program in August and started my job a few weeks later.  Booktalking, when librarians or teachers use their creativity and wits to tease and sell books to students, is a standard tool in the youth services librarian's tool belt.  So I was fairly nervous for my first booktalks this fall.  However, I've been pleasantly surprised at how well most of my booktalks have gone so far this year.  Now that I've settled in a little bit, I wanted to try and change up my pretty basic booktalking methods.  Ally Carter's fabulous and fun novels are incredibly popular with our 7th and 8th graders; her newest Gallagher Girls novel comes out in March so it seemed like perfect opportunity to try out a more ambitious booktalk.  Since I'd like to include more library programming posts here, it also seemed like a great opportunity to try out a new occasional blog feature, breaking down my process of developing, creating, and implementing a booktalk.

The Gallagher Girls series, for those who might not spend lots of time with 12 and 13 year old girls, is about an elite school for young women with unique gifts--specifically, gifts for international intrigue. Cammie "The Chameleon" Morgan, our protagonist and narrator, is the headmistress' daughter, a CIA legacy, and a specialist in disappearing into the crowd--hence, her nickname.  So, first I gathered together other fun novels with spies, mystery, and intrigue.

I settled on three novels, all of which are the first in series.

The Liar Society by Lisa and Laura Roecker

As I noted in my review a few months ago, this debut is a fun if imperfect mystery that combines elements from E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (elite private school with secret societies) and Veronica Mars (angry outcast teen sleuth searching for the truth about her dead best friend).  It opens with a great hook--a cryptic email from the protagonist's dead best friend.  I typed up the email on my own account and took a screenshot, which I placed into the Power Point slideshow that I used with the booktalk.  A little set up, flash the email up on the screen, and then a final hook sentence and this book was sold!

Inside The Shadow City (Kiki Strike #1) by Kristen Miller

Ananka Fishbein lives a very ordinary life--until one day she sees someone or something creeping out of a sinkhole across the street from her family's New York City apartment.  Ananka decides to investigate and discovers a hidden city underneath Manhattan's streets, an awful lot of rats, a group of renegade girl scouts, and the mysterious Kiki Strike.  Suddenly Ananka's life has been transformed from ordinary to extraordinary.  I did a second person sell with this novel, starting: "You have lived an very un-extraordinary life..."  It certainly helped that as soon as I held the novel up and clicked my slideshow to the cover image, a student yelled out: " Oh my God, I read that--it's soo good!"   

A Spy in the House (The Agency #1) by Y.S. Lee

After a sudden rescue from the gallows, young orphan Mary Quinn is surprised when she's offered an unusual opportunity: an education at Miss. Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls.  Now seventeen years old, Mary learns that her education has prepared for more than a career as a mere governess.  The Academy is actually a cover for The Agency, an independent group of female investigators who take advantage of the Victorian assumptions about women to solve cases when the police can't.  For Mary's first case, she must infiltrate the household of a wealthy merchant suspected of international smuggling and dig through his family's many dangerous--and deadly--secrets.  I was a little unsure about the reception I would get for this novel; historical fiction is frequently a bit of a gamble with a mixed group of middle schoolers.  But I was happily proved wrong and this one sold quite well!

Once I had selected these readalikes, I began working on the other portion of my booktalk.  Recently, I've been working on creating my own book trailers using iMovie.  This booktalk proved the ideal opportunity to try and work in one of my experiments.  I didn't want to do a traditional booktalk for the Gallagher Girls books because so many of the students have already read at least the first novel in the series.  So instead I made this little trailer that acts as a introduction to the premise of the whole series, with a hook at the end for the new title coming out in March.

I then embedded the Youtube version of this trailer into a Power Point presentation.  I decided to add slides with the cover images of each book as well, a practice that I might try to use in many of my future booktalks since it allows more students to see the cover and cover images are key selling point with my students.  The room used for the seventh grade class meetings has a Smart Board and I just hooked my laptop up, tested everything out beforehand, and got the presentation cued up for the start of the meeting.  Considering this booktalk was my first with any kind of media other than my own voice, I was more nervous than usual.  However, it went incredibly well and I had even more trouble than usual deciding how to distribute the one or two copies of each book among the ten to twenty kids who wanted it.

So there's my first Booktalk Breakdown!  I'm beginning to work on another slightly more adventurous booktalk on dystopian fiction for my Hunger Games-obsessed eighth graders and if it comes together, then I'll post another breakdown!


Friday, February 10, 2012

The Faerie Ring by Kiki Hamilton

It's 1871, Queen Victoria is on the throne, and in an abandoned building near Charing Cross Station in London, Tiki and her adopted family of street orphans are just trying to get by picking pockets.  Then one day, Tiki hitches a ride on the back of a cab and ends up in gorgeous house, where she sees a compellingly beautiful gold ring.  Tiki can't resist and she pockets the ring.  However, it turns out that her cab went to one of the most important residences in the country and the ring Tiki's just stolen belongs to the royal family.  Even worse, the ring is the key to maintaining a very important treaty--an agreement to keep peace between the human world and hidden realm of Faerie.  Now that treaty is on the verge of collapsing and it's up to Tiki to fix it.  With the help of the mysterious thief Rieker and curious Prince Leopold, Tiki must try to save the treaty--and her family--in time.

A unique little subgenre of fiction combining either actual historical facts and setting or strong historical elements with magic appears to be emerging from the sometimes overwhelmingly diverse area of fantasy novels.  I've taken to calling books that fall into this group, 'historical fantasy'--a name I'm blantantly borrowing from wonderful author Elizabeth C. Bunce, whose first novel A Curse Dark As Gold fits into this category quite nicely.  As a huge fan of both historical fiction and fantasy, I'm thrilled to see more novels coming out that manage to meld these genres.  The Faerie Ring, Kiki Hamilton's debut novel, is a delightful and thrilling addition to this growing subgenre!

Blending together elements from fairy tales like Cinderella with Dickensian street orphans and a unique take on darkly powerful fairies, Kiki Hamilton has created a throughly original and enjoyable tale.  Tiki is an appealing heroine: a spunky, sturdy survivor with quick wits and big heart.  She's tough yet vulnerable and she will do anything to protect the family of other orphans that she holding together.  The supporting characters are also interesting, especially the mysterious Rieker.  From the gritty streets of Victorian London to the glitter of the royal residences, the historical setting is rich with detail and deeply enjoyable to get lost in.  The magical elements blend well into the world of Victorian England, where superstitions and fairy stories exist alongside emerging technological and social change.  The multiple mysteries surrounding the ring and both Tiki and Rieker's identities are full of exciting and unexpected twists and turns and although the novel's plot winds to a satisfying conclusion, Hamilton definitely leaves enough interesting loose ends to keep the way for a sequel wide open.   I definitely look forward to the possibility of reading more of Tiki's adventures.

The various takes on fairies/faeries, such as the Wings series by Aprilynne Pike, have been popular among my 7th and 8th graders recently and in my first post-Winter Break booktalk to the 7th grade, The Faerie Ring was one of the most demanded options.  This enchanting debut can appeal to fantasy fans, faerie tale fanatics, and historical fiction lovers of a wide age range and I look forward to seeing more from Kiki Hamilton!

4 1/2 STARS

Friday, February 3, 2012

Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

Sometimes in the middle of winter, you just need to read a sun drenched summer road trip novel and Morgan Matson's delightful debut Amy & Roger's Epic Detour fits the bill perfectly.  The best part, of course, is that in Amy & Roger Matson takes the elements of a classic road trip novel and uses them to create a complex and enjoyable story about grief, loss, healing, friendship, family, and romance.

Amy does not want to go on a cross-country road trip this summer.  But her mother has decided that they're moving to Connecticut to California.  Her twin brother is in North Carolina at camp (AKA rehab) and her mother has already begun her transition to a new life on the East Coast.  But Amy and their car are still on the West Coast and now Mom demands that both of them make their way across the country to start the summer in their new home.

 What's the problem with this situation?  Since her father's sudden death a few months ago, Amy hasn't been able to get behind the wheel of a car without panicking.  The solution, it turns out, is nineteen-year-old Roger, the son of an old family friend whom Amy supposedly played with as a kid (although she definitely doesn't remember him being this attractive as a seven year old).  Roger also needs to switch coasts for the summer and has agreed to drive the car--and Amy--across the country.  It turns out that Roger has plenty of his own emotional baggage and both of them need a chance to take a detour from their lives.  Soon a simple drive becomes an unforgettable adventure as Amy discovers that getting lost in between California and Connecticut might be exactly what she needs to find her way back home. 

This novel combines several types of stories (including the roadtrip, life after the loss of a loved one, friendship evolving into love, etc) into a lovely debut novel exploring both physical geography of modern middle America and the complicated emotional geography of loss and recovery.  Amy, as our narrator, is intelligent, sarcastic, bitter, and a little bit broken and her narration is both sharply observant and emotionally conflicted.  Roger remains somewhat mysterious at first but slowly develops into a very sympathetic three-dimensional character;  the reader's understanding of Roger shifts as Amy's does, with more and more information revealed through their increasingly close friendship.  The diverse quirky cast of supporting characters add another wonderful layer to the narrative and the descriptions of the places Amy and Roger pass through on their trip are full of unique details that bring their beauty and weirdness to life.  The relationship between Amy and Roger evolves slowly and realistically and their increasingly strong bond becomes as satisfying for the reader to observe as it is for the characters to experience.  The novel also incorporates images from Amy's travel scrapbook and both characters' playlists into the regular textual narrative. 

This refreshing roadtrip of a debut novel would be a great fit for fans of quirky musical romances like David Levithan and Rachel Cohn's Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist or stories about finding love after loss, such as Jandy Nelson's The Sky is Everywhere or Sarah Dessen's The Truth About Forever.

4 1/2 STARS